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Stonewall, LA Principal Punishes 8th Grader Wearing Gay Positive T-Shirt

21 Mar

In the ironically-named Stonewall, Louisiana, it seems the principal of DeSoto Middle School is the one who needs some schooling.

Though students are usually required to wear a uniform, eighth grader Dawn Henderson had earned the right to dress casually to school. So she sported a t-shirt that read “Some kids are gay and that’s o.k.”

Dawn had the shirt covered by a zip-up, but word still spread around until she was told by the principal that she needed to change the shirt immediately. According to Dawn, “He basically told me he thought it was a distraction…My opinion is any shirt can be distracting.”

Principal Keith Simmons couldn’t be reached for a comment as of this afternoon, but we hope to be speaking with him soon.

Meanwhile, the t-shirt is available at FCKH8.com.

It May Soon Be Illegal to Say ‘Gay’ in TN Schools

23 Feb

It would seem Tennessee is trying to pass a bill which would dictate that elementary and middle school students would be denied any discussion of sexuality (outside of heterosexuality). And many people would argue that sexuality isn’t something that is on the radar of a young kid either way. But that’s simply not true.

A few years ago, I came across this incredible video by Brian McNaught. Brian has been nicknamed the “Godfather of gay sensitivity training” and has been at this for quite some time. He debated homophobe hero, Anita Bryant and has spent his life educating people on what it is like to be gay. And the video at the end of this article hit home with me.

Brian talks a crowd of predominantly heterosexual men and women through what it would be like to live in a world that was the opposite of their sexual orientation. He asks them to close their eyes and imagine a world where they felt one way and everything in society told them there was something wrong with them. And it made me recall my own childhood and all those nervous moments I had – from first recognizing my crush on He-Man to the first time I snuck into the Glad Day Gay Bookstore in Boston – frantically looking over my shoulder the whole time. It made me remember quietly sneaking into the video store across the street from my house and renting every video I could find that might possibly have a gay theme – hiding them under my jacket when I covertly walked in the house. And it made me remember my first kiss – feeling frightened and ashamed as opposed to having that raised leg fireworks moment I should have had.

All the fear and shame started at an early age. When my kindergarten teacher could have read King & King alongside Cinderella, that was the first moment when I could have been told there was nothing wrong with me. I know we are sometimes reluctant to fight for early childhood education when it comes to introducing sexuality, but what we don’t often acknowledge is that love is an idea which we start learning about from the moment we open our eyes. While the details of what part goes where is a discussion that should come a little later in life, the notion of couples and families of all different shapes and sizes should and must be introduced as soon as it can be. This is the only way we can prevent that shame which envelops the early life of so many LGBT individuals.

This bill in Tennessee and all those like it, must be fought – as hard and steadfastly as we are fighting for marriage equality and employment non-discrimination. It is vital that our children are being raised in a fashion where they are not afraid of who they are, where they don’t need to look over their shoulder simply because of who they are attracted to. It’s a silly notion and as a people, we should be beyond it.

Please take a look at the video below and please share it with everyone you know, gay or straight and encourage them to share it with others who may not understand what it’s like to grow up gay or lesbian in this country. And when you’re done, make a contribution to the Tennessee Equality Project to help them fight this bill. And in the meantime, go buy a copy of King and King or And Tango Makes Three and send it to your elementary school library and make sure your school knows who it came from.

Oak For Court!

16 Feb

In September we wrote about Oak Reed, a Michigan teenager who was elected homecoming King at Mona Shores High only to have his candidacy invalidated on a technicality. The problem, for the administration, is that Oakleigh Marshall Reed used to be named Oakleigh Marie Reed.  So, despite the common belief that Oak earned the most votes, the school records still indicate that Oak is a girl. So no homecoming court for Oak.

Oak Reed for Homecoming King!After garnering national attention and outrage the same administration has made the laudable decision to remove King and Queen from its homecoming court in favor of gender neutral titles.  Thanks to broad support from Oak’s parents, friends, and fellow students an important step towards inclusivity has been taken.

According to the Muskegon Chronicle, the school administration quickly began examining how they could be more gender neutral and met with student leaders to make some changes. Oak responded through a statement released by the ACLU:

I’m so glad that the rules have been changed. All I wanted was a chance for all students to participate and be heard. Now my classmates and I can just focus on having a great time at our school dance.

Indeed. By simply being himself Oak has succeeded in making real changes in his community. Now they can dance , focus on being young, and get through high school, which is hard enough as it is.

Hopefully we’ll get to see the happy prom photos.

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.

 

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