Saturday, October 11, 2014

Glimpses of a Previous Life....

The  recent  court victories in the United States have made this year's  National Coming Out Day something of a celebration in many parts of the U.S 

Now more than 60% of Americans live in a state that has equal rights for same sex couples.  Now the number of states that don't discriminate outnumber those states that  are still trying to cling to bigotry.   

Recently  we went out with friends here in in London and saw the brilliant movie "Pride".  It tells the story of the unlikely alliance between striking British coal miners in the 1980's and the LGBT community.

As  heart warming  a film as it is, (and one I highly recommend you go see), the film also does a remarkable job recreating the feel of the. LGBT community in the early 1980's.   Of course, by that I mean the fear, many LGBT people felt everyday back in early 1980's.  A time when gay bashings, even in places like  in central London were a common occurrence, rarely if ever investigated by police..  When in many places, just  being, "out" was literally risking your life.

It was a look back in time that was more than a little unsettling.   Yet at the same time a very real affirmation of just  how far  things have come.    Which   has prompted me to once again,  revisit  and update one of first blog entries I ever wrote, back in  October, 2006.

I was bouncing around the web and stumbled on It is a site than helps you locate addresses of people. So out of curiosity I typed in the name of my best friend from High School. Sure enough a result for his name came up. Not sure if it was the right person rather than call, I sent a note with my business card attached saying, if this was who I thought it was, to please write back.

A couple of weeks went by... and I forgot about it. I honestly didn't expect to hear anything back. Then I got an email and it was indeed from him. It is an interesting experience in a way. I really have not heard from him since I attended his wedding.
At the time I really envied him. He and his wife  were starting to build a life.   Now has an amazing  son with a  brilliant daughter.    In his note, he said it was amazing to hear from me couldn't wait to hear all about what I have been doing over the past few years.

I will confess, at the time I had very  mixed feelings about that.

For the most part, I hadn't kept in touch with anyone from my High School days. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed High School, had great friends and good memories. Yet it really was a whole different life. Like many LGBT kids in the mid to late 80's I was closeted and terrified of coming out. On some level every day had some undercurrent of fear of my "secret" being discovered. The ultimate put-down was to say something was "gay" or to be called a "fag". You saw the kids who were even slightly effeminate or "different" getting tormented on a daily basis.

So you kept your mouth shut and your eyes closed. When you watched those 80's brat-pack movies, while your friends oggled Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, you didnt admit to anyone, not even to yourself that you thought Rob Lowe and Emilo Estavez were really hot.
Add to that, the media was full of stories of this new "gay disease" called AIDS, and the Reagan and first Bush Administrations were not interested in getting any information about it out to the public.
The first time the Reagan White House Press Secretary  Larry Speakes  was asked about AIDS, his glib,  joking response, is horrific and sickening when we  read it  now,  in the aftermath of the death of  Millions of people world wide.
So like a lot of gay kids I didn't know what to think. Could I get AIDS by coming out? By even holding hands or kissing a guy? Was it really God's way of getting rid of homosexuals? The fear you felt was this huge cloud that hung over you every day. You really did wonder if you were destined to be miserable and alone for your entire life.

 And of course at time I thought I was the ONLY gay kid on earth. Now I know that there were in fact more than a few. Even at my own school. But at the time, the sense of isolation was overwhelming. But then, time moved on. I left and in many ways never looked back. I moved to Europe, studied there, came back to WI and went to college, after graduation worked, travelled back to Europe, then even moved to Asia. Eventually, I came back to the US and settled in Chicago, and then I came out.

Like many people, for me coming out was a frightening and painful process of self-discovery and acceptance. I think back on the fear I felt in those days and it seems like I am watching a movie of someone else's life. A life that I would not ever want to revisit. Yet in truth it was MY issue, not my friends. They had no way of knowing what I felt. The whole traditional High School experience of the first date, first dance , first kiss, first umm... "whatever", while a given for everyone else, was just not possible for a lesbian or Gay kid in South Central Wisconsin in the 1980's. Or at least  was convinced , it wasn't possible for me.

Many Gays and Lesbians who should be my age never lived to see today. The statistics on suicide for LGBT youth in the 1980's and 90's will give you nightmares. I am so amazingly fortunate to have the family that I do. My parents are the two most incredible, supportive and amazing people in the whole world. Coming out to them while scary as hell, was truly the end of an old life and the beginning of a new much brighter and happier one.

 ( Just in case I haven't told you - Thanks Mom & Dad.)

 I marvel at many of today's LGBT kids with "Gay Straight Alliances". I was delighted to see my own High School now  has a GSA. When I read about kids taking their same sex partner to a high school dance, I can only smile and be amazed at how, at least in some places how far we have come. Though certainly for thousands of LGBT youth in America the reality has not changed from the one I knew .

Over the years I didn't stay in touch with people back from "back home". One wedding, an occasional Christmas Card was pretty much the limit of my contact , and even that soon stopped.  Then one day someone  asked me why I didn't keep in touch with people from those days, and  I didn't really have a good answer. Hence my card to my friend.  It would be the start of an interesting journey for me...

It is worth noting,  the friend I wrote to and about  in  2006 , like so many other  amazing friends from my life  showed me  in words and deeds  what I have always suspected;  My friends are in general, a lot wiser than I am.   As we mark today's  National Coming Out Day there are straight allies in my life who  I still cannot thank enough,  
From the amazing friend who answered that letter in 2006, and reminded me why were friends in the first place, and  still today reminds me to laugh at life more than 30 years later.  To other amazing friends who proved my fears unfounded.   The remarkable  couple in Georgia who's friendship, (that has spanned both decades and continents), literally changed my life.  To the lawyer in Dallas, and  the school teacher in Boston who both  challenged my own stereotypes , and instead, ended up teaching me invaluable lessons about acceptance and true friendship. And as always, my incredible family who show me everyday the power of love over fear.
And yes, to those, who for reasons political, social, and religious felt they could not continue our friendship. I thank you as well. Not because I don't miss you, for believe, me, I do miss you , every day. Yet I owe you my thanks for showing me that the choice to live authentically does not come without cost, and therefore must not, ever be taken for granted. 
 Lastly, to my amazing husband Eric. Who with one brilliant. smile took my hand and changed my life. Without even trying, you provide me with living proof every day that taking those steps to come out of the closet were by far, the best ones I have ever made.


Happy National Coming Out Day


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Remembering a Dark October Night...

Wednesday October 7th, 1998 was a fairly ordinary day in Chicago. I was working for a small consulting firm in the near West suburb of Oak Park, and had spent the day in a series of fairly productive meetings. So I felt pretty good when I got home from work. I was puttering around my apartment making dinner when I picked up the remote control for the TV and turned on CNN.

The lead story was a brutal attack of a young man in Laramie Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Shepard, age 21, had been beaten into a coma and left tied to fence along a rural highway outside the city. The news report noted that the victim was a young gay man and was not expected to survive.

I remember walking down into “boystown” (the north Halstead area of Chicago, and the center of the city’s Gay community). There were lots of people standing around outside the bars, and restaurants along Halsted Street, talking about what had happened in Wyoming. A makeshift memorial had been set up on the corner of Halsted and Roscoe.

I walked into the 7-11 there on the corner and bought a small votive candle, lit it and placed it with the growing number of candles, handwritten notes and flowers that were being placed around a picture of Matthew that someone had printed off the internet. I stayed for a little while talking to people who were gathered there. Some people were angry, others sad, but we all knew that something in our own community had changed as a result of what had happened,  hundreds of miles away in field outside Laramie.

In 1998 I had just moved to Chicago after being overseas in South Korea. I was in the middle of my own “coming out” process,  and was gathering up my courage to have “the talk” with my parents when I went home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks time. I will admit the news of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder shook me up. Suddenly the decisions I was making to live openly and honestly as who I was, had potentially fatal consequences.

On an intellectual level you always knew that there were “gay bashers” out there. People who were so conflicted about their own sexuality that they felt the way to “cure” themselves was to attack others for what they feared most about themselves. Yet now those hypothetical risks, were not so hypothetical.  What's more, those cosequences now  had a face, and a name.

As I walked home, my thoughts turned to Matthew Shepard’s parents. What must they be thinking and feeling? Had they known Matt was gay? Did it really matter? Years later I would have the great honor of meeting Judy Shepard,  and hear her tell her own powerful story .

Now 16 years later, I marvel at how my own life has changed. I am married to an amazing man, we have incredible friends and loving families who remind us every day,  that the world is not as bleak and dark a place as it seemed,  on that October night in 1998.

Yet I am still saddened and angry that there are many people in America who honestly feel that Matthew Shepard got what “he had coming to him”. That demonizing , discriminating against, and even murdering Gays and Lesbians is somehow “doing God’s work”.

People with a vested interest in keeping LGBT people as the one group it is still safe to hate. People who seek to profit, personally, politically and even economically from fomenting deadly hatred and fear of others. Bigots whose actions and beliefs are the farthest thing from being Christian, yet claim to have a monopoly on what they claim God thinks and who they claim "God hates".

I really don’t have a point to make here, other than to say it’s important to remember Matthew and so many others like him who have died as a result of hatred and bigotry. If you want to get involved, here are a few great places to start...

The Matthew Shepard Foundation:

The Trevor Project:

The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation:

The We Give a Damn Campaign:

The "It Gets Better" Project:



Monday, October 06, 2014

Marriage Equality Comes to 5 More States

The United States Supreme Court today, declined to hear legal appeals from 5 states seeking to overturn lower court decisions that ruled their respective bans on same sex marriage unconstitutional.    By declining to hear the appeals, the High Court essentially ruled marriage equality to be the law in the US States of   Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah.

The ruling is a massive blow to proponents of writing bigotry and discrimination into state constitutions. The tired outdated bigoted call of “States Rights” is being shrieked from various corners of the Right Wing Nuttysphere. The typical sad cast of bigots have thrown themselves in front of whatever microphones and cameras they can find, to wail and nash their teeth. Lamenting how horrible it is that they are no longer allowed to deny basic civil rights to people they don’t like.

Fox News’ favourite white supremacist and certified hate group spokes-bigot Tony Perkins all but stamped his feet and threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue demanding that Congress pass a federal marriage discrimination act , enabling states  to decide what minorities get equal rights and which ones don't.   Cue the frantic whining...
"Congress should respond to today's announcement by moving forward with the State Marriage Defense Act, which is consistent with last year's Windsor ruling and ensures that the federal government in its definition of marriage respects the duly enacted marriage laws of the states."

All across  Teabagistan the rage  over what is seen as  "judicial activism" is in full throated  cry.  
You know what Tony?   Good.   Go ahead,  scream, cry,  rend your garments  and say the world is coming to a horrific end.    Nobody cares.    You are full of shit, and  pretty much have nothing left but the same cries of states rights that your buddies in the  Klu Klux Klan spewed with faced with the reality of equal rights for  African Americans.     You even have had your day in court... repeatedly;   Every time you  and your assorted ilk have had to prove under oath in a court of law your lies about  LGBT Americans  you have lost. 
Then we have your favourite old refrain  that  my marriage is somehow an "attack" on the institution of marriage.   A claim you can't back up with any evidence whatsoever.  Whenever subject of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples is part of our national discourse, self proclaimed  social conservatives always claim it is an "attack" on marriage and the family. 
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines that word as:

Pronunciation: &-'tak
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle French attaquer, from (assumed) Old Italian estaccare to attach, from stacca stake, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English staca
transitive senses
1 : to set upon or work against forcefully
2 : to assail with unfriendly or bitter words
3 : to begin to affect or to act on injuriously
4 : to set to work on
5 : to threaten (a piece in chess) with immediate capture
intransitive senses : to make an attack
6: the act or action of setting upon with force or violence

Hmmm… to set upon or work against forcefully huh? Ok, so if we take that argument seriously, to give gay couples the same rights as straight couples; Not more rights, not any new rights that straight couples do not currently have, but ONLY the exact SAME rights,  has somehow injured, damaged and potentially will even destroy heterosexual marriages and families.

Again... Wow. I guess I only have one question then. How?  It is worth pointing out this was the same question you were asked in Court, and were completely unable to answer.

Does today's ruling   mean that straight couples will  lose any of the 1,100 federal benefits and protections that they currently have? Does legal gay marriage mean straight couples can’t file joint tax returns, have, adopt or raise children, pass on social security survivor benefits, or make medical decisions for each other? Does the legalization of marriage for gays and lesbians mean that straight people can no longer marry, and those who are married must get divorced? 

In these 5 states will the marriages or families of any heterosexual change in any way?  

The answer of course is no they won't But bigots are never interested in facts. When faced with them ,Tony Perkins and his ilk generally fire back with the only arguments they can come up with. The tired and completely discredited idea that States have the right to put the civil rights of a minority group up to a vote. When they lost that argument, they fell back on their old favourite; That gay marriage cheapens or lessens the value of the institution of marriage .

But since none of the marriage rights or benefits that straight couples have will change now that Gays and Lesbians are able to marry, what opponents of gay marriage are really saying is that letting gay couples marry cheapens their own marriages in their own eyes. Letting gays and lesbians get married means they now have a right that only heterosexuals had. And for some people that is unacceptable.

It's not just that some people want to prevent gays and lesbians from having equal rights, they want make sure that gays and lesbians have no rights at all. They see equal rights for everyone as an attack on them.

That's interesting. Even though the rights and benefits afforded to couples in “traditional marriage” clearly would not change in ANY way, some people firmly believe that their own marriage would lose value, and might even come to an end, if gay couples are given the same rights.

There is another word for someone who is irrationally fixed on the artificial preservation of inequality that they feel is in their favour. Merriam-Webster's dictionary has the same word for it.

Pronunciation: 'bi-g&t
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French, hypocrite, bigot
1: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices

This irrational nonsensical argument against equality in civil marriage is nothing more that the fear of losing what is seen as a civil superiority, coupled with the desire to take religious beliefs and codify them into civil law. It is bigotry, pure and simple.   And the courts have agreed.   
The last gasp argument from these hate mongers is that somehow, they  are the real victims of oppression. That they have a right  to  deny civil rights to people they  don't like, and  that right  has been 'attacked' by  activists judges.
People like Tony Perkins,  Brian Brown, Brian Fischer, and  Julaine Appling,  have made careers picking and choosing from the bible to justify their hatred.  Now they  are very very  upset to find that  they cant pick and choose from the US Constitution as well