This is big news for the Bitterroot- and I’m proud to be part of it. Click for larger version
This event is being organized by PFLAG Hamilton/Bitterroot and is being held from September 21-23, 2012, at the Bitterroot River Inn. The conference is an opportunity for PFLAG members to share in education, advocacy and fun. Presentations being offered include those by Dr. Robert Minor: The Fairness Project and Jean Hodges: Chair of Regional Directors, National PFLAG – “Faces and Facets of Transgender Experience.”
Caitlin Copple and I will also be presenting on organizing and the power of creating a solid organizational model on behalf of Pride Foundation.
Hope to see some of you there!
Kudos to Great Falls Tribune Reporter Michael Beall for writing about the newly approved Rapid HIV Home Test- and asking Montanans in the field what they think about it.
Greg Smith, the executive director of AIDS Outreach in Bozeman, said he and others have mixed feelings about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve the first over-the-counter HIV test kits.
“I think it’s great that people will have access to testing,” said Smith, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. “But my concern is that they wouldn’t have the support that we offer in community-based testing situations.”
The OraQuick test is similar to the OraSure tests health clinics use and detects the presence of HIV in saliva. It returns results within 20 to 40 minutes.
The test is as simple as swabbing the upper and lower gums and inserting the test stick into a solution.
But Smith said the home test is a double-edged sword.
“On one hand, information is great, but on the other we need to provide that information so that it’s received well,” he said. “We want that support there.”
Trisha Gardner, City County Health Department community health education specialist, said reviews of the test are overwhelmingly positive, but she’s concerned because those who take the tests at home and test positive won’t have someone there to help them know what to do next. At the same time, she knows how important testing is to stopping the spread of the disease.
“You can’t do anything to control the spread of it if you don’t know you have it,” Gardner said. “People will be more likely to (get tested) because they don’t have to go in anywhere. They don’t have to be seen.”
- Wrap It Up: FDA Approves First Ever At-Home HIV Test (bossip.com)
- HIV self-test raises questions (toledoblade.com)
- San Francisco Thwarts HIV With Wide Testing, Universal Treatment (npr.org)
After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, I wrote a piece called The Right To Kill.
I basically said that the insanity of “rights” over the safety of human life has come home to roost. The events in Aurora, preceded by shootings in Tulsa, Seattle, Oakland, Chardon, have brought a little attention to the deadliest shooting crimes in U.S. history– and the world ranking of the United States in terms of gun-related murders (4th highest). Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s probably just getting worse. Joe the Plumber blamed the holocaust on gun control. The American Family Association blames the murders on “liberal churches“- I know- I couldn’t believe it either. Except that I do. Any tragedy to bring the collection money rolling in is fair game for crazy pastors.
And that’s the problem. Crazy people who act out in public seem to give permission to crazy people in charge of congregations and political positions permission to act out, too. To act out with ideology front and center. Not compassion, ideology. And fear. Like I said, crazy. And people believe them. Instead of statistics. Instead of science. Instead of facts.
Roger Ebert, writing for the New York Times, has one of the most eloquent summaries of the Aurora shooting that I’ve read so far. From We’ve Seen This Movie Before:
That James Holmes is insane, few may doubt. Our gun laws are also insane, but many refuse to make the connection. The United States is one of few developed nations that accepts the notion of firearms in public hands. In theory, the citizenry needs to defend itself. Not a single person at the Aurora, Colo., theater shot back, but the theory will still be defended.
I was sitting in a Chicago bar one night with my friend McHugh when a guy from down the street came in and let us see that he was packing heat.
“Why do you need to carry a gun?” McHugh asked him.
“I live in a dangerous neighborhood.”
“It would be safer if you moved.”
This would be an excellent time for our political parties to join together in calling for restrictions on the sale and possession of deadly weapons. That is unlikely, because the issue has become so closely linked to paranoid fantasies about a federal takeover of personal liberties that many politicians feel they cannot afford to advocate gun control.
Immediately after a shooting last month in the food court of the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto, a young woman named Jessica Ghawi posted a blog entry. Three minutes before a gunman opened fire, she had been seated at the exact place he fired from.
“I was shown how fragile life was,” she wrote. “I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”
This same woman was one of the fatalities at the midnight screening in Aurora. The circle of madness is closing.
Indeed. And it’s closing in on all of us.
- Why Gun Control Is So Contentious In The U.S. (LiveScience)
- Toronto shooting victim’s grandfather pleads for witnesses (cbc.ca)
- Joe the Plumber releases ad blaming gun control for the Holocaust (dailykos.com)
- We are insane if we sign the UN “Arms Trade” gun control treaty (fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com)
- Republican blames Holocaust on Germany’s gun control laws (thejc.com)
- Debunking The Fast & Furious Gun Control Conspiracy (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Former Giffords aide wins election to finish her term (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
Smith, a Montana native (Twin Bridges) and local mental health therapist, is excited about the opportunity and challenges the position offers.
“We have the opportunity to do some real good here,” he said. “Despite popular belief, HIV is in Montana. There is a tremendous need to inform people at risk, help them protect themselves and to get people tested- to give them that crucial information about their health. There is also a need to support persons living with HIV here. I believe as a community we have a duty to assist those in need- and people with HIV are often economically disadvantaged. It’s about human dignity, and I want to help AIDS Outreach be at the forefront in Gallatin, Park and Madison counties.”
Smith has been involved in HIV/AIDS awareness work since 1994, and was an original member of the Montana Governor’s AIDS Advisory Council in 2000. He continues to serve on the Montana State Community Planning Group for HIV Prevention, and has written articles and abstracts for national publications and organizations and given numerous presentations on HIV/AIDS, especially HIV in rural communities.
Founded in 2006 and based in Bozeman, AIDS Outreach is a 501(c)3 organization offering free HIV testing, HIV prevention and educational materials, as well as assistance and a support group for HIV+ persons.
For more information, please call (406) 451-5718, write info@AIDSOutreachMT.org or visit http://www.AIDSOutreachmt.org
From yesterday’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle comes the following letter. I thought it would be online today, but apparently it is not. I’ve transcribed it for your convenience.
To the Montana Gay Pride group and Tom Marsh, director:
A few questions:
Why do you have to openly march on the streets of Bozeman? Not all people flaunt their lifestyles before the public. Can’t you quietly live your lives the way we do? Just live the lifestyle you’ve chosen and keep quiet. If everyone with grievances to air acted like your group, our news media would be very busy.
Why were you unhappy before you came out? Why does it please you that Bozeman officials condone your actions? Can’t you live among us and remain silent and happy?
I don’t know where to begin. But I will say, Tom Marsh is a dear friend- and I don’t respond well when people personally attack my friends.
So, I’ve taken more than a day to formulate a few salient points in a letter:
You asked a lot of questions in your letter to the editor in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle on October 21st, 2011. I would like to address them
People do not choose their sexual orientation. They acknowledge it. It is not a mental or physical illness to identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered or Intersex. Both the American Psychological Association and The American Medical Association agree with me- and they have for decades. Science is with me on this. Firmly.
We openly march, because we have to. Somewhere there is a child who doesn’t understand that people don’t choose their sexual orientation- and that child may grow up miserable, tortured and conflicted. And, according to statistics, will probably think about and attempt to take their lives as a result of that conflict and torture. I did. We march so that people will see that it is a part of the human condition to be LGBT. We are your neighbors, members of your family, in every occupation and human situation you can think of. We’re here, and it’s okay to be. And we march because there are still people who think it’s okay to hate us. We march so that maybe those people will realize that we are not monsters. We are human beings. And maybe there will be less children who think that God hates them, or that they’re less than other children simply because they are LGBT. If so, then one little annual parade is a small thing….
We would love to live our lives quietly- but there are laws (and lack thereof) and attitudes that prevent that. We don’t always feel safe. We aren’t always treated with dignity and respect. We don’t have equal protection under the law. Believe you me, I would love nothing more than to live my life quietly- and I will- when I am treated like every other person in this country and this state- because it’s hard to live a normal life when there are people just like me who are threatened with violence all over this country. It’s hard to live a happy life when you’re afraid.
If you want to know why we were unhappy before we came out, it’s pretty simple: because we were lying. Lying makes people unhappy. Stopping the lie is cause for celebration. And so we march and dance and celebrate being honest together.
And yes, it pleases us that Bozeman officials recognize the struggle to live a normal life in the face of being labelled a freak by a significant part of society. It pleases us to not be seen as freaks. Because we’re not. We’re just human beings who love and work and struggle just like you, Alice. Human beings of faith, spirit and purpose. Human beings with families and pets and houses and churches and favorite restaurants.
I also wonder if, in your letter, you substituted the word “Christian” or “Irish” or “Black” or “Woman” or “Immigrant” for the word “Gay”, would you feel the same?
We do live among you. We do. And we’re not going to do it silently. That’s not how a democracy works. I live in The United States of America, and I have a right to free speech- as do you. Silence is not an option. Because you have written the above letter to a public newspaper, I’m sure you understand.
If you have any other questions, I will be happy to answer them as openly and honestly as I can.
D Gregory Smith, stl, MA
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
It’s my privilege to work with some amazing people on The Pride Foundation’s team in Montana. If any of you know me personally, you know that I really believe in this organization, am a monthly donor, and I offer what I can to make this work here.
I believe it’s our last best chance for equality in Montana.
Caitlin Copple, Montana’s Regional Organizer for The Pride Foundation, has written an article about the Leadership Action Team for the State of Montana- and we’re a pretty amazing group of people if I do say so myself.
The Montana Leadership Action Team serves as Pride Foundation’s “boots on the ground” when it comes to raising money, visibility and developing local leaders across the state. Because Pride Foundation believes strongly that local people know best what is needed in their communities, all our funding decisions – from grants to scholarships to sponsorships – are made by volunteers across the state.
I am so grateful for the support, hard work, and thoughtful dedication of this team. In just nine months, they’ve helped host eight house parties, attended countless community events on Pride Foundation’s behalf, and will determine how we distribute $5,000 in sponsorship money this year. Their work is directly shaping a safer, more equal Montana and strengthening our community’s philanthropic prowess.
Read about everyone on the Action Team here. And while you’re at it- check out the rest of their website. And if you give to HRC or GLAAD or Lambda Legal or any national LGBT rights organization, I challenge you to match that donation to an organization that will keep that money right here in Montana- the Pride Foundation.
I’ve been struggling to find a meaningful way to discuss the Oslo/Utoya tragedy- and I’m at the point of simply admitting the sheer frustration I have with my abilities as a writer, as a therapist, as a commentator- and as a human being. Maybe you’re there, too.
I want to know things that may be impossible to know: What created Anders Behring Breivik? Or, at least, what caused him to turn an automatic rifle towards children- strangers, innocents- and begin firing? What can prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future?
It’s not easy, but to glean anything from the news reports and the writings of Breivik himself is to come up with large fistfuls of chaff and a few measly chunks of nutritive information. The temptation to run with them is strong. The temptation to demonize right-wing extremists and to create parallels in the U.S.- where none may exist- is almost aching in its pull. The desire to condemn this violence as something entirely opposite from my particular political and social point of view is hard to ignore. And yet, for all these strong temptations, I can’t get past one thing.
What terrifies me most is that it happened in Norway.
“The country maintains a Nordic welfare model with universal health care, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. From 2001 to 2007, and then again in 2009 and 2010, Norway had the highest human development index ranking in the world.”
This is not a country of people who are suffering from great numbers of the hungry, homeless, uneducated and uninsured. This is one of the most prosperous (human condition-wise) countries in the world. It has one of the strongest safety nets- if not the strongest- in the world for the protection of its citizens.
If such a tragedy could happen there- then what does that mean for the rest of the world?
I don’t know. And I’m not sure we’ll ever know.
I do know that all the laws in the world, all the tightening of regulations and of loopholes and sterner conviction and punishment policies won’t do one thing: they won’t mend the damage that has happened to people who now look at the stranger on the street with mistrust and fear.
Perhaps a reminder that this man became divorced from the human race in favor of an ideology. That he couldn’t see the suffering of fellow creatures as something relevant- because his beliefs and ideologies drowned them out- displacing compassion and even, I would argue, his humanity. It’s what we’ve seen before, it’s what we see now- subtle sometimes, but definitely present:
Ideology crowding out humanity.
We see it in political strategies and campaigns. It is visible in church policies, legal precedents, economics, social commentary- you name it, it’s probably there.
When ideology displaces humanity, our soul- our safety net- has departed.
I would suggest that the only way to get beyond this universal tragedy is to learn its lesson. And, it may be simpler than we think. To paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth, “People were not made for the law, but law is made for the good of the people.” All people. All human beings. Not just some. Not just one race, one gender, one sexuality, one religion, one political party, one country, etc.
The tragedy is in forgetting- forgetting that we’re all in this together. And arguably, every historical attempt to negate that simple statement has ended in tragedy. I will not bring in the dramatic historical examples you may be thinking of right now. That would be too easy. And this, for being such a simple concept, is obviously not so easy- or we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.
We only remember when horrifying tragedies like this make us stand up and take notice.
And that, I think, is the greatest tragedy of all.
I had some requests to put up the text for the Pride Vigil for Memory, Strength and Hope which we did on Saturday night at The Emerson. There will be more to come, but before I put Gregory and Patricia on the airplane, I’ll just post this here….
The darkness can be frightening.
We have sometimes been very afraid here in the State of Montana, because at times, it has been very, very dark.
We have lost good men and women and children to HIV/AIDS.
We have been bullied and teased and yes, driven from our very homes and schools and communities. We have been killed and we have killed ourselves. We have been legislated against and told by official political platforms that we are criminals.
We have been hurt here under this big, dark sky.
But there is light.
There are people whose bravery have driven away darkness. Whose voices refuse to give in to hopelessness or complacency or fear. You know those voices in your lives. You also are those voices. And when we use our voices to proclaim the goodness of our lives and the lives of our brothers, sisters, parents, children and friends- the light grows stronger.
The bravery is here.
Look around you now. Look at the strength that surrounds us.
Look at the light. Now share the light.
This light is in your hands. It belongs to you. It has always belonged to you.
Share it. And remember the lives that have lived with pain to bring us here- to this place of hope and triumph.
Now we take a moment to remember our loves, our losses, our reasons for hope. (silence)
Today is a gorgeous day in Montana History, because the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Two-Spirited People and our Allies will not let this light die.
We will not be afraid.
We will stand up when we are told to lie down.
We will speak when anyone tries to shame us into silence.
We will remain when we are told to leave.
We will proclaim the truth.
Firmly and gently and clearly and proudly.
The truth that we are light.
And that light makes Montana more beautiful, not less. More.
If you believe it, say Amen!
If you promise to live it, say Amen!
If you promise to not give up, say Amen!
I hear the dance music next door, and I’m reminded of the words of Joe Jervis:
They wish we were invisible.
Yup. It’s my birthday.
I’m 46 today and it’s been a year of dramatic change, to be sure. Birthdays are the greatest. I’ve always loved them, even when they weren’t my own. I would always love a cake with candles on it more than Christmas. My Gramma used to say, “Nobody enjoys a birthday more than Greg”.
Upon reflection, I think I love birthdays because they’re a celebration for one simple reason- you were born. Birthdays simply commemorate your arrival on this planet. They don’t celebrate the things you did, the people you know, the money you make, the influence you have. They just celebrate your being. I think we need that reminder. At least once a year. To celebrate the grace of just existing- and the fact that everyone else here is doing the exact same thing.
So, today, I’ll give in to that grace again. And for all the beauty in my life- family, friends, dogs, doctors, my breath and my heartbeat, I am truly grateful. Thank you.
Here’s a little poem I wrote once:
Today, in a year past,
You were born.
Didn’t do anything to deserve it-
Or did you?
And parents who look upon a newborn
Face etched with the promises and
Dreams of fettered hearts
Sigh, knowing they will let go
Sooner than most of them want to
And later than any child would like.
You were born.
Call your mother-
She did all the hard work.
Listen to your heart beat.
Eat the cake.
Smile at your life
And go to bed.
The day, much like any other-
except that you noticed it.
~D Gregory Smith