Archive | January, 2011

Gay Teen Athletes Reach Out to Change the World…and Meet Ellen.

20 Jan

Three kids. Three timezones. One mission. This is the banner that welcomes you to the new blog, Walk the Road.

After meeting last year on the website, The Gay Youth Corner, Brad, Robert and Ben decided they wanted to do more. Brad had the idea to start the blog and with a little help from Jim from OutSports.com, Brad called on Robert and Ben to kick things off. Brad Usselman, 16, is a runner from Washington state in the Pacific time zone. Ben Newcomer is a 16 year-old a soccer player from the Southeast in the Eastern time zone and Robert, 17  is a soccer player from the South in the Central time zone. Robert doesn’t use his last name due to his conservative surroundings, but his photo and writing is up for the world to see on the blog.

All three guys have different backgrounds and live on the west coast, east coast and midwest, providing some pretty different points of view on how life is in their respective parts of the country. What draws them together however, is the fact that they all love sports and they’re all gay.

Ben Newcomer

Combing the blog, you’ll find everything from normal teenage-angsty journal entries from Ben:

“I remember being a child, when the grass was green on both sides, when snow meant snowmen, when adults really had all the answers, and I didn’t care to know anything else. Now I’m swept up in self-acceptance, self-destruction, and self-everything-else-I’m-told-I-have-to-worry-about.”

Robert

To poetic introspection from Robert:

I’m a jock.
I’m a jock who likes guys.
I’m a jock who likes guys and cars.
I’m a jock who like guys and cars and poetry.
I’m a jock who likes guys and cars and poetry and is a dreamer.

 

 

 

 

Brad Usselman

To inspiring proclamations of pride from Brad:

“I know by coming out in the world of varsity high school sports that I put a target on my back every time I race because people do not want to be beaten by the “gay” kid. I accept that challenge. Now, if you are also an athlete on any sporting level will you accept the challenge as well? It has fueled my competitive drive to push myself every single day.”

Above all, the new blog is a window to the soul for some young kids growing up gay and bravely breaking stereotypes. The potential to inspire hundreds of other kids is incredible – This week, the guys took some time out of their busy schedules to chat with TalkAboutEquality.

TAE: When did you realize you were gay?

Robert: I knew from a pretty early age I liked guys, however I never accepted it until 5 – 6 weeks ago.

Brad: I realized I was gay in late elementary school, but i never fully accepted the fact that i was until late middle school. I always tried to deny the fact to myself.

Ben: When I was in eighth grade and in ninth and tenth and eleventh. I’m still realizing quite a bit, but it began in eighth grade.

TAE: Are you out of the closet at school and if so, what was the first reaction you got from your friends at school?

Ben: I’m out of the closet for the most part. My friends just don’t care. (Of course they care about my well-being and how being gay affects me). I think I would get a similar reaction if I told my friends that I had black ancestors. I’ve only told a few friends so I’ve only known a few reactions, but many more people know (I am in high school after all.)

Robert: I’m not out at school, but I’ve told one person (Biggest mistake – he turned out to be some creepy closet-case himself and threatened to out me, but when he realized that I didn’t care he couldn’t do much – that’s a different story though.)

Brad: I am not out of the cloest yet at school but i will be on February 9. My student government is doing an anti-bullying week and i am part of the video that is being shown on that wednesday. Most of  my friends do know though and the only thing they really did was smile and give me a hug.

TAE: When it was toughest, when you maybe thought there was no one to turn to, was there a person who inspired you and gave you the courage to be who you are?

Ben: I’m not sure I have a single “hero.”

Brad: I met a guy named Evan in the beginning of 2010 over the internet. He goes to Yale now but he has always been the person who has helped me through my hardest times. I always know he is there if i need to talk to someone. He is also gay.

Robert: Easy – Ben. I was texting him about what I should do; should I tell my mom, or should I stay where I was in my comfort zone? Prior to the day that I wrote my mom, I had thought of running my car off the side of the road, thinking it would end my problems, but I decided not to and for that I am a much happier person for that.

TAE: Why did you start your blog?

Robert: Brad came to me with the idea of starting a blog. Even though we didn’t have a specific direction we wanted to take it in, we were lucky enough to have the help of Jim from OutSports help us out quite a bit. It’s still a learning process and will continue to change as progress does. I personally want to have the feeling that I can be heard and at the same time, help someone – even if it’s only one person.

Ben: Brad asked me and I saw an opportunity to write, to voice my thoughts. Isn’t that a dream of every teenager?

Brad: I started the blog to make sure that the younger generation does not go through the same internal struggles that i went through. I want all LGBT athletes to know that there are other people like them. I hope this blog will provide a place for everyone though to come and feel comfortable as well as a place they can turn to if they need someone to talk to.

I hope the country realizes that the decisions they are making about marriage equality is effecting the younger generations and maybe even some of their children. Hopefully once we realize that everyone deserves the right to marry their loved one our country will help lead a path to were everyone in the world will be able to marry their loved one.

The boys have never all met, (aside from a quick handshake between Robert and Ben), but they have a dream that they might meet on the Ellen DeGeneres Show soon. In fact, someone even built them a facebook page to help try and make that happen. In a time when so many young people are reaching out for help, when their words are so frequently falling on deaf ears, I can’t think of something more inspiring than the work that is being done by these guys.

Great work! Hope to see you on Ellen soon!

We Were Here – Stories Of The AIDS Epidemic

20 Jan

A new Documentary is set to be screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

We Were Here, by David Weissman, intimately chronicles the experience of a few individuals in the close-knit San Francisco queer community before and after the AIDS epidemic. By highlighting individual experiences and personal storytelling the film hopes to show the power of community and the struggles and hopes of the people living through the crisis

We Were Here is the first documentary to take a deep and reflective look back at the arrival and impact of AIDS in San Francisco. It explores how the City’s inhabitants were affected by, and how they responded to, that calamitous epidemic.

Though a San Francisco-based story, We Were Here extends beyond San Francisco and beyond AIDS itself. It speaks to our capacity as individuals to rise to the occasion, and to the incredible power of a community coming together with love, compassion, and determination.

The director told Indiewire.com:

I really wanted to make a film that trusted the pure power of storytelling, that affirmed that there is nothing better than a good “talking head” if you have the right talking heads, and if you allow for depth and complexity.

Collecting, honoring, and reflecting on our shared past is growing increasingly important as we make great strides towards assimilating into mainstream society.  The essence of this time period needs to be preserved and the lives and stories of the people who lived through it deserve an honored place in history.

Having this Film screened at Sundance gives these stories and lives their due recognition while at the same time taking the history of our community out of the margins. In addition to the newly opened GLBT Museum, The LGBT exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, and greater visibility on mainstream media, with this film we are making massive cultural strides to coincide with political victories.

Check out the trailer below:

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.

TIME Magazine: Homosexuality “A Pernicious Sickness.”

19 Jan

TIME Magainze's cover from October 31, 1969

45 years ago this week, Time Magazine published a 2-page essay titled “The Homosexual in America.”

As you would imagine, the ideas presented in the article would now be considered arcane, but in order to understand the strides we have made as individuals and as a community – we must consider our history. We cannot move forward without understanding how far we have come in a relatively very-short period of time.

This article was written when my father was 20 years old and certainly these ideas were part of the norm opinion of Americans at that time.

In reading this essay, one must do one’s best in trying to understand society’s impressions of homosexuality at the time. We were hated, but we were starting to become visible. It’s clear in the article that we had become noticed – specifically within the artistic fields.

“Homosexuals are present in every walk of life, on any social level, often anxiously camouflaged; the camouflage will sometimes even include a wife and children, and psychoanalysts are busy treating wives who have suddenly discovered a husband’s homosexuality.”

The writer continues:

“On Broadway, it would be difficult to find a production without homosexuals playing important parts, either onstage or off. And in Hollywood, says Broadway Producer David Merrick, “you have to scrape them off the ceiling.” The notion that the arts are dominated by a kind of homosexual mafia—or “Homintern,” as it has been called—is sometimes exaggerated, particularly by spiteful failures looking for scapegoats. But in the theater, dance and music world, deviates are so widespread that they sometimes seem to be running a kind of closed shop. Art Critic Harold Rosenberg reports a “banding together of homosexual painters and their nonpainting auxiliaries.”

But what is most interesting is the fact that this was a time when we had begun standing up for our rights. The Mattachine Society, one of the first and certainly the most visible early gay rights groups is mentioned in the article:

“Such views are enthusiastically taken up by several so-called homophile groups, a relatively new phenomenon. Best known of these deviate lobbies is the Mattachine Society, which takes its name from the court jesters of the Middle Ages, who uttered social criticism from behind masks. In recent years, the Mattachines have been increasingly discarding their masks; the Washington branch has even put picket lines outside the White House to protest exclusion of known homosexuals from the civil service and the armed forces, has lately protested exclusion from the Poverty Program. Borrowing a device from the civil rights movement, homophiles have even issued lapel buttons bearing a small equality sign ( = ) on a lavender background”

Can’t help but notice the logo that seems to have been picked up by a certain modern-day gay rights group.

I can’t help escape the fact that our lives are being discussed as if they were something so foreign, but again, one must step into the shoes of someone living 55 years ago in a recently post-McCarthy America, where the rotting roots of fear and Puritanism were still running deep. This analysis is not unlike a National Geographic special, making it sound as though “the homosexual” was no more than an endangered Madagascan marsupial.

“Today in the U.S., there are “mixed” bars where all homosexuals, male and female, are persona grata; “cuff-linky” bars that cater to the college and junior-executive type; “swish” bars for the effeminates and “hair fairies” with their careful coiffures; “TV” bars, which cater not to television fans but to transvestites; “leather” bars for the tough-guy types with their fondness for chains and belts; San Francisco’s new “Topless Boys” discotheques, featuring bare-chested entertainers. San Francisco and Los Angeles are rivals for the distinction of being the capital of the gay world; the nod probably goes to San Francisco.”

The article continues on, discussing the fact that the UK was leaps and bounds ahead of the US when it came to legal protections for gays (some things never change), and goes on to solidify what seemed to be a consensus in America by quoting New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Hofstadter in saying “to legalize homosexual conduct is an injustice to society’s future and an evasion of the problem.” But it’s not until the final paragraph that the writer lets his or her opinion be known (there is no easily-identifiable author of the essay in question):

“Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and, in the words of one Catholic educator, of “human construction.” It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorization, no rationalization, no fake status as minority martyrdom, no sophistry about simple differences in taste—and, above all, no pretense that it is anything but a pernicious sickness.”

It is this final paragraph which clearly defines the majority of our country’s views on who we were at the time. It is also perhaps the most troubling and dismissive. While much of the article certainly doesn’t condone or support gay people, it acknowledge the relevance of our existence, but in this final paragraph, the author releases the full arsenal of their hatred on a portion of our country’s population that was desperately in need of protection.

In reading this and other writing from this time, I have become more and more grateful that I live in the decade in which I live. We are alive now, at a time when our voices are being heard, when our friends and family have become increasingly supportive and embracing of who we are. We live in a time where our actions can create more and more change. I ask you all to go read the whole article and show it to others. Tell your friends and family just how far we have come and encourage them to make change in their own communities. It is this work that has brought us from then to now…and will ultimately introduce a time when our children will no longer fear what resides deep in their own hearts.

Note: The photo is actually from a later issue where the cover story dealt more specifically with the topic first related in the magazine in January, 1966.

BREAKING: US District Judge Opens Door for DOMA Challenge

19 Jan

More and more challenges to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) have been hitting the courts and getting shafted by Federal Judges.

Today, we have a new ruling out of California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, US District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland ruled that state employees can sue the federal government over their same-sex partners’ exclusion from long-term health care benefits. The judge denied a request from Obama’s Department of Justice to dismiss the case, opening the floodgates for lawsuits from gay federal employees around the country.

Currently, federal employees can enroll in federally-approved long-term health care plans. Employees of the state can buy coverage at below-market rates, use untaxed income to pay premiums and deduct future benefits from their taxes. The California agency has refused to sign up same-sex spouses because the Defense of Marriage Act denies federal tax benefits to any state that covers them.

Judge Wilken claimed that DOMA is “robbing states of the power to allow same-sex civil marriages that will be recognized under federal law” and made it clear she would be challenging parts of the law.

While this story doesn’t specifically address our personal stories, we thought it important to share the fact that a major decision was made today, that is in line with the decision of Judge Vaughn Walker’s which overturned California’s Proposition 8. With more and more judicial challenges to the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, it’s only a matter of time before we see it overturned in US Courts.

Georgia Homeless Shelter Leaves Suspected Lesbian and Her Kids in the Cold

18 Jan

In a jaw-dropping story of discrimination, Change.org, it seems a Christian Georgia homeless shelter has chosen bigotry over actual compassion for others.

According to a story on WRBL, Elder Bobby Harris, the director of Columbus, Georgia’s “House of Mercy” claimed:

Elder Bobby Harris, Director of the House of Mercy

“That act [Homosexuality] is not tolerated here at all. Let me tell you one reason why: because of the Bible, of course. And then we have little children … We believe that Christ can change all. But when they begin to practice their acts.”

Throughout WRBL’s interview, an unidentified homeless woman claims she was kicked out of the shelter along with her young children when it was suspected that she might be a lesbian. She found herself on the street after escaping an abusive home – the same fate many Americans face. When she went looking for a little mercy, she thought she was in the right place – the same place she now describes as “unholy.” What’s more interesting is that the woman claims not to be gay and it was only a suspicion of House of Mercy staff members that caused her and her children to be left in the cold.

Harris goes on in his interview at once implying homosexuality is not tolerated on the premises of the shelter, but later on he says:

“They’re welcome to stay here. We believe that Christ can change all. But when they begin to practice their acts…and want to go out in the street and practice what they believe in, we have to let them go on and do that, because I can’t help you like that.”

It’s disappointing to see those most fragile and needy of us being used as a pawn in a bigoted religious game. I may not be a Bible scholar, but I’m fairly certain the Bible doesn’t say “If you think they might be gay, toss them and their young kids out in the streets.” Something doesn’t seem kosher about that.

UK Gay Couple Wins Discrimination Suit Against Bigoted B & B

18 Jan

News out of the UK today, where a gay couple won a landmark decision against discrimination.

Steven Preddy & Martyn Hall

Partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy tried to rent a room at Peter and Hazelmary Bull’s seaside bed & breakfast. The Bulls believe that their Christian values dictate that two men cannot sleep in the same bed and therefore refused the double-bed room to Hall & Preddy, they said it would be “an affront to their faith”. But seeing as the gay couple was only trying to do what thousands of other couples do every year, they decided to bring the Bulls to court.

Today, a Bristol County Court judge awarded the gay couple £1,800 in damages. Judge Rutherford’s decision read:

“The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the refusal to allow them to occupy the double room which they had booked was because of their sexual orientation… and that this is direct discrimination.”

Hall & Preddy were extremely happy with the outcome, saying:

“We’re really pleased that the judge has confirmed what we already know – that in these circumstances our civil partnership has the same status in law as a marriage between a man and a woman, and that, regardless of each person’s religious beliefs, no-one is above the law.”

While this is clearly a case that will be used by the National Organization for Marriage and the like, to say that Christians are being discriminated against for practicing their beliefs, it is the exact same argument used against bi-racial couples who wanted equality in the latter-half of the 20th century. But in the end, equality won out…and it will in our case as well. Congrats to Martyn Hall & Steven Preddy for striking a blow against discrimination everywhere.

Some of you may have heard about the gay couple in Cornwall, England, who sued the owners of a small bed & breakfast who refused to allow them to sleep in a room with a double-bed.

A Gay and Lesbian Museum: There’s A Space For US

12 Jan

After a decade of searching, the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society has found a San Francisco location for the first ever LGBT History Museum in the United States. The Museum opening marks the 25th Anniversary of the Society and will feature two opening exhibits: Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating GLBT History,” curated by historians Gerard Koskovich, Don Romesburg and Amy Sueyoshi; and in the front gallery, “Great Collections of the GLBT Historical Society Archives.”

We have written several times about the importance of history and about preserving and reflecting on our past. The opening of this museum is an important moment in our movement.  If we don’t do the hard work of educating younger generations on past struggles, victories, and personal stories, we allow someone else to revise our history.  We have our own stories to tell, remember, and cherish:

“Telling our stories transforms our lives and our society and takes us out of the margins,” said Don Romesburg, a curator and assistant professor of Sonoma State University‘s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. “The museum is at the heart of that project.”

This is a great step for our community.

Portland, ME Police Reach Out to LGBT Community

11 Jan

News out of Portland, Maine today that the police department will be holding a forum for the city’s LGBT community.

In the interest of improving the department’s relationship with the LGBT community, the forum is being held to discuss safety concerns in the city.

“Easy access and open communication are basic tenets for how the police department operates in Portland,” stated Portland Police Chief James Craig. “This forum provides members of the city’s gay community an opportunity to voice their concerns and be heard.”

Historically, around the country, police departments have been dismissive about the violence against LGBT people. This behavior continues around the country, and it is vitally important that we continue to speak up when we feel discriminated against by those who are charged with our protection. This is encouraging to see Portland’s police department reaching out specifically to our community for our feedback. If you’re in Maine, find your way there!

The forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 27 at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St.

City Funds Restored to LGBT Homeless Youth Center

6 Jan

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

With many thanks to the dozens of organizations in NYC and around the country who have helped, in addition to Lew Fidler, Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council, it has been announced that the $35 million in cuts made by Mayor Bloomberg and his administration have been restored.

These cuts included major cuts amounting to a majority of the operating budget for homeless youth organizations such as the Ali Forney Center, which caters specifically to LGBT homeless youth.In recent weeks, there has been an outpouring of very vocal support for the Ali Forney Center, including videos from Alan Cumming and Friends as well as the Talk About Equality-sponsored A Very Mary Holiday, presented by Broadway Speaks OUT!

Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, TalkAboutEquality.com)

This news comes just a few days after Mayor Bloomberg released what many saw as a hypocritical video message to LGBT teens telling them that “it gets better.”

These cuts would absolutely not have been restored were it not for the hundreds who have stood up and told their story. So, congratulations to all of you who have stood up and spoken up about who you are. This is a victory for all of us.

Please read the following statement from The Ali Forney Center:

“This morning City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Finance Committee Chair Domenic M. Recchia Jr. announced that the Council and Administration have reached a budgetary agreement on the Fiscal Year 2011 financial plan, that fully restores the spending reductions to homeless youth programs proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in the November financial plan.

This is wonderful news for the homeless youth of our City, particularly for homeless LGBT youth who would be disproportionately hurt by the proposed cuts.

I am profoundly grateful to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Council Assistant Majority Leader and Youth Services Committee Chair Lewis Fidler for their strong and dedicated leadership in seeking to have these cuts restored. Thousands of homeless youth have been protected by their compassionate leadership.

I am also deeply grateful to many members of the broader LGBT community who stood up and demanded that our most vulnerable youth be protected from these cuts. Many, many people called, wrote, and e-
mailed the Mayor’s office and expressed their concern and outrage. I do not think that the Mayor, in proposing the cuts, anticipated the depth of the commitment of the LGBT Community to protecting our youth who have been thrown out to the streets, and I am deeply moved by the caring that our Community revealed in fighting the cuts. I want to especially thank David Mixner, Mike Lavers and Joe Jervis for their
efforts in bringing the harmfulness of the cuts to the attention of the LGBT Community.

Finally, I want to thank the homeless youth of NYC for their courage and caring for one another in standing up against the cuts. Two weeks ago dozens of youth joined advocates and providers and Council members on the steps of City Hall speaking out against the cuts. It is not easy for young people to put  a public spotlight on the suffering and hardship they endure, and I am more proud than I can say that they
were willing to do so to protect each other. I particularly want to thank Ali Forney residents Jaden Peterkin and Raciel Castillo for their efforts. They each spoke out at every hearing and on the City
Hall steps, and each wrote op-ed pieces, courageously offering their own experience of homelessness and family rejection to help others understand the hardships endured by homeless LGBT youth.

Today is a great day for the homeless LGBT youth of our City, and for the LGBT community. The cuts to street outreach and drop-in centers would have been catastrophic. But the fight is not truly over until
there are safe beds for the 3,800 youth who are without shelter every night in our city.”