Category Archives: Pride

Bisexual Awareness Week 


Even though roughly half of the LGBT community identifies as bisexual, they’re seldom represented in the media. Nevertheless, more and more millennials are beginning to view themselves as bisexual and sexually fluid. A recent YouGov study discovered that a third of 18-24 year olds in the U.S. and Israel put themselves along a continuum of sexuality, rather than at either end. In the UK, roughly 50% don’t view themselves as 100% gay or straight.

Even though there are a huge number of bisexuals, and the number of bisexual-identifying people is growing, they often feel invisible. They often feel alone.

This feeling of isolation contributes to a slew of mental health issues that highly correlate with bisexuality. Bisexuals have high rates of depression, suicidality, self-harm, smoking and alcohol abuse, and intimate-partner violence. Recent data from a Human Rights Campaign study revealed that bisexual youth are less likely than lesbian and gay youth to feel there’s a supportive adult they can talk to.

These feelings of isolation also keep bisexuals closeted because they don’t feel as if they have a bi community. They don’t think people will accept us. It’s estimated that only 28% of bisexuals come out. Research from Dr. Eric Schrimshaw of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health revealed that most bisexual men know their sexuality. Their reasons for not disclosing it don’t arise from confusion, but rather they don’t come out because they fear rejection from their partners and ostracization from their families and communities.

Bisexuals face additional hardships that monosexuals (either gay or straight) don’t experience. The only way to change this is through visibility. This is why this week—Bisexual Awareness Week—is so important. This is why bi-visibility matters. This is why it’s crucial that bisexuals come out as often and to as many people as we can. Not only will your decision to come out create more visibility for others, you will also start to meet other bi folks, and can become an integral member of the bisexual community. So please, come out and share you story. Let’s make it easier for the next, growing generation of bisexuals to be out, comfortable, and proud of who they are.

By the way, Celebrate Bisexuality Day is observed tomorrow on September 23 by members of the bisexual community and their supporters. This day is a call for the bisexual community, their friends and supporters to recognize and celebrate bisexuality, bisexual history, bisexual community and culture, and all the bisexual people in their lives. First observed in 1999, Celebrate Bisexuality Day is the brainchild of three United States bisexual rights activists: Wendy Curry of Maine, Michael Page of Florida, and Gigi Raven Wilbur of Texas.

Adapted from an Out Magazine article.


Vermont Pride

Yesterday, I went to Vermont Pride in Burlington. There wasn’t much to it. The parade itself lasted about 20 minutes. There were a fair number of booths at the festival but not much to them either. “Northern Decadence,” which was $5 to get into, was merely a few breweries and cideries giving tastes of their wares and then Ben & Jerry’s was giving away ice cream. I had expected food to be part of it as well. I did get carded though to get in, but then these two much older ladies behind me got carded too, so I’m guessing they carded everyone to get in to Northern Decadence.

It was nice that a lot of the political candidates were in the parade, not something that anyone would dream of doing in Alabama. I had a good time overall, even if it seemed to be mostly lesbians and dogs at the parade and festival. There were a few cute guys, just a small percent of the people there. I think kids outnumbered the gay guys there.


The Rainbow

I posted this back in July but wanted to post it again because today is Vermont Pride.

Rainbow Christ Prayer: LGBT Flag Reveals The Queer Christ

By REV. KITTREDGE CHERRY
Colors of the rainbow flag reveal the many faces of the queer Christ in the following Rainbow Christ Prayer I wrote with gay theologian Patrick S. Cheng
Rainbow flags were flying around the world in June for LGBT Pride Month. Rainbows are also an important symbol in many religious traditions. The Rainbow Christ Prayer honors the spiritual values of the LGBT movement. 
The prayer matches the colors of the rainbow flag with the seven models of the queer Christ from Patrick’s book From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.
Let us pray… 
Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world. Rainbows serve as bridges between different realms: heaven and earth, east and west, queer and non-queer. Inspire us to remember the values expressed in the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
Red is for life, the root of spirit. Living and Self-Loving Christ, you are our Root. Free us from shame and grant us the grace of healthy pride so we can follow our own inner light. With the red stripe in the rainbow, we give thanks that God created us just the way we are.
Orange is for sexuality, the fire of spirit. Erotic Christ, you are our Fire, the Word made flesh. Free us from exploitation and grant us the grace of mutual relationships. With the orange stripe in the rainbow, kindle a fire of passion in us.
Yellow is for self-esteem, the core of spirit. Out Christ, you are our Core. Free us from closets of secrecy and give us the guts and grace to come out. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, build our confidence.
Green is for love, the heart of spirit. Transgressive Outlaw Christ, you are our Heart, breaking rules out of love. In a world obsessed with purity, you touch the sick and eat with outcasts. Free us from conformity and grant us the grace of deviance. With the green stripe in the rainbow, fill our hearts with untamed compassion for all beings.
Blue is for self-expression, the voice of spirit. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice, speaking out against all forms of oppression. Free us from apathy and grant us the grace of activism. With the blue stripe in the rainbow, motivate us to call for justice.
Violet is for vision, the wisdom of spirit. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom, creating and sustaining the universe. Free us from isolation and grant us the grace of interdependence. With the violet stripe in the rainbow, connect us with others and with the whole creation.
Rainbow colors come together to make one light, the crown of universal consciousness. Hybrid and All-Encompassing Christ, you are our Crown, both human and divine. Free us from rigid categories and grant us the grace of interwoven identities. With the rainbow, lead us beyond black-and-white thinking to experience the whole spectrum of life.
Rainbow Christ, you light up the world. You make rainbows as a promise to support all life on earth. In the rainbow space, we can see all the hidden connections between sexualities, genders and races. Like the rainbow, may we embody all the colors of the world! Amen.
I got the idea for the Rainbow Christ Prayer as I reflected on Patrick Cheng’s models of the queer Christ. Patrick and I each spent years developing the ideas expressed in the Rainbow Christ Prayer. It incorporates rainbow symbolism from queer culture, from Christian tradition and from the Buddhist/Hindu concept of chakras, the seven colored energy centers of the human body. The prayer is ideal for use when lighting candles in a rainbow candle holder.
The Rainbow Christ Prayer has been welcomed and used by many progressive Christian communities, but denounced as blasphemy by conservatives at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
I first wrote about linking the colors of the rainbow flag to queer spirituality in my 2009 reflection on Bridge of Light, a winter holiday honoring LGBT culture. Meanwhile Patrick was working on his models of the queer Christ based on LGBT experience. In 2010 he presented five models of the queer Christ in his essay Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People at the Jesus in Love Blog.
In a moment of inspiration I realized Patrick’s various queer Christ models matched the colors of the rainbow flag. 
Patrick and I joined forces and the Rainbow Christ Prayer was born. With wonderful synchronicity, Patrick had already added two more queer Christ models, so he now had seven models to match the seven principles from Bridge of Light. He wrote a detailed explanation of all seven models in his book From Sin to Amazing Grace published in spring 2012 by Seabury Books.
Gay spirituality author Joe Perez also helped lay the groundwork for this prayer in 2004 when he founded the interfaith and omni-denominational winter ritual known as Bridge of Light. People celebrate Bridge of Light by lighting candles, one for every color of the rainbow flag. Each color corresponds to a universal spiritual principle that is expressed in LGBT history and culture. I worked with Joe to revise the Bridge of Light guidelines based on my on own meditations on the chakras and their connections to the colors of the rainbow flag.
The symbolism of the rainbow resonates far beyond the LGBT flag. 
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the rainbow stands for God’s promise to support all life on earth. It plays an important role in the story of Noah’s Ark. After the flood, God places a rainbow in the sky, saying, “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:15-16).
Lastly, in the Book of Revelation, a rainbow encircles the throne of Christ in Heaven.
Originally published on Jesus In Love; Image via Andrew Craig Williams

Pride Celebration


I’m looking forward to having a good time tonight. The Pride Center of Vermont is hosting their 18th Annual LGBTQA Community Celebration to honor those who have made exceptional contributions to the LGBTQA community of Vermont. Along with two friends of mine, I will be going tonight. They will have Inspired food stations with tantalizing culinary delights by Vermont’s best chefs. Amazing auction items so you can bid on an experience. I plan to have a fabulous evening surrounded by LGBTQA community. The celebration is being held at the Echo Aquarium in Burlington and should be pretty fun. If it’s not, then we will just go out drinking instead, lol.

I’ve never been to an event like this before, and I have only ever been to one Pride event and that was a pride parade in Paris ten or so years ago. Pride in Paris is great because if you’ve ever seen French men, they have the best asses I’ve ever seen. Italy has the biggest dicks; France as the best asses. Just my personal observations anyway. I got a little off subject there. While this will be nothing like Paris Pride, I do expect to have fun and at least meet some new people.


Vermont v. Alabama 

  
I received the following comment on my Saturday Moment of Zen post:

Joe, you have now been in Vermont for a month. What about a post on the differences in the aspects of living in the Deep South and living in Deepest New England? Your comments would be very interesting. Your last post touched on accent and way of speech but what else – not just material things, such as food and the time difference, but the way people behave and think?–The Academic 

The first thing I had to get used to, especially when driving around, is that I am in the mountains. Where I live is about 750 feet above sea level. Alabama’s highest peak is 1445 ft, whereas where I grew up was about 400 feet above sea level but so was everything else (In other words, it was relatively flat). The mountain that I am closest to, and is part of the university’s campus is 2382 feet. To get anywhere, you seem to have to go over or around mountains, so while a nearby town may only be 10 miles away, it takes roughly 20-30 minutes. That being said, I am not complaining. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, I just have to get used to the very steep hills, especially when they are covered in ice and snow during the winter. Also, while other towns are 20-30 minutes away, I was already used to that where I lived in rural Alabama. The exception being that here I actually live in a small town which has some of the conveniences you’d expect in a small town. An added bonus is that I live less than a mile from work, whereas in Alabama, I lived 40 miles from work.
Similar to where I was in Alabama, the young guys still drive trucks that are far too loud, and they race up and down the streets in Vermont just like in Alabama. That is one of the things that struck me as very similar to back home. There are a lot of similarities between Alabama and Vermont, as both are rural states. There are churches everywhere, but the ones up here are more accepting of gay people. Sadly though, there are no churches of Christ that I can find. Yes, there are United Churches of Christ, but that’s a totally different animal. It looks like I might be going to a Lutheran church with my boss, at least they celebrate communion each Sunday. 

Besides the churches, everyone seems to know everyone else. When I went in the pharmacy the first time and explained that I had out-of-state prescriptions, they knew exactly who I was and all about me by the time I returned that afternoon to pick my prescriptions up. It seems that the wife of the university president works there. I’ve lived here a month and already people in the stores and post office know me. That’s a nice feeling. Whereas the same could be said about Alabama, in Vermont the people are genuinely friendly, not the fake friendly that many people are in Alabama. When someone sees you, they are actually happy to see you, not just being nosy trying to figure out what you are doing and what gossip they can either get from you or make up about you. I am stereotyping badly here, but there is a certain truths in it.

As for food, there are a few differences, like “bombs,” which is a hot sandwich that comes on a roll that is halfway between a hot dog bun and a hoagie roll and is usually filled with a meat and a cheese. They are quite yummy. Also, when they say “greens,” in Alabama, it meant collards or turnips, here it means kale. They put kale on everything up here. I am surprised that I can find a lot of foods familiar to home in the grocery stores here. I don’t think I’ve seen grits, though they do have polenta, but I have seen corn meal. Surprisingly, though what is hard to find is self-rising flour. When I went to the grocery store last night, they had only one kind of self-rising flour, and they did not have self-rising cake flour. They also don’t sell PET milk, which didn’t matter since they did have Carnation evaporated milk and I had already planned on using heavy whipping cream in a recipe instead to give it a richer flavor. One other thing about food, you are much more likely to get local meats and cheeses and many restaurants try to use as many local ingredients as possible. Vermont cheese is phenomenal, by the way. Nearly every town seems to have their own beer brewery, and some places make hard cider, which I like better anyway. Citizen Cider’s Unified Press is delicious, but that stuff will sneak up on you.

Also, Vermont politics are odd, especially the fact that with my political beliefs I’m considered a liberal Democrat in Alabama and more of a moderate Republican in Vermont. I’ve always said that I was a moderate, but don’t expect me to start considering myself a Republican just because I live in a “hippy-dippy liberal” state now. The town meetings and how they conduct their primary will be quite interesting.

Now to what I suspect you all really want to know: how do I perceive the way they treat gay people up here? First of all, let me say that Vermont does not have a single gay bar. They do have at least one bar that has a monthly gay night. I’ve looked into this to kind of understand why, because Vermont is a very gay-friendly state, but what I have found, or have been told, is that there isn’t a need for a separate gay bar. As a gay man, and I think many of you will agree with this, you don’t always feel welcomed at hetero bars, but it’s different here. I’ve been in a few bars and such here and it always seemed like there was a good mix of gay and straight people. Everyone is treated the same. Sadly this means that there are no go-go boys dancing nearly naked on the bars or shirtless bartenders, but I can live with that, as I have found the waiters and bartenders tend to be cute and flirty jut the same. Also, there seems to be a wide array of gay groups in the state. I’m thinking of volunteering for Vermont Pride.

The thing is, sexuality seems to be a non-issue from anything I’ve seen. My boss went out of her way when I interviewed to let me know how open and accepting the university is and how supportive the president is of LGBT issues. I never mentioned I was gay, but I didn’t try to hide it. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not my defining characteristic. I have sort of mentioned things here and there but it was just in normal conversation. One of my coworkers was asking me yesterday how I was adapting and how I liked it up here, and I told her how much I really love it. I told her that “I had wanted out of Alabama, because it’s just not a good place to grow up as a gay boy.” I think she was happy that I confirmed it. I didn’t want my sexuality to be office gossip, but I figured that at some point it would come up. This particular co-worker confided in me after I’d actually said that I was gay, that when I’d had my phone interview and I’d said that the school had put me on charge of the drama club, even though I had no previous experience with the dramatic arts, she knew she wanted to get me out of Alabama and really pushed for me to get the job. They had really liked my cover letter and resume, so all I had to do was back it up and be a pleasant person. I’d already been told that it was a unanimous vote amongst the staff to hire me, but I had no idea that they’d basically decided to hire me after my telephone interview.

The important thing is that I am free to be me. I can be myself, and I don’t have to worry about hiding my politics to keep my job or hiding my sexuality to keep my job or hiding anything for that matter. I get to be the me that I’ve always wanted to be and do a job that really is a dream job because I am in a job where I am actually valued for my expertise and my work and opinion matters. Most of all, I am happy.
PS I realize that the winter will be harsh, but so far Mother Nature has been good to me. She is slowly easing me into winter. I’ve been told that Vermont is having its mildest November in a long time, and December is expected to slowly bring us into the brunt of the winter. I am sure that in a couple of months, I will be complaining about the weather and how cold it is, but right now I am looking forward to it.


Love Won!

  

The news just came down from the Supreme Court: Marriage equality is officially the law of the land!

Today is a historic day, first for everyone who can now marry the person they love no matter where they live, but also for all of us who are invested in the advancement of equality. Thanks to today’s decision, same-sex couples will have their marriages recognized in every state and can no longer be discriminated against for wanting to adopt a child — just like any other married couple in this country.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Friday that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. The justices found that under the 14th Amendment, states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex unions that were legally performed in other states. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The decision is a historic victory for gay rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states ban these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide. As gay Americans we have waited with bated breath and wondered why the Supreme Court has waited until the final days of the term to issue this seemingly obvious decision. Every major LGBT equality (or, inequality) decision from the Supreme Court–including, Bowers v. Hardwick (it is ok to criminalize sodomy), Romer v. Evans (the you-can’t-discriminate-against-gays-just-because-you-hate-them case), Lawrence v. Texas (it is not ok to criminalize sodomy), Hollingsworth v. Perry (marriage freedom in California), and United States v. Windsor (the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional)–were handed down toward the end (in the case of Romer) or on the very last day of the Court’s term. Lawrence and Hollingsworth were both argued on the same day one decade apart and decided on the same day a decade apart (March 26 and June 26, in 2003 and 2013, respectively). The other cases were decided at around the same time: Windsor was argued the day after Perry and decided the same day. Romer was argued on October 10, 1995 and decided on May 20, 1996, the earliest of the bunch.

In the majority opinion, the justices outlined several reasons marriage rights should be extended to same-sex couples. They wrote that the right to marriage is an inherent aspect of individual autonomy, since “decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” They also said gay Americans have a right to “intimate association” beyond merely freedom from laws that ban homosexuality. Kennedy consistently used the arguments by the opponents of same-sex marriage against them. He said that same-sex marriages would not diminish the dignity of marriage but increase it. Kennedy said that those who wanted to be married are upholding the dignity of marriage because they want the same respect that opposite-sex marriages have. In answering the traditions of marriage, Kennedy said that there is not an overall traditional definition of marriage because marriage has consistently changed over the centuries. Arranged marriages are no longer the norm, interracial marriages are no longer illegal, and gay equality has become accepted by the majority of Americans. Marriage equality has followed political and social change.

The majority determined that extending the right to marry protects families and “without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.” The majority concluded that the right for same-sex couples to marry is protected under the 14th Amendment, citing the clauses that guarantee equal protection and due process. Kennedy said that marriage is a fundamental right of the constitution, which the Fourteenth Amendment’s a Due Process and Equal Protection clauses guarantee.

I am sure that opponents will voice arguments against following the Court and many have already said that they will use civil disobedience to resist the ruling. However, let’s be clear, they Supreme Court did not make the same mistake as in Brown v Board of Education and call for the implementation to be done “with all deliberate speed.” Not is this the 1830s when Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court ruling in Worcester v. Georgia when he said, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”. I have no doubt that lower courts will be busy as people will be forced to file cases forcing local officials to issue marriage licenses. I have little doubt that this will be the case in Alabama. There are some politicians who will use their hatred of equality to attempt to fight, but they will ultimately fail. LOVE WON!


Turn The Internet Red #LoveCantWait

 You may have noticed that my header and profile picture are now tinted red.  On April 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Obergefell v Hodges, a case originating in Ohio. In January, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Obergefell along with three other cases from Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The arguments have been consolidated and the case has formally been named Obergefell.

The HRC is hoping to make lightning strike twice and to do so, they need our help. As we await the Supreme Court‘s decisions on two historic marriage equality cases, we have a great opportunity to turn the web red once again in the name of equality and love.

 

To demonstrate the incredible support for marriage equality, we’re asking everyone to make the red equal sign their social media profile picture once again — NOW through decision day, whenever that is. 

Red

If you participated in our campaign to turn the Internet red for marriage equality back in March, you know how meaningful it was. Missed the March marriage madness? Now is your chance to show your support.

Update your profile picture with a red logo so your entire social network knows that you’re standing on the right side of history. Go to http://www.hrc.org/red to easily convert your Facebook or Twitter profile picture to a blended picture of your profile and the red marriage equality sign.  And then ask your friends and family to join you! And if you’re sharing on Instagram, use the hashtag #time4marriage to participate in our marriage equality photo collage, Picturing Equality.

For the latest and breaking news from the Supreme Court, be sure to stay tuned to www.hrc.org/supremecourt.

The HRC will be launching brand new, innovative engagement tools throughout the month to help us show our support and connect with an expansive community of fair-minded Americans. 



Tolerance and Diversity: Part II 

 

 Two of my favorite movies about the U.S. Presidency are Dave and a movie that Ethan mentioned in his comment yesterday, The American President. (I’m also a little partial to My Fellow Americans, because how can you not love a movie with Jack Lemmon and James Garner.) But I’m off topic.  I wanted to use the quote from The American President that Ethan used because I think it makes an excellent point:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. 

I’ve always loved that quote and I’m glad that Ethan brought it up.  The American President came out at a time when flag burning was the hot topic of conservatives to rant against.  They even proposed a constitutional amendment to make it illegal.  Now the hot button topic is gay rights, particularly gay marriage and conservatives again are calling for a constitutional amendment to prohibit it.  The reasons amendments like these would never pass is because all of the 27 amendments to the constitution guarantee rights and protect them, none take away rights and legalize discrimination.  Again, I’m a bit off topic, so bear with me.

The point I’m making is that LGBT issues are in the spotlight right now.  We are finally becoming more accepted by American society, especially outside a few pockets of staunch conservatism.  In order to continue gaining ground, we need to make more allies ryan enemies.  We need them not only as friends who can offer love and support but as critical community members to further our cause. As much as we wish to fight our own battles, it is often our allies in the majority who have chosen to fight for the minority cause who can have the greatest impact. They can serve as intermediaries, given the time and space to say and be heard saying the same things that the minority group has been preaching for years. And it is only through changing hearts and minds in the majority that we can reshape the dominant views that we spend hours debating in LGBT circles. 

In “Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?” by Mason Hsieh as featured in the Huffington Post and brought to my attention by a friend who received it in a diversity email from his employer Walmart, Hsieh suggest five ways to be better to our allies, particularly the new ones.

  1. View alliances as a continuum.
  2. Leave room for political incorrectness.
  3. Remember the big picture.
  4. Take pride in small victories.
  5. Be an ally to your allies.

And I want to take a closer look at these five suggestions, because I think Hsieh makes very valid points.

1. View alliances as a continuum.

Often allyship is painted as all-or-nothing: If you don’t support all our beliefs, you’re not an ally. We must remember that, like any self-identity, allyship is an ongoing process, made up of small, gradual steps. It is a “becoming” process that grows and develops over time, and not always following a linear trajectory.  I have friends who if I had to agree with everything they believe or they agree with all of my beliefs, I’d have no friends at all.  You will not see eye to eye with everyone.  Even countries who are allies don’t always agree on each other’s policies. So why should we think that our allies must support ALL of our beliefs?  Maybe this would be the case in a perfect world, but we all know that this world is far from perfect.

2. Leave room for political incorrectness.

While checking our privilege and engaging in conscientious discourse are great ways to practice thoughtful and inclusive speech and action, we must leave room for political incorrectness. We have to give people, particularly newcomers to the cause, the benefit of the doubt whenever possible and consider making room for political incorrectness in everyday life. There is a difference between fighting homophobia and scrutinizing everything a person says or believes. While the two are not mutually exclusive, the latter can be tiring and lead you further from what you are actually fighting for.  People who are newcomers to our cause can be ignorant to some of the things we find offensive, so we need to be understanding and educate them in a way that doesn’t drive them away.

3. Remember the big picture.

Pick your battles and keep the bigger picture in mind. I find this true of so much in life.  Some battles just aren’t worth fighting and can be handled with a different tactic.  When discussing difficult or touchy topics, give people room to voice their opinions. Let them say their piece, and rather than formulating a retort for every problematic assertion, step back and listen for the bigger picture. What is the most important part of this discussion?  Quite honestly, we do this everyday.  We don’t need a Pyrrhic victory,  we need new allies.  Pick your battles and know when to use more subtle approaches.  True southerners are known for our way of knowing when to be subtle and when to be blunt.  It’s an art that more people should learn.  Besides, both done correctly just makes us more charming, and some activists (and it doesn’t matter the cause) need to learn how to be charming and not caustic.

4. Take pride in small victories.

Minds are not typically changed overnight or through one impassioned debate. Remember that everyone is on his or her own learning curve, and that small steps in the right direction are still steps.  For all the teachers out there, you know how true this is.  We don’t get many victories, but the small ones are worth our weight in gold.  I’m not an out and proud gay activist, mainly because I’m a closeted teacher in a small private school, but I also don’t tolerate derogatory speech in my presence.  It’s a small way that I am helping.  I do my best to teach tolerance, often I use religious lessons (because I can and its something these kids have been taught to respect) to get my point about tolerance across.  It’s a small victory, but it’s a victory.

5. Be an ally to your allies.

Standing up for a community that you are not inherently a part of can be scary and leave a potential ally feeling vulnerable. Welcome newcomers, make room for them in your circles, and remember that alliances go both ways. Support your supporters.


Tolerance and Diversity: Part I

 

When I think of gay-friendly businesses, Walmart does not immediately come to mind.  In fact for many years, I’ve often thought of them as a great evil for gaining a near monopoly on retail stores in small towns (which is still kind of true, but we do live in a capitalist society).  However, my overall opinion of Walmart has changed in the last six months.  A friend of mine went to work in their corporate office.  He is openly gay, and at first, I was a little worried about him moving from a gay Midwestern haven to Bentonville, Arkansas, smack dab in the Bible Belt.  So before he even moved, I did a little research, and I was quite surprised at what I found out.  In 2014, the HRC’s Equality Index gave Walmart a score of 90 (the same as the very gay-friendly Starbucks).  When one looks at the HRC report, you see that they offer the same benefits to same-sex partners as they do the opposite sex partners. Furthermore, sexual orientation has been included in their non-discrimination policy available in the employee handbook (since 2003, and they include gender identity.  All employees are required to attend LGBT diversity training and even has written guidelines concerning employees who transition genders on the job.  They market and advertise to LGBT consumers and support LGBT organizations.  They also have a PRIDE Resource Group to help LGBT employees.  With all of that, why did Walmart get a 90/100?  It’s because they do not cover transgender benefits in their health coverage. 

Since my friend began working for Walmart, I have increasingly became more impressed by them.  When Arkansas tried a Religious Freedoms Restoration Act like Indiana, Walmart pressured the governor to not sign it.  Instead, the governor sent the bill back and said he’d only sign it if it had the same language as the federal law already in place.  I’m glad Walmart stood up, because as much money as the Walton family has, as many employees as Walmart has, and the impact Walmart has on the Arkansas economy, I doubt any candidate could be elected if Walmart put its might behind opposing them.

With all that I have already mentioned, I have to tell you what impressed me the most.  Each Monday, Walmart send its employees a corporate diversity email covering topics about women, African-American, and LGBT issues.  My friend has shared with me several of these emails, but this week’s email really caught my eye.  Included in the email was a link to a Huffington Post article, “Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?” by Mason Hsieh.  In the article, which I plan to discuss in more depth tomorrow, it begins with this story:

Hearing straight men identify as allies to the LGBT community always makes my heart melt a little. So when one of my new straight-male friends asked if he could sit in on a QSA meeting, I immediately said yes and took him to a panel on LGBT dating, hoping to show him how cool the queer community is. The discussion was mostly civil, until my fledgling ally worked up the courage to ask one simple question on a topic he was genuinely interested in: “In gay dating, who’s the girl?” This question did not go over well.
Within milliseconds the P.C. police had descended on him, vehemently demanding that he check his straight-cis-male privilege as well as his narrow-minded assumptions about dating and gender roles. He should be ashamed, they said.

Hsieh notes that he understands that his friend did not phrase the question in the most politically correct way, but, honestly, how many of our straight friends have asked us that same question in one form or another?  Straight people always wonder that, just as they often wonder “what do lesbians do in bed?” (Not a question I want to ponder too much, but most of our straight male friends can answer from watching porn.). Hsieh’s point is that why should we get offended by a question that was not meant to be mean spirited.  Just like with my students when they make an insensitive or ignorant remark, I explain to them what was wrong with what they said.  It amazes me the number of people who do not understand that some of the things they say are offensive, so it’s our job to educate them and try to make this a better world.

So I want to ask you two questions.  Does knowing that Walmart makes an effort to be supportive of the LGBT community and to foster a comfortable working environment for LGBT employees, change your preconceived notions of Walmart?  And, I’d like to know your opinions (before I wrote more about Hsieh’s article) about how to handle our LGBT allies who want to help but aren’t always politically correct?  


Blurred Lines

In the early 1950s when the homophile movement (the early name for the gay rifts movement) began, the U.S. government didn’t differentiate between homosexual rights manifestos, gay erotica or dirty pictures. All were considered illegal, and using the postal service to distribute any of them could and did result in long prison sentences.
 
So perhaps it’s not surprising that pornographers, who had years of experience fighting those battles, were often prominent figures in the emerging homophile movement’s leadership. Jim Kepner, founder of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, was a noted author of gay erotica. Hal Call, one of the first presidents of the Mattachine Society, the pioneering gay rights organization in San Francisco, was an adult film director and owner of the Adonis Bookstore.
 
Chuck Holmes made a fortune as the founder of the Falcon Studios, a wildly successful gay porn studio who was one of the first to switch from film to videocassette in the 1980s.  He later directed his fortune toward philanthropy, funding HIV/AIDS outreach programs, as well as San Francisco Community Center Project, Amnesty International, Global Green, Sierra Club, The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign. He was also active in supporting political campaigns both locally in San Francisco, and at the national level.
In 2002, Holmes’ name was installed over the San Francisco LGBT Center, and public outrage was swift. Detractors called the move, which was in recognition of the late gay mogul’s $1 million bequest to the beleaguered center, “insane.”  The detractors feared it would only fuel right-wing allegations about the gay community’s obsession with sex. What those critics missed, and what continues to missed over a decade later, is the role pornographers like Holmes played in building the gay rights movement we know today.
 
In 2013, Equality Florida’s Tampa Steering Committee presented Jason Gibson, CEO and founder of Corbin Fisher, a leading “amateur” gay porn website, with its Service and Leadership Award.  The award honors an individual whose tremendous support has directly contributed to Equality Florida’s ability to break through to a new level of outreach and effectiveness in the effort to secure full equality for Florida’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
 
Corbin Fisher and Gibson gave more than $120,000 to Equality Florida in recent years, and employees have also contributed video editing and production skills to public service announcements. During the 2008 campaign seasons, Corbin Fisher assisted Equality Florida in developing a mobile voting website and provided legal services to the organization. These contributions continued even after Corbin Fisher moved its base of operations from Florida to Nevada in 2010.  Since arriving in Nevada, Corbin Fisher and Gibson have contributed more than $25,000 to local and national LGBT advocacy organizations, Las Vegas’ arts and culture community, and the city’s new gay and lesbian center. Beyond financial contributions to LGBT groups and non-profits, the company said it encourages activism and philanthropy among staff — all employees of the company are given paid time off to volunteer for charitable organizations, continuing its policy where charitable donations made by individual employees to non-profit groups are matched by the company.
Rather than be a liability, pornographers can provide a strategic advantage to the movement. They not only know the legal restrictions and how to get around them both then and now,  but the early gay pornographers had the money to fight the obscenity battles that cleared the way for greater discussions of sexuality. Pornographers were the advance troops of our sexual revolution.
 
Homophile organizations like Mattachine and Daughters of Bilitis had publications, of course, but their reach was miniscule compared to that of “posing strap” magazines like Physique Pictorial and Tomorrow’s Man. It wasn’t political tracts, but pornography that provided most gay men with their first connection to — and awareness of — a larger gay culture.  The same exists today with the internet, though the GLBT community is presented more in the mainstream media as well.
 
From the early days of gay liberation, porn has been embraced as a vital part of our cultural fabric. The very first issue of The Advocate celebrated a court victory won by two pornographers, Conrad Germain and Lloyd Spinar, who had faced 145 years in prison for sending nudes through the mail, on its front page. Gay sexuality was dangerous and subversive, and any chance to speak it, explicitly or otherwise, was a strike for freedom and visibility.
 
And at a time when mainstream media portrayed homosexuals as pathological, depressive and criminal, porn offered a sunny alternative. We might scoff at porn theaters now, but looking up at that screen, a closeted man could see a promise of gay life that was open and positive, with larger-than-life men who were bold and unashamed in ways he might only aspire to be.
For those who lived outside city centers, that same promise came in the form of mail-order magazines and 8mm loops, which was Chuck Holmes’ business. As the owner of the legendary Falcon Studios, Holmes had the widest reach of the early pornographers, and he was vocal about creating imagery that would make gay men feel proud of their sexuality. For tens of thousands of closeted customers in small towns across the country, those Falcon films were the “It Gets Better” videos of their day.
 
Pornographers contributed in thousands of other ways, of course — by funding the movement directly, by lending resources and distribution, by educating audiences about safer sex during the AIDS crisis, and by lending their mailing lists to fledgling organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund. Holmes served on the HRC’s Board of Directors.
 
But as the movement moved more into the mainstream, adult filmmakers were less and less welcome; their contributions pushed back into the closet. Checks, literally and metaphorically, were returned. Despite his tireless work on behalf of gay and progressive causes, only in recent years have pornographers been welcomed with open arms as Jason Gibson has been.
 
Some of you may see this history as a black eye on the movement, something that will hurt us in political fights over issues like marriage. I believe detractors and anti-gay politicians will always find something to hurt us until attitudes across America change enough that homophobic comments will only hurt those who say them.  If we allow our sexuality to be a source of shame, and hide our history to appease our critics, we’re not nearly as out or proud as we think we are.

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