Archive | August, 2011

Alabama Teen Censored for Supporting Gays

31 Aug

More bravery from a teenager standing up for equality! 15-year old Sara Couvillon, a student at Hoover High School in Alabama, has been told she can’t wear a t-shirt she happens to like.

The t-shirt, which states in big letters – “gay? fine by me” – is a shirt that Sara wore to school last year without any issue. This year however, her school administrators told her that the shirt causes them “concern for her safety” according to the Birmingham News.

The civil rights group, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has sent a letter to the school demanding that they stop censoring students by September 12th or a suit will be filed against them.

Well done, Sara and thank you to SPLC for supporting a child who knows better than the adults surrounding her.

If a Trans Person is Murdered and No One Notices, Did It Happen?

29 Aug

About a year ago, I heard the term “cisgender” for the first time. Naturally, I looked it up and it describes “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” i.e. – the opposite of transgender or intersex.

In my personal journey to be accepted, understood and embraced as a gay person and understanding that I am a part of the “LGBT Community,” I have frequently felt a disconnect both personally and as a member of this group between the LGB and the T.

While this divide has become clear from the actions of political leaders who advocate for the stripping of transgender people from anti-discrimination legislation, I have personally lived in a place of misinformation and undereducation on the plight of my own transgender brothers and sisters – and that must change.

Over the past several months years decades, the lives of transgender people have been seen as nothing more than disposable by our elected representatives, law enforcement, and even members of our own community. Transgender people have faced abuses far greater than so many in our country and the blatant brutality against them is not only ignored but accepted and mocked by those who should be protecting us all.

Last week, two trans women were shot by an off-duty DC Metro police officer. He had an altercation with the women and their friends in a CVS before the shooting took place. W Police said Officer Kenneth Furr stood on the hood of his car and shouted “I’m gonna kill you,” and fired 5 shots into their car. Three people were injured and luckily none of those injuries were life-threatening. Furr has been charged with a DWI and “assault with a deadly weapon.” I can’t help but think someone screaming “I’m gonna kill you,” and then firing a gun at you should probably fall under the “attempted murder” umbrella, but he’s a cop and the two women were transgender so I guess we’ll let it slide this time…

(l) NY firefighter Taylor Murphy (r) Transgender Model Claudia Charriez

Apparently yesterday, one of New York’s “finest,” a firefighter featured in the famous New York Firefighter calendar beat and strangled his transgender girlfriend. Taylor Murphy thought his girlfriend Claudia Charriez, also famous after appearing on America’s Next Top Model (she was disqualified when her gender identity was discovered) had been flirting with someone else and thought it was acceptable behavior to shatter her cellphone on the ground and then drag her down the street by her hair. After she fled, he met her at her hotel room where he proceeded to punch, kick and choke her. Did I mention the firefighter is 6’3″ and a 220 lb muscle thug? He’s currently in jail and being charged with “assault, criminal mischief and criminal obstruction of breathing.” Must say it’s the first time I’ve heard “criminal obstruction of breathing.” Where I come from – when someone strangles you, they are trying to murder you…thus, attempting murder.

The New York Post, that bastion of liberty and equality, labeled the previous story with the headline “Fireman busted after violently ‘beating’ tranny pal.” Firstly – the Post is well aware that the term “tranny” is just as offensive as other colorful epithets given to racial and sexual minorities. Secondly – if this firefighter’s girlfriend had been born a woman, I wonder if the term “beating” would have had those little quotes around it? Either way, the Post is not only promoting bigotry, they are putting it in their boldest print.

Last week, I attended a small rally to fight transgender violence and police brutality in DC. A trans woman told a story of her boyfriend who chased her around the house, threw knives and other various items at her, punched, kicked and left her bruised and bloodied. The police came and took a report and labeled it “simple assault.”

Many crimes against trans people remain unsolved. Is this due to overworked police departments or police departments who don’t care that a trans person was brutally murdered? Or is it because sometimes our families have disowned us and don’t bother to follow-up on the investigations (57% of trans people experience family rejection according to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality)? It’s hard to get accurate facts on transgender hate crimes or statistics because outside of Massachusetts and DC, virtually no other police department in the country  have ever reported instances of hate crimes against transgender individuals.

Whether being beaten and raped in the street by strangers, shot by off-duty police officers or strangled by their partners, trans people, and in particular trans people of color are suffering at unimaginable rates. And what’s worse – the people who are supposed to be stopping this are only adding salt to the wound with their clear discrimination when it comes to the treatment of the victims and the criminals in these cases.

In the 1980’s, thousands of us were dying from a virus no one knew anything about. We were being turned away from grocery stores, from laundromats, from hospitals – from our homes. The community was forced to take a stand to protect our own – we cared for one another, we sheltered one another we built communities where all of us were welcome.

Our transgender brothers and sisters are dying – they are being killed at the hands of people who refuse to understand or accept them. The time is now to start standing up and demanding change. Many of us have experienced being treated as though our lives were trivial – but how many of us can say our lives have been regarded as disposable?

7-Year Old Transgender Child Refused Proper Bathroom Visits in School

25 Aug

Tommy Theollyn’s son is transgender. The child’s doctor has confirmed this. Despite female genitalia,his son identifies as a boy and all the students know him as a boy. But Dr. William A. Hunter – the Superintendent of his school has demanded he use the girl’s room. On top of that, he has threatened Tommy with a call to Child Protection Services.

Here we have a parent who has worked with his child’s doctor and clearly done what is right for his son who is transgender. And here we have a school superintendent overstepping his bounds into what is quite clearly dangerous territory.

In addition to not allowing Tommy’s son to use the bathroom of the gender with which he identifies, he will not even let the child use the unisex bathroom in their school because it is a faculty restroom. This is a child who would not feel safe using the restroom which does not apply to his gender. This is a case of a school administrator bullying a child.

Tommy has started a Change.org petition targeting the McIntosh County School Board as well as the Superintendent and other members of the faculty and staff, demanding that all students be allowed safe access to bathrooms and other facilities.

Sign his petition here and add your name to the quickly growing list of people demanding protections for our youth. Ask yourself how you would feel if your child was denied access to a bathroom in school, how you would feel if your child was punished unjustly, how you would feel if your child did not feel safe and protected by the very people who are charged with molding and shaping your child’s future. When you’ve asked yourself and you have an answer, go sign the petition.

Bigoted Teacher Returns to Classroom, Would You Want Him Teaching Your Kids?

25 Aug

Bigoted Teacher Jerry Buell

There’s been a lot of discussion about a Florida teacher who took to his Facebook page to say that he “almost threw up” upon seeing a news story about marriage equality coming to New York.

He was initially suspended for the comment, but Superintendent Susan Moxley reinstated him today.

In school districts across the country, teachers are not permitted to use social media inappropriately, as anything that might be said will undoubtedly reflect upon the school district. In fact, there are stories all over about teachers losing their jobs over Facebook and Twitter comments they’ve made. What’s different about Buell’s story however, is there is a small army of very vocal, very homophobic people who are jumping to his defense claiming the school infringed upon Buell’s “First Amendment rights.”

Strangely enough, these defenders of free speech were not there to stand up for Massachusetts teacher, Dr. June Talvitie-Siple when she took to her Facebook page to say that the residents of the town she taught in were “arrogant and snobby.” She lost her job.

Or another Massachusetts teacher, Jon O’Keefe – who was fired for simply accepting students as “friends” on Facebook.

Or Iowa Catholic school teacher, Abby Nurre who lost her job over saying she didn’t believe in God on Facebook.

Ashley Payne was fired for having this photo on her Facebook page

And then there was the Georgia Public School teacher, Ashley Payne who, after a European vacation including some drinking, was fired for having a picture of herself on Facebook holding a glass of wine.

It’s really troublesome to fight for free speech for some and not all.

Queerty happened to archive a website they found regarding the experience of a gay student in Jerry Buell’s classroom. Unfortunately, the blogger has pulled the post from his site, but this account of a gay student’s experience in his classroom is certainly jarring. The original post appeared on AntiGayBigotryScaresMe.blogspot.com

The clearest and most specific example I can provide of Jerry Buell’s anti-gay remarks in the classroom happened my 11th grade year (2001-2002) during his American History course. Before explaining this occurrence, I would like to first comment on Mr. Buell’s classroom. Among several things hung around the room, Bible verses were spread across the walls, accented by a picture of Jesus Christ above the clock. While there may have been some additional quotes from other scholars and philosophers, the signs were predominantly Christian. And while, yes, Buell’s number one rule was/is Respect, I personally fail to find how those signs are equally respectful to other religions in a public school classroom or how his statement respects human life.

… a student provocatively asked Mr. Buell what he thoughts about gays in the military. I tensed, knowing full well the point of view to follow in Mr. Buell’s response.

I looked up when he said he supported gays in the military, stunned by the answer. He immediately followed that comment with the statement that we should then put them on the front lines, and pull back. Disgusted at the thought of violence and murder of humans being vocally supported, I shut my book and walked out of class, the only time I would ever do this during my educational career.

I returned at the closing bell to raise the issue with Mr. Buell. He noted my actions could be grounds for discipline, to which I countered by noting that his comments, if reported, would be the same. I also pointed out that the man in the picture hanging above the clock never advocated murdering another human being.

I didn’t report him then, and am sharing this story now to simply provide an example of Buell’s personal opinions infiltrating his classroom and teaching. His statements in recent media stories that he values students equally and loves his gay students I personally believe are inaccurate given my experiences as a student and alumni of his classrooms.

It should also be noted that Buell’s classroom syllabus states:

 “I teach God’s truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, ’cause I ain’t changing!”

If teachers can get fired for holding a glass of wine in a Facbook picture, calling the parents of their students “snobby,” saying they don’t believe in God or even adding students as “friends,” then how is a man who refuses to separate church and state and wish death upon his LGBT students – still teaching.

Wouldn’t it be great if GLSEN, The Trevor Project, HRC and the It Gets Better Project and all the other organizations fighting for our rights made a specific campaign to educate and empower the parents and students of this school?

I believe in the freedom of speech for all, however I also believe that those who use it to hate and oppress others should be held responsible for the things they say. And if the things they say are harmful to the people they are charged with educating in a public school, they should not be entitled to that job.

Houston Judge Discriminates Against Married Gay Man

22 Aug

Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr.

In a stunning case of bigotry from Houston Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr., a married gay man has been forbidden from ever leaving his children alone with his husband.

According to the Houston Chronicle, William Flowers married Jim Evans last year in Connecticut. At the time, William’s ex-wife had full custody of the children with William getting regular visitation with them. After William married Jim, he sought to change the custody agreement. The jury decided that the custody agreement should remain as-is.

While there were no allegations of abuse or endangerment of the children in any way, the Judge added a ruling applicable only to William. The Judge’s ruling prohibits him from ever leaving his children alone with any man who is not related to the children “by blood or adoption.”

The article goes on to cite interviews with many practicing law in Houston stating they had never heard of such an injunction in cases not involving abuse or neglect. When William’s ex-wife’s lawyer was interviewed about it, she claimed it was common and referred the reporter to Teresa Waldrop, a member the of the Family Law sections of the State Bar of Texas and Houston Bar Association – Waldrop admitted to never having seen an injunction such as this and referred the reporter to Austin Family Law Attorney Jennifer Cochran.

When Cochran was read the injunction she told the Chronicle the provision is “just not reasonable.” The fact that William can’t leave the children alone with any man to whom they aren’t related by blood or adoption “strikes at the very heart of the fact that he’s gay…it’s judicial activism, legislating from the bench,” and has nothing to do with protecting the best interests of the children, said Cochran.

Out Voices: David Mixner

18 Aug

It’s not often that you get to meet your heroes, nevermind become their friend. This post will be the first in a series highlighting LGBT people who have worked to break down barriers between our community and the freedom we require.

I didn’t come to join the real fight for LGBT equality until later in my 20s and one of the first names I heard when I first started looking for the leaders of this movement was David Mixner.

Newsweek once called him the most powerful gay man in America, David has been a political strategist, activist, author, storyteller, meteorology expert – you name it. And if you’ve ever had the opportunity to hear him speak, you’d see why I and thousands of others call him a hero.

It was David who called for the recent National Equality March. And upon seeing this big bear of a man in a suit and shades speaking in front of the Capitol on that hot-as-blazes October afternoon, I felt like I was being handed a torch of sorts. What I didn’t know then was that David was very ill – his health had been compromised during one of many humanitarian trips to Africa and doctors still don’t really know what’s wrong. But he showed up to the march (very much against doctor’s orders) because as he puts it – “Ain’t nothin’ in the world that was gonna keep me from that march.”

A few months later, while accepting an award from the Point Foundation, David had this to say about the march and the state of the movement today:

“For those of you who weren’t at the march on Washington…It was the young who led us. It was 70% under 30 years of age. From students on campuses all over this planet, coming to Washington to demand equality now, insisting that nobody had any right to negotiate away their freedom away in the political backrooms. Insisting that they wanted a family, to be married, immigration protection, they didn’t want to pay the “gay tax.” They wanted full equality and they didn’t understand why we had to wait on someone’s political timeline.”

“We have to understand that organizations like GetEQUAL and other organizations run by our young people have a new way now. They have a new way and we have to be careful not to add burdens on their shoulders. Theyre not gonna do things the way I did. They’re not gonna do things the way some of you did. They’re not going to listen to counsels of patience and words that say “you have to understand why we can’t do this now.” Because they don’t understand. They don’t understand why they can’t be free people.”

“So I plead with you for an old timer who’s been doing this 50 years. Get out of their way. Get out of their way. Our young people…how many rooms have I been in for how many years saying “why aren’t are young doing anything?” Well, they are doing something now. Support them. Raise their bail money. Cheer them on. Tell them their right and tell them we love ‘em and we’re proud of them.”

While David has served and continues to serve our community as a leader, it is vitally important to him that the next generation takes it’s place in the fight for our equality. And it’s that true love for equality and the vital need he has for the next generation to be equal that makes me love him.

This week, David celebrates a birthday and while a lady would never reveal another lady’s age, we are very proud to wish this true American hero the very best in the coming days, weeks and years. Thank you, David for fighting for us and for breaking down so many of the barriers that allow us to be who we are today. Salut!

If you have not read David’s book, “Stranger Among Friends,” please click on the link and order your copy now.

David Mixner and Me

NJ Bridal Shop Denies Lesbian Bride Over ‘Illegal’ Wedding

18 Aug

Alix Genter is getting married next July. She lives in New Jersey and is going to get a civil union there, followed by a wedding in New York City (where marriage equality is now a reality).

Alix spoke to the Philadelphia Daily News all about her impending nuptials as she completed her PhD in history.

Last Saturday, Alix’s whole family joined her as she tried on her wedding dress at a store called “Here Comes the Bride” in Somers’ Point, NJ. Her mom and dad, her aunt, her cousin and two friends were there to cheer her on during this incredible time in her life by watching her don the dress and veil she thought she may never get to wear.

She tried on several gowns and finally found the one she loved – which if you’ve ever watched “Say Yes to the Dress” you’d know how trying a chore this can be. She asked Donna, the store manager if the designer might make the gown with a more lightweight fabric for her wedding next summer, and Donna agreed to look into it. It seemed to be a very happy smiling endeavor for all involved.

So naturally, Alix was floored to receive a call from Donna a few days later saying she would not be getting that dress. On the customer information sheet, Alix had crossed out the word “groom,” written in “partner” and put down her fiancee’s name. That didn’t sit well with Donna, who called Alix and told her she would not work with her because she is gay. She told her “There’s right. There’s wrong. And this is wrong.”

Donna went on in the voicemail to say that what Alix was doing was “illegal” and that the store would “not participate in any illegal actions.” The author of the article, Ronnie Polaneczky, called Donna back and they had quite the conversation.

“When I called Donna yesterday to get her side of the story, she both confirmed your version of events and accused you of “stirring up drama.” She said that your writing the word “partner” was basically a provocation, evidence of a need “to show that she’s different.”

“They get that way,” she told me.

By “they,” she meant women who were fed up with men because “men can be difficult,” and so now they “experiment” with female relationships because they’re tired of having men boss them around.

“She told me about a friend whose wife left him for another woman. And about a young family member who was molested by a same-sex adult male. And about a gay man who once plunged a knife into a chair in the restaurant where she worked. And – she finally lost me here – something about the Navy SEALs.”

According to New Jersey’s State Judiciary website, it is illegal to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation in that state. We’d like to refer Alix (and anyone else who has experienced discrimination there) to visit http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/factsheets/fact_sexordis.pdf. Please read the passage below on places of public accomodation:

“Examples of places of public accommodation in which sexual orientation discrimination is not allowed include places generally open to the public where goods and services are provided. This includes restaurants, movie theaters, stores, camps, organizations, schools, professional offices (such as doctors and lawyers), and other facilities.”

Please check out the shop’s Yelp review page and feel free to let them know how you feel about discrimination. And make sure you read the original poignant article here.

 

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