Your True Authentic Self

NeverSacrificeWhoYouAre

We all have heard it and often times we may even get tired of hearing it, but it is important to come out. It’s important on so many levels and we must also realize that it isn’t a one time event. It is important for others to see us as LGBTQ people; to see us is to know us. To know us is to be held accountable for things they say and actions they do. Our visibility helps those who have not found the strength to come out, it gives them a point to focus on and become stronger.  October is the perfect month to start thinking about this and how it affects you, it is LGBTQ Awareness Month.

Before I get into the normal part of why coming out is important, let’s look at a real life reason. On Tuesday September 25th, Cuyahoga County passed the LGBTQ Inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance.  Even though about half of the county already had some form of protection legislation in effect. Everyone in Cuyahoga County can be out and not have to worry about losing our job or our houses. We can hold hands in a restaurant and not have to constantly check to see if someone is looking that may get us thrown out. We can be our true authentic self, for most establishments, and not have to worry about being refused service because someone doesn’t think we fit into their small little religious detailed boxes. We can now legally use the bathroom that is correct for us and not have to worry about our safety. These are very important reasons for us to come out now. But these aren’t the most important reasons.

During this hearing many sides were able to voice their opinion. Many communities spoke out for and against this ordinance and why they felt it was important. None gave me grater pause to stop and think than a member of the African American community who spoke out against this ordinance because she knew we chose to be this way and felt we should not have “special rights.” Which, point of fact, are the very same rights she already has. The sticky part for me is when she said, “Choose to be that way.” Yes I know, this isn’t a new argument, it’s the one that is trotted out every time the LGBTQ community stands up for themselves and demand equality. History isn’t teeming with examples of abuse, prejudice, inequities, and inequalities we have suffered. Why? Because our very being isn’t always as easily spotted as heteronormative culture likes to say. Modes of dress, speech styles, rhythm affluences, and mannerisms often aren’t so easy to spot. Because of that the same heteronormative society says it’s because we choose to be this way and only recently wanted fairness.

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LGBTQ people were there in the concentration camps, right along with our Jewish allies. We have been hung, brutally beaten, rape d, and murdered in horrendous ways right along with other minorities.  We stood in the same lines, walking the same streets as our African American brothers and sisters. There were many LGBTQ people who were advisors to Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X. We fought for racial equality knowing it was still illegal to hold hands with our loved ones in public. These are the most important reasons we should come out, everyone of us. We need to show the world just how many of us there are and stand in unity with all those who fight. You want to shape the world for the future? These are the means to do so.

Coming out is and should be a daily event.  I know what you are saying; I just want to live a normal life and to be accepted. What you really are saying is that you want to blend in and not be noticed and that is equal to going back into the closet. You may even argue that heterosexuals don’t come out everyday, but I challenge you to reconsider that thought. The world is tailored around a heterosexual mindset. Media caters to their sexuality, movies highlight their lives, artists write songs about it, and even the government is accepting of this as the right way to live. While it is only the tip of the iceberg.it is not the reason this post was written.

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To constantly live in hiding does damage to ourselves, so coming out is important for our well-being. It’s about accepting yourself as a valid person and beginning to love yourself. This starts the ‘healing of self’ process and is key in being able to allow someone to love you for who you are. We all have heard it at some point, “if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect someone else to love you.” It’s a watered down expression, but what it means is that everything interaction we have in our lives builds a relationship. The first relationship we foster is the one with ourselves. Many times, we cannot even look at ourselves in the mirror for 30 seconds without passing judgment. Learning to love and accept yourself isn’t an easy or overnight thing. In fact, it will probably take all of your life but you can make a start.

Inner homophobia is hard to overcome and it comes in many guises. The easy ones are when we hate ourselves because we view ourselves as not what others expect us to be. We see it too important to base our worth on what others think of us. That is the most evident ones, but there are other deeper ones many of us still carry. Congratulating ourselves on our coworkers not being able to identify us as gay, when you feel good that someone praises you for having straight friends as well as gay friends, or when we let go of our lovers hand in public when we walk into a group of heterosexuals or when children pass by. We also see this in our dating apps and profiles, “masc seeking masc,” “straight acting seeking same”, or even “gay but doesn’t act it.” These are examples of internalized homophobia. The same as just wanting to be viewed as normal and not having to say that you are LGBTQ. We shouldn’t have to feel dread or stay out of the conversation when someone asks us about your weekends. If they talk about what they did with their spouses in comfort and ease, we too should be able to.

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Now before you start saying, “damn it Keith, I do not need to run around waving a rainbow or equality flag every time I have a conversation.” You are correct and that isn’t what I am saying, exactly. Here is an example, you are at your normal Monday morning staff meeting and they are doing the “what did you do this weekend” recap, as it comes to you can say that you and your spouse was doing whatever. Calling your spouse by name allows others to make the connections themselves, much the same way you do when Ted says that him and Sarah went to Olive Garden for their anniversary. You make the conclusion that Sarah is female and his wife, whether that is the case or not, we do know that Ted has a connection to Sarah. It is the casual conversation that should be undertaken to have the coming out moments. Why should we shy away from sharing about our personal lives simply because we are in a same sex relationship? You don’t have to wave a flag, but you shouldn’t have to hide it either

This being said, sometimes it is truly not safe to come out and for those times I would tell you to consider your options before making that move. If you are dependent upon parental figures for your survival, then wait until it is sustainable for you to be on your own. If the place you lie in would react hostile to you coming out, then it may not be the right time to open up. However, if you are in any kind of abusive situation, you need to get out. Your safety is always first. There are resources available to help you, please seek them out. It takes bravery to come out and many times people just don’t have the support network to find that bravery. Do not put yourself at physical risk to be brave, there is always a time and place.

I stand here in support of each and everyone of you. If you ever need someone to talk to, you can always email me. I will listen to you and support you for your True Authentic Self. No struggle should be done alone, you always have support. Email me if you need.
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Flaming River Con

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This past Saturday was the second annual Flaming River Con and was held in Rocky River at the West Shore Unitarian Universalists Church. I brought my best friends who happen to be a straight married couple and we decided to check it out. I had been excited for going since they announced the event early in summer. As it got closer I was hopeful for what the turn out would be like. We arrived just after 12:30 and the parking lot was packed and my excitement was escalated. We are making circles in the parking lot, skillfully looking for a spot. All I can see is my fellow LGBTQ community showing up, many of which in costumes.

Suddenly, I am filled with the emotions of the first time going to an amusement park. I am pretty low key when it comes to comic cons. I am not comfortable about dressing up as my heroes, so I am usually limited to wearing a t-shirt of anyone of my favorite villains or heroes. Today I decided to wear a blue cargo kilt and a grey Batman shirt, sort of as a mock throw back to the original Batman colors. I look around and I see the levels of peoples cosplay and I am just struck by the talent and creativity.

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As we walked in we were greeted by the Welcoming table. They offer information about the event and its roots. Talk about the raffles and what to expect. Thankfully, my friends paid attention because I was more like a kid in a candy store. My gaze feasting from one sight to another, trying to see it all. We purchase our tote bags, make our donations and I am still lost in all the people around me. As we move into the building we pass other tables for groups, rooms for all the panel discussions, and finally we enter what can only be described as geek heaven, the vendor floor.

Now many of us have been to comic cons before, the vendor floor is by large the biggest space at them and it’s where we, as collectors, find the rare statues or figures we have been searching for, for what seems our entire lives. Here it was different, it was local artists showcasing their talents and passions for the community. This is the type of vendor floor that makes me happy. If you ask me what my favorite booth was the Adopt A Monster booth by C. M. Manfredi’s Emporium of Wonders . Her handmade creatures were amazing and I think I fell in love with everyone of them. Please check out her link and support her. There were handmade Pride stained glass, artists of every flavor, and even locally made cosplay gear. Taranis Works  was on site to suit your leather goods needs. From pride colored spiked bracelets, leather eye patches, full arm guards, and leather belt bags. Check out his site for anything you may need made to your specifications.

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Many may ask why there is a need for an LGBTQ event such as this and my response is the need is important for us to have a place where we can feel at ease celebrating who we are and what we love. Sure we can do this at the larger Cons, but speaking to LGBTQ representation in comic/sci-fi/horror culture would be unheard of. Here we had Sine Grace signing autographs and discussing his role in making Iceman a representative of the LGBTQ community. These are the stepping stones for young LGBTQ youth to have role models and sources of strength and self worth. Comic books shape us as children and oftentimes they do not represent all of society. This even allows that to happen and to celebrate it.

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Thank you Flaming River Arts for putting on this event and seeing the importance for it to happen. Thank you to each person who was in attendance for it, you are the ones that make this a success. I look forward to next year and how much more it grows. It is the only place where we can be our true LGBTQ geek selves. So make sure we continue to offer your support to them. Thank you again to Flaming River Con.

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Gay Rights Movement vs. Civil Rights Movement

We should be learning from those that have laid the very groundwork for fighting for civil liberties. We also should be cognizant of the fact that many of those pioneers were, in fact, fighting for LGBTQ rights at the same time they were fighting for civil rights. This Ted Talk shows how the Gay Rights Movement has correlations with the Civil Rights Movement and how pioneers Bayard Rustin and Jack Nichols fought as out gay black men.

 

Flaming River Comic-con

I know what you are thinking, this year’s Comicon was a blast, but what can I do to rock out my Queer Geek side until it comes back next year. Flaming River Con is your answer and it will be held Saturday September 22nd, 2018. This is the first ever Midwest LGBTQIA+ event for all things Queer and Geek. You need to come out and support this group.

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Founded in 2017, Flaming River Arts is a Cleveland based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose goal is to foster, showcase, and celebrate LGBTQIA+ voices and the community, and combat bigotry by increasing the visibility of marginalized persons within geek culture. Their first event, Flaming River Comic-Con, was last year with this one being far larger and is a place for LBGTQIA+ artists, authors, and vendors to showcase their talent. You can come and learn about queer history in comics, rock your favorite Cosplay, learn to Cosplay on a budget, and sit in on various Queer themed panels.

 

Their special guest this year is Los Angeles’ own Sina Grace, writer of Marvel’s solo Iceman comics. Sina has received the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book. You can also take part in a host of panels about topics such as; queer comics, social activism, cosplay on a budget, queer representation in horror, and much more. There will be 40 vendors to quench your queer culture thirsts, so come thirsty. So dust off that Light saber, grab your Sonic Screwdriver, put on your Red Shirt and join the away team at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, Ohio. Also to appear is Dale Lazarov, Father of the American Bara Comicsas the writer, art director and licensor of Sticky Graphic Novels. The Sticky Graphic Novels are picture based, gay character based, and sexpositive graphic novels. His fans rave that his works are “a joyous expression of male/male sexuality that, while erotic, is neither grubby nor tasteless.” Also, Dr. Ken Scheck, author of LGBTQ Cleveland, will host a panel on Cartoon 4 Change. This panel will discuss the evolution of Cleveland’s cartoon as the discuss HIV/AIDS, racism, and how the LGBTQ community interacts.

 

Here is a list of some of the vendors that will be at Flaming River Comicon. Pointless Peaches, LLC, a retail store that makes handcrafted items by the founder LaShanta Knowles. Northcoast Armor & Jewelry , their specialty is custom made chain and scale mail jewelry, clothing, armor, and accessories. She also makes her very own line of dragon jewelry.  ArtsParadis Handcrafted Jewelry  is a LGBTQ owned and operated business that specializes in handcrafted jewelry. Charlene and Jeff, owners and crafters behind the company, specialize in handcrafted jewelry.

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FRA is pleased to announce its first annual Flaming River Con! The all-day event will take place Saturday September 22nd, 2018 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, Ohio. The event will be the Midwest’s first all LGBTQIA+ geek convention, showcasing everything queer and geek, including comics, zines, podcasts, art, books, cosplay, panels, and workshops. Author and illustrator Sina Grace will headline the convention. Grace has published several graphic novels in addition to working for Marvel Comics, IDW, Valiant, and more. Grace is currently writing the solo Iceman comics for Marvel.

Flaming River Con will be holding a book signing and meet and greet with Sina Grace at John and Carol’s Comics on September 21st, 6pm-8pm.

For more information, including panel, vendor, and sponsor applications, please use the contact information below:

So, come on out and support your local LGBTQ community and get your geek on!!!

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Website: www.flamingriverarts.org

 

Email: flamingrivercon@gmail.com

EIN: 82-5337147

 

Sincerely,

Flaming River Arts

 

 

Our Transgender Community: #Calltoarms

It seems appropriate that, while discussing our Transgender community, we discuss the rights that LGBTQ have or do not have here in Cleveland. It is important to understand them in context to where we are and what we should be thinking about for the future. The current administration has shown us that they do not care for the LGBTQ community and are taking steps to reverse the progress we have made. Let me be clear in saying that we have made progress, but our fight is far from over.

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Ohio adopted its first sodomy law in 1885 in and four years changed it to include fellatio. This wasn’t removed from state law until 1972. Ohio was one of a few states that were already repealing their sodomy laws, however it was still considered a misdemeanor to express interest from one man to another. In 1979 the importuning law, expressing of interest romantic or sexual nature, as a misdemeanor was changed to read as an unwelcome or unsolicited interest by the Ohio Supreme Court based on the case State vs. Phipps. This wasn’t overturned until 2002 when the courts reported that the First and Fourteenth Amendments did not allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation in these cases. It wasn’t until June of 2003 that the United States Supreme Court ruled to remove all remaining sodomy laws from the states. These statutes were used to specifically target LGBTQ people.

Same sex marriage wasn’t passed until June 26, 2015 from the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges. Adoption and parenting for same sex couples is legal in the state of Ohio. In 1987, Ohio enacted In re Ladrach, which made it illegal for someone undergoing gender confirmation surgery to be able to change the gender on their birth certificate. Though it is perfectly legal for Transgender people to amend their driver’s license to reflect their gender identity. It wasn’t until March of this year (2018) that four Transgender Ohioans filed a suit against Ohio Department of Health to revoke In re Ladrach and to have their birth certificates re-issued with their correct gender. At the time of this filing, Ohio was one of three states that Transgender people were banned from amending their birth certificates.

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While Cleveland offers protection from discrimination based on race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, Ohio at large does not have any protection laws in place. Nor are their any hate crime laws in relations to sexual orientation or gender identity. Some State protection does come into play from Federal laws. There are no laws preventing the usage of conversion therapy  in Ohio. In 2015 a bill was introduced to prevent the usage of conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors in Ohio by senator Charleta Tavares, however that bill died due to no legislative action. Since 2016 four Ohio cities (Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati) have enacted bans on conversion therapy. That’s right, Cleveland does not have any laws preventing the usage of conversion therapy.

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Conversions therapy suggests that it is possible to change the sexuality or gender identity of someone by using spiritual or psychology interventions. These are measures that took the place of things like institutionalization or castration to prevent homosexuality. They stem from a period in our no so distant history where it was believed that to be a LGBTQ was a mental illness that could be treated. Today they include things like electroconvulsive shock therapy. The Mormons use a version of this that combine audio/visual stimulation in conjunction with electroconvulsive shock therapy. There are electrodes connected to parts of your brain that monitor your reaction to the visual and audio cues they provide you. Essentially, if they show a young boy images of gay sex, two men kissing, of various other things that can trigger a response from someone who is gay, they are given large amounts of electric current. The mindset is that given enough of this kind of “treatment” your orientation would start to change. These types of interventions are nothing short of torture and are not quantifiable by any medical standard. None of these studies have shown to “cure” anyone of being LGBTQ. These therapies do more damage than help, causing feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety, which only creates larger issues needing more help. Suicide rates amongst LGBTQ or question youth is already horrible numbers to consider. LGBTQ and questioning youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. 40% of Transgender adults have reported attempting suicide, of those 92% have attempted suicide before they turned 25. Numbers are often hard to quantify in these studies since more often than not, they are misreported or not known.

We cannot become complacent in our fight for our rights. We definitely should show support to Cleveland for what it offers, but at the same time we need to challenge for better situations. Ohio was home to one of the first cities (Toledo) to pass a ban on conversion therapy, we should push to be the first state to completely ban it. In December 2015, MTV.com reported that 77% of the LGBTQ population live in states where it is legal to conduct conversion therapy. We must #uniteandfight, let our voices be heard that we will not stand by and watch our community still be treated this way. We must get out there and vote every election to ensure people who support us are representing us and the changes we want made for out country. Make your voice matter and show them our votes do count. #votethemout

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Our Transgender Community: Transgender Teens

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Often overlooked in our LGBTQ community is the Transgender community. In this administration where much of the legislation being changed, seems to have a direct correlations to Transgender rights, I feel it is important to be able to share some of their stories. It is time for us all to set our differences and beliefs aside. We must unite and fight this administration before it removes anymore from us and we lose all the progressions we have made. So join with me as I share their stories and lets celebrate their fight and stand with them.

When it comes to talking about civil rights, we seem to always focus on groups that are similar to our point of view. We all are guilty of it and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just normal. I do it when I write. I elected to talk and share stories of our Transgender Community, but I forgot that also includes adolescents and teenagers. What we forget are the struggles of those younger than us. We forget the LGBTQ teens and adolescence and the sad part is the statistics show this is where a large number of LGBTQ suicides come from. So we need to make sure we include those that are younger than us in our fights for rights.

July 13th of this year, BJ Colangelo did an article for Scene magazine about a Transgender teen who was denied the rights of a name change. For most adults it’s a fairly simple process, you go to court and petition for it to happen, they may require you to post to a newspaper of your name change, and then you show up for the actual date to make it happen. Stressful and scary, but easier that it was for an Ohio Transgender teen. And it isn’t just in Ohio.

15-year-old Elliot went with his parents to make his change, so that he would be ready for the simple things like a driver’s license and applying to colleges. He has already been to doctors and affirmed with his parents, who agreed with him, that this is what he truly wanted. They similarly thought this would just be a formality. What happened was far worse, Judge Kirby, who presides over Warren County, decided he knew better than Elliot, his parents and his doctors and that it was only a phase brought on by media and as such denied him his name change. At 15 the struggles of living as a teenager are hard enough. You have hormones, peer pressure, what will happen after graduation, finding and maintaining friendships, and just learning about whom you are physically and mentally. To come to a point where you have made a decision about who you are and have the support of those more important to you be ripped away from someone who thinks they know better can shatter your world.

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I admit that in my earlier years after coming out I was guilty of the mindset that kids and teenagers couldn’t understand the world full enough to make decisions about being a homosexual or transgender. Still dealing with changes and not fully understanding their place in the world. After meeting many kids who knew themselves much better than I am, I came to realize that revelations like this do not have an age criteria like some amusement park ride. How could I stand and tell someone that I am who I am because I was born this way and not validate someone else for that statement simply because they were much younger than I am.

During the whole process, Judge Kirby continued to refer to Elliot as “she” and calling Elliot by his “dead name.” Even though he later mentioned that he understood that using improper pronouns can be offensive to the transgender community.

           

“Whether [the teen] is experiencing gender dysphoria or is just not comfortable with her body is something that only time will reveal,” Kirby wrote in his decision. “Is [the teen’s] distress brought about by confusion, peer pressure, or other non-transgender issues – or is it truly mismatch between her gender identity and her body.”

The journey that Elliot and his family went through to get to the point of wanting the name change was simply tossed aside by a judge who thought he knew better than Elliot, his parents, or his doctors. This is a reaction that is all too often the normal. Elliot and his parents are in the process of appealing this decision with help of LGBTQ attorney Josh Langdon.

“This appeal is a case of first impression in Ohio, and we will fight vigorously to ensure that Elliot and his family are treated with dignity and respect. We hope the 12th District Court of Appeals moves quickly to overturn Judge Kirby’s decision to put transgender children on trial.”

Judge Kirby told Elliot and his family to ask again “once you become an adult.” In his footnotes of the case he wrote “Age, Develop, Mature. The court was cited saying that they are not saying ‘no’ to the name change, ‘just not yet’. Elliot at least had the support of his parents.

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Photo Credit to Ginger from her interview

In 2014 Leelah Alcorn of Warren County committed suicide and was reported she was being forced to go through conversion therapy. Leelah was 17 and left a note stating simply “I’ve had enough.” She had reached out to friends and transgender suicide hotline for help. At 14, she was already experiencing problems with her family accepting her for who she identified as, so she turned to friends for her support. She struggled with accepting who she felt she was and what her family wanted her to be.  She wanted her struggles to be a catalyst for progression for Transgender rights.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in a post on her Tumblr account.

She left a message to her parents stating “you can’t just control other people like that.” Even in death, her family refused to acknowledge her. There are no statistics on how transgender suicide, since it is not always known or accurately reported. However, in 2010 it was reported that 41% of 7000 transgender people had attempted suicide.

This, all too often, goes unnoticed by our community in Cleveland. We forget that many of the rights we have, here in our city, do not translate to our municipalities in Ohio. And these incidents are far too common throughout our great nation. This is why we need to #uniteandfight, stand together with our community to ensure that all civil rights are ours. And that no one should have to suffer these kinds of indignities.

We have to realize that we are the stewards for the future LGBTQ people. We need to lay the appropriate groundwork to give them a better place than what we are leaving. We have to ask ourselves if our mindset is holding back progress and if so how can we change it. You don’t have to agree with everyone, you just have to realize that his or her lives aren’t your journey. Advocacy is about realizing the cause or person is the right thing to fight for, not necessarily being the person who needs the cause. Are you being the best possible steward for the future?

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