Bi-negativity of LGBT

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Switch hitters, fence post sitters, AC/DC, confused, and straggot are just a few terms that are thrown out by people when the term bisexual comes up. Even more sad is that a lot of these terms are still being said by our own community. It seems that when it comes to judging others, we are often harder on our fellow brothers and sisters. Why do we have such strong emotions against bisexuals when we are so adamant for fighting for our own rights and acceptance? What is it that we feel is an attack to us or an insult?

When I was a young gay, I remember hearing many of the terms listed above. I remember hearing that bisexual men were merely confused and just hiding that they were gay. There would be anger towards bisexuals, saying they were holding our struggle back by being able to easily go back into the closet for safety. Many felt anger that bisexuals were decreasing dating options we had under an illusion of being something they were not. The truth is, any of us could, and even sometimes do, hide our very natures out of reasons of protection. So why does this create a feeling of animosity to those that identify as bisexual? There was even a time in which I thought and said similar things. Here I was going through this deep struggle of trying to accept that I was different and the fear of being physically hurt for what I was on the inside and they could easily hide by dating members of the opposite sex. It angered me that someone would be able to flip who they slept with, at what seemed a whim, and not have to worry about anyone judging them. What I failed to realize is that their struggle was the same and, in many cases, worse than my own. Not only do you have to rationalize being attracted to members of the same sex but that is doubled by also still being attracted to the opposite sex. Leaving you with a feeling of what are you doing wrong to have these feelings that so many say is wrong and sinful.

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The fact is binary concepts of sexuality still pervade into our own LGBT mindset. For many gays and lesbians, we see sexuality as an either-or condition, either you are heterosexual, or you are homosexual. We still believe that at some point they will have to decide to be one or the other, if they ever hope to truly have a relationship. Beyond that we still view them as a group that may be incapable of carrying on a relationship or are solely driven by sexual impulses, seeing them as sleeping with everyone because they don’t have to fall into one category or another. Perhaps this is rooted in some form of jealousy for a freedom we do not, ourselves, seem to have. Even heterosexuals have weird grasps of bisexuality. Many think that once a bisexual marries someone that they are no longer bisexual, like when Larry King interviewed Anna Paquin. That somehow you can only be bisexual if you are single and sleeping around.

Gay and lesbians know all too well the struggles we go through trying to accept we are, just imagine the added issues of being bisexual. Also imagine the pain we go through from constantly coming out in new situations, now think of how much harder that is for bisexuals. They are often told they are lying about their true natures or simply confused. They are often judged harshly for sleeping with members of their own gender and can be rejected by both potential partners because of their past romantic involvements. Gay and Lesbian Alliances have turned away bisexuals because they do not fit the molds of how they feel their services are designed to help. They need the same support systems we do, when we are facing dark times. Here we are claiming we are safe zones when, in fact, they are only safe places for a narrow view of what we think our community should be.

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According to Bustle.com  they reported a 2013 survey done by Pew Research Center that states, “While 71 percent of lesbians and 77 percent of gay men are out to the people close to them, only 28 percent of bi people can say the same. The numbers were even lower for bisexual men, only 12 percent of whom are out.” Numerous other surveys report that 45 – 50% of the LGBT population identify as bisexual, that is half of our community, but only about 28% of those numbers openly identify as bisexual. Often many prominent figures that have identified as bisexual throughout their lives are often remembered as gay icons after their passing. Take for instance Freddie Mercury, front man for the iconic band Queen. Throughout his life he had male and female partners, but history instead portrays him as gay.  Our own LGBTQ history forgets many bisexual leaders that were there throughout the movement. We see the focus on Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Audre Lorde, and Barbara Gittings, all of which identify as lesbian or gay. Less is known and even shown of bisexual leaders like James Baldwin and Brenda Howard, who were instrumental in the early rights movements and key in bringing spotlight to bisexuals. Even bisexual organizations are less talked about, take for instance the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network founded in 1983. They still publish their quarterly newsletter called BiWomen and is the oldest bisexual publication in the world.

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Eliel Cruz, historian of AIDS and HIV activism was quoted as saying: “Not only was the bi community suffering because of the HIV/AIDS, they were fighting it. While the media was busy scapegoating bi men for spreading the disease to women, bi activists like Dr. David Lourea and Cynthia Slater were out raising awareness and offering sex education in the same sex spaces of San Francisco. In fact, throughout the history of ‘gay rights’ bi activists and allies have been consistently erased…” Even today, healthcare workers are more apt to judge bisexuals more harshly in STI situations than they would lesbians and gay men. Biphobia hasn’t diminished as LGBT rights have expanded, in fact many times they are left as the invisible minority. According to thinkprogress.org (https://thinkprogress.org/media-ignoring-bisexual-community-3a46e7081bb1/) “Compared to peers who identify as gay or lesbian, bi+ youth and adults report higher levels of mental illness and suicidality, and lower levels of social support; bisexual youth report higher rates of bullying and harassment; and bisexual people face disproportionately high rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

What we, as a community, need to fully realize is that their sexuality is as valid as ours. Who they are as people and choose to love is as fundamental as it is to deal with being transgender. We need to embrace each of us as equals. Reshape our mindset to remove the stigmatism we have about our bisexual brothers and sisters. The gaps we have in inclusion in our community is what keeps us from organizing to erase the hatred and violence towards us. We must be strong together for each other, after all no one else, but ourselves, will look out for us. If you see bisexuals being judged or mistreated, be sure to stand up just as you would for any gay, lesbian, or transgender. Let us validate their choices as genuine as our own, realize that their sexuality does not change, regardless of their relationship status. They are not pretending to be straight if they are dating members of the opposite sex or short-term gay if they are dating members of the same sex. Their contributions to our history are as important as anyone else’s for getting us to where we are now.

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No T, No Shade

If you have not been to ALL AX’S, then why the hell not? This bar has been steppin’ it’s pussy up almost every week. They are doing it for our community and to become a destination spot on the east side of Cleveland. What it needs to get there is you, so make sure you get out there and show them some support.  The weekend of February 22nd was a definitely step up and a history maker for the little town of Willoughby. Queens can pack a house, of that there is no doubt. A Queen throwing a read at a slightly drunk audience can be an amazing thing to witness. No matter if it is a drag show, drag brunch, or even a drag bingo, it is a guaranteed fierce time. Friday, February 22nd was a prime example, All AX’S in Willoughby played host to Veranda L’Ni, Kari Nickels, Aurora Thunder, and Natasshja Norielle. This was the first drag show in Willoughby, at least that I am aware of, and it truly went down in history.

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The show started about 10:30 pm and the house was packed long before the show even started. I am not sure that Billy Welker and the staff was truly ready for the experience that a drag show can bring. The energy and anticipation of the show was amazing and true to queen time telling, it started about twenty minutes late. If you have been to a Veranda show, then you know even late this queen can run the crowd. Her engagement is amazing, and her performance is one of the best I have seen in the Cleveland area. Kari Nickels is another queen that is amazing to watch. And they did not fail in packing the house. As you can see from the pictures, I did not get very close to the stage area, but it shows off the amount of people who turned out to support the show and the bar.

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These Queens worked this crowd, not a one stayed on the stage and posed. Each one of them worked for their all mighty dollars and the people were as eager to hand them out. The floating through the throngs of people, lip syncing for their very lives, as it were.” The crown was intense and the largest that the bar has seen, so far. Yes, there was some waiting for drinks and yes they were a bit understaffed, but the staff at ALL AX’S never walked away from taking care of us, never complained, and did their best to provide the service needed. Yes, there will be growing pains along the way, but Billy Welker and his staff will not be scurred away. I mean damn, how many other bars have you been to have called in all they support to help out and even bring in people from the crowd to help serve everyone? That’s right, henny, not many. Special shout outs to Dennis Baker for rolling up his sleeves, although we tried to get him to take off his shirt instead, jumping in to help run dishes to the kitchen and serving drinks to those who were waiting.

Now if you missed this show, have no fear they will be back to take our money and wow us again. This time make sure yo ass is in attendance. March 8th and then again March 22nd will bring back Veranda L’Ni and her crew. So, get out ya stripper change and bring yo’self out and tips those bitches. Oh, and buy some drinks, after all the bartenders are there to serve…. Just not shade.

 

Heteronormativity of LGBTQ People

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The very core of who we are is implanted into us during our childhood. Sure, you may argue that education causes us to look out who we are, decide what is good/bad about it, and make needed changes to evolve, but keep in mind how we define those very structures is based on our upbringing, the very way our parents raised us. For LGBTQ youth, we grow up in a familial culture that doesn’t understand our very differences. Our parents teach us what they, in turn, learned from their parents. It is a perpetuated cycle of heteronormativity and most cases it’s so ingrained into us that we do not see it as anything else other than how we are raised. We are taught that we should be looking for someone of the opposite sex to get to know, settle down, marry, have kids, and start the whole cycle again. Our parents weren’t taught there was a difference, at least in a positive light, so it is seen as the only way to be and anything else is an aberration.

 

What is heteronormativity, Merriam Webster says this : heteronormative adj – of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really speak to the very nature of heteronormativity. The Medium.com goes further with a definition from other scholarly sources that says:

Ranging from organizational to interpersonal spheres, the presumptions that there are only two sexes; that it is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ for people of different sexes to be attracted to one another; that these attractions may be publicly displayed and celebrated; that social institutions such as marriage and the family are appropriately organized around different-sex pairings; that same-sex couples are (if not ‘deviant’) a ‘variation on’ or an ‘alternative to’ the heterosexual couple. Heteronormativity refers, in sum, to the myriad ways in which heterosexuality is produced as a natural, unproblematic, taken-for-granted, ordinary phenomenon.

One could argue then that this definition is very close to what most would perceive as homophobia and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. Homophobia is more like the sibling of heteronormativity but louder and in your face. Heteronormativity is the more day to day, subtle process that are so pervasive to our culture and much more akin to colonialism. Essentially it is the basic form of sexual expression and the very foundations on which societies are built. It states that the only normal expression is that of a man and a woman and anything else is deviant or less than normal.

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This can be seen by the laws of the communities all of us belong to, when you see countries that punish homosexuality by violent acts, jailing, or the extreme being killing. It only reinforces that heterosexuality is the only acceptable course of life. These are unacceptable and downright inhumane, and you think this can’t happen in our country because of laws that have started passing in the last fifty years. You are right in that assumption; however, it still exists here, and it done much more subtly. Sure, it can be argued that LGBTQ people are the minority and that as such the majorities mindset shouldn’t have to change to placate such a small group. The problem is this very mindset goes beyond affecting only LGBTQ people. Also, we have to realize that not challenging this social injustice is just morally ambivalent to the status of society and wanting to create and environment where everyone is treated equally and fairly.

The very nature of heteronormativity implies the fact that a relationship is based on a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ person, as such it teaches that the men are the providers and women are the child bearers. Basically, stating that men are the top of the structure and create what is considered normal or acceptable. It creates the power struggle that allows men to believe they are the control in the situation and allowed to subjugate those below his status. It goes further to create standards of what is perceived as the sexual male and female, from how they talk, how they stand, or how they dress. It does not allow for any deviation on those standards. It only allows for a sexual desire between the male of female sex and that only those who physically appear as men can be attracted to those who physically appear as women.

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So how has this affected the LGBTQ people? It pervades our very culture and has shaped it over time, whether we want to admit it or not. For gay men it has colored our sexual proclivities. Tops and bottoms, femme and butch are a good representation of it. We have shaped our ideas of how sex should be based on ideas that were taught to us by our parents, school, and environment we have grown up with and lesbians have much the same basis. It has also created the mindset lesbians and gays cannot be friends, old mindset but still happens today. It has given us the ability to persecute drag queens and our transgender brothers and sisters. It is also the very reason why many of us view bisexuals with such disdain. We were taught that sexual attraction can only fit an either-or situation, that anything outside of that isn’t right and should be judged.

 

There are still plenty gay men who believe that you can only be a top or a bottom. I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase that versatile means a bottom in denial. Or if they say they are top versatile that they are pretending to be something they aren’t. It is a restatement of a masculine and a feminine role and that it cannot be anything other than that. They are the same ones who argue this is my preference and just how I am, when it is more of the fact that it is what has been taught to us since we were kids. As LGBTQ people, we fight against the molds that society places upon us, to show we are what we are and not a mistake. We fight for our differences while at the same time maintaining outdated modalities that shouldn’t apply to us.

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It goes further when you hear things like ‘straight acting’ or ‘masculine’ gay male, as if they very nature of someone who isn’t a perceived idea of what it is to be male is offensive. Why is feminine deemed unworthy of affection or desire? Heterosexism typically implies that being feminine is below being masculine and therefore subpar. Again, we follow a precept of a group that we try our hardest to distance ourselves from while at the same time cow tailing to that very same group for acceptance and justification in our equality. It is the very reason we strive for marriage equality, we feel it would give us the feeling of being normal and just like the happy married straight couple who deserves all the benefits that’s comes with being a married couple.

A challenge for you; Google the word couple and look at the images that populate. At least 90% of the images returned will be of heterosexual white couples. Out of the first page of results, you may see ten images that are LGBTQ and out of the ten one is of a transgender couple. It is a proof that the majority believes that marriage is about heterosexual couples and most focus on white heterosexual couples. Don’t believe me? Watch ten episodes of “Say Yes to The Dress” and count how many minority couples are on the show. This shows the mindset of the general populace and one that we need to actively work on changing.

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Delusions of Equality

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So, You Think We Have Rights?

Were we, as LGBTQ people, tricked into supporting legalized marriage? Seems like a shocking thing to say, right? How hard is it to believe that the powers that be convinced us to change our fight for rights to something more controllable?  We have fought for our rights that the Constitution gave every American citizen long before the Stonewall riots of 1960, it was that even that solidified our movement forward. That isn’t where our history began. Somewhere between the events of 1960 and now we changed our focus on activism to push for Marriage Equality. We were tricked into believing that would make us more acceptable and would be the means in which we achieved the rights of our heteronormative counterparts. This very focus changed what we viewed as important and what we were protesting over.

1500 Rights and an Equal Symbol

The Constitution guarantees us certain inalienable rights, but did you know that those people who are licensed to officiate a marriage also have the ability to grant married couple 1500 rights that single people do not have. What makes these people so special that they can grant rights that the Constitution cannot? The answer to that is simply a piece of paper and recognition by the state in which they reside. I state this because I am legally able to perform wedding ceremonies. In Ohio, it cost me $10, that was a filing fee. Some of these rights include the ability to receive discounted rates for homeowners’, auto insurance, ability to make medical decisions about their spouse, get health insurance through their spouse’s job, Medicare, and Social Security. All things that are not given to single people. As a single person, there is a fair change that any benefit that you leave to your siblings, relatives, friends or lovers could be contested and even absorbed back into the system that you paid into. We were somehow duped into believing that these are rights deserved by marriage only. The HRC has been famous for parading out people to show how marriage equality would have prevented any issues. Take for example Edith Windsor whose 84-year-old partner died in 2009. Upon her death Edith was faced with estate taxes of $400,000 and the court case argued that if she had been married this wouldn’t have been an issue. Windsor became a poster child for marriage equality. The New York Times made Windsor out to be a slightly impoverished victim of not having the right to marry, in fact it was later proved that her net worth was over $10,000,000. HRC backed the case and continued to make sure she was the victim. During Pride season it was common to see t-shirts and posters showing “I AM Edith Windsor.”

Where was HRC and the media showing how this would affect those of lesser means and why weren’t they the example to be held up. HRC is famous for only showing the social elite in its media presentations, like for instance Chicago’s reclusive gay media mogul, Fred Eychaner who commands a large fortune and even held private meetings with President Obama. These are the ones that are chosen as our representatives for marriage equality, not the ones struggling to get by on food stamps and living in horrible conditions because landlords will not rent to LGBTQ people. What has HRC given us in return for all of this? The erasure of part of our LGBTQ history by replacing the rainbow with the blue and yellow equality symbol. A symbol to represent unification without the supposed boundaries of the rainbow, but one built only on the examples of privileged LGBTQ people.

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The Painful Truth of the Stonewall Riots*

2009 was the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots and is often used as a means to draw parallels between the Gay Rights Movement of then versus now. During that same year, a column was written by Frank Rich of The New York Times, in this column he described the events of the riots: “The younger gay men and scattered women who acted up at Stonewall on those early summer nights in 1969 had little in common with their contemporaries in the front-page political movements of the time.” The stranger truth of this is that the riots were started by drag queens and the transgendered people of the time and were the very types of people that most gay men didn’t associate with, in the first place. Even still today, these groups are marginalized by our own community. The very people who propelled the movement into the modern era are rarely in the media as who rights will affect. The group that sparked the Stonewall riots were considered the fringe of the LGBTQ lifestyle, many were prostitutes, homeless youth, effeminate young men, and butch lesbians. These were the groups most often arrested by the police and were distanced from by the early homophile groups. These groups believed that gays should assimilate into heterosexual culture, without distinction.

HIV/AIDS Shaped Health Benefit Battles

With the onset of the 1980s, activism shifted due to the increasing devastation caused by AIDS. We watched as our community was ravaged by this disease and all denied the ability to be with our loved ones as they were dying in hospitals. This was due to the fact that we were not seen as family members or couples. The early roots of marriage equality were sparked from these sad affronts. Why were only heterosexual couples given this “special” right to be with their loved ones in the hospital. We were told that we did not matter because we were not related, and our love was illegal. As so many gay men were dying, it was our lesbian sisters who took up the cause for pushing through legislation about healthcare reform and how AIDS research was handled. The AIDS Quilt was put into place to memorialize those that we had lost to this monster of a disease. Still, we were not allowed to be with our loved ones in their last struggles. The fight for marriage started. In the same article by Frank Rich intimated that had gays been bestowed the rights of marriage unto them, the struggle with AIDS would not have been so bad. That somehow our suffering only happened because we did not have marriage equality. The truth is that healthcare reform should have come to singles and not just married couples. There should not have been the division of rights that would have prevented us from having adequate health care coverage or the ability for our loved ones to be by our side

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Is Healthcare The Goal?

As of now, it was argued that gay marriage would be a way to extend healthcare to our lovers, through the union of marriage. Our current administration is working to subvert this very right granted by the union. If you haven’t been paying attention, Trump is pushing for the HHS (Health and Human Services) to change how healthcare is doled out to the masses. He is working to make sure that anything about gender is removed from the language and working to allow healthcare workers the ability to turn away patients that are against their religious beliefs. So, the principles that groups like HRC and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have convinced us to work towards are on the verge of being taken away because of religion. So much for separation of church and state. This is the very proof that we have worked all the years for a goal that in effect means absolutely nothing. We should have been working on making sure that healthcare was accessible by all people, regardless of their standing as a couple. We should have been working to make sure that education reform was put into place that would change how the masses view minorities

Gay Marriage, The Cure All*

In 2008 there was an uptake in youth suicides due to the effects of relentless bullying by peers based on a presumption of the youth being gay. This led to many gays and straight advocates of making an assumption that the legalization of gay marriage would have an effect of lowering the stigma of being gay and thereby aiding in lowering the rates of suicide and making queer and queer identified teens appear more normal. What actually can be inferred from this assumption is that all social problems are directly tied to marriage and the rights that union bestows upon people. It would seem more logical that proper education and inclusion training would do better to diminish this negative outcome more than marriage equality would have an effect upon. In December of 2009, Melissa Harris-Lacewell wrote about her lesbian niece and the suffering she endured at her school. It was so bad that she eventually transferred to another school to escape it. Harris-Lacewell argued that marriage equality should be passed to ensure her niece did not have to go through this trauma. Her arguments state that marriage equality would make life easier for the LGBTQ people. The statistics for LGBTQ youth that attempt suicide are staggering and those numbers are from those who feel they cannot bear to live in a homophobic world. They experience bullying from their peers, negativity from the family situation, and constantly being told how they are wrong or sinful. They already live in a word that tells them how they will not accept any form of deviation from the norm. Pushing for marriage equality is telling our LGBTQ people that conformity is the only way to survive in this world and that any form of nonconformity can and should lead to death.

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Union of Individuality

I am not opposed to anyone wanting to spend the rest of their lives with the ones they love. Each person needs to make that decision on their own. The history of marriage shows that it is more about keeping wealth and power in a given family, as opposed to being about love. It is a union that is sanctioned by a State and Federal Government contract that gives you rights that should be available for all people. Perhaps we should have worked to use different wording that could be used to express the love we say we are joining over. Our fight should be for achieving the same rights that others have, not change the fact that we are different from others. That is the key to all humanity, no one is like another person. Celebrate what makes us who we are, embrace the differences, and love the ones that can lift us up in spite of them.

*Against Equality: Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusions” Edited by Ryan Conrad copyright 2014

 

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The T On All AX’S

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Friday February 15, 2019 was the first LGBTQ night after All AX’S had their grand opening as an LGBTQ inclusive bar two weeks before. I wanted to check it out to see the differences from that visit. The idea of having a LGBTQ bar destination on the east-side of town is still an amazing idea. While many people feel the decline of LGBTQ bars is no big deal, I feel that it is important is providing structure to a community especially in a part of town that doesn’t have a lot of LGBTQ options.

Billy Welker is the owner behind All AX’S and is committed to making this spot all inclusive. A few of us had reached out to give a few suggestions on how to get the word out to the local community. One easy one that I suggested was to get equality stickers or rainbow stickers so that anyone would be able to identify it as a safe place. Upon walking up to the bar, we noticed the stickers in the main windows. Not overly stated, but if you know what you are looking for, they are a nice reminder that this bar is welcoming. Just peeking into the bar, it was easy to notice that there were more people this time.

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You could hear the music from the outside and was a nice beat. I knew that it was going to be DJ Toni Freeze and her set is always good. Always a great combination of modern and classic dance beats. There was about 20 people in the bar and was a good turnout of only the second publicized night of it being a LGBTQ club. The vibe of the bar was warm and fun, all seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. If you read the first review of the bar, I mentioned that it had a kitschy atmosphere that is truly inviting. The walls are covered with vinyl record album covers, strings of multicolored lights stretch between the columns of the bar, bright mirrors behind the liquor selection gives it a larger appearance.

The have a good selection of beers and liquor and the prices are really good. A few beers and couple mixed drinks definitely do not set you back as much as many of the places downtown. The drinks are mixed well and skew a bit more to the liquor side, rather than the mixer. Their beer selection offers a lot of local flavors, as well as plenty larger labels. Food menu is more to just bar foods. You can find shrimp baskets, burgers, wings and fries, plenty enough to help soak up the night of drinking. There is a patio out back and will be awesome once the weather warms up for enjoying it.

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Many people were saying how awesome it was or that they couldn’t believe there was a gay bar in Willoughby. So, the word is out, and people are reacting to it. The entire time I was there I only heard a couple people have anything to say that wasn’t tinged with excitement. There were a few heterosexual people who did ask if the people in the bar were gay. Once they answered, that was about it. Only one seemed to make any kind of joke about it. The bar stayed busy up until about midnight, when I left.

I talked with Ms. DJ Toni Freeze and she asked how we liked the music. I told her that it was a great mix of songs, current Top 40 and back to the 80s. She mentioned that she thought people were reacting well to what was being played and that she tried changing up the music depending on the people that were in the bar. We talked a bit more about her set and style of music and she was happy that Billy offered her a reoccurring gig at the bar. I feel that her style of music will be a good balance for all people that come to the bar and not alienate any particular group. DJ Freeze also has a website for being able to download music she has put together and you can download them here.

This Friday, All AX’S will be hosting a drag show starring Veranda L’NI and will host Kari Nickels, Aurora Thunder, and Natasshja Norielle. The show starts at 10:30 with no cover charge, I mean how can you beat that. This will be a good measure of how the success of the bar will be. If you are in the area you really need to come out and give your support to the bar and check out a good show. I have seen Veranda several times, since I have moved to Cleveland and she always puts on a great show and works the crowd well.

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Billy Welker is doing everything he can to make this a destination and it is going to take you guys coming out and supporting it. If you have ideas of things you would like to see at the bar, you can drop a line in the comments section or better yet, visit the bar and let the staff know. Show your support and interest. Let’s make it a fun place to be and make the bar a success.

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Dorothy Jean

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Eight years ago, this February 10, my mother passed away. It was a monumental milestone in my life because she was probably the one person who really knew me. The person that I never really had to tell them how I felt, she just knew. No matter where I was, if either of us needed to talk we instantly knew and would pick up the phone. She was an amazing person that shaped my life in many ways and some I didn’t fully understand until later in my life. I try to honor her daily and celebrate the good times of her life.

I guess, for me, the reason we are so close is the amount of time my mother spent beside my bed for various events in my life. That started at my birth when I was born blue due to oxygen deprivation, after which I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator due to other complications. Mom told me that it was rough the first few weeks and the doctors were watching my condition closely. From childhood, it was diagnosed that I was allergic to almost everything in the environment; dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, and bees, being the largest of those. Beestings were and are the worst for me, it turned out I had a very severe allergy to bees. There were three events of me being stung that I almost died, and Mom was there, in my ear, telling me to get myself together and stay with her. Once, my blood pressure and heart rate were so low that I remember the doctors telling her they would be shocked if I made it. Being the mother, she was, she simply whispered words of encouragement to me, reminding me that I was stronger than this.

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There were times when I was a child that I had some very dark thoughts. I had written her letters telling her how much of a freak I thought I was, that I should run away, or that I didn’t deserve to be alive. Parents today would freak out, my mother remained strong and simply talked to me about my issues. She listened to what I had to say, crying along with me. Her words of strength filled me with such light that I felt I could endure anything. She stood by me when I needed an ally and she kicked my ass when I needed motivation. She sat with me through school when I could not understand what I was being taught and showed me new ways of looking at problems and understanding, recounting stories of her adversity to show me that strength is more than physical prowess, it is the ability to adapt and overcome.

She gave me room to grow to become my own person and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. She took me to college and was there to help me when I came home. She never gave up on me, no matter how much I thought my world had ended. I had done the best I could, as a child, to hide that I was different. To now show that I was gay. At times I dated women, even if they were the wrong choice, to make my mother feel that I was the son I thought she wanted. In the summer of 1995, I knew I couldn’t hide myself any longer. My mother and I worked in the same mall and I would often go and have lunch with her. On one summer day in July, I decided I would finally tell her the truth. For the last year I had been going to the only LGBTQ in a two-hour distance and thought it was time to finally be free. While we were eating lunch, I told her that we needed to talk, not taking my eyes off the sandwich I was eating. She was working on the schedule for her job and only replied “Ok.”  And I started it like so many cliched movies by saying “You know how people are different, they do different things, try different things, and love different people?” She only replied “mmmhmm.” My nerves quickly kicked into overload and thought I was going to swallow my heart in telling her something that would destroy her. I fumbled back and forth over trying to explain it in a way that would make it seem the most natural thing in the world. My mother put down her pen and looked over the rim of her glasses and stated quite simply and elegantly, “I love you no matter what and I have known you were gay since you were a kid. Nothing has changed.” I choked on my own breath thinking how she could have known, I hid it so well. This can’t be. I waited for an explosion of anger that never came.

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It was seven months later that I told her about the man I met and how he made me felt. How I had never known love like I feel with him. She never judged nor sneered, she never said anything derogatory or hurtful. The only words she said was “As long as he treats you well and I meet him for my approval, it is fine.” Even when I went on further to explain to her that he was HIV+, her only concern was about us being safe. Looking back, I know that it must have terrified her to know that I was in love with someone that was HIV+, this was the mid 90s and HIV was still pretty much a death sentence. The stigma of being gay in our small town was bad and add that with HIV and you were almost a guaranteed outcast or worse. Two weeks later, I introduced her to Shawn and she instantly fell in love with him and became like a son to her.

When Shawn passed on February 28, 2003, she was the first person I called. She stayed on the phone with through all of my hysterical, sobbing fits, comforting me and calming me into some form of sanity. She and my sister sat beside me at his funeral while his family made a mockery of his life, never once even acknowledging that I was a part of it. Eight years we spent together, and they claimed he hated being gay, that he felt he had been led astray. All of which was not true, Shawn loved being a gay man and had an immense pride in the LGBTQ community. My mother sat beside me recalling seeing him do drag and how he often called her for strength. As they tore him down, she built him back up for me.

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It was five years later that my mother’s health started to decline. I moved back home to be near her, but I in no way had the strength she had shown me. It was hard going to the doctor visits with her and hearing how they could not explain the things she was going through. It weighed on me every time she went back into the hospital for more unexplained internal bleeding. I watched her very being change as I sat beside her and I constantly wondered how I was not as strong as she was with me during similar times. My fear often turned to anger because I knew the time was coming in which I would be without her and I was afraid of how I would deal with it. The person who had been my rock through my life needed me and I could only worry about not having her with me anymore. Why did I not have the strength that she so often showed me, why was I so weak. And when she passed February 10, 2011, I was angry at myself for not being more present with her. She was not gone from my life and I was left with the regrets of not being a rock for her.

It has taken me eight years to learn that she still teaches me things every day. The lesson I still struggle to learn is she probably had the same fears that I was going through as her health decline. The difference is that she showed the strength to not let them control her and she became the strength that I and others did not have. That is what made her a mother and it is the same strength that I hope to still have. While you may be gone from my life, Mom, you will never leave my heart. Thank you for building me up and providing the foundation to be a strong person. I Love You!cropped-img_0117

LGBTQ Inclusivity

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You will spend, on average, 90,000 hours of your life at work. 90,000 hours, can you really grasp that. So why is it that a place we spend so much of our time at that we feel that we do not need to be that comfortable doing it? 46% of LGBTQ employees have not disclosed to their bosses that they are, in fact, LGBTQ. In some cases, it could cause you to be fired if you live in one of the states that have not passed any form of protection laws. Some of you may argue as to why should you disclose to your job that you are LGBTQ.  Saying things like it won’t affect your job or that it isn’t needed to be known about your personal life. Remember that you spend 90,000 hours of your life working. Chances are they already know things about your personal life, like if you are stressed, sick, having hardships at home, and other aspects of your life. So why should something that is such a fundamental part of who you are not be discussed.

There are genuine fears of disclosing your identity at work, that is true. This is also why inclusivity training is fundamental to every organization. After all, the workforce is constantly changing and any business that cannot keep up with that change will likely not succeed. At one point, under the Obama administration, we all felt we had some form of protection under Title VII. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age (over 40), and disability. Even worse is that it still includes identification that, in many cases, is proven to be an outdated for of differentiation of people. Sex is being used to define the gender you are assigned at birth and the Government is pushing standards that will allow sex to be used to define only two options of either male or female and be the definition of what someone is. Sex simply lets the anatomy of a person be the defining factor of who they are, and we can find plenty of examples where how a person is born can cause issues when it comes to just using anatomy as a definition. To discuss all of this would require a post focused on just that and for the means of inclusivity training, we will have to bypass it for now. But the transgender bathroom debate, that has been a focus for a few years now, has been the driving force behind workplace inclusivity. This is helping companies reassess the workplace and how it relates to its LGBTQ workers.

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A 2018 Accenture study polled 22,000 men and women in at least 34 countries were asked what factors were most important to thrive and advance in their workplace. Forty factors were identified and some of them were the freedom to be innovative and creative,” employees never being asked to “change their appearance to conform to company culture,” and employees feeling “comfortable reporting sex discrimination/sexual harassment(s) to the company.” The study also shows that LGBTQ people are more likely to advance and feel more satisfied in companies where these forty factors are in place. Forbes Online  quoted Ellyn Shook  saying: “It’s critical that companies create a truly human environment where people can be successful both professionally and personally—where they can be who they are and feel they belong, every day.”

If the government will not be the driving factor for inclusivity and prevention of discrimination, then it is left to us and the companies we work for to foster these practices. It should be less of a legal have to and more of a moral obligation. Businesses can do this by implementing inclusive policies and procedures such as, same sex benefits. They can also deal with discrimination head on and not hesitate to engage employees who engage in discriminatory jokes or treating coworkers with mutual respect. Deal with this swiftly and consistently. Companies should also make sure that there is ongoing and consistent training to foster an environment of inclusivity. That training should focus on transphobia, homophobia, and LGBTQ issues. LGBTQ ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) should be implemented. These allow a feeling of inclusion and gives a place to turn to discuss issues in a safe environment. And to go an extra step, companies could support an LGBTQ cause or charity or even go as far as participating in a community event.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

I am sure there are many out there that will say this goes beyond what any company should do for a small group of people. My counter to this is it really that much to ask? Many companies already do this for groups that heteronormative people engage in. Many companies donate to local churches or schools that their employees belong to. There are sports teams for their employees. Many companies already have groups that are geared towards employee ethnicities and parents, so it shouldn’t be such a stretch to include the LGBTQ employees, as well. It is just another means to create an environment for all people that work for a company. No one group is more important than the next, as it takes a community to raise a barn. So, making sure that all people feel comfortable in their workplace is only beneficial to the company as a whole.

We must, also, not equate inclusion with conformity, simply because we want the same rights that our heteronormative counterparts have doesn’t mean we should be so quick to accept their way of life. The rights that we have fought for are a means for us to be who we are, wholly and independently. Our struggle for rights has been built off the backs of the feminism, civil rights, and free love movements. Each one has provided essential means to help us progress in our fight, to foster ideals and give avenues to follow. After all, our issues are not so far removed from the plight of others, since we compromise each ethnicity and gender. So, access to equal healthcare for all is just as important as anti-hate crime legislation. All of which are freedoms that should not be based on the conformity of the act of marriage. Inclusion is a means to show that all LGBTQ people have the same inalienable rights, whether married or not, Caucasian or other, as does our heteronormative counterparts. These rights should be given, as the Constitutions mandates, without having to change the essence of what we are to fit into a Legislative ideal of what it means.

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Inclusion training is about being able to understand and accept the differences of the group being discussed. It is a means to relate to them on a common ground and better understand the points of view they come from, as they are uniquely and vastly different than another. In regard to businesses, it is a means to ensure they remain competitive in a changing environment. In regard to schools, it is a way to understand the children in the facility you work at and teach others to be open and tolerant of those that are different from themselves. By teaching these principles, we can change the climate of our culture, whether a government is in support of it or not. Our change will, in time, force the very change of the en masse organization.

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