Archive | October, 2010

Obama Says “It Gets Better”

22 Oct

On the heels of some unpopular decisions and for a community that sees him as not living up to the “Fierce Advocate” label he gave himself during the campaign, President Obama has taken a step forward by addressing anti-gay bullying in this “It Gets Better” video.

He may not be the superhero we all hoped he would be, but it’s encouraging to see him addressing this vital issue…and he’s even wearing a purple tie.

On Blame and Suicide

21 Oct

Being a teen is hard.  Being a gay teen is harder still.  Many of our LGBT teens live in a harsh and dangerous environment.  Last month’s well documented teen suicides have raised the issue to the national level.   By now many of us are well aquainted with the Trevor Project and the Make It Better Project, and we have hopefully all seen the It Gets Better Project videos.  Even Hillary Clinton recorded a video for the project:

Just in the past few days we have lost two more young people to suicide.  Terrel Williams, 17, hung himself after a violent encounter at school.

Corey Jackson, 19, hung himself in the woods near his university.

And again, these are just the reported cases.  We will never know how many countless others have taken their lives because of the world adults have created for them.

Suicide is an awful and complicated tragedy.  Lets be honest: there’s plenty of blame to go around.  Does the blame rest on the bullies who drove some of these youths to the edge? Are our school administrators to blame for not providing a safe environment, on and off campus? Do we need to examine our parenting and family support systems? Are lawmakers responsible for not codifying youth protections in the law? Might anti-gay religious leaders be at fault for deliberately mis-informing their followers about homosexuality?  Can we be doing more as a community to support our youth? And, yes, we do need to ask what responsibility those in question had in making their situations better.

It’s a hard reality, but every single person who could have done something to change the circumstances surrounding these tragedies shares some of the blame.

Without a doubt anti-gay religious leaders contribute to an environment that is detrimental to the mental health of LGBT youth and fuels the fires of bullies all over the world.  Two Thirds of Americans share this view, according to a brand new CNN Poll.  Mitchell Gold writes about this influence:

People of faith must ask whether they are complicit in causing such devastation and whether their beliefs give them the right to judge and condemn others–even when those beliefs may convince a young person that he would rather be dead than gay.

Certainly bullies share a good portion of the blame for the circumstances they create, like the five kids who bullied Terrel Williams the day he hung himself.

Our schools need to be safe, and it is the job of administrators to ensure that safety extends to every child.

Congress is sitting on two important pieces of legislation which could help, and it looks like they aren’t going anywhere.  Chris Geidner writes:

Discussion of LGBT bullying and youth suicide has led to increased efforts by organizations and individuals to eliminate – or, at least, lessen – both. The Congress, however, has taken a recess so that members can campaign for the upcoming midterm elections, so little discussion has focused on legislation in Congress that could help.

There are so many contributing factors to this harsh environment that it is unfair to blame any influence solely.  But combined, all are complicit.  Until we can create an environment where every youth is given an equal chance at a healthy and nurturing environment the suicides will continue.

No one is blameless in this.  We can all do more.

Even me.

UPDATED: GA Teacher FIRED Over Gay Film

20 Oct

Dave Dixon in Rehearsal (Haralson County High School Website)

Dave Dixon is the Drama teacher at Haralson County High School in     Tallapoosa, GA. and has been for four years. In those four years, Mr. Dixon knows that he’s personally responsible for stopping at least three kids from taking their own lives and at least a dozen more who’ve stayed in school because of him. On top of that, he has led the school to many victories in theatre competition (Think Sue Sylvester for the Drama Club set).

Teaching tolerance to his students has always been a high priority for Dixon, having grown up in theatre and having lost several friends to AIDS in the 80s and 90s – and with the current state of things he has tried to step-up the anti-bullying education in his own High School.

Last week, Dixon showed a clip from an award-winning film featuring his friend, openly-gay actor Bruce Hart. The film -“The Reckoning” is about a gay man kidnapped and tortured into revealing information about the gay community. Admittedly, some of the dialogue in the short clip on Hart’s demo reel might be a bit shocking, but according to Dixon “it’s nothing these kids don’t hear or say everyday.” Dixon believes if the film was about heterosexuals using similar language, he would not be attending a hearing this week over his termination.

Dixon told Talk About Equality:

“During this time of so many kids hurting themselves over bullying, I thought it would be a good subject.  I was wrong.  I teach my students about the human condition in my theater classes, and to play a part means to understand the character.  Through that understanding, I hope my students will become more tolerant of all types of people, regardless of background, race, orientation or behavior.”

Charles Needham, the principal of the High School said that his school has “no

Principal Charles Needham (Haralson County High School website)

more incidents of bullying than any other high school” and doesn’t personally know of any students in his school that are gay. When asked if there was any club or alliance in place for LGBT students, Mr. Needham referred to the “Partners Club,” which from a quick hearing of the club description, appeared to be focused primarily on students with disabilities and/or different “social choices.” Nothing in the club’s description mentioned LGBT students in particular. He refused to comment on Mr. Dixon’s pending termination hearing.

No matter what the outcome of Mr. Dixon’s case, it seems Haralson County High School has some work to do when it comes to being a comfortable place for LGBT students.

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UPDATE: We understand that Mr. Dixon was terminated last night. Tonight, Dixon spoke to Talk About Equality:

“I was fired for what they called an ongoing problem of insubordination. They claimed I didn’t follow the rules. Although I can’t remember a specific rule they told me I didn’t follow. Now they state that no teacher can show any film, or film clip, until it has been approved by a supervisor. That means if I teacher finds a teachable moment, a chance to make a difference, but it is not in the lesson plan, then they cannot do it. We are appealing. A lot of the case was about the article in Teaching Tolerance. They claim I have no right to speak my opinion about the school or the system.”

We wish Mr. Dixon luck in his appeal. Any teacher interested in educating about diversity in a community that so desperately needs it, deserves our support.

Maggie Gallagher “Gay Teen Suicides Not My Fault!”

20 Oct

It would seem to make sense that when kids are taught to hate other kids for how they differ, that they would then pick-on or bully those kids. But apparently the woman who leads the way in teaching people that LGBT people are only trying to destroy families is not responsible for the anti-LGBT feelings that pervade our country.

Maggie Gallagher, the President of the so called “National Organization for Marriage” has spent the

Maggie Gallagher (Photo: The Advocate)

better part of the past ten years attacking LGBT people. She even managed to use her position as a columnist to get paid by both the papers and the Bush Administration as a contractor hired to promote Bush’s anti-equality agenda.

But today, Maggie outdoes herself. She complains about people in the equality movement calling her out for her lies about us:

“Evan Wolfson, one of the leading architects of the gay marriage movement, calls me out personally: “National Organization for Marriage Chairman Maggie Gallagher is among those who, with reckless disregard, attacks LGBT youth.”

Former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides told the AP these suicides demonstrate why gays should be allowed to marry: “When you speak out for full equality now, as opposed to partial equality, or incremental equality, you send a message to everybody, including the bullies, that everyone is equal.””

She then goes on to quote statistics about LGBT kids in Massachusetts (where marriage equality is recognized, but still fought by organizations such as Maggie’s and Mass Resistance – one of very few organizations officially recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).

“In 2001, gay teens in Massachussetts were almost four times more likely to have attempted suicide (31 percent versus 8 percent). In 2007 — after four years of legalized gay marriage in that state — gay teens were still about four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-gay teens (29 percent versus 6 percent). “

It’s interesting that Maggie chose to look at the 2007 results instead of the 2009 results (which are just as readily available through a google search). The 2009 results see a drop in attempted LGB suicides to 24.7%. A drop from 31 to 24.7 seems more significant, doesn’t it, Maggie?

Maggie’s whole hypothesis rests on the fact that because gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts (despite the fact that those couples are still unrecognized by the Federal government and it’s 1,100+ rights), that magically gay teen suicides should disappear. She truly believes that her own horrific lies about gay people and her millions spent on making certain gay families continue to be seen as “less than” has nothing to do with the way LGBT kids are bullied.

Congratulations to Massachusetts on being a pioneer for equality – and for seeing your LGB teen suicide rate drop nearly 20% (6 percentage points).

USAF Airman: DADT Repeal is Just the Beginning

20 Oct


3 weeks ago, realizing that compromising his integrity had become too much, 24 year-old Airman First Class Derek G. decided to tell.

Derek grew up in Missouri and from a young age, knew who he was. Having grown up knowing one uncle who was gay and another who was transgender, he was no stranger to living openly. But being from That escape took him to the US Air Force. He left Missouri and was stationed in intelligence at Denver’s Buckley Air Force Base. Then about a year ago, he met his boyfriend David and has since been wrestling with his integrity.

Earlier this year, in considering his relationship, Derek spoke with the ADC (Area Defense Council – the defense attorney for the Air Force) about his position. He also spoke with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), who advised him exactly what would happen should he come out and tell his superiors who he is.

Then 3 weeks ago, in the interest of opening his superior’s eyes to his situation and the losses the military is facing, he wrote a letter to his Sargent explaining his position and the discharge proceedings began. He had no idea when he wrote that letter, that 3 weeks later, US District Court Judge Virginia Phillips would order that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy be halted immediately.

Today, the Pentagon ordered recruitment offices to begin enlisting openly gay recruits and Derek received a call from the ADC telling him that all discharges had been ended – he still had a job. Of course, he’s been advised that this all could be only for now, but Derek has hope that this will all be over soon.

Unfortunately though, the story of Derek and his boyfriend won’t end with the repeal of DADT. It seems that even with the repeal, there are still many policies in place which would stop Derek from having full equality as a person defending this country. He still would not be able to list David as his next of kin, or live with him on base. Because of the discriminations outlined in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the only thing a repeal of DADT accomplishes is the end of employment discrimination for our servicemembers.

Hopefully, as a country founded on the idea that all men are created equal, we will find a way to truly honor those who fight and die defending those very tenets. Until then, it’s one step at a time as we continue the fight for our freedoms.

As Derek’s case is still not quite resolved, we’ve covered his face and removed his last name from the posting per his request.

Don’t Ask Me Anymore: Dan Choi Re-enlists

19 Oct

Is this the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”?

Dan Choi is headed to the times square recruiting station:

The Government is appealing the decision in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States yet Judge Virginia Phillips’ injuction barring the enforcement of DADT still stands.  A tentative ruling has been issued by Judge Phillips denying the governments request for a stay on the injunction pending the appeal.  For the moment Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is dead.

This afternoon, a pentagon spokesperson indicated that recruitment stations will begin processing the applications of openly gay and lesbian recruits.  This is on the tails of a story from last week, via GetEqual, involving Omar Lopez, who showed up at a recruitment center on the day the injunction was issued.  Check out his video:

Now is the time.  It’s almost over.

UPDATE: Yesterday, Dan Choi re-enlisted in the armed services. After two hours and after discovering he is apparently too old to join the Marines, Dan joined the Army!

Gay Panic Firefighters Win Appeal

19 Oct

Who doesn’t like a man in uniform? Apparently, four San Diego firefighters were on the job at the 2007 San Diego Gay Pride Parade when they underwent the most traumatic experience of their firefighting lives.

Catcalls and obscene gestures.

According to The New American, Fire Captain John Ghiotti, a 28 year veteran, said that he had been subjected to the emotional trauma of burned families, injured colleagues, and similar stresses but “I’ve never been so stressed out before as in this incident.”

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District upheld a jury verdict in favor of the fire fighters. The appellate court, in its ruling, found that there was “substantial evidence to support a finding that the sexual harassment experienced by the Firefighters during the Pride Parade was severe and pervasive, thus altering the conditions of employment and creating a hostile or abusive work environment.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – sexual harassment should never be taken lightly, but according to Senior Counsel Joseph Infranco, for the Alliance Defense Fund (who paid for the court battle), The purpose of the litigation was to prevent other city employees from being compelled to be subjected to conduct which they find morally offensive.

So does this set a precedent that gay officers no longer have to work the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or Democratic officers don’t have to work Tea Party rallies?

Gay Dad Can Raise Money, But Can’t Be Scout Leader

19 Oct

Jon Langbert’s 9 year-old son, Carter is a Cub Scout. Carter and his Dad no doubt work together on building cars for the Pinewood Derby and earning badges toward becoming a Boy Scout.

Jon Langbert and his son, Carter (Courtesy of Jon Langbert)

Last year, Jon helped his son’s Cub Scout Troop earn over $13,000 through a popcorn fundraiser. And in September, the pair was invited to help recruit more kids through the morning announcements at school. Just then – someone complained about Jon’s sexuality and Jon was told that he could no longer wear the Scout leader shirt or serve in any kind of leadership position – but of course it’s okay if he still raises money for them as any volunteer can do that.

According to the Dallas Morning News:

“What message does that send to my son? It says I’m a second-class citizen,” Langbert said.

Robert McTaggart, the Cubmaster for Pack 70, said Langbert will be allowed to continue as a popcorn fundraiser. That position is not considered a leadership role and can be held by a volunteer.

The Boys Scouts of America has had a long-standing policy that rejects leaders who are gay or atheist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the organization’s rules in a 5-4 decision.

“Our policy is not meant to serve as social commentary outside the Scout program,” said Pat Currie of the Circle 10 Council, the umbrella organization that oversees Pack 70. “We respect people who have a different opinion from us. We just hope those same people will respect our right to have a different opinion.”

Jon has contacted attorneys and seems to be planning to fight:

“My tax dollars are paying for their discrimination. And the next gay dad who wants to come along can’t. I’m not going to let them. My position is that the school cannot allow the use of their facilities to an organization that discriminates.”

The Boy Scouts of America has a long history of lawsuits with regards to their policies on gay people serving as scout leaders. While most courts have upheld their rights to admit who they want to their private organization, they have been slapped several times by legalities surrounding leasing of public land for their meetings and events. In San Diego, Philadelphia, Berkeley, the BSA has lost important cases causing them the loss of use of public spaces. And dozens of major organizations and funders including several local United Way chapters, CVS/phamacy, Chase Manhattan Bank, Levi Strauss and former BSA Advisory Council member, Steven Speilberg have withdrawn their support from the BSA over their bigoted stance.

Broadway Talks to Parents About Bullying

18 Oct

In our second installment of our contribution to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” Project, we asked several Broadway personalities about what they would say to parents of young kids today. We specifically wanted to speak to not only parents of children getting teased, but parents of the kids who might be bullying – or the kids who land in between who should be speaking up if they can.

In collaboration with Broadway Speaks OUT!, Talk About Equality is proud to bring you our newest video featuring Julia Murney (Wicked), Anthony Rapp (Rent), Tony Award Winners BD Wong and Laura Benanti and cast members from American Idiot and Hair:

Marty Thomas, Andrew Shirvell and Cyber-bullying

16 Oct

 

Today, the news was broken that Broadway performer Marty Thomas was suing Twitter to find out the identity of an anonymous user who was spreading vicious lies about Thomas. The tweeter, “bwayanonymous” used their tweets to spread gossip and rumors about New York performers without and repercussions for the words they were spreading.

Also today, Michigan Ass’t Attorney General, Andrew Shirvell was condemned by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission for having stalked and built an anti-gay website against University of Michigan student council president, Chris Armstrong. The commission demanded that Shirvell be immediately fired and that a thorough investigation be opened into Shirvell’s activities as Ass’t AG. The commission is trying to find out if Shirvell took any part in any anti-discrimination cases during his tenure in the AG’s office.

Both of these cases of cyber-bullying are troubling. Unfortunately with Marty’s case, the anonymous component makes it that much more dangerous. The things being posted on Twitter, or truly any online forum that allows anonymous registration can hurt people’s personal lives, careers and in some cases cause young people to take their own lives – as we’ve seen recently. Here’s a comment Marty has given to Talk About Equality about his experiences:

“I’ve been a performer most of my life, and in the public eye to some degree since I was very young.  Since my introduction to the internet, people posting their support or distaste for performers has always been an accepted thing.  I do understand that by placing myself in the public eye as a performer I am opening myself up to criticism and judgment.  However, there is certainly a line that can be easily crossed by the media. A public media forum, ranging from the New York Times to the National Enquirer isn’t allowed to write slanderous and defamatory comments as fact.  They are allowed to state their opinions but writers are held accountable for lies that are printed that can adversely affect another persons life or career.

image courtesy Broadwayworld.com

With the introduction of social networking sites, it seems to be getting more and more forgivable that journalists write whatever they feel like and whatever they can invent to bring down a human being.  Professional and accredited journalists aside, Social Networking sites like Twitter will offer anyone with a computer or fancy phone an anonymous voice and platform to say anything they like, while hiding behind a veil of anonymity.  This isn’t fair, or legal.  When someone spreads vicious defamatory lies in any public forum, they should be held accountable and made to answer for their actions.  This is why we have a public court system, to protect citizens from situations like this.

I didn’t release this story to the press, nor did I want the public attention that this story has received.  I filed a suit in court against Twitter because it was the only legal action I had to find the identity of an individual who has been stalking me, and bullying me via the internet.  I’m not the only performer this particular Twitter account has attacked, and there are countless accounts just like this one.  It definitely makes you feel powerless to read something horrible and false about yourself in a public forum and know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The news is flooded with stories of innocent people losing their jobs, their sanity and going as far as taking their own lives due to bullying.  Mine is a clear cut case of cyber bullying that simply must be dealt with.  It’s very easy to write mean things about someone when you don’t have to stand up and take credit for your comments.  It’s high time that these sites take responsibility and force users to attatch a face and name to their thoughts/feelings/accusations.  I have stood up for myself and am proud to say that I won’t be bullied and I won’t stand for misinformation of any kind being spread about my life in any forum.”

We all need to take a stand against bullying, whether it be online or offline. We applaud Marty for trying to make a difference.

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