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.

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!] 

15 April 2011

Day of Silence

Today is the Day of Silence, and in honor of that this will be a short post. 



Today I have taken a vow of silence. My silence represents LGBTQ individuals who have been silenced by bullying, harassment, intolerance, and even suicide.


The religious right, in protest, is hosting a Day of Dialogue so students can tell their peers "what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality."


This is big part of why I'm being silent today, because ignorance like that still exists in the world. 


What are you doing to end the silence?



12 April 2011

The Queer Monologues at CMU and Straight Privilege

Tonight was my kick-off of Pride Week. And I have many reasons to be proud.


The Queer Monologues is "a production of works created by queer and queer positive writers." Individuals affiliated with CMU's Gay and Lesbian Programs performed in Plachta Auditorium tonight at Central Michigan University.


As a student at Central Michigan University, I'm sorry to admit that I haven't joined any of the LGBTQ organizations on campus. I've made it my number one goal next semester to join the Gay Straight Alliance here, called Spectrum. After The Queer Monologues, I'm more determined than ever to be involved in this active community on campus.


The Queer Monologues was a funny, at times tear-jerking, thought-provoking, and educational experience. Topics ranged from the difficulties of being gender nonconforming, bisexual, transgender, and also the difficulties of coming out in general.






The performers emphasized that LGBTQ individuals are all around us. For example, a gay man may live in San Fransisco, but a gay man could also live in a small town with his partner and children--even in my hometown of Holland, MI, no matter how much some residents would like to suppress this "lifestyle." These LGBTQ individuals do not necessarily follow stereotypes. There was a list of dozens and dozens of famous people that are or were LGBTQ (one in particular surprised me).


One performer discussed one specific difficulty of being transgender: her voice. That constant reminder of her past that hormones could not change.


Another talked about LGBTQ teen suicide. About society's inescapable intolerance of who she was. I don't know about other audience members, but tears were in my eyes.


I identified with one performer in particular. She was a straight ally. She talked about the difficulties of being a straight ally, difficulties I have experienced myself all through high school, and sometimes in college.


As I was walking back home after the Queer Monologues, I remembered a time my sister was walking with me in our hometown, Holland. She went to hug a friend goodbye on a street corner, and a car slowed down and the driver yelled crassly, "Get a room!" He assumed based on stereotypes that my sister was a lesbian. I remember having blood rush to my face and I had a mind to chase after the car and tell him what-for. I remember my sister shrugging with a little embarrassment, saying, "Forget about it." I know she has experienced many worse things than this, and has had the courage to share it with Holland's city counsel in this open letter (Here's the link again. And again. And again, bigger. Read it!)


That's the last thing I could do: forget it? I never have.


Doesn't everyone deserve to be able to walk down the street and hug a friend?


I don't have to worry about what people think when I talk about my significant other. I don't have to worry about what to call my significant other. Someday, I will have the right to visit my husband in the hospital, and the right to make important decisions. I can have children without anyone else having a say in it. I could adopt a child if I want to. I was never harassed in high school. I can hold my boyfriend's hand in public without a second glance from passersby. I know my family will accept me. I don't need announce my sexuality to anyone else; it is assumed. My friends, roommates, family members, and others are all comfortable with my sexual orientation. Nobody assumes I'm a pedophile. Nobody thinks children need to be protected from me. My children will see representations of their family in children's books and school curriculum. I am not told I "must be confused" or that my relationship is sinful. My church doesn't discuss whether my relationship will send me to Hell or not. There are TV shows or movies available with people of heterosexual orientation kissing or even having sex without it being a big deal. I am not defined or grouped or put in a box because of my sexual orientation. My sexual orientation won't be a problem at any workplace or classroom. I don't have to face hate because of one facet of my identity. I can get married. 





I don't need to be worried about being harassed on the street corner.


I have straight privilege. I am the heterosexual norm.


So, being a straight ally does have costs. Occasionally, people assume I'm a lesbian. Occasionally, I may be discriminated against because of my views. Twice, I received letters explaining why I'm going to Hell (because of this newspaper column).


But I don't experience 1% of the harassment, discrimination, oppression, or disadvantage that LGBTQ people do.


Sometimes, people wonder why I get so worked up about an issue that "doesn't even apply" to me.


Doesn't apply to me? I'm fighting for my future children and grandchildren and for my cousins and my sister and my friends. I'm fighting because I don't want another child to feel marginalized because of one small part of his or her identity. I'm fighting because I desperately want to prevent more of the ubiquitous teen LGBTQ suicides, and I wish I had been able to be an ally for those who needed one but didn't have one in the past. 




I'm an ally, and I'm proud of it. That's what Pride Week is all about. I'm proud of my sister, my friends, my acquaintances, and I'm proud to stand with them. You should be too. 


[My sister, me, and my mom in Oregon]


(Google Peggy McIntosh to read more about privilege)

08 April 2011

Satan is on our side?

The fight for LGBT equality is undeniably important. A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law says there there are 9 million gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals in the United States. And I'm willing to bet there are many more who are unwilling to "come out" because of the fear of marginalization.

However, I read something this morning about a poll being conducted by the website One News Now, run by the American Family Association (an anti-gay hate group). This poll asks:

"What's the major factor that allows homosexuals-a tiny fraction of the whole population-to dictate major changes in cultural morality?"

The winning reason? "Satan is on their side."


I'm not even going to go into the religious aspect of this, just the hinted at idea that LGBT are a small minority insidiously controlling sinister cultural change.

So, it's true. LGBT people are a minority: they make up approximately 3.5% of the population. That is small. So what's wrong with the logic of the above statement?

First of all, while it's obvious that lesbian and gays want their right to marry, it's apparently not obvious to this organization that there are many heterosexual supporters out there. An ABC/Washington Post poll reports that 53% of US adults say that same-sex marriage should be legal. I'd bet that as more and more teenagers reach the age of 18, this number is going to get larger.

So, it's not a minority of people influencing supposedly "evil" cultural change, but a majority of adults. 

I take issue with the idea that homosexuals are the only ones dictating this "moral change." There are so many straight allies, including myself, and the ABC/Washington Post poll supports this assertion.



I feel very strongly that as long as some group is oppressed, we all are oppressed. I want the lesbian and gay individuals in my life to have the same opportunity I have: to get married.

And- I don't believe satan could possibly influence something as uncontaminated and moral as love. The love between two people, no matter the gender.



(As a side note, check out this blog post by Pathetically Domestic Partners. It expresses the extreme desire for LGBT marriage. As a warning, there is some language, so don't click the link if you might be offended).

07 April 2011

Odd News: A Homosexual or Transsexual Caveman?

When I read that headline, I was completely disbelieving. I thought this bit of odd news would be an interesting change of pace before my next post (which will be about steps backward in the fight for equality).

Yes, you read the title right. It's being reported by Time that the Czech Archaeological Society discovered some 5,000-year-old remains of a cavemen. The researchers have said he may be 'Homosexual or Transsexual.' Why? He was buried strangely.



These Czech researchers are reporting that this male caveman was buried laying on his left side, with his head facing east. Also, domestic jugs and a egg-shaped pot were found buried with him.

What does this mean?

The caveman was buried in the way consistent with how women were buried. Time is reporting that this indicates this caveman may have been homosexual or transsexual.

Men were typically buried facing west with their knives and weapons.
More from Time:


"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," Vesinova said at a press conference.  "Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual."


This isn't the only instance of a gender-bending burial. Katerina Semradova told the Daily Mail that there was a female warrior that once had been found, buried like a man would have been. Sometimes Shamans were also buried in gender-nonconforming ways. The team has suggested that they are quite sure this particular find wasn't some sort of "witch doctor."

NPR allows for a few points of skepticism. Dr. Lemont Dobson, a historian and archaeologist at Drury University, noted that there is 90% accuracy when determining the sex of a skeleton by looking at the pelvis. Also, this archaeologist isn't convinced these remains were not those of a shaman or witch doctor.

I'm not sure what I think. What do YOU think? Is this real, or is this just archeological extrapolation?

03 April 2011

Coming Out and Suicide: Words Matter

Via my good friend, Jenny.

This courageous girl, senior Kayla Kearney from Maria Carillo High School, came out to her high school at an assembly honoring Martin Luther King Jr. this year. She takes on the issues of her coming out in an incredibly admirable, brave manner.

Please watch this video. When I started, I was in a hurry with many things to do. 30 seconds into the video I was hooked, and I watched it from beginning to end.


Among other things, she directly answers those who say her sexual orientation is a choice, and those who say she must not act on her feelings. In an especially impassioned section, she describes how she wants to fall in love, walk down the street holding someone's hand, hold them and tell them everything's alright, and eventually, she wants to get married. It just so happens that Kayla wants to be with a girl.


"I want to break the silence... I want to stand up here and talk about this because no one ever does."

The importance of speaking up and standing up for vulnerable teens is extremely apparent. There is a cost, and this cost has a face. Unfortunately, many faces.




    Lance Lundsten (March 2011)

    Age 18








      Adam Wood (March 2011)

      Age 19








      Age 13









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        Age 15






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              Age 15






                There are many more suicides that are not available for me to find on the internet. And there could be many more to come.

                The reason for this? It's simple: HATE. And hate often stems from ignorance.

                Watch this video of Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber, saying gay kids are inclined to commit suicide because they know being gay is immoral and unnatural.



                Kayla understood well the power of words when she came out to her school.  

                Words can hurt, but words can also help.

                I want to ask you all who are reading this to remember that power, and to promise to never be quiet again. You really can help save lives.