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A Tale Of Two Conventions

10 Feb

I’ve just come from an incredible week at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference.  This was my first time there and I had heard mixed things about the gathering.  Not knowing what to expect I have to admit to approaching the conference with less than an open mind.  In the weeks leading up more than a few people told me what I would experience and I gave in to my sometimes cynical nature. I wasn’t expecting much.

To my delight, my negative assumptions, and the impressions of my friends, were turned on their head. Where I was expecting staid academia I discovered fresh ideas. Where I looked for the older generation to dominate the conversation I found a vibrant, youth-driven atmosphere. I braced myself for back slapping cronyism and I found a largely supportive and encouraging community.  I came in cynical and left energized and inspired.

I quickly realized how much the conference is geared toward encouraging and supporting new leaders. While it was great to see so many young people fired up about learning and growing it was even better to see them supported and provided a safe space to do this. The upbeat attitude and infusion of fresh faces gave the conference an edge I wasn’t expecting. Surrounded by my upbeat community and learning so much I let my guard down a bit. Which is probably why I tripped over and nearly spilled my friday morning coffee on a gaggle of Christian Youth in the Skyway.

Turns out there was another conference in town.  The Acquire the Fire Tour was just across the Skyway at the Convention Center. More than doubling our convention in size, the evangelical youth in attendance were hearing a different message, one of brokenness, shame, and permanent scars.

Apparently the Acquire The Fire leaders told their youth, who were on average much younger than the attendees at Creating Change, to practice spreading their particular brand of the teachings of Christ across the skyway at Creating Change. To them this apparently meant chanting homophobic epithets at queer passers-by and to harass and intimidate people as they passed. I personally witnessed a young woman upbraiding a local busking violinist just outside my hotel.  The differences in the two events could not have been more clear. One fueled by shame and judgement.  The other a sincere attempt to make the world a safer and more inclusive place for everyone.

Not content to surrender the safe space that we had created at the Hilton, a coalition of inclusive faith communities participating at CC11 put together an escort service for creating changers who had to walk alone.  Thanks to the responsible leadership of members of our own community the potential disaster of juxtaposition was avoided and, minus a few minor incidents, we were able to coexist.

The awful reality we still face is that outside of a few inspiring weekends here and there we still have a long way to go.  It’s a sobering reality that I have been facing all week. We are often outnumbered as we were this weekend. Creating the change we need is admittedly a lot harder than attending a conference, no matter how inspiring and encouraging it may be.  The young people attending Creating Change had to look no further than across the skyway to see the challenges they will be facing.

After Creating Change I have no doubt that they have the knowledge and talent to go out and face them.

Were You Born This Way?

6 Feb

A brand new blog is taking off and it’s all about us!

The Born This Way Blog is a place for people to submit a photo of themselves from when they were 2-12 years old, and a story about when the photo was taken and who you are today. The page’s introduction is simple. It reads:

“A photo/essay project for gay adults (male and female) to submit pictures from their childhood (roughly ages 2 to 12) – with snapshots that capture them, innocently, showing the beginnings of their innate LGBT selves. It’s OUR nature, our TRUTH!”

The blog has received some wonderful write-ups from around the web and in under one month, is fast approaching 1 million views. Paul V., the creator of the blog notes:

So, some of the pix here feature gay boys with feminine traits, and some gay girls with masculine traits. And even more gay kids with NONE of those traits. Just like real life, these gay kids come in all shades and layers of masculine and feminine.

As you’ll see – time after time – their sexual orientation was simply NOT a choice. Exactly the same way straight kids can’t choose their sexual orientation either. So for all those religious and political leaders still blathering that “chosen lifestyle” nonsense?  S T F U !

And the sooner we teach all children that being gay is as normal (and biological) as being straight, then maybe it really WILL get better, and we can save some young lives in the process. That’s my biggest goal with featuring your pictures and stories: That struggling gays kids of today can see themselves in the faces & stories of the gay kids of yesterday, to LIVE to create their own memories.

It got me to wondering if I had any photos of myself that may have foretold who I’d become. I mean, other than doing musicals from the age of 8 and the fact that I had an unnatural fascination with He-Man, could anyone really tell? And upon looking through some photos, I discovered that yes…yes one could tell. I’m in the process of submitting my own story, and who knows – maybe one of these photos will soon have their story told on Born This Way Blog…feel free to vote for your favorite in the comments section!

nice bevel.

I believe I was singing "In the Navy."

My mother REALLY wanted a little girl. And she kinda got one.

Note the position of the ball. Note the position of my foot. Note the foot has passed the ball and the ball is clearly not in motion. Note the coach's shorts.

Is that a big beaded necklace? And a dress?

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!

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.

 

UPDATE: Long Island Principal Refuses GSA, Called People “Faggot” as a Kid, So It’s OK.

20 Jan

Valley Stream South High School

Today at 3pm at Valley Stream South High School in Long Island, students and their supporters will be holding a rally to protest the decision by the High School’s principal to deny their request for a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).

According to press notes, students from the school have been trying to form a GSA since October 2010. They have gone through the proper channels nd had numerous discussions with Principal Maureen Henry. After sharing their experiences of being bullied at the high school and being called “faggot,” Henry replied that she too called people “faggots” when she was young and didn’t mean anything bad by it. Using that as her excuse as to why the students didn’t need a GSA.

Senior Joseph Kofler, one of the organizers of today’s rally said, ““this school really needs a GSA and not because it’s a ‘gay club’. In fact it’s the opposite of our goals, which is to bring about understanding and acceptance for all of our students. And I want to feel safe coming to school everyday and this club will help toward reaching these goals” said the 17-year old.

The other organizer of today’s rally is Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY). “There are over 90 GSA’s that already exist in Long Island schools and by allowing a GSA for students to feel safer is not something revolutionary – in fact, the school is way behind the times and these brave students should be commended for trying to make a difference” said David Kilmnick, CEO of LIGALY.

On the High School’s website, Henry states:

“South High School is committed to a school environment that promotes personal growth, good citizenship and service to others.  South’s motto “small acts of kindness make a big difference” motivates all of the South community to share their time, talent and energy to provide service to others both here at South and in our community.”

Today’s rally will take place at 3:15pm outside the entrance of Valley Stream South High School, 135 Jedwood Place, Valley Stream, NY.

h/t: LezGetReal

UPDATE: According to the Long Island Herald, interim school Superintendent Dr. Richard Marsh announced today that the club has been approved and their first meeting is set for today.

While the club will have no funding or paid adviser for the remainder of this year (as budgets had already been set for the year), it will be part of the budget for following years.

The rally, which is still occurring after school today will hopefully continue to shed light on the bigoted earlier statement from Principal Henry.

Fertilizing the Roots – Photos and Video from Rootscamp 2010

12 Dec

Rootscamp 2010 is drawing to a close after it’s second day of incredible grassroots progressive organizers joined in DC to discuss and digest the work of the past year.

Last night, following a full day of workshops, participants let loose and did some networking to make sure we are all communicating about how to move our ideas forward.

This morning, some of the organizing sessions we were able to attend included one on direct action as well as a session on how to use our storytelling to advance our individual goals. Being one of the main purposes of Talk About Equality, the ideas presented on storytelling were extraordinarily moving and helpful in finding our equality. It’s through these stories that we have come as far as we have.

Using stories to convince a voter to vote for a candidate is indeed helpful and effective. Personal stories usually make the biggest difference in winning a vote, as we saw with the election of Obama. But when it comes to the monumental changes and shifts in the LGBT movement, there is no denying that storytelling and our personal narratives have created the most positive change. When telling our parents, friends and family who we are, and coming out to those we love, we are telling our story. If we fail to tell those stories, we in fact are not only failing ourselves, but every generation of LGBT people that follows.

We’re very grateful to have been able to take part in the New Organizing Institute’s Rootscamp 2010 and can’t wait to see all these incredible organizers and their work over the course of 2011. Enjoy a few more photos as well as the incredible video from NOI.

GLSEN: The Path to Safe Schools

18 Nov

The LGBT bullying epidemic has only recently become a national issue largely due to the string of youth suicides that have spread across the county.  New PSA campaigns have sprung up all over the place and several celebrities and politicians have spoken out about the need to end bullying and discrimination in our school communities. Naming the problem is easy yet little attention is paid to the legislation pending in Congress that will directly affect the lives of bullied youths.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, GLSEN, held an event on Capitol Hill today to discuss the background of safe schools legislation and to make an impassioned pitch for the passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide protections to students against harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Jared Polis (D-Co) and in the Senate by Al Franken (D-MN).  Both spoke today about the need to create safe spaces in schools:

“No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied. With the spate of recent suicides in Minnesota that were linked to anti-LGBT bullying, it’s clear we need to do more to ensure schools provide a safe environment for all students” Sen. Al Franken

“Every student has the right to an education free from bullying, harassment, and violence, and we are here today to show that Congress is ready to take a stand against bullying in our schools”  Rep. Jared Polis

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Linda Sanchez sponsored the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which is a federal anti-bullying bill which protects students from all backgrounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

“We shouldn’t have to have this legislation,” said Sen. Casey “We owe it to our children to do whatever we can to ensure their pleas for help do not go unheard.”

Two mothers of dead bullying victims shared their stories and spoke of the devastation school bullying had wrecked on their families.  Tammy Aaberg, who’s 15-year-old son completed suicide, spoke of her attempts to get the school district to listen and address the problem, and shared her frustration and loss when her complaints were ignored.

Sirdeaner Walker, who lost her 11 year old son last year, issued a call to action:

“Too many of our children are being tormented in schools-and not enough of our adults are doing the right thing and teaching respect for all. Enough is enough! Teachers, parents, clergy, and community members must stand together and make change. We all know the problems and we know the solution that can make a difference all that remains is to act.”

Perhaps the most touching moment of the event came from Joey Kemmerling, who spoke of his personal experiences being bullied, his struggle to cope and thoughts of suicide, and how it caused him to do something about it:

“I came out in 8th grade, and I’ve been bullied every day.” said Kemmerling. “The day is going to come for everyone standing up and saying ‘no more’.”

Louis Van Amstel, from Dancing with the Stars, and singer Clay Aiken, spoke to the crowd of their experiences with bullying and how they made it through.

Its clear, both from the personal testimonials heard today and the overwhelming recent anecdotal evidence, that the legislation proposed is absolutely necessary for our children.  GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard addressed the need for their passage:

“Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long. Countless youth are denied access to an education every day because they do not feel safe in school. Passing the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act would go a long way toward laying the necessary foundation of support lacking in many American schools”

It is considered highly unlikely that either of these bills can pass in the current lame-duck session, but Byard and the sponsoring lawmakers are confident it can be passed in the next year.

“We have hope that these bills will move.  They currently have bi-partisan support in this Congress.” said Byard, who goes on to add that “Fundamentally this is an issue of behavior, not belief”

Today’s event was a call to action for all who recognize the importance of this issue and has clearly laid out the path to creating safe schools.  We need to keep the pressure on our communities and school leaders to deal with these issues while pressuring Congressional leaders to pass this much-needed legislation.

LISTEN: Bigot Radio Host has History of Anti-LGBT Rants

17 Nov

As we reported here last week, KLIF radio personality, Chris Krok made a particularly homophobic and bigoted diatribe against openly-gay city council member Joel Burns.

We all remember Joel from his extraordinarily moving and courageous speech in front of the City Council on bullying and LGBT teen suicide.

This week, GLAAD stepped in and made a phone call to station manager Jeff Catlin, who apologized for Krok’s attacks and assured GLAAD that Krok had been “disciplined.” The nature of that discipline was of course not discussed with GLAAD as Catlin doesn’t believe in discussing employment practices per his note to TAE reader Bob Witeck:

It is corporate policy that we do not share internal disciplinary matters with the general public. I wouldn’t expect your boss to share with me when you get in trouble at work.

Catlin went on to tell GLAAD that Krok has not spoken about the Joel Burns speech since his original bigoted rant. We’re not sure if Catlin just took Krok at his word when he said he hadn’t mentioned Burns since that show aired, or if he actually went back and listened to the tapes, but some of our fantastic TAE readers beg to differ with the account that Krok never mentioned it again.

These following clips are reportedly from the two days following Krok’s bigoted rant against Joel Burns.

Krok Speaking out against Bullying Legislation, referring to a Transgender Girl, Andy Moreno who wanted to participate in the Homecoming Queen contest as a “dancing queen,” and pokes fun at someone who tells a story about the student having books thrown at her. Additionally, he continues a rant against Joel Burns.

Another rant against the Trans teen and Joel Burns

Please continue to contact Jeff Catlin and demand a responsible disciplinary action take place against Krok.

214-526-2400 Is the Main Office number of KLIF

or email the Operations Director, Jeff Catlin at  jeff.catlin@cumulus.com

****************************************

UPDATE FROM GLAAD:

Krok Apologizes on-air

Krok apologized for his rant about Joel Burns, but never mentioned his attacks on the trans teenager he also berated. This level of anger and hyperbole should be met with more than a simple apology where Krok reiterated that his opinion was still correct, but his use of words was too personal.


Openly Gay UMass Student’s Car Vandalized

8 Nov

An openly gay UMass Dartmouth student found his car spray painted with a homophobic slur this weekend.

The college, which prides itself on its messages of diversity and even flies the rainbow pride flag year-round, is located in Massachusetts – the state which has celebrated marriage equality the longest. The unidentified student found his car vandalized this weekend after spending the afternoon on the college campus. Police are investigating and authorities say that this is the first time anything of this magnitude has been reported on the campus.

Hey Hey Hey… Goodbye, Andrew Shirvell.

8 Nov

We did it.

Andrew Shirvell, the now former assistant District Attorney in Michigan who has waged a crazed cyber bullying campaign against Chris Armstrong, the openly gay University of Michigan student body president.  You may remember we covered this torrid tale last month.

Andrew Shirvell has finally lost his job for his crazed behavior.  From the Detroit Free Press:

The attorney for Andrew Shirvell, the assistant attorney general under fire for his attacks on a University of Michigan student, says his client has been fired.

“They said essentially that as a result of Andrew’s conduct, it’s become impossible for him to carry out his duties as an attorney general.”

And rightly so.  No public official should be engaging in this kind of harassment.  Maybe now Chris Armstrong can go about his business and concentrate on College, which is hard enough without wild eyed stalkers standing at the gates.

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