Philly QFest 2011: The One

It’s time for another film review! Yesterday I got the chance to view another film from the festival, The One.

“This romantic comedy takes the convention of the genre and gives it a stylishly queer twist – think Philadelphia Story meets Latter Days, or better yet, a comedic updating of the 1992 groundbreaking Making Love. Hunky Daniel couldn’t have it better – great parents, a successful career as an investment banker and the beautiful Jen as his fiancée. A seemingly perfect life…but there is one temptation that may derail his best-laid plans for a straight-and-narrow life: he has a thing for Tommy, the charming former college classmate who is now openly gay. After a few drinks, Daniel succumbs to his repressed desires and makes a one-time “mistake.” Soon after their initial tryst, the normally jaded Tommy falls head over heels in love, but Daniel wants nothing more of him or his dazzlingly seductive smile – he’s back with Jen, determined to marry her. With Tommy’s friends warning him against his involvement with a straight man and Daniel’s pledge of heterosexually, it would seem that nothing will come of them…but love and lust have a way of messing up even the best laid plans of man. A refreshingly funny story of coming out as well as a belated coming-of-age tale that sparkles with witty dialogue and believable characters.           –           Raymond Murray

I’m not sure if Mr. Murray and I watched the same movie. Ok, maybe that’s a little too harsh. There were definitely some high points: the chemistry between Daniel (Jon Prescott) and Tommy (Ian Novick) was very believable, and I could feel the angst and anguish that Daniel was going through, wanting his normal life while being drawn back to Tommy over and over again. . That being said, the movie did drag in a couple of places, and I felt there were some parts that could have been cut to help smooth out the transitions.

There were only really a few things I had problems with. Tommy meets up with Daniel at a bar, they have a few drinks, Daniel winds up in bed with Tommy and immediately Tommy is head over heels in love. I realize that this was intentional because Tommy mentions love at first sight several times, but it still felt a bit rushed, especially considering Tommy’s mention of his jaded self. I also found myself spending most of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was always hoping that there were a few surprises left, but the movie played out exactly how I expected it to and I was left thinking, “Was that it?”

Some of my problem might have been that this was a very familiar story. The “straight” guy has the perfect life and perfect woman and then he meets a guy that makes him realize that he wants something different. My favorite character in this movie was, oddly enough, Jen, Daniel’s “perfect woman.” She was a very likeable character and I actually found myself dreading her getting hurt. I was also very impressed with her reaction when she found out about the affair. There was just the right amount of horror, understated but obviously painful. It was very well played. Toby (David Albiero) who plays Tommy’s best friend was also very well played as the comic relief. The supporting cast alone definitely made this movie worth sitting through. I’m not sure yet if I’ll be adding this film to my collection, but I’m definitely glad I got the opportunity to view it here.

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Philly QFest 2011: Finding Mr. Wright

As you all know, I’m a big fan of the independent gay film genre and an even bigger fan of Matthew Montgomery.  So when I heard that his new movie was coming to the Philadelphia QFest, I knew I had to see it.

“Boy Meets Girl, Boy Helps Girl, Girl Helps Boy get Boy”

As someone who has complained of late that all the storylines seem to be the same, this one was refreshingly new. Clark Townsend (Montgomery) is a work-obsessed gay man who seemingly has it all. Not only is he one of the hottest young men in West Hollywood, he has managed to turn his first client, Eddy Malone (Rebekah Kochan), an eccentric party girl, into one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. He throws a dinner party at his new condo and invites his friends and colleagues, including TJ (Rasool J’Han), a powerhouse lesbian publicist, who’s quickly losing patience with Eddy’s wild ways. With TJ comes longtime friend, Pierce Wright (David Moretti), a slightly awkward, down to Earth, spiritual life coach who becomes infatuated with Clark at first sight. However, Clark is far too wrapped up in Eddy to notice, especially when she pulls a stunt that threatens her career and forces TJ to drop her as a client once and for all. Hoping to win Clark over, Pierce makes a deal with TJ. He’ll take Eddy and crew on a wilderness therapy retreat, so he can convince her there’s more to life than parties, and TJ will give her another chance. That weekend, the group of them head to a cabin in the woods, where Pierce hopes to give not only Eddy a new perspective on life, but Clark as well…

I know I stated before that I’m an avid Matthew Montgomery (Back Soon, Long-term Relationship, Socket) fan and I haven’t seen a work from him yet that I didn’t enjoy. I would have seen Finding Mr. Wright just for that. However, I have to give props where they’re due, and in this piece the entire cast blew me away. David Moretti (The Lair) plays the awkward but sweet Pierce to perfection. There were several instances in which I wanted to smack Clark upside the head to get him to notice. I’ve also been a Rebekah Kochan (Homewrecker, the upcoming Crimson Creek) fan since the Eating Out series and I think this has to be one of her best roles. She was hilarious and crazy, yet she also managed to make Eddy sympathetic. You just had to like her. My favorite, though, was probably Rasool J’Han (Socket, Pornography: A Thriller) as the angry, black  lesbian, TJ. Her deadpan delivery of the witty dialogue was just flawless.

I also want to give shout outs to the stars behind the scenes. With so many things going on at once, it could have easily been chaos, but Nancy Criss directed this entire film beautifully. Jake Helgren wrote the screenplay and I never would have believed this was his first feature film. The movie was produced by Nancy Criss, Tracy Wright and Matthew Montgomery (is there anything he doesn’t do?) in conjunction with Nandar Entertainment and Proteus Pictures.

Finding Mr. Wright kept me engaged from the opening to closing credits. I found myself laughing, but also really feeling for these characters. The dialogue was witty and heartwarming. It moved at just the right pace and I found myself wishing it wouldn’t end. I was definitely left wanting more and I already can’t wait to see it again. It comes out on DVD and Blu-ray with plenty of wonderful extras promised on September 1, and I know I’ll be picking up my copy as soon as it’s available. For the rest of you Montgomery fans out there, Nandar Home Entertainment is also offering a special edition boxed set of Finding Mr. Wright and Role/Play.

And just to show you how multi-talented these guys are, be sure to check out Matthew Montgomery’s directorial debut in Crimson Creek coming out in 2012, starring Rebekah Cochan, Nancy Criss and Tracy Wright.

**On an unrelated note**

I’m always looking for worthy causes to promote and I’ve definitely found one in this. Matthew Montgomery has announced that he is doing the LA Aids Walk again this October and I would encourage everyone who can to consider donating by clicking the image above.

Equality vs. Religion: The Great Debate

Can you be gay and still a Christian? This is a question that has been the subject of a heated debate since the beginning of the push for equality within the LGBT community. I have followed this debate with interest because as someone who’s part of both communities, I am a firm believer that we can coexist. I also happen to be Episcopalian, the denomination of the world’s first openly gay Anglican bishop. Stereotypes exist on both sides, and since we all know that gay stereotypes don’t fit everyone, I’d like to point out that the same can be said for Christian stereotypes. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard someone say that “Christianity and religion are what’s wrong with the world and the reason we have so much hate in it”. That’s just not true. I could write a whole list of Christians that I personally know who are pro-equality, many of them gay themselves. The truth is, the people that hate are the ones with the loudest voices and are therefore the first, and often only ones heard.

I watched an interesting documentary recently called “For the Bible Tells Me So.” I went into it expecting more of the usual right wing points of view on homosexuality, so I was pleasantly surprised when it actually featured clergy giving alternative interpretations of the scriptures that “condemn” being gay. I’ll be discussing some of these passages more in depth.

 The Bible is the Word of God through the words of human beings.    – Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

This is a subject that has long been of interest to me and it was nice to see that I’m not the only one who thinks religion and homosexuality can intermingle.

There is nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of God as long as you’re in the fifth grade.     – Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene; Disciples of Christ

Reverend Keene also made the statement that the Bible has long been misused to support discrimination. Biblical literalists have used it against homosexuals, women, slaves, and the list goes on. There are six to seven passages that “condemn” homosexuality and I’ll discuss in the following paragraphs. However, there are also a host of other passages that call everything under the sun an “abomination” and we choose to ignore them.

There is of course, the most popular biblical passage that most people can quote. Leviticus 18:20 states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination.” Biblical literalists will say that this obviously means that same-sex relations are forbidden. However, when you delve deeper, there are other interpretations that can be drawn from this passage. In the time the Bible was written, the word “abomination” meant something very different. It didn’t imply the type of depravity it does today, it simply meant unnatural or against tradition.

Then there is the story of Onan from Genesis 38:8-10. When Onan’s brother, Er, died, his father, Jonah, instructed him to fulfill his duty as brother-in-law to Er’s wife, Tamar by giving her offspring. However, he went against principle when he withdrew before climax and spilled his seed upon the ground, since any child born would not legally be his heir. He did this several times and was accordingly sentenced to death for his wickedness. The same can be said for man lying with mankind. In biblical times, a man’s seed was considered sacred. A woman was inconsequential and only really considered an incubator. It was the man who had the important duty of procreation and since it’s biologically impossible for two men to procreate, climaxing that way was against tradition and also punishable by death, which is what is being said in Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

There’s also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Book of Genesis. There have been many interpretations of this story. In Biblical times, whenever a stranger came to your house, it was law that you would offer lodging and food. However, the people of the town became greedy and didn’t want to share their wealth. When two strangers (angels) came to Lot’s house, he took them in and offered them a meal. The townsfolk surrounded the house and demanded that they bring out the strangers so that they could “know” them. This has been interpreted many different ways, including the townsfolk saying they wanted to have sex with the strangers. Even if that were true, in those times it would have been a form of humiliation and not about being gay. Instead, Lot offered the townsfolk his two virgin daughters to do with what they will. The angels rescued Lot and his family and cast down fire and brimstone on the town for their sin of inhospitality.

These are the two most popular books in the Bible that “condemn” homosexuality, and I realize that the arguments have all been heard before, so it’s not likely that offering these other explanations will change anyone’s mind overnight. There is something else that confuses me, though. People are so quick to judge same-sex relationships as a horrible sin, but there are so many other “abominations” in the Bible that we choose to ignore: mixing fabrics, comingling crops, being disrespectful to your parents, shaving, eating rabbit, eating shellfish, etc. According to Exodus 35:2, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work there in shall be put to death.” I’m pretty sure if we followed this passage, the majority of the country, if not the world would be put to death. There’s also Exodus 21:7, which says: “And if a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”

Since we don’t go around killing people for working on Sundays and it’s definitely not ok to sell our daughters into slavery, I’m not sure how the Biblical literalists justify only following parts of the Bible. They believe the Bible is the letter of the law and if we follow that reasoning, why haven’t they given all their belongings to the poor as the Good Book demands?

We can argue religious interpretations all we want, but the problem with trying to understand a book that’s 2000 years old is, we’ll never be able to prove which side is more accurate. There is one thing we can prove, though, and that is medical research. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Social Work have all stated that homosexuality should not be treated as a mental disorder. They are adamantly opposed to alternative reparative or conversion therapies. And the biggest finding is that they have all stated that homosexuality is NOT A CHOICE.

These religious arguments are especially harmful for our nation’s LGBTQ youth. Representatives from the Trevor Project have said that every five hours an LGBT teen takes his or her life, and for every one that does, there are 20 more who try. According to them, the majority of the calls they get to the Trevor Lifeline are for religious reasons.

Since we can’t prove for certain either way on the religious front, all we can state is our opinions. And my opinion is that God loves me no matter what. If being gay (or bi in my case) really isn’t a choice, then God made me this way and He’s not supposed to be fallible, right? I think God will judge me more for hating someone than for loving. So, I’ll just live each day to the best of my ability and focus on loving and treating everyone with the respect they deserve.

As Lady Gaga would say, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I’m on the right track baby; I WAS BORN THIS WAY!”

And just because this moved me:

UPDATE: I just wanted to quickly add that this is the story that prompted me to write this post. A four year old was shot to death when a religious cult leader suspected he was gay. Apparently, he’s planning to use the Bible in his defense. I really hope the courts stand up for what’s right and shoot down this strategy. Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17, Matthew 5:21 and Romans 13:9 all state: “Thou shalt not kill.” This isn’t the age of the Holy Crusades and IT IS NOT OK to kill in His name. This boy deserves justice.

Philly QFest 2011: Judas Kiss

It’s that time of year again; the gay and lesbian film festival circuit is in full swing. I’ve been a big fan of the independent gay film genre for years now, but never before have I actually had the opportunity to experience any of the festivals. So this year I decided to make a point of going to Philly QFest’s 17th festival, and I’m really glad I did.

Today I went to the 2nd screening of Judas Kiss. I had wanted to see this film since I first saw the teaser trailers, and it was well worth the wait.

Judas Kiss stars Charlie David as Zachary Wells who was a boy wonder filmmaker in his college days, but now approaching thirty, his best days are long behind him. So, when his agent encourages him to travel to his alma mater to judge a student film festival, he reluctantly goes:  after all, he has nothing else to do. Returning to his old campus, he tosses professionalism aside when he has a one-night stand with Danny (Richard Harmon), the talented student filmmaker who’s much talked about movie proves to be the one to beat at the festival. Sexual shenanigans are the least of Zachary’s problems when he realizes that there has been some sort of time shift and that Danny is really his 20-year-old younger self! He’s looking directly at his past. But Danny’s none the wiser: he considers it just a fling with an old dude as he goes about his tumultuous personal life, juggling relationships with the cocky Shane (Timo Descamps) and with Chris (Sean Paul Lockhart), a fellow student with a crush on him. As Danny plots his way to an award-winning filmmaking future, Zachary works to change his past…and hopefully his future. Director J.T. Tepnapa (2002 short Masturbation: Putting the Fun Into Self-Loving) directs a very talented cast including David (Mulligans, Kiss the Bride, “Dante’s Cove”), Lockhart (Another Gay Sequel, Milk, I Was a Teenage Werebear) and Harmon (“The Killing”).     – Raymond Murray

Although I am a fan of the genre, independent gay films often suffer from notoriously tight budgets. With low production values, they can frequently appear to be little better than student films. That was definitely not the case here. As writer/producer Carlos Pedraza stated in the Q & A, they “wanted to make sure that every dollar raised for this project went into the production”. It definitely shows. The movie is beautifully lit, and the cinematography is interesting and draws you into the story. There were a lot of good people involved in the making of this film, a few of whom donated some of their time to get it made. They had an unbelievably large cast for such a low budget, with 32 speaking roles and a slew of extras. This film was set on a college campus, and they wanted realism.

The story was one we have all heard before; a misfit, failed soul gets a chance at redemption and an opportunity to change his life for the better.  So, I was curious as to what the filmmakers’ take on it would be. They took the familiar story and made it their own. I was drawn into the drama from the first scene. Now, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for a sweet, gay love story, but I was immediately taken with David’s Zach and found myself more interested in his character’s development than anything else.

I was also really impressed with the acting of the main cast. I’ve see Charlie David in a few films and can say without a doubt, I felt this was one of his best. Sean Paul Lockhart (better known as Brent Corrigan to adult film audiences) has only been in a few films at this point, but I see a bright future for him. He was actually honored with the rising star award at QFest on opening night. Finally, we have Timo Descamps, the new gay indie breakout star. He’s a Belgian pop star who’s done mostly musical theater and tv roles and lends one of his singles to the film. I was not aware before the Q & A that this was not only his first feature film, but also his first English speaking project. He played the bad boy very well.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed every aspect of this film: the actors, the location, the direction. All of it was top notch. I would definitely rate this as a must see movie for gay cinema fans, and see this film earning a spot on the top ten list for 2011.

For those interested, a sneak peak at the many talents of Timo Descamps:

NOM Pledges $2 Million to Fight Marriage Equality

We knew it was coming, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has pledged “at least” $2 million towards the 2012 election to fight against marriage equality and to try to reverse the bill being passed in New York.

“The Republican party has torn up its contract with the voters who trusted them in order to facilitate Andrew Cuomo’s bid to be president of the U.S. Selling out your principles to get elected is wrong. Selling out your principles to get the other guy elected is just plain dumb” (NOM, 1).

Members of NOM feel that passing the marriage equality bill will have dire consequences for the next generation, for parents, for religious people, even for small business owners. I’m not sure I really understand the connection to that one.

They have stated many times over the last couple of weeks that they feel the Republican Party has betrayed them and they have vowed to fight against the reelection of the four Republican senators who were, in my opinion, brave enough to put aside the beliefs of their upbringing and look at the bigger picture. This wasn’t a decision any of them made lightly. They knew what vote their supporters favored and they were aware that they would lose some of that support. My favorite explanation for his change of vote came from Mark Grisanti, a Republican senator from Buffalo, explained his change of vote the best. He stated that while he was uncomfortable with the use of the word marriage as applied to same-sex couples, he couldn’t legally think of any reason they shouldn’t be allowed to wed. The biggest factor in his decision seemed to be the benefits being denied to gay and lesbian couples.

New York has passed the marriage equality bill, Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed it, and it will go into effect July 24. There are several factors we can credit for this bill getting passed: the immensely popular Governor Cuomo, the most aggressive advocacy campaign in U.S. history, Republicans wanting to be on the right side of history and public opinion swinging in our favor.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) speared-headed the most aggressive field campaign in U.S. history, spending $1 million in its efforts. An unprecedented 30 field organizers from across the state produced over 151,608 constituent contacts, including:

–          Delivering more than 75,515 post cards from constituents to state senators

–          Generating more than 47,199 emails from New Yorkers to their state lawmakers

–          Generating more than 25,622 phone calls from constituents to their state senators

–          Running twice weekly phone banks

–          More than 3,272 hand-written letters to targeted state senators

Here’s just one example of why this campaign was so important. Senator Joe Addabbo announced at a press conference that two years ago 73% of his constituents were opposed to marriage equality. This year, 80% of them urged him to support it. That’s what won his vote. Without the HRC reaching out to these supporters, the senator might not have been aware of the change in public opinion.

We all know the draw of celebrities, and the HRC is well aware of the publicity they could generate for the campaign. Over the last six months, the HRC has released 51 video testimonials featuring celebrities, sports figures, media personalities, everyday people, and politicians, all in support of marriage equality. These videos received over 1 million views on YouTube and drew a great public awareness to the issue.

In the end, it was these efforts that won our fight, but as I stated before, the fight’s not over yet.  And if we want to continue coming out ahead, we need all the help we can get. As the HRC is entirely funded by its members, I urge everyone to get involved. Whether you become an HRC member or volunteer your time, it doesn’t matter.  Every little bit helps.

1. “NOM to GOP Senators: ‘We Pledge $2 Million to Reverse Same-Sex Marriage in New York’”. Nation For Marriage.com. June 24, 2011. July 6, 2011. http://www.nationformarriage.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=omL2KeN0LzH&b=5134145&ct=10885939&notoc=1.

The Trevor Project: Saving Lives

Today I want to discuss an organization that’s dear to my heart, the Trevor Project. You’ll notice on the left of this screen, there’s a link to their webpage. I encourage everyone to check them out, donate, volunteer; the littlest bit can make the biggest difference. They are truly an inspiring group and they save so many lives every day.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Trevor Project, it was established by writer James Lecesne, director/producer Peggy Rajski and producer Randy Stone who created the 1994 Academy Award-winning short film, Trevor.

Set in 1981, Trevor is told through a series of diary entries following a gay 13-year-old boy named Trevor, who seeks his parents’ attention and support by frequently faking his own death by suicide. To his delight, Trevor is befriended by hunky school athlete, Pinky Faraday, upon whom he develops a crush. When he confesses how he feels about Pinky to his best friend, Walter Stiltman, not realizing anything is unusual about his feelings, his friend turns on him and word spreads at school that Trevor is gay. Shortly thereafter, a confused Trevor is ostracized by his entire school, and in his ensuing pain goes to such lengths as to give himself electric shock therapy to reverse his apparent homosexuality, runaway from home, and ultimately attempt suicide while lip-syncing to the Diana Ross song, “Endless Love.” When Trevor awakes in the hospital he meets Jack, a young candy-striper with a supportive demeanor. Jack’s friendship and advice, along with an offer to see Diana Ross live in concert, inspires Trevor to live. The film closes with a buoyant Trevor dancing up the sidewalk to his parents’ house while singing Diana Ross’s song, “I’m Coming Out.”

When this film was scheduled to air on HBO in 1998, the filmmakers realized that some of their young viewers might be facing the same crisis as Trevor and began searching for the appropriate support line to promote during the airing. However, when they discovered there were none, they dedicated themselves to creating what they considered a much needed resource: an organization that promotes understanding and acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth, and aides in crisis and suicide prevention among this group. Thus, the Trevor Project was born, and through seed funding by the Colin Higgins Foundation, the Trevor Lifeline was formed, becoming the first ever 24 hour suicide prevention hotline aimed at LGBTQ youth.

The Trevor Project has also sponsored some other campaigns in an effort to further promote understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth, one of which is the “It Gets Better Project.”

In September 2010, syndicated columnist and author, Dan Savage recorded a YouTube video with his partner, Terry, aimed at inspiring hope among LGBTQ youth facing harassment. In response to an overwhelming number of suicides in recent months due to bullying, they wanted to offer a personal way for supporters to let these young people know that it does, in fact, get better.

Two months later, the “It Gets Better” project had become a worldwide movement with over 10,000 videos having been viewed 35 million times. To date, the project has received submissions from celebrities, politicians, organizations, activists, and media personalities, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Colin Farrell, Matthew Morrison of “Glee,” Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sarah Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the personnel of the Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, the Broadway community, and many more.

The Trevor Project is a vital organization for our nation’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth. A recent study showed that gay adolescents are 2-6 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The most common cause of this is the amount of anti-gay bullying that goes on in our schools. This has been an ongoing problem, but the number of new cases coming to light is horrifying. In September 2010, ten new cases caught the public eye.

–          Billy Lucas (15); September 9, 2010; Indiana; Billy hanged himself in his barn after alleged bullying and harassment at school. Jade Sansing told reporters that she heard the bullies call him “gay and tell him to go kill himself.”

–          Cody J. Barker (17); September 13, 2010; Wisconsin; Cody was an openly gay teenager who had recently attended a seminar aimed at helping him establish a gay-straight student alliance at his school. He was a passionate advocate especially for those ostracized for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

–          Seth Walsh (13); September 19, 2010; California; Even before Seth came out, he was constantly picked on for his mannerisms and way of dressing. On September 19, his mother found him unconscious. He had tried to hang himself. He hung on for ten days on life support before succumbing to his injuries.

–          Tyler Clementi (18); September 22, 2010; New Jersey; Tyler was outed in a gay sex tape secretly recorded by his roommate and a friend. He jumped off the GW Bridge.

–          Asher Brown (13); September 23, 2010; Texas; Asher was the victim of constant bullying at school. His parents claim he was “bullied to death.” He was picked on for his small size, his religion and because he didn’t wear designer clothes. His schoolmates also accused him of being gay and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he found his father’s gun and shot himself.

–          Harrison Chase Brown (15); September 25, 2010; Colorado; Some of Harrison’s friends told blogger, Perez Hilton that he killed himself because he was bullied. No more information is available about his death.

–          Zach Harrington (19); September 28, 2010; Oklahoma; In one of the most disturbing stories to date, Zach took his own life after attending a city council meeting and hearing city council members making disparaging, anti-gay remarks.

–          Raymond Chase (19); September 29, 2010; Rhode Island; Raymond was an openly gay sophomore at Johnson & Wales University. He hung himself in his dorm room. Details surrounding the reason behind his suicide are unknown.

–          Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010; Massachusetts; Classmate, Megan Ascolese says she witnessed Felix being bullied. He jumped off of an overpass.

–          Caleb Nolt (14); September 30, 2010; Indiana; While circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear, classmates have alluded to the fact that he was bullied.

In most bullying cases that are unrelated to sexual orientation, the children being harassed can seek out counselors, teachers or parents. Unfortunately, when it comes to gay youth, the majority of them isn’t out to anybody yet, and therefore, has no one to whom they can turn. This is why it’s important to not only provide a lifeline for adolescents on the edge, but also to foster understanding throughout the community and their peers, so they can comprehend the consequences of their actions. In response to the September 2010 suicides, Texas Congressman Joel Burns made an impassioned “It Gets Better” video during a city council meeting, where he opened up about his own difficulties growing up as a gay teen and alleged to having had suicidal thoughts of his own.

 

As stated on their website, The Trevor Project offers several different services, the most well-known being the Trevor Lifeline – an around the clock crisis and suicide prevention hotline. The Trevor Lifeline is a free and confidential service with counselors that offers hope and someone to talk to. Each year, tens of thousands of calls are fielded from young people all around the country. The Trevor Lifeline is accredited as an exemplary crisis intervention program by the American Association for Suicidology (AAS). So, please, if you or anyone you know is in need of help, before you do anything else, call 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.

Dear Trevor is an online, non time-sensitive question and answer resource for young people with questions surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.

TrevorChat is a free and confidential messaging service that provides live help through its website. This service is only intended for people not at risk for suicide. TrevorChat is available on Fridays between 1pm Pacific (4pm Eastern) to 9pm Pacific (12am Eastern).

These three services have saved so many lives and I cannot express my appreciation enough for the Trevor Project and all they do. The sad truth is that every five hours an LGBT teen takes his or her life and for every one that succeeds, there are twenty more who try.

I encourage everyone to get involved with this great organization. Whether it’s donating time or money, our future generation deserves our protection. Every little bit helps.

A word from the 2011 Trevor Hero Award winner:

Obama’s Strive for Change

Whew, New York’s had a busy week. Haven’t had a chance to catch up? Here’s what you missed…

First, in an amazing upset, the GOP-led New York Senate passed the marriage equality bill on June 24, 2011, more than doubling the population among which same-sex couples can legally marry. (New York has a population of 19,378,102 accordingly to the 2010 US Census, while Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and DC have a reported combined population of 15,671,450.)  For a while it seemed like this vote wouldn’t even take place.  If a revision granting religious protections to clergy refusing to perform these unions hadn’t taken place, it’s likely that the bill would have been tabled until next year, much like the delay Maryland’s legislature is currently dealing with.

Supporters believe that the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York will pave the way for others to follow suit.  Over fifty percent of Americans are now showing to be in favor of same-sex marriage, so one can only hope that progress will continue all the way to the White House. Presently, Obama hasn’t come out in support of same-sex marriage. In several instances he has been reported as saying that he believes marriage to be between a man and a woman.  However, now that public opinion seems to be changing, he’s been more hesitant to state his beliefs openly and some wonder if he’s going to come out in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in his campaign. Whether or not that happens, he’s done more for LGBT rights than any of his predecessors.

President Obama delivered the above speech on June 29 at the White House for an LGBT event  in which he addressed his term and all that has been accomplished. For those who haven’t followed all the news, here are a few of the victories that have occurred.

With the help of Judy Shepard, he signed the Matthew Shepard act into law. This piece of legislature is named after a boy who, in 1998, was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die because he was gay. Originally, Matthew’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, tried to use the gay panic defense, which was shot down by the judge saying it was either a temporary insanity or diminished capacity defense, neither of which are allowed in Wyoming. After the trial, though they recanted their testimony saying it was just a robbery gone awry (their girlfriends denied that claim), Judge Donnel told the court and the accused that he remained convinced that Matthew’s sexual orientation played a roll in his murder. In his sole reference to Matthew being gay, the judge said the grisly crime was “part because of his lifestyle, part for a $20 robbery.” The new law expands the existing federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Before this bill was signed, of the 45 states that had hate crimes laws, only 32 included sexual orientation and 11 included gender identity.

Obama also changed the way hospitals treated same-sex partners of patients. In many cases if someone wasn’t an immediate family member, they weren’t allowed to visit with the patient. While this affected a lot of people that were cared for by friends or other service providers, gays and lesbians were uniquely affected in that they were often denied visitation with a partner they had been with for decades. This was the case with Janice Langbehn. In 2007, her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond was stricken with a fatal brain aneurysm. Although, Ms. Langbehn was her power of attorney and they had four children together, the hospital refused to let her visit. Ms. Pond died while Langbehn was still trying to argue her way in. In April 2010, President Obama called her to say that he had been moved by her case and was working to change the policy. He also apologized to her for how they’d been treated; something the hospital still refuses to do. Now under the new law every hospital that accepts Medicare or Medicaid has to grant visitation to same-sex partners.

In October 2009, Obama announced that he would lift the HIV travel ban. This ban barred HIV-positive non-citizens from entering the US for more than two decades. HIV-positive non-citizens were also banned from becoming citizens except in a very small number of exceptions. This marked a huge step forward, since this policy had been almost universally criticized from both inside and outside of the US since its instatement.

In July 2010, the Obama administration announced the first national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS: a strategy to boost awareness about the disease and redirect $25 million in funds towards states for patients on waiting lists for HIV/AIDS drugs. This plan is designed to redirect HHS (Health and Human Services) funds from dozens of different programs throughout the organization to the most at risk and affected groups: gay and bisexual men and African-Americans.

And then of course, in December 2010, in one of the most well-known and bold maneuvers of the Obama administration, the president announced that he would repeal DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell). Sodomy has been grounds for discharge from the military since the Revolutionary War. As the US prepared to enter WWII, they added a psychiatric screening to the enlistment process, which automatically eliminated the LGBT community as homosexuality remained on the books as a mental disorder until 1973. In 1982, the Department of Defense issued a policy that stated that homosexuality was incompatible with military service because their presence “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability” according to Title 10 of the United States Code. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was a compromise to the ban that was passed in 1993 during the Clinton administration, in which they could serve as long as they didn’t admit to their homosexuality. Over 14,500 soldiers were discharged under this policy. Needless to say, DADT was flawed: soldiers were still harassed for their perceived sexual orientation and now had no way to report this to their superiors without outing themselves. This was the case with Navy Sailor, Joseph Rocha who suffered abuse for two years by his fellow servicemen. He endured constant hazing while he served with military dog handlers based in Bahrain before finally seeking discharge by coming out to his commanding officer. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Washington Post article from 2009 quotes Rocha as saying, “I told no one about what I was living through. I feared that reporting the abuse would lead to an investigation into my sexuality.” Polls conducted in the months prior to the repeal of DADT showed that approximately 77% of Americans were in favor of the repeal. However, within the military only 28% were in favor with 37% against and another 37% unsure. Since 2007, 28 retired officers tried to get DADT repealed, stating that there was evidence of over 65,000 gays serving in the military. Unfortunately, this repeal comes too late to save some officers who were harassed and even murdered due to their sexual orientation. For example, US Navy Radioman Third Class Allen R. Schindler, Jr., who was brutally beaten to death in 1992 for being gay. Or Army Infantry Soldier Barry Winchell, who was also the victim of a brutal beating in 1999. Even though Obama made the original announcement at the end of last year, we’re still waiting for it to go into effect. Studies had to be done to make sure that the repeal wouldn’t affect military readiness, which is especially important during wartime. After that, there’s a mandatory 60 day waiting period. However, Obama stated in his speech that he expects to sign the official repeal in a matter of weeks, not months, as originally suggested.

Obama’s administration is working on the repeal of DOMA (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act) as well, but until that day comes to pass, they will no longer defend it in court. This is a huge victory for the LGBT community. The Defense of Marriage Act is one of the most discriminatory laws in recent US history. It federally defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This means that states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and that bi-national couples can’t sponsor their spouses for green cards. In another bold move, last week the Department of Justice released a brief in Karen Golinski’s federal court challenge, supporting her lawsuit seeking access to equal health benefits for her wife and arguing strongly that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in terms unparalleled in previous administration statements. In the brief, the DOJ admits to the US Government’s “significant and regrettable” part in discrimination in America of gays and lesbians. Unlike in other cases where DOJ has stopped defending DOMA in accordance with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision that Section 3 of DOMA – the federal definition of marriage – is unconstitutional, DOJ lawyers last week made an expansive case in a 31-page filing that DOMA itself is unconstitutional.

As with any controversial subject, there are two sides to the argument of marriage equality. The conservatives that are against equality mostly oppose it on religious grounds, which I will further discuss at a later date. Putting that aside, this debate is now more about legalities than religion. The fact of the matter is that same-sex couples are denied 1138 benefits that married couples currently take for granted, including pension, healthcare, adoption, and hospitalization, among so many others. A 1997 study completed by the GAO (United States General Accounting Office) originally found 1049 denied benefits. When they repeated the study in 2004, they found the number had increased to the current figure. Stopping the defense of DOMA is a big step, but the real coup will come when it’s finally repealed.

As Obama stated in his speech, these things take time. Progress is being made, and while we might be impatient for true equality, we have to take a look at how far we’ve come. More and more Americans are coming out in support of us and some of these supporters are coming from surprising places, like Mark Grisanti, a Republican Senator from Buffalo. His explanation of his vote in favor of the marriage bill was one of the most moving speeches of the evening and helped tip the bill into passage. In his speech, Grisanti noted that he was Catholic, but that he was also a lawyer and studied the legal ramifications of this bill. For him, this meant that he had a problem with the word marriage because of his upbringing, but also had a problem with the rights denied to same-sex couples and that he could find no legal reasons why they shouldn’t be allowed to marry. He said that he had never researched a subject so much as he did this one. He felt that the religious amendment to the bill provided adequate protection to clergy and benevolent organizations and if the bill didn’t pass, they wouldn’t be there next time. His most reiterated quote from the speech is, “A man can be wiser today than yesterday, but there’ll be no respect for that man if he has failed in his duty to do the work.”

Until the journey to marriage equality is complete, we’ll celebrate the victories we have along the way. New York certainly adopted that philosophy as evidenced by the turnout they had at NYC Pride last weekend. Way to go, New York! Happy Pride, you deserve it. May the rest of the country look to you for direction.

If you wish to see what else President Obama and his administration can accomplish, please consider getting involved here.

For other interest in aiding our fight for equality or to have your voice heard, please visit one of the following organizations:

National Interest: Human Rights Campaign

Local Interest: Equality Maryland or Equality Virginia