A Gay Dad Sounds Off On the Pawn for the Homophobia Industry Refusing to Do Her Job

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Along the metaphorical highway on the journey to LGBT civil rights, there are many collisions. These are when willful ignorance runs headlong into justice. Few of these are as fascinating as the wreck taking place in Rowan County Kentucky. It seems we in the American public cannot help ourselves to rubber neck and gawk as a group of cold hearted counter people, led by a county clerk, rudely deny a polite gay couple their marriage license.

A small melodrama has unfolded. The “good guys” are a couple of Davids — Moore and Ermold, who want to get married. After decades of LGBT progress, it is exactly in their legal rights to do so. The “villain” of the piece is a woman named Kim Davis who refuses to issue them a marriage license. She had denied the same to a second couple, James Yates and William Smith Jr.

The governor of the state has told her to comply with the request, as has a federal judge.

Her representation, the right wing Liberty Counsel, has told her to refuse as they create a high profile scene climbing the judicial appeal process. She calls her own homophobia “religious freedom”, the Liberty Counsel may call it a number of things, but what it really is to them is… profit.

As a gay dad, Ms. Davis’s behavior bothers me on multiple levels. I look at the messages not just to me, but to my kids and their counterparts in LGBT families across the nation. First and foremost is her attempt to disparage families such as mine and declare us invalid due to her own belief system. Her treatment of two prospective families is humiliating and demeaning. Kids who are in LGBT families, and kids who are LGBT themselves should not be sent this message that a government official would rather they simply not exist.

Second, however, is in her behavior. I am teaching my kids principles of responsibility and citizenship. Ms. Davis violates that principle at every turn.

I have written her a letter.

Dear Ms. Davis,

Over the past few months, I have been watching your reaction to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality for families such as mine. Your stance has been in equal parts disappointing and confusing.

I understand that you are angry that the fight for marriage equality did not go the way you had hoped. While I am pretty sure I will not be able to persuade you into liking the decision, as a public servant, I do expect you to respect it.

Respect is the key issue at hand, for you, and for the gay couples of whom you refuse to help. You are demanding a respect of your beliefs far beyond what is reasonable, and they are demanding respect for their ability to self-determine the course of their own lives. Unlike yours, their demands are not just reasonable; they are the way things should be.

Your demand that the terms of your job adhere to your own standards rather than the objective standards of law reminds me of how my 12-year old son would like rules applied. He would like for his brother, who is 13, and him to be able to go to the local pool unattended. The pool’s rule for unattended kids is 14 and older. Jesse applies his logic this way: “Dad. If you add both Jason’s and my ages, together we are 25. That’s the same thing.” (Imagine them trying that logic at the local dance bar.)

His logic and the rules are not the same thing. Neither is your desire and the rule you want to break on behalf of “your beliefs.”

I have to admit right up front that as a Christian myself; I do not understand the religious system you claim to have. Nowhere in the Bible does it demand that you impede the family of a same sex couple. It does not imply that you should. The key principle of the golden rule, to do unto others as you would have do unto you, and Christ’s second great commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself”, absolutely are counter to your current behavior.

Much has been made of the fact that your own marriage license indicates you have been married multiple times. There are, theoretically, county clerks who would find your requests for re-marriage counter to Jesus’s directive on divorce. Would you react to them deeming YOU as “unmarryable” acceptable?

I wouldn’t, and I would defend you. I embrace Christ. I feel He has given us the awareness to understand that His directive in the discussion on divorce was to a specific time and place. His purpose was not to saddle people like you into hopeless permanent unions, but to protect women from destitution.

Even though I am confused as to your exact motivation, I ask that you reconsider your choices for a whole other reason. You set a horrendous example for young people, like my sons, who should be learning how to effectively co-exist with others in our society.

Your behavior reminds me of Jesse’s. He has a high sense of what he considers right and wrong just as he did about the pool, and when confronted by a situation holds his stand to the bitter end. Many times his stand it the correct and appropriate one. We get into trouble when it is not.

In those situations, he, like you, will want to only do what he wants, when he wants. It has taken many discussions and his growing maturity to understand that by being part of a team, a village, a country and by agreeing up front to the terms of engagement, he does not get to violate rules just because he wants to.

It is a lesson I wish you too would learn.

You also seem to share the need for life lessons around choosing with whom you associate. When Jesse is putting his foot down on something he needs to do, but doesn’t want to, he calls in his allies for credibility or support. “My friends don’t think that is fair!” Invariably those he calls upon to do the wrong thing have a vested interest. They want him to take the action, not for his well being, but because it serves their interests.

Such is your relationship with Liberty Counsel. As the Lexington Herald-Leader observes, the Liberty Counsel “describes itself as a nonprofit that provides pro bono legal representation related to “religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family,” funded by tax-deductible donations and grants. In 2012 those gifts reached just over $3.5 million and in 2013 topped $4.1 million, according to IRS filings.” They further point out that the group’s involvement with you is not because they even believe they can bring you satisfaction, but that “Liberty’s attorneys know they can’t win the case in Rowan County. Same-sex marriage is legal since the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision and it’s Davis’ job to issue marriage licenses. So, why is Liberty Counsel marching alongside Davis in this losing cause? It takes a lot to keep that marketing machine humming and those executives paid, and the only way to keep those donations coming is to stay in the news. For that purpose a losing cause is just as good as, perhaps better than, a winning one.”

Liberty Counsel seeks to attract emotionally charged hate money from those wanting to harm all gay families, from those who would wish to criminalize homosexuality, from those who see gay marriage and abortion with equal passion. Just because they have rallied to your cause, they are not your friends either however. What they are doing to you is worse than what they will actually be able to affect towards LGBT families.

My wish is for you to take a deep look into what would make you the better person. Your “friends”, who themselves will reap millions, are telling you to hang out until the end where you will be potentially unemployed, and perceived globally as a selfish intolerant hypocrite who was cruel to her neighbors. If you succeed on your current plan at the behest of Liberty Counsel, they will make a lot of money and in a paradoxical way, you will be the loser.

This “Good Samaritan” friend is telling you to do the opposite: do your job, respect the people making their own life choices, and trust the God you profess to believe in that love will prevail in the end.

If you do that instead, the couples you are denying will get the licenses they wish. They will walk away with the thousands of protections they deserve.

You will walk away with dignity. History will not regard you as a hate filled martyr, but a woman who changed her mind, evolved and chose the path of compassion.

The Liberty Counsel won’t be able to use you for fund raising.

You won’t just cease to be a pawn by those seeking to profit from your disgruntled feelings. You will be the real winner.

A few years later, you will be walking down the street of your town. You will see a gloriously happy little girl holding the hand of her dad. She will smile at you, and give a little wink. As that visual “butterfly kiss” warms your heart, you will look to her father and realize that you know him. He is one of the men you originally tried to deny a marriage license. Your eyes will dart immediately back to the little girl… who will still be beaming at you.

In that moment, you will know without a doubt that you ultimately did the right thing.

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Posted in Bible, Civil Rights, Equality, Hatred, News, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Open Letter to the Christian Billboard Couple: Get Your Homophobic Messaging Out of the Faces of Our LGBT Kids

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Two years ago Richard and Betty Odgaard humiliated a gay couple. After a long tour of the Görtz Haus in Grimes, Iowa, Lee Stafford and Jared Ellers were informed that they would not be welcomed to engage the establishment for their wedding because they were gay.

After the story hit at the time, I decided to research how deep the Odgaard’s convictions were. Did they morally examine each of their clientele or did they only target gay people specifically? I sent emails asking for bids for two companies merging who wanted to do their celebration in a wedding-like motif. Betty responded welcoming the unnamed event. It could have been gun supplies, escort services, or a porn company. She never asked or seemed to care. As long as it wasn’t gay.

The Odgaards are now out of the wedding business, but they are not out of the gay couple shaming business. Their new venture is “God’s Original Design Ministry.” Its sole purpose seems to be to be as intrusive as possible promoting marriage and family inequality.

Their initial offering is a poorly designed billboard declaring marriage to be 1 male restroom icon plus 1 female restroom icon equals marriage. It is also tagged with a desperate plea “from God” for help with this concept.

Their goal is another 999 billboards to be placed around the country. They also hope that supporters will print and distribute a number of fliers. Per their website, these fliers are for followers to “distribute and post throughout your community” and to “place a flier on every windshield in your church parking lot next Sunday.”

The Odgaards have also been placed on Ted Cruz’s Iowa leadership team. Apparently he was concerned that he was appearing too LGBT friendly. That is not a problem now, Mr. Cruz.

I decided to write to the billboard wielding team.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Odegaard,

I can appreciate that you are probably one of the most frustrated and angry couples on the planet right now. You were foiled in your dream to make your charming business exclusionary, and found out the hard way that homophobia is not a viable marketing concept. Then to make matters worse, courts around the country who absorbed a library of the most thought out legal and ethical arguments determined that the types of marriages you abhor are in fact viable, legitimate and societally relevant.

It is understandable that you are in a mood to strike back. It is apparent however, that your hunger for revenge has clouded any sense of spiritual or religious principle you might have. Your current behavior needs to be re-thought. A lot.

Your vision is 999 billboards. I guess the irony of an inverted “mark of the beast” has not hit home with you yet. I love getting subtle messages from God, and in my opinion, He is sending you one.

I guess that speaks to the core of this issue and your behavior. Who exactly gets to speak for God? While I think He may be wishing you to stop your current plans as they inadvertently play dangerously close to the devilish “666”, I have no right to put that opinion on a billboard and rub your faces in it. I also have the humility to admit that no Divine Revelation has mandated my view. It comes from my own sense of Christian principles.

Those principles also center around the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” concept. You are not treating LGBT families in any way close to how you yourselves expect or want to be treated.

You would not want to arrive at your car and find it stickered with a sign that says “the Odegaards Aren’t Really Married”. You would not want your grandkids to be subjected to billboards that said “Hey Odegaards, you are just one big mistake. Love God”.

So why do you seek to humiliate my kids that way? Why do you hope that a bullied, closeted LGBT teen sees your call for privilege which will send them further into feeling isolated and unwanted?

Your behavior reminds me of a Christian school I interviewed of which I might potentially send my sons. I let them know that we were an LGBT family and asked if that would be an issue. The administrator puffed up proudly as he stated, “Well, no, it is not an issue for us. It might be an issue for you, however, because as we tell those coming from divorced families, we do not believe that theirs is God’s best design of a family.”

I was happy to leave him in his delusion of speaking for God. As I thought about it later, I realized how profoundly wrong he was. My sons were both born to drug addicted birth parents. They would be dead if we had not come together as a family. Through their 12 plus years as my kids, the one thing I know with absolute certainty is that destiny, God, the Universe, meant for these two beings to be MY sons. While I believe in God, I cannot prove that He exists, so I extend faith. My family is different, I not only know we “exist”, our bond of who we are is imprinted on my soul.

You have no right shoving a message into our face that says differently. You do not have a right to put it on our roadways, you do not have a right to plaster it on our cars when we go to our church.

Your point in doing so is not to discuss your point of view. Your point is to make us feel inferior and illegitimate. Your point is to make us feel, by embracing our own families, apart from God. That does not make you “holy”, it makes you cruel. It makes the actions you are proposing ones of abuse.

Tim Rymel , in his article “What does Ex-Gay” Really Mean,” discusses one of the few passages in the Bible that has been perceived as anti-gay. He observes “In 1946, the Greek word arsenokoites was first translated in the Bible to mean homosexual. Until that time, it had been translated to mean “an abuser of mankind” or to “defile one’s self with mankind” in the King James Bible. “

It is ironic. I know of no LGBT families that are “abusers of mankind.” None.

With your latest project, however, that is exactly what you are.

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Posted in Bible, Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Politics, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , | 15 Comments

When Homophobes Vandalized This Proud Mom’s Home, She Responded in the Most Amazing Way

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Seventeen year old Miranda DeLong received a huge shock as she was returning home from work last week. It was 2am in the morning. She, a proud bi teen, was accompanied by her friend, who is transgender, walking from the boardwalk where they were employed. There before them, scrawled in taggers graffiti paint across her family’s garage were the large words: “I’m Gay”.

Miranda’s sister Emily is also an out bi teen.

Imgay garage tagMiranda immediately ran in to wake up mom Erin, and dad Joe. The family gathered outside to see the work of someone determined to shame them. Miranda and Emily were in a state of shock. Their mom and dad were furious. Erin told me, “Our kids are our everything, and to see them hurt is worse than being hurt ourselves.”

No one needed to inform the DeLong family that they were an LGBT household. “We found out Miranda was bi when I read her diary when she was in the 8th grade. She was having some issues at school, and wasn’t talking. I confronted her and asked and then told her that she could love whoever she wanted, as long as she’s happy,” Erin states. “Emily came out to us just this year. Her best friend is gay, and had “I’m gay” written on her hand. Emily wrote, “so am I” on her own. I didn’t react much and she thought I didn’t realize what it said until she asked for another girl to spend the night. I asked if they were dating, and she ran out of the room. She thought her sister had “told” on her. I went up to her room and said we already knew from the writing on her hand. She asked why we didn’t react, and I said because I wouldn’t have overreacted if she said she was straight, why overreact for saying she was gay, to which she replied, ‘I like boys, too.’ And I told her the same thing we told her sister: Please love who you want and be happy.”

It is ironic that the same statement Emily used that allowed her mom to lovingly embrace who she is, was now being used in an attempt to harm the family.

Harm was not to be had, however. “We decided to paint,” Erin declares. “We decided that some announcements deserve more than gray spray paint.” Paint, they did. Their garage now sports the largest rainbow flag image for miles around.

Some have asked why the broader LGBT image was used rather than the specific Bi image. Thinking of Miranda’s transgender friend who also experienced the shock of the event, Erin answers, “We made it rainbow so we could include all sexualities, we have many LGBT friends that visit our house and we wanted them to all feel accepted. It was a way to support them all.”

The DeLong family has already received some world wide support through the site Stop-Homophobia where the image of their newly painted garage first appeared. Artist/designer Aldo Gatt applauded their creative endeavor, especially since their experience hit so close to his own. “What an amazing response. I had the same done to my house back in 2009. Someone broke into the house and sprayed homophobic threats on the walls. It was devastating to think anyone would have such hatred in them,” he wrote.

Aldo home graffitiAldo’s break in was covered in the local press at the time. They changed his name in the story to protect him. The vandals obviously knew that a gay man had just purchased the dwelling, which had been built in the16th century and scrawled their warning across the home chapel’s wall. “The house is 450 years old and has historic marine graffiti on the walls that were vandalised with the graffiti. Thankfully a restorer acquaintance of mine helped me with advice on how to remove the graffiti without damaging the walls.” Aldo reports.

Aldo2Aldo, like the DeLong’s found that an artistic retaliation was better than an angry one. The once vandalized wall is now a thing of beauty in the vacation rental home.

Times and attitudes have changed in six years, as the DeLongs are fortunate in receiving support from their local police force, in a way that Aldo was not. “The police asked the local paper to put a notice asking if anyone has any information. I think it was someone that knows my younger daughter. Her boyfriend is trans and her best friend is gay. They’re at the house a lot, and it’s not some closely guarded secret. That’s why we think someone was just shaming them. They’re already out.” Erin states.

“For me, it was different,” Aldo reports. “The lack of empathy and professionality shown by the Malta police when I reported it was as disturbing as the event itself. I was very upset when I went to report it as you can imagine. The police woman there was extremely rude to me, telling me straight that they wouldn’t send anyone to see what happened. She couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it as a the personal threat it was.”

We are living in a time where LGBT progress is inspiring homophobic anger. The haters are in the mood to harm and humiliate. Our work on public attitudes is not over.

The Delong family, and Mr. Gatt are showing us our greatest weapon in response. It is not anger or retaliation, it is our creativity.

When attacked, we can channel our understandable rage, not into revenge, but into beauty. When smeared, we don’t smear back, when hurt, we don’t let them see us cry.

They see us plant rainbows.

Apparently, given His response on the day that the Roman Catholic dominated country Ireland passed marriage equality … God agrees.

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rainbow in ireland

A Rainbow Appears in Ireland as Marriage Equality Passes

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Posted in Family, Hatred, Prejudice | Tagged | 19 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Open Letter to Those Questioning Whether or Not Caitlyn Jenner is a Hero

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When I was ten years old, I remember waking up in bed, cuddled up in my sheet from the night before. As I lay there day dreaming, I tucked the sheet around me imagining it to be a flowing ball gown, elegant, sophisticated and completely feminine. The fantasy came from deep inside me and in the moment was overwhelming.

It persisted on into the next Halloween season at which time I proposed a “unique” costume idea to my mother. I would go as her. Creative thinker that she was, my mother went for the idea.

On the night of, I pulled it off extremely well. Dress, makeup, pumps and pearls. I was not a comic rendition of a woman, I looked like a younger version of my mother. Strangely, under the cover of “Halloween” no one saw my motives of self exploration, nor reacted with knee jerk misogyny, homophobia or transphobia. I went off in the night collecting candy.

I hated it. What I discovered conclusively was that I was not in the least transgender. I was, and am, a cisgender guy, a male in a male body. I probably had gone only a block and I began to loathe everything about the presentation I was in, not because it wasn’t working, it was, but because it was not me.

That walk down a city block in heels may have given me a glimpse into the disingenuous feelings a closeted transgender person has to feel every single day. I don’t know that for a fact, I can only imagine that to be true.

Was my walk down that street at that young age courageous? Was I a hero? Probably not. I was in no danger as I had managed the time and place conveniently, and I had played my experimentation as a gag, a lark, a creative idea.

Now we are in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Public tabloid discussion quickly morphed from whether Bruce Jenner might be transgender to a debate on whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. Presumably, the latter discussion has gained more momentum by Caitlyn being awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

My sons are 12 years old and we have discussed Caitlyn. They truly did not understand how she felt, and her need to emerge as her true self from a male body. The issues involved needed to be explained to them. I also explained to them why she is, in my opinion, a hero.

There are others who apparently need a similar discussion. HLN’s show Dr. Drew On Call assembled a panel to discuss whether Caitlyn was courageous and deserved an award. The panel consisted of Segun Oduolowu, Zoey Tur and Ben Shapiro.

As far as television goes, the panel and their interaction ended up being less like “The View” and more “Jerry Springer”. Oduolowu immediately drove the conversation to the Tur Shapirolevel of hyperbole by screeching that Caitlyn Jenner was “a fraud”. His misguided points never once explained how Jenner was not authentically transgender, but focused on lives lost to AIDS in the 1980s. The cranky Shapiro, who seemed anxious to throw transphobic barbs at Tur, seated next to him, interrupted Oduolowu’s train of thought quickly. The barbs hit their intended recipient and Tur threatened to send Shapiro home in an ambulance. She then shot pointed comments of her own attacking Shapiro’s lack of emotional maturity.

Meanwhile, as this demeaning slug fest was playing out in one medium, graphic memes were making their way across another. These images attempted to contrast Jenner with disabled veterans. Social media images presented the premise that heroism was a competition in which if one was heroic in one way, it detracted from another’s heroism in another.

I decided that it was time for a letter.

To The Dr. Drew Panel and Those Who Question the Heroism of Caitlyn Jenner,

What exactly is a hero? When I hear the word, the first thought is of my dad. He was a career marine who put his life on the line for his country. He was also a man who put his kids and family first in his life and let us know he loved us every day. He sought to spiritually enrich us, and everyone around us, to the best of his ability. He always chose the brave and right thing over the easy and least intrusive.

If you say “hero”, I think of him.

When you say “hero”, here is what I do not think about: Your attitude Mr. Shapiro. You, addressing the transgender state of Caitlyn Jenner, and of Zoey Tur, who was seated inches from you, was bold, brash and in-your-face, but it was not heroic.

Willful ignorance is not heroic. Reducing a person’s heart, soul and dignity to the physiological make up of their body cells is not heroic, especially when even the most perfunctory research would tell you that your assessment was factually incorrect.

You could not have cared less about enriching anyone, let alone protecting them, as you reduced all of humanity into your pondering of chromosomes in human cells as the criteria for extending dignity by stating that “every cell in Caitlyn Jenner’s body, is male, with the exception of some of his sperm cells,”

Nature, the International Journal of Science, refutes you. They state, “Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2. When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. “

A hero does not misrepresent easily accessed information to win a point.

Mr. Oduolowu, you faulted Jenner for not speaking up on behalf of AIDS victims in the 80s. Since I buried over 40 close friends at that time, I found your rhetoric almost as offensive as Shapiro’s. My friends who died of age when you were at best, a child, would not attack Caitlyn Jenner as you have. They would understand the closet in which she was trapped, as many of them were in a similar one. Their illness and subsequent deaths forced them out of hiding, and ultimately set an awareness in motion, an awareness from which you yourself are a benefactor. They , to a person, would not condemn Jenner for her own closet, but would be celebrating her ultimate break through.

A hero does not use the pain of others to shame others who had not caused that pain.

Ms.Tur, your behavior is the most familiar to me. It reminds me of my son Jesse’s. My son is a super personable, bright kid. He has an elevated sense of justice and right and wrong. He also has an innately quick temper. On occasions in the past where another kid has treated him badly, he has reacted and lashed out. Invariably, it would be he, and not the original offender who would get in trouble. It has taken a few years of reinforcement, but he finally has embraced that he did himself no favors by his previous choices. Our talks went like this:

Me:: Pal, what went wrong in this situation?

Him: I got mad and got in trouble.

Me: Did the other guy get in trouble?

Him: No

Me: Were you right that he harmed you to begin with?

Him: Yes

Me: Who did your reaction harm?

Him: Me. I got in trouble. Al l the attention got on me instead of him.

Me: Exactly. He harmed you, and then you harmed you.

Him: There has to be a better way

Me: I’ll help you find it.

Ms. Tur, I appreciate you were backed into a corner by an emotional bully. The choice to strike back at an even lower level was not only not heroic, it was not effective. He was the true bully, but managed to then paint himself legitimately under threat.

As this conversation was going on in the land of cable TV, a bigger one was on social media. Images of disabled veterans were being thrown against images of Caitlyn Jenner. These images had the intention of shaming Jenner for being considered heroic.

The energy behind this mob outrage seemed even larger than any effort to reward these and other veteran heroes for their sacrifice. Accessible benefits are apparently not the issue, exclusive use of a word is.

I am not addressing this letter to the people who put together the simplistic and superficial memes, however.

I wish to address the vast Mob that responded to them.

The hero questioning memes went beyond veterans to ones that even included other sports figures. One was a juxtaposition with Tim Tebow for example.

That image alone garnered 192 thousand “likes” against Jenner. It featured almost 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which were unintelligible but decidedly nasty.

The Mob attack brought forth thoughts about Jenner’s own words, “If you want to call me names, doubt my intention, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

So, to the Dr. Drew Panel and the Mob: What is a hero?

To me, and to my sons, a hero is someone who in the face of taunts, ridicule, and shaming speaks out not for herself, but for others first.

Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. She is one not for being transgender. She is a hero because she is standing up to you.

She is one, because YOU made her one.

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Photo: Flickr/Magazin Ekstra

This post is dedicated to Emma of Wipe Out Transphobia who has blazed a trail for Caitlyn Jenner and other modern heroes.

Posted in Entertainment, Equality, Hatred, Prejudice, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meet the Woman Who Strives to Save the Lives of Little Kids Who Feel “Different”

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Her work includes films about Americans standing up assertively for civil liberties to one about a romantic soul traveling the spectrum between the living and the dead. Sarah Feeley’s professional filmmaking career projects a theme of fluidity, and the assertion that one deserves personal dignity.

On March 17, 2015 CNN released her greatest work, an amazing short film called Raising Ryland.

The film features a little boy name Ryland who is six years old. From birth, Ryland had two pieces of information to impart upon his parents. The first was that he was deaf. The second was, in spite of displaying female characteristics, that he was actually a boy.

Sarah Feeley is on a singular mission to “amplify the voices we don’t frequently get to hear.” She herself knows what it feels like to grow up with the pang that she was not like others around her.

She recalls, “One of the ways that children learn about themselves and their world is through modeling. They look at the world around them and look to see themselves reflected in their environments. For an LGBTQ child, it may be difficult to find positive, affirming reflections of themselves in their families or in the wider world. This may weaken their sense of belonging and lead to feelings of shame. All children want to belong. No child should have to live in shame. I was a child who wanted to belong and struggled to fit in. Now I know that all the things that make me different also make me unique… but I didn’t know that then. Back then, being different felt like the worst possible thing. “

As an adult, she has found solace and safety in her life partnered with another woman. Allowing herself to be her own authentic difference has given her a space in which she could find herself. “My partner, Ali, inspires me every day. I am so grateful to have her in my life. We’ve been together for over 11 years. She’s taught me about love. About optimism. About who I want to be and about the person I am. I am a better person when she’s around… the whole world is a better place when she’s around. If you meet her, you’ll know what I mean.”

Still, she has not found that the world at large understands her fully integrated self. “I am a director, and I am a woman… I would like freedom from the assumption that these two things are incompatible.”

In the last few years, “voices we don’t get to hear” reached out to Sarah. They were the voices of LGBT kids who found they could not continue fighting the bullying and rejection and had ended their lives. Sarah felt driven to take action to both have them heard as well as to end the trajectory towards tragedy so many were on. “I believe that all people deserve to be wholly known and loved for who they are. I wanted to make this film because I was heartbroken by the rising number of LGBTQ youth who felt so hopeless and unloved or unloveable that suicide seemed like their best option. When we share our stories, we become visible and reduce shame,” she states.

Sarah set out to find her Ryland and to tell his story. “I wanted to share an LGBTQ-affirmative story so that more parents could learn how to create a safe and supportive space for their children, to try to find inspiring and positive stories that might give a struggling young person hope. I wanted to show that there are parents out there who love and support their children with no strings attached even when it means confronting their own fears and expectations. There is a challenge, while working on a film that focuses on parents and children, to find a family who is willing to open up and share their story on film. It takes time to build the trust a film like this requires. It also takes a special kind of courage on the part of the parents to share something as personal as how they parent their child. I feel a huge responsibility to create a safe space during the filmmaking process and to craft a film that honors this bravery in the editing room. Through this process, I met a number of amazing parents. One mother introduced me to another and another and another. That’s how I met Hillary. (Ryland’s mom).”

Through the process, Sarah also narrowed her scope to the specifics of the transgender journey. “I see gender as a universal issue. It plays a major part in how we relate to one another as humans. When transgender people are allowed to live authentic lives, we are all given permission to live authentic lives. I am really encouraged that more and more stories focused on transgender lives or featuring transgender characters (in fiction stories) are being told. In Western culture, gender is often understood as an absolute binary that comes matched to a person’s anatomy. While this is true for some people, it is not true for all people. Gender is a spectrum. Sharing stories is one of the ways that we become known as humans. I think it’s important to for transgender people (and all people!) to be represented in the story of humanity. It’s easy to dismiss people whose lives we don’t understand whose experiences seem far away from our own experiences. I started with the hope that sharing Ryland’s story would help to open minds and bring people closer together.”

RylandIn the short film itself, Ryland’s parents make it clear why they signed on to the project and answer critics of their participation, and their choices in parenting. “41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide. 41 percent. That’s what it comes down to, do we want a living son or a dead daughter. So that’s where we get pissed. That’s where we say, ‘people can go screw themselves.’ They can try living with that statistic. It’s not their kid, they are not forced to face it. So they can sit back and make judgments all day long,” they assert.

Ryland himself was an eager participant. Sarah reports, “Ryland is very happy to be part of this project. He wants to world to know that it’s cool to have two kinds of things, his cochlear implants and that he’s transgender. Behind the scenes, we worked with (and continue to work with) transgender youth, transgender adults, experts and organizations who work with families raising transgender and gender non-conforming children. The people who have worked on this project believe that sharing stories like Ryland’s helps to promote visibility and make the world a safer, more understanding place for families raising transgender and gender non-conforming children.”

Transgender activist and author Siobhán Patricia Lynch is not convinced such a film, which she considers “fluff”, is a good approach. “I have mixed feelings on a lot of this stuff – part of it focuses on privacy of the Trans kid. When I was young, I would have given anything to be identified as a girl and not any different – we don’t know how these kids will feel in their teen years after their parents have made the choice to “out” them to media ‘look at us – we’re great parents’ – it seems bizarre to me that this is what is so sensational it sells these days. Trans issues have become the new rights battle – but it comes at a price to all the individuals that are now front and center. I made that choice for myself – I feel this kind of news is at the expense of the child who is already experiencing enough in trying to figure out who, or what, they are.” She penned her concerns in an article called The Trans Reality, Not All Feel Good Fluff . In the article, she further states, “The reality is, that we don’t live charmed lives, we’re not fluff pieces, we’re the tragedy, and this increased visibility is going to make things worse for trans adults, before it gets better, and we have targets on our backs…I think the thing that annoys me is parents who accept who their children are, as trans, are not heroes; they are doing exactly what they should be as parents. This isn’t extraordinary, its the bare minimum I would expect from a good parent, yet we somehow hail them as heroes.”

Sarah Feeley on CNNSarah responds, “That’s interesting. I have not heard that reaction. I agree that violence, discrimination and depression are big issues that adult transgender people face. That’s another story that needs to be told. I hope that sharing Ryland’s story helps to promote a culture of understanding where all people are free to live authentic lives. The response Raising Ryland has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received notes of encouragement, gratitude and appreciation from people around the country and around the world. We’ve been contacted by parents who are desperate to find help in their local areas (and we’ve worked to connect them to those resources).There are families who have written in to share their own personal stories. Many people have let us know that they would like to see more of Ryland’s story because sharing his story has made a difference in their lives (or their children’s lives).”

At least one family who were forever transformed were Mimi and Joe Lemay. They had been struggling with their own 5 year old child who was in a state of constant misery. After seeing Raising Ryland, they told NBC, “The Whittingtons explained their process of transitioning him and clearly that little boy is so happy now, so adorable, so full of life and animation and we were very struck by that and we talked about it. And we said, what if we showed our child the video of this boy? When the video finished we asked him, what to you think about that boy? Do you think you would like to be like that? Have a new name? And have everyone know that you’re a boy? …He said ‘That’s what I want. I want to be a boy always. I want to be a boy named Jacob.” Now Jacob is happy, vibrant, engaged and alive. Mimi reports, “I realized how much he came out of his shell. He had never been a girl. That was a figment of my imagination.”

Sarah’s film is more than informative, it has become in itself, transformative. Sarah is not done, however. Up next is an expansion of the Ryland story into a feature film. “It dives deeper into Ryland’s story and the young transgender experience. Our film tells one family’s experience. They happen to be a white, middle class family. Lots of different types of families from lots of economic backgrounds are raising LGBTQ children. I think their stories need to be told, too. Really, there are so many stories that need to be told!  The rate of violence against transgender women, especially transgender women of color, is a big issue. LGBTQ youth homelessness and/or LGBTQ youth in the foster system is another big issue. I’d love to see more scripted stories include transgender characters (men and women). I’d love to see more roles being played by transgender actors— all kinds of roles, not just roles for transgender characters. We have had a very positive response to the short and people from around the country are donating to our feature film fundraising efforts. We still have a long way to go. Every donation, no matter how large or how small, helps moves us closer to our goal. For major donors, we can accept tax deductible donations through our fiscal sponsor. People can individually donate by visiting: www.raisingryland.com/donate.”

While facing critics and naysayers, Sarah has a personal center, and her own true north that her mission is the right one. She shares, “My personal connection is empathy. I think all people deserve respect My mother has given me so many great pieces of advice and one she’s given me that applies to life and to this project. TRUST YOUR GUT. I don’t know about your gut, but my gut can be a mumbler sometimes. Making a film is noisy. So it can be hard to hear your gut. Making a film is also a labor of love, it’s incredibly personal, and yet, you can’t do it by yourself. So you need a lot of trust. Trust in your team. Trust in your subjects. Trust to know when it’s working and trust to know when it’s not. I hope that sharing Ryland’s story helps people begin to understand what it means to be transgender and see that transgender children who are loved and supported by their families are more likely to lead happy, healthy lives. More than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. A study by Trans PULSE demonstrates that this number drops by 95% when children are supported by their families. The first statistic is so heartbreaking. The second statistic presents such a simple and beautiful solution: Love.

My gut tells me to love. Making this film is love, the outcomes from this film are love. Love is the mission.”

Raising Ryland is featured at OutFest in Los Angeles on July 16.

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Would You Invite a Homophobic Judgmental Christian to Your Same Sex Wedding?

Would u invite   evol=

On the Friday of the Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling, the news hit like a rainbow colored Tsunami. As I woke up that morning, I got a message from my friend Kevin of Stop-Homophobia. As one of my marriage equality heroes, he was the one from whom I would have wanted to hear the news.

“We won.” I could barely breathe.

That day, for me, and many LGBT people I know, was a awash with shock, awe and wonderment. Everything was coming up dancing rainbows.

Waves are only temporary however, and the tide that thrusts them forward, quickly retreats them. That is what happened the next day. Some heads had exploded, and it was not pretty.

I began to realize that many people who had been long silent in this conversation were now engaged. On Friday, it seemed new participants in the debate woke up, the ones who had apparently been in a political issue coma for the past few years. Suddenly the anti-gay discussions were not the same ones we had been arguing about last week. It was like we were starting the conversation all over.

I guess that is to be expected. Patiently, I found myself in the old discussions about polygamy, gay pride parades and “sin”. The feeling of astronomical progress now felt like a reversal into retro thinking. Even if the points were old and worn out, there was something new about the conversations. Rather than exuding homophobia, these seemed to be more from a place of heterosexism. The opponents were not specifically looking to condemn and demean, but only to assert their own “obvious” superiority.

This tone played out in post after post, tweet after tweet, but it really hit home for me when someone sent me an article titled “Would You Attend a Gay Friend’s Wedding?” by Brian Orme. Mr. Orme presented a theory and then invited discussion: “There are two kinds of Christians in the world today—those who would and those who wouldn’t attend a gay friend’s wedding. So who’s right?”

His treatise was basically that, in his experience of Christianity, Christians might choose to love and not focus on judging the sin of the couple, and attend the wedding to which they had been invited. Or they might see their own attendance as an “endorsement of sin” and not attend. So to him, that was the only choice, that, in his words, the Christian guests would either be “humble sinners” or “bold witnesses”.

Nowhere in his discussion does it dawn on him that maybe, just maybe, the invitation to a couple’s wedding, a day they hold incredibly dear, might be… and is, a privilege.

I have officiated for three couples, facilitating their process into deeply felt and precious life commitments. In each case, we told their story of their lives coming together, their commitment, their evolvement into life changing love. In each case they wrote their own vows, showing their mate and all in attendance feelings, thoughts and desires they had revealed to no one before that moment.

These events were life changing, not just for the couples involved, but for the community that surrounded them. I wanted to respond to Mr. Orme’s discussion therefore, with one of my own.

Dear Mr. Orme,

Recently, you wrote a question to your Christian community asking individuals whether or not they would attend a friend’s “gay wedding.” In answering your own question, you state that you would attend. You say “I believe I could attend a gay friend’s wedding without explicitly endorsing the union… It is not to endorse a lifestyle but to love a person in hopes of seeing him or her become a disciple of Jesus. Would this tarnish my reputation? It might, but it’s a decision, I believe, I could make in clear conscience with the Spirit.”

No, Mr. Orme, you would not be tarnished. Upon receiving such an invitation, you should be honored. The couple that invited you did not do so for you to teach anything. They invited you so you could learn about, appreciate and revere the deep and abiding commitment that they feel for each other. They’re inviting you to come experience how they promise to be by each other’s side for life, to help each other grow more deeply than they ever thought possible. They are inviting you to come witness that they would die on the other’s behalf.

With what they are giving to you, if you can only think about yourself, I , if I were in control, would have you just stay home.

You see, the real question that should be asked is: “Should They Invite a Homophobic Judgmental Christian to Their Same Sex Wedding?”

If it were up to me, I would say “no” for all the couples I have married. These couples were stellar, beautiful, vulnerable, strong and inspiring. I would not want your arrogance to blot their light and love in any way.

But. here’s the thing. They, to a couple, would have invited you, even with your superior attitude, and would welcome you with open arms. In their hearts, they would hope that by witnessing their love, your own heart would open up. They would even be willing for that not to happen, just on the off chance that it might.

You see, in that moment of love and joy, they would be better vessels of Christ love than I am.

They are certainly better representatives of love than you are.

One of my fellow gay dads shared this with me. Brian Copeland reported, “I invited a woman who was anti-marriage equality to our 2008 wedding. She came because she loves me. When she returned to her work the following Monday, she told her co-workers about the wedding. She was subjected to the most horrible judgment. They condemned her, and treated her like crap. That completely opened her eyes to how she and others had made me feel throughout the years. From that day she was a changed person, asserting to everyone who would listen ‘You weren’t there to see the love like I was. All I know is that God and love were both in that wedding, and that cannot be wrong.’ She took more away from our wedding than anyone.”

So, if you get that invitation, be grateful that they did not ask MY question, or answer it with MY answer. Most certainly, YOUR question should not even cross your mind. Just check “yes” and notify your “plus one.”

Then go and listen. Go and let the feeling wash over your heart. At some point in that ceremony, God will reach you and have you understand what loving your brother really is all about, that it is not for the couple being married at all. It is for you.

In that moment you will not be humbled or bold.

You will be blessed.

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Posted in Bible, Equality, Family, Gay Christians, Marriage equality, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged | 10 Comments

A Gay Dad Sounds Off on the Terror Threatening to Be Unleashed on California Families

Pet of hate evol

It is time to take the lunatics seriously.

I envision it will go something like this: I am exiting a restaurant with my two vibrant and happy 12-year old sons in tow. A pleasantly dressed young man stops us. “Would you mind signing my petition to get a proposition on the ballot?” he asks.

I am already apprehensive, as I know what is going on in the state, and dismiss him quickly, “No thanks,” and I try to move us on. My sons give me inquisitive glances. They know I am more accessible than this. They know I am usually willing to give even a stranger a minute to hear them out. Why am I now so obstinate?

He blurts out, “Please sir. It is so we will be able to execute the gays and save California from their evil sexual habits!” I have now gone from irritated to irate.

“Get away from my family immediately,” I snarl as I quickly move us out of his range. I see the horrified look on my sons’ faces. They and kids much younger than they would be able to pick up the direct meaning of what had just happened.

“Dad! What did that mean? They are working to make a law so people can just…kill you? Can they do that? Why do they hate you?” my son Jesse will barrage me with at once. My son Jason is much more introspective. While Jesse’s fears will be aired verbally and answered, Jason’s will lie dormant in his mind until I have the opportunity to try to ease them out of him at a later time.

They will not see that the measure is not likely to succeed. They will only see it as something people are “reasonably” discussing on our streets. They will see people using the legal process to humiliate and violate human dignity. They will see our family as so valueless that we will be the targets of this legitimized hatred. It will send the message that the question on whether to dehumanize gay people is actually debatable.

The suggestion that such a conversation is acceptable will be on every street corner, and on our public airwaves. While the messaging will cause pain to grounded self-assured adults, it will send devastating messages to the more vulnerable— our children, at risk LGBT teens, transgender people and more.

It will be with us because we thought an evil man was also stupid, when the truth is, he was one step ahead of us. We will have learned one of the realities of our modern age: that being evil and being smart are not necessarily mutually exclusive propositions.

Months ago, it was announced that a crackpot lawyer in Southern California had paid a $200 filing fee to propose the California “Sodomite Suppression Act” initiative. This proposition, if codified, would make it legal to massacre gay people. The reaction to the filing was shocked bemusement. The man was seen as evil and an idiot. “This thing doesn’t stand a chance,” cavalierly scoffs the New Republic’s Christian Farias. Even an alternate ballot initiative targeting his insensitivity was filed.

Make no mistake about it. The proponent of the “Sodomite Suppression Act” attorney Matthew McLaughlin is evil, but he is not alone. Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is that someone who is both evil and rich employs him.

Farias gloats that McLaughlin has not “done his research” because many of the things proposed have already been declared un-Constitutional. (Really? What gave you your first clue, the proposed shooting of other citizens in the head?) It is unthinkable that someone who knows the ins and outs of the legal process has not already figured out what the ultimate fate of this law, in a publicly passed form, would be.

I would suggest that passing the initiative is not the goal at all.

It is on this point that I don’t think McLaughlin is THAT stupid. As a gay family who lived through the humiliation of the Proposition 8 campaign, I can tell you that in many ways the bigger effect is not about the destination of an initiative, it is about the very public process and journey to get there—win or lose.

I don’t believe the McLaughlin objective is to ever see his proposal become law. I believe that he and those behind him are using the California initiative and justice system to run a legitimized hate campaign against LGBT people and our families. I don’t think the requirement to try to collect 365,000 signatures by the McLaughlin engine is being seen by them as a hassle, that it is exactly in what they want to participate—a legitimized, protected way to hit the streets of California to peddle hate and intimidate gay people.

McLaughlin has responded to Harris’s attempts to derail the signature gathering process by having the initiative go automatically on the ballot. If that occurred, it would save us street confrontations, but the hate machine would then be able to send homophobic violence incitement speech as a political message across the airwaves, one that media would have trouble suppressing.

It was bad enough during proposition 8 when we could see signature gathers asking people to sign up to disavow our family’s existence. It was painful seeing signs during the campaign that outright claimed we were less of a family. This however, would make that experience seem like a joyful walk in the park.

So is this an over blown fear on my part? Is it unthinkable that behaviors like the Nazis enacted at their very beginning might grow into something worse as they did in early 20th century Europe? Is Matthew McLaughlin a sole entity living out his 15 minutes of fame with depravity and zero chance of success?

Here are the things I would suggest considering as you make your mind up on how serious a threat he poses:

  • He has not sought the limelight as an attention seeker would. In fact, his public anonymity is masterful in its thoroughness. He was last publicly trackable in 2004 around another initiative campaign to put Bibles in schools. After that, he becomes literally invisible and untrackable. This indicates that another far bigger public impact is planned and pending.
  • Journalist friends I have spoken to theorize that he is a paid corporate lawyer since there have been no public legal motions on record from him since the 2004 campaign. This means he is under the employ of a private entity for whom he advises, acts, and has been unseen.
  • If he is merely the representative of something larger, the bankroll represented could be substantial. The anti-gay industry spends billions each year and fund raises through designated hate groups like the “Family Research Council” and others. Their most recent summits have engaged strongly in the rhetoric that LGBT people are Nazis and that Christians are America’s version of the persecuted European Jews. This verbiage has all but called for violent action against LGBT people.
  • Another evil, but legally informed entity, the Westboro Baptist “Church,” has always been more a group of subversive lawyers than it has been a church. They have given lawyers such as McLaughlin a roadmap on how to twist the US judicial system and use it as a shield to deliver hate speech and create terror and humiliation with the blessing of the legal system.
  • Organizing and collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, even just to be maliciously leveraging the process, requires a plan and a team. Is it a mere coincidence that Scott “Crimes Against Humanity” Lively, the man who worked with Uganda’s Kill-the-Gays intiative, is now moving operations to Riverside California, of all places? To quote Dana Carvey’s Church Lady… “How convenient!” Is it also a coincidence that there he is establishing a “coffee house” series of outposts building a “team of community missionaries to carry on” where he can’t be in California? Can you imagine the collection of kill-the-gays initiative signature gathering happening and Lively NOT being involved if he was here? Nor can I.
  • View the film Jesus Camp and contemplate the militia that has been hiding in the shadows in America for years looking for their call to “valor.”
  • Gun toting radicals like Steven Anderson are a short drive away from California. What effort do you think they would put into signature gathering once that part of the process hit a green light?

Kamala Harris is working with the courts to try to halt the proposed initiative from moving forward. Her justification is unfortunately weak. She states that the proposal would be unconstitutional and would divide the public. This is where McLaughlin’s knowledge of process would be sound — what controversial proposal to change the constitution WOULD not be at the outset “unconstitutional” and “divisive”?

The situation calls into discussion the very heart of terrorism at its worst. The horrors and atrocities are short-term effects. The worst that terrorism does is force us to bastardize our freedoms and liberties in order to fight it. By guarding ourselves from it, we give up part of our own democracy, which arguable is the ultimate goal of the terrorist, for us to do just that.

We have a process in California that is designed to put law making close to the hands of the people. Some evil people are now twisting the system that supports that to be able to unleash a campaign of threats and humiliation against our LGBT population. The effect will be volatile. People will strike back at a calm request to legalize their annihilation. The more volatile that retaliation is, the more martyred the Right will claim to be — attacked while exercising their due process.

I believe that the governor must ask the federal courts, or the justice department to step in to our system. We need protection that an election process cannot itself inflict civil rights violations and harm. It is an unprecedented move, but then, never in the history of the United States has an initiative to willfully murder a portion of the population been the open question.

Large organized religion, even the progressive sects, must be called upon to condemn and vilify all who support this atrocity in any way. Already, the complete silence is deafening.

At the end of this process, should it move forward as it is set, when the initiative ultimately does fail, as it will, what then? Will those who have roamed our streets and rationally discussed shooting us dead just calmly pick up their duds, call it a day, and head out of town? I doubt it.

For even though they will have been twisting and bastardizing our legal process against us, when it no longer serves them, they will remind us that THEY are not beholden to it. We have seen precedent how the leaders of social conservatism operate. They put out the rhetoric as they did with abortion issues, but when those who listen to them kill people in clinic bombings, they disavow any culpability in the actions of those inspired by their directives. After having conditioned themselves for months that their position is “reasonable’” and the kill-the-gays grass root workers get the news that our law system will not set them up to legally slaughter us, they may not take “no” for an answer.

They will remind us, as they aim their pistols, that theirs is a calling from a whole other mandate.

That is the scariest thing of all.

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Posted in Equality, Family, Hatred, Living, Mixing religion and politics, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, US Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments