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UPDATE: Principal Assaults Pro-Gay Student, School District Lies to Protect Him

5 Oct

Sequoya HS Senior Chris Sigler

Yesterday, we shared the story of Sequoya High School senior Chris Sigler who wore a T-shirt with the words “GSA: I’ve got your back” to school and was assaulted by his principal for it. The Tennessee high school was in the news recently when that same principal threatened to suspend students for even discussing the proposed gay-straight alliance.

After my conversation with Principal Maurice Moser, Chris’ story was no surprise to me. Moser came across combative and angry when discussing his own discriminatory actions towards the GSA.

Last night, we were able to speak with a lawyer from the ACLU, who yesterday sent out a press release regarding the assault on Chris Sigler.  The ACLU is demanding that the school administration not only confirm that students’ first amendment rights are being protected, but that students also be allowed to form the GSA. Principal Moser had said to me in our conversation that the only reason the GSA is unable to form is because they cannot find a faculty sponsor. Moser has helped other clubs find sponsors in the past, but is unwilling to help the GSA.

We were told by the ACLU that there is a “disturbing trend” in this high school where several members of the faculty have expressed great interest in becoming the sponsor for the GSA. Then they have a meeting with Principal Moser to discuss and return from that meeting “suddenly uninterested.” We have reached out to some of these teachers for comment and to find out what happened in their meetings and will update you should they respond.

We were also able to speak to Chris Sigler’s mother, Linda last night who told us her version of what happened, which obviously agrees with the ACLU’s press release. She also wanted to reiterate the need for the GSA at this high school. She told me “there are at least 30 students who would like to be part of the club and in a small town, that’s a lot.”

While her son is straight, he has a sister Jessica who identifies as bisexual. “Chris saw how these kids were being treated and knew he had to stand up for them. That’s just the kind of kid he is.” Jessica was the only other person in the room when Moser attacked Chris. To date, the Sheriff has not interviewed Jessica. Yesterday, the Tennessee Equality Project started a petition for a fair investigation. That petition has since closed as Linda Sigler will be speaking with the sheriff today to find out why he hasn’t interviewed Jessica. In the meantime, they have created another petition calling for an investigation into the ongoing harassment of LGBT teens at Sequoya High School.

She went on to mention that the school currently houses at least two Christian student groups – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and “Prayer Around the Flagpole,” where once a week, a pastor comes on to the school grounds and students are asked to go pray around the flagpole. Until very recently, there was also a prayer said before every football game.

While Christian student organizations may not initially be seen as something to compare the plight of the GSA to, according to a poster on the GSA’s facebook page, there are area Christian churches which are getting involved in the fight to stop them:

“Heard this from a friend in Madisonville: At Howard Chapel Church in Vonore, the pastor preached on QUEERS and said the ACLU may be getting involved with the GSA at Sequoyah and for no church members to sign on or be involved, etc.”

The Howard Chapel Church is less than a mile from the home of a lesbian couple that was burned to the ground allegedly by their neighbor. The word “QUEER” was spray painted in large black letters on their adjoining garage. To add insult to injury, the couple’s insurance company is refusing to pay them on their claim. GetEQUAL has started a petition to the insurance company here and to date, more than 50,000 have signed.

Local NBC affiliate, WBIR has more on the alleged assault including a statement from Tim Blankenship, Ass’t Director of Schools for Monroe County:

“The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We’ll gladly provide more information when it becomes available.”

The problem with this claim is that according to Linda Sigler, no statement was taken by the school from her daughter Jessica – the only eyewitness to the assault. I called Tim Blankenship directly and when I attempted to ask him about the discrepancy in his statement and the truth, he hung up on me.

It’s become very clear that the school district is trying to protect Principal Moser to the point that they are silencing students and reporting untruths to the media about what is actually happening in Sequoya High School’s halls. When the bullying of LGBT students is literally coming from the top-down, something needs to change.

We’ll have more on this as it comes in.

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

All I Want for Christmas is EQUALITY, EQUALITY, EQUALITY!

7 Dec

We want to implore all of you to join us in using our holiday spending to help some of our organizations stay afloat in this current economic environment. Each of these organizations is having trouble with funding. We need to make sure that they continue on so that our rights are won!

The Ali Forney Center for Homeless LGBT Youth is an incredible organization that is currently under attack by those who oppose us, including New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Mayor has proposed unbelievable cuts that would close several help centers for these kids -many of whom have been kicked out of their homes for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. NYC has just cut their support of the Ali Forney Center greatly and they need your help. These kids are OUR responsibility. Help them out.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights is doing incredible work on our behalf and will most certainly be responsible for Marriage Equality coming to this country through their court challenges to California’s Proposition 8.

Friendfactor is reaching out to our allies in ways we never thought possible. The new organization is focused on activating our straight allies. Very few groups are reaching outside our own community to find support, but we here at Talk About Equality believe that Friendfactor holds a special key to finding our equality. We cannot do this without our allies. We are a minority and without the help of our friends and family, we are lost.

The National Center for Transgender Equality is one of the leading organizations fighting (uphill at times) for the Employment Non-Discrimintation Act (ENDA). Though this seemed like an easy fight, ENDA has seen several setbacks, essentially from our realization that our country fails to see Transgender people as equals. The National Center for Transgender Equality is doing incredible work to educate our government and our citizens on our equality. And make no mistake, this movement would be years behind without the T in LGBT.

The Victory Fund is responsible for more than 106 LGBT candidates being elected to public office in 2010. More than any other electoral period in our country’s history.Harvey Milk once said “…you’ve got to keep electing gay people…to know there is better hope for tomorrow. Not only for gays, but for blacks, Asians, the disabled, our senior citizens and us. Without hope, we give up. I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living. You and you and you have got to see that the promise does not fade.” Make a contribution if you can.

GetEQUAL is doing incredible work in activism. We may not all be cut out for cuffing ourselves to the White House fence, but this organization is getting notice. One of this organization’s leaders, Robin McGehee was arrested one day at the White House and the next day was invited to a meeting there. One of the ideas that GetEQUAL embraces is that all of us can make a difference, no matter what our tactic – just keep the pressure on, and we can make a difference.

There are dozens of other organizations out there that need our help. Please take a moment to research what is important to you and encourage your friends and family to make contributions to these groups in leiu of your holiday gifts this year. When our kids live in a world with equality, they’ll thank you for it.

The Ghosts of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Moving Forward

15 Nov

In a historic protest at the White House moments ago, 13 people were arrested after chaining themselves to the White House fence.  Three generations of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell activists participated in this monumental action.  Present among the demonstrators were several men and women who’ve been arrested in similar demonstrations over the decades, including the first famous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protest in the 90’s, and this year’s subsequent White House DADT protests.

Former Servicemembers who were arrested in April during protests at the same location, spoke to Talk About Equality about why they were returning:

“I feel we have come to a critical juncture where we need leadership from Obama and Senator Reid to get rid of this horrible policy.  I am here today because being the first Marine discharged under this policy I feel we need to send a signal to the White House and the Senate to finally do the right thing for LGBT servicemembers and pass the repeal in the Defense Authorization Bill.” Says Justin Elzie, the first Marine discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to Talk About Equality.

Here is the full list of demonstrators who were arrested today:

Lt. Dan Choi, Petty Officer Autumn Sandeen,Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Cadet Mara Boyd.  All four were arrested in front of the White house in April protesting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Robin McGehee, co-founder and director of GetEQUAL.

Former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was discharged in 1976 and was the first LGBT servicemember reinstated to her position in the U.S. Military, by a U.S. Federal District Court. On July 30th, 1993, Miriam and 26 other protesters were arrested at the White House fence for protesting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Former U.S. Marine Corps Sergean, Justin Elzie who, in 1993, became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

Former Army Arabic Linguist Ian Finkenbinder, who was discharged from the Army in December 2004.

U.S. Army Veteran and Repeal Advocate Rob Smith, who was deployed to both Iraq and Kuwait before being honorably discharged after deciding not to re-enlist in the U.S. Army due to the added pressure of living under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

Father Geoff Farrow, a Catholic priest who spoke out against the church’s official stance in support of California’s Proposition 8, removing the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Scott Wooledge, a New York-based LGBT civil rights advocate and blogger who has written extensively on the movement to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Daily Kos and Pam’s House Blend.

Michael Bedwell, long-time LGBT civil rights advocate, close friend of Leonard Matlovich, and administrator of the site www.leonardmatlovich.com

Dan Fotou, an Organizer with GetEqual.

Civil rights activist, writer and speaker David Mixner told LGBTPOV upon the 17th Anniversary of the first DADT White House arrests:

“There was no question among those of us arrested that DADT was a horrible policy.  Am extremely proud of doing the right thing then and extremely proud of those doing the right thing today.”

This action culminates one day of advocacy for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal.  The big push needs to come from all of us in the remaining few weeks of this Congressional calendar.  Don’t let these 13 have sacrificed in vain.

Intro to Direct Action 101.

22 Oct

Meet Tonei Glavinic, a collegiate LGBT organizer. Below is a guest post about Tonei’s introduction to Direct Action:

Last week, I participated in a direct action with a national grassroots LGBT rights organization called GetEQUAL. GetEQUAL isn’t much like other nonprofits I’ve worked with in the past. They don’t write policy or file lawsuits. Instead, they take to the streets, the White House, and Congressional offices to put pressure on Democrats who have been getting elected and funded for years on a platform of achieving civil equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but have failed to deliver.

Until this weekend, I thought GetEQUAL was kind of obnoxious.

One major source of this feeling was that some of GetEQUAL’s supporters have in the past been extremely critical and dismissive of the work that national organizations do, which frustrated me because I was working with these groups and was directly involved in a lot of important efforts that are leading to or have already led to positive change. I reacted to this by in turning dismissing GetEQUAL as a bunch of misguided activists who weren’t actually doing anything productive to make a difference, and were perhaps actually damaging our efforts by angering people who were supposed to be our champions on Capitol Hill.

But when a friend of mine gave me the opportunity to travel to Miami to participate in an action, I jumped at it. I’d never been to Florida before, and it sounded like it could be fun.

The action itself was rather elaborate (you can read the plans and the AP article), but my role was simple: go with a team holding banners outside the entrance to the estate where Obama was holding a massive fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and take pictures and video.

You wouldn’t think that this would be a particularly empowering experience, but when I captured President Obama on film directly acknowledging us (I was at that point holding up the center of a banner, while my camera sat on top of a police car), I realized the important purpose that GetEQUAL serves.

All of our policy work is incredibly important, and change couldn’t happen in our government without it, but somebody has to keep our issues at the forefront of the President’s mind – and GetEQUAL can let Obama and the Democrats know that we’re not going away anytime soon in ways that policy organizations can’t.

This by itself wouldn’t have been enough to change my mind about the organization. It was the conversations I had with other activists and GetEQUAL co-founder Robin McGehee that made me realize that the organization itself was very supportive of the work of many other national advocacy groups.

While I still have a few unresolved qualms about the organization itself (specifically the recent sudden firing of a friend of mine without notice), that weekend definitely changed my opinion of GetEQUAL’s work – and direct action in general – as an important piece of the larger movement for LGBT civil rights and social justice.

Tonei Glavinic is an Alaskan queer activist at American University in Washington, DC. For more information or to contact Tonei, visit frozenactivist.net.

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