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We Will Not Be Erased.

7 May

Tom Bridegroom & Shane Bitney Crone

It’s been said that telling our stories is what will make the biggest difference in the end. It’s easy to see the statistics that have changed since more and more people have come out and more and more of our loved ones have changed their minds about support for our equality.

Tom Bridegroom was the host of MTV’s The X Effect in 2006 and 2007. One year ago today, while photographing a model, Tom fell off a rooftop to his death. While his passing was discussed on a handful of websites and amongst friends and fans, very little has been said about his relationship with Shane Bitney Crone.

As any story about a couple that had been together 6 years and then broken apart by tragedy would be, their story is heartbreaking. But what’s different about Tom & Shane’s story is that they were set to marry. And while I could write the story here, Shane has found the courage to tell the story himself 0 in the hopes of spreading the word about the inequalities we face and the irreparable harm it does to our families.

Thank you Shane for your bravery and for telling your story so that others may live to see a day when things are different.

Please watch. And share as much as you can.

NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Openly Gay Maine Couple Crowned Prom King & Queen

30 May

A beautiful story out of southern Maine (one of only two New England States not recognizing marriage equality). 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was just crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen.

Christian and his boyfriend, Caleb Jett decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state. With the help of his friends, Christian got enough votes to win Prom Queen. Happily, his boyfriend Caleb won King. The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance.

Here’s an interesting point. This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Many Congrats to Christian and Caleb and many thanks to them and their friends for doing something so courageous. Please know that your work now will make all the difference in the world to LGBT kids for generations to come.

School Principal Bans “Bohemian Rhapsody” Because a Gay Man Wrote It

13 May

My senior year at Marshfield High School was getting rolling and auditions for our drama club’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” were scheduled for the afternoon. We’d had a reading of the script and everyone was excited about it. It was about a private girls’ school where this nasty little girl decides to spread a rumor that two of her teachers are lesbians. Turns out one is and is actually in love with the one that isn’t. *Spoiler Alert* Drama ensues, lesbian teacher kills herself over the rumors and unrequited love in the end. That morning, the principal got on the loudspeaker and announced that the auditions were cancelled and that the drama club would be selecting a new play. We were all confused and some of us marched down to the his office to find out what was up.

It seems the principal had heard from a few freshman parents that the play was all about lesbians and he decided it wasn’t appropriate. We hemmed and hawed and the principal told us his decision was “final.” So I marched over to the library (the librarian loved me and let me hang out in her office and use the phone if I wanted), and I called the ACLU. The next morning, the officers of the drama club were called down to his office – “I rented the movie last night and my real problem is that there’s a suicide, so just make sure that happens offstage and you can do the play.” Cuz ya know, we were thinking it might be fun to have someone shoot themselves center stage. Anyway…I was reminded of this story when I read this little morsel of bigotry straight out of Sarah Palin’s hometown.

Wasilla High School’s Symphonic Jazz Choir had been working on Freddie Mercury’s hit anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” all year in preparation for a performance at the school’s graduation next month. The song had been played at several school events including the prom and (as is the case for several decades now), no one seemed to have a problem with it. Until now.

Wasilla High School Principal Dwight Probasco

It seems Principal Dwight Probasco received some phone calls from some angry parents who deemed the song “inappropriate” because it was written by a gay man. So, instead of realizing he was the principal of a high school which more than likely taught about Michelangelo, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Stein, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Melville, Tchaikovsky, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Hans Christian Anderson, Aristotle, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, he decided to ban the song.

The students were naturally up in arms about this, having been practicing for some time. Choir member Casey Hight went so far as to contact a gay and lesbian organization in Anchorage for some help. Monday, reportedly due to fear of the ACLU, Probasco lifted the ban and is allowing an edited version of the song to be performed (to leave out the parts about killing). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The First Openly-Gay Congressman

9 May

This Thursday would have been the 74th birthday of the first openly-gay federal politician. Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts was my Congressman growing up and I can proudly say that both my mother and my aunt took a major part in getting Gerry elected.

When he was first elected in 1972, he was not out of the closet. It wasn’t until a scandal outed Gerry, that he admitted publicly to being gay. Gerry was censured by Congress for having a sexual relationship with 17 year-old page Dean Hara. He fought to avoid a hearing so as to avoid outing young Hara. But instead of abandoning his post, like many outed politicians do, Gerry was re-elected six more times, until he retired in 1997 after serving the country for 25 years. He fought for many issues, including environmental and maritime issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding, and civil rights, particularly for gays and lesbians.

Following his retirement, Gerry continued to lobby for the fishing industry – one of the primary industries of his constituents in Massachusetts.

Gerry Studds and his husband Dean Hara

Gerry defended himself regarding the scandal by saying that he was in a consensual relationship with the the young man. In 2004, one week after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, my aunt got a call from Gerry inviting her to his wedding. Gerry was marrying his partner of 25+ years, Dean Hara. Two years later, Gerry passed away following a pulmonary embolism. Due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, Dean was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

Christian College Freshman Harassed By Students and Professors

9 May

Isaia Thomas (photo by John C. Whitehead for The Patriot News)

Openly gay freshman Isaiah Thomas has discovered Messiah College in Grantham, PA is not quite a good fit. According to PennLive, The student has been through hell at the Christian College – from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class to receiving a death threat on his facebook page. Isaiah has decided to transfer at the end of the semester.

The Christian College requires all students to sign a “Community Covenant” which forbids homosexual behavior, according to school provost Randy Bassinger. he also claimed the school had a very strict harassment policy and has investigated the claims from Isaiah, but they refuse to release the results of any of those findings.

What we find most interesting about Isaiah though is not that he was harassed and is leaving, but he actively worked to change the school’s policies. He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. And when Isaiah learned about the Covenant, he actively worked for more inclusion, but each teacher he spoke to defended the covenant.

Back in March, we reported that another Christian school, Harding University was under fire from LGBT bloggers and press after they blocked an HU gay student website from being accessed from on-campus. The University defended it’s bigotry and it’s censorship of several students continues.

UPDATE: Is DOMA Sinking? AG Holder Vacates Gay Deportation Case

5 May

While Organizations like ALL OUT and GetEQUAL are pushing to stop tomorrow’s deportation of Henry Valendia, thus tearing him away from his legal marriage with Joshua Vandiver, it seems Attorney General Eric Holder is taking further steps to discredit the ant-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

According to Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, AG Holder has vacated a decision made by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision.

Holder writes:

“Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.”

Geidner continues:

Saying the attorney general “has taken [an] extraordinary step” with the decision, attorney Eric Berndt — the supervising attorney for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities at the National Immigrant Justice Center — told Metro Weekly, “It adds some heft to our requests for prosecutorial discretion in individual cases in which the foreign partner” of a same-sex bi-national couple is seeking a green card because of his or her citizen same-sex partner.

Holder goes on to state four questions that he directs the BIA to consider:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

This could be extraordinary news, considering Holder’s specific questions. It’s apparent from his requests to the BIA that state’s rights may be violated by DOMA, considering his mention of “New Jersey law.” Let us hope this is good news for Joshua and Henry (who is set for deportation tomorrow).

There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow in Newark from 11-12am – Department of Homeland Security/Newark Immigration Court – Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ. Please attend if you can and also please visit ALL OUT’s Petition to help stop this cruel punishment for a couple whose only crime was getting married.

***************UPDATE********************

According to Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner:

Attorney Lavi Soloway tells Metro Weekly that Henry Velandia’s deportation proceedings have been adjourned, in part, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in another case involving a same-sex couple on Thursday. Moreover, Soloway says, “The government attorney agreed to adjourn the case.”

This is excellent news and proves that when we rally and get people to join together around something, we can win. Please keep this in mind and kep working hard when we ware called to action. We CAN make a difference!

Photos From a Big Gay Wedding

2 May

This weekend, it was my great honor to attend the wedding of our friends Jonathan Howard and Gregory Jones.

You might remember Jonathan and Gregory as the 2nd place winners in last year’s Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest. Not only did they enter the contest, but they sacrificed greatly to use their new-found celebrity status to expand the conversation on equality. Their work to promote our rights has been unending and I’m certain it will continue to be.

I’ve happily gotten to know Jonathan and Gregory over the past year and am personally looking forward to seeing them more after my move to DC in June and one thing I can say is that they are one of the most loving couples I’ve ever met. They compliment each other in wonderful and indescribable ways. They belong together and there’s no questioning it.

The wedding, held at a stunningly beautiful vineyard in Virginia (after being legally married in Washington D.C.), was filled with friends and family that could not have been happier than to see these two men together. The support, love and genuine emotion was unlike anything I’ve experienced at a wedding before. I’ve been to well over twenty weddings, but never one where the people being married had fought tooth and nail for the simple right to do so.

I was happy to share this day with so many friends who continue to work for our equality and it’s a day I won’t soon forget. Here are some photos from this extraordinary day. Congrats Jonathan & Gregory. We love you and we thank you.

You can see more at Equality Photography.

Anti-Gay Campaigner Jumps Fence to Equality

13 Apr

Many of you have already heard the remarkable story of Louis J. Marinelli, a former campaigner against marriage equality who has since changed his mind. And so many incredible sites, especially our brilliant friend Jeremy Hooper at GoodAsYou.org have done brilliant work not only chronicling this story, but helping to make it happen.

Louis Marinelli in front of NOM's tour bus last summer

Tonight, Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC spoke about Louis’ story in a way that made me realize this is the perfect story for us to share at Talk About Equality. Louis once ran his own anti-gay organization called Protect Marriage: One Man, One Woman. And last summer, he became a strategist and organizer for the hate group, National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Louis helped organize the “Summer for Marriage Tour” for NOM and even drove the bus. This tour met with counter-protests which greatly outnumbered their attendees in nearly every city. The final stop on the tour was Washington D.C., where Talk About Equality’s Sean Carlson led a group of organizers to put together “The Big Commit,” which was one of the largest cooperative events among LGBT organizations ever seen.

Also along the tour, California’s Courage Campaign followed every move NOM made. They recorded their interactions and the counter-protests all along the route. Arisha and Anthony from the Courage Campaign interviewed attendees to NOM’s tour in addition to some of the big players on the tour – one of those players was Louis Marinelli. In Louis’ letter to supporters of the Courage Campaign today, he said:

“Throughout the summer tour, Courage Campaign’s Arisha and Anthony approached me several times. I remember sitting on a bench in St. Louis, Missouri alone with Anthony for a few minutes. It was then that I empathized with Anthony and who he was for the first time, although I did not tell him. I understood that my work wasn’t affecting faceless, nameless political targets but instead good people like Anthony who just wanted to participate in all that America is.”

Through many interviews Arisha and Anthony gave with Louis, Louis felt that he was seeing them as more than just a political opponent. This all stems back to our theory of how our country is changing. Through telling our stories through educating others, we can change the world. As Harvey Milk said, “They vote for us 2-to-1 if they know one of us.” It is our stories and specifically how we tell them which will cause the most change.

Please. Think for a moment and craft your story of self. Think about the moment when you realized who you are – be it a gay man, a lesbian, bisexual, transgender or an ally. Tell that story to a friend and work on it. Keep it short and keep it simple and remember the things that made you want to fight for equality. Then tell it to another person. And another. And another. It is YOUR story that is going to change things. It is your story that is going to make this country a place where all people live equally. Look at how many brave people are out there telling their stories now – look at the kids who are fighting to bring their same-sex partner to prom. Look at the kids who are suing to have gay-straight alliance clubs in their high schools and colleges. Look at kids like Will Phillips, a straight 11-year old from Arkansas who one day refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because he didn’t feel it was true. Will believed the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” was incoherent with current laws because lesbians and gays were not allowed to marry. I’ll leave you with Will’s speech from “The Big Commit” in DC, where Will put NOM on notice.

LGBT Immigrants Abused in US Custody

13 Apr

13 complaints were filed today alleging human rights abuses against LGBT immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center is asking the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the treatment of LGBT people in DHS custody, craft policies to address violations and oversee implementation.

Some of the people being held are legal residents who were previously convicted of a crime – in some cases, just a misdemeanor. Some are felons who are transferred to ICE custody after longer prison sentences. Others may be undocumented aliens or people who have overstayed their visas. Regardless, all are held based on civil and not criminal offenses.

The alleged abuses against LGBT individuals include denial of medical care, discrimination and sexual assault. Steve, a gay Peruvian asylum seeker was held in solitary confinement for six weeks “on the sole basis that he is HIV-positive” according to the report. “Officers frequently prohibited Steve from leaving his cell to get his HIV medication. Steve was traumatized when he sought medical treatment and an officer refused to remove the shackles from his feet, waist, and hands despite pleas from his doctor.”

The report goes on to describe sexual assaults by fellow inmates followed by repeated denials for transfer from the victim as well as a transgender inmate being denied her hormone treatment, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to detainment.

Heartland Alliance has set up a letter campaign to President Obama and DHS. Please take action by signing the letter and tell the President that LGBT immigrants cannot be treated like this in our country.

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