Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:
I am a native Montanan (4th generation).
I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.
I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.
I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.
Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.
And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.
As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.
I think we forget how sensitive kids are.
But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.
Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?
I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.
I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.
They did nothing.
And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.
Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.
We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.
WE HAVE TO.
That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.
This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.
Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.
It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.
If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.
Please pass this ordinance.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up in a small town- in a time when things were said to be simple- but they were not.
He was unlike the other kids in ways that weren’t always noticeable to the people around him. He felt things a bit more keenly. He noticed things that other kids didn’t. He wasn’t great at sports, he wasn’t big and strong.
But he was smart.
And sometimes that meant he got picked on even more than other kids.
So he used that.
It made him tough. His parents were good, loving people. His church provided comfort. His books helped him escape.
Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance- it doesn’t really matter what made him different. He just was.
The fact remained that this boy- indistinguishable from a million other little boys- just wanted to be loved, even though he was different.
And when he grew up, he still wanted to be loved – sometimes desperately. Sometimes he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy- simply because the promise of love is often enough to make us overlook danger and potential tragedy.
The promise of love.
That’s what brings us here today.
That’s why I got infected. That’s how I got infected.
The promise of love. Not what you think about when you think of AIDS.
But I want you to think about it.
When I moved back to Montana almost seven years ago, I made a promise: that no gay kid would ever be so starved for love and support- would not be so handicapped by shame- that they couldn’t stay here and have a happy, successful, healthy and safe life if they wanted to. I would do everything in my power to make it happen.
So I came out as gay- and HIV positive- just to show that there is no shame in having a disease. It’s a virus, it’s not a judgment.
A microscopic being that happens to live in my body. And I want to keep it from living in any one else’s.
And so do you, I hope.
This disease has been around for over three decades. And yet the state of Montana has never allocated state funds for its prevention. Not a penny.
Which begs the question- why?
Is it because of the shame at how the disease is transmitted?
Is it because we might have to talk about sex, needles, addiction and shame and fear?
Isn’t thirty two years long enough to avoid having this hard conversation?
In the Montana that little boy grew up in- that I grew up in- we prided ourselves on helping out where it was needed. We filled sandbags, we stopped when it looked like people were in trouble on the road, we ran to the fire house when the siren rang.
But not for HIV. Not for AIDS. Well, let me correct that.
A few very brave people did stand up. They braved ridicule and stigma to hold candlelight vigils and to hold the hands of people whose parents were too afraid to touch them. I know. I was there. I held some of those hands. And so did Laurie Kops and probably a few others in this room.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but it’s important that we get back to something very basic here in the state of Montana.
Caring for our people.
It’s time to recognize that all people deserve the promise of love in their lives. Deserve the dignity and respect that I believe God gives everyone simply by being born. Deserves the respect of having information and materials at their disposal provided by the state that is charged with enabling public health and well-being. It’s what I want out of my taxes- I hope it’s what you want from yours.
There are a few legislators here you can tackle on the way out….
My life is good. I have family that love me, a partner who is always there for me and more friends than any man ever deserves.
But it could be better.
Somewhere in the state of Montana there is a kid who doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of love.
And he’s part of our responsibility. Because he does deserve love. And he deserves help to be healthy about it.
Shame is keeping us from health.
Kinda crazy, isn’t it?
It’s time to have those hard conversations.
It’s time to stop shame in its tracks.
It’s time to return the promise of love to all Montanans.
Thank you for listening- and for this awesome award.
- Capitol rotunda ceremony honors AIDS Day award recipients (billingsgazette.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (missoulian.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (ravallirepublic.com)
- 5 Montanans to be honored on World AIDS Day (missoulian.com)
The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Montana University System’s non-discrimination policy.
The policy change will affect all campuses within the MUS and provide protection to staff, faculty, and students, according to a press release on Monday.
Clayton Christian, the MT Commissioner of Higher Education, said, “That is our hope that we send the right message that they are welcome and embraced and part of our overall state community, one that certainly has open doors and welcoming doors for the Montana University System.”
- Murkowski Votes With Democrats to Advance Bill Forcing Private Employers in 33 States to Hire Homosexual Applicants (ENDA) (joemiller.us)
- US Senate committee approves LGBT employment law (jurist.org)
- Ban on LGBT workplace discrimination finally heads to full Senate (rawstory.com)
Thanks so much for your support of the registry. I’m happy to report that it passed unanimously last night at Council. Your email made a big difference. I’ll be in touch with how you can register once we solidify the timeline with the Clerk’s office…hopefully we’ll be up and running Aug. 1.
- Why the Missoula Registry Matters (dgsmith.org)
- Missoula considers registry that would help same-sex partners (billingsgazette.com)
So, I know it’s been a while since I have written a blog post. Things have been very crazy in my world and they are just starting to settle down. I have been, somewhat, politically and socially active, but I haven’t really had the chance to write.
Fortunately, with most of this behind me, my time has opened up and you are going to be able to enjoy my snarky sense of humor!! My goodness, how I’ve missed all of you!
I have recently been involved in a court case. I’m not going to go into the details just now. That is for a later couple of blogs. I am also writing a book about that. Suffice to say, it wasn’t me that was in trouble. However, there are some things that have really opened my eyes as to the issue of equality for LGBTQI people here in the State of Montana.
I was told to shy away from the relationship aspect as the courts tend to be somewhat paternalistic in regard to LGBT relationships. It is better not to mention them. Why is that, I wonder? Just doesn’t seem really fair. And, that means that trials and hearings tend to move down a different path. Yuck. It’s glaringly obvious that we need marriage equality.
There are things that are taken for granted and things that are just naturally assumed for straight marriages, but those things are not just assumed for LGBT relationships. This is a problem. It’s just another area where we are left outside and we are somehow “different” and our relationships are somehow “different” than other people.
There are many reasons to promote marriage equality and this is just one of them. But, having it so close to home reminds me of how far we have yet to go.
My partner and I have tossed around the idea of heading down to Colorado, or possibly Washington to marry, but then we decided that we are probably going to hold on and fight for our home state. It may take a while. We want the legal recognition, but we also want to do this where our home is.
Montana has taken a step in the right direction by striking down language that would make us felons, but at the same time, there’s a long way to go. In the meantime, we will probably go through the proper legal channels in order to secure some of our rights. Although, with what we’ve seen in the news lately, that may not necessarily help. But here’s hoping.
Anyhow, since I’m back, I’m prepping a few other blog posts to go up. Hopefully, you all will enjoy!
- Why the Missoula Registry Matters (dgsmith.org)
In stark contrast, here are the statements issued by Montana’s Congressional delegation in light of the historic DOMA and Prop 8 rulings today:
Daines “I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s ruling today. Marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, matters for our children, and I remain a strong believer in defending the family.
While I do not agree with the Court’s ruling concerning the application of federal benefits, I am encouraged that the Court did not rule against states’ rights, ensuring that the voice of the people, not a ruling from a court, is the driving force behind marriage laws in Montana and the other states.”
Tester: “The Supreme Court today made the right decision. The federal government has no place telling Americans who they can love and who they can marry.”
Tester affirmed his support for same-sex marriage earlier this year, saying “how Montanans define a family should be their business and their business alone.”
Baucus: “Today is a proud day in American history when we can say to all Montanans, Americans and their children: your love and your family are just as good as everyone else’s under the law. For too long, same-sex couples and their children have been denied more than 1,000 federal rights and obligations that married couples enjoy. That was wrong. In the United States of America, no one should be treated as a second class citizen simply because of who they choose to love.
I believe each of us has a moral obligation to leave this place in better shape than we found it, and today’s decision puts our country on the right side of history. Now it’s time to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and guarantee all Montanans the same opportunity to succeed in the workplace.”
Fascinating stuff from Shankar Vadantam at NPR:
As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. When several states passed laws to prohibit same-sex marriage, for example, the mental health of gay residents seemed to suffer, while stress-related disorders dropped in at least one state after gay marriage was legalized.
Here’s the research trail:
Beginning around 2004, several states banned gay marriage. Just before that series of bans, the National Institutes of Health happened to conduct a massive survey of 43,093 Americans. The questions elicited detailed information about respondents’ mental health. (To validate what people reported about themselves, psychiatrists also interviewed samples of the people in the survey, and their medical diagnoses closely matched the findings of the survey.)
Soon after the wave of state bans on gay marriage, in 2004 and 2005, the NIMH conducted a second round of interviews, managing to reach 34,653 of the original respondents. (That’s a high rate compared with most polls and surveys.)
Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the health effects of social policies, analyzed the data gathered before and after the bans to determine how the mental health of people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had changed in those states.
Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues Katie McLaughlin, Katherine Keyes and Deborah Hasin published their analysis in 2010 in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same-sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders,” Hatzenbuehler says.
“There was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders,” he says, “a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders.”
To put those numbers in perspective, although Hatzenbuehler did find more than a doubling in the rate of anxiety disorders in states that eventually banned gay marriage, in absolute numbers he found that anxiety disorders went from being reported among 2.7 percent to 9.4 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
The million-dollar question is whether the laws, and the debates around them, were responsible for the change in mental health. To help answer that question, Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues looked at comparable groups and experiences.
“We showed the psychiatric disorders did not increase in lesbian, gay and bisexual populations in states that didn’t debate and vote on same-sex marriages,” Hatzenbuehler says. “There were also no increases — or much smaller increases — among heterosexuals living in the states that passed same-sex marriage bans.”
Hatzenbuehler has also found, in a study conducted in Massachusetts, that gay men experienced fewer stress-related disorders after that state permitted gay marriage.
In a study tracking the health of 1,211 gay men in Massachusetts, Hatzenbuehler found that the men visited doctors less often and had lower health treatment costs after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. When the researchers examined the diagnostic codes doctors were giving the men, they saw a decrease in disorders that have been linked to stress, such as hypertension, depression and adjustment disorders.
Hatzenbuehler says he thinks stress associated with gay-marriage debates was the “X factor.” He says the quantitative data is backed by what gays, lesbians and bisexuals told the surveyors. “They reported multiple stressors during that period,” Hatzenbuehler says. “They reported seeing negative media portrayals, anti-gay graffiti. They talked about experiencing a loss of safety and really feeling like these amendments and these policies were really treating them as second-class citizens.”
It’s unclear how or whether the upcoming Supreme Court decisions involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage will affect the mental and physical health of gays and lesbians nationally.
It’s likely that many gay, lesbian and bisexual people would see an upholding of same-sex marriage bans as an example of prejudice. But it’s also possible the debate around the Supreme Court decisions could have different effects on gays than a local debate involving friends and neighbors.
Hatzenbuehler says his larger point is really that policymakers, judicial leaders and ordinary citizens need to remember that social policies are also health policies.
- Bans Of Same-Sex Marriage Can Take A Psychological Toll (wnyc.org)
- The Watercooler: 3 Gay LGBT News Stories You Need To Know (jiveinthe415.com)
- Bishops Warn of “The Consequences of Gay Marriage”. Why? (queeringthechurch.com)
I have to be honest, last year when Max Baucus announced his support for marriage equality, I was surprised. I didn’t expect him to be the first statewide elected Democrat in Montana to take this step. Since this time, Max has continued to impress me with his commitment to pursuing full equality for LGBT Montanans.
Last month, when the US Supreme Court heard cases on LGBT relationships, Baucus announced that he would sign-on as a cosponsor of the DOMA repeal bill in the Senate. And this past weekend he sent out an email to his campaign email list asking everyone on the list to stand up for marriage equality. The email read:
The federal government shouldn’t interfere in people’s private lives. And it shouldn’t legislate who can and cannot enter into a loving, committed relationship.
But that’s exactly what it does right now. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, even if they’re legally married in their own states.
It’s not fair. And there’s a growing movement to see DOMA overturned. For the first time, a majority of Senators are standing up for marriage equality. And I wanted to give you the opportunity to join us.
In Montana, we believe in personal freedom. We believe the government shouldn’t interfere in the people’s private business.
Overturning DOMA will give same-sex couples, married legally in their states, equal rights under federal law. Add your name.
Thank you for your support to help end marriage discrimination.
It’s great to see a US Senator that has Max’s prominence take such a strong stand and make such a commitment to equality for all Montanans. I quickly signed on to his petition.
Also of note, while Max is standing up for equality for all Montanans, his Republican opponents have doubled-down on their bigotry.
- Wrong Side Of History (dgsmith.org)
- Montana GOP legislators think homosexuality is a crime (watchdog.org)
- Being Gay or Lesbian Isn’t a Crime! It’s Time to Pass SB 107! (dgsmith.org)