Tag Archives: coming out

National Coming Out Day 2015: The Power of Visibility

11 Oct

Coming OutGrab your smelling salts, clutch your pearls: I have big news. I am gay, queer, a homosexual. Yes, it is true. October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Why do we need this day? Why do we need to celebrate this day?

I cannot underscore enough the importance of being out and visible.  The more visible we are as a community, the more difficult it is to target us and treat us as sub-human or second class citizens.

Currently there are 29 states — over half of the US — where it is still legal to actively discriminate against LGBT folk.  Look at this map provided by the ACLU to see where your state stands on protecting rights of LGBTQ people. Yes, in 29 states one can be fired for being gay. Not a big surprise that no state in the South has the slightest protection for the LGBT community. (There do exist individual cities that provide limited protection.)  I guess that wacky Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision from 2003 meant nothing.

Sadly, in this election year, we have only seen venom coming from each GOP candidate regarding LGBTQ rights. Such asinine statements such as, “we will put them in camps,” coming from Mike Huckabee. My, I am having a deja vu moment here–almost as though Huckabee has no recollection of history. We have  Ted Cruz who rushed to the side of the bigot Kim Davis to canonize her. And of course, Rick (The P is Silent) Santorum, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Bobby Jindal have all signed the antiquated and now obsolete the NOM Marriage Pledge of Hate. And Carly (I hate women and gays) Fiorina opposes ENDA promoting discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Marco Rubio also opposes ENDA and has gone so far as to say he will deny any rights for LGBTQ immigrants — my this group is charm free!

It is imperative that people see this as political! In 2014 we saw at least 16 LGBTQ people murdered because of their identities, and 11 of those 16 were people who are trans identified and of those 11, 10 were transwomen of color. Sadly, the numbers have only increased in 2015, and we know these numbers are not accurate because people are too fearful to identify, or authorities misidentify people.  We need to vote for people who will support LGBTQ rights.

And I  hold out great hope for the future. I have trans identified students in all of my classes who are embraced and cherished. I had the honor of meeting a transgender man who just turned 18. All I could think about what what strength and courage. Now, I ask everyone to think about how important it is for all of us to be visible and to support one another.

Tim Cook And The Big Gay Apple

31 Oct

Gay AppleThis past Thursday, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announced that he is in fact gay.  I need to thank my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey, for inspiring me to write this story. While there are some that have heard this news and have responded with “so what, how does this impact Apple?” I would offer that it is still exceedingly significant when a high profile person comes out. The more visible we are individually and collectively, the stronger we are as a community. For Apple, it sends a message around the world that Apple is a company that is safe for LGBT folk.

Safety, is no small issue. There are still 29 states where it is legal to deny a human being employment, housing, and healthcare just because of their sexual orientation. Cook’s visibility will be helpful to the entire LGBT community, as Cook seems to understand:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,  so if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

Well said!  I would add that Cook’s level of risk was minimal at best.  Sadly, the level of risk to be out at work is too great for too many of our LGBT family.  I hope today will be a reminder of how we can support people who are out and encourage people to become visible.

Mother’s Day 2014

11 May

Mom and Me June 2010On May 8, 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson (Yes, the president that jailed women for wanting the vote…) declared Mother’s Day a national holiday in the United States.  Of course it was 44 years prior that Julia Ward Howe made her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870.  Here is an excerpt from Howe’s proclamation:

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause…

Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Really a lovely quote by Howe. Now I would like to share a personal memory that is just a small reminder of why I love and honor my mom.

When I was 16 years old and my mom was teaching me to drive in her 1979 red Thunderbird — a car that seemed like it was a mile long — I was determined to get my drivers license, as it was a status symbol of adulthood, a right of passage.

When it came time to take my driving test, I was quite nervous and anxious. The woman who came out to administer the driving test was quite intimidating to me. She was well over 6 feet tall and probably twice my size.  The driving test did not go well. The examiner was laconic and rather unpleasant, which just added to my anxiety. Sadly, I did not pass my driver’s test.

On the way home, I was mortified and in tears. My mom reached over and touched my arm and said: “We don’t have to tell anyone. You can just keep practicing and take the test again.”  That moment just made me love my mom. It took off the pressure and while I was still exceedingly disappointed in myself, I was no longer devastated.

Adolescence was a very difficult time for me, and my mom was the only friend I had. I was quite unattractive. I was very skinny, had wild hair that was out of control, and suffered terrible acne. I had such bad acne that there were days I could not bear going to school and enduring the ridicule of my peers. Being skinny with bad hair, horrific acne, and the fear that I was gay was almost too my for me at times. My mom allowing me stay at home a couple of days because of my acne was the tonic I needed to just survive.

I don’t think we can underestimate the power of moms.  When I think back to moments throughout childhood, I am grateful for my mom.  Happy Mother’s Day.

Women’s History Month 2014: Rosie O’Donnell

21 Mar

RosieToday I would like to wish a happy 54th birthday to a woman who has always used the power and voice of her celebrity status for social justice. Rosie O’Donnell was born in Commack, NY, the third of five children. She was popular in high school, known to be outgoing and funny. She began exploring comedy with Gilda Radner impressions and took that passion with her to college.

After stints at Dickinson College and Boston University, she left college to build on her promising standup career. She got a slot on Star Search and won several weeks in a row, giving her a national profile. O’Donnell built that opportunity into a series of TV and movie appearances. After 15 years of increasing success, she launched her own daytime talk show. The Rosie O’Donnell Show (I really loved this show) quickly took over, with her outspoken, open personality and sense of fun capturing the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

During this time, O’Donnell became a foster parent, adopting her first child, Parker, just before her show took off. A strong advocate for children’s rights and quality foster, adoption, and care programs, Rosie always took time to share her views and her dollars to support these causes. She gained additional fame in 2002. After appearing as a lesbian single mother on Will and Grace (fantastic episode), she announced at a comedy show to support Ovarian Cancer Research, “I’m a dyke!” While her coming out was not a huge surprise, she was among the first of the early 21st Century wave of celebrities to come out.

Once she was out, she became a strong vocal advocate for the LGBT community, building on previous quietly visible support. She especially focused on the challenges of LGBT parenting, notably shining a harsh light on Florida’s rabidly anti-gay adoption laws (and others like it). After ending her show in 2002, she wrote a book and launched a magazine, donating significant proceeds to children’s charities and cancer research. She also started a family-friendly LGBT travel company, increasing her focus on parenting for all.

Rosie joined The View in 2006. Somewhat ironically for a woman called “the Queen of Nice,” her outspoken views and willingness to speak truth to power ruffled many feathers. She regularly spoke out against the tragic residue of the George W. Bush administration and made sure the chats on the show were informative and thought-provoking. As a former Catholic and strong supporter of children, she came under fire for speaking out about the abuse scandals in the church. Undeterred, she famously observed,

I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism.

She also gained attention for questioning Donald Trump’s attempts to assume a position of moral authority when his Miss USA Pageant faced scandal. Never mean but always willing to be honest and direct, her approach eventually led to her departure from The View — a significant loss.  Thank goodness they at least have our Whoopi!

Rosie O’Donnell is very present in the public eye with her wife and children, helping put a familiar, human face on LGBT parenting. She donated all the proceeds from her second book to her children’s charity and continues to spend millions on improving the world for the vulnerable and marginalized. She also donates her talent, helping headline Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tours.

A strong voice, a fierce advocate, a caring parent, and a great example — Rosie O’Donnell is an easy woman to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Rosie, and thank you!

Hero of the Week Award, August 9: Judge Harvey Brownstone

9 Aug

HarveyI need to thank my friend Bruce for inspiring me to celebrate Judge Harvey Brownstone as this week’s HWA.  Brownstone, the first openly gay judge in Canada, had the great pleasure and honor of officiating the wedding of Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor.  You might recall that it was Windsor who was the plaintiff in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which restricted federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex married couples — as a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Thank goodness we finally saw the death of DOMA.

Our Brownstone takes Tikkun olam  (Repair the World) quite seriously.  As a gay Reform Jew, Brownstone recounts:

I came from a Jewish community devoted to inclusiveness, helping one another, and fighting injustice—or, at least that’s what I thought growing up in Hamilton, Ontario.

Our Jewish community was filled with Eastern European immigrants and Holocaust survivors, and my father, a social worker who directed the Jewish Community Center, would bring affluent community members together to assist the newcomers with housing, furniture, clothing, and jobs.

While I do not subscribe to any religion, I have to admit that I wish more humans behaved in this inclusive manner and navigated the world through a lens of social justice.

It is important to note that Brownstone’s start was a difficult and painful one.  Coming from this social justice Jewish background, one would think his parents would have embraced their only child when coming out of the closet.  Sadly, this was not the case:

I decided to tell my parents that I was gay. We had always been close—I was an only child—and I anticipated that my father’s social work background, coupled with my parents’ strong Jewish values of “supporting your children no matter what,” would govern their reaction.

I could not have been more wrong. My parents exploded. They felt shame (“What did we do to cause this?”) and embarrassment (“What will people say when they find out?”). One of the most painful things my mother said to me was, “I survived the Holocaust for this?”

It was immensely painful to know that I had caused my parents such anguish and turmoil simply by revealing the truth about myself. To me, being gay was no different than being right-handed or having brown eyes. I believed—and still do—that we’re born this way. But to my parents, being gay was a choice, a “lifestyle.” I had been taught that what Jewish parents want most of all is for their children to be happy. But I quickly realized that my parents’ definition of “happy” was what counted, not mine.

Fortunately, Brownstone and his parents had a great reconciliation and he was celebrated for the mensch he is:

I invited my parents to my law school graduation, and they proudly attended. That was the beginning of a rapprochement that, over the next five years, would result in a full reconciliation…

In the early ’80s the Jewish community didn’t get that we were all Jews. If the Holocaust had taught us one thing, it was that to the Nazis it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight, Reform or Orthodox—you would share the same fate. But in my experience, this startling reality was overlooked when it came to accepting Jews who were different than the norm.

Eventually I became Chutzpah’s president. And in 1985, I persuaded the board to engage as gays and lesbians with the mainstream Toronto Jewish community.

Again, I am not a religious human, albeit I am spiritual, I do love how Brownstone concludes his interview with ReformJudaism.org:

Put simply—and no one should understand this better than we Jews—civil rights are not just about the law, and they’re not just about rights; they’re about human dignity. We were all made in God’s image. When we discriminate against and hurt each other, we hurt God. And that is why—whether we’re gay, straight, or plaid—this issue needs to matter to us all.

LGBT History Month 2013: Estelle

12 Jun
Pride

Pride

A friend of mine, whom I shall call Estelle, follows my blog and was elated to see that I was celebrating LGBT History Month.  I have known Estelle for over two years now, but never knew that she had tried to commit suicide. As an out lesbian and sensitive soul, she was feeling crushed by the negative messages all around her.

Estelle relayed this story to me and asked that I keep her real identity in confidence, but she hopes, as do I, that her story will be of help to other middle aged people as they embrace their sexual orientation with pride and not shame.  Estelle has children and parents who are now very supportive, but she does not want them to know that the pressures of society caused her suicide attempt.

Estelle:

Before I moved to Portland I was walking out the door with a garden hose in my hand, Was headed down to the lake to kill myself. I stopped because my friend Lana called me as I was walking out the door. I stopped to talk to her and before I knew it was 45 minutes later. And I had forgotten why I was holding a garden hose.
After living in Portland for a couple of years. I went back to that small town and stopped by to see her. I told her the story and we just sobbed.

Now I know I am suppose to be here–to be alive…

I can’t even imagine this world with out Estelle.  She has dedicated her life to helping other LGBT people and she models pride in being who she is: a wonderful and beautiful lesbian. Sadly, there are too many LGBT folk who do commit suicide.  Again, I would love to see a Make It Get Better Campaign, rather than It Gets Better Campaign.  We need to put the onus on the dominant culture, which means making laws and policies that create a level playing field, which we are far from having. Estelle asked that the following link be included.  Thank you, Estelle!  If you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the Trevor Project.

LGBT History Month 2013: Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers

5 Jun

CollinsRogersWhat a difference a year makes! Last summer there were no out gay men in professional team sports. Suddenly there are two, each of whom has made a significant difference in the national conversation. Professional athletics, especially male teams, is one of the last closets to be pried open.

Former Baltimore Raven and outspoken LGBT ally Brendon Ayanbadejo indicated that at least four gay NFL players were considering coming out as a group and had talked to him about strategy. Before that could happen, NBA star Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers boldly burst the doors open.

Collins became the first non-retired, publicly out man on a professional team just a month ago. Coming out in a long interview in Sports Illustrated, he spoke eloquently about the crippling power of the closet and the desire to be accepted as a complete human being. Reactions were all over the map, but generally positive. With a couple of notable exceptions, other NBA players have been very supportive, setting the stage for more out basketball players in the near future.

Barely a week ago, Robbie Rogers broke two barriers. Signing with the LA Galaxy, he became the first out major league soccer player. The very next day, he joined his team on the field, becoming the first publicly out gay man to play a team sport. As with Collins, other than some grumbling from the usual “Family Values” groups, Rogers has seen nothing but support.

The courage of these two men does nothing to diminish the many out athletes that came before them. Tennis stars Renée Richards and Martina Navratilova were early out players. Baseball’s Glenn Burke was out to his team while still playing — to the detriment of his career. David Kopay, Billy Bean, and John Amaechi all came out not long after retiring from football, baseball, and basketball respectively. Every out voice counts!

The macho image of male team sports has contributed to the long-standing homophobia in that arena. Collins and Rogers, building on the brave men and women who preceded them, have helped change that dynamic. Let’s hope that soon there will be too many out players to list casually. Until then, every move forward must be celebrated.

Hero of the Week Award: May 3, Jason Collins

3 May
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

It isn’t often that one of the week’s biggest stories coincides with a worthy hero, but this week it was an easy match. NBA free agent Jason Collins demonstrated courage and leadership by becoming the first publicly out male athlete in one of the big four team sports.

That’s a lot of qualifiers, because although sports is still one area where being out is less prevalent, there have been many pioneers. David Kopay and Billy Bean  both came out publicly after retiring. Martina Navratilova was one of the first out athletes still playing. Glenn Burke, sadly unknown to most people today, was out to his teammates and coaches while still playing, a decision that cost him his career. Building on the work of these men and women, Collins has taken things to the next level.

Not only did he come out very publicly, he did so as a cover feature in Sports Illustrated. That speaks volumes about how things are changing and how Collins’ courage should burst open some other athletic closets soon. Somebody had to take this step, and as Collins watched his straight friends participate in Pride activities and provide public support to the LGBT community, he realized it needed to be he:

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand…

Thank you for raising your hand, Jason. Let’s hope a sea of hands rises with yours.  We need more wonderful role models in the LGBT community.

I also have to call attention to Jason’s honoring of the late Matthew Shepard.  Jason picked the number 98 for his jersey to honor Matthew Shepard.  Shepard was brutally murdered in October of 1998.

Honorable mention goes to the many people who took the time to congratulate Collins and provide him support. Hopefully this outpouring will embolden other players. Special mention goes to retired NFL player Leroy Butler. He was scheduled to provide a motivational speech at a Wisconsin church. His simple tweet of support to Collins resulted in the invitation being rescinded, costing him the $8500 speaking fee. Butler took the time to expose the church’s non-Christian behavior and reiterated his support. That’s a class act.

Number 2 Hero of the Year 2012: Chris Kluwe

30 Dec
Number 2 Hero of 2012

Number 2 Hero of 2012

The success of any social movement requires effort not just from the oppressed but from their allies. This year the LGBT community got a big boost from an unexpected source. NFL star Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings came out blazing for marriage equality. Once he got people’s attention, he refused to be silent. I must confess a great amount of joy at the amazing number of nominations that poured in for Kluwe as Hero of the Year–thank you TSM Readers.

His advocacy started when another player, Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo, expanded his ongoing support (after work with NoH8 and other groups). Ayanbadejo joined the fight for marriage equality in Maryland and was attacked by a local politician. Recognizing the opportunity for advocacy, Kluwe wrote a public letter to the offending bigot, skewering him, supporting Ayanbadejo, and making a clear, commonsense case for marriage equality.

This straight, white, rich guy used his privilege to speak truth to power, modelling great behavior. On top of that, he did so with wit (introducing the phrase “lustful cockmonster” into the vernacular) and insistence. Since the initial foray, Kluwe has been a strong voice for LGBT equality — he even debated marriage rights with an empty chair immediately after the GOP convention. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo deserve credit for helping the successful equality campaigns in their states and for showing that professional athletes can be supporters of the LGBT community without suffering.

Honorable mention goes to Ayanbadejo for his stellar advocacy work. It also goes to the steadily increasing number of LGBT athletes who are coming out and serving as role models in traditionally homophobic careers. Silence =Death and visibility = power.  A huge thank you to all of the LGBT allies out there.  With your help, we can stamp out homophobia!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Number 1 Hero of 2012.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Eva Hoffman

26 Jul

Eva and her wife Dana

Those of you who have been reading TSM for at least a year now are clearly aware that this blog is dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights; since you are reading this, I presume you share similar passions.  Today I was able to visit with my friend Eva; she is a fierce advocate for social justice and civil rights.

Eva is 55 and grew up in Los Angeles until she was 12, when she moved to a small city in Washington State.  She moved to Portland in 1995 to go to school and she has lived here ever since, “I went to college for computer sciences.”

On coming out:

I left my husband in 1991 and I have three wonderful children.  I came out when I was 40, because it was about time.   I had gone to this hardware store to apply for a job because my former manager encouraged me to apply there.  I walked up to customer service and saw this big black beautiful woman with a great smile and I said to myself, I want her—love at first sight.  We have been together for 13 years August 1. I refer to her as my wife.  I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that, but it sure would be nice.

On kids:

It was okay. My son Matthew knew before I told him and he walked up to Dana [my wife] and said “Don’t hurt her.”  He and Dana are very close—they are buddies.  Dana is also very close to my eldest, Jennifer—they call her Mama D.  Jeff is my middle child and he and his girlfriend love us both and they are very accepting.  However, I lost a lot of friends after coming out, but oh well.  I’m not able to return to the small town in Washington.

When I told my best friend that I was gay, she said I was going to burn in hell.  Fortunately,  I have made so many new friends since coming out and feel very much accepted—I’m very open and I don’t hide who I am.

Do you consider you and your wife political?

Yes.  Very much so.  We follow politics and read a lot and we love Bill Maher.  We are not Democrat or Republican-I just vote for the person who deserves it.  Right now, President Obama is the only choice!

What would you give as a task to the LGBTQ community?

I want equal rights for everyone—I believe every Veteran should have a place to live—they should have a job.  I believe everyone should have insurance.  I am also an outspoken advocate for Autism.  My grandson is autistic and he is 6 years old.  I want to know why there is such limited funding for research on Autism.  People need to know that some immunizations contain mercury and lead, the biggest one is the swine flu shot which contains mercury.  When my grandson was three, we took him to a naturopath and he had mercury in his system and the protective coating they use for flame retardency on pajamas; he had a significant dose of that in his system.  He had to be detoxed with vitamins at only three years old.  (Eva grows tearful when talking about her grandchild.)

What task would you give the LGBTQ community?

Not be divided. Why don’t we fight as one? We are one community—if we stood as one and fought those that oppress us, Chick-Fil-A, Mitt Romney, anything that hurts us.  Stand up for who you are and what you are and don’t let people hurt you.

What would you say to closeted people that are middle aged and fearful?

Life is too short—Do IT.  I know it is not easy, there are so many factors.  If your church does not support you find another church.  It is an amazing feeling of freedom and self-worth and you will never be happier than after you come out and live your life honestly.  Hiding is a lie and you are lying to yourself, your friends and your community.

Thank you, Eva.  Thank you for your courage and thank you for your authenticity and your advocacy for civil rights for all.

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