Archive | December, 2010

To Those Who Inspire Me:

31 Dec

This has been a transformational year for me. Reflecting on the person I was at this time last year, and who I’ve become, I have come to realize that I have a large list of thank you’s to send to the many people who have empowered and inspired me in the last few months.

For a twist on the end of the year lists I’ve decided to make a list of the people who have most directly led me to this point.  My passion for social justice and equality has never been stronger, and I owe a great portion of these to the individuals and groups:

10. The New Organizing Institute.

This group of incredible leaders has given me the skills and knowledge to tackle large projects and helped me grow as an organizer beyond what I thought possible.  They routinely empower fresh faces and new leaders while growing the progressive movement and helping organizers of all types and stripes to be better and more efficient change-makers.

9. Chris Armstrong.

For me, no single person embodied the courage it takes to live openly and honestly this year like Chris. To keep one’s dignity in the face of near constant harassment and to deal with the pressures associated with an unwanted national spotlight the way he did showed genuine class.  People like Chris give me great hope for the future of LGBT leadership.  Also, Chris’ story was one of the first we covered here at TAE when we launched, and it was so satisfying to watch him succeed.

8. David Mixner

In studying the history of the LGBT movement I have most closely identified with the story of David Mixner.  As a guide for all young leaders who want to make change happen his autobiography is a study in first steps.  He has inspired and empowered me greatly in my work, and I think I might not have taken a few of my recent first steps were it not for his words.  Having had the pleasure of meeting him very recently he has cemented a place in my heart as a true visionary, both for LGBT equality and for the movement towards a more civil and peaceful society.

7. GetEqual

No group in the country is activating new leaders and young people quite like GetEqual. Their go-to attitude and their focus on escalating the push for full LGBT equality has been invigorating to watch and work with.  Through this organization, and the incredible staff, volunteers, and action-takers I have really learned the depth of my own power and the power of my community.

6. Julia Mandes and Ai’yana Ford

Nothing I have done this year tops the Big Commit. Working with these incredible ladies was an eye-opening, harrowing, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately transformational experience.  I learned more about myself, my management style, and how my personality works with others than ever before.  We pulled off an incredible event and turned what could have been an awful moment in DC LGBT history into an affirming and celebratory time for DC residents. That time stands alone as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

5. My Fellow NOI LGBT Bootcamp class

I was able to spend a week with brilliant young leaders of the LGBT movement growing and learning.  The memory of such talented, dedicated, and fierce advocates will keep me going for another amazing year. I’ll never forget the overwhelming hope I felt during that time, and will forever cherish the memory of opening myself so fully to you all.  I meant it then, and it still holds true: Bootcamp changed my life.

4. Erica Zaveloff

She’s in Africa and probably wont read this for quite some time. Erica has been there from my first steps into organizing and has encouraged and prodded me every step of the way.  The world, and certainly my life, is a fundamentally better place with her in it. Even though I only got to spend a few precious days with her over the summer, they were some of my most cherished memories of 2010. From running the South Side for Obama group out of our house with no electricity, extension chords from the neighbors, and by headlamp,  to marching with Take Back Pride in the NYC pride parade it has been a wonderful journey with you. COME HOME!

3. The Rotunda 8

Orelia Busch, David McElhatton, Robbie Diesu, Zack Rosen, Erika Knepp, Charles Butler, and Shannon Cuttle. Getting arrested and taking a stand with you all was a watermark moment for my life as a gay man. You are all heroes in my book and not a day goes by that I don’t remember the power and significance of that day.  Even though we didn’t get ENDA, I took an important step in my life with you, and Ill always remember that you all were there with me. I am consistently inspired by all of you.  I’m still afraid of whales though…

2. Erin Ryan

This year, yet again, you’ve been the constant support that I’ve needed to manage the myriad ways my life has shifted and changed in 2010.  I’m so thankful for all of the times you’ve listened to my crazy ideas, issued often brutally honest critiques, and supported me unwaveringly in every endeavor.  After all these years, you still make me want to be a better man.

1. Jay Carmona

In 2010 I felt for the first time that I had a home in the LGBT community.  Never before had I felt that this movement needed or wanted me.  The fact that I am now fully committed to this fight and am empowered to win it has everything to do with your help in taking those first steps.  I can not overstate the strength of the relationships you have cultivated and the incredible sense of community I experienced the past few months.  You, and more importantly your ideas and work, are a wealth of inspiration for me.  When we win this fight it will be because of people just like you.

In 2011 Jamie and I will continue the work of furthering dialog and sharing stories.  Our goal is to give everyone the chance to take the same first steps that have been so transformational for me. Tonight is a night to celebrate those who inspire us, and for Jamie and I, thats all of you.


Federally-Funded Website Provides Help for (Straight) Couples

27 Dec

You may recall a few years ago when Chemistry.com began running ads with gay men and lesbians who were “Rejected by eHarmony.” This was in response to the fact that eHarmony only offered heterosexual dating match-ups. They were sued and ordered to begin a same-sex dating site, which they did. Then back in January of this year, they were ordered to end the segregation and merge the two sites after another successful lawsuit which they settled.

Then last week, I was riding the train and I saw an advertisement for a relationship/marriage advice website called Twoofus.org, and I noticed it had the emblem of the US Dept of Health and Human Services. So I thought I’d check it out. Unsurprisingly, after spending a few hours combing the site, searching “gay,” “lesbian,” “same-sex” and a number of other terms, I discovered there was absolutely zero recognition of same-sex couples.

Knowing that this was a federally-funded program, I thought I’d write a little note to the people at Twoofus.org and their “sister site,” National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. I kept my note simple and concise, never referring to same-sex marriage, just asking if their site was for heterosexuals exclusively or if they offered advice for people like me?

A few days later, I received their rather nuanced response which very specifically put the blame squarely on the federal government for creating the policy that said they couldn’t cover same-sex marriages.

I found it particularly interesting that they clearly imply that it is their federal grant which doesn’t allow them to acknowledge same-sex relationships.

Unshockingly…I managed to find a recommended author on twoofus.org who some of you may recognize as well, The National Organization for Marriage’s own Maggie Gallagher.

What many have forgotten is the fact that Gallagher was under fire about 5 years ago for violating journalistic ethics when she failed to disclose that she was being paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Bush administration for her work on The President’s Healthy Marriage Initiative. While getting paid these tens of thousands, she used her position as a syndicated journalist to preach Bush’s agenda while at the same time doing her best to attack gay families and marriage equality. While Gallagher may not have any direct relationship with Twoofus.org, she should be grateful that they are peddling her book.

Calls to the Administration for Children and Families (the branch of the US Dept of Health and Human Services which administer’s the Twoofus.org grant) were not returned as of this afternoon. We will let you know should we get any response from them.

As of right now though, it does seem that the federal government is giving grants to an organization which outrightly practices discrimination and blames it on a government policy.

If eHarmony.com is required by law to include same-sex couples, shouldn’t a federally-funded marriage/relationship website?

Austin Gay Bashing Reveals Screams of Kitty Genovese

27 Dec

Early Sunday morning, 26-year-old gay man Bobby Beltran was leaving Austin’s Rain gay bar when a car full of men shouted “Fucking faggots, stop that queer shit!” as he hugged his friend goodbye.

As the Dallas Voice reports, when Bobby yelled back to the car, “get out of here!” five men jumped out and attacked him and his friend, leaving Bobby with cuts, bruises and a black eye and his friend with a possible broken jaw. A story like this is always alarming – especially when it occurs in a primarily gay neighborhood like Austin’s 4th Street or Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle, as we’ve reported on before. But what strikes us as particularly disconcerting is that there were as many as 20 witnesses that observed the brutal 5-on-2 beating and didn’t so much as call 9-1-1.

I know it’s frightening to see that sort of thing happen, but we cannot stand by and watch as our own are beaten to the ground by anti-gay bigots and hoodlums. In many parts of the country, the police tend to turn a blind eye when it comes to hate crimes, hell – it’s even happened frequently here in New York City, but if we want something to change, we need to be the force that changes it – no one will do it for us.

This reminds me of the story of murder of Kitty Genovese. She was murdered in plain view of 38 neighbors – none of whom called the police (or at least that’s what the media presented). Turns out there were several other factors not considered by the initial reports of complacent neighbors. Kitty Genovese Syndrome or “The Bystander Effect” as it is called by social psychologists describes our sometime inability to involve

Kitty Genovese, murdered while neighbors watched

ourselves with our surroundings, especially in times of great trauma.

We cannot let ourselves fall prey to Kitty Genovese Syndrome – we MUST protect our own when we need protecting. Realize that even in our neighborhoods, we are not always safe. Travel accompanied by others and as they say, “if you see something, say something.” If we don’t stand up for one another, who will?

Compromising on Equality

27 Dec

As most of us here on the East Coast are snowed in, what better to do with this new-found free time than a little edugaytion?

From On Top Magazine today, we find a brief rundown of the candidates for the new Republican National Committee Chairperson. The current chair (who is also running for re-election), Michael Steele opposes gay marriage, claiming it would be “bad for small businesses.” This is somehow related to the fact that businesses would be required to provide insurance for same-sex spouses like they already do for the other 90% of the population. So his argument is that we should not have the same rights because small businesses should still be allowed to discriminate.

Recently, the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage interviewed the leading candidates for RNC Chair and unsurprisingly, they are all against equality. NOM’s chair, the outspoken Maggie Gallagher interviewed Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, Save American Jobs Project Chairman Saul Anuzis, former RNC political director Gentry Collins and former Missouri Republican Chairwoman Ann Wagner.

As On Top mentions, Collins said gay marriage “devalues the relationship that is shared by my wife and I and a number of committed married couples.”

“Marriage is an institution that has been around for 3,000 years. It’s part of our faith. It’s part of out culture,” Anuzis said. “It’s important to have a mother and a father … People care that you’re a family person.”

Opposition to gay marriage is a “pillar” of the Republican platform, Wagner said in her interview.

“I think that’s where the American people are. They believe in traditional marriage. They want to lift that up. … It’s important that we hold true to those tenants and values that I think are a pillar of our Republican party and our platform.”

Priebus said marriage was given to us by God and needs to be protected from “activist judges.”

“I believe marriage is a gift from God and the sanctity of marriage ought to be protected … and I don’t believe the comedy clause in the constitution allows for activist judges to redefine what marriage is,” he said, referring to the constitution’s Full Faith and Credit clause.

GOProud, an organization for gay Republicans, jumped in and is willing to throw their support behind any candidate who is not Michael Steele. Said GOProud’s Chris Barron “We need an RNC Chair who understands that his or her role is to raise money and build party infrastructure, not to sell books, hire friends and family, and pontificate on policy.”

Barron goes on to claim some credit for the November midterm elections: “Were it not for the hard work of outside groups, who were forced to step in to fill the void left by an ineffective RNC, success at the ballot box in November would never have occurred.”

What a tremendous conflict it must be to be gay and have to argue in favor of someone who opposes equality so vehemently. Change is occurring of course, and some within the Republican party – and groups like GOProud are partly responsible for that – let’s hope they can keep changing minds from the inside without having to compromise more of their own personal freedoms.

Just How Long is the Arc of History?

22 Dec

There’s been a lot of discussion about patience within our movement. Why don’t we have full equality for LGBT Americans NOW?? We deserve it, right? We are owed equality by the Constitution and we should settle for nothing less. We’ve been getting crumbs – some small, some large – for a few years now. Why can’t we get the whole loaf of bread immediately?

These are tough questions to answer. Should we face our inequalities with patience? Do we wait around and just assume our rights will come with time? Or do we continue the fight with vigor and unabashed anger over our lack of equality?

Barack Obama and Kerry Eleveld (official White House photo by Pete Souza)

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Should we fight every day of our lives until we have full equality for all LGBT people around the globe? Yes, I believe there is something we can do each day to move humanity forward. But we cannot do it blindly without respect for a process that takes many people generations to achieve. In 1924, on December 24th, the state of Illinois issued a charter to Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights, making this the very first officially-recognized gay rights organization in the country. It was a short-lived endeavor, but proved that we could indeed organize around our equality.

86 years later, we are protected by hate crime legislation, we can get married in five states and the nation’s capital, and soon we will be able to serve openly in the nation’s military. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.” It seems we tend to focus solely on the latter part of this quote – the “it bends toward justice” part, but we must respect the fact that it does take time for attitudes and minds to change. It takes time for our grandparents to fully grasp the change that’s surrounding them. Hell, my mother still can’t program the clock on the VCR – and who has a VCR anymore?

Today, the Advocate’s (and soon to be Media Matter’s) Kerry Eleveld published an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama. In it, they discuss the timeline for implementation for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which the President signed into law today. Kerry also goes on to talk to POTUS about marriage equality. Now, as we know, the President’s stand on this has waivered a bit, from initially supporting full marriage equality when running for the US Senate to only supporting civil unions when he ran for President. Most think that his views reflected a more mainstream view when he ran for the Oval office, which effected his electability – which would explain the shift.

But now, between an interview last month with AmericaBlog‘s Joe Sudbay and now with Kerry Eleveld, it would seem the President is making his shift back towards marriage equality. Some may argue that he’s following the trends instead of making them, but his gradual course may end up being a deciding factor in winning over the hearts and minds of US citizens.

So where does that leave us? Do we stop fighting because our equality is imminent? No. We keep fighting with all the passion we’ve had since 1924. We have not achieved what we have by sitting back. Ever. This has come from dedication and LGBT people literally laying their lives on the line for civil rights. We have every right to be impatient. Our equality is guaranteed by our Constitution. But let’s not forget – the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

Inspiration

21 Dec

This is a piece written by a dear friend of Talk About Equality, Michelle Wright. She has a fantastic and inspirational story, which hopefully soon she’ll share with all of you herself.

Until then here are her words:

An Ode to Super Heroes

By: Michelle Wright
December 2010

I wish you knew that super hero’s aren’t brave, or real. Fragmented
pieces of children’s imaginations wearing tightly fitted costumes,
adorned with brightly embroidered capes. Their signature emblem
stitched on, cleverly chasing after the “evil villain”- the one that
audiences have grown to despise and needs to see their master plan
thwarted. No, those alleged “heroes” are better left in the pages of
story books or in the films on the screens of a movie theatre. I want
to share of the Heroes that have risen in their place, flying through
the night on man-made planes, gathering crowds, speaking about
injustice. Their lioness mane’s flowing freely in the summer winds,
using the swords of their tongues to preach speeches about Equality to
anyone with a listening ear. They sacrifice time watching their
children age for strategy sessions and the beauty of fine linen for a
white cotton t-shirt, with a catchy message of hope inserted with the
need for change. I have seen these men and women fighting, been inside
their inner lair. Their selfless efforts continually amaze me.

The villains they fight aren’t monsters in the traditional sense. They
are mothers preaching the “good news” in the Beltway, fathers risking
it all to save their child from our evil ways. They are brothers and
sisters, raging a war against their fellow man over a topic as divided
as the sunsets sky line. I’ve yet to see the happy ending, although
especially now there is great need. Instead of credits rolling over
symphonic melodies, there are headlines of gay youth’s committing
suicide. Not of families smiling and opening presents while a light
snow falls outside, but of parents and children being separated by
outdated immigration laws, by soldiers and workers losing careers,
instead of receiving holiday bonuses. The villains that I have met
will cut you with their eyes and burn you alive with their words, all
the while hands raised, praying on bended knee for their god to strike
a wrath down upon us in his 25th hour.

Indeed, Jesus wept.

As I lay in my bed last Christmas, I heard the voices of these
monsters deep within the contours of my mind. I stared sleeplessly
into a dark abyss as the clock ticked forward. Barely any crumbs
crossed my lips as I sat in quiet isolation. The monsters nearly had a
foothold. And right at that moment when I knew that the credits would
end and my movie was finished, here came the Heroes. With their arms
opened wide they showed me a new path, taught me to listen to my own
voice, instead of villainous moans fighting to gain access. They were
tangible and realistic and fallible and they taught me with their
actions; over difficult circumstances that good could actually triumph
over evil.

So, if you were ever like me and had given up on pretty much
everything, especially the power of the human soul, this is for you.
If you’ve been a super hero fighting, and your t-shirt is dingy, your
voice growing raspy, this is for you. This is for those that have
marched for their values, for those that have seen the inside of a
jail cell, for those that have tasted defeat and still risen in spite
of it. This is for the couples fighting to have their marriage
recognized in every state, for the young woman whose heart has been
broken by deception and lies. For everyone who is digging their way
slowly out of a limitless hole, this is for you.

This is for hope and love and peace and joy and equality- and for the
Super Hero’s that saved my life, this is for you

Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern

17 Dec

Wow! Today in gay History was a pretty big one!

I’m real excited about this post, so please bear with my nerd-dom.

47 years ago, in 1963, the New York Times published quite the article. It reads like it was written by the American Family Association today. The front-page story Robert C. Doty was entitled “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern.” The article starts out by focusing on some of the raids that had been going on in NYC gay bars and continues on to some rather bigoted statements about the threats homosexuals pose to the city.

There is of course the “you can’t be born like that” argument…

The old idea, assiduously propagated by homosexuals, that homosexuality is an inborn, incurable disease, has been exploded by modern psychiatry, in the opinion of many experts. It can be both prevented and cured, these experts say. . . . [Psychiatrists] have what they consider to be overwhelming evidence that homosexuals are created — generally by ill-adjusted parents — not born.

We’re multiplying…

Some experts believe the numbers of homosexuals in the city are increasing rapidly. Others contend that, as public attitudes have become more tolerant, the homosexuals have tended to be more overt, less concerned with concealing their deviant conduct.

We’re changing the language…

They have their favored clothing suppliers who specialize in the right slacks, short-cut coats and fastidious furnishings favored by many, but by no means all, male homosexuals. There is a homosexual jargon, once intelligible only to the initiate, but now part of New York slang.

and finally…we are EVERYWHERE…(but specifically in theatre and hairdressing)

Inverts are to be found in every conceivable line of work, from truck driving to coupon clipping. But they are most concentrated — or most noticeable — in the fields of the creative and performing arts and industries serving women’s beauty and fashion needs.

24 years later, the New York Times first used the word “gay” to refer to homosexuals…you know…8 years after the first New Yorker died from AIDS.

Then, 40 years ago today – Gloria Steinem and 8 other feminist activist held a press conference where they announced that they supported gay rights.

Tootsie, a film where Dustin Hoffman played a man who dresses as a woman to get cast on a soap opera premiered today.

And on this day in 1997, gays in New Jersey were first granted the right to adopt!

Look at how things have changed. Please have hope that things will change even more. Keep telling your stories and change the world.

 

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