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 November 2012

All Eyes on the Supreme Court

Later this afternoon, the Supreme Court is set to announce whether they will rule on same-sex marriage in the upcoming year (update at bottom of post!)

If they decide to take up the case, it would most likely be heard in March, with a decision in June. Ten petitions are in front of the court, and eight of them are about the federal Defense of Marriage Act (a more detailed legal description can be found here). The justices are behind closed doors right now (I'll post an update after their decision!).  

In places like New York or Iowa, marriage equality is recognized under state law, but not recognized by federal law because of the Defense of Marriage Act (which the Obama administration believes is unconstitutional). So, legally married same-sex couples do not have equal access to federal rights. California's Proposition 8 (a ban on same-sex marriage that was recently overturned and is now being appealed) is one of the issues before the Supreme Court. If the justices take on this case, the court could potentially only rule for the couples in California. Or, they could rule on the issue of marriage equality in all states. I cannot express how HUGE that decision would be.

This comes after a series of historic victories for equality on election day. After Maryland, Maine, and Washington approved same-sex marriage, a total of nine states have legal same-sex marriage. 

This is addition to re-electing the first president in American history to support marriage equality. 

However, a total of 31 states have banned same-sex marriage in their constitutions, and 7 states have banned it by state law.

(From Mother Jones. Not pictured: Alaska, banned by constitutional amendment, and Hawaii, banned by state law)


So, even though the tide is turning, we still have a long way to go. And that is why this Supreme Court needs to take up the issue. Fighting for marriage equality state by state has left a patchwork of unacceptable inequalities. 

As the Supreme Court said in 1967:

"Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival."

This was in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which finally declared race-based anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. To continue:

"To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law...Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Let's not forget what this is all about. This is about rights, this is about equality for all, this is about societal acceptance, and this is about love.


Richard and Mildred Loving, arrested to for violating the law against marriage between a white and a black person in Virginia. (1960s)


Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, the first couple to be married under New York's marriage equality law (Watch part of their ceremony. Beware of the potential for an outpouring of tears.)

Mildred Loving (pictured above), was quoted on the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 ruling Loving v. Virginia, in a rare public statement only a year before her death:

"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights."

This Supreme Court case could be huge. It could have a federal impact, or it could just have an impact on California. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." So let's get to work!

Join with me today in calling for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. From my family to your family, let equality, love, and acceptance be the ultimate goals

And let's get there sooner rather than later.

-JJC


-----
UPDATE 4:30 pm, 30 Nov. 2012
Supreme Court delays the decision on which case to hear another week. But it's likely that they will be hearing at least one of the cases. More from the LA Times here

-----
UPDATE around 3:00 pm 7 Dec. 2012

The Supreme Court has announced they will take two cases about marriage equality during this session! They will be deciding cases about the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. This is good news! Read more from the New York Times here.

--------
PS--There's an interesting film in production about many issues I talk about on this blog. Check it out to see if it's something you'd like to support. 

03 November 2012

An Election About Life and Death and Love

This election is of vital importance. 

For the first time, the President of the United States came out in favor of same-sex marriage. I was beyond excited when Obama gave voice to an affirmation that resonated around the globe (see my blogpost about my enthusiasm and reservations about his statements here). This was huge, massive even. It was a giant leap toward equality. 

But in this election, the progress I've fought for--that we've fought for--could be taken away from us. And, astonishingly, there's been next to nothing from either presidential campaign about LGBTQ equality. The presidential candidates had a debate on domestic issues, and yet the millions of LGBTQ Americans without rights were not even mentioned. It's time to make the case for a President that believes in LGBTQ equality.

This election is of vital importance. 

I could talk about how I disagree with Mitt Romney's views on women's rights, the environment, healthcare, and education for hours. I could explain how I agree with major components of Obama's platform for a few more hours. But right here, I'm only going to delve into an extremely personal issue for me: marriage equality. 

This election is of vital importance.  I have friends tell me it's all a bunch of political "BS," that real change won't ever happen, that it's not worth voting, that it won't make a real difference for people who is president.


But they're so wrong. This election is about whether my sister will have access to equal marriage rights within the next four years. This is tangible, this is real, but it's also not just about my sister.

It's about millions of people. It's about the kids with lesbian or gay parents, it's about hospital visitation, it's about tax benefits, it's about bullying to the point of suicide, it's about partner healthcare benefits, it's about access to first-time home buyer programs, it's about veterans' partner benefits, it's about societal acceptance. It's about the 1,138 benefits or rights of marriage (as calculated in 2003 by the US General Accountability Office) that gay and lesbian couples have unequal access to. 

This election is of vital importance. It's about what these candidates stand for, and how they're going to serve all of the citizens of this country.

Gov. Mitt Romney

Insensitive:

  • "I didn't know you had families."
  • Thinks Don't Ask Don't Tell was effective. Although, he has disagreed with himself on this issue. 

Ignorant:

  • "Some gays are actually having children born to them... It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and a father."

Dangerous:

  • Blocked a Massachusetts bullying guide for public schools because it contained the words "transgender" and "bisexual."
  • Vetoed hate crime prevention in Massachusetts, doesn't see any need for additional anti-discrimination laws, and his running mate voted against the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 

Don't forget how dangerous and prevalent LGBTQ bullying is. This is an extremely significant issue, and to be against hate crime and bullying prevention can have incredibly dire results.

Unconstitutional:

Backward:


Keep in mind that Gov. Romney is trying to sound much more moderate than his actions have shown he is. Please explore the bullet points above to fully understand his views. Also, unlike what he implies in the above video, he does not support further nondiscrimination policies, national equal rights initiatives, bullying prevention if it includes transgender individuals, and holds contempt for same-sex parents. I don't know what "gay rights" he is in favor of, but supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage makes it pretty clear where he stands. 

President Barack Obama

In terms of what Obama has done, I outlined a more detailed report on this blog post, but to sum it up:
  • Supports and has enacted bullying prevention programs that includes LGBTQ people.
  • Made hate crimes against LGBTQ people a federal offense. 
  • Supports same-sex marriage (with some reservations).
  • Supports LGBTQ human rights initiatives around the globe.
  • Declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional
Forward:




The next President will continue to make important decisions about marriage rights, LGBTQ people in the military, bullying and hate crime prevention, and perhaps most importantly, will have the opportunity to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who will continue to impact these kinds of decisions long into the future. If Obama is reelected, I truly believe that in four years we will either have marriage equality or will be a lot closer to it. After the first four years, we sure are closer to marriage equality than ever before. 

This election is of vital importance. Get to the polls, and get everyone you know to the polls. This is an extremely personal issue for me. I've seen the beginnings of real change, and I do not want to go backwards.

I mean, come on America. This is about life and death and love. It's unacceptable to be on the sidelines. Vote for equality.

Your vote will matter for millions of school children with two moms or two dads who don't understand why the world says their mommies or daddies can't get married, why their family is wrong. It will matter for the teen contemplating suicide because their society rejects their identity. It will matter for the same-sex couple who has been together for thirty years, and cannot understand why they are labeled as a sinful "other" undeserving of equal rights.

This election is about life and death and love.

So. Let's go forward. 

-JJC

09 May 2012

Finally! Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

Today, something truly great happened. President Barack Obama has finally come out and said what many people already knew: he's in favor of marriage equality.


(For some giggles, check out Fox Nation's original response to this, although it has been recently altered slightly).

Why is this happening now? Well, one could argue that this was simply a long time coming. Of course, there are the arguments that this is incredibly political (to which I have to say: what does a President of the United States do that isn't political?)

However, I believe it's actually due to what I like to call THE BIDEN BOMB.

Watch this:


After Biden's comments, the Obama 2012 campaign at first backtracked Biden's statements. After a few more days of uproar by the LGBTQ community, Obama has finally come out in favor of lesbian and gay marriage rights himself.

I have seen so many comments and announcements that Obama is, yet again, using "words not actions." However, it's been nearly the opposite. At the same time that Obama was "evolving" on the issue according to his statements, his administration has:
So, what does Obama's statement mean in context of the rest of his administration? Obama stopped short of the full endorsement I had been hoping for, and I have several issues with his statement. And, it's clear that this is the perfect political storm for this to happen, with "gay money" supposedly replacing "Wall Street money," the Romney campaign's completely egregious stomping on gay people earlier this month, the Biden Bomb, and North Carolina's very recent approval of a ban on same-sex marriage all create the political storm that almost required Obama come forward and say something.

And he did say something. It doesn't matter if it's politically motivated, and it doesn't matter much that it's imperfect. He said something.

What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.

Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.

So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Words are so powerful. They are used in campaign ads by both sides to either demonize or idolize politicians. They are used to bully. They are used to give hope and inspire. Words give movements power. They start things and they end things. They are used on both sides to rally around or against an issue. 

So, let's rally. 



Obama's administration has been taking seemingly small actions to further LGBTQ equality for nearly four years, and I've been blogging about them for over a year now. However, until today, there has been no rallying point. People I know are in favor of LGBTQ rights have no idea what Obama has already done because the administration hasn't been willing to broadcast it. I had to read between the lines when Obama slightly hinted at being in favor of gay marriage over a year ago.

Today, he actually said it. People are reading and watching and discussing and rallying. This is what I've been waiting for. Movements around the globe will be energized by having Obama's support.

Grain of salt time: what Obama has said--it's not perfect. And it's dangerous to take these words and assume change has been achieved. Progress has been made, but Obama still says that states should be allowed to make their own decisions, like North Carolina just did. North Carolina is the last of the Southern states to approve a ban on same-sex marriage. Do you know what this reminds me of?


When states were allowed to vote about whether or not people who looked a certain way could be enslaved or not. This is not the same issue, but it's similar. The rights of the minority cannot be decided by an oppressive majority. I urge Obama to jump to the right side of history instead of tentatively stepping over the line. A politician with so much at stake, I understand that he actually has to be reelected in order to take further action on this issue. Nevertheless, I believe that with more than half the country supporting lesbian and gay marriage, it's time for Obama to make that leap. 

So let's rally not around Obama's statements, but around the promise they hold. And let's continue pushing for some change we can believe in.

15 February 2012

In Case Anyone Forgot About (Love)

This is what love looks like:



Married 2011



Married 1992

My Grandparents, Married 1952



Married 2005 (actually a civil partnership)

Married 2008 (but without federal rights)



Together since the '90s (but unmarried because of inequality)

My Sister, Coco Lam, and Casey Watson, To Be Married July 14th, 2012! (will they have equal rights?)




Happy Day After Valentine's Day 

Shouldn't we all get to (love) without (parentheses)?



27 January 2012

That Old Slippery Slope Argument (VIDEOS)

If we allow gay people to get married, what's to stop us from accepting a man with a horse? A woman and a 10-year-old boy? A man and a rock? A woman with a starfish?

This is an argument we've heard over, and over, and over. 



Many people don't know how to counter the argument at first. Those of us who know gay and lesbian couples can't even fathom how to explain that how love between two people is different from bestiality and pedophilia. I can't quite make the jump that two loving, consenting people marrying each other could lead to these things. To me, the following argument makes about as much sense as the slippery slope argument:

"If we let women vote, the next thing you know we'll all be walking around naked!"

But, many people truly believe that LGBT people put society at risk. So, in a concise manner, I've decided to counter those old ideas that people still believe.
  • If we let men marry men and women marry women, pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, and people having sex with rocks will come next.


Just like the video mentioned above, marriage and sex is between two consenting adults. Children, animals, and rocks cannot consent to these things. It seems like more of a plateau than slippery slope to me.
  • Children are not safe with LGBTQ people.

Is Cinderella a part of the "straight pedophile movement," then?

Children are just as safe with LGBTQ people as with straight people. LGBTQ people are not more likely to be pedophiles than straight people. We see lesbian and gay couples and immediately think about sexuality... but what we should be thinking about is relationships. We have got to stop thinking about LGBTQ people in different terms than straight people. Really, there isn't as much of a difference as we think.
  • God has punished LGBTQ people with HIV/AIDS.


Being gay does not make a person more susceptible to HIV/AIDS, unsafe sex and dirty needles do. People always complain about the evil "behaviors" of LGBT people. Like I said earlier, straight people can contract HIV/AIDS the same way that gay people can: unsafe sex and dirty needles, or perhaps even a blood transfusion from back before donors were screened.
  • Lesbians and gays should not be allowed to adopt because children need a mother and a father. 
"Mother" and "father" are social roles we have created for ourselves, not necessarily biological ones. This idea comes from the fact that we need to learn our gender roles from our parents. This is such an old idea: would you believe that I learned to cook from my father and my mom pays all the bills? Children need role models for how to become good people, not for how to fulfill old fashioned gender roles. It's more important for a child to have a healthy, happy, loving couple as their parents than for each parent to have different genitalia than the other. There are so many kids who need homes, and so many healthy families that would be willing to give them one. This one is a no brainer for me.
  • LGBT people are unnatural. 


A quick Google search led me to this news article which claims that at least 1500 species "practice" homosexuality in nature. Lesbian and gay people can live many different lives, just like straight people. They may like to go to those stereotypical gay bars (I sure know a lot of straight people like to go to "straight" bars) or they may be in their pajamas by 8 pm.

They may be artists or engineers or accountants or actors, just like straight people. "The gays" make imperfect parents and people, just like "the straights." I'm really tired of pointing fingers talking about "those gay people" like they're some sort of "other."

"They" are, simply put, a part of "us." And it's time we start thinking about it that way.  



We're all people.


Respectfully, and always hopefully,
Jaime J. Coon, Ally

24 January 2012

The Straight State of the Union

Am I the only one who missed Obama talking about LGBTQ equality in tonight's speech?

Here's what I tweeted before the State of the Union:



Alas! Though it apparently merited rewteeting by the NY Times, Obama did nothing to endorse LGBTQ equality, although his actions would suggest otherwise (see here, here, here, and especially HERE).

What do you all think? Is Obama strong enough on LGBTQ equality? Do you think gay marriage will be an issue in the upcoming election?

In some good news: it looks like Washington will be the seventh state to approve gay marriage! Read more here: http://heraldnet.com/article/

19 January 2012

Holland Isn't Ready? (Videos and Commentary)



Last year, my hometown's City Council voted down partial equal rights for LGBTQ people. I've been working on this blog post ever since then, but I've been unable to put my very strong emotions into effective words (although frustrated ranting came quite easily). 


After the hours I've spent in City Council meetings, only to hear the vote for an addendum to the Anti-discrimination policy lose 5-4, I couldn't bear to write about it. I was devastated. 


But, when you compare my hours in those meetings to the hours LGBTQ people face inequality... it really doesn't compare. It's actually selfish of me to not share Holland's story with whoever has time to read it. 


This week is a week of hopeful celebration for Holland, and I now want to share my story. We didn't achieve what we want--yet. But Holland better get ready. 


Holland has been fighting for these rights like I've never seen before. Last year, the Human Relations Commission unanimously recommended that the Holland City Council adopt new language to the Anti-Disrimination Ordinance to include LGBT people and gender identity. 


I've been struggling with: how can we make our small-towns ready for this change? Can we keep families together by increasing inclusion at the city level? Although this measure was defeated, I cannot help but feel optimistic now that a few months have passed.


The day of the vote, I attended and spoke out at the five-hour-long meeting. I was surprised to find myself surrounded with fellow equality supporters.






I arrived early to get a seat in the front row; the room was packed. The Grand Rapids Press reported that there were 250 people stuffed into the room, and there were a number of people spilling out into the atrium of the building. A huge majority of the people there were in support of the proposed amendments to city law, something I was very surprised to discover.


Holland is becoming a battleground for small-town LGBTQ rights. The city has a reputation for being religious, called "The City of Churches." The city also has a reputation for being anti-gay.


About a year ago, the local newspaper, the Holland Sentinel, published obviously bigoted paid advertisements which promoted "family values" and was extremely anti-gay. Additionally, when Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter of the movie "Milk," was scheduled to talk to Hope College Students, the college prevented him from coming and created a national media-worthy story.








But that is the bad, and much good is growing in Holland. An organization called "Holland is Ready" has been at the forefront of LGBTQ equality, along with its partner organization "Hope is Ready." The local PFLAG is a wonderful resource, also.


On June 7, 2010, the City Council referred for study the addition of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of protected classes to the Human Relations Commission. The HRC then researched the issue for much of this year, and then unanimously voted in favor of recommending that the City Council adopt these amendments to the Civil Rights Ordinances in Holland.


The so-called "Gay Rights Ordinance" (the name given to it by media sources) was brought to a vote this summer. Before the vote, the City Council hosted an open forum for public comment.



I've talked about my sister on this blog many times. And even though she was hundreds of miles away in Eugene, Oregon when the forum took place, her family, our family, was out in force. We saw how Holland marginalized her and many others. It was time to take our stand, for her, and for the many others.


I attended the meeting with my friend, boyfriend, mother, grandfather, and grandmother. But also attending was my pastor, my sister's dad, our brother and his girlfriend, and so many others. I had gone into the meeting thinking that the ordinance would fail. But when I heard the unique and convincing arguments pile up at the Council Members' feet, I couldn't help but hope.


When it was time to vote, it was very anti-climactic. It was 11:30 at night, and we sat there and listened as many of the Council Members spoke as if they hadn't heard us.


Voting for the ordinance at this point wasn't by any means final approval. Because of this, one of the Council Members who did vote for the ordinance admitted he had doubts, but he wanted to see where this would go.


The five who voted no, including Mayor Dykstra, explained that they were for equal rights, but not for top-down measures "forcing" equal rights upon citizens. One Council Member even explained that if we really thought Holland was ready, we should try and change individual hearts, not the opinion of nine Council Members.


I found this ridiculous, and I have to admit it was hard to sit still in my seat. First of all, one of reasons we have representative government is for their judgement and ability to protect minority rights. We should not have to leave it up to the majority to decide whether a particular minority deserves to be protected. This argument is a cop-out. Think of all the major Civil Rights Laws. Remember any that were voted on by the majority of the country? 


"The motion has failed."


Those four words settled heavily upon us as supporters slowly filed out of the room at nearly midnight. I remember my 79 year-old grandfather's head in his hands, the tears in my mother's eyes.


Would it ever be safe for my sister to come home to us? 


What of the others? What of the suicides that happen in less supportive communities? What do all the closeted LGBTQ teenagers think when they read the front page of the Holland Sentinel and see that their city doesn't support them? 


Since this discouraging City Council Meeting, Holland is Ready hasn't disappeared as perhaps many would have hoped. Other organizations have stepped forward as well. Until Love is = is one of those organizations. 


The motion has failed?





And now the ultimate irony.


Last night, Holland is Ready was awarded a Social Justice award by the Holland City Council itself. Remember that Human Relations Commission I mentioned earlier that voted unanimously to recommend the City Council vote for this measure? Well, the HRC, in what might be act of resistance, is in charge of giving out these awards.


Reverend Jane Adams, accepting the award, commented:


“We might in fact be the only group ever who in one six month time period were first denied the rights we requested and were then celebrated by the city for our efforts in seeking those rights.”


It's also interesting to note that  Wayne Klomparens was elected to City Council in the last election. He supports the Nondiscrimination Policy. On the day of the award, he suggested a revote in the future on this issue. We're moving in the right direction.


We need this ordinance. It's up to our government to protect us. And they left us in the cold.


So, maybe we haven't reached our goal yet. 


Equality sometimes feels far out of reach. But every day Holland is Ready, Until Love is =, and YOU are out there working for equal rights, more people join our side. 
The right side of history.

Sincerely,
        Jaime J. Coon

Former Holland Sentinel Columnist
Former International Relations Commission Student Representative for the City of Holland
Holland High School Valedictorian and Graduate
Holland Public Schools Attendee for 13 Years
Daughter of Two Holland Teachers
Granddaughter, Niece, Cousin, of Many Holland Residents

Sister of Former Holland Resident, Who Now Lives in Oregon,
 Because Holland Wasn't Ready for Her

PS-- To Holland City Council: Get Ready. Your residents are going to show you how ready they are. Some people tried to tell you that this message was coming from the outside. Well, here I am, born and raised in Holland (see above list), and I'm telling you I will not live in Holland when I graduate from college unless Holland shapes up. And you definitely have a hand in that. You will go down in the history books already for being old fashioned and backwards in the eyes of history. Let's change that!


18 January 2012

This Is What I'm Fighting For

This video encapsulates what I'm fighting for, and why. Wonder why I'm so impassioned about gay rights? I cannot stand the inequality, the suicides, the bullying,  the hate. This is about people's lives.

Maybe you consider my right to marry unaffected because I'm straight.

Maybe you considered my protection against discrimination uninfringed upon because I'm straight.

Maybe you consider my acceptance in church, representation of relationships like mine in hollywood, ability to assume you all know my sexuality, knowing my parents won't throw me out of the house, knowing that I won't be shot for my sexuality, are all reasons for me to be less passionate about gay rights.

Because I have the privilege. Many of you reading this have the privilege.

Wrong. We are all affected. While one person is in chains, so are we all. 

I absolutely hate that I have this innate privilege that others, just as deserving as I, don't have.

My sister's getting married this summer. Only--she can't legally get married in Oregon. Not only that, she can never have a normal life. And it's because of people and institutions that have the ability to change.

And it isn't because she isn't normal. She's human, just like me.

Please, join the movement. 

Watch:

12 January 2012

Invisible Creatures

It won't stop happening until we fix things. 

Eric James Borges, 19 years old, has killed himself. He's a prominent teen filmmaker and has worked for The Trevor Project (an organization fighting LGBTQ teen suicide). Please watch the film "Invisible Creatures" he directed and produced (below); it's truly beautiful.





We absolutely have to stop this, and we all have the power. Say a few words to someone who is hurting. Don't be afraid to stand up to the bullies. Be a social and political voice for LGBTQ individuals. There is so much struggle already involved with human existence. We must stop this needless loss.


Also watch Eric's It Gets Better video, recorded a month ago. It's truly heartbreaking under these circumstances.



Remember, love is love is love. Love is always natural. Love is always good, never evil. Support love for straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, anyone and everyone.

It could save a life.