Archive | February, 2011

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.

Jamaican Gay Murder Advocate Wins Grammy; 28 Gay Jamaicans Win US Asylum

14 Feb

It’s no secret that many Caribbean nations are overwhelmingly homophobic. In fact, just last night, Jamaican Reggae artist, Buju Banton won a Grammy Award – after he advocated burning homosexuals “like an old tire wheel,” and shooting “batty boys” in the head with an Uzi in some of his lyrics.

Gay murder advocate and Grammy Award Winning Jamaican Reggae Artist, Buju Banton

Speaking as someone who also suffered from an anti-gay assault in the Bahamas, it seems that homophobia is deeply rooted in the religious teachings in some Caribbean nations. In recent years, there have been dozens of hate crimes reported in St. Maarten, Jamaica, The Bahamas and others. In fact, in 2006, TIME Magazine dubbed Jamaica “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth.”

The hatred and ignorance is clearly out of control. And considering the recent murder of David Kato in Uganda and the halted deportation of Brenda Namigadde, it’s important to know that you can be safe in countries which don’t criminalize who we are. Immigration Equality is an organization which maintains the largest network of pro-bono attorneys, in addition to its in-house legal staff, dedicated solely to seeking asylum for Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) asylum seekers. So it was good to hear from our friends at Immigration Equality that “An overwhelming number of the victories, 38, were for clients from the Caribbean, with 28 of those for individuals from Jamaica.”

Congratulations to those who won asylum to a place that at least doesn’t criminalize love. Let’s keep hoping for change in those countries where millions more fear their own murders daily.

Prayers for Equality: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver

13 Feb

Ryan Kelley and Sigourney Weaver in "Prayers for Bobby"

In our struggle for equality, we are so often met with the question “Can people really change?” We so frequently run up against the wall of having a conversation with someone who seems unmoveable. And sometimes, the sad truth of the matter is that some people are indeed unmoveable. In the case of Mary Griffith, it wasn’t until her young gay son took his own life that she saw the repercussions of her ignorance.

Mary’s story “Prayers for Bobby” by Leroy Aarons, tells the story of life with her son, Bobby. And most importantly, it tells the story of how someone can change when presented with irrational fears of what they don’t understand. The book was made into a film last year by the Lifetime Network and it garnered several recognitions including Emmy nominations for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Leading Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for Sigourney Weaver. The film won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie and Sigourney took home a Trevor Life Award from the Trevor Project for her portrayal of Mary Griffith.

On the occasion of the DVD release, Sigourney took a few moments to chat with Talk About Equality about the film, on playing Mary Griffith and how things can get better.

Talk About Equality is devoted to telling our stories and we believe that these stories are what will help us win our equality. In your travels, have you had the opportunity to see or hear about the impact your telling of Mary’s story has had on someone?

Mary Griffith

A young person had confided in her mother a few days before that she was gay and her mother had freaked out and taken her phone away and grounded her. Then they saw the movie together and the mother started the process of being able to talk about it with her child and it went from impossible to…let’s start this dialogue. And it was such an immediate heartening result from watching the movie together. It [the movie] takes you through people coming out with such disasterous results.

I thought my friends surely didn’t have that big a problem but the four people I talked to had such terrible stories to share with me. One of them, who goes out in drag quite a bit – his grandmother actually helps him get ready, but they’ve never discussed it..it defies logic..so there’s a real need for more stories like this to be told.

The transition Mary had after the loss of Bobby is one that so many kids fantasize will happen with their own intolerant parents. Speaking as a parent, what would you tell these intolerant parents and how did you personally handle Mary’s transition from intolerance to pride?

 

Sigourney Weaver and Ryan Kelley in a scene from "Prayers for Bobby"

The main thing to remember is that you love your child and we as parents must love and respect our children and listen to them. I think the one thing I feel was so tragic about what Mary did was not her belief or her ignorance, but that she refused to listen to Bobby. She just refused to, and that actually is what cost him his life. If she’d been able to listen, if she had been able to keep that door open, then things might have worked out differently.

As a parent we all have a tendency to want our children to lead very safe regular lives. Lives that are protected somehow- Its really a fallacy. Its not what any of us did and we have to be brave enough as parents to trust our children and encourage them to be who they are and all that they are. It takes such incredible courage to be gay in this society, in this world right now and your child really needs your support – really needs you to be there for him or her. It’s the most important way you can  express your love to your child – by listening and supporting.
You’re an actor who never shies away from a challenge when it comes to the roles you choose – from the big commercial hits like Avatar or Aliens to smaller releases like Prayers for Bobby or Snow Cake – and each of these characters I’m sure brought something new to your life. Did you have a “seeing the world with new eyes” moment with this character and movie?

Bobby Griffith

I definitely did. When I read the script I was a little horrified by Mary – I thought there was this huge chasm between myself and her. My immediate thought was she must live in this kind of place that’s far away from a metropolis-where there might be a big gay community. And then of course when I visited her – she’s about 30 minutes away from downtown San Francisco. I realized that we can be closed-minded wherever we are-even in a big city. I think I had used that geographical idea to sort of marginalize Mary and once I realized that she was in a city and I met her – mother to mother – I realized how much she loved Bobby, how much she loved all her children.

Her house is filled with things he made – his dolls, his drawings, his little attic room is just as he left it. We just met as mothers. She is so courageous and so honest and so candid about who she was then and what the repercussions had been of her prejudice and ignorance. And after a day with Mary, I felt-  ya know -that I get fearful for my daughter when I think of her doing things and I found the Mary in myself. We are parents who want to protect our children from things we don’t understand, things that frighten us.

I stopped being the East Coast judger. This can happen to any of us. It creeps up on us because we love our children and we think by loving them, we should keep them from being who they are. If I just say no, they can change their minds. The more you talk to Mary – she thought he was making a lifestyle choice. It took her forever to understand that this was part of God’s plan for Bobby. And that’s what the story is, of the terrible mistakes she made and that he was perfect as he was. She just couldn’t see it. She didn’t have any help or support until she reached out to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG saved her and made it possible for her to share her story with all the rest of us.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, designed to reach out to LGBT kids who may be contemplating suicide. In that vein, if you could, if things were different, is there anything you would want to say to Bobby Griffith?

Wow…I would say…Dear Bobby, give your mother [a chance...]…these are all things he did do because he loved his family so much. He tried so hard to give them the time to embrace him as who he was. So it’s very hard for me to know what to say to Bobby except – we’re going to do everything we can to make sure kids don’t feel that way.

It’s so hard to say ‘go live your life’ and eventually your family will come around and you will find out that you can be this magnificent gay man with so much to offer, with a community and with a family you can have – a family of your own and eventually your family will hopefully meet you halfway. And if not, you’ll have your own family and your own community and it will get better. What could be more painful than what you’re going through now? So just hang in there. And know there are people who love you and care about you and value you and you should be around, because you’re a terrific young person.

For Bobby, everything hinged on the approval of his family. I think there wasn’t The Trevor Project or all these other places where he could have maybe had more people reaching out to him. Where he could finally get the message. It was a message he felt he didn’t have the right to accept.  He couldn’t allow himself to love someone and be loved if his family didn’t love him first. That’s the lesson from this story really – it’s really hard for someone to love themselves without ever learning how to from their family.

Many thanks to Sigourney for taking the time out to speak with us about this incredible film.

If you have not seen it, please order the DVD by clicking here. And if you have seen it, go buy a few copies of the DVD to give to friends and family who might be able to use it.

Gay Pirates and Cosmos

10 Feb

Gay Pirates (Photo by Robin Hillier)

So, Talk About Equality is far from being any kind of entertainment reviewing blog, but once in a while something comes across our facebook or twitter that we can’t let go without a comment or passing it along.

Last night, a friend posted a little video called “Gay Pirates” on my facebook wall. I assumed it would be some silly parody or something that poked fun of gay people and/or pirates. It turned out to be kind of a sweet, Irish folky tune about pirates in love.

I immediately made myself late for work by looking for more music from this young man, Cosmo Jarvis and found quite a bit – and a little interview on AfterElton. When AE asked Cosmo how he came about the idea to write about gay pirates, the 21-year old said:

“You know the stereotype of pirates — these gruff dudes who can take anything, they live on maggot-infested biscuits in the middle of the sea, they whip each other, they’re really tough guys.So if one in ten guys today is gay, then one in ten guys back then must have been gay, so I was just thinking there must have been gay pirates, although pirates were very tolerant toward homosexuals for the most part. But if you did end up on a boat in the middle of the ocean and you can’t run anywhere and everybody is totally against the idea of you having a partner on the boat, I felt that it was the worst thing that could happen to somebody who was gay.

I’m sure most people have had a chance to see the video by this point, but for those who haven’t, I hope this will make your day the way it made mine.

 

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.

A Simple Goodbye

9 Feb

A scholarship fund is being set up in memory of Eric Debusk, who would have been 36 this Friday, February 12th.  The fund has been set up by Eric’s partner of nearly 12 years David Ewing:

“He loved music. He loved performing. That was his big thing.”

Eric passed away last month from an unnamed illness which forced him out of performing as a cruise ship entertainer. The scholarship fund will fully fund the participation of five recipients in the Gay Mens Chorus of Miami, in which Eric performed for three years:

Chorus board president Keith Hart said “we’re very thankful that his partner has pledged to start the Eric DeBusk memorial fund.” Members must each pay $180 a year to cover chorus costs, fees and other expenses.

Hart said the chorus will dedicate its second annual choral festival — featuring eight different South Florida singing groups — to DeBusk. The festival will be held 7 p.m., Feb. 26, at Trinity Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St., Miami.

This story might seem unremarkable.  It isn’t. What touched me about this story is what’s missing; No controversy, no pickets, and seemingly no whitewashing of his life and love.  Since we are trying to bring about a world where this is even possible it’s important to highlight it and celebrate it whenever we can.

This is how a person should be loved and remembered.  Our hearts go out to David and Eric’s family.

Helping Our Brothers And Sisters

9 Feb

Dr. Frank Kameny is one of the most significant figures in the American equality movement.

Dr. Kameny is a World War II veteren who, after being dismissed in 1957 from the Army Map Service, fought his unfair treatment all the way to the Supreme Court in 1961. Though he lost, Frank made history for filing the first civil rights case based on Sexual Orientation.

This marked the beginning of a decades-long career fighting for LGBT equality. Frank Kameny went from fighting Nazis to fighting the U.S. and DC government. He is widely credited as a pioneer of a new and aggressive movement for equal treatment of gay and lesbians, paving the way for the eventual explosion of post-stonewall activism. As a founding member of the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC, Frank helped organize the first ever White House protest and together with the Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Billitis expanded the picket line into what would later became the Annual Reminder.

Over his nearly four decades of fighting the establishment on our behalf, he succeeded in repealing DC anti-sodomy laws, continuously pushed for federal workplace protections, and was instrumental in removing homophobia and junk-science from the American Psychiatric Association and sexual orientation from its manual of mental disorders.

And now Frank needs OUR help. After all he has done for us we have a unique opportunity to show our love, support, and appreciation for this true American hero.

Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS)  is an all-volunteer micro-charity that helps marginalized GLBT individuals in the Washington D.C. area meet short-term needs. HOBS‘ focus is on those who do not fit the criteria for help from other organizations or agencies.

For the past year HOBS has been helping Frank meet his basic needs. Like so many who have lost their jobs because of workplace discrimination his needs aren’t being met with his slim pension.

For the price of a nice cocktail you can make a small donation to HOBS and toast a truly remarkable man.

We named a street after him. Now we have a chance to truly honor this great man and show him how much we appreciate his life and work:

Buy Frank A Drink

Love. Commitment. Family: Why Marriage Matters

9 Feb

Freedom to Marry is stepping it up. Today, they announced their new “Why Marriage Matters” campaign, which will raise and spend $10 million on educating the entire country on the issue of marriage equality.

Over the next three years, F2M will buy television ads all around the nation, beginning with a CNN spot on Valentine’s Day to celebrate Freedom to Marry Week.

“Across the country the thinking of many Americans, from the president to the people next door, continues to ­­­– as President Obama put it ­­­– ‘evolve’ toward support for same-sex couples joining in the freedom to marry.  Freedom to Marry’s team has crunched over a decade’s worth of polling data and field experience to crack the code on moving the reachable but not yet reached,” said Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry.  “By engaging friends, families, and neighbors in personal conversations about why marriage matters, each of us can help fair-minded people wrestling with a lack of information and uncertainty, and change hearts and minds.”

According to press notes:

Freedom to Marry analyzed over 85 data-sets representing 6 years of research to develop messages that are proven to be effective in swaying public opinion around marriage.  In particular, the data showed that people who have had conversations with their gay and lesbian friends about why marriage matters to them are more likely to support the freedom to marry.  By shifting the conversation from a focus on rights to a conversation about shared values of love and commitment, support for the freedom to marry grows.  In partnership with local and state groups, the Why Marriage Matters campaign will include a variety of mixed media advertising, including TV, radio, and online ads.

To find out more, you can visit Freedom to Marry’s new website for the project. There are several other beautiful videos on the new site that are quite share-able on facebook and twitter – so get to it and get the conversation started! Many thanks to TAE’s good friends at F2M for pushing the conversation forward.

 

Christian UK Doctor Turns Away Patients Because They’re…”you know.”

8 Feb

Christian UK Doctor Steve Hardie

After an ice injury on my front steps right after Christmas, I’ve spent many an afternoon in my fabulous podiatrist’s office, getting my broken foot healed. So this story hits home for me.

Coming out of the UK, where the laws actually protect LGBT people, comes the story of podiatrist Steve Hardie who has decided to let his personal bigotry get in the way of his professional medical practice.

According to a hearing before the Health Professions Council, the governing body which oversees Hardie’s practice, he is accused of misconduct while working for Peterborough Community Services. Among the accusations include Hardie’s refusing treatment on an HIV positive patient because he disapproved of the patient’s sexual orientation, passing the patient off to a colleague because the patient was “…you know.”

Hardie is facing charges of improper treatment of several patients and colleagues between 2005 and 2009, whom he perceived as gay. He refused treatment to a diabetic patient he thought was effeminate and declined to attend a training by a colleague he’d thought “made a pass” at him because he was “smiling and his eyes were twinkling”

Vicky Lord for the HPC said:

‘There is a duty of the HPC-registered health care professional to practise in a non-discriminatory way. Mr Hardie fell short of what was expected.’

The UK has been leading the way in it’s protections of it’s LGBT citizens. After last month’s ruling in favor of a gay couple who was discriminated against by Christian bed & breakfast owners, it’s become clear that America is no longer leading the way when it comes to being the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

7-Year Old Wants Gay People “Treated Equally!”

7 Feb

A great little story in the Advocate today about a 7-year old boy named Malcolm.

In an effort to teach young Malcolm the importance of improving the world around him, he was given $140 to donate to the charity of his choice. Upon hearing a radio news story about the mistreatment of gays and lesbians, he chose to give the money to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the Human Rights Campaign.

Included with his donation was a letter from Malcolm that read:

“I am sending you this money because I don’t think it’s fair that Gay people are not treated equally.”

Malcolm, the 7-year old who's improving the world around him.

The donation also included a note from Malcolm’s mother, who challenged the center to raise $27,000 in her son’s name. They’ve launched a campaign to do just that, and they plan to send confirmation that the goal has been reached along with a “big thank you note.”

Isn’t it nice to see kids being taught things like this as opposed to lessons in intolerance and bigotry from parents who condone bullying and hatred?

To help Malcolm’s challenge, visit here.


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