Silence = Death

We have acquiesced ourselves into believing there is relative safety for the LGBTQ community, even with news showing quite the opposite. Is it because we feel it doesn’t directly impact us? Perhaps it may be the mentality that it only seems to happen in certain parts of the country and is being blown out of proportion? Or simply it may be that you haven’t seen anything in the media recently that would give you pause to wonder the state of affairs for our LGBTQ community. Whatever it may be, this Pride season is the time that we stand up and be visible. We need to, now more than ever before, let this country and its leaders know that we are tired of the constant violence, lack of respect, and silently removing of our rights.

ClaireLegato

Since in the five months since this year began, we have seen five transwomen of color killed. In May alone, there have been three. Cleveland has one of the three that have been killed. That’s 1/5ththe murders of trans people this year have happened here in our fair city. About 4 a.m. on April 15th, Claire Legato was shot in the head after an argument broke out between her mother and the suspect, John Booth. The argument ensued after Legato’s mother claimed that Booth stole her tax return check. The argument moved outside of the house and escalated. At which point Legato intervened and Booth shot her in the head. Legato was in the hospital for a month, but her injuries were to severe. Legato passed on May 14th. A warrant is out for Booth’s arrest for felonious assault. Legato was the third victim of murder against transwomen.

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The fourth victim taken this year happened May 18th, Muhlaysia Booker was found lying face down with a gunshot wound near a golf course in east Texas. Her murder came just one month after the viral video of a “mob violence” attack against her and authorities say there does not appear to be a link between the two incidents. Dallas Police arrested 29-year-old Edward Thomas in relation to the attack but was later released. There is no apparent reason for the murder and, currently, no suspects. Booker’s cellphone had captured the attack that happened shortly after her car was hit in a parking lot. The video was used to identify the man repeatedly punching Booker in the face as Edward Thomas. The video also showed a crowd of men kicking her while she was on the ground and shouting anti-gay remarks. Her friend, Jessica Anderson, said this was not the first time in which she have been beaten for simply who she was. Anderson said that Booker was tired of being beaten down and not allowed to live in peace as who she really was. Currently there are not charges against Thomas was charged with aggravated assault and his current whereabouts are unknown.

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Michelle “Tamika” Washington was shot and killed in Philadelphia on May 19th. Washington was a 40-year-old transwoman of color and lived in the Franklinville neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Police responded to sounds of gunshots and found Washington with several gunshot wounds and was transported to Temple University Hospital and pronounced dead. Washington was known as a beloved sister and a “gay mother” to the neighborhood. Washington is no the fifth victim. Monday morning, May 20th, Troy Bailey was arrested in the 1100 block of West Venango Street of the Franklinville section of Philadelphia. He was arraigned on Tuesday for murder and other firearms related charges. Currently, the murder is not being investigated as a hate crime and the police feel it was not motivated by Washington’s gender identity.

 

These are the cases that are known about, unfortunately, the sad fact is that in many cases the gender of the victim is misidentified and leads to longer times in identifying the person or the nature of the crime. The current administration has made it easier for a culture of violence to grow unchecked. Many states still do not have protections in place for LGB people, let alone trans people. This administration has denied the ability for trans people to serve in our military. They are also granting rights of discrimination to large groups of people under the guise of religious freedoms. There has to be a point at which we draw our hard line in the sand and say we will not take any more of this sub human treatment. We must rally with our sisters for female rights, that too are being stripped away. The abhorrent nature of the small minded, radical, right wing zealots has to be changed. They count on us believing that our numbers are small and that because of that we will not stand up and fight back.

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Remember that this year, Pride in the CLE will be a march. This is the time to make yourself visible. LGBTQ or Advocate be there and be counted. Show that you will not take this kind of hatred towards anyone, LGBTQ, POC, women, immigrants, those that are incarcerated, or any minority that is being subjugated by those in positions of power. Letting them know that we stand in support of one another. I would like to end this short article with two quotes.

 

“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

Thomas Jefferson

While there is debate over the effectiveness of the electoral college, what is important to note is that the more people who turn out to vote and vote with knowledge can, in fact, change the course of the election. If you are not registered, what are you waiting for? You can do that online at Register to Vote (https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote) and then get out there and vote.

 

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of their people.”

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

While many attribute this quite, in some variation, to Thomas Jefferson, there is no proof of this as an actuality. It was written by Alan Moore for this movie. The movie speaks volumes to the current situation of our own political situation. We have a figure head in place who is convincing the people of a preset ideal that they hold. Then goes about enacting laws to enforce this ideal, telling us how bad other groups are and how his administration will be the protecting force and does so many good deeds for its people. It is a ruse, one that many dictators have used countless times to control the masses. In V for Vendetta, one man stood up against the system and made his impression known. It was the spark that lit the powder keg of a revolution to overthrow the regime. And proof that it is not illegal to not support your president or those in an administration. Exercise your rights, protest that which you do not approve of, and let your voice be heard. You could be the spark that is needed to start the next revolution.

 

Too The Streets… We March…

“In the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City.” a quote from the article Stonewall Riots on History.com. This year marks the 50th anniversary of those very riots and Pride in the CLE will be honoring the event with a return to the march. Sure, many will just see it as a Pride Parade and not understand the difference, but it is that difference that makes it important, especially now. You may know the story or just parts, but this is the year to revisit our roots and understand where it all started and why the fight is not over. And why our “gay bars” were and still are important cornerstones of the community.

The Stonewall Riot was a culmination of events that erupted in the early morning hours of June 28th. Since the Great Depression, bars in America had become less and less welcoming to the LGBT populations. Laws were put in place in many states that made it illegal for bars to serve LGBT people. The laws included means of being able to identify who were the subversive element, they included that you must wear at least three pieces of clothing to the gender you appeared to be, could not over fraternize with other same sex patrons, and in many cases dance together. In the Christopher Street part to New York City, the bars had been raided for almost a decade. Anyone that looked as if they were a homosexual were dragged out of the bar, beaten, thrown in the back of police wagons, and hauled to jail. There were bars that had popped up to allow LGBT people to visit and be able to drink, they were never the cleanest bars, and many did not have working bathrooms or running water. They were simply dark places that allowed for the congregation of our community without intercedence of local authorities. 

Stonewall was ran by the Genovese crime family in New York and had paid informants in the sixth precinct to all them to know ahead of time if there were raids coming for the bar. This allowed the owners to hide the alcohol being served, ensure that the men were not dancing together, and stop any other illegal activities. On the morning of June 28th, the tip off did not happen and the local precinct showed up with a warrant in hand and in full force, to raid the bar. The police entered, beat many of the patrons, arrested 13 people, including staff, and any that did not comply to the three-garment dress code. If they suspected someone of being a “crossdresser,” they would take them into the restroom and perform a physical check of their gender. One lesbian patron was hit over the head with a beer bottle by an arresting officer, at which point she tried to incite the crowd into action, asking if they were going to stand and allow this to happen. At which point, in a massive wave, the crowd erupted and started throwing objects at the police, yelling at them, and beginning to circle the arresting officers. Within minutes, it was a full-blown riot. The protests escalated and lasted for almost six days in total. The first ever targeted and focused  push for equal treatment of LGBT people and became the single galvanizing moment that pushed gay rights into the modern era.

Both sides of our country had similar marches, annually, afterwards. Harvey Milk set up a Pride Parade in the Castro district of San Francisco and the Christopher Street March was held in honor of the events that happened. These marches put some of our biggest activist like Marsha P. Johnson and Cleve Jones in the spotlight and they were also the catalyst for our achievements going forward. Putting us front and center in the eyes of the media with banners like “We’re here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It.” As the movement progressed and victories were won, our marches slowly became the Pride Parades that now blanket our country. Starting on June 1, as the beginning of Pride Season, and ending in September. During these times, our bars where the places of organization of these events, a place for us to feel safe from the persecution we endure constantly, and our safe zones after we won them back from constant police intervention. They were, in fact, our homes and our family.

 

In the fifty years since Stonewall we have seen a lot of advancement in LGBTQ rights and equality. We have seen larger focus on healthcare targeted towards us, inclusion of our spouses in our company provided healthcare, and numerous reforms of laws that prevent us from being fired or losing our homes for just being who we are. That being said, the last four years has shown a lot of ground slipping. This administration has now  made it legal for the military to openly discriminate against trans people. We are seeing legislature change for the safety of our jobs and healthcare, that would allow companies to persecute against us based on perceived religious freedoms. Hate crimes are rising to levels that we haven’t seen in several decades. And most recently, same sex couples are being targeted more for trying to adopt babies outside of the country, the government is stating they cannot bring a child in unless going through more hoops of proof of marriage than our heterosexual counterparts.

We have been told by organizations that claim to have our best interests in mind that we needed to  fight for marriage rights, instead of women’s rights, minority rights,  prison reform, healthcare reform and numerous others. We were convinced that marriage should be first, and the rest would fall in line. This administration shows they have no regards for that fight or even the law that repealed DOMA and allowed us to legally marry. What did we gain from it but the ability to wave around a piece of paper that says we are legally married to our partner? The benefits that should come with that paper seem to have been misplaced in the information given to us when we got our licenses. We are slowly starting to realize that our fight never ended, we were only shifted off the mark. We are also learning that it is “WE” who must fight for our rights, again. It is great to have supporters and advocates, but at the end of the day we are the ones still losing in this battle. We are again burying our brothers and sisters for the murders spurred from hate crimes.

This year, Pride in the CLE will be hosting a march, this is the time for each and every one of us to come out of the closet, yet again, and take to the streets. Be visible and show that we are still here and fighting for our very futures. We will not be forgotten, and we will not be torn asunder. This is the time to make your banners and hoist them up alongside our community, whether you are marching or standing on the route in solidarity. It cannot be expressed enough that your voice does matter and needs to be heard. If you choose to march, visit the links above and register. Let us make an example so that we do not lose more of the rights we have fought for. June 1st join us to stand together to honor the memories of those visionary activist and not let their fights be in vain.

In Chaos We Find Resiliency…

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 correlation 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 any more from us and we lose all the progressions we have made. We have already seen the Trans ban that has been passed by this administration, we cannot rest until every right being taken away from us is returned. That requires us coming together as one community, no matter our points of view. Each of us live our lives on our own means. We are forced to make a living and must, in doing so, be ready to fight how it best serves our greatest good, do not judge someone by their words as much as their deeds or actions. Remember that I share stories of our community and how we/they live in it. Names are only changed when asked to do so, words are only changed for spelling or ease of flow. So, join with me as I share their stories and let’s celebrate their fight and stand with them. Be supportive, without judgement.

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Today, let me introduce you to Belle Ursa, a 22-year-old business owner in Tremont area of Cleveland. Like many others I have interviewed, Belle wants you to understand that day to day lives are no different between Trans/Gender Non-conforming people and Cis-gender. We all eat, sleep, work, and have the same worries. Belle is co-owner of Amplio Fitness and focuses on mind, body, and spirit of the LGBTQ community.  Make sure you check it out and support our community business owners.

Tell me about yourself. Name, age, where you live, and what you do.

My name is Belle Ursa, I am 22 years old currently living in Tremont! I am the co-owner of Amplio Fitness in Rocky River and I am also a certified Health Coach! My business focuses on the LGBTQ community, specifically the Trans community in order to provide health and fitness services. https://ampliofitness.com/

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https://ampliofitness.com/

What does transgender mean to you?

To me, Transgender is any gender identity that is different from the one you were assigned to at birth.

What are some common misconceptions you face about Transgender men and women?

There a lot of misconceptions, but I think some of the common ones are usually based in a medical context. A lot of people believe that the end goal of every Trans person is to get “the surgery.” A lot of the times its true, Trans people do want to get gender affirmation surgeries, but there are many people out there who are fine with just receiving hormone therapy or even no medical interventions at all! There is no “right” way of being transgender, there is no end goal or perfect example. It’s just changing different aspects of your life until you are comfortable with who you are and how people perceive you.

How should someone ask a Transgender person which pronouns they prefer?

Just like the question phrases it, you just ask! I know it can be awkward to ask but trust me when I say it’s much more respectful to just ask rather than guessing. By asking you are not only breaking down the social habit of assuming someone’s gender based on physical appearance (which is rooted in transphobia anyways), but you are also giving the individual complete control of how the world sees them. They have the power to claim their identity, claim their pronouns, and decide how they are perceived. Sometimes straight up asking pronouns out of context can be extremely harsh, so if you meet someone for the first time, I suggest introducing yourself and your pronouns first like so: “Hi! My name is Belle, my pronouns are she/her/hers” and then usually people follow suit. This lets folks know you’re “down with pronouns” and you’re not here to pre-judge anyone about theirs!

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Do people ask you if you have had any surgeries and how does that make you feel?

Yeah, all the time and it’s completely uncomfortable. I divulge my journey when I feel like it’s important. If it helps someone or can educate people at the right time, I like to talk about myself. But that’s on my time and it’s my decision. Often times people ask me questions because they want to satisfy their sexual curiosity or know very private things because they want to feel special and at that point, I’m not longer a person to them, but a mystery that they want to “solve.”

What are things that we should avoid doing with Transgender person?

Assuming pronouns/guessing.

Asking private questions, especially one’s related to their bodies or their medical experiences.

Not paying them for their labor (i.e. education, vulnerability, expertise)

Tokenizing them in work situations

Using slurs

Using the terms Tranny, Transgendered, Transgenderism, Transsexual

Gatekeeping on what a trans person “should” be.

What has been the hardest part of your transition so far?

For me I think it was finding the courage to stick to who I am. In my experience when I came out the comments were often really passive aggressive like “Are you sure you want to do that? What would other people think? It’s going to be hard. It’s so expensive.” Most of the time I suppose these concerns were rooted in people caring/worrying for me, but it was a terrible way to interact with me coming out. I felt no support. I just felt doubt and fear which then piled onto my already growing sense of insecurity and anxiety. It was also a little insulting because it felt like people assumed, I didn’t think about these things daily. It takes so much strength to come out and for people to not react in a positive and loving way is awful. It’s soul crushing. There were so many times I wanted to quit. I wished I didn’t have to go through this. But I think that’s also where the magic of Trans people come from. No matter where their journey takes them, they almost always experience hardships and backlash for who they are and, in that chaos, we are able to find resiliency and magic that fuels our compassion for ourselves.

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Tell me about your normal day? – being a parent of a Transgender child/ Transgender person

I think this is a little weird of a question. My normal day is like any others. I get up, I do things like go to work, I eat, I play with my animals, I sleep, I watch Netflix. Just because I’m a Trans person doesn’t mean that may day have to be revolutionary different than anyone else’s. Sure, there are small changes like maybe I have to take medicine, but like 80% of the population takes some type of medicine or vitamin with their breakfast so…

I am a cisgender Gay male, and always want to know how to be a better ally for trans* individuals. What are some things I can do to aid in trans* visibility and helping to create a safe environment, based on your personal experience?

Support Trans business (hello my fitness studio is Amplio Fitness)

Pay trans people for education

I think you’re involved with ALL AXS bar in Willoughby, right? Try putting on a Trans night or hire Trans DJs etc.

Educate yourself, look into articles and vocabulary so the burden doesn’t always have to fall on a Trans person

Educate and advocate to your cisgender allies. If you hear something say something. Correct misunderstandings you see, defend a trans person in public. Be a vocal and visible ally.

How can people best support Transgender children?

Oh, love this question, my research in college was about the emotional and social development of Trans adolescents. Basically, you know how bullying can cause children to have higher rates of negative social and emotional development like anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, intimacy issues, etc.? Multiply that by like 300% for Transgender/Gender non-conforming kids. The more non-passing they are (i.e. the more out of the box they look) the harder their isolation and bullying is and the higher the correlation with mental health issues they face. Children identifying as Trans/Gender Non-conforming need friends and family who support them, they need to find other people who identify the way they do to understand that they are normal, they are valid, and that they can grow and become successful adults. They need policies and rules in place that protect them. They need schools that educate the whole institution about their identities to start creating a more accepting environment. They need teachers who advocate for them. They need classroom policies in place that protect them. They need bathrooms that they can go into and be safe. I literally have so many thoughts about this lol, but we can convene later/more in depth if you want.

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Do people question your sexuality when you tell them you are Transgender?

Not really, I mean it sometimes doesn’t go hand in hand. Like sexuality is based off gender in a way, but not vice versa. To whom I am attracted to plays zero roles in my gender identity.

What gives you strength day to day?

Myself and my freedom that I have worked extremely hard for over my life. I’ve been transitioning “officially” for 4 to 5 years now but I’ve always been gender non-conforming ever since I was a child. My entire life I’ve been told no, I can’t do certain things, I’m not allowed, and my strength comes from being able to prove everyone wrong. To live as myself, authentically and without regret. If I can do that and I am still alive today, I have the strength to do anything I want.

Can you describe for me why it is important that our laws and people treat each other equally?  

Because I should not be able to be murdered. No one in my community should be murdered because of who we are. Laws influence society and society dictates how we exist. Most trans people I know have been verbally harassed, physically assaulted, or worse because of who they are. Do you know how many people report it? Little to none because of how poorly it is received. I’ve gotten statements like “Well you deserved what happened because you deceived them of who you really are,” meaning they saw me as a man and that I was just “pretending” to be who I was.  You know I’ve seen some court cases where a man who murdered transwoman claimed the panic defense and got away free because of the simple fact that courts and society often times don’t see trans-people as a valid identity? A woman was MURDERED because a man assumed, she was cisgender and her biology was different and… he…walks…away. Some people claim “Oh she should’ve told him” but do you not see the fact she was murdered for being trans was THE REASON WHY SHE WAS MURDERED? Again, I can go into this in much more detail, but I don’t know how long you want my responses.

Thanks for this opportunity to share my experiences and thoughts!

Belle shows us that while our journeys may be fraught with hardships, we must endure and gain the strength those situations give us. Life takes courage, facing each day as the person you are takes courage, it is these steps that foster strength in us and allow us to move forward. Our words and actions, as small as they appear to us, can be beacons for others. Always fight for what you believe in and never be satisfied with what you are given. Her story can give each of us knowledge we did not have before, while our stories are different, taking cues from others can give us new perspective on how to better handle new situations. Support and understanding of our fellow brothers and sisters is what will make us strong. One voice and one vision.

Our Sapphic Sisters

lesbians

For a long time there seems to have been a division between lesbians and gay men. There have even been times in which the split between us was very hostile. Some say it is due to lesbians being against males centered culture and due to their deep ties to the feminist movements. Some say it is because gay men lost their way in the Gay Rights Movement and focused only on their causes and how it affected them. Even others say it is due to always being lumped together in one category without appreciating the differences between the individual groups. The reasons are less important, what we cannot forget is that we wouldn’t have a lot of the rights we do now if it wasn’t for our sisters in arms. Lesbians have been some of the strongest fighters we have had in our movement.

“What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion. She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society – perhaps then, but certainly later – cares to allow her…” from The Woman-Identified Woman by the Radicalesbians 1970. Many of the roots of dissension between lesbians and gay men can be traced to the feminist movement and its push for women’s independence. About the time of Stonewall, lesbians had become very frustrated with the Second-Wave feminism and decided to make their own movement with Lesbian Feminism. Second-wave feminism focused on a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. The separation from this form of feminist’s movement happened in May 1970 and the Radicalesbians were formed. The separation happened because the leaders of the feminist movements felt that lesbians were an obstacle to their goals and were labeled as the “Lavender Menace.”

May 1970, Rita Mae Brown and 20 lesbians created the Radicalesbians and took over the Congress to Unite Women, a conference about current women’s issues. They took to the stage, all wearing t-shirts that called themselves “Lavender Menace” and read to the crowd of 400 women their essay, The Woman-Identified Woman that laid out their precepts of their movement. This laid the groundwork for the movement to move forwards and gave rise to the Womyn culture, in which they worked to change phallocentric mindsets of how women should distinguish themselves from men. Before the beginnings of the Radicalesbians, the women’s movement were not accepting of lesbians. However, their fighting laid the groundwork for modern feminism movement saying that women have the right to define and express their own sexuality how they choose to. This is an oversimplification of what happened but gives the basis for the importance of this article. This organization and change based results are what led Harvey Milk appointed Anne Kronenberg as his political campaign manager. Kronenberg was an openly lesbian activist and her merits are what helped shaped the Gay Rights Movement and the beginnings of where we are today. During the beginnings of the Gay Rights Movement, the LGBT people were deeply entrenched on fighting together, but as the 70s progressed a rift started between the individual groups.

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It wasn’t until 1987 that we really saw the community pulled together in a common fight again, AIDS was the new villain to beat. The 70s was an age of decadence for gay male culture, coming off the free love trains of the 60s. Moving into the 80s our sexual exploration was still going on when a new disease started killing people. It was mostly tied to the gay male population and when it hit the media it was Ronald Reagan that called it “GRID” Gay Related Immune Deficiency or more infamously called the Gay Cancer. As the CDC struggled to find the origins of this disease and how to combat it, tens of thousands of gay men were dying from this devastating disease. At this time there were many lesbian nurses who were the ones caring for us as we laid dying in our solitary beds, where our lovers were not able to be with us. They provided the care and needed companionship as we drew our last breaths. The group ACT UP! started during this same time and staged a demonstration in New York for greater access to experimental AIDS drugs. Marion Banzhaf and Alexis Danzig were veteran members of ACT UP who helped set up this demonstration. According to broadly.vine.com,”Banzhaf and Danzig’s contributions are among those which supported social and institutional change, from accelerated drug approval to the development of formal needle exchange programs, and saved millions of lives by hastening the advent of pro-tease inhibitors in 1996.” It was our lesbian sisters that proudly showed that it takes a village to raise a village. There were many lesbians that ran shuttle services for the first ever The Names Project, the Aids Quilt event in Washington D.C. This event was a living document to those we have lost because of AIDS. The first event had many who were still suffering from the devastation of this virus and lacked the means of easily getting around this event, so our lesbian sisters aided them by providing transportation and even pushing many of the sick around to the panels they wanted to visit.

We still see a separation in bars from gays and lesbians, often times we throw insults towards each other. But it never seems we really understand why, it’s like once we come out and start hanging out with our “assigned group” we follow the hive mindset and start disliking one another. I have seen this quote and heard it many times before, “it’s not that lesbians dislike penises, it that they dislike who they are attached too.” It all comes down to how sexuality is still viewed by the entire group. The same can be said for gay men and their derision of the female body. It is almost as if because we are either lesbians or gay men that we cannot appreciate the beauty of the human body outside our attraction to those like us. While we as gay men are not attracted to the female body, we should not view it with such contention that we treat them with revulsion and contempt. We should remember the times they were there to help us along in our struggles, after all, we are similar in that we all love members of our presenting gender.

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We share in how the heterosexual community view us, mostly with disdain. Lesbians are often sexualized by heterosexual men. Pull out your smartphone and do a search on lesbians and you will probably see a heterosexual version of what lesbians should look like and sex from the same perspective. Nor are they any less apt to be told they are only homosexual because they haven’t had the right heterosexual partner. And let’s not forget that if a woman has short hair, dresses in pants and t-shirts, and doesn’t wear makeup that they are lesbians. Heterosexual men often fantasize about threesomes with two women having lesbian sex that he gets to join in on. Why? Because he has a penis and obviously, they cannot have real sex without one. Utter garbage, right? There are plenty of lesbians I am sure have had to deal with men asking them to perform for his amusement. TV shows, magazines, movies, songs, advertisements, and more use an over sexualized view of lesbians for financial gain. In more instances it is to drive a masculine reaction for financial purposes. What to increase the ratings of a TV show near the end of a season, show a lesbian kiss. Advertising uses perceived vision to increase interactions. Take the ad above, in it you see that the women are looking out at the viewer instead of themselves, this gives the perception that they are inviting the viewer in to be a part of the scene. Whereas in a normal interaction, those women would be gazing at one another and interacting with them.

We are on a knife’s edge in history, a precipice of where we have fought for and gained many things. All it will take is a misstep and we can have them taken away from us. It is time we put behind us the childishness differences that separate us and unite completely. We need the courage and strength that lesbians have shown in the movement. After all, each of us are still minorities and our fight is imperative to how we will live in the future.

Lesbian

 

Heteronormativity of LGBTQ People

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Delusions of Equality

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So, You Think We Have Rights?

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

1500 Rights and an Equal Symbol

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

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

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The Painful Truth of the Stonewall Riots*

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

HIV/AIDS Shaped Health Benefit Battles

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

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Is Healthcare The Goal?

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

Gay Marriage, The Cure All*

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

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Union of Individuality

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

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

 

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

LGBTQ Inclusivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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