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.

28 February 2011

Facebook Relationship Statuses-It's Complicated

There used to be six relationship categories on Facebook—single, in a relationship, engaged, married, it’s complicated, and in an open relationship.
 (Image from here)
However, there has been one neglected group of people. Gays and lesbians who live in states where gay marriage is not recognized have not, up to this point, had an applicable Facebook relationship status.

Until now.

Facebook has revealed several new relationship status options, including widowed, separated, divorced, in a domestic partnership, and in a civil union. 


 I asked a few of my friends to try out the new statuses to see how they looked. 


Step forward or step backward? 
In my opinion, this is a step:


Having more options on Facebook is a good thing. If a gay or lesbian couple would like to use a new label, then great. However, if they would rather list themselves as married, that’s also great. I think the key idea here is option.

Many don’t agree with me. Some—including blogger “cafemom”—think it could lead to further harassment or online bullying.

Others point out that the separate-but-equal idea of civil unions is akin to racial segregation.

Still others say that this is not enough. For example, Facebook makes a user choose a gender—and the only options are male or female.


Of course, there’s the old argument that relationship statuses on Facebook are complicated (ha! It’s complicated!) and overly drama-filled in and of themselves.

Do we want marriage equality? Yes. Do we have it in the real world? No. But having more cyber options could allow individuals a choice as to what relationship best states what they wish their Facebook public to know.

Plus, more Facebook relationship status drama for us all to follow—er, roll our eyes at.

23 February 2011

Goodbye "Defense" of Marriage Act

Step Forward.

I, like everyone else in this movement, was a bit perplexed and even frustrated about how slow the Obama administration was moving in terms to LGBT rights.

Even MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow doubted Don't Ask Don't Tell would be removed.

And now?
Step Forward. Leap Forward.

"The Department of Justice has just announced that it will cease defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The administration has determined that the act is unconstitutional. The move is a huge step for the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. The law is the last major federal statute that openly discriminates against gays and lesbians, following the repeal late last year of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell ban on gays in the military."

Yes, we still have a long way to go. The move technically only affects those who  live in the five states that allow gay marriage, or those married in California before Prop. 8. 

 Attorney General Eric Holder (picture below) sent a letter to Congress indicating that the the Dept. of Justice won't defend the act in two upcoming lawsuits. 



What does all of this mean?

The Obama administration has taken the position that discrimination against gays and lesbians is unconstitutional. 

It's the first time the US government has taken this position. 

While the the administration will no longer defend the law's constitutionality in court, 
Holder said that the administration would continue to enforce the act unless and until Congress repeals it, or a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.”


Like I said, the fight is far from over. But this, my friends, is a milestone. It's one of many, but here it is. Let's be thankful, but at the same time, realize we're in for the long haul. 

Is this the change we can believe in?

Or should we be seeing more action on this issue?


(image from here)

20 February 2011

Steps Forward and Steps Backward

There’s so much going on with this movement that sometimes it’s hard to keep up, even for me, and I pay intense attention. Here’s a news round-up of recent events in the fight for LGBTQ equality. While there is much activity to increase equality, it’s important to remember that 30 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

The flurry of activity nationwide has activists on both sides of the gay marriage debate encouraged that 2011 will be a year of gains for them.”

An interesting fact: North Carolina is the only state in the South that does not have an amendment banning gay marriage. Five states and the District of Colobmia permit same-sex marriage.

 [click to enlarge]

MARRIAGE EQUALITY UPDATES

FORWARD: Hawaii lawmakers gave approval to civil unions last Wednesday, and the Democratic governor is expected to sign it into law.

FORWARD: The California Supreme Court agreed to take on, but has decided to delay until September, a Proposition 8 appeal.

BACKWARD: The Indiana House passed an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state’s constitution by a vote of 70-26. However, the founder of the LGBT blog "The Bilerico Project," Bil Browning, has said he will reveal “dirty laundry of Indiana lawmakers who voted in favor on the message.”

BACKWARD: There is a bill in Wyoming, where legally married same-sex couples (married out of state) will not be recognized.

FORWARD: In Washington, a bill to legalize gay marriage was introduced last Monday. Domestic partnerships are already legal in the state.

FORWARD: The Maryland Senate held marriage bill hearings last Thursday.  The committee approved the legalization of gay marriage with a 7-4 vote.

FORWARD: A New Hampshire poll of adults indicates that almost two-thirds are opposed to ending marriage equality in the state.


OTHER EQUALITY UPDATES

FORWARD: Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (D) signed an exeutive order on the 17th which effectively bans discrimination in state employment against transgender workers.

FORWARD: Target created a policy committee to oversee the company’s political activities. This comes after widespread condemnation of their financial support for anti-gay politicians.

FORWARD: Judge Sabrina McKenna was confirmed to the Hawaii Supreme Court this past week. She is the first openly LGBT person to serve on the court.

FORWARD? Lady GaGa's new single, "Born This Way," is being hailed as the new gay anthem. It it? Should it be? Does it matter if LGBTQ is in the genes or not? Can this nature versus nurture debate ever be settled?
Well, at least the tune is catchy



16 February 2011

Another Video From Iowa

This time, an 80 year old grandmother talks about her experiences with her gay son.

Watch.

14 February 2011

An Inspirational Teenager


Zach Wahls defends gay marriage in Iowa. His thesis? His family is not different from any other family.
It truly is an inspirational video.


"The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effects on the content of my character."

13 February 2011

Uganda and Gay Rights-Unbelievable Video

This video illustrates the extent to which hate speech agains gays has progressed in Uganda. Please watch. It's disturbing, but important.


The Chinese Homosexual Conundrum

Ever heard of a fake marriage market? Me either. It's a Chinese phenomenon. Gays and lesbians come to one place in order to find someone--of the opposite gender--to get married to. An expert in this article from Slate contends that 80% of China's homosexual population marries heterosexually. In China's family-centric culture, marrying and producing an heir is of utmost importance.

Here's a quote concerning the secrecy of the marriage market:

Precautions are necessary for an event like this. Though there are an estimated 30 million to 40 million gay people in China—there has been no official count—even simple actions such as trying to access Wikipedia's "LGBT" page often result in a "This webpage is not available" message. Chinese society has adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. A 2007 survey by Li Yinhe found that 70 percent of Chinese people think homosexuality is either "a little" or "completely" wrong, and only 7.5 percent of respondents said they knew a gay person.


There is a growing problem with "homowives," a woman who is married to a gay man. It is estimated that there 16 to 25 million women are in this predicament. Because of the social stigma surrounding homosexuality, the issue is not discussed and the problems are not addressed. 


However, many LGBT Chinese individuals hope for change, albeit the slow kind, as indicated by this article. This is another example where talking about things, bringing LGBT issues out into the open, can really make a difference, especially in the long term. 



[Chinese men, mostly married, dance in Shanghai]

09 February 2011

Gay Marriage-A Nonpartisan Issue?

Why is it that gay marriage is split along party lines? The conservative movement has a base built of those with so-called "conservative family values" (see my diatribe about marriage in my David Kato post). Personally, I think that Gay Marriage should be a nonpartisan issue. After all, LGBTQ Americans come from every party--Republicans can be gay, too.

Here's some good news. My friend Sophie shared this with me.

Former President Bush's daughter, Barbara Bush, has joined those speaking out in favor of gay marriage.



Here's the deal, world: gay marriage should be bipartisan. We can disagree about how to spend our money (or how not to spend it). We can disagree on aid for the poor, we can disagree about US international involvement, we can disagree on wars and healthcare and the size of the government.

We should not disagree about marriage rights based on party lines.

Certainly, churches should have the ability to decide whether or not they will give out marriages to LGBT individuals. But they should be allowed to decide, and there should be equal rights in the eyes of the law.

Other major Republicans who have come out in favor of gay marriage:

Meghan McCain
Elizabeth Hasselbeck
Laura Bush
Former VP Dick Cheney

Among others. Visit this Washington Post article for more info:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/27/AR2010082705614.html

08 February 2011

Homosexuality: Illegal Around the World

Bahrain, a small island country in the Persian Gulf, has arrested 127 people at a Feb. 2 party, most described as gay men, according to the Huffington Post

The revelers were hosting the Feb. 2 bash at a sports hall in Hidd, a conservative village on Muharraq Island in the country's north, which brought together gay men, mostly between 18 and 30 years old, from various Arabian Gulf nations.


"According to police sources some of the men were allegedly drunk, and others were described as wearing women’s clothing and make up. The police are now said to be checking if any have a history of “debauchery or sodomy."

A Hidd Sports Club (where the incident took place) board member said that seeing men dressed as women “was very shocking.”

Gulf News is reporting that the party goers were arrested for holding “a depraved and decadent” party.

Homosexuality is banned in Bahrain, and foreigners arrested for being gay are deported after serving prison terms.

Last semester, I made a documentary about how homosexuality was legalized in India in 2009. But after reading this, I began wondering about the legality of homosexuality in other countries around the world.





It turns out that more than 70 countries make gay sex a crime. Only 26 countries have same sex unions.

According to Amnesty International, up to 2003, 13 states of the USA and Puerto Rico criminalized sodomy.

In five countries (Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia) homosexual acts are punishable by death.

Anyone who refuses to believe LGBT individuals are at a disadvantage in this world needs to see these stats. There is so much more, too.

In 16 countries, there is an unequal age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual acts. Marriage for same sex couples only exists in 7 countries. Same sex couples are offered most of the rights of marriage in only 8 countries. Joint adoption by same sex couples is legal in 10 countries. There are 4 countries that prevent lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from entering the country. And these are only a few statistics I’ve chosen for summary reasons.

Here's the truth: there is a huge gap in equality between heterosexual and LGBT individuals. 

There is this really super interesting Amnesty International interactive map, where you can choose a country and be told the details of the legal nature of homosexuality. I highly recommend visiting. You might be surprised by what you find.




Montana Couples Fighting for Equal Rights

In 2004, Montana voters approved a constitutional amendment that says that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, that's not stopping 6 gay and lesbian couples from fighting for equal rights
Check out this article. 

"Long and the other plaintiffs say they aren't asking for the right to marry, but they want to be able to make decisions about their families' health care, inheritance and burial, and have the ability to file joint tax returns, among other issues."


 The article is a very fascinating read concerning the legal and constitutional issues for a state that has defined marriage in their constitution.


And now for a little equality humor that also has a message:

05 February 2011

David Kato-A Murder We Should All Care About

David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

This is something most people, if they follow the news at all, have heard by now.

Kato lived in Uganda, a country that is considering a bill many are calling the "Kill the Gays Bill."

Kato was the most visible gay rights advocate in his country.

He was on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper that urged the hanging of gays.

Why all this hate?

Traditionally, LGBT Ugandans have not been ostracized as they are now. What has changed?

Americans. Evangelical, right-wing Americans visited the country and began hosting anti-gay conferences. These evangelicals had ties to that obscure American group "The Family." Haven't heard of them? I hadn't either. Do a google search. It's interesting stuff. I first discovered the existence of this group through The Rachel Maddow Show (see below).

These Americans asserted that gays were assaulting traditional marriage.

This is the same argument we have been hearing for years. What exactly, though, are these evangelicals trying to protect? Are gays really seen as shadowy pitchfork wielders chasing a wholesome six year old girl in a white dress through mud and swamp and all things dirty? RIDICULOUS.

First of all, marriage ain't no virgin. Heterosexuals have done a fantastic job with this mess. Marriage today is bedraggled: divorces and cheating have already mucked up that white dress.

Second of all, gays are not assaulting marriage. They just want to take part in it. They want to make it stronger, adding their families to the list of those making our country better. For me, "making our country better" doesn't just involve two-parent typical households with 2.35whatever children. It includes single mothers and fathers and nontraditional households and, yes, it includes "the gays."

They want rights and they want marriage. I would think these evangelicals would be thrilled to have more families (of all kinds) to resist the pull of promiscuity and cheating and general immorality, however that may be defined. 

David Kato was a gay man who came out of the shadows even though his life was in danger because of it. It's important that we bring this whole issue out of obscurity, so that the general public sees LGBTQ individuals not as statistics or threats, but as people.

Rachel Maddow, my very favoritest bestest greatest spectacularest amazingest (really, her show is a journalistic masterpiece) news talkshow host, had some very powerful comments on her MSNBC show concerning the death and funeral of David Kato. 

Please watch. 


For more insights from Rachel Maddow, also check out her blog.


For more information on David Kato, this is a great, up to date article on actions being taken following his murder and the arrest of his alleged murderer.

Blogwatch

NPR shared an interesting article on Facebook this morning, and I thought it deserved further sharing. There's a new blog called "Born This Way!" It shares pictures of LGBT individuals from their childhood accompanied by an essay chronicling their experiences. With Lady GaGa's newest single bearing the same name, it's bound to increase in popularity.

However, NPR raises some important issues. Is the blog furthering stereotypes by showing stories of feminine gay men and masculine lesbian women?

This is what the blog's creator has to say about that:

"So, some of the pix here feature gay boys with feminine traits, and some gay girls with masculine traits. And even more gay kids with NONE of those traits. Just like real life, these gay kids come in all shades and layers of masculine and feminine. And this project is not about furthering stereotypes."


So, is this blog a step forward or a step backward? While I think it's important to recognize and reject stereotypes, pride is extremely significant in the LGBTQ community. Why shouldn't they celebrate the way they were born, whether that be masculine, feminine, or somewhere in between? Why shouldn't we all?


"I didn't even figure out I was gay until my 20's, but I always knew I was different...I love this picture, now that I love myself as a gay adult."

[Mike from Jacksonville, Florida, at age 2. Click here for his full post.]

03 February 2011

A Family Affair

My family is becoming known for our involvement with this issue in Holland, MI, and that is something I am extremely proud of.

It's hard to know where it started. I was raised in a pro gay rights family surrounded by a community where your church affiliation is the most important part of your identity. I guess it was inevitable, then, that we engage in the conversation now taking place all over Holland. The thing I'm most proud of is that in recent months, we've realized we are far from alone in our views.

For me personally, it started when I wrote this article:

As my mind has been opened up to these atrocities, my mouth has opened as well. I can never be quiet again. I will not stand by and watch as valuable members of our community are excluded and abused because of their sexuality.”

That is my current philosophy. We cannot be quiet.

The response for me personally was enormous. People approached me and asked me questions, I was sent dozens of letters and emails. People approached my family members, as the article in a way “outed” our family as well.

But that’s not where this ended.

The Holland Sentinel has always been a place for community banter. As much as I could criticize the Sentinel, I still read it now, from college, in it’s online form, and I was a columnist for the Opinion Page for three years. However, recently these ads were published in the newspaper.





Many accused the Holland Sentinel of profiting from bigotry. 

Again, I’m proud of my city. People wrote into the newspaper in huge numbers, and groups in Holland began working even harder for equality and acceptance.

(visit here for a full history of Holland is Ready, an organization I am extremely proud of: http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=41192)

My family has continued to be involved in the newspaper.

Now, it was my grandfather’s turn. My grandparents are well known in my Church and community, and my grandpa is a former pastor and an author. His article in the Holland Sentinel, published a few days ago, has again helped engage the community in dialogue.

His words are extremely moving. I highly recommend reading them. My grandpa put into words what many have been trying to for some time.


[A photo with me and my grandparents]

The Why

Before I dive into my chosen subject, I’d like to describe the “why” for this blog.

The what should be obvious; check the banner at the top of the page. Gay rights, or to be more politically correct, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights, are quite significant to me. I grew up in a conservative West Michigan town, and watched my sister and others struggle with the lack acceptance LGBT individuals experience there. I made it my mission to make others aware of both the lack of equality and the lack of acceptance in many areas of our society.

I used to write for the Holland Sentinel (http://www.hollandsentinel.com/), and on one occasion I wrote a particularly controversial column about religion, morality, and LGBT individuals in our community. I’ll post it here sometime. I received some letters of praise, some letters telling me where I would end up in the afterlife. But most of all, suddenly our community that likes to ignore this issue was forced to talk about it, using our widely-read local newspaper as a forum, both in the online and print form.

This is not something we can ignore. Lives are literally at stake.

My city’s PFLAG (http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194&srcid=-2) is particularly active and other columnists and community members have written to the newspaper. Local churches are taking action on both sides of the issue, and Hope College faces extreme student dissatisfaction with their handling of issues concerning sexual orientation. There is a Anti-Discrimination Policy being discussed in City Council, which means the dialogue of the community has reached an even more frenzied pitch. There is a new organization, called Holland is Ready, working hard to inspire more action on this issue.

Recently, this has become a contentious issue in my hometown and in similar hometowns across the nation. These are real people we are talking about. LGBT individuals, like my sister, like some friends and acquaintances and neighbors, face discrimination and even violence around the world.

I plan to follow the gains and losses of LGBT issues both in this country and around the world, and the difficult issues surrounding LGBT folks. There is so much that needs to be talked about. The biggest change that I see that needs to happen now, is that we need to learn how to talk about this. Real, tangible change in acceptance and equality can only come about when this happens.

[a photo of me and my sister]