Everybody Needs to Be an Ally

Everybody Needs to Be an Ally

With recent events, if anyone needs to be stepping up and “coming out,” it is the Allies of LGBTQA people. Everybody needs to be an Ally.

I am thinking about the need to be an Ally because of a conversation that I had with a friend.

She asked me, “How can you as a Christian be so outspoken for gay rights? Why do you go out of your way to support them?”

My response was simple. “Because LGBTQA people are human beings. It does not matter whether you agree with them or not, nothing in the Gospel supports treating someone like they are less of a human being just because they live a life that you don’t agree with.”

Then I tried to meet her on her own ground even though I do not agree with everything she believes.  I told her that Romans 5:8 says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That does not mean that a person had to become perfect to come to Christ. Jesus did not wait for each of us to address the sin in our lives before he died, so why should we expect that of others simply because the way they live their lives is something you disagree with.

I have heard some of the vilest things said about LGBTQA people from Christians who claim to be compassionate towards LGBTQA people. I will say as a Christian man, this is not my God. This is not the Gospel that Jesus preached. If treating LGBTQA people as less than human beings is what it takes to be a Christian, then I would rather go to hell. If hatred for people who Jesus bled and died for regardless of their sin is the standard to go to heaven, then I will turn my back on it.

I have had a hard time writing something from the heart but given the recent events, I cannot keep myself from this.

I stand with you LGBTQA people.

As a human being, as a Christian, I cannot hide myself for who I am. I was made by God to be what I am today, and I cannot hide myself anymore. I am an Ally. I am the A in LGBTQA.

By Tim Brownlee

Executive Council Member, Alliance for Equality, University of Southern Mississippi

https://www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/alliance-equality

https://www.facebook.com/usmalliance4equality

 

 

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I’m Something of a Unicorn

I’m Something of a Unicorn

Why is it so hard for me to get a date? I’m incredibly easy to talk to, I’m educated, and I’m not shy in the least. I’m not sure that I can speak for everyone who has declined to talk to me over the years, but based on things that I see and hear from my friends, I’ve developed a few theories as to why most guys deem me unapproachable.

  1. The Chair: Is He All There?

My wheelchair is electric, and it’s huge. So obviously I’m not the most inconspicuous person out there.  I’ve never won a game of hide and seek in my life.  So I know guys see me. But the chair brings up a lot of questions. Ever since I was a little kid, the fact that I use a wheelchair has also communicated to some people that I have cognitive disabilities as well as physical disabilities. I don’t know why that is, but it has always been the case.  I know from experience that it’s not just people who are my parents’ age and older that ask the question.

I just wish that people would approach me.  I’m not shy, but I don’t want pity either.  Every time I have approached the guy in the bar or anywhere, I always feel like they’re talking to me out of pity. I realize that this is a generalization, but that’s just something that I’ve internalized.  I still struggle with it.

  1. Fear

Being a wheelchair user comes with a lot of baggage. If you get in a relationship with me, chances are you are going to learn a lot of intimate things about me a lot quicker then you would if you were dating an able-bodied guy.  I have a physical disability and as such need help with a lot of activities of daily living that most people take for granted.

However, I also have a plan that helps me keep as much of the burden off of anyone I happen to be dating as much as possible. I just wish that more guys would get past the fear of what might happen and take a chance on me.

  1. The Sex Thing

Gay guys are very much preoccupied with hooking up.  “Top or bottom?”  Why would we let a guy’s preferred position stop us from actually getting to know him?  Additionally, I’ve basically given up on online dating because I get tired of being asked, “Can you get it up?”  This may sound horrible, but what I want—more than sex—is an intimate and loving relationship. Sex is great, but if there is no feeling behind it, it’s worthless.  I can get the same amount of pleasure as I can get from meaningless sex in a matter of minutes with my left hand. In addition, I identify as a demisexual, so that makes me feel like an oddball within my own community.

The bottom line is there has to be some kind of emotional connection before I can even form a sexual attraction to someone.  When I have described my perfect guy to my friends, most of them will tell me without much hesitation that I appear to be looking for a unicorn.  Maybe I am. But that’s okay. I feel like I’m something of a unicorn myself, and if I’m one, there has to be at least one other unicorn out there, right? Here’s hoping.

By Ryan Arnold

Image from: http://info.moravia.com/blog/bid/339075/In-Country-SMEs-Are-Rainbow-Unicorns

Pensacola Beach’s Gay Memorial Day Celebration

Here is a post by another blogger about why gay men go to Pensacola Beach on Memorial Day.  Write your own post about why you go. You do not have to use your full name. Submit a post through the link below.

The Closet Professor

The redneck riviera becomes the rainbow riviera for one weekend out of the year and it couldn’t happen in a more lovely place: Pensacola, Florida. Pensacola Beachis one of the most expansive, beautiful and less known white sand beaches in the world. This hidden gem of a destination is throwing off its reputation as the ‘Redneck Riviera’ and embracing a future as a world-class tourist destination. A clear indication that this trend is well under way is the unmitigated success of Pensacola Beach’s Gay Memorial Day Celebration.

There’s no mistaking what time of year it is on Pensacola Beach during Memorial Day weekend. Every year, the beach is sprinkled with rainbow flags welcoming local and out-of-town members of the gay community who generously return the favor by staying in beachfront hotels, eating seafood and drinking a lot. Tens of thousands of gay and lesbian travelers flock to this innocuous beach…

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Trans- and Transplanted: Part Deux

Trans- and Transplanted: Part Deux

(Trigger warning: this post has information in it that might cause some people to have issues)

Since the best way to combat discrimination is familiarization, I am going to tell you why it took me so long to accept being trans-.   I am almost 46 years young; I say it this way because I am going through a second puberty. That is part of what happens when you medically transition. The introduction of hormones that your body doesn’t produce in large quantities naturally causes a replay of that wonderful time in every person’s life. I imagine that a lot of people who do not have issue with their gender assignment would have no clue as to why someone would do this to themselves. Well I am going to give you some insight, at least as far as my own reasons.

The world I grew up in was one that most people could only imagine as a plot for a bad movie. My parental units (I refuse to call them my mother and father for reasons that I will get too) divorced when I was very young. My male parent was given full legal and physical custody of me by the courts in Oklahoma in the early 1970s. This was partially due to my female parent showing up to the last custody hearing with her new man, both drunker than a skunk, and the man pulling a knife on my male parent. Shortly after that, I was left at my great aunt and uncle’s home for a few years. They were the type of parents that most people would want, loving caring people who did whatever they could for the children in their lives. My great aunt made sure that I learned my letters and numbers, and my great uncle made sure that I was guided and kept under control. Honestly thought I was more afraid of disappointing my great aunt than my great uncle. Even then I can remember being more interested in playing house with my G.I. Joe dolls than playing war with them.

At about age seven, my male parent, with the help of two of Oklahoma’s finest, removed me from their home and forced me into a car with some woman that I did not know, who stripped me of the clothes I was wearing and put “new” ones on me (yes, in a moving car). I was taken to a home, and a small child was show to me. I was told that this infant was my new baby sister. The next few years was filled with bouncing between states with my new female parent and my male parent. By the time I was 9, they had divorced, and that part of my nightmare was over. Little did I know that things were going to get much worse.

Between age 9 and 13, I would be shipped between relatives whenever I was too much of a burden to my male parent. I went to more schools than I can remember, and for the most part, I lost the ability to make friends (why bother making friends when you are just going to be shipped off in a few weeks or months). It was also during this time that I learned to hide the fact that I like pretty things, the feel of the fabrics used in ladies clothing, the smell of makeup, helping to do house work……all the thing that I saw the girls around me doing. Combined with the fact that also between these years I was sexually assaulted by three different people, two of the family and one a family friend, caused me to lose myself behind the masks that I would wear for years.

Forcing yourself to be what others want you to be, what you see the world around you tells you that people with your body are supposed to be like is a recipe for trouble. It would take me years to get to the point that I could even talk about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that I went through at the hands of people that were supposed to be my caretakers. It has taken even longer to break through the mask that I have worn for so many years. I was fortunate in that someone took pity on me around 16 and helped me escape from the life I had had to that point. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.  I threw a grenade in my shorts shortly before I turned 18, and until my late 20s early 30s, I continued to try and ruin my own life as much as possible.

As I faced my demons and try to find myself, I also started breaking through the masks that I had worn for so long.  An amazing and scary thing started to happen. I started to realize that the person I was on the inside, the girl I had hidden away for so long was still there trying to break free. All the things that I had “lost interest” in resurfaced stronger than ever. Yet it still took me forever to come to terms with this fact. I have to thank one of my children for helping me to come to terms with it all. Seeing them struggle to become a better person, to undo the damage done to them because of my life choices (which I will not get into on this post) and talking with them openly and honestly about what I was feeling helped Erika out into the open.

I still struggle daily with issues. Some are mundane issues like scraping by financially, but others can only be understood by people who are going through this scary process. Unless you have gender dysphoria, you will never truly understand what it is like to look at yourself in the mirror and not see yourself but someone else. You can never comprehend the anxiety from constantly worrying that people around you know that you are faking; and no, I am not talking about faking being female because, no matter what my phenotype is, I am a woman.  I am in constant fear that someone will “clock” me and decide that for some reason I am a threat to them and cause me harm.

To finish this rant off I am asking you to stop and think about what truly makes someone male or female. It is not the parts that we have or don’t have; it’s not the genome that we possess. There are so many different conditions that can cause inconformity between genotype and phenotype. It is our outlook on life, how we see ourselves and how we interact with others that determines our gender. So in the eternal words of Bill and Ted, Be Excellent to each other.

Love and Peace,

Erika

 

LGBTQ Voices in Mississippi

LGBTQ Voices in Mississippi

Why am I starting this blog?

I am starting this blog because the national press continues to astound me.  Every time it appears that reporters for the major newspapers can’t find a more distorted way to look at Mississippi, they find new ways to do it.  Right now, one reporter from the Washington Post is trying to win a Pulitzer Prize by finding transgender people who are perfectly happy with their lives in Mississippi.

“You must not know the right people,” she declared when I told her that she might as well be looking for a unicorn.  She could not understand that LGBTQ people in Mississippi are not as free from discrimination as they are in Washington, D.C.  She wanted to write a profile of a noble transgender individual who was loved and appreciated by her co-workers and neighbors, but was only mildly upset with the state’s new Religious Liberty Accommodations Act.  Perhaps that is why she did not want to interview the brilliant transgender activists I know—they are too articulate about the need for equality in Mississippi.

The reporter also did not want to interview a college student I know who was a plaintiff in the case that overturned the ban on same-sex marriage.  I was surprised.  After all, the reporter had contacted me because I am the faculty advisor for an LGBTQ student organization, the Southern Miss Alliance for Equality https://www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/alliance-equality.  I thought she might be interested in the story of a married lesbian with children who was working full-time and going to school in order to better provide for her family.  According to this reporter, the national press was already covering the LGBTQ community in Mississippi.  I disagree.

Although Mississippi has been in the news since the Governor Phil Bryant signed the Religious Liberty Accommodations Act into law on April 5, 2016, I have still not read any stories that convey what it is like to be LGBTQ in Mississippi.  I think I know why.  Some reporters, like the woman from the Washington Post, think that gay life here is no different than anywhere else in the United States except for the colorful politicians and the southern accents.  Other reporters seem to think the South is not really a part of the United States and therefore LGBTQ people are not guaranteed rights under the Constitution.  If we fail to abandon our homes and move to Washington, D.C. or San Francisco, then they think we deserve the treatment that we get.  Both points of view are wrong in my opinion.

Please help me correct the record by submitting your own posts to this blog about being LGBTQ in Mississippi.  Only you can decide what subjects are relevant to write about, but I have a few caveats.  Your post should be coherent and 500-1,500 words long.  It should go without saying that, if you want to rant against LGBTQ people, this is not the blog for you.  Also, since this blog is designed for company from out-of-state, let’s not squabble with each other in front of our guests.  Having said that, I look forward to hearing from you; let’s tell our own story for a change!

On Being Trans- and Transplanted

On Being Trans- and Transplanted

Oh where to begin…..I am retired military, a parent, a grandparent, a college student, and a trans-woman that happens to also be a deist pan-sexual. I was one of the people who spearheaded the establishment of Alliance for Equality at USM Gulf Coast.

What is it like to live in Mississippi as a non-cis gender, non-hetro normative person? First off it is not a cake walk to be anything other than white bread America anywhere in the South, it gets more challenging the farther away you fall from being idealistic. I worry about my safety, my children’s safety and my grandsons safety. Since I am still very early in my transition, I am not always very passable. I get stares, ugly remarks under breath and the direct insulting remarks. The only places I feel truly safe most of the time is in my house, and at school. So far every instructor that I have told about my transition have been supportive, and the people that live around me have been very kind.

I am not a native Mississippian.  I have been blessed to have lived in many different places across this nation. Some of them have been places that I would love to live again, and others have been places I wish to never set shadow on again. Mississippi is quickly becoming the latter. I have met some truly wonderful people here. Unfortunately the government of this state seems hell bent for leather that people like myself are made as uncomfortable as possible. Hate Bill 1523 is a great example of this, however it is not my biggest issue with the state law makers. The way they defund education, health care, and chase business away makes me wonder if they are trying to remain in last place in the nation. Yet they seem to think that passing laws to allow guns in churches, carry out alcohol, and new style Jim Crow laws aimed at LGBT folks will make the state better somehow.

As a trans person I have to travel out of state to see a doctor that is willing to prescribe the hormones that I need. It took several months to find a councilor that knew enough about transgender issue to be able to get my letter to get my hormones. After my grandson was born it took us almost two years to find a doctor that was willing to see him and took his insurance. My three kids that live here still do not have a regular family doctor, nor do I. It is Urgent Care or the Emergency Room for us (depending on the issue).

Jobs down here are a joke unless you know someone or are willing to work two or three part-time, minimum wage jobs to just get by (unless you have a major expense come up like a car repair or medical treatment that your insurance will not cover). I am lucky in that I have worked at the same place for almost ten years, but I am not sure how much longer I will be able to g\keep my job due to transitioning and school (I am hoping to get into grad school).

In short I would never suggest to someone that they move to Mississippi; in fact, if you fall anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, I would suggest leaving as fast as possible. I would myself, but my two youngest children were born here, and their mother would never let me take them out of state.  So I am stuck here until the youngest turns 18. Maybe when all of the smart, industrious, hardworking, tax paying people leave Mississippi, the state will realize that it was their actions that caused the state to dry up……..wouldn’t hold y’alls breath.

By Erika Brans

Image from http://www.unitedvanlines.com/about-united/news/movers-study-2014

Size Matters: Cities and the Future of LGBT Equality in the South

Size Matters: Cities and the Future of LGBT Equality in the South

What should LGBT Mississippians hope for after the end of the ban on same-sex marriage in Mississippi?  My concern is that same-sex marriage will make LGBT people more visible without giving them any legal protection from discrimination.  Currently, there are no state laws in Mississippi that protect LGBT citizens.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have a vested interest in the outcome.  I am an openly gay man in Mississippi, who is married to another man.  I am also the Chair of the Institutional Diversity Committee at the University of Southern Mississippi and the faculty advisor to the LGBT student organization on my campus, the Alliance for Equality. <http://www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/alliance-equality> That was why the 2014 Municipal Equality Index caught my attention when it was released by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Quite pragmatically, the HRC staff focuses on municipalities because officials at that level of government have done the best job of creating a patchwork of laws that ban LGBT discrimination.  As HRC President Chad Griffin said in his introduction to the report, cities “are ready to act on LGBT equality even as their states are lagging behind.” <http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/municipal-equality-index>.  (p. 4)  Perhaps Griffin is right, and cities will be the beachhead of LGBT equality in Mississippi.  However, when you look up Mississippi in the Index, the prospects look discouraging.  For starters, only five Mississippi cities are included.  The highest score, on a scale of 100, was 17 in Starkville, which is the home of Mississippi State University.  By contrast, eight cities in Massachusetts made the Index, and three of those cities, Boston, Cambridge, and Worcester, scored 100.  Since I live near Gulfport, Mississippi, I looked it up.  The second-largest city in Mississippi (71,012 in 2013) scored 10 points, which it received for reporting hate crime statistics to the Justice Department.  Gulfport had no ordinances protecting LGBT residents or city employees, it had no mechanism for recognizing same-sex unions, and it had no outreach to the LGBT community.

I also live near New Orleans, so I looked it up in the Index and discovered that metropolitan areas are light years ahead of smaller municipalities.  The Big Easy scored an 83.  The city has laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for employment, housing, and public accommodations.  LGBT city employees are also protected from discrimination.   Moreover, there is a domestic partner registry.  Finally, LGBT city residents had input to the Human Rights Commission and anti-bullying policies.  Without further investigation, one might conclude that Louisianans are more enlightened than Mississippians.  HoHowever, none of the three other Louisiana cities in the Index followed the example of state’s largest city (343,829 residents).  Shreveport scored 47, and Baton Rouge scored a 22.  What amazed me was that Metarie, a suburb of New Orleans, only scored a 15.  So, while it is fair to say that Louisiana is more LGBT-friendly than Mississippi, the southern state does not begin to approach Massachusetts.  Nonetheless, at the municipal level, surprises abound.  New Orleans’ score of 83 beat the score of that liberal bastion, Amherst, Massachusetts (34,810 in 2010), which only received a 69.  The pattern of big cities surpassing smaller cities in protecting LGBT residents is also found in California and New York.  Evidently, size does matter when it comes to municipalities and LGBT equality.

To return to my original question about what is next for LGBT equality in Mississippi, can much progress be imagined for a largely rural state that does not have even one metropolitan statistical area?  If the size of municipalities determines the rate of progress, LGBT residents in the Magnolia state could be waiting for a long time.  My initial response is that I need to move to New Orleans and commute to work in Mississippi.  But there are three problems with that solution.  First, I like creature comforts like walk-in closets and could not afford a decent amount of space in New Orleans.  Second, I would be joining the stream of LGBT Mississippians who get fed up and move elsewhere, thereby depriving the state of its most vocal advocates.  Just think what might have happened if Apple CEO Tim Cook had stayed in Alabama instead of moving to Silicon Valley.  Finally, and most importantly, thinking of LGBT equality as a matter of whether or not you live in a big city lacks imagination.  Here is why.  Just because cities have lead the way in the past does not necessarily mean they will in the future.  I think we need to imagine a different future in which the U.S. Congress passes legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Because I am a historian of the African American experience, I inevitably think of parallels between LGBT equality and the civil rights movement.  In the 1950s, African Americans living outside of the South relied on cities and states to enact a patchwork of laws prohibiting racial discrimination.  This was a big improvement over the Jim Crow South, but it did not represent equality for African Americans.  The problem was that white voters outside the South did not always support laws banning racial discrimination.  For example, in 1964 the majority of California voters approved Proposition 14, which overturned the recently enacted Rumford Fair Housing Act that had prohibited racial discrimination in housing.  The parallel I find to the LGBT equality movement is that heterosexual voters today cannot be relied upon to consistently support LGBT equality.  In 2008, the majority of California voters opposed prohibiting discrimination against LGBT residents by supporting Proposition 8.  The purpose of this amendment to the state’s constitution was to overturn the California Supreme Court’s ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.  Going back to the civil rights story, it turns out that African American leaders throughout the U.S. began calling for the passage of national civil rights laws following World War II.  They had concluded that nothing less would guarantee black equality.  When the southern civil rights movement burst of the scene in the mid-1950s, Massive Resistance to desegregation provided both the rationale and the rallying point for passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

To round out the comparison, I think that nothing less than federal laws will guarantee LGBT equality and that the South will be crucial to the passage of such legislation.  Support for LGBT equality is growing dramatically in southern states like Mississippi, but it is unlikely that the state legislature or city councils will pass LGBT non-discrimination laws in the near future.  Rather than consigning LGBT supporters in Mississippi to public relations campaigns and a second-class status, I think the leaders of national LGBT organizations need to rally them to lobby for federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  LGBT Southerners and their allies, because most of them have no legal protections, will make the best case for national legislation.  Just as Fannie Lou Hamer riveted television viewers with her testimony about discrimination in Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, some as yet unknown LGBT resident of the state might well galvanize the nation to support LGBT equality.  Hopefully this comparison showed that we can imagine a brighter future with national legislation.

Of course, historical comparisons can be misleading because no two moments of history are exactly the same.  Mississippians might accept LGBT equality after all.  What is more likely is that LGBT leaders will continue to seek equality one city or state at a time.  Based on their track records, cities will still lead the way in pursuing inclusiveness in the future.  Eventually the nation’s cities would reach a tipping point, and most Americans would be covered by a patchwork of municipal and state laws.  That outcome will not represent equality for LGBT citizens.  And that outcome could take a very long time in Mississippi.  Maybe I can live without a walk-in closet.  Or, maybe LGBT leaders could imagine protection from discrimination that extends beyond the city limits to include all LGBT Americans, even those in the South.

By Douglas Bristol, Jr.