Holiday Woes…

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I have mentioned in a previous post about a lesson my first boyfriend taught me, that as LGBTQ we have this amazing ability to choose our own family. That lesson is very important this time of year as the holidays approach. Many of us, especially our younger LGBTQ brothers and sisters, do not have their biological families for whatever reason. That is hard to get past and leaves lasting scars. It is to you and them that I say, do not be afraid to reach out to your community and become a family for someone who may need it.

Those of us who consider ourselves activists or advocate, in any way, talk about how visibility is important to acceptance of LGBTQ people. So let’s look at a staggering fact, it is reported that 34,000 people commit suicide each year, with LGBTQ people being four times as likely to commit suicide. Let that sink in, 34,000people. In three short years, that number would rise to just over 100,000 people. To put that into another perspective, my hometown is about 40,000 people, so that would mean that almost everyone in that town would disappear each year. 500,000 LGBTQ youth attempt suicide each year. The population of Cleveland, Ohio is 385,525 people, so almost twice the number of people in Cleveland attempt suicide each year. Combine those numbers with drug addiction and you quickly see the impact this has on our community. Looking for more information on this, check out DrugRehab.com for some of their substance abuse relating suicide statistics.

The Trevor Project  has some scary facts as well.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely t have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

These are only a few statistics from their page and ones that really point towards familiar issues. Psychology Today stated that “5,000 LGBTQ youth now take their lives each year with the number believed to be significantly higher if deliberate auto accidents and other precipitated events are counted.” There has been correlation noted that as more laws were passed to create protection to our LGBTQ people, that these numbers started to lower.

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This is why family and a solid foundation are necessary for our community. Depression affects an estimated 17 million people in the US and a higher proportion being in the LGBTQ communities.  Holidays can be even rougher, as it is typically a time of togetherness. This creates a huge strain on those that are ostracized from their families for whatever reason. LGBTQ youth that have been kicked out of their homes may not know what services are available to them and end up on the street. This only adds to the feelings of being alone and thrown away. These feelings are not indicative of LGBTQ teens, many older LGBTQ people are also faced with feelings of isolation or not belonging for reason such as family loss, loss of relationship, or even feelings of rejection and lack of acceptance by the larger LGBTQ community

The holidays are when we, as LGBTQ people, should make an effort to spend more time around people and organizations that can help mitigate the levels of feeling isolated and rejected. Take a look at local LGBTQ organizations that put on  holiday events in your area that can help ease the stress of being alone or separated from family this time of year. Here in Cleveland, Ohio you can check the calendar at the LGBTQ Community Center of Greater Cleveland and see what they have going on. If you see someone that may be in need of some interaction, please reach out to him or her. You may never know the kind of impact you may have on that person.

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If you haven’t come out or may be introducing a new partner, this time of year can also increase the amount of stress and separation you are feeling. Returning to an environment where you are forced to hide a part of yourself because you are afraid of how your family will react can be very difficult. Being born and raised in a southern household with a father who carried many forms of prejudice, it is something I am all too familiar with. Constantly having to give extra thought to mannerisms or word choice because I may be judged is very stressful. My partner worrying about how he may be accepted and me being on guard over what may be said creates a toxic environment that tends to breed more problems. Many Thanksgiving dinners were fraught with worry the dreaded question of “are you seeing anyone?” or “when are you gonna bring a nice girl home?”

Interaction with people and events doesn’t always mean someone isn’t depressed. Going to holiday parties can lead to or further enable substance abuse as a means of a coping mechanism. This can give someone the appearance of being ok when in fact they are not. I am not here to educate you in watching for signs of substance abuse as a means of coping with depression, only to point out that it is one. So when you are inviting people to partake of social situations this time of year, make sure they are always just a party. If you are inviting someone to an event that may not be a part of your normal group, be sure to look out for them. If you are looking for events to attend, look for social gatherings as well as hitting your local bar. Keeps it varied and creates a closer sense of connection.

We get to choose our family as LGBTQ people, so we should make those choices carefully. Make sure we are surrounding ourselves with a community that fosters love and support. The holidays are about being with family and what better way to celebrate that with those very people who understand the struggles we face daily. Let’s use our scars as badges of healing and reach out to those who may not have a family to turn to.

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LGBTTTQQIAA, WTF?

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Labels define our lives; they tell us who we are, they tell where we live, they decide what kind of services we are given, and who we are. Labels, whether we like them or not, shape our world and perceptions. We often impose more labels, upon others, and ourselves than are needed. Single, married, depressed, happy, poor, rich, heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, young and old. Many of these give us an understanding of a person or thing and some only exist to define a box that we are in. I am not going to talk about the need of labels in this post, only help shed some light on the many labels that are used to define our community.

The longer you are out, the more you start to realize that the letters to define have changed. For instance, when I can out in the early 90s we were seeing the progression of LGBT to LGBTQ. In the 20 years since that time the initials have doubled to include LGBTTTQQIAA. As a means to level the playing field this stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two Spirit, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed, Asexual, and Ally. This also doesn’t include the people who identify as Pansexual, Agender, Gender Queer, Bigender, Gender Variant, and Pangender. It truly can be confusing, even for us to understand the depths this covers. What does it all mean? Where do I fit in? Do all of these labels matter?

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WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Let’s start with some definitions. Whether you are cisgender or transgender, it is pretty easy to say lesbian and gay refer to being attracted to members of the same gender. Whereas bisexual would mean being attracted to members of both genders. These are sexual and romantic attractions based on perceived genders or genders that are presented. From there it needs a bit more breakdown.  Sex refers to your biological sex. Meaning the reproductive anatomy and secondary sexual characteristics you were both with. Whereas gender is broken down to gender roles and gender identity. Gender roles are those that society places upon a person or even perceived by the person. Gender identity is what is your perceived gender based on an internal awareness.

This becomes more important when we look at the transgender and transsexuals. Bear with me as the next few definitions come from Medical Daily and are not my own. If any inconsistent information is provided I do apologize and will not be upset if I am corrected. Medicaldaily.com defines a transsexual as people who transition from one sex to another, if your birth certificate shows your sex as female and you later had surgery to become male. Transgender are people who whose identity, expression, behavior, or general sense of self does not conform to what is usually associated with the sex they were born in the place they were born. This making transgender a more multifaceted term that allows for many permutations of how one person lives and interacts with people.

Two Spirit is a more modern term being used to classify many people in the indigenous peoples. This term refers to having both a male and female spirit inside of them. From an outside point of view that may be harder to understand. In some traditional First Nations cultures there was what was called a third gender and has cultural and ceremonial significance to those people. It is not an interchangeable term for Native LGBT. Also the term “two spirit” is not in and of it self a native people term. It is a modern definition used as a broad term to cover many first nations cultures that may have had the sacred third gender. Many tribes did not have rigid binary definitions of gender and used the third gender as a means of defining someone that was more closely connected to the spiritual nature of their given tribe. Out of respect to the First Nations People, I will not attempt to describe it further.

Queer is used to describe sexual or gender minorities that are not heterosexual or cisgender. Up until the late 1980s it was used to describe anyone that had sexual desires towards the same sex. It soon became a term to describe anyone who rejected traditional gender identities and sought a broader and more ambiguous label. Questioning is used for anyone who is still exploring or refuses to accept modern conventions of labels towards gender identity and sexual attraction. Someone who questions their own gender identity or sexual identity and orientation.

Intersex is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. It is a term that is used to describe a variation in sexual identity. It could include someone who appears as one sex on the outside while having different sexual characteristics on the inside. It may also be used to describe someone whose outward sexual characteristics do not fit in with how they appear. An example would be a boy born with a noticeably smaller penis and a scrotum that is divided and more similar to that of a labia. Or even someone born with mosaic genetics where some of their chromosomes are XX while others are XY. Asexual would be someone who has a lack of sexual attraction to any identity or gender or a low or absent interest in sexual activity. This would have no bearing on whether they identify as homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. Ally is simply someone who considers themselves a friend of the LGBTQ+ community. Someone who stands up for their rights offers their friendship, and support when it is needed.

Pansexual is someone who has no set attraction to anyone specific gender or sex, whether it be sexual, romantic, or emotional. Often referring to themselves as gender blind, where their sexual attraction is not bound by one gender or identity. Agender is someone who does not classify himself or herself by any set gender role. Nor do they conform their identities to any traditional gender role. Gender Queer is a person whose identity is not exclusively masculine or feminine. Their identities are those that fall outside of gender binary or cisnormativity. Bigender is defined as someone who moves between masculine and feminine gender roles and behaviors. There are even some who exhibit two separate gender identities at once and identify as both simultaneously.

WHERE DO I FIT IN? And DO ALL OF THESE LABELS MATTER?

No one person can tell you who you are or what you should like. For many people it takes almost a lifetime of self-exploration to even begin to understand where they fit in. Then there are some who know from a very young age. You don’t have to conform to something doesn’t feel right to you. If you choose to explore one or all of these, that is your prerogative. There are no tests that will show you who you are or what you should be, however wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take a test to define who you are? Answer a couple of questions, look at a couple of pictures, and them BAM here are your results and congratulations! Instead you should think of life as more of a carnival, look at all the rides and booths it has to offer. See which appeals to you and give them a try. You can’t know what you life if you don’t try it out.

It is important to realize that labels are good for the broadest sense of defining who you are and where you may fit in. It helps instill a sense of community and belonging, a sense of pride. Just don’t let them be the only thing that makes you who you are. Don’t let modern conventions force you to feel shame for being your true self. A preconceived perception of what groups of people define as normal is what causes us to feel shame over being different. They do not live your life or understand the things that you feel. This is your journey to find where you may fit in the LGBTTTQQiAA spectrum. Do not be just another label.

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Information brought to you by OK@BEME (https://ok2bme.ca/resources/kids-teens/what-does-lgbtq-mean/) and Medical Daily (medicaldaily.com)

 

Isolation Amongst the Crowds

Merriam-Webster defines choice as noun 1. the act of choosing: selection, 2. power of choosing: option, 3 a. the best part: cream, b. a person or thing chosen, 4. a number and variety to choose among, 5. care in selecting, 6. a grade of meat between prime and good, or of choice, or to be preferred. Adjective  1. worthy of being chosen, 2. selected with care, 3 a. of high quality, b. of a grade between prime and good. It’s important to understand the meaning of word when you are trying to use it to explain something. Because of this very word CHOICEI feel that LGBTQIA are the overlooked marginalized minority.

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We all have had this dream, more than likely. You are in a room surrounded by people that you may or may not know. It is a fairly large room full of people and you are walking among them and you notice that they are looking at you. Some of them are in shock and disbelief while others may be laughing and making comments in whispered tones to others. As you move about the room you realize that their reactions may be about you. Suddenly, you are in front of this group of people and you can’t imagine why. You think you may supposed to be speaking or presenting something, maybe it is even going over your book report. As you start to check yourself for you notes you realize you are naked in front of everyone and all the reactions make perfect sense. You are exposed and vulnerable, you try to cover yourself and make apologies but all it does it draw more attention to how you do not fit in. Your anxiety rises, your pulse is racing, sweat is pouring off of you in rivulets, you feel like you are about to throw up, and you are turning more shades of red than there are possibilities. It’s a horrifying feeling. You can’t seem to get away fast enough and  you know there is no way you can fit in.

In the simplest terms, that is how most LGBTQIA people feel every moment of their lives. No matter where we go, the people we interact with, or the situations we are in we constantly know we do not fit in and are afraid of how people are judging us. The difference is that in many situations it’s not veiled comments behind hands, it turns into acts of violence. Cleveland, Ohio having more than 15% of the this year’s national transgender homicide rate is proof enough of that. Let us not forget the tragic events of Matthew Shepard being abducted, stripped, beaten to near death and tied to a fence post in Wyoming, all because two straight men thought he deserved it. Still mainstream believes that we “choose” to be LGBTQIA.

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Now imagine waking up every day and seeing yourself in the mirror and know what you see isn’t who you are. That it just feels like you are trapped in a shell that isn’t right. You get dressed every morning, as to how you are expected to be, and you never feel at ease. Feeling like you are pretending to be someone you are not. This in turn creates depression and a sense of self-doubt and loathing. You start to wonder what is wrong with you and why can’t you be like everyone else. What if this or what if that? Always feeling scared and confused. Never sure of whom you are or what you are feeling. Would you choose to feel that daily? Would you want to endure that kind of life?

As I was growing up, I simply knew that I was different. I didn’t have attractions to females. I didn’t like typical boys things and I knew that I didn’t fit in with other boys my age. Even trying to fit into those molds didn’t make it any better. What I did know was that being around other boys gave me the feeling of butterflies in my stomach. At no point were there ever options presented to me. Don Pardo wasn’t standing next to me saying, “Behind Door #1 is heterosexuality. You will have women to date, football to watch, buddies to hangout with and have fun. A lavish life of normality. Or you can have what’s behind Door #2, being hated for being different. People telling you that you are a sinner and going to hell. Being hated and kicked out by your family and living your life as a sexual deviant.” I mean what kind of options would those be and who would ever choose Door #2 if they were told that’s what was waiting for them?

I am not here to change your mind about any of this. I am here to be the foundation for someone who is already going through these feelings. To let them know that there are others out there like them. To let them know that it does get easier and they do have people to turn to. There are welcoming groups who do not seek to change who they are but encourage them to live at the truest authentic person they are. To try to love themselves more than others hate them. It is for them that I write this and for them I offer my strength.

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Not a single one of us, LGBTQIA or heterosexual, chooses to be who we are, it is simply a combination of biological factors that creates us to be who are. One isn’t right and the other wrong. Those kinds of labels are created by society and placed upon us to make us fit into nice little boxes. In fact, not a single one of us can fit into any box that we are put into. Each human is greater than the sum of his or her parts and we should learn to respect us for what we do instead of who someone thinks we are.

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The truth of it is that sexuality, orientation, and gender identity do not really matter in the real world. They are just more forms of labels that are used to describe someone on a limited basis. There are reasons for them and they do, in fact, have to be used, but people are more than just the sum of their parts. Saying only that I am a gay male doesn’t tell you anything about me, no more than saying I am a 45 year old male does. We need to move beyond such things and deal with what is important and that is that we are all humans. Being male, female, LGBTQIA or straight doesn’t determine who you will be, even DNA doesn’t give an inevitable result of how you will turnout. We should be embracing our differences and celebrating them.

I cannot change anyone’s mind in a 1200 word post. To make an impact or change someone’s mind you have to know the person and their situations. You have to view them through the lens of non-judgment and to understand the choices that have brought them to this very moment. My words are here for those that need strength in their moment of weakness, safe harbor in the storms they endure. To make them realize their lives are important and they do matter. You may very well be the voice that shapes the world to come.

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The Dye Has Been Cast

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Like many others today, I made my way to the polls to make sure my voice was a part of the cacophony we call democracy. Many view it as a chore but it is also our given right. It’s the chance for us to be a part of a larger collective, to show the government we will be heard and we do matter. This was also my first time voting in Ohio, so there was that added stress. Apparently, not all of Ohio uses the same means for residents to vote, it is county specific. Take Cuyahoga County for instance, we use a scantron method for our votes to be taken. That created its on moment of high school examination dread, when I opened the folder for my ballot.

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Queue the flashback sequence, a la Wayne’s World (party on Garth, Party on Wayne). It would be more apt to say… Pictures it Montgomery County, Virginia November 1992, a small town gay boy makes his way for his first time of entering the booth. Now before you get all pervy on me, I am recalling my first time voting in an election, not a video booth. Sheesh, maybe if you are good we can recount that story, spoiler alert I have never been in one of those booths. Anyway, back to the young boy, going through high school civics/government class we all had training to help man the polls and learn how to use the machines. At that time, Virginia was still using the punch ballot. You essentially would put your card in this machine, line it up, choose your candidates and using a pin push through the paper, and when you were done you would pull a lever to cast your ballot. The machine would reset for the next person. Think slot machine without the payout.

That was nerve-wracking back then, thankfully Virginia now uses an electronic system. Being a Gen X-er, we grew up watching technology evolve, so merging into that type of system wasn’t a hard migration. Moving to Ohio I was unsure what to expect and they didn’t let me down. I decided to vote before work and managed to get there about an hour after the polls opened and took my roommate along for the ride. Of course I grilled him about how it would work, since I hadn’t used a paper ballot since high school. I was expecting a large turn out and it wasn’t bad. The lines moved very quickly and since I screwed up one of my forms I was even able to retrieve a new one and recast in fairly quick time.

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What’s that you say? How could I have screwed up my vote? Well I did mention earlier the flashback to high school examinations with scantron sheets. Early in the morning my eyes haven’t adjusted and have a bit of double vision, combined with this season’s allergies. So, like a good child is known for, I colored outside of the lines. Apparently more than the machine would tolerate. I could joke about an attempt but saying that could be misconstrued and I wouldn’t want Big Brother showing up at home this afternoon.

All in all, we were in and out quickly. Nice to see that things were under control enough to make them move that effortlessly and thank you for the patient people that had to endure me not understanding the intricacies of Cuyahoga County Voting. I just hope that it wasn’t an indication of low voter turnout. I haven’t checked any information for Ohio, as of today, about early turnout versus showing up on Election Day. As of now at 10 am, it’s a bit too early to see any kind of results as to what may be happening. The fate of the country rests firmly in our hands and it’s time to remember that the government should fear its people and not the people who should fear the government. If you haven’t yet, get out there and vote, no matter who or how you choose to vote. Make your voice be heard.

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Sing it from the mountains…

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I can’t stress enough the importance of voting. Recent elections have shown us that deciding factors can be really close and sometimes a few extra votes can swing things wildly. This year is just as important, with it being midterm elections. How we decide to vote, as a people can vastly change how the remaining two years of this Administration play out. For the LGBTQ community, much of the stage for how our rights may be affected hinge on these elections. Many more communities and states are offering up ordinances for the protection of job status for the LGBTQ people and our votes will greatly impact those decisions.

Tomorrow, November 6th is the day to vote. Please make sure you exercise your right to be heard. No matter how you choose to vote, just do it. We live in a word where the very people who run it are trying to pass legislature that will take away basic rights of every individual. They will decide what you can do with your body, what options you have in healthcare or lack thereof, how laws will affect you in the future. Look at each and every item on the ballot for your area and think how you feel about them. If you are unsure of the wording seek help.

Remember, it is important that each of us get the opportunity to exercise our rights to vote. If you are heading to the polls, take someone along with you. Go as a group and make an event of it. Become educated on the issues so you know how and what may affect you. Let your voice be heard. Remember Thomas Jefferson once said, “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Don’t let this administration that is so keen to publicly spouse hate rhetoric be the only voice that is heard. It is time we speak out, in unison, to let the government know that we are here and we need to be heard.

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

 

Toxic Avengers

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What we have to realize is that we currently live in a world that categorically is choosing to take away rights from marginalized communities. You have to understand this based on what we are seeing around us in the media. We cannot sit by and let rich, old, white, heterosexual men make the decisions that affect our very livelihood. Are these the people we want deciding if women have the capacity to make correct choices for their bodies, if being transgender is considered human, or who should and should not have rights. We have fought wars over similar principles.

We have a person in office that cannot speak the truth on any topic that comes out of his mouth. During his campaign, he stood on a stage waving a flag handed to him by someone who was supposed to be of the LGBTQ community stating that Trump was for LGBTQ rights, as shown in the picture below. The two years he has been in office has been one action after another that has shown he has no consideration for any LGBTQ person. By March of this year, the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) had stripped any words of gender from its online documents. Now we know that there is a memo circulating about how this administration wants to make it legal for them to decide what is or is not gender. These same old, rich, white, heterosexual men want to be able to legally decide what gender is to be defined as.

Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rainbow flag with "LGBT's for TRUMP" written on it at a campaign rally in Greeley

If this memo were to become a new policy it would allow Title IX to have a redefinition that could affect more than just healthcare. We could see it reach into the educational system, public access, job discrimination, and into the legal system. Title IX states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Children, who identify, as a different gender than assigned at birth, would no longer have access to restroom, single sex class education, locker rooms, or any other access based on gender. It would remove any protection that transgender would have for discrimination in their jobs or housing. If you are transgender, it would allow anyone to refuse you service or reasonable accommodation due to someone else’s beliefs or definitions of gender.

We have already seen this administration push to the Armed Services not actively recruit transgender people to serve openly in the military. Four courts had turned down this ban, but the administration enacted it in March of this year. It says that any transgender person cannot serve in the military, openly. The only exception is if they were diagnosed under gender dysphoria, however, there are very few actually fell under this diagnosis. To be able to enlist you cannot have starting any transition process, so in essence you have to enlist as the gender you were born under and must continue to serve as that same gender. If you are transgender and have a diagnosis and are currently serving you are fine but if you do not have the diagnosis there is no clear directive of how it may affect you. In the past we have seen punishments like”lack of promotions, denial of deployment, forced discharge for pretextual reasons used against those that didn’t conform to popular mindset.

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In a country that is supposed to separate church and state, we have witness the Supreme Court side on the rights of a cake shop to refuse service to a gay couple based on First Amendment Rights. Freedom of Religions gives you “Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order.” Yet, the Supreme Court decided that their views could be used to not serve a specific group of people. We have also seen that the Justice Department fully believes that rights of protection should not be afforded to LGBTQ people. If this were allowed to be rule of the land, it would in essence give any employer the right to fire any employee based on “perceived” sexual orientation. That’s important to note due to them not having to have proof of it, only suspected belief, how else could one proves orientation of someone they do not have personal knowledge of.

In the first year of his presidency, we were witness to the Department of Health and Human Services creating the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. This group was created and put into action to ensure that healthcare workers religious liberties wasn’t affected in having to deal with LGBTQ patients. Part of the Hippocratic oath states “I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.” By that very wording it is said that the healthcare provider is not to play God, so by denying someone access to what may be life saving means is making that decision

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Lastly, we saw that the Trump administration fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. This doesn’t affect only the LGBTQ people, but ALL people. Yet the importance of this advisory council doesn’t seem to affect this president. Also there have been numerous reports of moving around funds from the Ryan White Fund to help offset detention camps that this administration started to detain children of “illegal immigrants.”

We have to recognize that this administration is toxic to us. We have to be the ones that make the stand. LGBTQ people have fought for the very frail precipice we stand on and we cannot stop that fight or we will be pushed from it. It is now that we must rally in strength and numbers. It is now we must get out there and make our voices heard. Your voice and vote matters so let it be heard. Show up in numbers, ensure that those who cannot get to the polls on their own have the means to go, and talk your friends and family into voting. To change this tide before it swallows us whole will take each and every one of us. Make your voice known.

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History is Family

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As National LGBTQ History month comes to close we should reflect back on the many important people and events that have came before us. They are important because it is what makes our family. My very first boyfriend gave me the most important lesson I still carry with me to this day. It was this, “as LGBTQ we have the special ability to be able to choose our family when the one we are born into turns away from us.” It gives us the ability to leave the pain that may be caused by the people that are supposed to love us unconditionally and find one that will lift our very souls upward. To do that we have to make one simple choice, which is to love ourselves.

Each post I have made this month has been about finding your inner strength through our history. That inner strength promotes pride and love of who you are and want to be. That sense of pride and love in turn forces you to choose a community that accepts you and you in turn hold that community to a higher standard that reflect the very things you hold important in yourself. That community, hopefully, takes those lessons forward to create unity and strength to battle those that would sooner rob us of our very existence. These actions turn into a movement that says we will not be satisfied with being held down any longer and we demand to be seen as equal. With hope and strength, this movement will shape the change for the future to create the better place that those of us who are coming out in the future will be safe in.

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It all comes from you, though. You who are reading these very words are the ones to shape those images into reality. How you choose to take these words and plant them in your heart and soul. How you choose to share your feelings with others. These first steps are always hard trust me, I know. Looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing that you are perfect the way you are and the feelings you feel are completely natural. The strength and love you have in yourself is enough to make you stronger than anyone who tries to tear you down.

I say to you, from the very bottom of my heart, that I am your family. I support the person you know you are deep inside. I see your value and know that you are a beautiful sole. I am here to listen to you when you think no one else will. I am just like you, even though you feel you are the only one. You may not see it at this very moment, but you are strong, stronger than anyone will ever fully understand. Love yourself, forgive yourself, and never give up the fight.

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