A Gay Dad Sounds Off On “My Husband is Not Gay” Lies and Abuse

Lies and Abuse

Sunday night was a cornucopia of LGBT television. First came the Golden Globes with a full offering of heartwarming equality affirmations from wins for Transparent ,including a call out for Leelah Alcorn, to a win for Matt Bomer in which he again asserted his standing as a proud gay dad in the world, to the hint of a host-ship next year for LGBT icon Margaret Cho, who was hilarious as a North Korean journalist/general invading this years show. LGBT euphoria turned to LGBT dismay as, with a turn of the channel, I landed on The Learning Channel’s My Husband is Not Gay reality TV special.

My biggest question after watching that train wreck was, “What exactly are we supposed to learn from this Learning Channel?”

Reality TV is not an area in which I have much comfort. I don’t know what a Kardasian is, and I am not clear on the point of real housewives or bridezillas. There seems to be a pre-occupation in this “reality” world with the breadth of “traditional marriages” from Bachelor mating rituals, which are tacky at best, to extreme retro “traditional” with multiple wives or 19 kids. Again, I am not quite clear on what the learning curve is here. Possibly the point is that those who are screaming to only have “traditional” marriages allowed in society need to be careful for which they pray.

Judge Judy is my one “reality television” guilty pleasure. On the trials on her show “the cases are REAL, the people are REAL” and the viewer gets to watch as these participants come on and lie their pants off. Judge Judy suffers the fools only so far as she quizzes them on specifics while working her personal vendetta to determine the real truth. Once she is satisfied at finding it, she has no restraint in bending forward and screaming out to the disingenuous “YOU”RE A LIAR!” Some might find the judge’s loud candor abusive. I find it actually a bit refreshing.

JJudyThey needed Judge Judy on “My Husband’s Not Gay”, where some real dishonesty and psychological abuse is happening.

There has been much legitimate concern about the show and its ties to harmful “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy. Although undisclosed, most of the participants on the show have supported organizations behind such pseudo-“science” that all the major American and Canadian mental health organizations have condemned. The premise of the show, three gay, oh, I’m sorry, “same sex attracted” men are married to straight women and raising families. The show tries not to present this as a “gay men SHOULD do this” but it definitely tries to raise the question “CAN” gay men do this?

On the journey of this show, the men and their wives testify as to how their lives are wonderful, rewarding, desirable to them, even if they fall short of being perfectly ideal. Through out, at several junctures, I was dying for Judge Judy to come popping out screaming “YOU’RE A LIAR!”

The men on the show hold all the cards in the situation. They have constructed their lives in such a way that they get everything they want between being openly ga— sorry, same sex attracted, and living up to the rigid and specific family design of the Mormon Church. (The Mormon Church itself no longer recommends their choice, however. On its site, mormonsandgays.com , it states “Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. “)

The men have laid down the terms of their lives, and found women who agree to support those terms. The concept of what is needed and required around “same sex attraction” has been taught by the men to their wives who then move forward with a sensitive “understanding.” Most of the “knowledge” and “ssa facts” are fabricated. It reminded me of a fictional story about vampires where the author has to craft all the “rules” for the beings’ survival. This ignorance is understandable given that the people involved come from a world in which one of their straight friends first observations when the same sex attraction topic comes up is, “ oh yeah, there is a big problem with SSA in Argentina.” Say what? Argentina? Cue Judge Judy. What these wives have been given as the foundation to their marriages is a crock.

The men have set the stage with the premise that while they each are very “same sex attracted” — it is described by one as “out of 10 attractions, 9 are men, 1 is a woman” to another saying that he is “super into dudes sometimes.,” that they are also attracted to the women in their lives. This is a claim made through out the show, and one that the women cling to fiercely. One wife has memorized a phrase for herself hinging on the idea, “He loves me so much, he picked me over all the other men AND the women.” She has repeated this not only on the show, but on other videos, seeming to hope that through repetition like the Coca Cola branding, that she will be convinced that it is “the real thing.”

It is not the real thing. That may be a ridiculously bold and inappropriate statement by me, a stranger, to make, but the fact is obviously true. If these men were truly “also” attracted to their women, they would be simply bisexual. Like real bisexuals, the concern about other people regardless of gender with whom they have attraction, would have no bearing on their primary relationship. I may be attracted to furry white men, and also to tall African American men, but when partnered with one of the other, I do not need a whole system to deal with my other attractions.

Hold off on Judge Judy, however. Are these men lying? They seem to be skating into a loop hole, ala Bill Clinton. Where Bill needed to dissect what the definition of “is” is, these men need to clarify what their definition of “attracted to” is. They never really do, but another couple, Mikeal and Mandi, who are in the same situation, have delved into a far clearer discussion of this. Their video is here. They describe an attraction that is functional and mechanical, but not the same as the intimate innate attraction most other couples experience.

Who they are attracted to, how they are attracted, and what happens with the objects of their attraction, rules the world of the men in “My Husband is Not Gay.” It appears to be a complete and total obsession of their lives. The word “object” is key. Their wives are objects—the women willing to sacrifice lovers who are truly passionate about them for best friends and a family structure; and the men they ogle constantly are sexual toys that they are permitted to gaze at, place it on a rating scale, but are not allowed to touch (or at least, touch certain parts of…the terms are unclear.) The core of their concern is their own perceived sacrifice and not being able to exercise the part of themselves that calls out frequently.

In my opinion, these men should not be the focus of whether or not this practice is harmful. Certainly, they are victims of the church, homophobia and fallacies as to how limited family roles need to be. I understand what they are trying to do. I was not Mormon, but I am one of these men. I remember the dilemma of realizing my instinctual self and the life I predetermined I must lead did not match. I listen to how they prayed, and the peace they got in the answer back “ to be themselves.” We only differed in how we moved forward. They molded them into the dogmatic system and have attempted to play by its rules. I stepped out and fought for the right to have an equal system that allowed me a spouse, a family and home, that fits who I am, rather than is forced to accommodate me.

I have a partner who is not made to feel like a life compromise. I have two magnificent sons that I adore. I am the dad I have always wanted to be. Like the men in this television show, I feel my life is the one destiny wanted me to have.

Their wives here are the real victims, in my opinion. The wives are vulnerable to what they are being told on all sides. They are told by the church that they will ultimately be rewarded for their sacrifices. They are told by their husbands that they must put up with behaviors that are mandated in their particular situation. Here is where I can hear Judge Judy swooping in, yet again, in the face of both the Church and the husbands declaring “You’re a LIAR!”

The men have somehow convinced their wives that it is completely appropriate for men in their type relationship to discuss their sexual attractions to others constantly. They have convinced their wives that it is a healthy thing to hang out only with other couples who have a spouse who similarly wants to display their outside interests. The wives have been placated to believe that their men going on overnight camping trips with the objects of such attraction is just a normal thing that should be accepted, otherwise trust will be called into question. I wonder how many straight women would support their husbands’ needs to go camping with a bunch of other women, so he can get “girl time.”

The women’s buy-in on this set up is so complete that when in a dinner party situation where a friend is trying to keep the topic of “same sex attraction” quiet, they cannot keep themselves away from the topic. It is the constant elephant in their living rooms.

Despite protestations to the contrary, each woman displays a sadness, a wound, in her eyes that is unavoidable. Mandi addresses the sadness in her video, but the women of “My Husband is Not Gay” do not. They do not bring up the fact that while their husband might have to give up the ideal sex life he desires, they are forced to live with THE man they desire and every day of their lives be reminded that he is not attracted to them, not really. It is this fact that gives their eyes this slightly hopeless sadness, the kind you might expect from a woman trapped in a home plagued by spousal abuse and cannot bring herself to leave.

I thought the most poignant, ironic moment of “My Husband is Not Gay” came at a dinner party as the group endeavored to match up “same sex attracted” Tom with a single young woman. Tom discussed his passion, musical theater, and specifically the play Les Miserables. She had never heard of it. “It is just this musical where a girl loves a guy and he doesn’t love her back.”

“Oh, that’s the WORST!” she exclaims.

An hour later, Tom is telling her that he is same sex attracted, but wants to see her again anyway. He is essentially offering her, what she had described earlier as “the worst.” He softens that offer with the fib, “But of course, I am attracted to YOU too.”

Cue Judge Judy.

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Posted in Equality, Family, Living, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Requiem for Leelah, the Matthew Shepard of Our Time

Leelah Requiem

I will never forget the stunning image of Matthew Shepard’s hate crime. A young beautiful human was beaten, tortured and left for dead in an unthinkable violation. It shocked me when I saw the images, and I was not alone. Matthew’s fate left and indelible impression that has become part of our collective culture to this day.

This week, another tragedy, another life destroyed, left a similar impression — the death of Leelah Alcorn.

One of the publishers I work with sent me a quick message on New Years Eve. “You might want to write one of your ‘Gay Dad’ letters to the parents of this teen.” It was Leelah’s story. She was known to her family as “Joshua,” and she had killed herself. A pre-published letter appeared online. In the letter she eloquently explained why she was going to end her life in more emotional detail. While certainly many other young people had ended their lives before her, Leelah’s account of what she had endured was unprecedented.

In doing so, Leelah transformed from the latest tragedy to one that emblazed into the consciousness of a mass audience. Her plead to “make her death matter” resonated.

Many progressive bloggers felt moved to write about her including John Pavlovitz, Kathy Baldock, Jillian Page and Susan Cottrell. The evangelical Christian world was starkly quiet, issuing no statements of condolence, responsibility or regret for the environment it inspired. The Christian Post offered no mention of Leelah’s death at all even though it had been broadcast across all major media outlets in the country. Charisma News offered a single article by Michael Brown that called the situation “tragic” but instead of addressing a situation exacerbated by shortsighted Christian dogma, called for “time and energy into looking for the root causes of transgenderism.”

Without a stark image of a cross like fence on a cold crystal Wyoming plain, Leelah made an impression comparable to the crucified Matthew Shepard. She had become the image of the victim of transphobia as he had the victim of homophobic hate. In this case, her own testimony was the cross, and instead of a mother who would become the forward bearer of the message, her mother was cast as the villain.

Her story, as transgender activist Miriam Nadler tweeted, is tragically shared by many. “Cis people: please understand that the death of #LeelahAlcorn is not a statistical outlier. This story is common, cruel, and preventable.”

Susan Cottrell observed, “Yet another destroyed life over people’s ignorance and cruelty.There are no words to express the collective grief over this poor girl’s death, and anger at her parents’ misguided actions that drove her to it. Leelah’s parents made several mistakes and didn’t know it – or didn’t care.”

Author Dan Savage was even more direct, “We know that parental hostility & rejection doubles a queer kid’s already quadrupled risk of suicide—rejecting your queer kid is abuse, Leelah Alcorn’s parents threw her in front of that truck. They should be ashamed—but 1st they need to be shamed.”

Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey disagreed stating, “If you think the best, most effective possible action you can take to advance transgender rights is to harass the grieving mother of a recently deceased child, you lack imagination, humanity, any experience with grief, or some combination of the three.”

For her part, Leelah’s mother, Carla Alcorn, claimed to be ignorant of her child’s struggles. She told CNN that the transgender challenge was in a single conversation and it was not until after her child had died that she had even heard the name “Leelah.” “We don’t support that, religiously “But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy,” she added.

Leelah’s father Doug Alcorn wrote, “We love our son, Joshua, very much and are devastated by his death. We have no desire to enter into a political storm or debate with people who did not know him. We wish to grieve in private. We harbor no ill will towards anyone. … I simply do not wish our words to be used against us.”

Doug and Carla Alcorn plan to say goodbye to someone named Joshua. The rest of the world is mourning a vibrant young woman named Leelah.

For me, as a gay dad, I have complex feelings around this horror. Front of mind for me is that Leelah’s death, in all its devastation, not be held as an event to be emulated by other transgender teens in similar situations. We must collectively strive to shut down the bloodshed on all fronts. Second, I have written to, and about, worse parents. There are parents who have wished their children dead, violently attacked and killed them. The Alcorns are not one of those. As a dad, I cannot fathom the pain they must feel. I do not know how I could possibly survive the death of one of my children. It is a strength I don’t believe I possess.

The philosophy that Doug and Carla Alcorn labored under is culpable however. As my sons have approached their adolescence, guesswork on where their inner compasses are leading them has commenced. I strive to be there to support their emotional health as they find themselves through hormonal and social growth. I cannot imagine ignoring a deep-seated plea on their part due to my own allegiance to some set of dogmatic rules. Carla Alcorn did that, and still appears to be doing so.

A wave of concern has emerged over how Leelah will be buried, and what name and the gender will be used. Her family seems to be avoiding a memorial all together to avoid the inevitable protests of their actions.

From my perspective, the death of Leelah is bigger than a funeral. Her death is bigger than failed parenting. It is the result of both a religion-based culture that ignores science and a largely apathetic public on the issue of transgender dignity. She is the mark in the sand of our collective societal consciousness. Her death asks the question on human rights — at what point have we reached the breaking point in tolerating transphobic behavior that ruins young lives. Matthew Shepard’s death asked the same question about thousands of hate crimes that had preceded him.

The religious right has framed the conversation as one of “Religious Freedom”. Fear of infringing against their rhetoric, basic human rights violations have been quieted. We have reached the point where we have to ask whether some supposed adherence to these “religious freedoms” that allow for abuse needs to be compromised in order to achieve common human rights and respect for all.

Here is my requiem for Leelah:

To the lovely Leelah, and all the Leelahs in the shadows,

You feared that you could never be loved, and yet here we are. Your absence has broken our hearts. The love for you was in the world all along. It sat quiet, waiting.

In that regard, it failed you. You needed to know it was there, that it was possible. You needed to know that it was your legacy, and it was possible for it to come not from a million strangers mourning your loss, but right back in the gaze of a man, and loving friends who saw you as you were, and met the vision of you with adoration.

I know that was there for you. But you didn’t know it.

It was a love that said, Leelah, we are waiting for you to be you, your authentic self. Whether that self “passed” as a person who was born resembling a woman to your family, or as one who transitioned physically into one— it makes no difference. Beauty is not about cis-gendering, it is not about passing as someone else, it is about being the real person. You were that real person.

I have two 12 year old sons. I thrill as each becomes more and more who he is, every day. Should I falter in being there for them, if I screwed up my parenting and tried to shove them in some role or characterization, I would want the world to step in and correct me and make me allow them to be themselves. I wish someone had done so for your parents.

I am sad that we did not make you feel welcome. I am sad that we did not give you the hope to know your life could be wonderful. I am angry that we allowed the trepidation over infringing on someone’s dogmatic belief system kept us from reaching you and protecting the very basic human rights you demanded and deserved.

As you said goodbye to us, you let us know you had a voice. It was an important voice, and still is. It may have been the most important voice some of us had ever heard, and now, it is silenced.

You are right. Saying “it gets better” is not enough. We all need to be dedicated to making it better — now, and to cry that out. It will be better because we are insisting that changes be made. We cannot thrust our precious transgender brothers and sisters into the mercy of fate and a growing understanding. We need to bring that understanding to fruition as immediately as possible. We lost you while we warmed with the idea that equality was dawning, seemingly ignorant to the fact that pockets of hell still flourished in our patience.

You wanted your death to mean something. You wanted your death to be counted among the numbers of transgender casualties that are all too common.

I would deny you nothing, beautiful Leelah, except for these two requests. I cannot honor your death. It is an event that I wish with all my soul had not happened. I will not fold you into a horrific number that I want to see reduced, not increased.

It is your life that I will honor. It is your uniqueness and the uniqueness of all the others who today suffer as you did. I will fight that all those lives come out of the shadows and live and become powerful. You were not a number. They are not a number. You, they, are incredible and important human lives and I want to feel and experience your impact.

If another Leelah is reading these words, please know that I already respect you as one of the bravest on earth. I am in awe of the discovery you have made about yourself and offer my commitment to hold your hand as people understand who you are.

I am here to fight the hard fight—to make this world safe for you, worthwhile for you, available to you. I will not relinquish.

I will fight like hell. I need you, all the hidden Leelah’s to fight like hell too. We must end the option of transgender suicide. Get mad. Get vocal. Even get militant.

Don’t leave us. Your death stunned us. I can only imagine what your life would have done.

 

If you are a transgender person thinking about suicide, or if someone you know is, find worldwide resources at http://www.stop-homophobia.com/suicideprevention.htm . You can also reach the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. LGBT youth thinking about suicide can also reach out to the Trevor Project Lifeline (ages 24 or younger) at 866-488-7386.

Thanks to Leap Audio for a reading of this piece.  Amazing job.            http://leapaudio.org/a-special-presentation/

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My Christmas Card to the Family with Two Dads Who Gave Up All Their Christmas Presents to a Group of LGBT Homeless Youth

xmas tree no presents

Years ago when my partner and I were deciding whether or not to have kids, we made two lists. The first was a “cons” list. On that list were all the pragmatic reasons why it would be difficult. I was in my forties—too old? There were college savings, education concerns. We would have four mouths to feed. Then we decided to make the “pros” list. My partner started out, “The looks on our children’s faces on Christmas morning.” The next sound was me ripping up the “cons” list. He closed the deal.

As my sons have grown, and are both now 12-year olds, it is no longer their looks of joy of which I am proud. It is their enthusiasm over what they are excited to give to others. They have been sneaky, and a tad dishonest lately, but it has all been to slyly slip into stores to spend their own allowance money on our different family members.

Recently, I met a family who has taken this spirit to a whole new level. Steve and his partner live in the midwest. They count as their family members Steve’s two grown daughters, one daughter’s husband, and his 13-year old son.

Steve has always believed in giving to others. Throughout his previous 15-year marriage, he was often a foster-dad, and gave home at different times to over 100 different children. This year he broached a philanthropic idea to his family: “Let’s be a substitute Santa for a homeless family in need.”

His son loved the idea, and his daughters were soon enthusiastically on board. The family began examining their budget and how much could be done. It was determined that they could reasonably put together big packages for two families. That was not enough for Steve’s kids. How could they reach more people, they asked dads Steve and his partner “T”. Steve speculated out loud, “The only way we could do more is if we pool ALL our Christmas gift money for each other, and do this instead.” The consensus from the entire family was a resounding “Let’s do it!”

Younger daughter “L” told me, “Donating my Christmas gifts was an easy decision this year. Growing up as a Christian, the story of the Good Samaritan was told many times. I try to follow this example and serve those I can, not only during the Christmas season but throughout the year. Several Christmas’ ago, our family was in need of some help during the Christmas season and some kind neighbors were able to help us out, so when it was suggested to help someone else in need it was an easy decision to return the favor.”

More family members came on board, specifically former foster children of Steve’s, and contributed. The targets of the gifts changed as they dug into local needs further. Steve found out about a program sponsored by the local Pride organization and two churches that fed homeless youth, mostly LGBT. The majority of the teens had been thrown out of their homes for coming out to their families. They were now not welcomed home. This was consistent with homeless teen populations nationwide. Of those, researcher Cathy Kristofferson in an important piece in which she shares:

Simple factors of 4 tell the story of parental rejection and its effect on queer youth homelessness:

  • 2 out of 4 will be rejected by their parents when they come out
  • 1 out of 4 will be kicked out by their parents when they come out
  • 3 out of 4 homeless queer youth will say parent objections to their orientation led to their homelessness

Youth homelessness is bad enough on its own but being queer further compounds the difficulties.  Devastating statistics like 62% of queer homeless youth attempt suicide only begin to tell the story of the additional hardship endured when compared with their heterosexual counterparts.  Queer youth experiencing homelessness are:

  • 3 times more likely to commit suicide, and 8 times more likely due to parental rejection
  • 3 times more likely to turn to prostitution and survival sex
  • 6 times higher incidents of mental health and substance abuse issues
  • 7 times more likely to experience sexual violence at a much higher risk of victimization by rape, robbery and assault”

In the urban area where Steve and family reside, the teens lived both on the street, and in secret camps up in the local canyons. They were scared, guarded and not trusting of strangers. There however would be a breakfast for them sponsored by the churches and many of the teens would be attending. When they did, Steve and family decided, gifts would be waiting for them.

10859395_868374713182767_1650450253_nWorking with a new non-profit called Humanity4Humanity, a packet could be put together for $48 each. Each packet contained: a drawstring backpack, beanie, gloves, scarf, neck gaiter, 5 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of hand warmers, 3 bottles of water, nutrition bars, a metal cup, a sketch pad, markers, a tooth brush, tooth paste, floss, deodorant, and chapstick. By foregoing their own Christmas, Steve’s family was able to put together over 18 packets to have ready at the breakfast.

10868283_868354616518110_8177675171234162095_n“The teens we gave them to had no idea what was happening,” Steve reports. “They all looked a bit despondent and withdrawn when they came in. The reactions changed dramatically as we gave out their gifts. One 17 year old boy, with a tough wise-guy exterior melted and openly wept. All he could manage to verbalize was ‘I…appreciate this…very much.’ Another raven haired young lady came in dark and sullen, her face lit up a thousand fold as she told us the tale of being tossed from home for being a lesbian.”

(For those wishing to do similar things, Humanity4Humanity can be contacted through Humanity4Humanity.net and donations can be made here: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=W9FY57C37RVFA )

Steve’s son, “N” felt good about what they had done. “It is extremely rewarding to know that someone else will be happy during Christmas time even if I have to go without gifts that were all selfish anyways,” he stated.

There is a bittersweet aspect to this story however. As I tell it, I have not been able to use the full names of the family members. I have not been able to tell you exactly where they are. There is a reason. They, as a family, are in hiding.

Steve’s partner, “T” is the main bread winner. They live in a “red state” that now legally has same sex marriage by court mandate. “T”’s employers, however, have already let it be known that gay people will not be tolerated in their company. There is no state or federal statute preventing them from terminating him for that reason should he be outed. He cannot be seen as being the step-father to three fantastic kids, nor husband to their father, an incredibly generous man.

They are first-rate human beings and neighbors who are second class citizens. They live their family life in secret. Their kids want nothing more than to be “loved and provided for”, and “forget sometimes” that their parents are gay, but they cannot afford to be publicly seen for what they are: a loving, generous, giving family unit.

This is my Christmas card to them:

Dear Family,

Merry Christmas.

I wish “Merry Christmas” to many people, but in this instance it is a deep and abiding hope. I want for you to enjoy your holiday with a fully satisfied and joyous sense of contentment, one you richly deserve.

For you, I wish a wealth of things under your Christmas tree this year, but not replacement material items for the things you have given up. You don’t really care that those things are gone, and I have no desire to replace them for you.

What I wish for you is more meaningful. I wish for you to open a neatly wrapped gift of Equality. I wish for you to be seen and respected as you are, a full and vibrant family in your community.

I wish for you to experience the right of public affection, for two dads to grab each other’s hands as they walk down the street with their teen son, and for no one to really notice at all.

I wish for you the magical wedding day that you want but cannot imagine having. The day when your kids stand by and proudly beam publicly as you express your personal heartfelt love for each other in front of friends, relative and co-workers. I wish for your community to come together and be there for you in direct measure to how you have been there for them.

In short, because I cannot give you any of these things except to promise to keep fighting until you have them, I will instead leave the torn page from a children’s book. Under the tree, you will find, from me, this page from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. But once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” (Margery Williams)

With that page in hand, you will know that I know the truth. The people reading this know the truth. You have earned the love of your children. You have earned the love of children whose family would no longer care about them. You have earned our deepest respect.

You are now, right this minute, the REALEST family I know on earth.

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Photo: Flickr/Damon Cortesi

 

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How a Sheltered Housewife Transformed Into the Foremost In-Your-Face Challenger of Homophobia in Christian Churches Today

joan of arc

My first interaction with Kathy Baldock, the founder and director of Canyon Walker Connections, was in 2012.  She had shared information on line about the newly formed Restored Hope Network and its new leader, Robert Gagnon. I had just completed some advocacy for California’s new law protecting minors from “reparative therapy” and was writing about this new and threatening group. I fought them from behind my keyboard. Kathy, on the other hand was arguing with them live in the same room with them.

We both, it appeared to me, to be seasoned advocates doing our part in the battle for equality. It was not until I picked up Kathy’s new bookWalking the Bridgeless Canyon, that I realized we had come to our current missions from very different places.

By 1988, I had lost over forty friends to AIDS. I had spoken at a dozen memorials of very close friends. I was only thirty one years old.  In Bridgeless Canyon,  Kathy shares where she was at that time: “My husband and I were walking into our home as the phone rang…I understood that one of his friends in New York City had died of the ‘gay cancer.’ My reaction was dispassionate… I distinctly recall formulating judgments: People who died from AIDS got it by having gay sex… the death was foreseeable and could and should have been avoided by not following lust-filled desires. I am not proud of my behavior.”

Kathy describes that her own life also did not fit her matter-of-fact conservative world view.  Beyond her expectations, she was soon facing unexpected betrayals and divorce. She told me, “My faith did not change, but life as it was supposed to be as a result of that faith, sure did.” Kathy started to walk, both physically and spiritually as a result of this personal upheaval. It was on one of these walks that a life-altering relationship happened.

Kathy regularly passed a woman who walked in the opposite direction on the canyon trail. She was a woman who reflected a whole different life experience than the one Kathy knew. Kathy sensed the woman was a lesbian. One day, Kathy heard herself call out to the other woman, “Can I turn around and walk with you?”

As they walked, Kathy was no longer in a place where she felt she needed to “save a soul,” she was in a place where she was willing to just be.  The walk ended, but it became a regular ritual with the two women.  Through her new friend Netto, Kathy met more LGBT community members, allowing her to see the human faces over her dogmatic beliefs. It wasn’t until she heard a Netto’s heartfelt admission that Kathy’s previous misconceptions hit a crisis point from which they would never recover. Netto admitted that she could not feel safe in the places where Kathy frequented, and with the people Kathy knew. “Look Kathy, you don’t understand. In this society, I’m the lowest of the low. I am a Native American. I am a woman of color. I have a Hispanic last name. I am lesbian. Not even God loves me.”

The words “not even God loves me” shot through Kathy like a lightening bolt. “My heart ached; I stopped on the trail stupefied, and cried.”  She had broken through the powerful truth that happens when regressive Christian dogma meets an actual living breathing LGBT person — the dogma falls apart.

bridgeless canyon book imageIn Bridgeless Canyon, Kathy shares many more stories of other Christians who were led to challenge prejudices after they got to know LGBT individuals in their lives. The purpose of the book, which took over a decade to write, was to compile the ultimate text book for such people from the history and culture of the LGBT movement, the religious/political evolutions, the scientific facts of homosexuality, and what the Bible really says about homosexuality, which, in reality, is virtually nothing at all.

The final portion of the book dives deep into the relationship of LGBT Christians and their allies. One of Kathy’s key objectives is to fling open the closed gates of Christianity and make it accessible to LGBT people who want it, and make it friendly to those who have endured its horrific abuses. She lays out key issues for Christians to be aware of in respecting their LGBT neighbors which include not recognizing that the person already HAS a “journey with Jesus”, not needing encouragement to get one, and the person needs their own testimony to be respected and heard, where today it is dismissed out of hand (“You couldn’t have been ‘born gay’— I don’t believe that…”).

“This is the book I wish had been available to me a decade ago,” she states.

Most Christians who are anti-gay will not likely change through biblical study alone, she admits. “I think I have only met one individual who has done that by simply reading the Bible without knowing a gay person or hearing real life testimony,” Kathy told me.

As a modern day pro-LGBT Joan of Arc, a majority of Kathy Baldock’s advocacy is not from behind a computer screen. It is in face to face meetings, and confrontations, with the most rabid anti-gay ministers in the American evangelical movement.  She has personally interacted with vehement anti-gays including Michael Brown, Robert Gagnon, Anne Paulk, and Scott Lively. She has sat with street preachers and shared with them her version of “the message.” She has attended “ex-gay” recruitment sessions. She has been stalked online and then gone to the church where her stalker worked in order to confront him.

Most recently, she smuggled a gay man into the church of the notorious Steven  “execute the gays” Anderson who weeks before declared that there would NEVER be a gay person in his church. Courtesy of Ms. Baldock, that resolve has been violated.  Posing as a couple, Kathy and her gay male friend attended a recent service.

Of her visit, she reports an anti-education, woman- suppressing environment. Most disturbing is her account of the church’s violent undertones. She states, “I’ve been to many, many churches, yet, before attending Faithful Word, I’ve never visited a church with such a high visibility of guns on hips. Anderson transformed a sermon on Psalm 23 into a call to husbands to keep their families secure with a gun, a shotgun, or, at minimum, a metal bat and good fighting skills until the man of the home could afford a good gun. Before Sunday, I had never been met at a church door by a greeter packing a gun or witnessed the pastor proudly flashing his gun underneath his suit jacket. It is an unsettling feeling to experience in a church, a place I equate with sanctuary.”

Kathy’s prognosis regarding the hold pastors like Anderson have on American Christianity is not a good one.  “Unfortunately the list of Christians with literal, fear-inspired theology seems endless. Aside from the ugly street screamers, I’ve personally experienced interaction/meeting many who, in their zeal, are convinced they are flawless in their biblical interpretations and speak for God while doing significant damage to the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of the LGBT community.”

This makes her book all the more important. This year, it should be a gift under the tree of thinking Christians everywhere. Where there is misinformation, the book brings knowledge and where LGBT people are invisible, it creates faces.

We cannot sit by and be complacent in this society, particularly one that is armed to the teeth. We cannot afford to be comfortable in our own sides of the canyon oblivious to all others. Kathy is courageous and right to walk it and create communication that inspires understanding, acceptance and common ground.

Kathy Baldock 1She is wrong about one thing, however.  The canyon is no longer bridgeless.

The bridge is her.

 

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Autographed copies of the book Walking the Bridgeless Canyon can be found here.    Kindle and hard copy on Amazon.com.

 

Posted in Bible, Civil Rights, Clobber Passages, Gay Christians, Hatred, Mixing religion and politics, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Harvey Milk’s Death, and the World AIDS Losses Brought Us Marriage and Family Equality

Harvey and W AIDS DAY

Harvey Milk was shot and killed on November 27, 1978. Almost a decade later, on December 1, 1988 the first World AIDS Day was enacted. The first was a dramatic local tragedy around several local politicians and the second was a health awareness initiative designed to promote education around a growing worldwide pandemic.

Now, in retrospect, both symbolize something so much more. They represent the enormous loss of human life loss sacrifices in the war for equality. They each represent profound deaths which lit a community’s fire of outrage, visibility and call for justice, that ultimately produced a phoenix of equality to rise and take hold of a society — at an acceleration unseen by any other civil rights movement.

The city councilman of a single city became an icon, and as hundreds of thousands of gay men died, they were inadvertently outed, ripping them from families and acquaintances who were forced to re-examine their preconceived notions on what it meant to be gay.

I heard the news about Harvey Milk the Monday after Thanksgiving in 1978. I was a junior at UCLA returning from a long weekend at my parents. The tragedy of the story hit me but I was completely oblivious to the political back story behind it.

Before he died, I, as a closeted gay man, had never heard of Harvey Milk.

I was unaware of the segregated battle in San Francisco from an emerging gay community and a conservative anti-gay faction, represented by Dan White, the assassin. It was only after Harvey Milk was killed that I heard his timeless quote that would frame the directive to bring the LGBT movement its ultimate successes:

“Gay brothers and sisters, you must come out. Come out to your parents. I know that it is hard and will hurt them, but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives. Come out to your friends, if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop. Come out only to the people you know, and who know you, not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths. Destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.”

Over the next year after Harvey’s death, I started my own internal coming out process. As this political stranger left the planet, he loosened the lock on my own seal of denial within myself. I finally had to come out, to me.

Dustin Lance Black observed that “Harvey Milk was not myopic when it came to his equality. If he had been, he never would have been elected. Harvey was a pure populist. He worked hard for all people who have been made to feel “less than,” and all minorities whom the system wasn’t working for.” This truth sets up a strange paradox around his death. If Harvey had lived, and had become known as a populist politician, it is uncertain that he would have gotten the attention he did as our tragic fallen hero. He was like Marilyn Monroe, who if she had lived certainly would have aged into a solid serious “Lee Strasberg” actress, and likely diminishing a previous image of a potentially sex symbol icon. She died as a sexy image, and forever she will be one. Harvey Milk died as an LGBT pioneer and forever shall he be one.

Author Lincoln Mitchell observed several years ago, “While the forces of hate are still out there, and still winning some battles … because of the work of Harvey Milk and millions of other lesser known heroes, those same forces of hate will lose their war. Harvey Milk’s America will defeat Dan White’s America.” Our recent gains have indicated that Mitchell’s words are appearing to be true. Within each gain there seems to be either a key “coming out,” whether it is Ellen Degeneres in the television industry, Jason Collins and Michael Sams in sports or Tim Cook in high tech business or a sub-community, Harvey Milk’s inspiration seems to be evident in each one.

The LGBT grass roots movement knows this more than anyone. The Facebook and Twitter mega-page STOP-Homophobia.com cites him as a motivator behind their efforts, “Harvey taught us that hope will never be silent, and we all know that together out voices are louder.” Blogger Ken Jansen, and administrator for the mega-pages Equality Mantra and The Pink Panthers Movement agrees, “Harvey Milk stated that rights are won only by those who make their voices heard. To me, this is an activist’s mantra. It should be our first thought when we see injustice, hatred, intolerance. Nothing will change if we don’t raise our voices.”

If Harvey Milk’s mandate of coming out, broadcasted un-ignorably by his death, patterned our movement’s trajectory, then no other single factor could have made it more a reality that the horrific strickening of hundreds of thousands of gay men by AIDS. The publication SFGate observes, “When AIDS began devastating San Francisco’s gay community, it silenced what had been a giddy, almost boundless celebration of sexual freedom … the news that a strange disease was killing gay men threatened to erase gay political progress symbolized by the 1977 election of Harvey Milk.”

It did not erase that progress, however. It enhanced it. It magnified it for the reasons that Harvey Milk told us it would— it forced the process of coming out. PBS/KQED states in their report, “The tragic impact of AIDS had an unexpected positive impact … Even though AIDS and HIV encouraged a negative view of gay sex, the educational efforts to combat the disease, inadequate as they were, helped to demystify same-sex unions. As a result, public awareness of homosexuality is much greater now than it was before AIDS was first identified in 1981. One of the most dramatic consequences of AIDS is that a large number of men were catapulted out of the closet when their illness became obvious. Gay men “in the closet,” who were more likely to seek anonymous sexual contact, were at greater risk than those who were open about their sexual orientation. The tragic opening of many closet doors forced heterosexuals to become aware of homosexuality in a new way. The AIDS crisis mobilized the gay and lesbian community by concentrating its focus on a single threat, and by involving many people who had not been politically active before. Because of the general public’s indifference to this crisis, the greatest response came from the gay community itself. Community-based groups started support services such as ACT UP, Shanti, Project Open Hand and the Coming Home Hospice. AIDS, which had the potential to destroy the gay liberation movement, in fact brought the neighborhood closer than ever before. Another unexpected development was the new spirit of cooperation and solidarity between lesbians and gay men. AIDS also brought many new supporters to the gay cause: parents whose sons had died of the disease; heterosexuals in the medical profession; and people who were beginning to understand the problems and discrimination encountered by gay people.”

Cleve Jones helped integrate the outing due to AIDS, and the vision of Harvey Milk through the AIDS Memorial Quilt project.

When the very first World AIDS Day was celebrated in 1988, I was hardly aware of it. I was living in the world of AIDS on a daily basis. I had already buried five of my dearest friends, and I was highly active in AIDS care as well as the political activity around it. I saw countless families who were unaware that their children were gay mourn their loss, and express immediate unconditional acceptance of who their sons were. I was constantly regretful that my friends could not have seen how validated they would have been had they lived.

At the same time, I moved around in a Reagan-inspired heterosexual war. My family and work associates were completely oblivious to my activism, my mourning, my loss. I felt like a soldier in a war that only I could see while part of the world I lived in moved on in their day-to-day trivialities.

I was right, we had been at war. We had been fighting the war that earned us the right to dignity. As DADT fell, as DOMA fell as each gain for marriage equality is made, we come closer to accomplishment in winning that war.

Today, I am the very out, very vocal gay dad of two sons. My sons are being raised in a world where LGBT equality is a given. My sons hear about the incredible friends their dad had, and are inspired by the lives that ended too soon. My sons are touched by the principles of Harvey Milk by being given the freedom to be who they are so they will never have to “come out” about anything.

We are not done, however. LGBT people are demonized within religious strongholds around the world. Transgender people are under attack socially, legally and medically. We have limited employment and housing rights.

World AIDS Day, for me, is now a reminder of all the loving souls we have lost as the price for what we have gained. The assassination of Harvey Milk reminds me that there are those who would willingly shoot the concept of an LGBT safe America dead. The sacrifices in both cases must never be taken for granted.

We must insure that the spirit they inspired live on eternally. If we never forget, we will never go backward and there is too much paying forward yet to be done.

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Why I Want Pope Francis to Write the Requiem for Gabriel Fernandez, the Boy Slaughtered by His Parents for Appearing Gay

Requiem for Gabriel evol

There is a story that I have felt compelled to write for three months. I have not written it because I have found it difficult to find the words. I have the words. I have the exact words. I have written them before.

The story that has nagged at me is the mourning of Gabriel Fernandez, and the requiem of his death. He was eight years old. I know the words to say to Gabriel, because I wrote them in April to a little boy named Zachary.

Both Zachary and Gabriel were tortured and killed because their mothers, and their mothers’ boyfriends perceived them to be gay. Both sets of parents had other children in the house who received less than stellar treatment, but the real horrific, unspeakable treatment was for the child who was effeminate and brought homophobic shame to the family.

While Zachary’s case stayed somewhat off radar for professionals, Gabriel’s was glaringly apparent. His first grade teacher literally had child protective services on “speed dial.” While firings have taken place within the system of those who should have come to his rescue, discussion has been light on the homophobia in society that created not only Gabriel’s situation, but Zachary’s and other children who are out there this very minute being tortured and killed because of it, away from the public eye.

That isn’t to say that families, and the “ideal” home environment is not under an enormous public discussion by those claiming that it is of paramount importance – it is. A few weeks ago, significant conservative Christian commentators converged in Houston Texas for “I Stand Sunday” to declare their militant stance for what they see as required within the family structure. Some of these same participants are guests this week at the “Humanum”: The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium, at the Vatican with Pope Francis . These events represent the worst of the worst in the intellectual rationalization of homophobia. The supporting inspirational videos at Humanum are by discredited anti-gay “researcher” Mark Regnerus. The opinions expressed from the podium at the colloquium include nonsensical speculations that:

  • Hints same sex marriages are a trend that will go away
  • Teens lose sight of their gender as they become aware of their sexual orientation
  • The universe was created through a heterosexual act
  • The earth is a heterosexual creation- the ocean is female and the land is male
  • There is a “counter” sexual revolution that is about to happen
  • That same sex marriages will somehow impede “human flourishing”

When I wrote a requiem for little Zachary, I promised, “With you in our hearts, little man, I promise you, we will do so much better.  We will shut this intolerance, this indecency down even harder.  We can’t give you back your life, but through your memory, we can take back our own lives and this world.

We have the power to make this world one of love, fairness and peace.  You have reminded us why we need to do that for all the future little boys and little girls just like you. We owe it to them.  We owed it to you.  We will not fail again.”

Apparently we already had. When I wrote that, Gabriel was already dead. This time the requiem, the promise to end violent parental homophobia needs to not come from me or any other LGBT parent, it needs to come from those who are lay down the requirements of what parents should be. It needs to come from Pope Francis himself.

Your Holiness,

Another child has died. He did not die of natural causes, he died of the highest of unnatural causes—he died at the hands of the parents who were supposed to love him. The world has seen the faces of these parents saturated in the media, it has been disgusted in their crime.

The dead boy’s name is Gabriel and he is as angelic as he sounds. He was killed because his mother and the father figure in his life were repulsed by the femininity that he projected. They feared he might be gay.

This fear of gay people was thematic in Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman, An International Colloquium that you sponsored. The murderous couple fully met the criteria of the ideal that you praised at the colloquium. They were a couple that the colloquium said would “attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman”. They would have found inspiration as speaker after speaker depicted gay people as threats against humanity. They, not loving same sex couples that would do anything to protect and nurture their children, are the ones you want to inspire to marry.

Gabriel died at the hand of your model. In the report by the Antelope Valley Press, Paramedic James Cermak was quoted, “It was like sensory overload. There was burn marks, there was BB holes, bruises in various stages of healing, [it] looked like his ankles were broken. It was like every inch of this boy had been abused. We noticed that he had bruising all over his body, he had strangulation marks around his neck, and looked like his teeth had been knocked out.”  Cermak asked Pearl Fernandez about the situation and “she became very defensive,” he said, and she called her dying son “a dirty boy.”  His sin was playing with dolls and liking girlish things.

I mourned with Zachary, another little boy who died for the same reasons as Gabriel, over the “ beauty, magnificence, talent and life” that he represented that is now gone.  I told him I would miss “the adult you were to become: the father, the artist, or the hero. “ I mourned the children he did not get to raise and the better world he did not get to help build.

You need to explain to the world about the life that Gabriel did not live.

Did you intend for this to happen? No, I hope not. Your intellectual theories developed from the homophobic philosophers your gathered created the perfect storm that killed these boys however. You have inspired hatred and rejection of gay people integrated into a fantasy image of an ideal woman and man, who in fact do not exist. Parents of all types are only human, and the ability to physically procreate is completely unrelated to the ability to parent. None of your speakers, not a single one, acknowledged that basic fact.

A beautiful boy has died. Please say goodbye to him and express your regrets for all that he could have been. Please tell him how your model failed him, and that he deserved so much better. Look into his beautiful brown eyes and tell him what you are going to do to make sure no other soft, sweet loving boys will meet a similar fate from those conditioned to hate, and that no other evil parents will feel justified by your church for their homophobic impulses.

Gabriel will forgive you. He loved his parents even while they systematically tortured him. Children love their parents, even when they are horrible. They come ready to love. The important principle is not that children have a right to a physical “mom and a dad,” it is that they have the right to be loved back in some way to the level of the love they are so willing to give themselves. This is the information your Humanum speakers failed to grasp.

You figuratively looked into the eyes of Tony Perkins, the officers of NOM, and the discredited Mark Regnerus and welcomed them. Now please look into the eyes of Gabriel. Please explain to him how these failed theories are supposed to work.

If you can’t figure it out, there are plenty in the world who can. There are gay parents like myself who do not worry about how we do or do not symbolize the creation of the universe, but who love our kids above all else. That love is what nurtures and saves our children, not a two gender household with some antiquated role model structure.

You can also ask parents who love their gay children and look at their value in the world – parents like Sarah, who shared on the blog www.johnpalovic.com , ““I know my son was born gay, I watched him grow up. He showed signs at the tender age of 3. God did not make a mistake when he made him. I pray that God will take away all the shame (from parents and children) who are gay, I pray that one day this will not be such a polarizing topic in churches.”

The shame she speaks of is gone from little Gabriel Fernadez. He is now at peace from the torture of which he was subjected.

The only shame is on the heads of those who killed him. It is on the shoulders of those who demonize families who love over those who match a specific physical picture. It hangs in the voices of those supporting a homophobic agenda, those who nodded in compliance at Humanum, and drank up all the lies. It is on your doorstep, it is in your house.

It is yours.

I wrote a requiem for a boy named Zachary because I wanted the world to remember his face, not the faces of the parents who killed him. I wanted the world to look into his eyes and appreciate the loss that homophobia delivered. I wrote it for Zachary.

I want you to write one for Gabriel this time. I want you to remember his face and not the theoretical faces of those that you think are designed to make perfect parents. I want you to appreciate that love is more important than all of that, and your Humanum project did not produce love, it produced homophobia. Homophobia killed Gabriel.

This time, I want you to write the requiem about Gabriel, but I do not want you to write it for him.

I want you to write it for you.

 

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Posted in Civil Rights, Equality, Hatred, Living, Mixing religion and politics, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Transgender Man’s Personal Day of Remembrance and Vision for the Path Ahead

TDoR evol equals Lex piece

Guest blog by Lex Beatty

It’s 2am. I’m leaning against a parking meter on a grungy, half lit street outside of a night club in San Francisco. The air around me is electric. I open one bleary eye to see the concerned and horrified faces of my friends.

Something is wrong.

I put my hands up to my face and I can almost feel the thick purple sludge of the bruises under my fingers, somewhere people are still yelling and all of the pain jumps to life under my skin. I’m alive, that much is painfully obvious.

It is January 6, 2008. I’ve just been hit over the head with a Patron Tequila bottle. As my bones gave way under the relentless force of that blow, some deeply held belief, some dark fear took root: I don’t deserve to be safe.

We don’t often celebrate survival. We enjoy the story of the character that overcomes, they who rise above or move beyond some tragic set of circumstances to experience a more palatable version of success – but not just surviving. Before the conditions can be met to thrive, one has to be assured of their ability to survive.

For thousands of transgender people around the world, survival is success. My story is not remarkable. For many of us, violence is inevitable. It is an unavoidable consequence of our choice to be true to ourselves. It’s not just the reaction that’s violent, it’s the process.

It’s a startling realization at a young age that something isn’t quite right. It’s the silent tears streaming down the face of the adolescent child looking back at you through the mirror at a body you can’t make peace with. It’s the ball of knots in the pit of your stomach when you wake at 4 am and realize you’re going to have to face tomorrow with that same face you have today. It’s the first time your shoved walking down the hall and suddenly you know that whatever it is you can see, so can they.

It’s the first time you ask yourself what’s wrong with you. It’s the last time you ask it thinking it might not be true and finally accept that you are what’s wrong.

It’s the insidious, thick web of thoughts that infest your mind and you find yourself consumed with self-doubt, hate, shame and fear. You have to survive. The idea is that it gets better, but really you get better. Somewhere along the way you either become strong enough to be true to yourself at all costs, or you don’t. You either face the pain and choose to live free, or you don’t. You either make a choice to follow that unique soul song inside of you against all odds and all notions about what you should or shouldn’t be – or you don’t.

And when you’ve finally wrestled with the internal aggression then you’ve got to face the world. The violence that transgender people face doesn’t stop at our skin, in either direction. There is an internal battle that rages alongside the external war for dignity and respect. It is an epidemic of fear and misunderstanding that costs so many transgender people their quality of life, if not their physical essence.

Even at a time of more mobility, more visibility and more possibility than any other generation of transgender lives, very few come through this journey unscathed.

And so we remember. Any culture that seeks to thrive must know and celebrate its history, so we choose to remember. Today, as we pause for Transgender Day of Rememberance, we honor the lives lost, more often than not, to brutal and degrading violence. For every name we read, we know there are hundreds we’ll never know. Thousands of names that have passed without recognition, without celebration, but with no less dignity. To those we’ve lost, by any means, we honor you today. To our brilliant advocates and activists who have stood on the front lines and shouldered the blows, we celebrate you. Thank you for your courage, your bravery, and your vision.

Until now, Transgender Day of Remembrance has been a solemn and sobering day of acknowledgement. Until now, we’ve had to endure stories of pain, heartache, loss and shame. Until now, until this generation, we’ve been a people who’ve struggled to survive amidst a vitriolic storm of misinformation and fear. Until now, when our social media feeds are flooded with stories of young children who claim themselves as whole at a young age and whose parents provide them with support. Until now, when we enter a grocery store and see Laverne Cox on the cover of TIME Magazine. Until now, when anyone, anywhere can open YoutTube and watch the journeys of hundreds of people making their transitions publicly, ask any question imaginable and find people just like them a few keystrokes away.

The narrative of our bodies has begun to evolve to include our humanity and provide us with dignity in a way that has not been possible at other times in history. The names, which are often read aloud at remembrance vigils, are often the only time these deaths will be acknowledged and the list is overwhelmingly populated by transgender women of color. Among transgender people, violence is an almost certain condition. Until now.

Our bodies are beautiful. They are complicated and unique. Our stories are powerful and profound. They deserve to be heard, to be seen and to be celebrated.

Today, we remember those we’ve lost and I’d like to challenge us to celebrate those we have. Transgender bodies can offer us a window in to what is possible when we dare to break free from limited beliefs about biology and cultural constructs. They teach us about the strength of the human spirit when it refuses to be bound by what has been and has the courage to embody what can be. Our experiences may be unique, but our lessons are universal: Every body deserves to live Free. Until now, we’ve had to fight to survive.

Today, we remember to Thrive.

 

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