My Story

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

27 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:

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.

        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. 


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.