Like This Page to Raise Money for the NoH8 Campaign

Just a quick post today. I wanted to share the story of the amazing Montgomery-Duban Family. When gay marriage was briefly legalized in California in 2008, Chelsea Montgomery-Duban pleaded with her fathers to get married…and they did. Unfortunately, during this time the campaign for Prop 8 began and Chelsea became aware of the ignorance and intolerance of some people. She posted the speech she gave at her fathers wedding on YouTube and the video quickly went viral.

The video also caught the attention of various human rights organizations and she was asked to speak at HRC galas around the country and PFLAG dinners. Speaking at the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala after Senator Barbara Boxer, she received a standing ovation. Did I mention that she just turned 18 last month? Dennis Lawrence Duban and Kevin Scot Montgomery have raised their daughter well.  Chelsea is truly a remarkable young woman. All three of them have done remarkable things for equality and now they want to do even more. If 100,000 people like the page below by September 1, they’ll donate $10,000 to the NoH8 Campaign. Eleven thousand likes are still needed with just over 22 hours left. So, please visit the page below and like it. Do your part for equality.

http://www.montgomery-duban.com/noh8/embed/

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NoH8 at the LA Aids Walk

When I started this blog, I mentioned that I wanted to highlight a different human rights organization each month. Well, it’s that time again. This month I want to talk about the NoH8 Campaign.

 On November 4, 2008, Proposition 8 passed in California, which amended the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The hugely discriminatory “Prop 8” provoked quite a few initiatives in the LGBT community. Many new organizations were formed to protest this amendment. As stated on the NoH8 website:

 The NoH8 Campaign is a photographic silent protest created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska (<- link: http://www.bouska.net) and partner Jeff Parshley in direct response to the passage of Proposition 8. Photos feature subjects with duct tape over their mouths, symbolizing their voices being silenced by Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world, with “NoH8” painted on one cheek in protest.

It’s been nearly two and a half years and the NoH8 Campaign now includes over 13,000 faces and is still growing. The campaign started with every day Californians and has now grown to include politicians, military personnel, newlyweds, law enforcement, artists, celebrities and many more.

There has been an overwhelming amount of support for this campaign from around the world and the images can be seen everywhere. They frequently make appearances on social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the message of equality. The idea is that eventually the images will be compiled for a large-scale media campaign.

I was lucky enough to be able to take part in one of the photo shoots, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia earlier this month. I’ll be posting the picture once I receive it. I would encourage everyone to get involved and take part in one of the upcoming open photo shoots. You can pose individually or as part of a group for a discount and all proceeds go to the campaign efforts to repeal Prop 8. To see if there’s an upcoming shoot near you, please click on the image below.

 On October 16, 2011, APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) will be hosting their annual fundraiser, AIDS Walk Los Angeles. I’ll be walking with the NoH8 Campaign as they are hosting a team for the second consecutive year in order to help raise awareness for HIV and AIDS. All funds raised by the NoH8 Campaign and AIDS Walk Los Angeles goes directly to APLA. Since it began in 1985, AIDS Walk Los Angeles has benefited APLA, an AIDS service organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS.

 I strongly urge everyone living in or visiting the Los Angeles area in October to come out and support the cause. If you can’t make it to the event personally and have the means to do so, please consider making a donation directly by clicking the link below. Thank you, everyone, for your support.

As most of you know, my sister and I are going to LA in October. We’re going to be joining the NoH8 Campaign at the LA AIDS walk. We’d be eternally grateful for any contributions made to the cause. (Donations can be made by clicking on the link.)

A great new PSA created by the NoH8 Campaign in response to Freedom to Marry’s letter to President Obama:

Michele Bachmann Still Silent on Local Suicides

Last week, I posted an article about Tea Party Nation’s Rich Swier and his dangerous position on the bullying of LGBT youth. I didn’t think anything could upset me as much as reading his interviews, but obviously, I was wrong. For those who read this blog regularly, you know that advocating for gay…make that human rights is one of the things I speak most passionately about. The only thing that makes me angrier than small-minded people belittling any minority is when they target that minority’s youth. We spend so much time arguing on these issues that sometimes we forget that this fight isn’t just affecting the adults in this world, but also our children.

 I have always said that as adults, it’s our duty to protect our nation’s youth. There are enough things to fear in this world without having to deal with being terrorized at school as well. In the last two years there have been nine suicides in Minnesota’s biggest school district, which also happens to be Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s district. All nine of these students were either gay or perceived to be gay and all nine had dealt with relentless bullying. Michele Bachmann isn’t the only one who’s remained silent on this matter. This is one of the districts that has enacted the “don’t say gay” rule, which means that teachers and counselors aren’t allowed to bring up homosexuality in the school. They call it a “neutrality” policy, but unfortunately this policy protects those that bully more than those who are the victims of bullying.

The Departments of Justice and Education have opened a federal investigation into the overwhelming number of student suicides in that district in recent years. The situation has gotten so bad that state public health officials have deemed the district a “suicide contagion” area, but it’s not clear yet whether or not the district’s neutrality policy will play a part in the investigation. As I stated previously, Michele Bachmann has yet to utter one word on the recent deaths. She has been an anti-gay advocate for her entire career. She signed a pledge earlier this month stating that homosexuality is a choice despite all the scientific studies that have proven the contrary. In fact, she owns a Christian counseling center with her husband that allegedly performs reparative therapy. A member of Truth Wins Out, a non-profit that fights anti-gay religious extremism, went under cover in the clinic to show some of the services that are offered.

 

 I don’t understand how in this day and age anyone can still have this archaic view. Even if she doesn’t believe in equality for all, how can she consistently put our youth at risk like this? She has, time after time, rejected anti-bullying laws. In 2006, she said that passing a bill that prevents bullying “wasn’t worth the time.” (Saving those nine lives wasn’t worth the time?)

 She was also quoted as saying: “I think for all of us, our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies. Always have been, always will be. I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get to the point of zero tolerance… What does it mean? … Will we be expecting boys to be girls?”

We’ll never get to the point of zero tolerance if we don’t start somewhere. Ignoring the problem is just as dangerous an attitude to take, as Rich Swier thinking bullying is “healthy.” There are children dying next door to her and she still refuses to speak out.

Numerous studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth do have a higher rate of suicide attempts than heterosexual youth. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that between 30% and 40% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide. More than 34,000 people die by suicide each year making it the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds, with LGBTQ youth attempting suicide up to four times more than their heterosexual peers. Those numbers are terrifying themselves, but even worse is that at least three of the children who have committed suicide in the last couple of years were only thirteen years old!

For a perfect example of how dangerous bullying really is, take a look at Seth Walsh, a thirteen year old who took his life in September of last year. According to friends at school, the day he died, he was bullied by classmates who told him “the world doesn’t need another queer. You should go home and hang yourself”…and he did. How can anyone claim that this type of behavior isn’t dangerous? It’s been going on long enough.

 

 Something needs to change and it needs to happen quickly before any more lives are lost. I think the “neutrality” policies in these schools are just as dangerous as the bullying itself. Bullying is a result of ignorance and if we aren’t allowed to educate these kids, they’ll never learn and the same mistakes will keep being made. I’ve talked about a few of my favorite non-profits recently, such as the HRC and the Trevor Project, but I want to mention another one that’s close to my heart.

 The only thing that I’m more passionate about than LGBT rights is the rights of LGBTQ youth. A 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly nine out of ten LGBT students experience harassment in school. The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes towards creating a more vibrant and diverse community.

As with most non-profits, the GLSEN depends on donations and volunteers, so please consider helping out if you can by clicking on the image below

 

 I’m a big advocate of the It Gets Better Project and I support all they are trying to accomplish, but sometimes just the message that it does get better isn’t enough. Sometimes we have to act to make things better. One voice can start a revolution, and that revolution needs to happen now.

 So please, reach out, get involved…and remember the next time you think bullying is a harmless prank…a child’s life might be on the line.

 

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.

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