Archive | January, 2011

Bush Daughter Comes Out…for Marriage Equality: VIDEO

31 Jan

Barbara Bush in her video for Marriage Equality: courtesy New York Times

It would seem that the children of those who so staunchly fought against equality are now coming around. It could be a case of rebellion, but more likely than not, the younger generations just happen to know and love far more lesbian and gay people than their parents do.

The latest in the line of surprising converts to equality is young Barbara Bush, one of George W. Bush’s twin daughters. Her video is part of  HRC’s NY4Marriage site, which already features videos from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Julianne Moore and others.

According to the New York Times, she states in her video:

“I am Barbara Bush, and I am a New Yorker for marriage equality, New York is about fairness and equality. And everyone should have the right to marry the person that they love.”

The 29-year old is the President of Global Health Corps and has worked Internationally with the American Red Cross, UNICEF and the UN World Food Programme, focusing on the importance of nutrition in ARV treatment. So it should come as no surprise that this daughter of a President should be so fair-minded when it comes to the rights of others.

HRC’s NY4Marriage campaign is being run by Brian Ellner. Ellner’s great success with this campaign comes after a small faction of grassroots organizers halted his potential leadership appointment to Empire State Pride Agenda. It’s good to see that Brian has overcome the “crabs in a barrel” and that his effectiveness is being utilized in New York with this important project.

She joins another outspoken Republican daughter, Megan McCain in joining in the fight for Marriage Equality. Can’t wait to see who else comes out of the closet!

Our Out History

31 Jan

The Gay History Video Project has just released it’s first installment in a series about LGBT history.  Inspired by the sharing of oral history at the National Equality March, a group of young people has accepted the challenge of interviewing the front runners of our movement.

As we’ve written before, we have a great need to preserve and reflect on our history, lest we lose it or subject it to unfriendly revision.

Watch the first installment of this very exciting project:

Hat Tip: David Mixner
 

Cartoons, Costumes and Equality

30 Jan

Something that many of my friends in the equality movement don’t know about me is that for 11 years now, I’ve had a really fun career. I moved to New York 12 years ago to be a musical theatre actor – and though I haven’t really pursued that in a number of years, I was able to fulfill those creative needs with producing Broadway concerts and events – and doing voices for cartoons.

Barry from Pokemon

I’ve been in a whole bunch of Japanese anime titles and a couple other things here and there – most notably, I can be heard on Yu-Gi-Oh!, Viva Pinata, and as “Barry” on Pokemon for the past few years. As a voice actor, I’m often invited to attend anime conventions around the country. I’m not going to lie – the first time I walked into one of these “cons,” I was a touch…intimidated – at all the people in costumes. People dressed up as characters I’d played, people who knew far more about the shows I was on than I did – it was a lot for me.

Over the years though, I’ve grown to love it. I’ve begun to revel in the awkwardness of the random 50 year-old running around in a Sailor Moon costume, the big girl wearing perhaps a bit less than society would expect her to be wearing, and the complete abandonment of any social norms that have ever been taught. This is a rag-tag group of kids and adults who have found a world that they know everything about.

Growing up gay, I had that need to find some little thing that was mine – something I could control and could be an expert on – for me, that was Broadway – so I found my own way to relate.

This weekend, I’ve been in Columbus, Ohio at Ohayocon, a pretty large convention at 10,000+ attendees. My friend and fellow openly gay voice actor Greg Ayres, texted me last week and asked if I wanted to do an “It Gets Better” panel with him and of course I jumped at the idea. I’d met a lot of gay kids at cons in the past and there seems to be an obsession among teen girls, with something called “Yaoi,” or man-on-man anime. So around here, gay is okay.

The panel was excellent and was far better-attended than I expected it to be. Greg and I spoke about our experiences and about the It Gets Better project, encouraging people to join in and make videos and find ways of fighting bullying in their own schools – and then we took questions. It became very clear, very quickly that these kids really needed to talk.

Kit & Neko of Neko-Jin Designs, catering to LGBT anime fans

Questions ranged from “How long is it going to take for equality to happen in the US?,” to “How do I tell my Conservative Christian parents I’m a lesbian?” While we didn’t have all the answers, we were able to direct everyone to a different resource that could help them. But what was most incredible to see was kids answering other kids’ questions. The support for one another was something unexpected to me – I’ve always known that this was a safe place for everyone, but the throngs of applause when a girl introduced her wife or a young man talked about having started his own Gay Straight Alliance at his school – it was encouraging to say the least.

A bag from Neko-Jin Designs

Though it had nothing to do with anime per se, being able to talk about equality with teens and young adults in the middle of Ohio gives me a great deal of hope for the next generation of LGBT kids. It seems they’re looking out for one another far more than I felt as a kid growing up gay. I frequently worry about the state of the “LGBT Community,” with our sometimes fractured issues, different priorities and separate tactics at winning equality. Now I have a little more hope that our younger brothers and sisters might reclaim that incredible community that we so need to win this fight.

Wings made by Saratonin Studios (www.SaratoninStudios.com)

Ugandan Gay Activist Murdered, Another’s Life Hangs in the Balance

26 Jan

David Kato Kisulle

According to Box Turtle Bulletin and the BBC, Ugandan activist David Kato Kisulle was murdered in his home in Kampala.

He was found having been beaten in the skull with a hammer a his home and there is little more information than that at this time. What we do know is that David was featured in the Ugandan tabloid, “Rolling Stone,” which featured names and photos of gay men under the headline “HANG THEM!”

He was one of three plaintiffs seeking a permanent injunction against the tabloid, which was successful. And in recent days, David had told friends of several death threats he’d received and was in fear for his life.

Since the introduction last year of the “Anti-Homosexual Bill” which has come to be known as the “Kill the Gays Bill” has been the topic of outrage from LGBT organizations around the country. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has brought this bill to light in the US and featured the author of the bill, David Bahati in a two-part interview last month.

 

Brenda Namigadde (photo courtesy ALLOUT.org)

Today’s murder also highlights an important case regarding Ugandan Brenda Namigadde living in the UK and facing deportation back to Uganda after failed please for asylum. All Out has launched a campaign to keep Brenda in the UK, which may quite literally save her life. “Kill the Gays Bill” Author Bahati said of Brenda:

“Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour. Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned. We wouldn’t want Brenda to be painting a wrong picture of Uganda, that we are harassing homosexuals.”

It would seem Bahati may be correct, Uganda is doing far worse than harassing homosexuals.

 

Standing Up Against Discrimination in Texas and the UK

26 Jan

More cases of discrimination are coming forward in the US and abroad. It’s cases like these which set precedents to protect LGBT families everywhere.

Last May, according to the Dallas Voice, a discrimination complaint was filed against Baylor, Texas’ Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has a stated policy of refusing family memberships to same-sex couples. That complaint was withdrawn when the couple that filed it was told the city’s non-discrimination ordinance may not apply to the private club.

Now, after moving to Dallas with his partner of ten years, Alan Rodriguez has filed a complaint after being told by a director of the Tom Landry Fitness Center that its owner, The Baylor Health Care System defines family as “one man and one woman.” Rodriguez, who moved to Dallas partly because of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, wrote a letter to a Baylor executive, stating:

“It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of ‘family,’…Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.”

While this may be an uphill battle considering the possible limitations of the city ordinance, Rodriguez is doing the right thing by telling his story and challenging the bigoted policy of the club.

And it looks like a copycat case is coming out of the UK when it comes to the recent decision regarding the gay couple who was denied a single room in a bed & breakfast. As we reported here earlier, a judge found that owners of bed and breakfasts are not immune to the country’s non-discrimination law.

According to the Daily Mail, Michael Black, 63, and John Morgan, 58, are claiming sexual discrimination after being turned away from Swiss B&B in Cookham, Berkshire, last March. Their case follows that of Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who won £3,600 damages from the owners of a Cornish guesthouse last week for refusing them a double room.

The owner of the bed and breakfast, Suzanne Wilkinson, allegedly told the couple who has been together for seven years, ‘it is against my convictions for two men to share a bed’, adding ‘this is my private home’.

Mr. Black told the Daily Mail:
‘We’re not trying to stop anyone from observing their beliefs but to make it clear that their beliefs should not conflict with the discrimination laws in this country. If anyone thinks that providing a public service may conflict with their religious beliefs they should question whether that is a suitable business for them.’
Many civil rights battles have been won in this country and around the world via the court system. Continuing this fight through out judiciary is not only smart, but as history has shown, effective.
Best of luck to these men standing up for equality!

Gay Providence Teen Sues to Bring Boyfriend to Prom

24 Jan

On this day in 1962, seven whole years before the Stonewall Uprising, in Providence, RI, Aaron Fricke was born.

Aaron & Paul attend prom

You may not know his name, but at the age of 17, Aaron asked his boyfriend Paul Guilbert to go to prom with him. Paul said yes and what happened next would go down in history as the first time someone sued to take someone of the same sex to their prom.

As would be expected, his high school refused to let Aaron bring Paul to prom. So Aaron filed suit in US District Court. For his actions, Aaron was bullied and beaten. He needed five stitches in his face and the kid who did it was suspended from school for nine days.

The presiding judge, Raymond J. Pettine ruled in Aaron’s favor, ordering the school to not only allow him and his partner to attend as a couple but also to provide enough security to ensure their safety.

That magical night is described in a 1983 essay by Aaron:

The crowd receded.  As I laid my head on Paul’s shoulder, I saw a few students start to stare at us.  I closed my eyes and listened to the music [Bob Seger's "We've Got the Night"], my thoughts wandering over the events of the evening.  When the song ended, I opened my eyes.  A large crowd of students had formed a ring around us.  Probably most of them had never seen two happy men embracing in a slow dance.  For a moment I was uncomfortable.

Then I heard the sound that I knew so well as a B-52s fan.  One of my favorite songs was coming up: “Rock Lobster.”

Paul and I began dancing free-style.  Everyone else was still staring at us, but by the end of the first stanza, several couples had also begun dancing.  The song had a contagious enthusiasm to it, and with each bar, more dancers came onto the floor.

I doubt that any two people were dancing with the same movements: the dancing was an expression of our individuality, and no one felt bad about being different.  Everyone was free to be themselves.

I could see that everyone felt a sense of disorientation.  For six minutes and forty-nine seconds, the students on the dance floor had forgotten about their defenses, forgotten about their shells.  We just had fun.

This case set a precedent for other similar cases around the country and opened doors for other LGBT teens to enjoy their proms the way they should. It of course doesn’t mean that that every high school prom is free and clear of problems like Aaron & Paul had, but we’re grateful that the door was kicked open that fateful day in Providence, RI. The difficult thing to see is that the headline of this article could easily still be printed today, 31 years later.

Aaron went on to write a beautiful coming out novel, Reflections of a Rock Lobster: a Story About Growing Up Gay, and another book with his father Walter, Sudden Strangers: the Story of a Gay Son and his Father.

Happy Birthday Aaron!

Two Dads, Two Boys and a Horse

24 Jan

A beautiful and sad story in this weekend’s New York Times.

Tim Mannion, Maurice and Rocky (Photo from Barista Kids)

When two gay men, Timothy Mannion and Timothy Vanover decided they wanted to adopt a child with specifically-difficult physical needs, they never realized they’d end up with a miracle.

Maurice Mannion-Vanover was born to a crack-addicted mother in Washington on September 11, 1990. The issues surrounding the birth of he and his twin sister meant she would only live 20 months. Maurice was born with AIDS and when “The Tims” as they came to be known, took Maurice home, they were told he wouldn’t live longer than 6 months. “We’d cry at night thinking we were going to lose him” Vanover said. But as Maurice grew older, his health improved greatly, He began to gain weight and thrive. He also wound up with a brother. Kindoo was adopted by the Tims in 1997, a year after Maurice’s adoption became official.

The family moved to New Jersey after Tim Vanover got a job in New York. They lived in the busy suburb of Montclair, NJ so what happened next was a bit of an improbability. You see, as a young man, Tim Vanover rode horses back in Goshen, Indiana and their son seemed to pick up the same fascination as his Dad. When lessons became too expensive for Maurice’s fathers, they surprised him with a horse of his own one Christmas. In 2002, Rocky became a part of Maurice’s life.

Everyone in the neighborhood noticed how fast Maurice and Rocky became friends. The children of the town would constantly be at the fence to visit Rocky, who was hard-to-miss, this being quite literally a one-horse town. The two were “like one” as Tim Vanover said. After Rocky came into Maurice’s life, his studies improved and his health was excellent. There were ups and downs of course, like when the Tims separated in 2003 (but remained living in the same house so as to raise the children together) and Maurice’s health wasn’t always perfect, but a change definitely occurred for the better with Rocky around.

Then in December, after receiving his black belt in karate, Maurice went to visit Toronto to see his beloved dog, Hunter. Then on December 29th, just before he was going to head back home to New Jersey, Maurice came down with a mysterious fever and was rushed to the hospital. After a few days there, he told Tim Mannion “Daddy, it’s time, the clock is ticking.” Within a few moments, Maurice was gone.

Later that same night, Maurice’s dog, Hunter wandered into the parlor hall alone and quietly passed away.

On Saturday, Maurice was laid to rest. On-foot, walking ahead of the hearse were Maurice’s Dads, Tim Mannion and Tim Vanover, his brother Kindoo, and Rocky. While standing there, Rocky used his head to pull Vanover’s head close to him as if sharing in the grief.

Tim Mannion, Tim Vanover, Rocky and Kindoo Mannion-Vanover (photo by Marcus Yam, NY Times)

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: The Lake Logan Episcopal Center, 154 Suncrest Mill Road, Canton, N.C. 28716, or to The Shepard Schools, 10 Columba St., Morristown, N.J. 07960. Please indicate that your donation is for the Maurice Mannion-Vanover Scholarship Fund.

An additional tribute can be read at Barista Kids.

h/t: Kappy Griffith

GA Man’s Bedroom Set on Fire in Possible Hate Crime

24 Jan

image courtesy wsbtv.com

Disturbing news out of Georgia where Chris Staples – a gay man living in Carroll County had a rock thrown through his window Saturday night. Attached to the rock was a piece of paper covered in gay slurs which according to Chris, read “we know you’re gay. And God hates gays. You won’t be raping anybody in the county and God’s going to make sure that you burn in hell.”

Hours later, Chris woke up to smoke and flames filling his bedroom. Chris’ mother, who lives next door spoke to Channel 2 Action News about the events. She told them that Chris had been out of the closet for 20 years and was very sick. He’s unable to work and rarely leaves his house, which made it difficult for her to understand the reasoning behind the act.

Police are still investigating the possible hate crime.

h/t San Diego Gay & Lesbian News

Being Gay Is Not A Choice, But Your College Is…

21 Jan

When I was searching for Colleges factoring in relative Gay-friendliness never occurred to me. As I’ve written before I had a decidedly mixed collegiate experience after coming out. I can’t say I attended an incredibly gay friendly University, it being an Urban Catholic University in Pittsburgh, but there were definite pockets of support. We even had a GSA, though it caused a major controversy.

Now it seems an increasing number of young people are factoring in campus LGBT friendliness when deciding where to go to college. According to the Gay and Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), in 2009 9 out of 10 LGBT Middle and High School students said they faced harassment. Coming from that environment a growing amount of students want to be sure they are going to have positive experiences at the next level. Recent incidents of Collegiate harassment and prominent stories of student suicides are adding to the concerns of students and parents:

The number of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students seeking a university that is “gay friendly” is increasing, driven by Web sites that rate schools on how supportive they are of gay students.“It’s definitely a phenomenon,” said Luigi Ferrer, the director of programs and grant development at Pridelines Youth Services, a Miami Shores, Fla., nonprofit where he works with Louis, a counselor. “Students are sometimes prioritizing [LGBT] resources even over the academic reputation of the school or the financial aid they can get.”

College still isn’t a guaranteed safe-haven, but some are better than others. Campus Pride has a ranking system, as does the Princeton Review, and it should be a factor in any young LGBT student’s search.  College can be a difficult and eye-opening experience, but it should be fun and give you the chance to grow and change.  It shouldn’t be harder because you are gay and colleges and universities have an important role to play in making sure that’s the case.  The ones that perform that function best for its students should be rewarded with our best and brightest young LGBT minds.

It’s all part of making sure this doesn’t happen anymore.

 

Another Teen Suicide. Could We Have Stopped it?

21 Jan

It’s still happening and won’t end until we do more to stop it.

Kameron Jacobsen

Kameron Jacobsen, a freshman at Monroe Woodbury High School in Orange County, NY took his own life this week after excruciating bullying and teasing through his facebook page.

According to MyFoxNY, sources said that Kameron was tormented by facebook bullies who taunted him over what they thought was his sexual orientation.

Facebook issued a statement about the incidents: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of these students, and our hearts go out to their family and friends. These cases serve as a painful reminder of how people can help others who are either bullied or show signs of distress on Facebook. We encourage them to notify us, and we work with third party support groups including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to reach out to people who may need help. Our Safety Center also contains resources on how to help people who are in danger of harming themselves. These deaths are a loss to many, and it’s critical that we all work together to give hope to teens who may be feeling similarly.”

There are few details about who Kameron was available online right now and it’s very upsetting. No fewer than three R.I.P. facebook pages have been set up in his name and hundreds are joining in. While this is moving to see that this young man touched so many people – we clearly did not do enough to stop him from taking his own life.

While It Gets Better is an incredible project, no doubt making a difference in people’s lives, we need to be doing more than making videos. We can no longer be sitting around and waiting for people to reach out for help, because the truth of the matter is, many kids don’t and many feel they can’t.

Kameron had 670 friends on facebook. Of those 670 friends, at least a few of them noticed the anti-gay harrasment that was going on – as one of them pointed it out to the press. Perhaps someone spoke up and said something to Kameron – we don’t know. But it would certainly be a shame to find out that people noticed this tormenting on facebook and ignored it. How horrible would it be to know what he was going through and still let Kameron believe he had no other options. I hope for all our sakes, this wasn’t the case and that Kameron had some support.

Please – anyone who reads this – do more. If you see someone getting bullied on facebook, speak up – not to the bully but to the person being teased. Reach out to that kid because they most likely won’t reach out to you. You have no idea how big a difference a little support can make – you could save a life.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 929 other followers