My Story

Growing up in conservative West Michigan, I watched lesbian and gay friends and family members struggle to be accepted and be treated equally. There are gains and losses in this fight every day, and it is vital for LGBT individuals and their straight allies to stand up and to pay attention.

27 September 2011

Video: Transgender Kids and Our Complicated Identities

Life is complicated. People lucky enough to follow the norms of society--a feminine, straight female or a masculine, straight male--have much fewer complications. Can you imagine, as a young child, existing in a body that did not feel like it was your own?

The following video is a great depiction of transgender children (click the link below the picture).

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/27/health/transgender-kids/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

There is a difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, parents who have a boy identifying as a girl thought that they may have a gay son.

It's important to remember that gender identity is a spectrum just like sexual orientation, but it is a different spectrum. There's a difference between transgender and gender non-conforming. This spectrum is about masculinity and femininity. 



You can be born a boy, identify as a girl, and still be either straight or LGB. You could be a girl who is more masculine, but is still straight. Or, you could be a masculine, gay boy or a feminine, lesbian girl or a transgender, masculine, bisexual man. Or anything inbetween. Our identities are fluid, complicated, and most of all, normal. We as human beings love to put things into boxes, and anything outside of these boxes scares us. It's important to remember not to box-up identity. It's a disservice to your friends, family, and your children. (see the image I made below)






20 September 2011

The End of Don't Ask Don't Tell! Are Birds Falling From the Sky?

Another GIGANTIC step forward!

This president is coming through for LGBTQ people like no other president previous to him

Today marks the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell. After 18 years, at 12:01 this morning, it was over. For those that don't know about DADT, the law (signed by President Bill Clinton) prevents openly gay or lesbian people from serving in the military because of the "risk" it would pose to the "cohesiveness," "morale," "good order," and "discipline" of our armed forces. 

Although there are opponents to the change, it is supported by top officials from the Pentagon.

Check out this celebratory Obama video, and below it, check out some serious craziness from Cindy Jacobs (read more from Ms. Jacobs here) who believes the end of DADT is bringing imminent armageddon, with birds falling from the sky and everything. Enjoy!







What do you think? How long overdue is the repeal of DADT? How much harm (or not) has DADT caused?

26 July 2011

Stephen Colbert Breaks Character for LGBTQ

Comedian Stephen Colbert of the Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" broke character this week to tell LGBTQ youths that life gets better.



This came the same week that same-sex marriages began taking place in New York and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell was finalized.

Our change is gonna come.

26 May 2011

Increased LGBTQ Acceptance - New Polls

Two new Gallup polls show that LGBTQ acceptance is growing in the United States. I'm excited. I'm excited that we have a pro-LGBTQ President, that people are being educated, that actual change is happening. I know we have a long way to go, but it would be great if legal improvements could be supported by cultural improvements.

This year, 53% of Americans said they were in favor of same-sex marriage and 64% of Americans said same-sex "relations" should be legal.


I'm ready for those numbers to take a big jump. I'd love to see percentages in the 80s and 90s. What do you think? Is that day coming soon?


While it's great that LGBTQ equality is becoming more accepted, it's important to remember that violence, hate, and ignorance still exist (you really should click that last link).

23 May 2011

Video: Gays Are Nazis

I've been called a socialist, communist, Nazi, prostitute, fascist, dumb blonde, drug dealer, and brainwashed teenager before (mostly via online anonymous comments on articles I've written like this). How have I elicited such anger from my online peers? I'm a liberal leaning person living in a community with foundations in the far right, and though I try not to be bombastic or forceful, I'm definitely not ashamed.

I'm not surprised that people leave online comments like the above. It's not right, but it's the nature of the internet. Anyone online with an opinion of any kind is targeted.

This video, however, did surprise me. Bryan Fischer, a prominent leader in a national family organization, makes ridiculous claims against "the homosexuals." This is no anonymous comment. This is an individual who is followed by many other people. This person, therefore, has a greater ability to hurt others, and he is wielding this power.

(via Right Wing Watch)

"The homosexual agenda is just like Islam: there is no room for dissent, there is no room to leave, once you're in, you can't leave. Muslims won't let you leave, homosexuals won't let you leave - if you leave, they claim you're faking it, so there's no way out. There's no freedom of choice, there's no freedom of religion - if you have religious views about homosexual behavior, you are squashed.
I mean, ladies and gentlemen, they are Nazis. Homosexual activists, when it comes to freedom of speech, are Nazis. When it comes to freedom of religion, they are Nazis. There is no room in their world dissent, there is no room in their world for disagreement, there is no room in their world for criticism. You criticize homosexual behavior, they tag you as a bigot and a homophobe and then they got to work to silence you just like the Roman Catholic Church did in the days of Galileo - it's no different; it's the Spanish Inquisition all over again.
Ladies and gentlemen, they are Nazis. Do not be under any illusions about what homosexual activists will do with your freedoms and your religion if they have the opportunity. They'll do the same thing to you that the Nazis did to their opponents in Nazi Germany."

Bryan Fischer, the man spouting off that homosexual activists are Nazis bent on taking over the world, is the Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association (an anti-gay organization identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center). Fischer is known for saying that no mosques should be built in the US (read this article at your own risk of elevated blood pressure). He is also notorious for comments and more comments connecting homosexuals to Hitler to Don't Ask Don't Tell (read more about Hitler's sexuality here).

There is so much wrong with his above statement, I almost don't even know where to begin.

One thing is clear to me, thought. Bryan Fischer has not known the people I have. My sister, with her partner and two daughters, they're Nazis? The nice gay couple that lived down the street from me, together for decades, Nazis? A gay friend of a friend who is joining the Navy to fight for his country, a Nazi?


Really?


Bryan Fischer said, "Do not be under any illusions about what homosexual activists will do with your freedoms and your religion if they have the opportunity." No, Fischer. I just have one thing to say to you:


It is not your rights they're after. They just want their own.

And guess what else? "They" are a part of "us." "They" are people - grandmothers, couples, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, mothers, neighbors, friends - just like anyone else. And "we" all deserve equal rights.


14 May 2011

"Kill the Gays" Bill Shelved-For Now

You may not be surprised to learn that Uganda has been considering an anti-homosexuality bill. However, you probably would be surprised to learn that the death penalty for gay people is a part of this bill. When I heard about this, I was outraged. However, even I was surprised to learn that the death penalty for gay individuals is not limited to Uganda, but is the law of the land in seven countries. 


Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill was first introduced by David Bahati in October of 2009 (pictured below). The death penalty would be used for people who have been convicted of homosexuality more than once, are HIV-positive, or have sex with someone under 18 of the same sex. The bill would also prohibit the "promotion of homosexuality,"and would imprison for life those married to a person of the same-sex. Anyone who knew of a gay person would be required to report them, or face prosecution themselves. Bahati has said that a new version of the bill does not include the death penalty, but no new version of the bill has been released. 


This bill has been connected by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and others to an American group called "The Family." (I discussed this issue earlier this year after David Kato, a prominent gay Ugandan, was murdered).

It's clear Uganda has an acceptance problem. What has been up in the air is whether Uganda has a big, gigantic legal problem. 

If the bill, or a version of it, would pass, Uganda would not be alone in this human rights violation. There are seven other countries that have the death penalty of gay people (source: Wikipedia). 
                                            
On Friday, after reports that the bill would be voted on that day, the Ugandan parliament adjourned without taking any action on the "Kill the Gays" bill. This means that, for this session at least, the bill is dead. 
Over 2 million people around the world had signed online petitions protesting the "Kill the Gays" bill. Allout.org is one of those organizations that is celebrating this as a victory, but is also insisting on the importance of continued attentiveness and dedication to LGBTQ equality (see video below).



Unfortunately, the bill may not be dead forever. There's an extreme lack of LGBT acceptance in Uganda. The bill could be reintroduced next session. In fact, David Bahati has already said he is planning to reintroduce it. 

It's important that we continue to be vigilant, and protest when individuals or governments are unjust, especially when the groups being discriminated against are those lacking voice. It's also important to remember that just because gay people won't be killed by the Ugandan government, it doesn't mean they are free. 

10 May 2011

Making Colleges LGBTQ Safe Zones

I've been published... elsewhere! Grand Central Magazine has posted an alternate version of a blog I wrote earlier this month. I rewrote it to make it more college/Central Michigan University oriented. Check out this link to see it online, and here is the post in it's entirety:


People who know me well know that conversations with me frequently turn to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights issues. Last week, I was having one of my ubiquitous passionate outbursts about the way ignorance and hate leads to violence for LGBT people, when the person I was talking to shrugged it off.
“I really don’t think it’s a big deal anymore,” they said. “I don’t care if people are gay, and I’ve never seen any discrimination.”
While we have come a long way in recent years, discrimination, harassment and even violence against LGBT individuals is still a problem in this country.Studies suggest that the challenges LGBT people face because of their sexual orientation can prevent them from reaching their full social and academic potential in college.

A study from 2010 surveyed about 100 institutions and 5,000 college students. The study finds that about 25% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and faculty experienced harassment while at college. 43 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people hid their sexual orientation to avoid intimidation. 39 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people experienced harassment, and 63 percent said hid their sexual orientation.
These statistics become more personal when considering the story of Tyler Clementi (pictured on right), a 19-year-old college student from Rutgers University. His roommate, Dharun Ravi (left), filmed Clementi in a romantic encounter with another man, then posted it on the Internet. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010, just days after the video was posted online. Ravi is now facing a 15-count indictment, including a hate crime, and could face 5 to 10 years in prison.
Perhaps bullying of this intensity and scope isn’t widespread at CMU. But that shouldn’t stop students, faculty and administration from working to make CMU a LGBT safe zone, which could prevent future tragic stories of harassment, suicide or bullying occurrences at CMU. More importantly, LGBT students could feel accepted, which would allow them more successful and happier lives. A safe zone doesn’t only mean a lack of violence, but also active acceptance.
CMU has made strides in the recent months and years. As an attendee of many of the Pride Week activities, I loved being in an atmosphere of acceptance for all kinds of people (read more about my experiences during Pride Week here). Also, there has been movement on the issue of gender-neutral housing on campus.


But what can college students do to help on an every day basis? Many don’t have time to join a student organization or lobby student government or administration for changes, much less take action on what’s going on in the United States in terms of LGBT rights However, there are many simple things any college student, or any person, can do. Here’s a guide on how to help make a college campus a safe zone for LGBT people.

There are some very simple things you can do:
(adapted from a recent blogpost of mine about how violence can lead to hate)
  • If your roommate or a classmate calls something ”gay” as an insult, tell them they’re being insensitive.
  • If a student says they don’t care if LGBT people do their “thing,” as long as they don’t do it in front of him/her, say something like, ”Man, those straight people too. I really wish they wouldn’t do their thing in front of me.”
  • If a friend says, “Hey, is that girl a lesbian?” Exclaim something like, ”I think that guy over there might be straight!” People make being LGBT abnormal, and they act like deviating from the heterosexual norm is something that should define a person’s entire identity. Really, it’s just one small part of a person, not their whole being.
  • If you hear LGBT-bashing, be an ally and a friend. There’s not much you can do to change a hateful person’s mind, but you can be aware of those around this person. Don’t be afraid to say you disagree with the speaker. You never know who is listening and hurting as a result of this ignorance.
  • If you are straight, recognize your heterosexual privilege. If you saw Tim Wise speak at CMU earlier this year, you know what I’m talking about.
  • If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individual, reach out to people who might need your guidance.
  • If you need guidance yourself, there are roommates, friends, and allies all around you. Make sure you get what you need.
  • Participate in activities like the Day of Silence (or other activities like CMU’s “Queer Monologues,” or the Drag Show) to help raise awareness about this issue.
  • Be aware of LGBT groups in on campus (such as Spectrum). If you have time, attend meetings or events.


Most importantly, make yourself available to those who need it. You never know who might be listening. Advertise that you’re an ally in subtle ways (like those above), and you will be a safe place for LGBT people.  Together we can make the entire campus a safer place.
So speak up, speak out, don’t stand for intolerance and actively fight for the acceptance of all people.
Want more from The Equality Chronicle?
  • Read about the price of ignorance herehere, and here.
  • Read about where LGBT equality stands in the US and abroad herehere, and here.

08 May 2011

In Honor of Mother's Day

12-year-old wisdom can be greater than that of 49% of the population. This girl speaks emphatically in favor of gay marriage in 2009. She has two mothers.


This girl changed several legislators' minds with her testimony before the Vermont House. She was pivotal in gay marriage passing in Vermont, where the opposition tried to make the debate "all about the kids," and  she then helped this opposition with their "lack of information." She countered this argument by saying that it hurts kids to prevent their parents from getting married. 


Vermont was the first state to pass gay marriage legislatively.

Take some time today, in between your mom's flowers and foot rub, to think about those mothers who can't get married. It's time for equality, people.

04 May 2011

Videos: The Kids Are Listening.

Some parents allow their sons to live as "Princess Boys." Some parents say anti-gay comments around their children. Some say nothing at all. What we say around kids affects them. It's important for adults to understand how being LGBTQ inclusive in everyday speech can have a positive impact on a child--and how derogatory comments and a lack of awareness can harm them. 





Along the same vein, we frequently hear the horror stories of teenagers being thrown out of homes because of their sexuality. We hear of LGBTQ homelessness, drug abuse, and suicide. We've heard of transgender youth being attacked brutally

Less often, we hear of those supportive parents. There are two inspring examples below. The first mother talks about her "Princess Boy," a gender nonconforming boy who is allowed to dress like a princess. 




The mother explains that her child's circumstance is not necessarily "gender confusion," but gender non-conformity, an important distinction. She explains that in society, difference leads to discomfort, but it shouldn't have to be that way.

Below is the story of parents who are allowing their child start a new school year with a new gender.


I can't emphasize enough the power of language. Be aware of the needs of kids around you. They may be LGBTQ in the future, or they may not. But they will, without a doubt, know someone who deals with these issues. What they are taught now will affect how they live their lives in their future. 

30 April 2011

Video: Obama is now Pro-Gay Marriage?

Although Obama has always opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, and although he is pro-civil union, he has been anti-gay marriage. This has been a major problem I've had with the Obama Administration. However, as of late, with the Administration declaring DOMA unconstitutional and working to end Don't Ask Don't Tell, I've partly forgotten that Obama campaigned with an anti-gay marriage platform. This is, however, in direct contradiction of his 1996 statement of his "unequivocal" support of gay marriage. 

Do recent actions reveal otherwise? Watch this video and tell me what you think. Do you think Obama will come out in favor of gay marriage?


According to Dallasvoice.com, this video:

...may be the closest President Barack Obama has come to publicly admitting that he supports marriage equality — at least since he actually said it on a candidate survey in 1996. In the video below from a DNC fundraiser Monday night in San Francisco, Obama says during his speech that, “Our work is not finished.” Then someone in the crowd yells, “Gay marriage.” Obama pauses, then appears to respond by repeating, “Our work is not finished,” as if to indicate that the audience member had just illustrated his point.


I'm ready for a President who believes in complete marriage equality! How about you?

26 April 2011

Ignorance and Hate Leads to Violence-What Can YOU Do?

The threat of violence for LGBTQ people is very real, as the following stories of recent violence show. Especially in conservative communities, LGBTQ people feel threatened. But you can help (see end of post). As a warning, several of the videos below show real violence, and some readers may find them shocking.

Last week, a Texas man killed his daughter's girlfriend and the girlfriend's mother (Norma and Maria Hurtado, pictured below) because he was angry about his daughter's lesbian relationship.

Last year, Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate filmed him during an "intimate encounter" with another man. Tyler jumped off of the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010, just days after the video was posted online. Last week, the roommate, Dharum Ravi, has been indicted on 15 counts, and prosecutors are alleging the incident was a hate crime. (Pictured below: Ravi on left, Clementi on right.)

On April 9th, Joshua Esskew, 19, was attacked by a group of at least eight men in South Carolina. Esskew happens to be gay. Esskew was walking into a convenience store when another man shouted a gay slur. Esskew tried to walk away, but someone threw a bottle at him. Eight men came running and beat him. The FBI is considering this a possible hate crime.



About 85% of LGBTQ teenagers are harassed in high school because of their sexual orientation. 61% feel unsafe in school, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. These percentages are likely underestimated.

On April 18, a 22-year-old transgender woman was beaten at a McDonald's restaurant. A McDonald's employee filmed the whole incident (see below). Allegedly, the woman was attacked after trying to use the bathroom. The first half the video recounts the attacks, the second half is about whether the attack should be considered a hate crime. It certainly seems like a hate crime to me.


In March, Damian Furtch, a 26-year-old gay man, was brutally beaten by two men outside a McDonald's. The men were shouting anti-gay slurs the whole time. 


In conservative communities without LGBTQ support groups, a new study finds that LGBTQ youth are more likely to attempt suicide than in more liberal, accepting communities. A supportive environment was also accompanied by a 9% decrease in heterosexual attempted suicides.

   "Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments." 

At the same time violence, ignorance, and hate are seemingly everywhere, a recent CNN poll has indicated that a majority of Americans (51%) support same-sex marriage. There are steps forward every day.

Will you join me in my fight against ignorance and hate? The social environment of a LGBTQ youth can greatly impact whether or not they attempt suicide, and an environment of acceptance can be achieved with your help. Here are some very simple things you can do:
  • If an individual calls something "gay" as an insult, tell them they're wrong. 
  • If someone says they don't care if LGBT people do their "thing", as long as they don't do it in front of him/her, say something like, "Man, those straight people too. I really wish they wouldn't do their thing in front of me."
  • If someone says, "Hey, is that girl a lesbian?" Exclaim something like, "I think that guy over there might be straight!" People make being LGBT abnormal, and they act like deviating from the heterosexual norm is something that should define a person's entire identity. Really, it's just one small part of a person, not their whole being. 
  • If you hear gay-bashing, be an ally and a friend. There's not much you can do to change a hateful person's mind, but you can be aware of those around this person. Don't be afraid to say you disagree with the speaker. You never know who is listening and hurting as a result of this ignorance.
  • If you are straight, recognize your heterosexual privilege. If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individual, reach out to people (especially teenagers) who might need your guidance.
  • If someone goads you into a religious argument, say something like, "Nothing as pure as the love of another person or the love of family could be a sin." (Or read this, for better arguments)
  • Make yourself available to those who need it. Advertise that you're an ally in subtle ways (like those above), and you will be a safe place for LGBTQ people. 
  • Participate in activities like the Day of Silence (or other activities available in high school, college, or other communities) to help raise awareness of this issue. 
  • Be aware of LGBTQ groups in your area (such as PFLAG). If you have time, attend meetings or events. 
The actions above are painless for most people, but you may never know the pain you are preventing or alleviating in other individuals.

My constant advice: 
Speak up. This is not something we can afford to be quiet about. 

18 April 2011

Equality Update: Anti-Gay Facebook Actions, Boehner Hosting Marriage Defense Hearings

There's so much happening in the fight for LGBT equality. I alternately get really excited, angry, upset, appalled, happy, hopeful, and that's only about what I've read today!

Without further ado, here's the top LGBT forward and backward steps for the last few weeks.


Equality Update
Forward: Civil Union Victory in Delaware!
A civil unions bill has passed in Delaware, and Gov. Jack Markell is expected to sign it. This will give gay and lesbian couples the same rights from the state as heterosexual couples. This is the eighth state to give lesbian and gay couples equivalent status. Delaware joins California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada, and Wisconsin, all of which “recognize at least some of the legal rights of domestic partnerships.” (watch the video at this link...the reaction of the audience is amazing!)

Forward: Gay Marriage Recognized in Five States, and Census Data
Gay marriage is recognized in five states and the District of Colombia. Data from the 2010 US Census  (the first time same-sex married couples were counted) indicates that when there is a larger proportion of lesbian and gay couples living in an area, it is more likely that gay marriage or civil union laws will be passed. However, it’s also possible that lesbian or gay individuals move to more accepting locations. The full report is expected out in November of this year.

Backward: 
Boehner's Marriage Defense Hearings
House Speaker John Boehner convened a House hearing concerning the Defense of Marriage Act on Friday. There were three notable guests, two of which are considered anti-gay activists. One of them was named Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, who claimed, among other things, that same-sex marriage was "cancerous" and would lead to polygamy. The other,  Rutgers University Law Profesor Carlos Ball, countered the argument that President Obama acted without precedent in refusing to defend a law, citing instances where Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, and W. Bush did the same. (read more here).


Backward: Kobe Bryant's Anti-Gay Slur
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was fined $100,000 for an anti-gay slur, which was said to an NBA referee.

Backward: Deportation of Gay Spouses
As it stands right now, gay married spouses are being deported, whereas a straight marriage could allow an individual to stay in the US. However, 48 members of the US House of Representatives have signed a letter asking the Obama administration to suspend these deportations until DOMA issues (see here) are resolved. Basically, the Obama Administration has declared DOMA unconstitutional, and will no longer defend it in court. However, the administration must enforce the law until it is overturned. House members are hoping that deportations can be stopped until this issue is sorted out.

Backward: Transgender Rights in Maryland Falter
A transgender rights bill has died in the Maryland Senate. 

Forward: Transgender Rights in Nevada Succeed
The Nevada Assembly has voted in favor of Bill 211, a bill that prohibits job discrimination against transgender individuals.

Backward: Facebook's Recent Anti-Gay Actions 
And I was so proud of Facebook earlier this year! After two men were thrown out of a bar for kissing in the UK, supporters created a "kiss-in" event on Facebook meant to protest. Facebook removed this event because it had a picture of two men kissing from a soap opera, two men of consenting age, fully clothed (see right).


Forward: LGBT History to be Taught in California Schools?
Possibly! There's a bill that passed the senate that would mandate the teaching of LGBT history and influential people, although the age group that would be taught the material would be up to the discretion of the schools. 


It's Complicated?
The Ongoing Defense of Marriage Act Dilemma 
The issues surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act (see here) can be extremely confusing and is at the centerpiece of the gay rights fight right now. This article (it’s extremely informative, check it out!) describes how DOMA is negatively impacting lesbian and gay couples across the country. 
However, as of April 1st, the Department of Health and Human Services has informed states that they can treat gay couples the same as straight couples when it comes to benefits. 


So, there are incremental movements, but in the large scheme of things, legal equality is still leaps and bounds away. 

This is true for all the news above; absolute legal equality is still far away, but it is achievable. Small picture, each of these issues individually may not seem world-changing. It's the amalgamation of all these issues that will slowly but surely initiate real change. 

But this change only comes with increased acceptance and a willingness for people to advocate for the oppressed. That means you, me, and everyone else. Things are happening, it's time to get on board.



[If there's a news story you think I should write about, feel free to send me an email (coonjaime@gmail.com), or if you're friends with me on Facebook I can take suggestions there, too. I get many of my stories from my friends, family, and readers!]