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Portions of this piece is being aired this week on This Way Out. It was previously published on The Huffington Post

I turned on the television news at exactly the wrong moment and saw Kim Davis standing on stage between (Republican presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee and her lawyer. Kim, the homophobic clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defying the supreme court and using her alleged religious beliefs as an excuse. When I saw her on television, she had just been released from jail and was basking in the moment.

In full disclosure, the sight of her almost made steam come out of my ears. I asked myself why I was so furious. I am a lesbian in my mid-fifties. I’ve been out since my early twenties. I’m no stranger to bigotry. The fact that the LGBT community incited someone like Davis to break the law and go to jail is progress. After all, she was protesting our Supreme Court victory.

I decided that I was furious because I grew up in “Pennsyltucky.” In fact, I still live in the state of Pennsylvania, though in my early twenties I “escaped” from a working class suburban neighborhood to a part of Philadelphia that is known to be LGBT friendly (but is not always).

I belong to a Unitarian Universalist Church (joining a church was a surprise even to me). My secular background is something that I wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters

This morning in church, a fifty or sixty something African American man stood up and told us that he had an argument with someone about Kim Davis: “To me, the business in Kentucky reminded me of Civil Rights.”

Now, I’ve long recognized that being white and LGBT is vastly different from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. For one thing, a white LGBT person can choose not to be out (even if that choice is often unhealthy). But the gentleman in my church had a point. And If it’s not the same thing as historic bigotry against African Americans, there are some pretty strong parallels. By the time I came home from church, I realized that some positive things actually came out of the Kim Davis debacle.

For one thing, I experienced seeing someone who may be changing his mind about LGBT rights. That is why I’m part of a diverse faith community (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Unitarian’s call it a “Beloved Community“). I get to witness people’s shifting viewpoints and, in turn, am influenced by others. Then I went online and did a quick search on Kim Davis. I found a postcard of Lea DeLaria on The Huffington Post United Kingdom.

The postcard shows Lea DeLaria (the real life lesbian actress from the prison themed Netflix series Orange Is The New Black) with text superimposed that reads: “Welcome to jail, Kim Davis. I get to be your fifth husband.”

That postcard (and the others on the same page) is definitely a positive thing that came out of the situation — positively hilarious.

The “business in Kentucky” definitely underscored the importance of the book I just read, Crooked Letter i: Coming Out In the South. The book is a collection of essays, with a Foreword by Dorothy Allison, edited by Connie Griffin.

Dorothy Allison (the Southern born lesbian feminist author of the novel, Bastard Out of Carolina) writes:

“…My mother’s hopes and dreams for me were as heavy as my stepfather’s contempt and lust. I was the one who escaped but who really escapes? …. In this new wondrous age with Supreme Court decisions affirming gay and lesbian marriages, and gender being redefined as nowhere near as rigid as it has previously been defined, I sometimes wonder if anyone knows what our lives were like at the time when I was a young woman, trying to figure out how to live my life honestly in the face of so much hatred and danger. Who are we if we cannot speak truthfully about our lives?”

The stories are filled with religion — Southern Baptist, Fundamentalist Christian, you name it. It’s not surprising or shouldn’t be — but it is. At first I was appalled at the damage done to people in the name of religion.

Logan Knight, who transitioned from female to male, writes as he returns to his home town years after he left:

“This is what I know, only because I have seen it before. There will be no yelling, no crying; no sermons. If my grandmother cannot reconcile who I am against her religion, if the musculature of my shoulders is an affront to her beliefs, she will simply forget me. She will not speak to me; she will not acknowledge my presence in her house ever again. The sun burns into my arms, and I tense with nervousness.”

While the stories by LGBT people who had to break ties with their families are poignant and heartbreaking. In the ending of Knight’s essay and in the content of other essays in this collection, I began to see another narrative. There is not only acceptance of family and friends but warmth and real love.

People — including Southerners and religious people — are a collection in individuals. They have their own beliefs.

Click here and scroll down to hear the audio file of This Way Out.

 

 

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It’s been a cold winter. Very cold. One of the things that I’m doing to keep warm is to take an imaginary LGBT cruise in my head — through books — to exotic lands.

The first stop was the land of queer history, which I entered by reading Katie Gilmartin’s mystery Blackmail my Love from Cleis Press. This who-dunnit traces a lesbian narrator, Josie, tracking down her gay brother’s disappearance in 1951 in San Francisco. The book begins with Josie donning her brother’s clothes, exploring gender as she interviews people who knew her brother. One person she talks to is a deeply closeted, gay, school teacher. At that time, gay school teachers had to keep their sexuality under wraps at all costs or lose their jobs. One of the chief misconceptions was that “homosexual” was synonymous with being a child molester. The thought of being thusly accused is at the heart of this gay teacher’s internalized homophobia. He watches himself scrupulously — his every movement. The story of intrigue also leads us through the underworld of gay bars. This page-turner of a mystery is rooted in historic fact and is a reminder of how LGBT people survived before gay liberation.

My next stop was sunny Thailand in Ladyboy and the Volunteer by Susanne Aspley (Peace Core Writers). I learned a little bit about the Peace Corps but far more about the culture of Thailand where sixty percent of foreign men entering the country participate in the sex industry. I also learned about “ladyboys”, who are male to female transgendered women, who in many ways are accepted in their culture. Many of the ladyboys participate in the sex industry to send money home to their families. In my favorite passage in the book, the straight but not narrow female narrator asks her ladyboy friends what their clients do when they find out. One replies:

When I do tell them, they get more excited, because they have never been with a ladyboy. Susan, all men are a little gay. Homo in some way. They just don’t admit it. When they travel to Thailand, no one knows them here, so they do things they would not do back home. Experiment.

When I picked up Love Together, Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen, I thought I would be reading about an experience vastly different than mine. But what I found was that as a lesbian in a long-term relationship (thirty years now and counting), I have a lot in common with these guys. The author interviews many couples by the length of time they have been together, starting with ten to twenty years and ending (in Section Six) with couples together sixty to seventy years. Overall, I enjoyed reading the commonalities between all the couples. Many talked about making each other laugh and gave commonsense advice such as being kind to your lover.

I loved reading the words of the men who had been together many decades — maybe because they had much wisdom to offer or because they made me feel young again (possibly both). In particular, I enjoyed reading the words of John McNeill described as “one of the true giants of the gay and lesbian community.” McNeill is a former priest and in 1976, penned the groundbreaking book The Church and the Homosexual. He’s been with his partner Charlie for almost fifty years. In the interview, he says:

Spiritually, I take very seriously that statement in the scripture that God is love. Any if anyone loves, they know God. I have always believed that this includes a gay love relationship, which is a genuine human love and therefore contains the Divine. It’s another way of knowing God. That certainly has been the fundamental belief system for me in my relationship with Charlie for the last forty-seven years.

The temperatures were dropping, but I was a little warmer when I came back from my cruise.

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One of the things that I love about being part of the LGBT community is feeling strongly connected to the rainbow way that spans the globe. Sometimes our experiences are different — vastly so — but there is some commonality in struggle and, for me and most likely for many others, this increases empathy and identification.

Recently, I read three books — Pride Climbing Higher: Stories by LGBT People from Nepal, Mardis Gras (a collection of photos from Australia), and The Last Conception (a story about an East Indian woman who is also American) reminded me that we are all deeply connected.

In Pride Climbing Higher, Stories by LGBT People from Nepal (Creative Nepal, 2014), editor and writing instructor Chad Frisbie and his associates put together a moving collection of stories by sexual and gender minority identities in Nepal.

In “Power From The Inside,” Simran Sherchan writes poignantly about being transgender:

“When I arrived in Nepal, my heart would not allow me to return to Pokhara because my parents would force me to marry a girl. I didn’t want to ruin someone’s life, my wife’s life. So I hid her in Kathmandu. In front of the mirror in Katmandu, I took off my clothes. I looked at my body. I felt that my soul was in the wrong body. I realized that I had to wear what my mind and heart wanted. The very first time I wore the clothes I wanted to wear since childhood, a woman’s casual attire, I felt like a magician’s wand had touched my body — I became a lady.”

Pride Climbing Higher also includes photographs, some taken by the authors, from the Nepal Photo Project. One photo taken by Simran Sherchan, is of a red flower with a blue sky background and the caption reads: “The saying about Nepal goes that it is a ‘garden of four castes and thirty six sub castes.’ In the garden, there are so many different flowers, and we as third genders are also one of those flowers.”

Mardis Gras (2014, Sonia Friedrich) is a beautifully done collection of photographs from Australia. There are no words to accompany the photos, but there is something about a man in a gold lame nun’s habit or two men wearing mostly sparkles and skin holding hands that in undeniably gay. There are also photos of drag queens with pink hair, and a pretty young woman waving a rainbow flag, and a sign about Christians supporting Equality through Marriage that looks absolutely pedestrian in this context.

The Last Conception a novel by Gabriel Constans (Melange Books, 2014), is a mystery of sorts about a lesbian couple who get together and have a baby. But will their plan work? And what about one of the women’s tradition-bound East Indian family who she finally comes out to?

A major part of the mystery lies in the religious beliefs of the protagonist’s parents. As the Savarna, their lesbian daughter, says, “But Mom… Dad… doesn’t this sort of thing go against all your religious beliefs? I mean, I’m not trying to put a damper on anything, but I’m a little confused.”

In The Last Conception, the main characters discover many of the challenges that lesbian couples face when deciding to have a baby — plus it has the added dimension of family expectations based on culture and tradition. It reminds us that we can never leave our past behind us, especially when it involves family and culture.

A free download of Pride Climbing Higher can be found here

from The Huffington Post

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I was elated with the recent victory for same-sex marriage. The dominoes are falling — even if we still have a fight ahead of us. I was delighted to read, in Michelangelo Signorile’s post on the right’s new strategy, that one of the crusaders against gay marriage is “furious and stunned.” It is a complex issue — states rights vs. federal law and Signorile’s warning that “we had better pay attention” is an apt one.

I am a new convert to the cause of same-sex marriage. I have been a lesbian for most of my life and a second generation feminist. When I was young, I never dreamed of being married. When I came out (in the early 1980s), I was hugely relieved that I had dodged the matrimonial bullet.

It was only after turning 50, that I began to see the light. I was so hugely relieved — yes, relieved — when marriage became legal in the state in which I live, that I stopped to think about the fact of having lived under layers of oppression my entire life.

Recently, I read two books — Redeeming The Dream by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson and All I love and Know, a novel by Judith Frank — that put this into perspective.

Redeeming the Dream, The Case for Marriage Equality (Viking, 2014) tells the reader how two establishment lawyers, one liberal, one conservative, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson decided to work together to defeat Proposition Eight, a history making case that ended up at the Supreme Court of the United States along with Edith Windsor’s landmark case against DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act).

The book (complete with photographs) is a good primer on the history of LGBT rights as well as a compelling read about the behind the scenes context of this historic legal battle.

A central argument to the belief systems of the authors and the case was that the illegality of same sex marriage is related to bullying, hate crimes, and all other forms of discrimination that LGBT people face.

Another central argument is that everyone has a right to marry. The authors cite Loving vs. Virginia (the landmark case decided by the Supreme Court in 1967 which struck down laws against interracial marriage) as a legal precedent:

Loving had confirmed that marriage was a fundamental right, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from infringing on an individual’s right to marry without a sound basis.

 The central argument from the opposition was that marriage is for the purpose of procreation. After winning the case against Proposition Eight at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the proponents of Proposition Eight appealed and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When faced with the refutation of the procreation rationale, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan asked about the constitutionality of denying the right to marry to heterosexuals over the age of fifty five.

Justice Kagan interrupted to say, “No, really, because if the couple — I can assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of fifty-five, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

All I Love And Know, a novel by Judith Frank (HarperCollins, 2014) explores the lives of a gay male couple who unexpectedly become parents when one of character’s brother, who lived in Israel with his wife, was killed along with his wife by a suicide bomber. The brother and his wife had previously made arrangements for the gay brother and his partner to become the guardians of their two children, an infant boy, and a little girl with a developing and edgy personality.

In addition to dealing with their own tragic loss, the two men are suddenly faced with the reality of becoming parents. The novel is multi-layered, the writing is illuminating and compelling (and takes up the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the issue of gay marriage doesn’t come up until late in the story. However, the two gay men continually face the issue of homophobia. The (non-Jewish) partner of the man whose brother was killed does his best to become a good parent (and is, in fact, a natural) — but a rift develops between them based, in part, on the discounting of their relationship.

It is a novel about many things but mostly it is about family — including the legal ties that bind a family.

The novel is set in Israel and Northampton, Massachusetts, at the same time that Massachusetts is the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

At the risk of revealing too much I will say that the little girl with the very big personality is thrilled that these two men can get married.

And that is what it is all about.

 

first published in The Huffington Post

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It has been said that children are our future. This is exactly why we should be concerned about LGBT children and teens — and in fact with any kids who are different in any way. I was strongly reminded about this with two new books that recently came across my desk.

Heal This Way, a Love Story (Hot Glue Press, LLC, 2013), written by the Little Monsters ( the name for Lady Gaga fans derived in part from her song titled “The Fame Monsters”) and photographed by Tracey B. Wilson, is a rare gem of a book conceived by Wilson. As she explains in the preface,

In the winter of 2013, Lady Gaga had to cancel the remainder of her concert tour due to a debilitating hip injury. On the weekend that was to be the Born This Way Ball at Madison Square Garden, Little Monsters from around the world gathered in New York City to celebrate their love and devotion to Lady Gaga and to the community that she has given them. Knowing how anxious they were to let Mother Monster know that they loved her no matter what, I had an idea. A signup sheet, three tweets, and 100 Little Monsters later, Heal This Way was born…

The result is a profoundly touching collection of color photographs and letters — many of them handwritten.

I am eleven years old and You have already changed my Life. I love You because You support people who are bullied everywhere.

Dear Lady GaGa,

I want to thank you for INSPIRING a generation! For creating a message and a platform that changed not only how gay, bisexual and transgender people are viewed and portrayed in the media, but for creating an incredible positive message for people in my community everywhere!

One fan, writing about how Lady Gaga has changed her life, writes:

Probably the biggest way that she had impacted me would have to be helping me accept that I’m a lesbian. Before I heard “Born This Way,” I felt ashamed and longed for something to make me feel proud of this part of my identity. The first time I heard her sing, “No matter gay, straight or bi, lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to survive,” I got chills like she was singing that line directly to me. I haven’t come out to my family and not sure if I ever will; I’m terrified of how they would react if they knew. I have come out to my friends and I’m definitely more open about it to other people and I have Gaga to thank for that.

To read Heal This Way, was for me a, baby boomer lesbian (and, in full disclosure, a Lady Gaga fan) was extremely empowering. In the words of one Little Monster, “You have inspired us to follow our dreams and to try our hardest at things people say we can’t do.”

When I picked up, Coming Around, Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids by Anne Dohrenwend, (New Horizon Press, 2012), I was surprised to see that it was addressed to straight adults of my generation. But then it made perfect sense. These are the majority of the people parenting the next generation and they need help.

Coming Around offers help by explaining what being LBGT means and then acting as a guide of how to be tolerant, accepting, and lovingly guide LGBT children into adulthood.

The author explains:

People often confuse sexual orientation with gender identity. Sexual orientation is about the gender to whom one is attracted: men, women or both. Gender identity has to do with one’s internal experience of being male or female.

The author offers the advice for the liberal and conservative parent of what to say when a child comes out to them. Her basic advice is to tell the child (who may be a young adult) that you love him or her (not that you love them despite the fact that they are LGBT) and that you are glad that she or he told you.

She says:

I look forward to the day when mockery of LGBTQs is viewed as socially repugnant. Until that day comes, there are always bridges that can allow passage from the world view to another. Stand up for your child by interrupting gay jokes that occur in your presence. Listen to your child’s insights and perceptions. By valuing his or her experiences, you build the bridge that maintains your connection.

The author also mentions the importance of connecting with others, and mentions PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) which is one of the country’s largest ally organizations with 350 local chapters. PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.

Coming Around gives the sound advice of getting to know your child’s partner, and includes sections on marriage equality, same sex parenting and becoming a grandparent.

While the advice that Coming Around offers may just sound like commonsense — the fact is that this information is not common knowledge in the dominant culture. Coming Around is the kind of book that could change an entire family’s experience of life.

first published in The Huffington Post

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As a white lesbian, I am equally dismayed about the not guilty verdict rendered in the case of Trayvon Martin and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act as I am elated about the recent Supreme Court ruling repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and striking down Proposition Eight.

These issues are by no means black and white. The LGBT movement cuts across every race, ethnicity, nationality and class division. That is what the rainbow flag represents. It is a reminder that we are all connected. In the recent Supreme Court rulings alone, this country has taken a huge step forward and a huge step back.

I am happy for my friends who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal that they can receive full federal benefits, am hopeful for myself and my partner that we can be part of the change and that it happens in our lifetimes. In thinking about the legalization of gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act and the not guilty verdict rendered in the murder case of Trayvon Martin in the state of Florida, I cannot help but agree with my retired postal worker partner that states rights is contradictory. “We’re not the divided states of America,” she pointed. “We’re supposed to be United.”

Look at the interracial marriage which was still illegal in sixteen states when the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virgina — ruled in favor of Loving, overriding the laws of the states.

Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that had the U.S. Supreme Court, has not reached its verdict in 1967 — that many states would have kept their laws against interracial marriage for as long as they could.

My thinking about the connections between Civil Rights and LGBT rights was deepened further when I read the recently published novel The Sin Warriors by Julian E. Farris (Lethe Press, 2012). The novel is based on the actual events, in 1956, in the state of Florida when, as is written in the afterword of the novel …

read the entire blog post in The Huffington Post

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