On “Religious Freedom”

Alabaster Jesus. Photo by Callen Harty.

Several states have either tried or succeeded in passing bills over the last few years that are supposedly “religious freedom” bills. Many have been blocked from getting through or states have suffered boycotts and loss of business before or after passing these bills. But proponents keep trying and the more they try and succeed even a little bit the more inured the general population gets to the idea and the less resistance there is to such draconian bills. Now Donald Trump, who held up a rainbow flag during the campaign and who swore that he would stand by the LGBT community, appears to be on board with the idea. Multiple sources are reporting that he is set to sign an Executive Order tomorrow that does just that. Apparently he thinks that it is in the best interests–not of his country, but of his political life because you have to keep those wacky right-wing Christians happy and in the Republican base–to sign an order promoting the idea of “religious freedom.”

For anyone who did not already know this–and I’m guessing with his views on Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson, and how little he understands other historical facts, Trump probably doesn’t–freedom of religion is already enshrined in the Bill of Rights. It guarantees that all Americans have the right to worship as they choose, if they choose. Nobody is stopping conservative Christians from praying. Nobody is stopping them from joining together in community. Nobody is even stopping them from believing that abortion, gays, contraception, and more are evil. But someone needs to let them know that they are also free not to get an abortion, practice a “gay lifestyle” (as if there were only one gay lifestyle), or use contraception. It is their choice.

What they are not free to do is to discriminate against fellow Americans because of their beliefs and their hatred. Big surprise, but blacks can sit at the counter now. They can join formerly white country clubs. Women can join formerly all-male country clubs. Muslims can build mosques in America, but they can’t discriminate against others and neither can Christians. What these laws and Trump’s Executive Order do is to allow discrimination based on hatred under the guise of “religious freedom”. A shop owner who is a right-wing Christian who believes that homosexuality is evil will be able to refuse service to someone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Don’t think it would happen? Wrong. We have already all heard the stories of photographers, cake makers, and others refusing to work on gay marriages. Last year Mississippi failed to pass a “religious freedom” bill and a funeral home there still allegedly refused to cremate the body of a gay man because, according to the nursing home where the man died, the funeral home “did not deal with their kind”. A lawsuit is currently pending. Just imagine how many businesses there are that might refuse certain potential customers but don’t go that far because they are afraid of getting in trouble with the law or don’t want to face a potential lawsuit.

Trump’s Executive Order essentially says to them, “Go ahead. It’s okay. Follow your beliefs. You don’t have to serve sinners in your business.”

Of course those same people will happily provide cakes, flowers, or whatever their business offers (even cremation services) to adulterers, idolaters, murderers, thieves, men whose god is money, those who don’t keep the Sabbath (in fact, these days most of those Christian store owners are probably open and doing business on the Sabbath), those who lie, steal, dishonor their parents, take their own God’s name in vain . . . But if you’re queer, “we reserve the right to refuse service” because of our heartfelt beliefs.

I am saddened beyond belief that in this country bills like this and an Executive Order like this are even considered. This does not represent the land of the free or the nation where all men are created equal.

The moment Trump’s pen signs the order there will be lawsuits filed against it as an unconstitutional approval of discrimination and an unconstitutional elevation of one religion over another. In the past, even with conservative courts, I would have had utter faith that the plaintiffs would win, but we are not living in a rational world any more. I fear that our current Supreme Court justices could bend the arc of their moral universe toward injustice.

If this stands LGBT citizens, women who want or need an abortion, and those who wish to purchase contraceptives will just be the first. Don’t kid yourself that it will stop at that. The Bible teaches that women should be subservient to men–would it not be freedom of religion to beat and rape women to keep them in their place? Likewise, those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior are doomed to hell, so what good Christian shopkeeper would not refuse service to Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and anyone else who did not subscribe to their beliefs? If a person’s belief system tells them that murderers, those who practice the occult, and other sinners should be stoned to death how dare the government infringe upon one’s right to do just that? These are extreme examples, but the far-right in this country is as extreme as the radical Muslims they so hate. They would like nothing better than a theocracy that honors God’s literal law (as long as it’s their god). The Constitution is meaningless to these people. The only law that matters to them is the law of their god (and their specific interpretation of it).

What the people who promote these kinds of laws don’t understand is that as an American people we have decided that the Constitution is the law of the land, not any one person’s religious beliefs. We have also decided that the Constitution and its amendments are not so black and white as they appear on paper. As a people we have decided it’s not okay to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. We have said that those whose religions do not believe in medicine are not allowed to let their children die because of their beliefs. We have said that there is freedom of speech and press but that a person is not allowed to spread untruths about the subjects of that speech or the press. We have given freedom of religion to our citizens but we have not required anyone to believe in a particular religion and we have not let the beliefs of a specific religion infringe upon the rights of other citizens. We have done our best as a society to balance the rights of one group against the rights of others, with certain ideas implicitly understood and accepted.

These “religious freedom” bills and Trump’s Executive Order turn those long-held understandings upside-down. They make it possible to rob me and others of the pursuit of happiness. If this happens and it stands liberty will be the next to go. And then I fear for my life.

Note: Today (Thursday, 5/4/17) Trump signed an Executive Order on “religious freedom”. The part that would have allowed for discrimination against LGBT citizens that appeared in earlier versions was removed, likely because it was so clearly unconstitutional. What was signed, however, loosens IRS enforcement of the law that prevents ministers and other religious leaders from tax-exempt churches from endorsing candidates or promoting political viewpoints from the pulpit. Not a good thing for those who believe in the separation of church and state. It also appears to allow companies to prevent employees from obtaining contraception from their employer-provided health plans based on religious reasons. This is also a blurring of the lines between separation of church and state.

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Signs of Possible Sex Abuse

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

As we near the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month I’ve been thinking about something helpful I could write about it. One of the things I talk about when I share my survivor story to general audiences is what signs to look for in your child that might tell a parent or other adult that a child has been (or is being) abused. At the very least asking the young person about these signs could open up an important conversation and let the child know that you are concerned and that you are open to them sharing whatever is going on in their lives. If they are not ready when you first talk to them they will know that they can come back to you later and it will be safe.

Unless there is some physical evidence of abuse or a child tells you directly that they have been abused there are really no definitive signs–there is not just one thing you can point to as proof. Usually it’s a combination of signs or changes in the child. Some children will exhibit a number of these signs, some only a few, some almost all. The difficulty is that there are many things that can cause some of the things to look for–sex abuse, drug use, bullying, and more. The important thing is that if a child exhibits a number of these signs there is likely something going on and checking in with them is an important thing for you to do. If it proves not to be sex abuse it is likely to be something else for which they need help.

These signs have been culled from a number of different resources. Most of them are on most of the lists and a few are only on a small number of the lists. With that said here are some of the things to look for:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities; becoming unusually secretive. All of us, young and old, sometimes lose friends or move on to new friends, but withdrawing socially or from activities that were once enjoyed can indicate deeper problems.
  • Sudden changes in behavior. Any time there are sudden changes in behavior checking into what is going on in that child’s life is probably a good thing.
  • Changes in school performance. I had been a good student up until the time that abuse started on me. After that I lost my interest in school and studies. Apparently my mind went elsewhere and I suspect I was dissociating a lot.
  • Depression, anxiety, sudden loss of self-confidence. Again, these things may be the result of a number of causes, but something is going on if these are noticed.
  • An apparent lack of supervision. Child sex abusers tend to prey upon young people who are vulnerable and will notice if parents or other adults are seldom around.
  • Frequent absences from school; reluctance to ride the bus. It could be that like some kids the child just does not like school. This could also be a big warning sign of bullying, or perhaps the child is being abused at school.
  • Reluctance to leave school or school activities. This could be an indicator that the child doesn’t want to go back home. If horrible things are happening at the house this makes perfect sense that they would try to avoid going back to the scene of those events.
  • Attempts to run away. Running away from home literally removes the child from whatever dangers there might in their life.
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior. A certain amount of this comes with puberty and growing up, but if it’s particularly out of character it may be a sign of abuse.
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts; self-harm. One of the things about sex abuse is the shame and guilt that comes with it. While a number of factors can lead a person to suicide, sex abuse ranks high on the list of reasons for self-harm.
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge inappropriate for a child’s age. If a child knows terms and knows about things that they probably should not know at their age this could be one of the most important signs of sexual abuse. I would want to question them about where they learned these things.
  • Pregnancy; sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly if these signs show up your child has been exposed to sex–the question would be whether it was voluntary. Obviously with these signs a serious conversation is in order regardless of what the reason proves to be.
  • Blood in the child’s underwear. Sexual abuse, particularly of younger children, can cause physical damage to private areas and bleeding may result. While there could be other reasons, especially depending on the age of the child if they are a girl, this is a sign that deserves immediate follow-up.
  • The child tells you they were abused. Statistics show that more than 90% of children who report abuse are telling the truth. It is not very likely that a child would make this up or have the knowledge to lie about it. The rare exceptions are almost always cases involving an ugly divorce in which one of the parents is feeding lies to the child in order to hurt the other parent or get a step ahead in a custody battle.
  • Trouble walking or sitting; complaints of genital pain; unexplained sores. Both a check-in with the child and visit to the doctor seem appropriate in these instances.
  • Abuse of other children. This is not normal behavior. If a child is found sexually abusing other children then those children need help. But it is also likely that the abusive behavior was learned.
  • Bedwetting. While this could simply be from something physical, such as a small bladder, it is also sometimes a sign of child sex abuse, especially if it is something that starts at a later stage of development.
  • Nightmares; trouble sleeping. Obviously nightmares are a sign of some kind of fear and trouble sleeping may be because they are afraid of someone coming in and are trying to stay alert. When I was a child I was sometimes awakened from sleep for the abuse to take place.
  • Unaccountable fear of certain places or people. Trust the child’s instincts. If they seem afraid of someone or some place there is likely a reason for that. Don’t force them to accept hugs or kisses if they seem unwilling or afraid.
  • Changes in eating habits. Sometimes traumatic events can cause a loss of interest in food and sometimes abused children start to eat more in a subconscious effort to gain weight so they are less attractive. Any sudden change in eating habits or other behaviors is cause for concern.
  • Drug/alcohol abuse. Often victims of sexual assault end up turning to drugs and alcohol as an escape from the pain and as a way to avoid the reality of what happened. Of course many young people (and adults) abuse drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons.

This may not be a comprehensive list, but it includes many, if not most, of the signs of potential child sex abuse. Please keep in mind that any one of these signs, or even a number of them together, may not be an indicator of abuse, but they could be cause for concern. Checking in with a child about any of these could open up an important conversation. Even if it proves not to be sex abuse, a person may discover other important things going on in the child’s life for which they need help.

There are also some signs to watch for in adult behavior which may be danger signs of a potential child abuser. Predators tend to groom children over a period of time, getting them to trust the adult little by little, even long before the first instance of abuse. There are also abusers who may not be serial predators but for one reason or another take advantage of a situation that presents itself. Again, any one or a number of these, do not necessarily prove that the person is an abuser, but could be cause for concern and extra precaution. It wouldn’t be wise to suddenly accuse someone of abuse just because one or more of these signs is present, but it might be prudent to be more watchful or to talk to the child.

  • Not allowing a child privacy; walking in on them in the bathroom. Most of us need privacy. Barging in on a child in the bathroom or their bedroom can be an invasion of that privacy. It can also be a way for an adult to surreptitiously check out the young person and/or start to get them used to their body being viewed. It takes away their right to privacy and sets the stage for potential abuse.
  • Insistence on physicality (hugging, kissing, wrestling) even when it’s clear the child doesn’t want it. Some parents or responsible adults are afraid of hurting feelings if Uncle Joe or Reverend Smith wants to get a hug from a child and the child doesn’t want it, so they’ll insist the child go ahead and hug or kiss the adult. It is far better to trust what the child does or does not want. If they are uncomfortable there could be a reason for it. Making them do it also tells them their boundaries don’t count, which could lead to bigger issues down the line.
  • Unusual interest in the sexual development of a child. To be blunt this would creep me out. It is none of anyone’s business and that unusual interest would make me very concerned.
  • Spending a great deal of time alone with children. A man (or woman) who seems to spend a lot of time alone with children could just simply love children and be completely innocent. They could also have much darker reasons for wanting to be alone with children so much.
  • Not spending a lot of time with people one’s own age. Most of us develop relationships and friendships with people our own age or somewhat close to it. The older we get the less the difference in years make, but a person who is spending most of their time with those who are children and who doesn’t seem to have a lot of people their own age in their life might be a cause for concern.
  • Offers to babysit for free or taking children off on overnight excursions. While these again may be completely innocent they could also be ways for that adult to find themselves alone with children.
  • Buying gifts or giving money to children. Oftentimes abusers will buy silence or love in this way. They appear to be loving and generous both to the child and  the adults in their lives when it could be a way to get the child to like them more and adults to trust them more.
  • Treating one child as a favorite. A child who is not getting love can be a target for a predator who in showering them with love and attention earns their trust.
  • Picking on one child. Conversely, picking on a particular child may undermine their self-confidence and make them more vulnerable to an advance in the future.

As noted any one or a combination of these signs does not prove that the adult in question is an abuser. However, it would not hurt to keep a watchful eye on that person or even to go so far as to try to ensure that the child is not left alone with them. Trust your child and trust your instincts. Most child sex abuse is perpetrated by adults that the child and family both know and trust. Some of these signs may help adults determine who to trust a little less.

The most important thing is to always have open communication with the young people in your lives. Let them know early on that you care for them and that they can talk to you about anything. Listen to them and trust what they tell you. Talking regularly to them and checking in about all aspects of their lives could prevent a great deal of heartache down the road.

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I know

Hand

I know what happened to you

even though you cannot say it,

because I hear it in the words you do not say,

and I see it in your eyes,

in the way your body hides its secrets.

I see me in your eyes

and the way your body hides it secrets.

And I know.

I know the truth that your eyes

want to hide from the world.

And I want you to know

that the man who touched you,

who hurt you, abused you,

doesn’t want you to know

that it was not your fault.

It was not your fault.

It is his burden, not yours.

But he wants you to believe

that no one will believe

you

if you say a word.

I believe you, even in your silence.

He wants you to believe that it was you

who invited his hands, his mouth, his . . .

other parts of his body

to join with yours.

Know that it was not you.

It was not your invitation.

It was not your fault.

It was not what you wanted.

He wants you to believe that because your body

reacted naturally

that you shared equally in the act.

Know that it was your body reacting naturally–

not your heart, your mind, your soul.

Not you.

I know it was not something you wanted.

You know it was not something you wanted.

Believe yourself.

I know also that you feel shame,

that you are afraid to speak,

that you are afraid,

and I understand the fear.

But know that I have heard you speak

despite your silence–because of your silence–

and I will hold it all with you.

When you are ready

I will be ready with you.

I will hold it all with you in brotherhood,

and when that time comes

his lies, your fear, the shame, guilt, horror,

all of it,

will start to slip through your fingers

and you will be able to touch

the truth that is now hidden behind your eyes.

Know that I will be there with you,

that I will hold it with you,

and that it will be the beginning of healing.

Your eyes will open, tears will fall,

and you will know then with certainty

it was not what you wanted.

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Full Circle

At Nohr Gallery

Speaking at the Nohr Gallery, UW-Platteville, 4/12/17. Photo by Darlene Masters.

Trigger Warning: This post is about child sex abuse and also suicide. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.

Since coming out publicly as a survivor of child sex abuse about seven years ago I have written articles, blog posts, a play, and a memoir, spoken at conferences and events around the state and even as far afield as MaleSurvivor’s 14th International Conference in New Jersey, and have been interviewed on radio and television. For me it is important to speak about my experience so that others know they are not alone and to educate the public. I believe that as a society we don’t talk enough about sexual assault and about how to end it. I also believe that without survivors sharing their personal stories it is too easy to see it as a distant problem. Regardless of the issue–sexual abuse or other–personal stories tend to lead to a better understanding through the connection with the human being sharing the story. Whenever I am asked to speak I do my best to accept the invitation and tell my story.

Recently I was invited by the Dean of Students Office, Family Advocates, University Counseling Services, and the Doyle Center to speak at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this past week as part of their Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities. I was excited by the prospect and more nervous than I had ever been about a speaking engagement, primarily because I had lived in Platteville for several years and it was only twenty miles from my hometown where the bulk of the abuse took place. It was also the city where I came out as a gay man, where I toyed with suicide two different times, where I confronted the person who abused me as a child, where I turned to alcohol in a very heavy way to mask my pain and avoid confronting the truth of my life.

To be honest Platteville in 1979 was a horrible place to come out, but it was also the place where I accepted myself and first started speaking publicly. My gay friends and I belonged to the campus gay and lesbian group and we would go into classrooms and talk about what it meant to be gay and do question-and-answer sessions. Speaking at the university this week was like coming full circle, but it was also like a bullied kid going back to the junior high where all the bullying took place decades earlier. Time had passed, but place can hold memories. In fact the room in which I spoke was on a corner where almost forty years ago a carload of college students had stopped their car and yelled “faggot” and other obscenities as they threw empty beer bottles at me.

Not many blocks away was the house where I lived when I downed a bunch of pills, only to find out the next morning that it was a bottle of penicillin, a story I usually share with some humor in my presentations. It was in the same house that I held a rusty razor blade to my wrist and ended up passing out before doing anything with it. On Tuesday afternoon I walked by the bars where I used to get drunk night after night, all with different names now, but all recognizable as my old haunts. It was in one of those bars that I confronted the person who abused me and was told by him that I was the one who wanted it.

The night before my talk I had gone to my hometown and stayed overnight in the bedroom in which I grew up. It was there and in other rooms in that house, and especially in the dark basement, that most of the abuse took place from the time I was ten until I was almost eighteen. When I went downstairs to take a shower I was thrown back to those days. I didn’t know how I would handle the speech that night, whether I could shake off all the memories that came with that part of the state.

Still, I knew I wanted to speak at the university. I knew that I had to and that it was important for me and my growth and continued healing to do it. What I also realized was that when I speak or write about my story it is really not about the victimization–it is about the healing and the surviving. Yes, the memories were there. Yes, there is still lingering pain from my childhood. Yes, speaking in Platteville was like going back in time to some very hard things. But I am a survivor first and foremost. I wanted to let people know that despite the horror I suffered in my childhood I survived. I am a strong man with an important message, and so I would speak. I would share the pain of my childhood, the difficulty in overcoming it, and I would let others know that surviving sex abuse is possible and real.

I was nervous thinking about the presentation beforehand, but once I started speaking that nervousness went away and I simply shared my story. Those in attendance listened attentively and asked good questions at the end. Many of them thanked me for sharing my story. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed, ready for the next invitation.

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The Failure of Donald Trump

The White House. Photo by Callen Harty.

Some of my friends and relatives voted for Donald Trump. Some of my co-workers watched the inauguration on television at work while I sat at my desk and fought back tears at what my country had become. They did what they did for their own reasons.

The election was devastating to me and millions of others. I have been numb since November, overwhelmed with a feeling of emptiness and dread. But it is not just about politics with Donald Trump. This is important. It is not just about politics. I am a political junkie and in the past I have watched my favorite candidates lose and I have survived that with graciousness. I have watched the inaugural addresses of men I did not vote for because I wanted to see what they would say about uniting the country and doing the best job they could for the most people. While I didn’t support them I wanted them to succeed in the White House and be the best President for the American people.

The election of Donald Trump was different. While most of his policy ideas are things I cannot abide there were certain ideas he expressed with which I didn’t necessarily disagree. If he were almost anyone other than Donald Trump I would want to give him a chance and at the very least hope that he would not destroy our country by implementing the horrible policies he espoused on the campaign trail. Even then, living in Wisconsin I have seen firsthand that citizens can survive the very worst of government policies and leaders after living for the last six years under our 45th governor, Scott Walker, and all of his cronies in the legislature.

It is not Trump’s politics that bother me most. We can survive that. We can resist the worst of it. The issue is that regardless of political affiliation I expect the leader of our country to be a decent human being and I do not see that in Donald Trump. I see an arrogant, childish narcissist whose concern is not for the poor and downtrodden but for himself, and perhaps others of his ilk. I see a man who acts like an immature child as he gets into flame wars on Twitter with anyone who disagrees with him or counters something he says. I see a misogynistic cretin who is okay with grabbing women without consent because he is rich and powerful and simply because he can. I see a person who, again like a child, calls people names and makes fun of them for their looks, their disabilities, their culture, and more. This is not acceptable in a country that has long been a shining beacon for others.

I also see supporters and sycophants contorting themselves in incredible ways to excuse his behavior. These are people who would not accept the same behavior if they saw it from a stranger at the grocery store. The hypocrisy of self-proclaimed Christians supporting Trump is astounding to me. And yes, I know, many Christians do not support or condone him–this is about the hypocrites who proclaim to be Christians who accept his very unchristian behavior. Imagine Jesus Christ mocking a disabled man instead of opening his arms to him. Imagine Jesus violating a woman by grabbing her genitals because he is a man and she is there only for his pleasure. Imagine Jesus calling someone fat or ugly instead of accepting them for what is beautiful about them. These things are not what Jesus would do, and yet they have been rationalized away by right-wing Christians for the sake of some greater goal–whatever that might be. Justifications have been made for every egregious act committed by Donald Trump.

“He speaks what’s on his mind.”

Well, yes he does, and sometimes we all know it’s best not to utter everything that crosses one’s mind. A mature man who cares about the feelings and welfare of others knows when it’s best not to speak what’s on his mind. If what’s on a man’s mind is that it’s okay to grab women by their private parts then he should probably just not talk. If in his paranoid mind he gravitates to conspiracy theories put out by others then maybe a little silence on the lips is the best thing.

This is one of the problems with Trump. There is no filter. There is no concern for protocol or what anyone else thinks. He reacts to the world around him like a child throwing a temper tantrum. He condescends to everyone and considers others enemies if they so much as disagree with him. He treats others like the buffoon that he is. Already he has enraged, frightened, or irritated many of our long-standing allies. Already he has lost several battles, most recently on health care, but that is not the issue.

No President has to be a perfect person. None of them can be as we are all human. But a President does need to be a decent and moral human being. This is the problem with Trump. He may be a successful businessman. He may be the winning candidate and now President of the United States. He may even define his politics by what he truly believes is best for country. But he is not a decent man. That is his failure–not as a politician, but as a human being.

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Letter to Donald Trump on Transgender Guidelines

born-this-way

Born This Way. Photo by Callen Harty.

2/21/17

Dear President Trump,

I have heard reports that the White House is considering rescinding Department of Education guidelines regarding transgender rights for school districts across the United States. I am pleading with you as an adult who works with LGBT students to please leave the guidelines in place for the protection of transgender students.

I presume you are aware that violence against transgender citizens is among the highest against any minority group in this country. If not, please note the following: According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), in 2013 72% of the victims of hate violence homicides were crimes against transgender women (particularly transgender women of color). Transgender people were also almost four times as likely to suffer from police violence and transgender women were almost twice as likely to suffer sexual violence. The report did not list the number of transgender suicides, but the numbers of that are also alarming, particularly among young transgender people who not only struggle with the common issues of adolescence but the much larger issues of identity and the discrimination that follows because of that identity.

In a report by the Human Rights Campaign 2016 saw the largest number of transgender homicides ever and, again, their statistics do not consider suicide. Our group lost one of our high schoolers to suicide last year and I never want to see that happen again. To anyone, and especially young people who should just be starting on a long journey through life. Taking away the guidelines will leave school district administrators confused about what protections they can offer their transgender students and it will send a loud message to transgender youth that their lives do not matter to the administration or the American people.

Transgender lives do matter. The young man we lost to suicide was an intelligent, articulate teen leader who had incredible gifts to offer the world. We will never know what he may have accomplished with his life. The Williams Institute in a 2014 analysis of the National Transgender Discrimination Study found that 78% of those who experienced physical or sexual violence at school reported at least one suicide attempt. 57% whose families had stopped talking to or having contact with their transgender family member after they came out as trans had attempted suicide. And yes, families do stop talking to LGBT youth or sometimes kick them out and make them homeless. I have seen this happen to teens who simply wanted to be themselves. These young people do not need further obstacles put in their way or protections taken from them.

If, as reported, you are considering rescinding the guidelines I strongly urge you to reconsider. Put yourself in the shoes of a young person who has to come to terms with their own identity and then face bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence as a daily part of their lives simply for trying to live as their true selves.

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A Queer View of the Incoming Administration

love-trumps-hate

Love Trumps Hate. Photo by Callen Harty.

Likely most people have noticed the Orwellian nature of Donald Trump’s picks for his Cabinet and other roles in his upcoming White House, which is more appropriately named than ever with Stephen Bannon as one of his top advisors. There is a Labor Secretary who hates workers and does not support a raise in the minimum wage, Goldman Sachs executives heading Treasury and other top economic posts, an Education Secretary who has spent years undermining public education by donating money to expand vouchers and charter schools. There has been a never-ending litany of incomprehensible names put forward to run agencies, such as a climate denier heading the Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately none of it is fictional or just a bad dream.

What many straight people and self-delusional Log Cabin Republicans may have missed, though, is something that has been obvious to almost anyone who is lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT)—virtually every one of Trump’s horrible picks is not only eminently unqualified for their appointments, but also among the most homophobic men and women in the country. Some of them may be self-hating closet cases. The rest may just be hateful people who don’t want queer folks to have a place at the table, at least not alongside them.

It starts with the incoming Vice-President, Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor who signed a “religious freedom” law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. Public pressure against the bill was so intense that he ended up having to sign an amendment to it that would protect gays and lesbians somewhat, but believing that one’s sexuality is a choice he has long been an opponent of gay rights. He is against marriage equality and, in fact, proudly supported a Constitutional amendment to specify marriage as only between a man and woman when he was a member of Congress. He even signed a bill that would jail gay couples who dared to apply for a marriage license in his state. He has opposed pretty much any attempt to make queer people equal in this country, including the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was written to protect LGBT citizens from being fired at the whim of their employers simply for being themselves. In addition he opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and also President Obama’s directive to allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their identity. Finally (well, probably not, but this list is enough to give an idea of where he stands), back at the turn of the century (believe it or not, the 21st century, not the 19th or 18th) Pence proposed a law to take funding away from AIDS research and to use those funds toward conversion therapy, the awful idea of coercively converting gay people to a heterosexual lifestyle. In addition to his own anti-LGBT agenda Pence has led the effort to name Cabinet members and other appointments, so it is not a huge surprise that so many of them are equally homophobic.

Reince Priebus, long-time chair of the Republican National Committee and now Trump’s Chief of Staff, is a long-time conservative strategist. He oversaw the Republican convention that nominated Donald Trump for the Presidency and which released the most repressive platform in history as far as queer rights are concerned. It called for overturning the Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land and actually said that the party did “not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage”. It promoted the same kind of “religious freedom” bill that Pence signed in Indiana. It said that every child “deserves a Mom and Dad”, even though 50% of marriages end in divorce and many children from straight families are in single-parent households without a “Mom and Dad”. It opposed the idea of allowing transgender persons being allowed to use the restrooms that match their identity. It also promoted the conversion therapy that Pence admires so much.

There is so much wrong with Steve Bannon that a book could be written about it. He is a racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic homophobe. And those are his good qualities. As the editor of Breitbart News, the right-wing online “news” source, he has overseen the publication of articles deriding the “tranny” lifestyle, made comments about “dykes”, and more. And that’s just a couple samples of his transphobia and homophobia, which is nothing compared to his comments about women and other minorities.

For Attorney General, Trump selected Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, more notorious for his past racist remarks than his homophobia. Still, he is considered one of the more anti-LGBT members of the Senate. He is a Senate co-sponsor of the First Amendment Protection Act, the “religious freedom” bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT citizens based on religious beliefs. He also co-sponsored a bill that would have made each state’s definition of marriage take precedence over the federal definition, which would effectively undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. On the flip side he has been fiercely opposed to marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and hate crimes legislation throughout his career. In a strange story reported by Chris Sommerfeldt of the New York Daily News (12/2/16) Sessions went out of his way to try to prevent an LGBT conference from being held on the campus of the University of Alabama when he was the Alabama Attorney General. The purpose of the conference was to host workshops to open up dialogue on LGBT issues and AIDS. This was apparently so threatening to him that he threatened to get a court order and later an injunction to prevent the campus from holding the conference. It went on despite his protestations.

Tapped as National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn had previously been vetted as a possible Vice-Presidential pick. At that time he skirted around the issues of abortion and LGBT rights, more or less indicating that they weren’t the real big issues facing the country, emphasizing that he was more about national security. On the other hand, while he didn’t mention it at that time, he did previously oppose allowing openly gay people to serve in the military and opposed the lifting of a ban on transgender soldiers by saying, “War is not about bathrooms . . .”

The Deputy National Security Adviser selection, Fox “News” commentator K. T. McFarland, is reported to have outed her brother to their parents as he was dying of AIDS and also failed to visit him the last couple years of his life even though they lived fairly close. The initial report on this was an article in the New York Times Magazine in 2006. In the article a selection from a letter she wrote to her parents was included, which comes across as cold, uncaring, and lacking any compassion: “Have you ever wondered why I have never had anything to do with Mike and have never let my daughters see him although we live only fifteen minutes away from each other? He has been a lifelong homosexual, most of his relationships brief, fleeting one-night stands.” Speaking of no compassion, when the writer first asked about her brother her response was, “Ummmm. He was sick and then he died.” Perhaps cold-heartedness is a desired quality for national security.

Former Presidential candidate Ben Carson, who pretty much admitted he was not prepared to lead any large bureaucracy about a week before being named head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been rabidly anti-gay as a candidate. This includes comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality. Everyone knows that those Midwestern farm boys who have sex with cows just want to buy Bessie a ring and live happily ever after. In a post on Carson by the Human Rights Campaign it was noted that he believes Congress should fire judges who rule in favor of marriage equality and he joked that those opposed to same-sex marriage might poison the wedding cakes of same-sex couples if bakeries were forced to do business with gay and lesbian couples. Ha-ha. Funny stuff there, Ben. In general his views are so archaic that he could open an antique shop of his brain. He was also famously quoted as saying that prison caused the “choice” of homosexuality and actually had to backtrack on that one a bit.

According to John Riley of MetroWeekly (12/8/16) Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, believes that the “LGBT lifestyle” leads to more health concerns that could cost the government considerable amounts of money. This is in addition to his typically right-wing conservative stances on all the other hot-button LGBT issues already noted of the other appointees. As a Representative he voted against ENDA, including queer people in hate crimes legislation, and an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act. In an article in The Advocate ( 12/12/16) Price referred to Obama’s directive on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their identity as an “absurd federal bathroom policy.”

The nod for Secretary of Education went to Betsy DeVos, again one of the more Orwellian selections as she has worked tirelessly to dismantle public education by promoting vouchers and charter schools. In addition to her work on that she is just simply rich, which automatically makes her a perfect pick for Trump’s administration. She and her family have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to fight marriage equality, much of it going to the virulently anti-gay Focus on the Family. She also opposes expanding discrimination protections to transgender people.

The new C.I.A. Director will be former Congressperson Mike Pompeo. Like Jeff Sessions he believes that marriage should solely be between a man and a woman because that is the “ideal” for raising children. Again like Sessions and most of the President-elect’s picks, Pompeo has consistently rated a zero from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group that rates Representatives and Senators on how friendly they are to queer rights issues.

There have been other selections for whom not much is known as far as their record or positions on LGBT issues and there are likely many others missing from this list as it is not all-inclusive. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was chosen as Ambassador to the United Nations. Aside from vehemently opposing same-sex marriage she has been relatively quiet or moderate on LGBT issues. Incoming Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao may not be stridently anti-gay but they also do not appear to be definitively pro-gay either.

One other name to throw onto the list is that of Ken Blackwell. It is unclear how much of a role, if any, that he may play in the administration after the inauguration, but for now he is leading the team that is helping to name appointments for domestic issues. He may be the most anti-gay of the lot. He is Ohio’s former Secretary of State and is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a group that fights anything gay and is so determined about it that they have been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This quote from him as reported by Right Wing Watch indicates about where he stands:

“I think homosexuality is a lifestyle, it’s a choice, and that lifestyle can be changed,” Blackwell said in response to the question “Is homosexuality a sin, and can gays be cured?” according to published transcripts. “I think it is a transgression against God’s law, God’s will.”

He continued: “The reality is, again…that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one’s genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes.”

He was also quoted as saying that homosexuality “defies barnyard logic,” apparently not knowing that same-sex sexual behavior has been observed by scientists in countless species.

All of these appointees may explain why queer people have unfriended and now distrust those who voted for Donald Trump. If you didn’t understand why your LGBT friends and family haven’t talked to you since the election or why they are scared to death right now you might want to take note of the people Trump has selected to serve with him. While he came across during the campaign as at the very least tolerant on queer issues, the birds of a feather he is nesting with now are a frightening menagerie of hawks, vultures, and other birds of prey when it comes to queer rights. LGBT citizens are rightfully frightened at the moment. If you truly love your queer children, friends, and neighbors you need to do what you can to reassure them that you will fight these homophobes as they start to dismantle queer lives, and then you need to follow through on that promise.

Note: Within hours of posting this blog it was learned that former Governor of Texas (and former “Dancing with the Stars” loser) Rick Perry was to be named Energy Secretary. He has a long history of homophobic statements. Follow this link for just a few delightful ones: http://www.dailydot.com/layer8/rick-perry-homophobic-quotes/

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