Proud Parents Of LGBT Kids Needed!

Greetings,Gay or straight, our kids are great

My mother (Deb Eckheart) and I are starting an exciting new project entitled Pride Parents. These will be short Q&A style videos where we recruit parents who have LGBT kids (ranging in age from youth to adults) to share their stories and impart wisdom from a parent’s perspective regarding lessons learned around making a safe and inclusive environment for a child to explore their identities (including, but not limited to, sexual orientation and gender expression). This video idea came about through conversations my mother and I had around how the coming out process doesn’t only apply to LGBT people, but also to their family and friends who have the inner journey of coming to terms with their loved one’s newfound identity as well as the parent’s own path toward acceptance – wherever that may be on the spectrum.

Although there are some LGBT organizations present in larger Montana communities throughout the state, we would like to produce a video that could help raise awareness about creating a safe and inclusive environment for the LGBT youth while providing a bridge to accessing parental support (through PFLAG, PRIDE, etc.). Through a video format (to be posted on YouTube), we hope to target an audience of families who are unsure but want to be supportive of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity by addressing the following: advice on how to make it safe for their child to come out, how parents can receive their own support during this process, and how to be an ally for their child. Ideally, this would become a pilot project that could spur additional videos, much like the It Gets Better Project, where families can create their own videos, sharing personal stories and lessons learned to create an online wealth of support and knowledge for parents of LGBT youth. At this time, we would like to promote the initial video as a representation of Montana parents only, but with possible opportunities in other states.

So this is where you come in. If you are interested in sharing your perspective on film or have any questions about the project, please contact Deb Eckheart or Alyx Steadman for more information and the list of Q&A prompts. Remember, your experience doesn’t have to be perfect. The importance of this video is to share real stories about overcoming the challenges for parents of LGBT youth, so the more honest you are with your perspective, the more enlightening it will be for other struggling parents coming to terms with their child’s newfound identities.

Thank you for your willingness to consider working with us on this project. We look forward to hearing from you by Sunday, August 4th.

Warmly,

Alyx Steadman alyxsteadman@msn.com 406.369.5221

Deb Eckheart doyourdreams@hotmail.com 406.360.6796

Justice For Trayvon

As I stood on the Higgins Avenue Bridge Monday afternoon with friends and allies in the social justice movement in support of Trayvon Martin, I was horrified at the blatantly racist reactions from the passersby. My hope was that in participating in this demonstration on Monday, I would find some outlet for all the feelings the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict evoked in me as a young black man in America. I was heartened by the turnout for the event, and was moved that as a person of color I was not again forced to represent the whole of my race, but instead was supported by some wonderful allies who organized the event due to their own deeply felt feelings of injustice. During my participation in in the demonstration we received what in my activism in Missoula was a record number of negative responses to our presence and signs on the Higgins Bridge. We had people giving us the thumbs down, the middle finger, folks yelling racist tirades out their windows, etc. I had stood on that bridge for Choice, Healthcare, Marriage Equality, Peace, and many other issues, and never had I been so negatively received.

I had started my day on Monday lying in bed reading various news outlets and blogs discuss the emotional and moral responses to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Several of the “facts” surrounding the case I felt were totally irrelevant to this case. So I purposefully avoided any discussions of Trayvon’s past actions, Zimmerman’s level of security, whether or not people were going to riot in response to the ruling, and instead focused on the things I felt were important. How were black people being portrayed in the media? Was the victim of the crime being blamed for his murder? What did society see as an acceptable reason for killing a 17 year old child? I am an organizer for social justice, and have worked my entire career focusing on LGBT rights, racial justice, and women’s rights. This made my focus in this case not surprising…

After hours of anger, frustration, and fear in response to a constant slew of blatant racism disguised as social commentary, I found the outlet for my feelings. Some friends had decided to hold the demonstration in Missoula on the Higgins Bridge. As I prepared for this action, I found that I was having trouble expressing in a sound bite my complex thoughts. More disturbing was my trouble in finding a connection that I felt would resonate with people isolated from the case, thousands of miles away. I felt little distance from this case, as I was profiled, harassed, and threatened as a young black man living all over the country. I had spent several years of my life in FL, and had experienced much of the racism that exists there. But how was I to truncate these feelings and experiences that had created the late twenties black man that I was today? How was I to communicate the urgency and overwhelming despair that had caused me to cry in my kitchen only hours before? Was I allowed to reference explicitly my blackness? Would the mostly white population of Missoula resonate with me if I did?

In organizing we teach that when things get complicated, break them down to the most simple and identifiable elements. You can’t write a dissertation on a piece of foamcore board, even if your message is really important. So I landed on one of the familiar images of a black hoodie, “Justice 4 Trayvon,” and Black Skin + Black Hoodie Does not Equal Criminal. I did not want to attack Zimmerman, hash out the details of the case, or blame any of the players in the trial for a miscarriage of justice. I just wanted to express that I did not feel that the case ultimately ended in placing any responsibility with someone who had for whatever reason ended the life of a child, and that the constant attacks on the clothes that he was wearing, the language that he used, his alleged past indiscretions should all be irrelevant to the ending of his short life by a man who used bad judgment when he willfully exited his car with a firearm after following a child ultimately shooting him.

Many people around the country did not understand why so many of us saw race as an issue in this case. They didn’t understand why in this post-racial America, we need concern ourselves with the race of the perpetrator or the victim. The “unbiased facts” of the events of the evening should reveal the truth without any messy discussion of race relations. The only problem was that for many people of color, the case screamed racial motivation. Even before allegations of Zimmerman’s statements that night, or his passed activity on social networking sites; the narrative was familiar to us. Why? Because we live it all the time.

When I was young, a neighborhood friend of mine asked me to go to a Walgreens with him. He was an overweight white kid from a middle class background, and I a mixed skinny kid from a somewhat lower socioeconomic status. We had lived only a few blocks from each other for years in Rockford,IL. At the time the city’s population was around a quarter of a million people, and there was a definite race problem. I said sure, and we entered the Walgreens. As soon as we entered he said he had to go to the bathroom, and asked me to meet him in the toy aisle. As I walked toward the toy aisle I was immediately followed by the store clerk. I perused the toys, and then went to the candy aisle to grab a few packs of my favorite grape double bubble. My friend was already in the candy aisle, so once I had gathered my purchases, we went to the checkout line, the clerk eyeballing me the whole way. I paid for my gum, after turning out my pockets at the clerk’s request. My friend, who was standing next to me, said he had decided not to get anything, so after my purchase we left. When we got back home, my friend emptied his pockets to reveal his five finger discount purchases. He had liberated toys, cigarettes, and various kinds of his favorite candy. I was horrified, and asked him why he thought it was ok to steal. He replied that he had seen a dateline news episode on racial profiling, and wanted to see if it worked. Obviously it had. This is only one of my experiences with profiling. Since that day early on in my childhood in IL, I would be profiled by many more store clerks, I would be dismissed as stupid by teachers who were entrusted with my education, I would be assumed the assailant and not the victim when I called the police to ensure my safety, accused of stealing property by white friends when things went missing in their homes, ad nauseam.

I was a mouthy skinny black kid, fearless, and “entirely too smart for my britches” as my grandmother used to say. I really could have been Trayvon walking in a community, of mostly white people, with some “creepy ass cracker” following me. If I had been confronted by him, I would likely have responded with indignation at the attack on my basic human dignity, and the continued entitlement of those white people who assume that because I am black I somehow do not belong in the same places they do. And had I felt that my person was in danger, I likely would have fought back.

What saved me in my youth was that I was taught to expect racism, to trust the police but to always have witnesses, and to speak as eloquently as possible when interfacing with white people in authority so that they could identify with me. Growing up with mostly white relatives, I had watched them have positive experiences with the police, and get what they needed from government institutions. My uncles were all firefighters, and I learned early on to trust uniforms. When I was little my grandmother made me memorize the family telephone numbers, and she even sewed an old film canister into my coat to make sure that I would always have them with me. Had I been walking on a FL street I likely would have hung up with my friend, and dialed the police. Told them that there was a creepy dude following me. I might have even asked the dude what he was doing, and if I could help him find anything before I called the police.

What was different for me is that I grew up straddling two worlds. I know that for many black children, the narrative taught to them is not that the police are your friend. For many of them this is bolstered by profiling, harassment, and other barriers to justice. I remember the differences in narratives when I would visit my father’s family who is black, and hear all of the injustice and harassment they had experienced as a part of their daily lives. We did not want to see racism in this case, we couldn’t help but see it.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book some years ago called Blink, and as a student of Political Science, I was subject to pieces of it for years of my college education. In the book, much is made of Harvard’s Implicit Association Test, and for some it is quite the lightning rod. Some point to it to prove that Institutionalized Racism exists, and is alive and well.  For this discussion, the important part of this test is that those that hold these associations like black = bad are not consciously aware of this. It is important to note that this test does not claim to measure a person’s beliefs, only the associations they make about certain groups of people. Any class in the social sciences will likely have some reference to sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. And without fail there will be students in the class who will deny the current existence of the bias, and state that in this day and age that we are beyond all that, and that “X” special interest group is just hypersensitive to their particular issue. For many, these biases are invisible. They are unaware of why having a jury of primarily white females who have been socialized in this country to fear black males might return a not guilty verdict when the defendant is a white male seen as the legitimate authority figure. And they are obliviously unconcerned as to why.

For many black Americans this case represented a great deal. It represented an opportunity to validate the existence of black people in society. It served as an indictment of profiling and harassment of black bodies. It served as a catalyst for discussion and change in our society about black people’s access to justice.

And when we heard the verdict, many of us felt disappointment, rage, frustration, all centered in our collective memories of oppression.

I found myself deeply saddened by the responses of my fellow Missoulians who I have lived alongside for close to seven years. I felt compelled to write something to express all the emotions and experiences that informed my participation in that demonstration. My dissertation that would not fit on foamcore board.

Many of us hope that the result of this case, and all the media attention it garnered will lead to momentum in our continued struggle to battle erasure, oppression, and lack of access to agency and justice for people of color. I hope that my fellow Missoulians and the greater Montana community will join me in engaging with empathy to ensure that we all can share this great state that we love.

Sincerely, John Blake

Student and Community Activist

John is a biracial, Montana transplant, twenty something, social change activist, agitator, and student. 

Review: The Miseducation Of Cameron Post

My friend Camille Griep recommended Emily Danforth‘s book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post to me recently. I really had very little idea what it was going to be about, other than something about a teenager. In Montana.

meMiseducation is ostensibly a story about a young teen exploring her sexuality in a conservative, evangelical community where homosexuality is viewed as a sin – and in the aftermath of her parents’ death. And that story is definitely in there. What I was not prepared for was the love letter to Montana. The language is beautiful and lyrical and I felt that landscape in a way I don’t think I ever have in a book. Here’s a taste from the first page:

Miles City had been cooking in the high nineties for days, and it was only the end of June, hot even for eastern Montana. It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone’s venting a dryer out over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we’d squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.

I am fascinated by the intersection of sexuality and religion, so it will come as no surprise that I ate up the portion of the book where Cameron gets sent off to a residential ex-gay program. I loved how she described the effect of the program, like dust and lint that just sticks to a gummy hand over time and how hard it is to wash it off.

The longer I stayed at Promise, the more all the stuff they were throwing at me, at us, started to stick, just like to those sticky hands, in little bits, at first, random pieces, no big deal. For instance, maybe I’d be in bed during lights out and I’d start to think about Coley and kissing Coley, and doing more with Coley, or Lindsey, or whomever, Michelle Pfeiffer. But then I might hear Lydia’s voice saying, “You have to fight these sinful impulses: fight, it’s not supposed to be easy to fight sin,” and I might totally ignore it, or even laugh to myself about what an idiot she was, but there it would be in her voice, in my head, where it hadn’t been before. And it was other stuff too, these bits and pieces of doctrine, of scripture, of life lessons here and there, until more and more of them were coated on, along for the ride, and I didn’t consistently question where they had come from, or why they were there, but I did start to feel kind of weighed down by them.

I hope you will be as taken with the landscape of Montana and the map that Cameron draws in her explorations as I was.

Jill Seidenstein is a queer femme writer, yogini, swimmer and traveler. You can’t read her scribblings yet, but you can get a taste of what she’s thinking about at www.slowbloom.com/blog.

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Wrong Side Of History

An excellent post by The Montana Cowgirl (reposted with her permission)

Montana lawmakers who have spent the entirety of their paltry careers voting against equality now find themselves on the wrong side of history.  In the wake of the upcoming supreme court decision on equal marriage, no one who reads a newspaper can come to any other conclusion.  Even Rush Limbaugh says marriage equality is inevitable.

The nutjob wing of Montana’s Republican Party  aren’t just wrong, they’re way out in right field, and soon to be there alone.   Montana is one of only four states that has a law on the books that makes being gay an imprisonable offense.  This fact alone is despicable, but when you consider what else the Montana Legislature has done you start to wonder if the Montana legislature isn’t among the most bigoted in America.

Consider this: During the past 21 legislative sessions least 32 bills have been introduced to make all Montanans equal under the law.  Some, like Sen. Facey’s SB 107 attempted to repeal the “deviate sexual conduct” law, other would have prevent discrimination in housing, or stopped the bullying of young people in schools. Many have been introduced by Sen. Christine Kaufmann, of Helena.

Not a single one of these bills has ever passed in the history of this state.

But it’s worse than that.  The Montana legislature isn’t content with blocking equality bills.  They’ve tried year after year to make things worse.
Montana LegislatureLook what they did in 1995, when Republican Senator Rick Holden added an amendment to a bill to require gay men and lesbians to register as felony sex offenders. Democrats tried to remove the amendment, but 32 of 50 Senators voted to keep it in.

It was only after twenty-four hours of scathing national press coverage from CNN that the Republicans were finally forced to take the sex offender amendment out. But not before Billings GOP Sen. Al Bishop decided to share his beliefs with the world.  He said consensual activity between people of the same sex was “a worse offense than rape.” (The bill was HB 214 and predates the online legislative search.)

Anyway, the Chick-Fil-A munching bunch was not happy to be denied a “felony sex offender registry” of gay citizens. A couple of days later anti-gay slurs and graffiti were “scrawled across the doors of the capitol, and a famous statue was defaced. With no sense of irony, and no mention of the anti-gay nature of the spray-painted slogans, Senators introduced a bill to make defacing the capitol a felony.”

And who could forget what happened ten years later in 2005, when the all-day kindergarten was opposed by religious right Repubs, who claimed bill was part of the “gay agenda.” “The purported evidence given by these groups was that gay activists were NOT at the hearing, proving it was part of the activists’ secret agenda.”

Public sentiment is now so firmly behind equality that the reaction to democratic politicians who announce their support at this late date ranges from “who isn’t” to “where were you earlier.”  The Montana Senate even voted, finally, to erase our “anti-sodomy law” which makes it an imprisonable crime to be gay.  Although invalidated by our state supreme court in 1997, the law has remained on our books because Republicans have always refused to go along with efforts to scrap it.

Now, SB 107, a measure to strike the offensive language from our statutes finally passed the senate.  That said, the vote was far from unanimous.  Ten Republicans voted no.

Any day now the bill will be voted on in committee, and then on the Floor of the House.  No assumptions can be made about body which includes Verdell Jackson, Krayton Kearns, David Howard and Jerry O’Neil, so start contacting  the lawmakers in the House of Representatives, which you can do via this online form. FYI, you can always use the back button after submitting your message, which allows you to skip retyping all your info when you contact multiple legislators. Or you can cut and paste this list of House GOP legislators.

Conservatives were on the wrong side of history with women’s suffrage, they were on the wrong side of segregation.  Let’s see whose side they’re on now.

Catholics Participate in Prayer Service and Demonstration at Supreme Court

New Ways Ministry staff at the marriage equality demonstration outside the Supreme Court:  Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bob Shine, Francis DeBernardo.

New Ways Ministry staff at the marriage equality demonstration outside the Supreme Court: Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bob Shine, Francis DeBernardo.

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two marriage equality cases.   The historic day began with an interfaith prayer service at the Church of the Reformation, a Lutheran congregation just behind the Supreme Court building.

The service, entitlted “A Prayer for Love and Justice,” featured prayers and rituals from a wide variety of faith traditions–Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, Native American–were all represented as part of the service.  Catholics were represented by Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Rev. Joseph Palacios, who ministers at Dignity/Washington.   The event was organized by the United for Marriage coalition.

Following the prayer service, participants processed to the Supreme Court building and joined the demonstration of thousands of people there who support marriage equality.  Among those in the crowd were Jackie and Buzz Baetz, a Catholic couple from Monkton, Maryland, who displayed a sign showing Catholic support for marriage equality.

New Ways Ministry staff also participated in the demonstration outside the court building.

 

 

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Musical Nun Sings: ‘You Are Not Alone’

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

Bare-MusicalArtThe character of a nun, in an off-Broadway musical provocatively entitled Bare, is now singing a song which one writer thinks will become an anthem for LGBT youth facing bullying and harassment.

Despite the title, the show does not focus on nudity, but on the struggles of two gay high school students at a Catholic boarding school

In a Huffington Post piece, Mark Canavera draws attention to a song in the second act, “You’re Not Alone,” sung by the character Sister Joan:

” ‘You’re Not Alone,’ developed by lyricist Jon Hartmere and composer Lynne Shankel for the current off-Broadway revival of the musical Bare, will become a new anthem for LGBT youth. Bare churns in tempo with the lives of a group of sexually awakening teenagers who are struggling within the confines of a Catholic school. ‘You’re Not Alone’ comes late in the second act and represents the show’s emotional pinnacle, piercing through the turmoil. (Although no official recording of the song yet exists, a demo version is available to stream here.) Sister Joan, an empathetic nun, is consoling one of her gay students who is caught in the whirlwinds of the drama. She uses the clearest words imaginable:

“You’re created in His image. / You’re a perfect child of God. / And this part of you / It’s the heart of who you are. / It’s who you are / And you just need to know / You’re not alone.” ‘ “

Canavera describes how the song was developed, and the reason the composer and lyricist put it into the mouth of a teacher:

“That the song is sung by a teacher to her student illuminates the special role that teachers can play in supporting their students while opening new horizons. ‘I think that teachers have such an amazing opportunity-slash-responsibility to their students to open a kid’s eyes to what is possible beyond what they think is possible,’ says Shankel. Hartmere himself was a teacher who spoke frankly to his classrooms about his sexual orientation and the offense he felt at hearing insults tossed around. ‘One day on the yard,’ he describes, ‘I heard a kid call someone else gay, and one of the girls from my class said, “Don’t use that word because my teacher’s gay, and I like him.” ‘ “

Of course, more importantly is the fact that the character is not only a teacher, but a Catholic nun:

“In addition to being a teacher, Sister Joan is obviously a nun. Hartmere, who was raised Catholic and whose great aunt is a nun, believes that this character and her song should help to provide a counter-balance to conceptions of the Catholic Church as a monolithic, doctrinaire haven for sex offenders. ‘There’s another angle here,’ says Hartmere, ‘another way of looking at things. Nuns are an amazing group of people who have an amazing worldview that should be listened to more.’

“I couldn’t agree more. Listening to Sister Joan send her clarion message to the struggling student in a recent performance of Bare transported me directly to 1992, when I was a freshman at a Catholic high school in Charleston, South Carolina. I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, lonely, lost, confused, and yes, suicidal. My Sister Joan was Sister A.J. — short for Alice Joseph — of the Sisters of Mercy order. Sister A.J. was in her 50s when she taught me and passed away some years ago now; God rest her soul. Much like the teacher whose supportive note to a gay studentrecently went viral, Sister A.J. wrote the following note on one of my essays:

By the way, you were born homosexual, overweight, and with a loving heart. Don’t worry about your homosexuality. One day the pope will understand. PS…I love you.

” ‘You’re Not Alone‘ and such notes are crystal lasers of love, beaming direct and clear from the hearts of nuns to their LGBT students. May such love go viral.”

At New Ways Ministry, we’ve known for over 36 years how much nuns have been supporting LGBT people and ministry because they have been the backbone of our financial and spiritual support.  We are deeply grateful. We are glad that a song such as “You Are Not Alone” is helping to spread the message of nuns’ love–and God’s love–of LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Official Calls for Protections for Same-Gender Couples

by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve witnessed a slow evolution in Catholic hierarchical thinking on marriage for same-gender couples.  Recently in France and Great Britain, bishops’ groups  have spoken more positively about same-gender couples than they had before.  In Germany and Italy, individual bishops have made positive statements about same-gender couples.  Even here in the U.S., Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George made surprisingly positive statement about love between people of the same gender, even though he opposed Illinois’ marriage bill.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Today, the positive statement on same-gender relationships comes from the Vatican itself.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“A high-ranking Vatican official on Monday voiced support for giving unmarried couples some kind of legal protection even as he reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also said the church should do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Paglia also spoke forcefully opposing discrimination and criminalization of homosexuality:

“Responding to journalists’ questions, Paglia also strongly condemned discrimination against gay people, who he said ‘have the same dignity as all of God’s children’

” ‘In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime,’ he said. ‘I would like the church to fight against all this.’ “

While these positive remarks are welcome, it must also be said that Paglia still strongly opposed marriage equality:

” ‘The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman,’ he said. Other kinds of ‘affections’ cannot be the foundation for a ‘public structure’ such as marriage.

” ‘We cannot surrender to a sick egalitarianism that abolishes every difference,’ he warned, and run the risk of society becoming a new ‘Babel.’ “

Despite the continued intransigence on marriage equality,  I think it is important to note that the archbishop’s comments represent a giant step forward in terms of Vatican recognition of same-gender couples.  Even just a month ago, when the pope made harsh statements against same-gender relationships in his World Peace Day message, one could not have imagined a Vatican official making such positive comments as Paglia did.  His comments are a small change, but all change happens little by little.