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.

31 March 2011

An Out Gay Bishop: "It Gets Better"

The Bishop of New Hampshire for the Episcopal Church, a gay man, talks about the changing times, the Church and LGBTQ issues in the video below. He is known for being the first openly gay, non-celibate priest to be ordained a bishop in a major Christian denomination, according to Wikipedia. 


He says of being LGBT, "There's nothing to be healed from."

"God loves you the way you are."

A simple sentence, but extremely meaningful. Those in my hometown who are so against LGBTQ people should watch this video.

This is my very favorite of the It Gets Better campaign.

Take a look, you won't be sorry you spent two minutes on this video.


30 March 2011

Words Hurt

Words hurt, more than the people wielding them may realize.

LGBTQ youth, like the ones in these videos, suffer from bullying and harassment more than other students.

This student delivers a powerful message without uttering a single word.


Seth Walsh hung himself in 2010. He had come out in the 6th grade and had faced intense bullying ever since. Watch his mother, Wendy Walsh, with the following words.



According to the National Education Association’s report on LGBTQ youth in America, these students face intense bullying and harassment that leads to lower grades, dropouts, hostility at home, homelesseness, anxiety, depression, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Many school employees ignore homophobia in the classroom and around the school. The NEA estimates that millions of individuals are victims of bullies, and that millions more are the bullies themselves (2009).


The Day of Silence is coming up (April 15). It's a day to bring this issue to the forefront of people's minds. Check it out.

28 March 2011

Lady GaGa's "Born This Way": A New Gay Anthem?

On several occasions I have fallen victim to the deliciously catchy "Born This Way," Lady GaGa's latest single. 

Many are calling "Born This Way" the new gay anthem, and that it might be. I love that there is a definite LGBTQ theme in a number one single, in the United States, no less. It shows that there has been some progress, at least (see the bottom of this post for her "Born This Way" music video).




Check out these lyrics:


I'm beautiful in my way

'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way

...

Don't be a drag, just be a queen

Whether you're broke or evergreen
You're black, white, beige, chola descent
You're lebanese, you're orient
Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'Cause baby you were born this way
No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life
I'm on the right track baby
I was born to survive



Lady GaGa's Born This Way (Audio Only)




Lady GaGA  has used her position in the world to influence this policy quite a bit, and it could be argued that she has made a big difference.

I haven't heard any other major pop hit discuss sexuality in this way. I think more songs like this--more songs embracing gender ambiguity and alternate sexualities--should be integrated into popular music, and therefore into people' every day life. I've heard it numerous times that the laws, the legal issues, must be solved before acceptance can ever be achieved.

While the laws must be changed, we shouldn't have to wait for all the states to come around before we start demanding acceptance. 


Lady GaGa screamed for this issue. Will you?

What do you think? 


Lady GaGa at the National Equality March in DC


Lady GaGa's Odd--But Characteristic--"Born This Way" Music Video

Follow this link to witness GaGa's VERY interesting, inter-galactic, birth-of-a-new-race, unicorn-laden music video performance:




27 March 2011

Homosexuality: Illegal in the US?!

Yes...It's technically illegal some places here, too.

Remember my post about LGBTQ individuals facing different levels of legality around the world? Some countries even punish homosexuality with a death penalty (check out this Amnesty International link for an extremely interesting map).

Well, it has come to my attention that in a few states in US, homosexual "behavior" is illegal. I don't know about you, but this surprised me.

In Texas, Kansas, and Montana, this is true. Homosexuality is still illegal in these states.

What about the US Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas? In this case, the Texan anti-sodomy law was declared unconstitutional. Therefore, all similar laws were declared unconstitutional in the same blow.

Then how can these laws still remain?
Recently, a repeal was in process in Kansas. However, the law was found to be "unenforceable" and that "no one is being hurt by it."

This is what LGBTQ Nation says:

"Although the so-called sodomy laws cannot be enforced legally, civil rights advocates say they should be removed from the books because they create a climate favorable to discrimination, harassment, bullying, and hate crimes."


So, while these laws are not enforced, their very existence supports a lack of tolerance and acceptance and may even help create the unhealthy environments described above.


I see how these laws may be unenforceable. However, it would be a very significant symbolic gesture toward the LGBTQ community to take the offensive language out of these states' law books. It may be only a symbolic step, but it could precede the bigger changes needed. 





23 March 2011

"It Gets Better"-Helping LGBTQ Youth Stay Alive

We all have busy weeks, and I'm in the middle of a particularly insane one myself. Although we may all get busy, it's important that we not forget those in the closet, newly out of the closet, or questioning their sexual identity who could use support, whether you're a LGBT or a straight ally.

The "It Gets Better" campaign has been something on my radar for a while. It's an effort to reach out to struggling LGBTQ teens. I've watched several videos, and a few have been particularly tear-jerking. Listen to or read this NPR story about creator Dan Savage for more information on this movement.

From NPR:

"Last fall, several teens across the country committed suicide because they were gay or perceived to be gay. This shocking rash of suicides raised attention about a sobering fact: Gay teens are up to four times as likely to attempt suicide as straight teens, and 9 out of 10 LGBT teens have experienced some sort of harassment in their school, according to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hot line for LGBT youth. When advice columnist Dan Savage heard about the suicide crisis unfolding, he had an idea: If older gay people offered hope and encouragement to gay teens, the teens would realize that their lives were worth living."


Many celebrities have made videos. Here is a video from President Obama:



Watch this video to see creator Dan Savage talk about the project, and the brutal bullying that can haunt LGBTQ teenagers.



According to the It Gets Better website:

Many LGBT youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them.

Here's another It Gets Better video:


And please, remember the next time you hear of someone bullying, it is a big deal. Please speak up, and act out on this issue. There is someone out there who could use an ally, and that ally could be you.

Again, here's the website! It's a great resource for everyone, and I suggest visiting.
http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

Here's their facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/itgetsbetterproject

17 March 2011

DOMA To Be Repealed? What Does It All Mean?



For those who don't know much about DOMA, it's the Defense Of Marriage Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. In the law, the federal government defines marriage as between a man and a woman. What this means, essentially, is that no state can be required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.  Someone married in California (before Proposition 8) does not have to be recognized by Michigan, which has a law restricting lesbians and gays from marrying.

"DOMA, the law declared unconstitutional by both President Obama and Attorney General Holder, as well as two federal court judges in several different cases, bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, and allows states to not allow these marriages either."

A few weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced that DOMA would no longer be defended in the courts by the Justice Department (been there, discussed that). Obama was essentially saying that DOMA was viewed as unconstitutional in his administration's eyes. This was a big leap forward for gay rights in this country, because it meant there was finally a supportive president in the White House. Many people had found Obama to be MIA on this issue, and this was proof otherwise.

But more recently, House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans have taken actions for the legal defense of DOMA (also been there, also discussed that). They basically overturned what Obama decided.

Well, now Democrats are fighting back again.



Last Wednesday, the March 16, Sen. Diane Feinstein has introduced a bill that would repeal DOMA, called the "Respect for Marriage Act." It has 17 cosponsors.

On the same day, Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced an equivalent bill in the the House. It has 102 cosponsors. This is not Nadler's first attempt, but he hopes this time it will be a successful one.

What's next? Well, two things. One, we have to wait. Two, everyone should be calling their representatives and senators and telling them to vote for the Respect for Marriage Act.

Here's where to find your representative's number. 


Here's where to find your senators' number.

For marriage equality! Let's do this together!

15 March 2011

Is the Tide Turning?

Obama announced that he believes the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and that his administration would no longer defend it.

House Republicans have decided to continue to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. 



Maryland was on the road to being the next state to allow gay marriage.
The bill was tabled until 2012 without a vote because it didn't have enough support. It was killed for this year. 


These are just a few examples. I was feeling very optimistic a few weeks ago, before the news above was apparent. This video from MSNBC summarizes well:




Yes, there are steps forward. But every attempt of forward movement seems to be countered with a push backward, frequently coming, it seems, from Republicans.

There will be a post about bullying coming later this week, but it will suffice to say here that the issues of equal rights and equal acceptance are more important than ever. 

I'm writing this while feeling discouraged after reading about Exodus International, an organization known to try and cure homosexuality, has an iphone application to better reach people with their message.

This post is somewhat of a pep talk to myself, and I hope for others as well. We are making progress. We have an administration in the White House that is on our side, if it has been a bit slow to act. The public is increasingly becoming more supportive of gay rights, although whether there is a majority who support gay marriage is debatable.

Why is there this public shift? It's because people are becoming more willing to talk about this. LGBTQ issues are increasingly becoming more public, and less taboo. The other day, I heard someone say "That's so gay" and I was ready to jump in and explain why that was an inappropriate remark. To my surprise, two other people beat me to it. 

That's just a small anecdote, but still, I see change happening around us. I see how Hope is Ready and Holland is Ready from my hometown are making progress. I see my friends and family becoming more vocal on this issue. I see the change. Tangible legal change is slower to come, but I'm beginning to see a social change.

And social change will be the foundation for the legal changes I and many others so desire. 
The key component to further change is to not be discouraged by the steps backward, but rather to use these disappointments to spur on this movement.

And it's important not to forget the progress we've already made.
My advice: be active and be vocal. It's going to take all of our efforts to achieve equal rights and acceptance. 



09 March 2011

Boehner, Republicans Defend DOMA

I can't say I'm surprised, but I can say I'm disappointed.

This is something that may be lost in the hullabaloo in Wisconsin and the uproar about NPR (What I want to know: Why isn't anyone talking about Michigan in the national news?), but in amidst all of this news, we should pay attention.

The Republicans have voted to continue to defend the Defense Of Marriage Act from 1996.


This article summarizes the situation well:

"The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, convened by Speaker Boehner, voted 3-2 to authorize the House to retain legal counsel. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) voted against the action. With at least nine cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA, spanning three appellate courts and four district courts in six states, today’s vote sets up an expansive and expensive undertaking.
Today's vote could result in spending millions of taxpayer dollars. There are at least nine federal lawsuits -- spanning three appellate courts and four district courts in six states -- challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. The panel did not disclose if they will authorize federal dollars to pay outside counsel to mount a defense of the DOMA law that federal court has found to be unconstitutional and the Department of Justice found to be indefensible."

Also, Rep. Franks, Republican from Arizona, is calling for Obama's impeachment based on the administration's DOMA decision.

There is so much going on in the political sphere these last few days my head is spinning. I think it's especially important that those of us in favor of gay marriage speak up, so this issue doesn't get lost in the hubbub.

07 March 2011

I'm Calling Bull

We're in for a long road on this one, folks.


When it comes to discussing LGBT things with children, parents are up in arms.




[Image from here]


I recently posted about Tennessee's proposed "Don't Say Gay Bill." The bill would propose that the only sexuality that could be discussed in elementary and middle school classrooms is heterosexuality. Why? State Senator Stacey Campfield (pictured below) says it's all about "age appropriateness." Confusion is already rife at this age. Why confuse them more with discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning topics?






I have a big, huge, monstrous, gigantic problem here. 
Several problems, actually.


First, there is a huge gap in the logic. Not talking about something means less confusion! Of course! Why didn't we think of this before! Not educating means more education! The paradox is clear to me now!


I'm calling bull. 


You know what a lack of education leads to? Ignorance. You know what ignorance leads to? Fear and misunderstanding and impersonalization. What does this lead to? Bullying, taunting, isolation, abuse, marginalization. 


Assault. Suicide. Murder.


Does this seem too abstract? Too unsupported? Too "liberal-on-a-rant"-esque? Well, let's refer to perhaps the most well-known education organization in the United States. The NEA shares in their 2009 GLBTQ report that such students face bullying and harassment that leads to lower grades, dropouts, hostility at home, homelessness, anxiety, depression, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. The report says that school employees often ignore homophobia in the classroom and around the school. Millions of individuals are victims of bullies, and millions more are the bullies themselves. There are more statistics and facts in the report. Check it out.


Doesn't seem like a big problem? Well, see here:


"Gay bullying has come into the national spotlight the past four years with cases of suicides from Ohio to Florida involving students as young as middle school age."


As young as middle school age.


This bill would restrict discussions and dialogue about LGBTQ issues to the students that need them most. This leads to marginalization of youth, which can be deadly. 


Children's lives are at stake. 


My sister experienced bullying and discrimination all her life while living in our conservative hometown of Holland, Mich. She wrote an open letter about it that can be read here. 


In 2008, Lawrence King, a fifteen year old from Oxnard, California was murdered while at school. 


There are so many more examples. I've seen it with my own eyes. 


Ignorance is out there, and it's having real life-and-death implications.


Here's another bit of faulty logic in this Tennessee bill. Proponents of this bill are worried about sexually confusing children with discussions of LGBTQ issues. Sure, age-appropriateness is an issue.  The details of heterosexual and homosexual sex should not by any means be taught to elementary students. The senator is missing something very important here, though.


Perhaps it's wrong to discuss personal sexual orientation with second graders. But what about families with two mommies or two daddies? Is it okay to talk about homosexual parents? How does it feel to have your family labelled as wrong, something illegal to be discussed in school, a marginalized "against the norm" entity? An elementary child has the right to see himself or herself represented in children's books and the like. Families with one mom, two moms, one dad, two dads, one mom and one dad and a step dad, foster parents, parents of different races, and so on should be represented! Check out the book Heather Has Two Mommies by LeslĂ©a Newman. Not only is it a very age appropriate book, but also one of the most challenged and censored children's books. 


Perhaps it's wrong to discuss personal sexual orientation with first graders. But is it wrong to discuss gender non-conformity? What about the boy who gets teased for dancing ballet, or the girl who is taunted for loving Nascar? Where do we draw the line? Check out the book The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein. Is this book about homosexuality? Would this book be banned under this law?


The Senator is completely ignoring alternative families and gender non-conformity


Additionally, middle school, containing some of the most confusing years of a person's life, can be key to educating about different types of love and the acceptance for it. This is where discussions of homosexuality are most important, I think. 


Just as people of color have been marginalized by being put in an "other" category, LGBTQ individuals and alternative families have been labelled as something "other" than the norm. Just like there is a White privilege, there is a heterosexual privilege as well. Heterosexism is a big problem. We have what anti-racist speaker Tim Wise calls a "the privilege of obliviousness." 


We have a long, long way to go in the fight for equal rights. But perhaps we have even farther to go for simple acceptance


There are perfectly age-appropriate ways to discuss homosexuality in elementary and middle school. There are perfect ways, even, to integrate it into the curriculum. 


But here's what I gather: it seems, and I may be wrong here, that the Senator and I are operating under different worldviews, different assumptions. Senator Campfield sees homosexuality as something wrong, something that needs to be restricted, something that we should protect our youth from. 


I, however, see my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning friends and family members and complete strangers not as something adverse to society, but just as people, people who happen to have a different sexual orientation from me. 


If Senator Campfield had been taught that lesson in school, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess. 


I know this has been a long, angry-word-filled post. But honestly, I'm sick of this. I'm sick inside about this marginalization of people. I'm sick of the bullying, the suicides, the ignorance. And I'm sick of this bull. And I will not be quiet about it.


Here's where you can find contact information for Senator Campfield. 










More info:


This fight to be inclusive of LGBTQ people and discussions in the school system is just at the start:


"Polls show that the public’s stance against same-sex marriage is softening, and education about gay issues has expanded dramatically in recent years around the country, but experts suggest that the battle over what should and should not be a part of public school curriculums has just begun."


The debate isn't limited to Tennessee. Check out what's going on in California.


I would like to thank my peer, Amanda Shepard, for her contributions to this post. She and I are doing a research project on LGBT themes in children's literature in the elementary classroom, and through her I became aware of the book Heather Has Two Mommies

03 March 2011

Equality Update-Feb. 2011


Obviously, the top story is what I called a leap forward—the Obama Administration is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act.

But there have been many other changes in the fight for equality since the last time I reported steps forward and backward.

On the DOMA Front…


Obama is being heavily criticized by Republicans for the move to stop defending the Defense Of Marriage Act. Surprise, surprise. Again, shouldn’t marriage equality be a nonpartisan issue?
                                                 (been there, discussed that).


House Speaker John Boehner predicts that House Republicans will defend DOMA with legislation.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, Democrat from New York, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, have said they will introduce bills that would repeal DOMA.

Since the initial announcement, there  has been much discussion on what dropping the defense of DOMA means. See my initial reaction hereFor some expert opinion, see here and here.



Other Marriage Equality Updates

The Wyoming Senate has decided not to ban the recognition of out-of-state gay and lesbian marriages.


The Maryland Senate has voted to give same-sex couples the right to marry. The bill’s support in the House of Delegates is uncertain. Maryland would be the sixth state to offer same-sex marriage. 

Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire are the other five.
 The Montana Senate has voted to legalize “homosexual activity.”

 Montana State Sen. Christine Kaufmann, an out lesbian:

 "For 30 years the words in this code have aligned me with people who molest animals. And what's my crime, of course? My family looks a little different than yours. For the past 20 years I have made a family with another woman, we have been happy, productive members of society and I'm not so much different than people in your communities."

No, it’s not marriage. But it’s something, right?


Still more American connections to Uganda and their "Kill the Gays Bill" (see here). An American teen abstinence group, with ties to the Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa
(advocating for a death penalty for
                                                            homosexuality), had received   
                                                            $6.5 million in federal funds.

A Bill has been introduced in North Carolina that would ban any legal union except marriage.


The Hawaiian civil union bill was signed into law by Gov. Abercrombie (Democrat). Hawaii is essentially the seventh state to give lesbians and gays marriage equivalent rights.



Other Updates:

Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield and Representative Bill Dunn (both Republicans) have proposed a bill to ban discussion of any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

                                                       It’s being called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill:

“No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”


A transgendered woman is running for mayor in Amarillo, Texas.



The White House has appointed Jeremy Bernard as the first openly gay social secretary.



?
The difficult issue of bathroom use by transgendered individuals is up for debate in Maine. Basically, it seems like there is an argument over who gets to decide who gets to use what bathroom. There are the courts, the Maine Human Rights Commission, and then there’s the legislature. I’m not sure where this one is going to end up. Who should have control over what bathroom is used? Would gender neutral bathrooms solve this problem, or create an "other" category? Thoughts?


Whew! So much going on! And there's more every day. Here's to hoping I can keep up with it. 

Here's a comic for thought to end an epically long post.