Ellen Degeneres Does Not Speak for Me

The Back Story on How We Got Here

Kevin Hart is a good comedian. He is charismatic, and his comedic timing is exceptional. It is easy to see why the Academy would want him to host the 2019 Oscars – especially considering the fact the Academy is desperately trying to lure younger viewers. I was not mad when they picked Kevin Hart as this year’s host. Although he is not my favorite comedian, I recognize his talent. Also, as someone who has not hosted before, he could bring fresh ideas to a show that can be stale and stuffy. That thinking is all in the past, however, and Kevin Hart has nobody to blame for this except himself.

The pictures above are just a small sampling of the several dozen tweets from Hart’s verified Twitter account. Most of the offensive and homophobic tweets come from 2010 and 2011. This means that someone had to spend time scrolling through thousands of tweets and sound bites to try and find one little statement that is offensive or considered not politically correct. I want to start by saying I think this is a dangerous path for us as a society to go down. I do not think it is fair for us to judge a person based on their beliefs from 10 years ago. People change and so do their beliefs. The Kevin Hart of 10 years ago is not the Kevin Hart of today. Just like the Wynne Boliek of 10 years ago is not the Wynne Boliek of today.

‘Actions Speak Louder than Words’

I want to take Kevin Hart at his word. I want to believe him, but I am also a firm believer in “actions speak louder than words.” Kevin, your actions have shown me that you are not sorry. That you think you have done nothing you need to apologize for. Your actions, as well as your recent comments have shown that you feel like you are victim here. That you should be treated as St. Kevin, the martyr. I hate to break it to you Kevin, you are wrong.

Some of you may be sitting there asking well how should he have responded or what should he have done to demonstrate his remorse for his language. I will point to Kyler Murray as an example of how to respond. Kyler Murray immediately released a statement on his own, as well as a joint statement with GLAAD. He statement acknowledged his mistake and he owned it by apologizing. Also, when he was asked about it in interviews he seemed to show genuine remorse for the comments. This is in short, the exact opposite of what Kevin Hart did.

Kyler Murray, Heisman Trophy Winner from Oklahoma and a better human being because he owns his mistakes and tries to learn from them.

Kevin has said on his social media accounts as well as in interviews that he thinks this is nothing more than trolls trying to start up drama. While I will be the first to admit my coifed hair is enviable, the last time I checked, I did not have a bejeweled belly button. Those of us concerned have legitimate cause to be concerned that a person who is homophobic could host the event know as “The Gay Super Bowl.” That a homophobe could host the Oscars in a year in which Rami Malek, Melissa McCarthy, Merhershala Ali, Richard E. Grant, Emma Stone, and Lucas Hedges could all be nominated for stellar performances of LGBTQ characters.

Self-Appointed Spokesgay Ellen

More alarming than all of the reasons above many of us are now concerned that one of the most visible and most popular LGBTQ people in the world has come to Kevin Hart’s defense. On her show this past Friday, Ellen Degeneres gave Kevin Hart 9 uninterrupted minutes to speak his thoughts on the whole debacle. She then interviewed in with the most gentle questioning I have ever seen. They weren’t even playing softball- we are talking t-ball territory. The icing on the delusional cake, is Ellen defending Hart, backing up his claims that those of us who are concerned about his language are trolls, AND THEN saying she things he should still host. She went so far as to call the Academy and try to intercede to get him to host. The videos of this are posted below.

I have loved Ellen Degeneres and her talk show since they have been on air. We share a love of dancing, laughing, and loving life. I genuinely believe she is one of the best people on the planet because she uses her enormous influence and platform for good. On a side note, she also makes FANTASTIC bedding sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond as well – I have never had a comforter this soft before. This is why I was shocked and saddened and angered by Ellen’s comments. They feel like a betrayal of the community that wrapped its arms around her and stood by her when all the straight people left her after she came out of the closet. A betrayal of the very community that she is a member of.

Ellen is entitled to her opinion. She is allowed to want Kevin Hart to be forgiven and to be the host of the Oscars. What Ellen is not allowed to do is forgive Hart on behalf of the entire LGBTQ community. You don’t get to give a blanket apology. You don’t get to use your influence to bully those of us in the community who are still hurt, upset, and giving the Academy and Kevin Hart some Makayla Mulroney-worthy side eye. You don’t get to say all is well, because all is not well.

An Insult to Two Communities

Ellen’s comments and actions are a betrayal to other communities besides the gay community. Perhaps the biggest betrayal the comments hurts is communities of color – specifically the black community. While long a traditionally democratic/liberal voting group, the black community has been slow to support same-sex marriage. Before its legalization across the country, only 30% of the black community supported same sex marriage. 40% of the homeless gay youth in this country are African-American. 62% of homeless transgendered youth are black. Black trans people are 7 times more likely to be murdered than their white counter parts. Ellen trying to absolve Kevin Hart of his offensive language is more than just wrong – its flat out dangerous. Don Lemon, eloquently and emotional covers this on a segment of his show.

Final Thoughts

First: People will continue to say “That’s gay – stop that!” as an insult and there is nothing we can do to stop that. I have been called derogatory slurs hundreds of times before and I know I will here them again in the future. Even though that word no longer has power over me, it still hits you square in the gut when it is hurled at you (and anybody is says otherwise is lying). Kevin Hart should not have to carry the sins of using that word for the entire world. Kevin Hart could have used this and his platform as a teachable moment to make the world better for all of us and he decided not to.

Second: There is a reason the Oscars is known as the gay Super Bowl. For many of us, especially those of us in rural areas and the south, the movies was our escape from a boring, unsafe, and unwelcome life. For many of us, myself included, the movies are one of the first times we saw someone who was like us. It made us feel not alone and a little less sad and afraid. The movies became our refuge and the fashion became our sanctuary. To have all of that belittled by a man and his toxic masculinity is wrong, disrespectful, and unwarranted. And to have that supported by Ellen make it sting even more.

Third: Kevin Hart Speaks for himself. Through his actions and through his statement he speaks volumes by saying he doesn’t give a damn about the feelings of the LGBTQ community. And I truly believe he doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for – which is why he has technically never said the two words “I’m Sorry.” That alone should speak volumes.

Finally: Although we love Ellen, (more than you do as a matter of fact. We stuck by her when you all fled. Something even Ellen seems to have forgotten) Ellen is not our spokesperson. She does NOT speak for all of us in the gay community. There was no Gay Conclave where we elected Ellen Pope of the gays so she could put out edicts and decrees in the name of the Gays. Ellen speaks for Ellen. And I speak for myself and myself alone – and the words I choose to speak are Kevin Hart, his homophobic past, and his unapologetic actions in the present are both unwelcome and not needed as this year’s Oscars Awards Ceremony.

-WB

I’m NOT Ok. And that IS Ok. WMHD2018

Please Watch the video below before you continue reading. It relates to what I write about.

Today is many things. Wednesday. Hump Day. October 10th. The 283rd day of the year. More important than all of these things, however, today is World Mental Health Day. World Mental Health Day was started by the World Health Organization in 1996 with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. In our society it is becoming increasingly clear that part of the reason we so desperately need a World Mental Health Day is as a result of the shame and stigma we attach to the mental health discussion. Attaching the shame and stigma is wrong, dangerous, and doing a disservice to millions of people everywhere.

Each year WMHD has a theme and this year’s theme is one of the most important they have ever had. This year’s theme is “Young People, Mental Health, and a Changing World.” As someone who works with adolescents on a daily basis, I can tell you this could be the theme for the next ten years and we still would not have addressed the needs of our adolescent’s mental health. In a world where teenagers are constantly bombarded with social media, cyber bullying, and marketing campaigns designed around their actual fear, it is a wonder that any of our middle and high school students can function at all.

children-young-people

Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and that number is growing rapidly.  In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviors such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of concern. All of these numbers double or triple among the most vulnerable youth (LGBTQ+ youth, other minority groups, etc). And most heartbreakingly, 80% of all youth who identify as homeless or transient are currently battling mental illness.

Children-MH-graph

lgbtI teach ninth graders (for those not in America that is usually around 14 or 15 years old. I have had students deal with situations that would leave me in the fetal position on the floor. Pregnancies, abusive relationships, sexual identity struggles, divorces, breakups, and gossip stories have all had students in my room at one point or another trying to figure out how to get through. Like 95% of the rest of the teachers in America, I have no training on how to help students through these issues. We do the best we can while simultaneously walking the tightrope that comes with being a legally mandated reporter, trying to follow district guidelines, and trying to keep the trust with the student. Sometimes I have helped the student. Sometimes I have not. But the process as a whole does not help our students. There is only one thing that will help our young people.

We must start talking about mental health.

We must start allowing people with mental health illnesses to talk about their struggles without looking at them with shame, pity, or sorrow.

We must stop telling people that if you can’t handle something on your own you are weak.

We must praise the people who are struggling with mental health who come forward and ask for help – because it is one of the strongest things you can do.

We must hug the people in our friend groups and families who come forward and say I am not ok. We must tell them that it is ok to feel not ok.

We MUST tell people they are not alone.

Coming from a personal place, I know all of the above are a must because I have found them out to be true on a personal level. Not too long ago, I was not in the best “place” when it comes to my own mental health. I was not where I wanted to be or thought I should be in life. I felt like nothing was going my way and that I had no one to talk to about it. I was embarrassed and ashamed and felt like people would think less of me if I talked about it. So I did what most people who don’t seek treatment or diagnosis do in that situation. I addressed the problem myself. This led me to only get worse by putting myself, my body, and my mental health at even more risk. When I finally admitted to myself this was not working, I asked for help.

I found someone to talk to. It helped. It taught me other ways of coping with my anxiety, my feelings of depression, and my own mindfulness. It gave me permission to not feel okay – and at the end of the day, that was all I wanted and needed. So before I close out this blog post, I want to directly address the people reading this who might have felt the same way I did. Maybe you still feel that way. If you do, please keep reading.

First, please know that you are LOVED, you are VALUED, and you are SPECIAL.

Please know there is NOTHING wrong with you. and that you are NOT alone.

Please know that you matter and that this world is better with you in it.

Please know that if you are thinking of ending your life, that is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Please know that if you need to reach out to someone that I will listen to you (sweetteasmalltalk@gmail.com) and there are other people out there who will listen to you or help you (see below).

And lastly, please know that if you are feeling not ok, that is perfectly ok. Because the rest of us are here to help.

-WB

If you are feeling like you need some help with your mental health, please reach out to any of the organizations below. If you are scared, reach out to anyone you trust.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: This toll free number is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You will be connected to your local crisis center and get immediate help. The whole reason Logic wrote the song was because he knew people who personally benefitted from calling this line.

Childhelp: This hotline is a resource specifically for child and adult survivors of abuse. Callers are connected to a mental health professional and even provided treatment referrals.

The Trevor Project: This organization is geared toward LGBTQ individuals, specifically young people. You can call, web chat or text to get some mental health help.

Mental Health America: From depression to eating disorders, this website offers a lot of screenings for users to choose from.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Years Later, Pulse Still Pains our Pride

This is the Second Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.
To read the first post on pride in Chosen Families, click here.

As long as I live I will never forget waking up on June 12, 2016. School was out so Humphrey and I were sleeping in, but when I woke up I had tons of text messages and news alerts on my phone. In the early hours of the morning, a cowardly gunman* walked into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire with semi-automatic weapons and went on a killing spree. Before taking his own life after a hostage standoff that lasted for several hours, the gunman killed 49 people. A club that I have been to twice before, now held the bodies of 49 people. 49 people whose only crime was dancing with their fellow members of the LGBTQ community. 49 people who were the brother of someone. Or the daughter of someone. Or the mother of someone. 49 people would not go home that morning.

Pulse-nightclub-memorial

Two years later, the pain has not diminished. The sorrow and the hurt have been moved to the back burner, but they are still present. To be completely transparent, I have not fully processed my own feelings about it. It hurt too much to work through them at the time; but in an effort to honor the 49 beautiful people who were robbed of their dance that night, I dedicate this post to their memory. I will continue to feel proud this month, because they can no longer feel proud for themselves. Tonight’s post, I take pride in the bars and clubs of my community. Tonights post is pride in OUR places.

The Complex.

The Armory.

The Abbey.

The Castle.

Haven.

Sanctuary.

The Factory.

Olympus.

The Fortress.

Pulse.

If you look at all those names of Gay Bars past and present, what do they all have in common? What do all of those names say or symbolize to you? Every single name on that list projects one of two things: Strength and Safety. The reason for this is simple. Even in 2018, The United States of America is not always a welcoming place to members of the LGBTQ community. We are harassed. We are discriminated against. We yelled at. Spit on. Beaten. Raped. Killed. All of these things are done on a regular basis and have been done for years. Sometimes society cares (mostly when it is a white LGBTQ person). Sometimes society does not care. In an effort to make life the best we can for ourselves, the LGBTQ community did what it has always done. We rallied around ourselves. We provided each other with bars, dance halls, and night clubs. Places were we could simply BE.

Nightclub Shooting Florida

If you are a heterosexual cisgendered person, you will never know what I mean by that. Especially if you are also white. I don’t say either of those things to be exclusionary or inflammatory; if I could somehow connect my consciousness to yours so you could feel what it feels like I would. But this is not Avatar and James Cameron did not write the story of our lives. I wish you could feel the feeling I am talking about. Maybe then my community would not have struggled so long. But take comfort in NOT having to feel it. It is better that way. There is less sadness. Less Shame. Less Loss. Less Worry. When I thought about feelings to try and describe that feeling, those are the 4 words I would combine to describe it.

Sadness. Sadness in your gut when you see heterosexual couples sit on the same side of the booth at a diner or lay on a blanket at the park.

Shame. Shame in yourself for caring what other people think of your shorts and your tank top as you walk towards the club in November (Yes some of us do wear tank tops and short shorts in November. Deal. With. It.).

Loss. Loss of equality and protection when the word faggot is yelled at you from across the street or a passing car. Or God Forbid the loss of a friend who was simply killed for living while gay (For the record, my friend was Sean Kennedy and he was the first gay person my age I ever met who was confident in his own skin and nice to me. And he changed my life because of it).

Worry. Worry that creeps into every other thought that runs through your head because you are in public with your significant other and are terrified someone will see you and tell your family, your place of employment, or your friends.

In order to suppress those feelings – because for some people they never go away – we did the only thing we could and gave our bars and clubs names that project strength and safety. They became our churches when we didn’t have a Sanctuary to go to. They became our castles and retreats when the world would not protect us. They became the very beating hearts of the gay community. That is part of the reason Pulse was aptly named and part of the reason it devastated my community. The attack on Pulse was an attack on the heart of the gay community. For some queer people, gay bars are the only place they have ever truly felt safe. If we don’t have those spaces any more, what else do we have?

28167431_10160006809000048_3723469264959415588_nAsk any of your close family and friends who are part of the queer community about their first trip to the gay bar. I promise you that in addition to the name, they will remember their age, their outfit, their drink choice, and who they went with. I was barely 18 years old and my first bar was The Castle in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world- there was terror and excitement all at the same time. I must have had a terrified look on my face because a drag queen named Robin Redgrave came over to me, hugged me, and pushed me towards the bar so she could buy me a drink. I was half-way through the first sip when she saw the X on my hand and slapped the drink out of my hand (which she then finished herself). I had never felt so welcomed and at peace surrounded by so many gay people in my life; and all of it happened in a run down, leaky when the rain came building. The Castle wasn’t much, but it was mine. And that was all I needed.

Pulse affected me and still affects me more than I realized. I couldn’t watch the news without watching Anderson Cooper breakdown on live television as he read the names of my dead brothers and sisters. I couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing the first responders say their dreams will be haunted by the ringing of cellphones of the deceased as family members tried to check on their children. I couldn’t read the news online without seeing the story of a mother (Brenda McCool) who jumped in front of the gunman and used her body to shield her son from the bullets. To this day, I still cannot watch the video of Christopher Leinonen’s mother tearfully talking to the media as she waited for the news of her son.

To those around the world who rallied around us, you will never know how much that meant to us. In one of our darkest hours, you gave us the strength with your hugs, your love, your vigils, your memorials, and other messages of support. Because of you, we were able to grieve for our loss, but still remember that rainbow that comes tomorrow. To the celebrities who wrote songs in their memory, we thank you.

And to those of us who still wish harm to us, know that we found strength in our sorrow. And our love for each other will not be broken and if you doubt that, he a warning from every queer person’s fairy gaymother:

I did not go out for months following the Pulse shooting. A lot of us did not. We did not know if we should and we did not know if we could. Would it be disrespectful to those who were killed? Would we be safe? Would we be able to escape if something bad happened? We did not know how to answer those questions so many of us subconsciously chose not to go out. Further removed from our shut in status, this saddens me. Because it means for one brief moment we let that piece of shit who riddled our safe space win. Because not going out would have been a slap to the face of those who could no longer out. Because for one brief moment, we let the hate shine darker than the love. Time eased the pain, but we continue to worry about our safe spaces. Worry about our friends’ safety. Worry about our own safety.

To this day I do not go out as much as I used to. Partly because I am getting old and partly because gay clubs typically aren’t welcomed in city downtowns so they end up in building on the outskirts of town that only have one entrance/exit. But I make it a habit of going to safe place in our community at least once every couple of months. This month will be no different. This Saturday I will go and honor our PULSE with my people. Out in whatever outfit I want with my people. I will dance with my people. I will drink with my people. I will laugh with my people. I will feel safe with my people.

And with my people, I will remember why I go. I go to The Fortress because Edward, Stanley, Luis, and Juan cannot.

I go to Sanctuary because Eric, Peter, Kimberly, and Luis cannot.

I go to The Armory because Eddie, Darryl, Deonka, Alejandro, and Anthony cannot.

I go to Olympus because Jean, Franky, Amanda, Martin, and Daniel cannot.

I go to Haven because Mercedez, Xavier, Enrique, Ramon, and Simon cannot.

I go to the Factory because Oscar, Miguel, Javier, Jonathan, and Joel cannot.

I go to the Abbey because Jason, Cory, Juan, Luis, and Shane cannot.

I go to the Complex because Jerald, Leroy, Tevin, Jean, and Rodolfo cannot.

And I go to Pulse because Brenda, and Christopher, and Angel, and Frank, and Paul, and Antonio, and Joseph, and Akyra, and Geraldo cannot.

This post is for them. And when I do a shot and dance to Whitney, or Cyndi, or Beyonce, or Mariah, or Ariana, or Celine, or Adele – that will be for them to.

-WB

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The Chosen Family that Pride Built

This is the First Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.

I have been unbelievably blessed in my life when it comes to the people who make up my family. I really do believe I won the family lottery that the universe put on before I was born. My immediate family includes my two parents and two younger brothers, but when I say “my family” I mean the extended family. The aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended familial relationships as well. For the most part, they all live within a day’s drive from where I live, we all get along really well, and we love each other. But this post is not about that family. My biological or blood family. They know I love them beyond words already anyways. This post is about the pride that I find in my chosen family.

You might be slightly confused by the phrase chosen family (partially because you more than likely do not have one) so allow me to explain. Some people in the LGBTQ community have a biological family and a chosen family. Sadly, there are many people in my community that only have a chosen family. There is not one academically agreed upon definition but in the most basic sense, a chosen family is a group of individuals who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. It is a group of people whom you are emotionally attached to that you love and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related to one another.

I am sure many of you have friends that you consider “they might as well be family.” Down here in the south we call them “Back Door Friends.” But Chosen families in the queer community are more than just your best friends or the friends you are closest to. They validate our very existence as a community. As individuals who want to be seen and heard and told they matter. In ancient Greece, there were many types of love; Eros would be love between people who are in a committed relationship and Agape would be an unconditional love from God. The reason chosen families are so important is that they combine two types of this love in philia, a friendship or fondness type of love, with storge, a familial love. Chosen families became a sense of strength within the LGBTQ community and they remain a pillar of pride in this community to this day.

Chosen families arose from the necessity of being part of the LGBTQ community. In our community’s past, many were told by their families, or churches, or schools, that they were no longer welcome. We became outcasts in our own blood families. Many LGBTQ kids were kicked out of their homes. It is why the queer community has a disproportionately large share of homelessness – especially within queer youth. Personally, I will never understand how a parent can cast out their child or a sibling can turn its back on a sibling; To me, that is an unforgivable sin that you will never be able to justify (but that is a story for a different blog). When these outcasts of society had nobody to turn to for love, guidance, and the sheer acknowledgment that they existed, they turned to themselves. They replaced biological mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers with their chosen alternatives. They cared for each other while they were sick. They loved each other when they hurt. They buried each other when they started to die from AIDS. They did everything that their blood family was supposed to do. That is how chosen families were born in a community forced to take care of one another when nobody else would.

The majority of the time the people in the chosen families we created were fellow members of the queer community (although they do not have to be – allies are always welcome). The shared loss of their blood families served as a common thread uniting people. Feelings of sadness and loss give way to strength and love. One of the things I love about the queer community is the resiliency of my brothers and sisters who are also part of it. A self-created family becomes a support system that allows people to continually go out into a world that continually puts them down. In some cases it allows people to do more than just go – it allows them to thrive and prove everyone who doubted them wrong.

Chosen families can be known, but more often than not they are unknown or known simply by the people who make up that family. Some of these chosen families have become famous or well-known throughout the world. In the Voguing and Ball Culture that developed in New York City, these families are known as houses and they were often named after famous fashion brands (House of St. Laurent, House of LeBeija, etc.). They would often have a “mother” and/or “father” who functioned as the parent of their “children.” These chosen families are especially close-knit and exclusive. They consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to be part of their family. Other chosen families are more inclusive and not quite as bougie.

While pulling up next to a car the other day I had my windows down and sunroof up while B93.7 was playing while a Dua Lipa song was playing on the radio. A few seconds I hear “YES QUEEN!” come from the car next to me. I blushed and looked over embarrassed someone called me out on my dancing, but that feeling immediately disappeared. One shared look between me and the black man driving it I had never met told me he was part of the queer community and that was an exclamation of agreement and not ridicule. He turned up his volume as he pulled away. I smiled as I heard Dua Lipa fade off into the sunset. In a way, he is part of the extended larger chosen family that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. If you have never seen us communicate with just a facial expression, it is hard to describe. With just a look we almost tell people, “I see you.” We see the authentic you. The fabulous you who loves jamming to bad ass diva songs.

I started building my chosen family in high school and it has never stopped growing. I don’t share blood with these people, but I don’t have to – we share something more powerful than that. Most people don’t understand, but it is easier to tell someone you consider an acquaintance than it is to tell your family. Most of it stems from the fear of rejection. It hurts less to be cast aside by someone you have known for a semester than it does by someone whose blood courses through your veins. The clip below is one of the most famous scenes from an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Every episode ends with the 2 drag queens who did the worst having to lip synch and the bottom queen is eliminated. I left the lip synch in because it is one of the greatest in the herstory of the show, but the important part is what happens at the end. Watch and listen to what Rupaul says to Roxxy Andrews story.

I have been incredibly blessed in this life. I have never experienced the pain that Roxxy Andrews suffered. My family loves me unconditionally. Through the good and the bad. Growing up I always knew that they would never stop loving me, but for those of you who have never had to work through how to accept yourself in a society where you are not looked at as an equal, telling your family is the hardest part. My chosen family helped me work through feelings my blood family could not because my chosen family had already experienced what I was feeling. The very first time I went to the dinky LGBT club in my city I was a hot mess. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I was so nervous I bumped into someone and made them spill their drink. A drag queen named Robin came to my rescue and diffused this situation. The instant addition to my chosen family always greeted me with a shot and a hug once I got there. She is passed on now, but I know we will meet again in the next life. It will be easy to find her there anyways – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be blaring from her cloud up in the great beyond.

We love to share our joys and triumphs with our families. I am lucky enough I get to do it twice. I have found many times when we hurt in this life we want to be with our family. I have found a subtle difference in the way the two families deal with hurt. Blood family wants to do something. They want to take the pain away somehow. They want to fix what is broken. This is both admirable and helpful sometimes; My real family has always been there for me when times are good or bad. But sometimes you need the love that your chosen family gives you when you are hurt. Sometimes chosen families try to do something, but more often than not I have found my chosen family won’t do anything but be there. Just simply showing up, acknowledging your hurt, and giving you permission to hurt however you want is the most cathartic and loving thing they do.

My blood family has given me more than I could ever ask or dream for. In a different way, my chosen family has as well. My chosen family has picked me up when I was utterly broken: working through break up with my first real love, losing my grandfather a couple of years ago, and episodes of self-doubt would have been impossible to deal with without them. They have also cheered, and yelled with me at some awesome high points: Witnessing my first pride parade, my first trip to San Francisco, and teaching me to vogue the house down will be experiences and memories that I will cherish for the rest of this life time and all of the next. They have changed my life simply because I have known them. I love them. And I chose them. But more importantly, they chose me. And for that, I am luckier than I ever possibly thought I could be.

Here’s to all the chosen families all across the world. This one is for you. Happy Pride!

-WB

 

 

Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk- The Hero Who Gave Us Hope

Today would have been the 98th birthday of Harvey Milk. For the average American, that might not mean anything to you. You may not even know who Harvey Milk was. But to the LGBTQ+ community, Harvey Milk is a hero, an icon, and a martyr for the cause of LGBTQ rights. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. 11 Months after his election, Milk was assassinated by a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor of San Francisco was also assassinated. In the few years before his election and his short time in public office, Milk became the Hero of Hope to the gay community.

harvey-milk_happybirthdayI am a history teacher. I am the person who was more excited to register to vote than I was to go buy a pack of cigarettes. I follow politics and current events so much that I can see my family tune out as soon as I open my mouth about politics 97% of the time. You would think I would have learned about Harvey Milk at a young age, but this could not be farther from the truth. I did not learn about Harvey Milk until 2008 as a freshman in college. It wasn’t a history book I have to think for teaching me about Harvey Milk either. History books in this nation leave out the stories and struggles of minority groups far too often. The people I have to thank for acquainting me with Harvey Milk are Dustin Lance Black, Gus Van Sant, and Sean Penn. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said the Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn.

In 2008 Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing Harvey Milk in the film titled Milk. The film was written by Dustin Lance Black (who you might have seen in the news for being the boyfriend and now husband of British diver Tom Daley) and directed by Gus Van Sant. Black and Van Sant are openly gay and both were nominated for their work on Milk. Black won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. His acceptance speech is less than 3 minutes in length and it changed my life.

At the 2009 Academy Awards, Milk was one of the few films that I As I watched the Gay Super Bowl Oscars that year, Black’s speech left me in disbelief. Yes this is a ceremony filled with people who are stereotypically liberal leaning in their political beliefs. But seldom are people so blatantly plain in their speeches. Here was a rather handsome man telling me that very soon LGBTQ+ people who have equal federal rights across this nation. And wouldn’t you know it – he was right!

 

Not having seen the movie, I googled the film and was astounded I had never heard of Harvey Milk, his story, or the film before the Oscars that night. A second google let me know I could pay $2 and watch the film at The Astro Theater in Downtown Clemson, SC. The Astro was Clemson’s version of a dollar theater. It typically showed films that had already been out for a month or so. It did not look like much on the inside, but I loved it for the historic charm it had. I skipped a science lab to go the next night. To this day, I don’t regret that decision.

 

 

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There were 4 other people in the theater that night. All 4 of those people were part of “the family.” We did not sit together and we did not know each other, but I had seen some of them in passing on campus before. I could effuse compliments about Milk until I am purple in the face so I will not go on and on about how much I love it. I will simply say that film changed my life and I will be forever grateful for the real Harvey Milk’s message of Hope and advocacy that are shown in the film. As the lights came on I tried to wipe the tears off my face. I started to get embarrassed until I saw the other 4 people were doing the exact same thing. Although I never became more than Facebook friends with any of the other 4 people, each time we saw each other in passing on campus, we would always nod and smile at each other. We shared a form of ourselves that evening that we had not shared with many people up until that point. The older I get the more I think certain things in this universe are connected. Call it God, or Karma, or my personal favorite juju. There was a shared connection between us and Harvey Milk that night. And it was life changing.

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The publicity poster from the film. The entire cast is phenomenal. 

This was the first film I had ever seen that depicted multiple main characters who were LGBTQ in a positive light. It is the first film I had seen that showed the power of my community when we stood up and advocated for ourselves – when we fought back against the people and politicians who sought to silence us and belittle us. The film goes through much of Milk’s adult life. It shows a closeted Milk living in New York City and keeping his sexuality a secret and follows parts of his life up until his assassination. Milk later moves to San Francisco in the 1970s. San Francisco became a haven for gay men in the 60s and 70s and Milk opened Castro Camera on Castro Street in the city. He lost his first election for the Board of Supervisors, but he quickly became a uniting force in “The Castro” – the area of the city made famous by the Castro Theater and the district with the largest concentration of gay people.

Once San Francisco moved away from at-large districts to area based districts Milk easily won in the heavy LGBT Castro District. Harvey Milk was a bridge builder. He united minority communities of all types and advocated for those groups regularly as part of the Board. He was instrumental in helping the city pass a gay rights ordinance at a time when many other cities were passing ordinances and ballot indicatives which were extremely anti-LGBTQ in nature. Milk was passionate in his belief that only by people in the LGBTQ community coming out and acknowleding their sexuality to their friends and family would opinions on LGBTQ people change for the better. Milk said :

Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.

Sadly Harvey Milk would not live to see his beliefs become reality. He was taken by the bullets of an assassin in his office in city hall. In the video below, you will see US Senator Dianne Feinstein announce the deaths of both Moscone and Milk. If it looks like Feinstein is confused she has good reason to be. She just identified the bodies of both Milk and Moscone to police. As she tried to feel a pulse on Harvey Milk’s neck, she stuck her fingers into the hole left by the bullet that hit Milk in the neck.

White was a disgruntled former member of the board who had resigned, but wanted his seat back. both Moscone and Milk opposed putting White back on the board. White snuck into city hall, shot the mayor in his office before walking to Milk’s office and shooting him 4 times. White was arrested later that day. In response to the shooting, thousands of people from across San Francisco rushed and descended upon the Castro that evening. They marched silently with candles in a spontaneous memorial vigil in honor of Milk. To this day, it remains one of the most beautifully eloquent responses to an act of violence that this world has ever seen.

White was convicted months later of voluntary manslaughter for both killings and was sentenced to just 7 years in prison of which he only served 5. After the lenient sentencing was announced, the outrage in the LGBTQ community led to several nights of rioting throughout San Francisco in what have since become known as The White Night Riots. Harvey Milk’s friend and another icon in the gay community, Cleve Jones, led the way from the Castro towards city hall shouting “Out of the bars and into the streets!” By the time they reached city hall a thousand people were ready to riot. This is the impact that Harvey Milk had on the gay community. For a community that so often felt lost, alone, and vilified by the rest of the world, Harvey Milk was and still is a beacon of hope. The harbinger of hope was and still is a martyr for the movement. That movement is ongoing and we won’t stop until we accomplish what Milk set out to accomplish.

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Milk was featured on a US Postal Stamp in 2014. You can still order it on the Post Office Website.

I have always felt a connection to Harvey Milk – but in more ways than just the obvious one. Harvey milk taught at one point and while in California he was one of the driving forces behind the defeat of Proposition 6, which was an initiative on the California ballot that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. I have always believed that the LGBTQ community if far too concerned with their “own” letter in the acronym. As long as the L or the G part got their rights then who cares about the T or the Q? Harvey Milk knew that the only way for us to succeed was to help each other – and that included other oppressed minority groups as well. Lastly, and perhaps the most tragically of the connections, I was born on the tenth anniversary of Milk’s assassination. I find it somehow comforting in a weird way that a day that brings pain and anguish for many, brought happiness and joy to my family (or at least I think it brought them happiness and joy).

Hope will never be silent. As long as people have hope, they will always be capable of rising above the circumstances that life throws at them. Where there is hope, there is the undeniable chance that the human spirit will win out over despair. Over fear. Over anger. Over hate. The story of Harvey Milk was a pivotal turning point in my life. It changed a fundamental part of the person that I am today. The story of Harvey Milk saved Dustin Lance Black’s life, and it will continue to save the lives of countless people – but only if it is told. At the conclusion of his Oscar acceptance speech Black ends by thanking God for giving us Harvey Milk. I thank God for giving us people like Black, and Van Sant, and Penn who were brave enough to fight to have the story of Harvey Milk told. And yes after thanking God for them, I too thank God for Harvey Milk. Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk. Thank you for your sacrifice. And Thank you for the gift of hope.

-WB

imageTo learn more about Harvey Milk, go to The Harvey Milk Foundation website. The Milk foundation was founded by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and his former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, and it seeks to continue to strive for Milk’s dream of a better tomorrow – a tomorrow in which there is equality for all and a world without hate.

Dr. King – An Open Letter of Gratitude

Dear Dr. King,

It must seem very weird to continually watch in Heaven as students everywhere learn about your life, and more importantly, the legacy you left. I am sure 50 years ago in the hours of that fateful morning that you would have done nothing differently in your life. For that reason alone, you were, and still are, one the greatest peacemaker this world has every known. This letter of gratitude will have several spots where I try to put into words my appreciation for what you have done for me and my life. I am not anywhere close the orator you were and I make no attempt to say my writing is perfect, but I do pray that you can somehow see the importance that I am placing in this letter.

I want to first thank you for giving yourself and your message to myself as well as to the rest of the world. Along with Elie Wiesel, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Harvey Milk, you are one of the five people throughout my love of learning, studying, and now teaching history who has had the biggest influence on my life, my world view, and my view on what it means to both a man and an American. Without reading your writings, listening to your sermons and speeches, and learning just how much you sacrificed for us in your quest for equality I would not be the person I am today. And as I very much like the person I have become and take pride in both me and my beliefs, you should know you played a part in that.

I was not always aware to the influence you would have on me and my life. Being born a white male affords a person the privilege of not needing to have experienced the injustices that you rallied against to truly understand your message and the meaning behind it. As a result of this, it was not until my 10th grade year of high school that I truly “got” you. Of course, I learned about you throughout my academic career, but I never truly felt a connection with you until my AP Language course in high school. It was around this time in my life when I went through a process of self-discovery and learned about myself in the most authentic way possible. And it was thanks to being under the tutelage Dr. Sara Lochridge, for the first time in my life that I truly felt a personal connection to both you and everything you represent – both in your earthbound form and in the legacy you left us with to this day. IMG_6733

It was in that AP Language course where I was encouraged as a writer for the first time. It was also in this course where I first read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I instantly knew there was something special about it. Never in my life (up until that point, at least) had a piece of writing – especially a letter that was not even addressed to me – moved me the way your letter did. The dichotomy of power in the letter is something not many people will ever be able to emulate. It was soft and sweet at the same time. It was angry while also being calm and collected. My favorite of all, however, is how it was both accusatory and forgiving as well.

I have often wondered in my life where I would have been had I been alive in 1963 during the March on Washington, or in 1965 in Selma following Bloody Sunday. It is easy for me to sit here and say I would have risked my privilege and status in society and say I would have been a marcher. But after reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I can confidently say that I would have worked most of my life to have followed in your footsteps. To have been a drum major for peace, justice, and absolute righteousness. Often in my life, I have also been called a “bleeding heart liberal.” I used to roll my eyes and sigh when the phrase was spoken. As I have become older and more confident in who I am and who I am supposed to be, I wear that like a badge of honor. The same way you wore the badge of “extremist” as an honor. My bleeding heart is partially the way it is because of you.

d260f415519c4795def34c9ba085a995You once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever reflects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  This is how I know your heart was a bleeding heart. This is why I take heart in being a bleeding heart. Part of the reason I became a social studies teacher (other than my love of history, of course) is the important most history teachers place on the concept of social justice. We have studied history long enough to know that we all succeed only when everyone has the same privileges and economic opportunities as their fellow-man. So for being one of the original social justice warriors, I once again, wish to express my humble gratitude for setting me on a course of social justice in my life which I know will one day reach that mountaintop you so beautifully sought. Upon reaching the mountaintop, my eyes will overflow with tears as will all the eyes of the others who have striven for social justice in this world. It will be those tears that allow justice to roll down like waters. It will be those tears that allow mighty streams of righteousness to move us all forward.

The last reason I want to thank you is for being an inspiration to another one of my top inspirations. Just like you Harvey Milk’s life was taken by the cruel bullet of an assassin. Both of you had much more work to do on this Earth. Sadly, the world we live in had other plans for you both. Thankfully, however, Harvey Milk said or wrote numerous times on record, the influence that you had on him, Dr. King. So once again, because Harvey Milk had an influence on me, thank you for your influence on him.

mlk_memorial_nps_photoIt has often be debated and wondered where you would have fallen on the issue of LGBTQ equality and LGBTQ rights in our fight for acceptance. Your wife (an amazing woman worthy of a thank you letter in her own right) came out in support of LGBTQ rights and said you would have been a supporter as well. Some of your children have also, but the entire King family does not even agree with what your position would have been. I would argue that I know where you would have stood. Harvey Milk knew where you would have stood as well. That is why you were such an influence on him. In your letter from that Birmingham jail cell, you once said “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” This quote is one of many that I know supports my belief you would have supported equality for all Americans – regardless of sexuality. It is always right for us to stand up for our fellow American. You knew that. Harvey Milk knew that. I know that. And some day soon, thanks to your leadership, the world as a whole will know that.

Your end to Letter from a Birmingham Jail was without a doubt my favorite part of any of your writings. You end the letter by going through a list of people and saying that one day, the south will recognize its real heroes. You cover a host of people who will end up being heroes. People like James Meredith. People like the old men and old women who continually risked imprisonment and beatings at the hands of law enforcement to demanded the permission to vote in the nation that was supposed to give that to them as a birthright. You said “One day the South will know when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, there were in reality standing up for what is best in the American Dream.” I wish you had not said the south. I wish you had instead said the Nation. Because I think that is what you truly meant when you spoke those words. One day soon the world will know that those of us who follow your legacy, are being the drum majors for justice, peace, and righteousness. Are we there yet? No of course not. But you know all too well “that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.” How long until we reach that point? How Long? The answer is simple. How Long? Not Long. And for that, the world, our nation, and most importantly myself, can only simply say once again: Thank you.

With Humble and Loving Respect, Your Brother in Christ,

WB