Dishing The Tea

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Hello Hunties, gather round while I Serve Some Tea. I have had people, even recently included, tell me that I always talk about “This Gay Shit.” You’re right I do and sometimes I wish that I didn’t have to. Truth be told I think we all need to focus on the human existence, but truthfully, we live in a world that pushing the segregation of others, even if it is do so without thinking. We are a minority group that has its own set of culture, speech/dialog, and behaviors, just like any other minority group. Our world is shaded by the experiences we have and doubly so if we live our lives out to everyone. So why do we get called preachy if we have pride in the who’s and what’s that make us who we are?

Sure, there are LGBTQ people who are perfectly content to ride the low-profile bench, to not stand out, or even have other take notice of the fact they are different. That is their way of life and no one can say it isn’t their choice, that the thing about life it is jaded by how we choose to live it. Then there are those of us who live life fully embracing who we are. We attend Pride events, we take part in activism in our own means of choosing, we live in the community and try to make it a little better. That, too, is our choice. We shouldn’t have to apologize for who we are or being excited talking about those difference to people. In a perfect world it wouldn’t matter if we chose to love and be with members of the same sex as us or partake in both, it would simply be an act of love shared among consenting individuals.

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Heteronormative society doesn’t exactly see it that way. Many are content with us as long as we aren’t always talking about our Gay Shit, but they never seem to fully be able to define what that really means. Does it upset you that I take pride in my culture? Maybe it is the fact that knowing and sharing our history is something I think is needed to help understand where we have come from and are going? Many times, I get my favorite response, which I am sure many of you have heard before but referencing a different minority group. “I’m not bothered by it because I have many gay friends, but…” Or the “I know what it’s like to kiss (insert sex here) because I was dared to once.” or “I kissed a guy/girl in college.” While these two instances may seem monumental or opening some earthy shattering revelation for you, they aren’t on the scope of what it would feel like to live it on a daily basis. The “I have a LGBTQ friend” always gets me as well, as you rarely ever see or hear about them, unless it’s to defend the fact that they are open enough to have said friend.

When you fall into the white, cisgender, heteronormative life, it is hard to truly understand what any other minority group may be going through. As equally as hard as it would be for me a cisgender, white, LGBTQ person to try and understand what it is like living as a person of color. We live in a world where it is still legal in 28 states to be discriminated against for being LGBTQ. I really don’t think people understand that. 28 states can decide if I have a job, a place to live, access to community resources, and recourse if any violence is acted against me. Sure, that means in 22 states we do have protections, but that can drastically different depending on the state and to what level. Out of the 50 states, hate crimes against LGBTQ people have not greatly diminished. But let’s not talk about the “Gay Shit.” We still move to neighborhood that are statistically LGBTQ for safety reasons or if we cannot find them, we go back into the closet to make sure we aren’t harassed or worse. How many times do you hear heteronormative people saying they had to move to a specific community so that they felt like that would not be targeted for some form of discrimination?

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One of the things that I have become most proud of is that I have been working to get an LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce group to take office space at the place I work for and moving to get LGBTQ/Ally training for our organization. The organization I work for is fairly progressive, they already offer same sex benefits and give Racial Equity training to all of its employees, so for me I feel the natural progression was to have training that gave better insight on the LGBTQ community. A means to learn about discrimination and how to ensure we are fostering or pushing outdated mindsets to those we may come into contact with. After all, the business community touches all groups of people and we should be seeking to ensure that they are ALL welcome at the table. This has become very important to me, but there are those that do not share that sentiment.

Granted I am not a Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Barbara Gittings, or Christine Jorgensen, when it comes to activism, but I would like to think that I am doing a small part for moving things forward. I don’t expect my blog to be a major moving force forward, I am more content knowing that one person may find something the resonate with and help them through a struggle. These are the reasons that I talk about my “Gay Shit.” These are the same reasons that I will not stop. If it bothers you, I cannot apologize for that. What I can do is not waste that time on you. Because it would seem you have no desire to change where you are at in your journey. For that I am sorry, because no journey goes how we want or expect. We must be open to changing with the road and scenery. And that is Serving the Tea.

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Obscenity To Follow

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The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This has caused a lot of tension for the content filtering that Tumblr has stated that it will start enforcing. So what allows that and is it constitutional or fair?

Going further to explain what Freedom of Speech is covered; let’s look at a further definition. Simply put, this Amendment gives us the right to express ourselves without fear of government regulation or interference, but it can regulate speech that may breach the peace and often times obscenity is placed into this category. Obscenity has been a hot button for many years over what it does or does not cover and it is not covered under the First Amendment. The Government defines obscenity as lewd, filthy, and disgusting words or pictures. However, indecent materials including depictions and words are covered under the First Amendment, but they are allowed in a more restricted sense.

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Defining what is or isn’t obscenity or indecent isn’t as black and white and there are two court cases that are big for determining the difference. The first being United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses, which states that if a work is to be deemed obscene it must be decided on its entirety and not just its parts. This gives a wide berth for anything written, as it must be judged in its whole context. One chapter describing particularly graphic scenes cannot make the whole work obscene. The second case is Miller v. California, which gives a bit more definition. The webpage Legal Information Institute states “The Miller test for obscenity includes the following criteria: (1) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ appeals to ‘prurient interest’ (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, ‘taken as a whole,’ lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The Miller v. California case allows states to have more control in determining what obscene is and how it applies to a larger level.

Both of these cases were ruled on prior to 1997 and it was at this time more rulings started to surface to try to prevent specific types of content. Reno v. ACLU tried to implement laws to protect children in the new digital media being shared online, which tried to change the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Supreme Court felt it was overly broad in its handing. In 1998 COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) was put into place and allowed laws to be put into place to protect minors from viewing of obscene images online. Later COPPA was found to also be overly broad in its ban of online adult transmissions of material and that it violated the Miller v. California test. As of 2009, no new legislature has been set forth to define obscenity any different.

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Unfortunately, that leaves it to State level to make the necessary decisions over what is or isn’t not considered obscene. These rulings are what has caused age restrictions to be put into place view the purchasing and viewing of adult content. And many times will allow a heavy-handed approach it what is considered able to fall under being prohibited. These same rulings are what allows websites, like Tumblr, to create Terms of Service agreements about how those images are handled. It is also the same rulings that allow the censoring of artists, photographers, and writers, people like Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, or Gio Black Peter.  As the old saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

These same rulings are also used to limit topics of education in schools. Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arizona and Texas are the states that allow their schools to censor or prohibit LGBTQ topics from being taught in what is called the “no promo homo” laws. This includes denying support groups such as the Gay and Straight alliance that helps students who are LGBTQ or supporters a means to feel safe, all the way down to Oklahoma that mandates that when the schools are teaching AIDS education that it includes that participating in homosexual events is the leading cause to contracting the AIDS virus. Arizona does not allow any curriculum that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” which the state is allowed to decide upon. When state levels of government are allowed to teach that homosexuality is considered obscene at a young age, it makes it much easier to deem images in art equally as obscene.

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The argument of Freedom of Speech ties a lot to age limit. In 1970, the Constitution was amended to change the voting age from 21 to 18. This gives the right of every American citizen to make decisions and vote on laws and those who enforce them once they reach the age of 18. This is also the age that is considered to be able to purchase adult content, whether online, in adult stores, or etc. So your right to expression is also allowed at that age and the Government should not be allowed to infringe on that right. As long as the participants of adult related content are consenting adults at least 18 years of age, do not hurt or put anyone in harm, then it should not be held to such strict standards. I left out violating any State or Federal laws, as this opens it back up to the States being able to deem something obscene.

Tumblr has used many reasons to explain their new stance on adult related content and how they will handle it. Any have focused on how there was an increase of child pornography on their sites that lead to their new heavier algorithms for banning the content. These algorithms are not perfect and many times are subject to controversy due to images the have flagged as to explicit. Many artistic images were tagged and removed. Many sites just vanished for the same reason. Transgender blogs that helped others by showing procedural images were caught up in these same heavy-handed approaches. It became a place where information could be shares in real time and show effects of treatments on people’s bodies so others had a reference point. Those sites that are important to many of the transgender community will more than likely disappear, as Tumblr’s ban goes into effect.

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It was also a venue for many LGBTQ artists to showcase their art, whether it be photography, painting, digital media, or however they expressed their talent. When their algorithms are searching for real life human genitalia, females showing nipples, or any content depicting sex acts, all the while encouraging users to actively flag and report anything they deem inappropriate, it is easy to see how this media is disappearing. They recently issued a response to the ban that said they would allow female nudity in aspects of breastfeeding, birth and health related situation, or mastectomy or gender confirmation pictures. They also clarified to say that nudity found in art would be permitted, but the extent of what is allowed is still left up to their decision and user interaction.

Your freedoms are always held in check by those who feel infringed upon or when States make changes to existing laws based on pressure. Sure sites like Tumblr and Facebook are allowed to make their own Terms of Service and we all agree to them blindly without reading fully what may be covered. Standards should be kept in place, but sweeping censoring based on broadly penned wording needs to change. Changing your standards based on pressure from outside sources should be resisted if no hard is being committed. Sadly, we won’t see that and many more sites may be going the way of Tumblr. Our voices may be the only thing that will shape futures of our online content.

**The views expressed in this post are my own and may not be held by any referenced party listed in this blog. **

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Looking For Light In The Darkness

The World can be a dark place, that’s for sure. Each time you turn on the TV, open Twitter or Facebook, check your Instagram posts, or even listen to your podcasts, there is always some note of darkness. This Administration is trying the damndest to roll back everything they can about protection status for our LGBTQ community. We need to break up that monotony with any ray of positivity we can. It is something I have been struggling with, as well.

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photo courtesy of sexualfreedom.org

Body positive and sex positive messages are so very necessary. Learning to love who you are unconditionally is key in being able to extend that love to others. Some have been fortunate enough to have our families bring them up in that kind of environment, but the majority of us have had to try to learn that where we can or if we can. I love looking for those kinds of people who promote that kind of message. Enter Corinne Kai, a sex educator and writer. Kai looks as the world through the lens of a pleasure activist and femme of center queer human. You can visit Kai’s Insta here where you will be treated with an array of beautifully shot images that are somewhere on the scale of feminine and LGBTQ. You can also find Kai on the “Femme, Collectively” podcast, here you can check out all their topics on gender intersection, sexuality, and healing. Be sure to check them out, their images are beautifully shot and guaranteed to get you to want to start changing your perception of your own inner beauty.

We all know that underwear can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. A cute pair that is accentuates our curves in all the right places can make us feel like we are the sexiest person the planet. If this is you then Pyramid Seven Underwear is for you. Click their name to be taken to their Insta account. Pyramid Seven Underwear showcase that they “have underwear for everybody and EVERY body.” On their page you will be treated to fashion magazine quality images of all body and gender identity types. Their high quality fabric and array of color can definitely help give you a different perspective on body positivity.And I love supporting companies who support our community.

 

Being body and sex positive is important for our general and psychological health and unfortunately many parents aren’t equipped to teach their children about issues they, themselves, haven’t been taught to deal with. Are you a parent, know a new parent, or just want to help educate yourself in the possibility that you may be a parent then you need to check out Sex Positive Families . Sex Positive Families’ main goes is to “raise sexually healthy children one talk at a time.” This means discussing topics like consent and teach them in basic everyday ways of engaging with people. They also discuss some of the harder topics in new ways to make it easier for parents and children. Their belief is that shaping your child early will help them not have the issues we are today.

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Early and ongoing talks about sexual health can be powerful normalizers of a child’s experiences with their changing body, feelings, interactions with others and messages from the world around them. Parents and caregivers can wonder how much info is too much or when is the “right” time. Consider being proactive as a way to ensure a child receives the knowledge and safe space that helps them make informed choices from a place of awareness and not fear. . ⬆️Now available for download is our age-by-age guide with strategies for raising sexually healthy children from birth to beyond. Follow the bio link to snag your copy and start the talks that support the sexual health of a child in your world.

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Looking for culturally inclusive, sex positive, and an empowering LGBTQ group, the @altapride is for you. This is also one of the few blog out there that showcase gay and bi black men. They also cover a wide range of topics like HIV prevention and treatment, transgender issues, and anti-bullying. Scroll through and check out the insanely hot pics and gain some knowledge while your there. You won’t be let down.

Lastly, and certainly not least is Ruby Allegra. Ruby is a voice for an overlooked and marginalized community, LGBTQ people with disabilities. The media caters to a specific body type for all gender identities and Ruby becomes the advocate for those that don’t fit these molds. Ruby uses social media as a means of advocacy for those with both identities. Check out Ruby Allegra’s Insta here (https://www.instagram.com/rvbyallegra/?utm_source=ig_embed)

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I’m so excited and nervous to share that I will be performing as feature poet for @drawyourswordspoetry on December 6! There will be music from @effie.mp3 and some amazing talented folk in the open mic part of the evening! If you wanna come check it out, share some poetry or just hang with good people, it’ll be at @chateauapollo, doors at 7pm, $10 entry. This venue is accessible! 💗💙 Photo by @pamo.boutros . . . [Image descriptions: first image features Ruby sitting in their wheelchair in front of rows of desks and shelves in a library. Ruby is laughing with their hand partially covering their face, and they are wearing a pink tshirt under blue and white striped overalls. The second image is a promotional poster for Draw Your Swords, featuring a continuous line drawing of Ruby with a mint coloured background. On the left hand side is text reading “Draw your (S)Words: a night of spoken word. Chateau Apollo, 6 December, doors at 7, $10 entry. Featuring: Ruby Allegra (poetry), Effie (music).”]

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Changing perceptions isn’t easy but the first steps have to happen with us. Surrounding ourselves with more positive images helps us create a mindset that is conducive for loving ourselves for who we are at our core. When we do, we show that to the world and will accept nothing less from others. Start small and just learn to be at peace with who you are. If you find or have blogs or people you follow that offer you that needed body and sexy positive ideal, please share below in my comment section.

 

 

Everyone Else Is Doing It…

So December 17th will be Tumblr’s last day for porn. Those of you that may not know, Tumblr is a blogging platform that specializes in pictures, videos, gif, and smaller blocks of text. It is what would happen if Twitter and Facebook had a love child. It became the easy platform for small time pornography, as well as a means to share clips for other sites. Amateurs found it a perfect venue for their content and, if it happens, it will be sorely missed. With the approvals of SESTO (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), many people who were using social media as a means of making a living may be forced into more unsafe areas.

Shortly after its birth in 2007, Tumblr quickly became a network for the NSFW community to post images and content without fear of being banned. If you were looking for quality clips, pics, gif, meme, and pirated videos, it was the go to place. If you were an amateur looking for e venue to showcase your material, Tumblr had an audience. If you were an aspiring porn star it was the perfect place to start building a follower base. Tumblr allowed you to surf the porn web anonymously and mostly safely. You could scroll through search list of almost any fetish or desire you may have and even create your own feed. From here you could repost items you found and build your own following. The limit was your imagination.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, Tumblr wasn’t against adult content and allowed it to be posted. The only caveat was that if you were a frequent poster of adult content you had to flag your blog as ADULT. Explicit content was frowned upon and often times did get deleted. Typically a post would be deleted if someone reported it or the algorithms they used found it. Their Toss expressed that explicit acts of sexuality would be removed, but in the past it was done with a light hand. This started to become more enforced this year when Verizon bought Tumblr.

Tumblr had led many tech companies in the fight to prevent telecoms from slowing the Internet for users who couldn’t pay for higher bandwidth speeds. Also allowing their users to be more determinate of what they posted created a fairly large target for them. They fighting voice for net neutrality started was quieted when their company merged with Yahoo. It wasn’t until they merged with Verizon that many posts started being silenced. Verizon is very much against net neutrality and very much backs the removal of adult content. Verizon also now owns AOL, this gives them a pretty large swatch of search engines and social media options to control flows for their benefit.

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This becomes important under this administration as we are seeing more and more measures put into place for censorship. “According to the National Center for Transgender Equality(NCTE), current laws already grant prosecutors ample powers to effectively bust sex traffickers and to investigate businesses that engage in trafficking. But the law could drastically expand the definition of the offense of “promoting” or facilitating trafficking to include many commercial websites disseminating information for sex workers, even educational guidance, opening them up to lawsuits or other pressure to shut down,” according to The Nation. This could give SESTO and FOSTA the ability to target sites that are offering education services under the guise of helping sex workers or traffickers.

The recent change to Tumblr is also affected other platforms, like Facebook. Facebook as recently changed its content-moderation protocols to crackdown on any sexually suggestive posts. Their policies have changed to include language for discussing sexual positions to posting erotic art. The previous iterations of the policies did not clearly make distinction between sexual exploitation and solicitation. So calling your ex a slut and showing pics they sent you would clearly fall under exploitation, while being in a group and saying that you are going to be at a local bar looking for fun, if interested wear a shirt with a unicorn could be under solicitation. Now, both scenarios are clearly defined under their new policy. This has seen an increase in posts being flagged and groups being deleted. I personally have had a friend been warned and posts removed for content that Facebook said used sexual slang.

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According to an article posted on Out (out.com) “In October, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that works to defend free speech and user privacy, reported that in recent years “policy restrictions on ‘adult’ content have an outsized impact on LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.” Many LGBTQ websites and social platforms have felt the backlash from this, seeing YouTube channels being suspended or Facebook pages temporarily banned. These are places that offered safe information about sex to many LGBTQ youth. This in turn can lead to a heightened sense of not belonging and turning to other less safe means of learning about sex and sexual activities. Many of these platforms provided sexual education for the LGBTQ youth and showed that sex could be intimate and soft instead of being catered to the male gaze and phallic centric that a lot of porn seems to be shot in.

A couple months ago, Facebook was shown to have been blocking many LGBTQ ads based on its new advertising policy. Facebook claims this is a small error but it does show failures in the programming of algorithms they use to monitor their traffic. They truth of this is hard to imagine since Facebook, itself, isn’t know to be supportive of the LGBTQ community. Many are still feeling the backlash of the “real name” policy. A policy that did not allow transgender people to change their name as it wasn’t seen a their “REAL NAME.”

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Censorship like this isn’t the only limit. If you are in support for sex worker reform and post about any of articles that are about it, many social media platform see the words “sex worker” and oftentimes flag the post or suspend your account without explanation. There is fear that many of the algorithms used for scanning will not be able to differentiate between diagrams for condom usage, pelvic exams, or porn. This could lead to large problems with sexual educations sites that are legitimately hosted by organizations. Many of the early obscenity laws of America were centered on the teaching of sexual education and contraception.

Eric Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition stated,  “Many people in straight, heteronormative communities don’t understand what the big deal is, because their lives and cultures are represented everywhere,” Leue said. “For those in queer, or niche, or fetish communities, Tumblr was one of the few accessible spaces to build communities and share content.” He also feels that large tech companies need to understand the difference between using algorithms for flagging content and outright banning content versus nuances of media and human regulation. Removing these items from apps stores and online media may not seem huge to the heteronormative segments of the population but it has a huge effect on the LGBTQ youth.

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It has not been thought of how this may affect informative educational blogs for the transgender community. Many transgender people have used the platforms like Tumblr and Instagram for showing their lives through transitional images and giving a voice to those who are struggling to find acceptance. These same sites will very likely be the ones that are flagged and banned because of images or text used. With the current president and administration pushing to change laws for LGBTQ it isn’t hard to see that many of these sites will land on the side of safety and remove this content

Censorship is alive and well in America. It is being used as a means of persecution of marginalized people. We have see platforms target images and posts based on to strict algorithm and heavy handed banning when, in fact, the content may not specifically fit the ToS of the platform. This same censorship seems to be targeting LGBTQ people in ways we didn’t think would happen, artwork is being flagged, educational sites are being removed, and our posts are being removed because someone or something things we are using suggestive terms that may relate to exploitation or solicitation. Its time we became more aware of the control these people exert without our knowledge. If not, many aspects of our culture could be removed before we even realize it is gone.

 

HB-36 and Why It Is Bad…

It is true that we have made a lot of progress, as LGBTQ, in the last 60 years. Many states have protection status bills for employment, housing, and hate crimes. More people are openly accepting of the LGBTQ population. And it is also legal for us to marry, in the United States. However, just because we have the legal right to get married doesn’t mean the battle is over. Case in point the following bill.

Before the Ohio Judiciary Committee is a bill that needs attention drawn to it. HB-36 states the following. “To amend section 3101.08 of the Revised Code to provide that an ordained or licensed minister or religious society is not required to solemnize a marriage and a religious society is not required to allow any building or property of the religious society to be used to host a marriage ceremony if the marriage does not conform to the ordained or licensed minister’s or religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs, to provide that an ordained or licensed minister or religious society is not subject to civil or criminal liability for such a denial, and to provide that the state and political subdivisions may not penalize or withhold benefits to an ordained or licensed minister or religious society for such a denial.”

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It is important to point out that the First Amendment already exists and grants this right to any licensed minister or religious group. It is the wording that is the issue to be considered. All to often many bills are put before the people or committees to vote on that alter wording or add clauses to a bill so they can get passed. It is important that we contact our elected officials to let them know how we feel about this bill. Let them know that you feel they should not pass this bill.

This has already been the right of any licensed minister or religious group, under the First Amendment. What this bill now changes is that any venue can refuse to host the marriage or its services due to religious views, even if the venue itself has no religious ties. The bill also gives rights to “religious societies” having the ability to deny services that do not conform with their own religious views, however religious society is not defined clearly.

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Ohio also recognizes Same Sex Unions as valid and legal, however, this very bill is a slap in the face to that acceptance. In effect saying “Oh sure we recognize your marriage, we just don’t approve of it so you cannot use these places for your ceremonies.” For every scrap of ground we make forward, there is some ambush tactic waiting to be unleashed against that advancement.

This bill provides a loophole under the guise of giving licensed ministers and religious societies the ability to refuse the right of marriage. It allows any business the right to refuse their services to anyone that they deem their religion doesn’t recognize. We can step away from the LGBTQ issue here and show it in another fashion. If a heterosexual couple had been living together before they got married, in essence, the Catholic Church could refuse them the right of using their church, minister, or grounds to solemnize their marriage. And this would be acceptable as the couple had been “living in sin” prior to their marriage. If the female became pregnant before marriage, the same kind of ruling could be applied for attending church or using their facilities. How far could this be carried? Would places start selectively giving information to the church about your personal activities to make sure that what you are doing doesn’t violate something with that religious organization?

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Many bills are written this way and put before the voting body. It is proposed to target something someone may not feel is lawful, but can be expanded in the future to include other things that may not have been thought of at the time of inception. I urge you to research this bill and read it thoroughly and then contact the Ohio Judicial Committee to speak out about it. You can find more information of Equality Ohio here. And remember, simply because we have had a few good steps forward does not mean that the journey is complete. Until we do not have to fight for the same basic rights that so many of the population take for granted, our fight is far from over.

Below is a list of names and numbers of the Ohio Judiciary Committee.  Contact them and let them know how you feel. If you are not confrontational, make the call after 5pm and you leave a voicemail.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Chair Kevin Bacon 614-466-8064
Vice Chair Matt Dolan 614-466-8056
Ranking Minority Member Cecil Thomas 614-466-5980
William P. Coley, II 614-466-8072
John Eklund 614-644-7718
Matt Huffman 614-466-7584
Peggy Lehner 614-466-4538
Sean O’Brien 614-466-7182
Scott Oeslager 614-466-0626
Michael J. Skindell 614-466-5123

 

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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)