ENDA is Up – Again

What to do about ENDA? The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is up for committee hearing next week – again. It will likely pass out of committee on July 10, as all the committee dems (12) are sponsors and even one Republican is on board. We’ve been here before folks. It’s a long, hard road to pass a bill – think, “There’s a bill up on Capitol Hill.”

ENDA, originally introduced in 2007 by Sen. Ted Kennedy, has never enjoyed significant congressional support, however. And nothing appears to be much different in that old house. So, the efficacy and life of ENDA seems still doomed to be stalled in the Senate chute.

Ironically, ENDA is viewed by some as more of a transgender bill, largely because trans women have represented the historical sticking point – think Barney Frank. Yet, the twist here, is that trans people represent a class that has at least some discrimination protection under law since the EEOC decided Macy v. Holder in May, 2012 (recognizing transgender discrimination as a type of gender discrimination under Title VII). Sadly, if you are gay, lesbian or bi, you can still be fired or denied housing and public accommodation merely because it is so in states that offer no state or local protection. If you are transgender and you are fired you at least have a federal remedy.

Yes, ENDA is about LGBT Equality!!! So, what can we do to get this law passed? Some have suggested re-branding:

Following up on that bit of news, Michelangelo Signorile quotes former Bilerico editor Michael Crawford talking his ideas on how to get ENDA actually passed: rebrand it. I couldn’t agree with him more. Ditching the name ENDA and expanding the scope of the legislation would give LGBT federal nondiscrimination legislation some nice forward momentum.
‘When we talk about it as discrimination, it’s about bad things that are happening vs. reframing in a more aspirational way, framing it as freedom to work,’ he explained. ‘Everyone wants to be able to work and take care of their families. Framing it as something the general public can understand and connect to.’…

~ Filed By Bil Browning, Bilerico, 7/03/2013.

Good idea! But, regardless of how the law is framed, now is the time for all people concerned about LGBT Equality to get behind it.

I have mentioned before that I am concerned about the post-marriage victory let down amongst our movement. Will it be, or will we seize upon the momentum we seem to have accumulated over the last few years and extend it beyond marriage equality? I hope it will be the latter for the sake of those who have lost or been denied employment or associated benefits. And I can think of several people I know right off the top of my head who have endured these struggles right here in Southwest Montana. I can only imagine what it is like in larger urban areas of the country.

So, here’ my pitch: Don’t let down! Don’t stop! All the same cliches about equality and justice not being so until they are so for all remain true and unfulfilled. Please do your part to help pass ENDA.

Help! Helena Non-discrimination Poll Freeped By Haters

Also published on Bilerico.com

A poll in this week’s Helena Independent Record asks the question “Does Helena need a non-discrimination ordinance?” This is seemingly in response to the order of business currently before the Helena City Commission – an ordinance of non-discrimination [pdf].

“State and/or federal law prohibit the denial of civil rights or discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, sex, pregnancy, marital status, familial status (solely for housing), and physical or mental disability. In addition to these protections, it is the intent of the City of Helena that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against based upon his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

Thumbnail image for Welcome to MontanaYeah, kind of a big deal for Montana.

At first, the numbers were fairly even on both sides – then those in favor of the ordinance outnumbered those opposed.

By hundreds.

Typically the IR polls receive about 500 respondents total, but it appears that some conservative blogs, websites and facebookers have called in their forces to vote (in this very unscientific poll) against this ordinance currently being considered by the Helena City Council.

While I’m not sure that this is a huge issue (the poll, not the ordinance), it irks me that those opposed are marshaling the forces of discrimination across the country to weigh in.

Well, turnabout’s fair play. Vote here – and show Helena that the nation is watching.

Why You Shouldn’t Donate to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers

Reprinted from Bilerico.com

By Bil Browning

As the holidays approach, the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in front of stores dunning shoppers for donations. If you care about gay rights, you’ll skip their bucket in favor of a charity that doesn’t actively discriminate against the LGBT community.

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by Thumbnail image for Why you shouldn't give to the Salvation Armydropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they’re “sexually impure.”

The church claims it holds “a positive view of human sexuality,” but then clarifies that “sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage.” The Salvation Army doesn’t believe that gays and lesbians should ever know the intimacy of any loving relationship, instead teaching that “Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.”

On its webpage, the group claims that “the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.” While the words are nice, their actions speak volumes. They blatantly ignore the position statement and deny LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services “open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.” In other words, if you’re gay or lesbian, you don’t qualify.

The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies – including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal. (Yes, you’re paying lobbyists with those donations.)

After the break are some highlights from the evangelical Christian charity’s recent anti-gay political lobbying, a handy video with more information, and a list of charities who don’t discriminate against their clients and employees.

Click here to read the rest at Bilerico.com

The Power Of “8”

I am thrilled to announce that Dustin Lance Black’s play “8” will be performed in a staged reading next week at the Bozeman Public Library- and I’m also thrilled that (full disclosure) I’ll be reading!

Reading of "8" Goes to CD and Download

(Photo credit: Freedom To Marry)

As many of you know, “8” is an unprecedented account of the Federal District Court trial in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), the case filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) to overturn Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.

Black, who penned the Academy Award-winning feature film Milk and the film J. Edgar, based “8” on the actual words of the trial transcripts, first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.

So why is it important that this is happening in Montana?

“People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter,” said AFER Founding Board Member Dustin Lance Black. “The goal of ‘8’ is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right. The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light. AFER and Broadway Impact are doing all we can to help speed that process along.”

And, in my opinion, people who may be far removed from California -either by distance or perceived ideology- need to see the devastation and shame that is propagated by human beings in the name of decency.

And to see the human pain that knows no particular geography or ideology.

The pain of the plaintiffs is our pain. The ignorance, anger and theology of the witnesses for the defense is recognizable in our neighbors, our families, our churches. And all of this is true whether it is in LA or Peoria- or Bozeman.

They show that this is not far-removed at all. This struggle is the struggle for fundamental human dignity across this country. The human struggle for justice knows no boundaries- and defies labels.

So, during this play, when people hear Maggie Gallagher say, “It’s not discrimination to treat different things differently,” it’s going to be a shock- and maybe a revelation.

Because some people- often very vocal people- can’t see us as people. They see us as ‘things’. And this play makes it very clear that this is simply not true. The voices of the plaintiffs and the witnesses show that human beings- who happen to be gay- are being denied the most basic of rights: human dignity. Anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, objectifying other human beings is simply wrong because it is untrue.

And it causes real and damaging suffering- suffering that is completely avoidable, completely unnecessary. And with more readings of this play across America- urban and rural- that will become abundantly more obvious.

That’s the power of “8”.

###

The Bozeman production is brought to the community thanks to author, director, and curator Gregory Hinton and his OUTWest programming. The Bozeman Library Foundation hosts the evening performance, starting with a reception Saturday, September 29th from 6:30pm, the reading at 7:30pm in the Library’s mezzanine, followed by an informal discussion. Tickets are free and open to the public, but must be reserved in advance, as space is limited. Please call 406 582-2425 to secure your seat.

Red Ribbons And Mosquitos

Yesterday, a friend sent me the following:

“Today I saw this headline:

West Nile Outbreak Largest Ever, 41 dead

and it made me think of this:

Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals

…and wondering about what makes a disease a crisis versus a judgment. The number of victims was the same.”

Indeed.

And to further the irony, the famous speech given by Mary Fisher to the Republican National Convention in 1992- 11 years after the rise of “gay cancer” was highlighted in a feature by the New York Times today:

TWENTY years ago this month, Mary Fisher took the stage of the Republican National Convention at the Houston Astrodome and delivered a 13-minute prime-time speech that was seen by many as a sharp rebuke of her party’s negligence in the face of the growing AIDS epidemic.

Mary Fisher in 1992 made what is considered one of the best American speeches of the 20th century.

Ms. Fisher, a mother of two young children who had worked in Gerald Ford’s White House, addressed the delegates as someone who was H.I.V. positive herself. “Tonight, I represent an AIDS community whose members have been reluctantly drafted from every segment of American society,” she said. “I am one with a black infant struggling with tubes in a Philadelphia hospital.” She added, “I am one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family’s rejection.”

It was a speech that was both surprising and poignant. Few, including Ms. Fisher herself, expected that she would survive a disease that had already killed more than 150,000 Americans by the summer of 1992.

But Mary Fisher is still alive — and still taking issue with her political party.

As she should. The discrimination and loathing that prevented government intervention is still with us. It’s made itself known in issues of women’s health, gender inequity, transgender rights and the House defense of DOMA.

However, West Nile will probably not become the epidemic that AIDS did. Because mosquitos don’t discriminate.

They bite everyone.

 

Gay Men Are Flunking The Test

Also published on Bilerico.com

Yesterday, I posted an article about  a press release by the Journal Of The American Medical Association:

“…all adult patients, regardless of CD4 cell count, should be offered antiretroviral therapy (ART), according to an article in the July 25 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on HIV/AIDS. Other new recommendations include changes in therapeutic options and modifications in the timing and choice of ART for patients with an opportunistic illness such as tuberculosis.”

This follows the “treatment as prevention” model, based on the scientific research that people with HIV on antiretroviral therapy- with an undetectable viral load- are 96% less likely to pass on the virus.
us-statistics-2.jpgThis seems to be very good news. If you have HIV, you should find out early, get on meds and you’ll have a better chance of living a longer healthier life.

So what’s the problem? The problem is twofold:

  1. People at risk aren’t being tested: 20-25% of all HIV-infected people don’t know they have it.
  2. People at risk are still not being tested: Gay and Bisexual men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV

That’s not a typo- they’re basically the same reason, but there’s a difference. Any guesses?

Hint: It’s probably why most gay men won’t even read this article.

20-25% of all people with HIV don’t know they have it. Why not?

Here’s my take: Denial is one of the strongest mechanisms in the human psyche. It is fed by lack of information, by avoidance and by a strong desire for an alternative reality. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you’ve probably engaged in the process of denial. You’ve probably downplayed the risk, probably lied to yourself a little. You may have even gone over and over it in your mind, seizing every opportunity to deny the possibility of trouble.

“He looked okay”; “He didn’t seem sick”; “He pulled out”; “He would have told me if he had HIV”, etc, etc, and etc.

Well, we all know where that goes…. As individuals, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be getting tested.

us-statistics-1.jpgGay and Bi men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV. Of course. We know that. Don’t we?

Again, denial applies. Gay and Bi men aren’t talking about HIV anymore. Our friends aren’t dying, so there’s no reason to be concerned. People with HIV aren’t out- aren’t well-known in our communities. Why? I was once told “You don’t need to harp about HIV all the time- it’s not that big of a deal.” Except that it is.

HIV has complicated my life in ways many people can’t believe. I am on catastrophic health insurance through the state- almost three times as expensive as my partner’s insurance. I get assistance for my meds- which cost about $25,000 a year- but (crazily), I can’t make more than $30,300 and still qualify for the program. I have joint pain, sleep issues, battles with depression, fatigue and a body that is aging at several times the normal rate– most probably due to inflammation- the hallmark of HIV disease. And yet, if I talk about this to friends or family, I’m seen as a whiner or someone trying unnecessarily to worry people I care about. It’s the “shut up- at least you’re not dying” defense. I know several HIV+ people who haven’t told anyone of their status, mostly because it’s “uncomfortable”.

No shit.

As a community, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be talking to our friends about the importance of maintaining our health. We’d be talking about the hard reality of HIV.

But we’re not. Denial still holds sway, both individually and as a community. We’re lying to ourselves- we’re lying to each other- and infection rates stay the same.

We have a chance to change this trend. But only if everyone with HIV starts treatment, gets into care. This recommendation of the AMA may help with that. But it’s not up to doctors, nurses and social workers, it’s up to us.

We’re being tested, both as individuals and as a community. The problem is, we’re flunking.

Because we’re not showing up.

(Images source)

Why You Should Attend A Rural Pride Event This Year

A rerun of last year’s column…

New York Pride?
Check.

San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Kansas City, Dallas, L.A., Denver, Philly?
Double check.

Bisbee, Anchorage, Bozeman, Wichita, Boise, Flagstaff?
Well, uh….

I know, not exactly the top of the list for most of you. Many of us actively fled rural life to get to urban safety. I get that- I was one of them. For a while, anyway. But I want you to consider going to a gay pride event in an out-of the-way place this summer.

Click for schedule!

Why? Because we need you.

LGBT people live in rural America. We work here, go to school, own property, pay taxes, raise families, attend churches, shop and donate to charity. We don’t have a lot of gay bars, LGBT sports clubs, drag shows and neighborhoods where we can hold hands with our partners. Nonetheless, we live here. We love here. We have friends and families here.

Sometimes we do it under a great deal of stress.

I work with a lot of LGBT persons who have really good reasons for living in rural America. We don’t get a lot of support. Far too often, the strongest reason to leave is to find a greater sense of community. Sometimes, that is the only reason- the driving reason, that makes them pack up the car and head to Denver or Seattle or Portland.

Creating community in a small town isn’t always easy. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome- fear, shame, stigma- all the old tapes. We don’t have a large pool of organizers, and often the same people are the ones organizing every event. Burnout is common. Sometimes we just need some encouragement.

And that’s where you come in.

The fight for LGBT Equality is not going to be won in the cities. It’s already mostly won there. It’s going to be won in small-town America, where people need to see gay people as human, normal and neighbors- not just some characters on television. It’s going to be won when the lady who runs the local Holiday Inn meets real-live lesbians and finds them to be just like any other guests. When the casual onlooker comes to the parade to see “freaks” and walks away disappointed, when he sees families and friends laughing and cheering. When a bi kid is accepted and loved instead of encouraged to “get off the fence”. When locals see their gay neighbors in the light of day, paying our own way, as deserving of love, respect and commitment as anyone else. When drag shows and AIDS charity events are just as normal and accepted as karaoke, rodeo and the county fair. When  our rural and small-town legislators, see us simply as citizens with the same rights as every other constituent. When kids don’t say “gay” as an epithet of scorn and derision.

When we are seen as part of a larger community. That’s when full equality will happen.

We need your encouragement to continue the struggle for that equality. It can be pretty lonely out here, sometimes. And I’ve come to believe that, as important as the work in the cities is, those who work to improve the lives of LGBT persons in rural America are the real heroes. The drag queens in Butte or Bisby may not be as glamorous as the Key West queens, but they’re certainly just as brave- braver even.  The HIV activist in Anchorage has just as many concerns as the activist in Atlanta. We want to know you have our backs when we’re working to educate legislators and local politicians and school boards and businesses. We want to know that it’s okay to stay here, even when it’s hard.

We need you.

So look up a rural Pride event this summer. Go to it. Let us know you support us. Clap at the little parade, dance in a barn, make out with a hot cowboy, cowgirl and/or farmer, encourage a teen, hug a drag queen, listen to an elder, give money to a PFLAG chapter. Just go- we need you.

Because you need us, too.