Making A Difference In Montana: Interchange Kickstarter Campaign is Here!

 

Interchange Kickstarter is now live. Show your support now!
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Whether you’re able to financially support Interchange or are still considering, know that our festival moves forward each year, evolving with the changing issues of human rights and equality.

But when you take that extra step with tangible support, you help Interchange set new standards for creativity and continue to share progressive ideas by standing up- and standing proud.

Supporting Interchange shows you care about the important challenges we champion- ending social trauma and creating human equality.
Starting right here.
Right now.
Inner change + Outer change = Interchange

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Yes. I am. Positively Speaking.

By Timber

I have struggled with writing this blog for some time. I didn’t know when the right time was going to be to do it. There have been many factors influencing my decision. My partner, family, friends, work, theatre, etc. It’s been a bumpy ride and very challenging spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. As I sit here in the middle of a snow storm next to my roaring fire in the comfort of my own home, I am mostly content. It feels safe here. The dogs are relaxing, the birds are quiet and I have the house to myself. I can almost feel like I am strong and nothing is changed. Nothing is different. Everything is going to be okay. But, four innocuous words, put together, could change that in an instant. You see, I have a secret. But I don’t like secrets. They cause way too much stress. No, it’s not that I’m gay. That’s no secret to anyone. I mean, HELLO!!! Do you know me? The secret is even larger than that. It is earth-shattering, in some aspects. It is a heavy burden to bear. And I’m finally at the point where I don’t know if I can, or should, keep it in the closet any longer. This is my secret. And, it is very scary for me to share it with you. I don’t know what it will do to my social standing or my friendships. There are select people in my life that already know. My partner, first and foremost, my family and some of my very close friends. And they have all been overwhelmingly supportive. I am hoping that there are more people like that out there. I’m sure that others already know because of the way that gossip spreads through the “grapevine,” but I want to be sure that people are hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

You see, the reason I am giving away my secret is because I am an activist (if you hadn’t already noticed. . .tee hee). I want to educate people and I want to make people aware that this still happens. Let me give you just a little bit of background and we will kind of take it from there. I sit here and think of vipers like Dave Agema, the Michigan National Committeeman. “Folks, they (gay people) want free medical because they’re dying (when they’re) between 30 and 44 years old,” the paper quotes Agema saying last week. Funny. . .I’m almost 40 and I’m not dead. And, Dear Mr. Agema, I pay for my own health insurance. I pay all of my co-pays and even the costs that my insurance doesn’t cover. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act has done for me is to ensure that I don’t have to shell out 5 figures per year (yes, that much) because an insurance company might not want to cover my “pre-existing condition.” Perhaps Davey-boy thinks that I got what I deserved because I’m gay. Perhaps, he secretly rejoices with each new diagnosis of HIV because that means there will be one less queer in the world. Think again, Dave. I did not become HIV positive because I was promiscuous or because I was an IV drug user. As a matter of fact, I found out completely by mistake. That story will be told later. But, what I CAN tell you is that I got this disease because I loved and trusted someone. I was in a long term relationship. However, that person did not have the same respect for me and completely and totally betrayed my trust. The person lied to me about his status and there was ample opportunity to tell the truth. It would not have changed the way I felt about him, but it might have changed some of my behavior. That is the thing that I have struggled with the most out of all of this. I loved someone. I became HIV positive. The sense of betrayal is overwhelming at times. A friend of mine said it to me the best: The measure of a man and his heart is not the love he gives simply to feel validated and “loved” in return. Your heart is unconditional. . . But a human being that loves, that really understands being a living breathing man, doesn’t take advantage of that – he protects it and cares for it and nurtures is like the precious thing it is. He stole that and abused it and bent that into something twisted just to steal what he could, out of fear, of other’s love and affection. He put you all in harm’s way to protect himself, and he used love as his weapon to do it. It is the most awful sin a person who claims to be human can commit.  (Thank you, Amber Meyer) I found out the results on February 13th, 2012. How’s that for an early Valentine’s Day present? When I talked with my partner (who is negative, thankfully), I asked him how this was going to affect our relationship. He said, “I don’t understand what you mean. This is “For Better or For Worse, In Sickness and In Health.” Isn’t that what we decided? I love you for who you are, not what you have or don’t have.” I cried. But don’t you dare EVER tell anyone that! I will deny it with my last breath! I have an image to maintain, here. . . But, for the record, I am healthy. I have been seeing a doctor since I found out. I am on one pill a day that keeps my viral load undetectable and my T cells have been steadily climbing since I started. I am back to a normal level. I am sick less often and my energy has started to come back. And now, I am ready to fight. I am ready to educate. I am ready for whatever the world has to throw at me. I am here. I am LIVING!! And I am not going to die anytime soon. My doctor told me to expect to live to a ripe old age (80+), that is, if I quit smoking. My thoughts are along the same lines, but that is unless I push an old woman out from in front of a bus and I bite the dust saving her life. Although, it would be my luck that she would sue my estate because she broke a hip. . . If you feel that this blog would help someone, please share it. If it moved you, please share it. And remember, as I have said before, we all know someone who is HIV positive. And now, you know me. And this is what living with HIV looks like:

Pride Foundation: An Investment In Montana’s Future

PrideFlogo

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of the Pride Foundation.

I’d like to explain why.

When I was growing up in Montana in the 70′s, there were no resources for kids like me- no gay role models, no resources, no way for me to combat the prevalent message that I was deformed, debilitated or disordered. I just assumed that I was. It’s a painful way to live. In fact, it was so painful I attempted suicide.

I survived.

Some of our kids haven’t.

When I moved back to Montana as a reasonably well-adjusted gay man, I made myself a promise: I would do everything in my power to make sure that kids growing up here would have role models and support and resources to stand against the messages of hate and bigotry that still find a place in our culture.

Pride Foundation is a big part of that for me.

When I worked at Seattle Counseling Service, Pride Foundation was a major supporter of our mental health and substance abuse work with LGBTIQ and HIV-infected people. They are proud partners in creating community health. That makes Pride Foundation a natural partner for my life goals as a gay man in Montana. Pride Foundation has made it a point to create a culture of giving and support for organizations and individuals to create safe and sustaining places for LGBTIQ people- and our allies- in Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. Creating better and more inclusive communities for all.

Since 1985, Pride Foundation has given more than $39 million dollars to thousands of organizations and scholars across the Pacific Northwest.

If you’ve been looking for a way to be involved, here’s your chance. Volunteers serve on grant and scholarship review teams, work at local events and provide important input for our mission in every state across the region.

And, if you’re looking to get an amazing return on your philanthropic dollar, I hope you’ll consider a gift that will keep on giving for decades to come.

I currently serve- with Shelley Hayes from Billings- as one of Montana’s Pride Foundation Board Members. I’m also the Pride Foundation Montana Leadership Action Team Chair, and I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that Pride Foundation’s generous culture of philanthropy and stewardship continues to benefit Montanans and LGBTIQ persons in the Pacific Northwest for years to come.

I’d like you to join me.

Here’s the Pride Foundation donor link. It’s very easy. Ken and I give $50 every month- and it’s simply taken from our debit card. Plus, for every dollar you give to Pride Foundation over $3.00 comes back to Montana! That’s unheard of in this day and age.

https://www.pridefoundation.org/giving/give-online/

  •  All donations from Montanans stay in Montana supporting grants and scholarships here.
  • For every $1 raised in MT last year, $3.80 came back to the state.
  • Caitlin has driven over 10,000 miles since being hired as the first staff on the ground two years ago.
  • We’ve given away nearly $500,000 in Montana total, including nearly $50,000 this past year.  

We plan to award even more this next year thanks to our supporters- people just like you.

Whatever you can offer is deeply appreciated. We appreciate your time as well as your resources. Seriously. We treat all of our donors and volunteers as part of our family.

Thanks in advance for helping make the future brighter for LGBTIQ people under the Big Sky!

Signature

On Greg, Bozeman, and Hugs

 

Last night, I had the honor of hearing D Gregory Smith tell his story — from childhood to Catholic priest to former priest/out gay man/counselor/so much more — to a gathering at St. James Episcopal Church as part of the church’s faith formation classes on sexuality and spirituality.

 

While I have been following Greg’s blog for a while, it wasn’t until I moved to Bozeman a couple of months ago that I met him in person. I knew bits and pieces of his story — the parts I had read on this blog — and I knew he was involved in LGBTQI causes here in Montana. But, you never know what a person is really like away from the keyboard.

 

I wasn’t disappointed.

 

I first met Greg in the AIDS Outreach office in downtown Bozeman. By the time I left half an hour later, I was not only a big fan of his, but he offered me a chance to contribute to this blog.  And, I got a hug.

 

The next time I ran into him, he was leading worship at Living Waters United Methodist Church in Belgrade. I left that morning after hearing a great message and with another hug.

 

Last week, I saw Greg at the first session of the faith formation classes, where we heard Bishop Brookhart talk about his research on the issue of sexual orientation and the Bible. Yep, got another hug.

 

Last night, though, I learned so much more about Greg. I learned he is relatable, humble, giving, empathetic, caring and open. He is a deep thinker whose incredible life experiences have shaped him into a person of substance. If you know Greg personally, I’m not telling you anything new. But if you follow this blog without having met him — the way I used to — know that he knows of what he writes.

 

I wasn’t expecting my first post on this blog to be along the lines of “An Ode to Greg,” but his story gave me a lot to think about after I left. Maybe it’s because we are the same age and have lived completely different and often complicated lives only to end up in the same place.

 

I hope to contribute more as I navigate my new “out” life here in this beautiful city. I am excited to be part of the Bozeman/Montana LGBTQI community and to live in a city that is (mostly) accepting.

 

Mostly, I’m excited that I’m four for four on hugs.

 

 

 

Tiny Westboro Baptist Church Protest Fails Hilariously In Montana, Sparks Huge Pro-LGBT Rally

From the Huffington Post:

In what has become something of a regular occurrence, a small protest attempt by anti-gay extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church on Monday succeeded only in giving rise to a much larger counter-demonstration based on tolerance, LGBT rights and ice cream.

About five members of the Kansas-based congregation showed up in Bozeman, Mont.to picket Montana State University and a local high school over their commitment to teaching students that it is okay to be gay. While the tiny group could have gone unnoticed on its own, their presence brought a much larger spectacle — hundreds of people unified against the Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate.

Proud of my town- I was unable to be there, but I can’t say enough about the love and support that was shown. I believe that every challenge deserves a thoughtful response- and we had one.

READ IT ALL HERE

 

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

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Recently, I have been turning toward the Beatitudes. I have looked at them from every direction and wondered why more “Christians” haven’t taken to them as a way of life. The one that really struck me today was Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

All my life, I have been a peacemaker. (Well, okay, there was one period of about 5 years where I tried to stir up as much drama with my family as I could. . .but let’s not dwell on the past) I don’t like it when people fight and I just want to see people get along.

I seem to have been born with a highly developed sense of compassion and empathy. I used to (and still do) befriend what my mom lovingly termed, “The Unlovables.” These were the kids that got picked on in school because they were different. The kids that had no friends. I was constantly asking questions as to why people were being treated so badly and my heart regularly broke for them. I also have to admit (much to my chagrin) that I got a little teary at the end of Dangerous Liaisons when I watched it in high school. My heart broke for Glenn Close’s character. Yes, she brought most of it on herself, but did she really deserve to be treated so harshly by the very society that created her? Where was the compassion? I know, I know. . .it’s silly.

There have been many inspirations for me over the years: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr. And more recently, there have been some inspirations from closer to home: Liz Welch of the ACLU Montana, Gregory Smith of the Pride Foundation, Caitlin Copple, Jamie Greer, Edie Windsor just to name a few. These are the “Children of God.”

I have seen some very negative posts lately. I have even created one. And if you saw my last post, you will also know that I have issued an apology in the interest of being a peacemaker. I do not presume to know the mind of God. I would be leery of anyone who says they do. However, I listen to the “Still, small Voice” inside and I know what God says to me. And it may not be the same thing that God says to you. Does it mean you are wrong? No. Does it mean I am wrong? No. Just different.

Christians are not bad people. They are people, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They fall from the path. We have to remember to hold ourselves to the very standards that we are comparing them against, like “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I would also refer to Luke 6:42 “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

A moment of clarity came to me this morning in a Biblical argument with a misinformed person. The Bible is a tool to show YOU how to live. It is NOT a tool for YOU to show ME how to live. It is for me to use the tool myself. But, I digress.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Pursuing peace and negotiating it is a tricky business. But even the ACT of pursing peace is the act of departing from evil and doing good. We need to be mindful of that.

The Old Testament was tribal law, meant to hold the Israelites together during the time when they had no home. The Old Testament is included in the Bible to show Christians where they came from and what their history was. Jesus brought the New Testament to show a better way to live. It is a new covenant, replacing the old. Jesus was/is the Son of God. A child of God. A peacemaker.

I will continue to be a peacemaker. I will continue to support people that are peacemakers. I will continue to fight for people’s rights and to fight injustice where I see it. That is part of what being a peacemaker is.

Perhaps I am not on the forefront, helping to change and write policies and laws, but that doesn’t mean I am ineffective. I am on the sidelines, changing people’s minds and hearts. I write because I can, because it is a talent given to me by God and I have been charged with using that talent. And I will continue to wield it as a peacemaker. I am a child of God.

 

MT Board of Regents approves adding sexual orientation, gender identity to non-discrimination policy

From KXLH:

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.”

Read the full story here.

 

Why the Missoula Registry Matters

by Caitlin Copple

Tonight, Missoula’s City Council will vote to establish a domestic partnership registry open to same-sex couples across the Treasure State. But let’s be honest, domestic partnership registry doesn’t sound very sexy.  It doesn’t carry as much weight as full marriage equality, or even civil unions at the state level. So why even do it?

Let me be clear: No one should settle for mere city-level domestic partnership recognition. I’m certainly not going to. That’s why I hope you will join me in continuing to support these great organizations working on non-discrimination ordinances in Montana cities (www.mhrn.org, www.forwardmontana.org, http://www.fairisfairmontana.org) as well as statewide relationship recognition through the newly refiled Donaldson v. Montana case (www.aclumontana.org).

So if full marriage equality and non-discrimination is what LGBT Montanans and our allies really want, why bother with this little domestic partnership registry in Missoula? Does it even matter? Yep, and here’s why:

  1.  It’s called an LGBT movement for a reason. We can and should be moving forward at every level of our democracy until LGBT Montanans are treated equally under the law and our families are valued and respected in our culture – From Missoula to Miles City.  Incremental and inadequate as a registry may seem, it is an important step on the path to full equality.
  2. It sends a message to the State of Montana that cities will do everything they can for LGBT residents despite discriminatory laws. Municipal domestic partnership registries are proven to pave the way for more meaningful statewide change. We’ve seen this in the 58 other cities across 23 states, many which lacked any relationship recognition prior to the establishment of a local registry. You know how Minnesota defeated a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage last fall, and how their legislature just passed marriage equality this session? Well, before any of that happened, Rochester and Minneapolis were leading the way by recognizing all families at the city level. This is not a coincidence.
  3.  Municipal domestic partnership registries help same-sex partners get health insurance coverage, as well as better treatment from first responders and hospitals. It’s not a replacement for statewide mandates or getting an advanced medical directive (Click here to make sure you have all your bases covered: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/protecting-your-visitation-decision-making-rights). However,  Cathryn Oakley, director of the Municipal Equality Index project at HRC (her aunt lives in Billings – love that!) has provided me with countless examples of how this is happening in cities with registries across the country.  The wallet card offers proof for employers that want to do the right thing despite bad state law, and something that emergency and hospital personnel can point to in your time of need.

Here’s a link to the text of the Missoula resolution that will govern how the registry operates: http://missoula.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/cache/2/najfwbk13nw4n5achjhsqw54/7845907152013011316448.PDF. It’s open to all Montana couples.  Let the council know you support this effort by emailing us at council@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Remember, this registry is completely voluntary, and it is public information under state law, so if it’s not for you, don’t sign up. Coming out is always a risk, and as LGBT people, we make the decision every day about how out we want to be at work, at school, to our families and our faith communities. This is one more way that couples who want to can come out as domestic partners, and get at least some of the recognition and dignity they deserve, at least at the city level. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Together, by advocating at every level of our democracy, we can bring equality to all Montanans and our families.

Act Now to Secure ENDA’s Passage‏

PrideflogovertBeing honest about who you are could cost you your job in the majority of the country.

Right now, there are no state laws protecting lesbian, gay, or bisexual people from being fired from their jobs in 29 states, and the same is true in 34 states for transgender Americans. Three of the states that Pride Foundation works in: Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, are among those where you can be terminated from your job simply for being yourself.
Tomorrow, in the United States Senate, we are expecting a vote on the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recent polling has found that 73% of the American public, across political parties, support protecting LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination.
We need our Senators to do the same by voting for ENDA.
Please take action today!
Contact your Senators by phone and email, share your story, and urge them to vote yes on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 815).  
Senator contact information as well as templates for calls and emails can be found here.

Thank you.
With Pride,
Kris Hermanns
Executive Director
http://www.pridefoundation.org | info@pridefoundation.org | 1.800.735.7287 | Headquarters Mailing Address: 1122 E Pike St PMB 1001 | Seattle, WA 98122 US