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School Board Bans Book for Mentioning Gay Families Exist

4 Jun

Me, circa 1982.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and I knew from a very young age that I was different from the other kids. My story starts off like many of yours. I read all the storybooks you read, saw all the Disney Princess movies you saw and I knew there was a reason I liked Bo & Luke so much more than Daisy.

When I was 10, I started performing in musicals and at 11, I was in a Longwood Opera production of Gianni Schicchi. At the cast party, a very tall slender African American man was talking to my mother. Another man came up next to him and was introduced as his “lover.” Of course I knew what they meant, but I’d never seen someone who was gay. Not in any book, or Disney movie or TV show. This was a first for me. It was the first time in my childhood I didn’t think there was something wrong with me.

In Erie, IL yesterday, the Erie School Board voted to ban Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” from it’s elementary school. The book tells young children that families are different. It speaks of large and small families, families with of different ethnicities, single-parent families, families with adopted children and then of course…the most terrifying of all “Some families have two moms or two dads.” It’s this single line which caused such a stir in Erie, Illinois, that the school board has taken the book off the shelves. Parents called and complained that children that young should not be taught this kind of material. It’s okay if it’s taught to older children, but not younger kids who are potentially picking on other kids because they have two moms or two dads.

It seems that due to the complaints of just 4 parents, the Erie School Board, led by School Board President Charlie Brown decided to ban the book.

Brown additionally took to Facebook to endorse putting “the Bible back in schools,” as seen here in the screenshot:


I spoke with Zach Wahls, the young man from Iowa who courageously defended his own lesbian parents and their family about this story and he responded:

“As the grown son of a lesbian couple who attended public K-12, this is both frustrating and frightening. For the board of a school district to say that my family structure is an ‘issue’ that shouldn’t be included ‘at the elementary school level’ not only fails to explain why that’s the case but also alienates the students in that district who do have two moms or dads. This is another startling reminder of the fact that not all bullies are just adolescent kids: some of them grow up to be school board presidents”

Erie School Board President Charles Brown

Additionally some educators from the elementary school where the book was banned made statements. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they feared they couldn’t do so publicly without risking their jobs.

“As an educator at the elementary, I am very disappointed that the GLSEN materials and Todd Parr books won’t be used again. They were excellent resources for the diversity unit and completely age appropriate. At no time was there anything mentioned that was inappropriate. The elementary level is the perfect time to teach acceptance and respect for everyone and all types of families. I am also very disappointed that these materials were taken away from everyone due to a small group of parents that opposed it. The best option would have been to leave the materials in place and those that wanted their children to opt out do so. By banning materials and books, we are not moving in the right direction. I am very saddened by the whole situation!”

Sean Leeds, a former student in the district, has started a petition at Change.org. In it, he requests that the school board reconsider their actions. Please tell School Board President Charles Brown that all families matter. As of now, more than 100 Erie parents have signed another petition asking for the reinstatement of both the book and other anti-bullying educational materials.

Is it Getting Better? 14-Year Old Gay Bullying Victim Lost to Suicide

20 Sep

Jamey Rodemeyer

This weekend, after years of bullying, and telling anyone who could listen about it – 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life.

Since 5th grade, Jamey had been dealing with taunts from his classmates and routinely blogged and posted online about what he was going through. He would speak against bullying frequently and even call out his own school which he said was doing nothing about it. Just last week, Jamey wrote:

“No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me fag and tearing me down.”

His attentive parents frequently would speak to him about what he was going through and in recent months, it seemed as though either the bullying had subsided or that Jamey had learned how to brush it off. but then late Saturday night, Jamey posted two final comments to his Tumblr blog – the first saying how he wanted to see his Grandmother (who had recently died) and another was a message of thanks to Lady Gaga. The following is a line from Lady Gaga’s song, “The Queen”

According to Buffalo News, “He touched so many hearts, so many people,” said his mother, Tracy Rodemeyer, who met with some of his grief-stricken friends at Williamsville North on Monday. “I didn’t realize how many people he touched. He was the sweetest, kindest kid you’d ever know. He would give all his heart to you before he gave any to himself.”

Olivia Rinaldo, an eighth-grader at Heim Middle School, said she was drawn to his outwardly upbeat and extroverted personality. He made friends of the friendless, she said.

“He was always putting people first,” she said. “He always wanted other people to smile, even on the worst of his days.”

Jamey also had a Formspring account which allows anonymous comments to user’s posts. In recent months, some of those commenters said things including:

“JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!”

“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

Jamey is another in a long line of teens who’ve succumbed to endless bullying and torture. This is not a rite of passage. Being tormented can make some stronger and cause them to come out of it and succeed in spite of their bullies. But some of us aren’t prepared for the kind of harassment young LGBT kids receive.

We need to be doing more.

Just a few months ago, young Jamey made this “It Gets Better” video. It’s very difficult to watch knowing what this child was going through when he made it. Despite his own circumstances – it was important to him that he help other kids feel better about themselves. Please watch and share Jamey’s story so that maybe one more kid won’t have to go through this.

NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com

Openly Gay Maine Couple Crowned Prom King & Queen

30 May

A beautiful story out of southern Maine (one of only two New England States not recognizing marriage equality). 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was just crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen.

Christian and his boyfriend, Caleb Jett decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state. With the help of his friends, Christian got enough votes to win Prom Queen. Happily, his boyfriend Caleb won King. The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance.

Here’s an interesting point. This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Many Congrats to Christian and Caleb and many thanks to them and their friends for doing something so courageous. Please know that your work now will make all the difference in the world to LGBT kids for generations to come.

UPDATE: Is DOMA Sinking? AG Holder Vacates Gay Deportation Case

5 May

While Organizations like ALL OUT and GetEQUAL are pushing to stop tomorrow’s deportation of Henry Valendia, thus tearing him away from his legal marriage with Joshua Vandiver, it seems Attorney General Eric Holder is taking further steps to discredit the ant-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

According to Chris Geidner at Metroweekly, AG Holder has vacated a decision made by a Board of Immigration Appeals decision.

Holder writes:

“Pursuant to my authority set forth in 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(h)(1)(i), I order that the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (“Board”) in this case applying Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. § 7, be vacated, and that this matter be referred to me for review.”

Geidner continues:

Saying the attorney general “has taken [an] extraordinary step” with the decision, attorney Eric Berndt — the supervising attorney for the National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities at the National Immigrant Justice Center — told Metro Weekly, “It adds some heft to our requests for prosecutorial discretion in individual cases in which the foreign partner” of a same-sex bi-national couple is seeking a green card because of his or her citizen same-sex partner.

Holder goes on to state four questions that he directs the BIA to consider:

In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent’s civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a “qualifying relative,” the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal.

This could be extraordinary news, considering Holder’s specific questions. It’s apparent from his requests to the BIA that state’s rights may be violated by DOMA, considering his mention of “New Jersey law.” Let us hope this is good news for Joshua and Henry (who is set for deportation tomorrow).

There is a rally scheduled for tomorrow in Newark from 11-12am – Department of Homeland Security/Newark Immigration Court – Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, NJ. Please attend if you can and also please visit ALL OUT’s Petition to help stop this cruel punishment for a couple whose only crime was getting married.

***************UPDATE********************

According to Metroweekly’s Chris Geidner:

Attorney Lavi Soloway tells Metro Weekly that Henry Velandia’s deportation proceedings have been adjourned, in part, because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to vacate the Board of Immigration Appeals decision in another case involving a same-sex couple on Thursday. Moreover, Soloway says, “The government attorney agreed to adjourn the case.”

This is excellent news and proves that when we rally and get people to join together around something, we can win. Please keep this in mind and kep working hard when we ware called to action. We CAN make a difference!

WATCH AND SHARE: The Kids Are Listening

4 May

With the non-stop influx of social media nowadays, it takes something really special to break through and make you take more than a glance at something. And today, this little video popped up on my facebook feed and I knew I had to do more than take a glance:

I followed through to the website listed on the video and I discovered what looks to be a moving and desperately-needed campaign aimed at improving the lives of LGBTQ foster youth. This is quite clearly the most underserved portion of our community and we must do more to include these kids in our conversations around equality.

According to the campaign running The Kids Are Listening website:

The Opening Doors Project works to make life better for LGBTQ youth today. The project is dedicated to training and supporting the legal and social service professionals on the front lines to ensure that LGBTQ foster youth have the support they deserve and the rights they demand.

Through on-the-ground trainings, local task forces and comprehensive research and training material The Opening Doors Project provides the legal community with the advocacy tools they need to successfully represent LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Also on the site, you can sign up to receive more information from the campaign. The pledge you sign is also linked to the It Gets Better Project.

So many organizations and campaigns come and go and I truly hope to see more from the people who put together this stirring video. Please share the video wherever you can and visit their site to find out more.

Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Country Version to Benefit GLSEN

4 Apr

Lady Gaga…We haven’t talked a lot about her here, but the time has come.

People inside and outside the LGBT community have mixed reactions to La Gaga. But one thing is for certain, and for that one thing – I think she’s great. No matter what she does, what she wears, what she says or where she goes, that one thing that remains true – is that she’s got our back.

Lady Gaga at the National Equality March (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, talkaboutequality.com)

I have a confession to make – the first time I ever really noticed her was in October of 2009. I had organized 25 buses to come from New York to DC for the National Equality March. I was with friends and quickly found my way to the front of the crowd to take photos of the speeches. Pressed up against the plastic fence on a very warm afternoon, I was astounded by the incredible sense of community I felt. People were kind and people were respectful of one another’s space…and then Gaga came out. Within a matter of 4 seconds, I was on the ground with my face pressed against the plastic fence. The crowd dove for the fence and all civility disappeared to catch a glimpse of this blond wonder.

While on the ground and snapping pictures, I was amazed. This pretty, young celebrity was screaming at President Obama to listen to us. It was a speech I won’t soon forget. And she was gone as quickly as she came.

Over the past two years since then, she has advocated for us on several occasions – from speaking out in defense of her gay “little monsters” to being a steadfast advocate for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now, she’s putting her money where her mouth is. Her hit song, “Born This Way,” is an anthem to the LGBT community that has been censored in some countries due to it’s LGBT inclusion – . She has spoken out against this censorship and is taking it to the next level.

It seems she has recorded a country version of the hit and has decided to release it. Today, she announced that all sales from the single will benefit the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN is an incredible organization we’ve spoken about frequently at Talk About Equality and is responsible for Gay Straight Associations (GSAs) at high schools and colleges around the country. Please support GLSEN and purchase this single from one of our most ardent supporters.

The track is now available by clicking HERE!