Op-Ed: Guest author and veteran journalist Brody LevesqueÂ argues the LGBT community will never be free and equal as long as religious extremists are allowed toÂ harm their fellow citizens.
There are now 107 pending pieces of anti-LGBT â€“ and therefore,Â anti-human â€“Â legislation in statehouses across America. As the 2016 legislative year commences, lawmakers are filing bills spanning everything from so-called religious freedom acts (RFRAs), to bills exempting public officials or private businesses from serving LGBT people, to bills voiding the marriages of same-sex couples. There is even one particularly onerous bill in Virginia that would require a sex organ check of school age children to “ensure” compliance with gender-specific restrooms.
The Washington, D.C. based progressive non-profit advocacy organization, Americans United for Separation of Church And State notes these bills “would allow individuals, businesses, and government employees to harm others in the name of religion. The most common bills would allow discrimination against LGBT Americans and deny access to reproductive healthcare, but these bills have other negative and far reaching consequences as well.”
Which brings this writer to observe that the United States has once again reached a critical breaking point in its society and culture where human rights, civil rights, and even common decency are being trumped (no pun intended) by the more radical elements of the so-called Christian Right stirring up the masses with fear mongering and, quite frankly, hateful rhetoric. But here’s the thing: No one is calling out the stark reality. There is absolutely no way for this issue to be resolved without a major traumatic event.Â
I cringe every-time I hear a liberal or progressive activist or politico express the need to “work through our differences” when engaging in public discourse about the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ, anti-women’s reproductive rights, or racial inequalities and religious bias. At this juncture, that is never going to happen. Human rights, civil rights, basic daily life is not possible as long as there are those who judge, belittle, insult, and demonize their fellow citizens all in the name of their religious beliefs, and as long asÂ their so-called freedoms are protected from censure or forced moderation of their speech and behaviors.
The root cause of these issues is contained within the framework of the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendmentâ€™s Speech and Religion clauses. Therein lies the reason there shall never be a resolution. In these modern times and particularly since the Christian Right infected the political process some 40-plus years ago, these hard-liners have fought every step, every inch, every millimeter towards the battleground and conflict that the American nation now collectively faces.
The radical American Right has a long and bloody history of suppression dating back to the very foundation of the nation. In recent times one needs to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement, or even the seemingly never ending series of Black Americans being lynched in the early 20thÂ century. Prior to that it was “No Irish,” “No Chinese,” Noâ€“Â well the list goes on.
Sadly though, the United States has been in decline since the 1970’s. Religious interference dramatically increased and influenced American educational systems â€“Â from history, to the sciences, to reproduction â€“Â coupled with this bizarre idea that millions of poor people can simply live without some form of assistance by the public sector via government programs. Make no mistake about it, the culprit is religious fundamentalism.Â
I always ask those on the so called Christian Right this simple question: What are you going to do with the people who are poor, or gay, or trans, or â€“ wait for it â€“ Muslim? The answers back are either a blank stare or some preachy biblical quote taken completely out of context, or in some cases out of reality itself. I find that the vast majority of so-called “biblical scholars” are not even remotely that well educated in the very book and deity they insist “rules all.” I fire back pressing my point. These folks exist and aren’t going to simply go away, or not be gay or Muslim or what have you. What are you going to do about them?
To date I have yet to get a coherent response.
The scope of the larger issue is that America has become increasing ignorant, in part thanks to the so-called Christian Right’s interference in public policy, education, government, society and culture. One might also argue, and rightly so, that the other factor is that America is changing in plurality from a strictly “white” majority to a more balanced multi-racial mix of human beings.
So what does this mean? For the LGBTQ community, yes the freedom to marry may have been won, but that is being pushed back against by any number of the aforementioned bills. There are also still too many on the right who are wrongly convinced that trans folks are mentally ill. Of course even though women are winning the right to be equal on the battlefield and serve alongside men, which includes the members of the LGBTQ community, there are those actively seeking to reverse these hard fought gains. Even worse is the fact that women are once again losing control of their rights over their own bodies.
Unless progressives begin to push back and push back hard against the sum of this peculiar American ignorance, and be willing to simply not be tolerant any longer of those pushing these chosen and so-called religious freedoms that abrogate basic human and civil rights, then I have news for America: If we don’t disempower these religious extremists, their speech and hateful rhetoric will ultimately lead to violence on a scale not seen in modern memory.
Think that can’t happen? I’d point out that the Americans have collectively decided that the right to unfettered ownership of a gun and the mere fact that mass shootings are an apparent acceptable norm would bear out the fact that potential violence is more than a likely possibility.Â
If there are those who are willing to reach across the divide and work out differences, that’s great. But as far as the hard-liners go? No, the left needs to start exposing them for what they really are. Ignorant, dangerous, religious zealots who have absolutely no interest in the human or civil rights of anyone else other than themselves or like-minded peers.
My favorite expression to those who label me a deviant or just plain evil because I am gay is simple: Your religious rights do not override my human rights and the right to exist.Â I am no longer tolerant of these persons and nor should be anyone with a modicum of common sense.
Freedom of religion does not give anyone the absolute right to harm another.
I’ll end with this question:Â When is the left going to get the collective nerve to be no longer willing to tolerate religious extremists, be willing to limit their ability to harm their fellow citizens?
Brody Levesque is a veteran journalist and the former Washington Bureau Chief of LGBTQ Nation magazine.Â
The New Civil Rights Movement from time to time publishes op-eds and personal stories, like this, to share views and experiences of our diverse community.Â
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Unbroken: My Journey to Reclaim Life After Domestic Violence
“Remain strong, believe in yourself, and know that you are worth every ounce of struggle it takes to reclaim all of who you are.”
I want to begin with a confession: I almost lost myself in the struggle.
It’s often said that time is the remedy to heal most wounds. Frequently â€“ more than I care to admit â€“ I have found myself wondering just how much time is needed to be whole again after surviving two tumultuous relationships hallmarked by physical violence, infidelity, and emotional sabotage?
There are days, sometimes weeks that have come and gone all the while my mind has been stuck in a seemingly never ending cycle of examining and then reexamining all of the red flags. Some I failed to see, some I willfully ignored â€“ always asking myself the same fundamental question over and over again. Why did I stay?
Kristopher and â€œHis Firstâ€ on a Houston bus in the summer of 2010
Living on the streets of my hometown of Houston, having just aged out of the Texas foster care system, I never really knew what love felt like; I fell in love for the first time. â€˜My Firstâ€™ was perhaps the very first person that I truly felt I loved. Having left an abusive home in his late teens for the streets, he was broken just like I was, and it was in that brokenness that we found each other. But, he was a drug dealer and yeah, pretty violent.Â
Iâ€™ll always remember the first time he hit me.Â
I had moved into my own apartment not long after enrolling in college, and â€˜My Firstâ€™ had just come home after spending several months in the county jail. Not long after some money went missing from my wallet. When I asked him directly about it and then after a brief exchange of words, he punched me in my face and I fell to the floor in our bathroom where Iâ€™d confronted him. Stunned, I struggled to get up and as I did he suddenly grabbed me by my hair and drug over towards the bathtub. I was screaming while he rammed my face into the edge of the cast iron tub, busting my lips open and giving me a black eye. When he finally let me go I curled up on the bathroom floor and cried as quietly as I could until he left.Â
We were never the same after that. It seemed that the only consistent thing about our relationship was a perpetual pattern of abuse. Weâ€™d have a disagreement about something small, words would then be exchanged culminating with his disappearance for several days but not before severely beating me. Time after time Iâ€™d promise myself that I wouldnâ€™t let it happen again. But without fail, â€˜My Firstâ€™ would show up at my college, at my job, or some other place he knew I would be at. He would always promise me things would be different, tell me how much he loved me, and how much we needed each other. Unbelievably each time I bought it and each time I remained with him.
â€˜My Secondâ€™ happened much differently than â€˜My First.â€™Â
Tall, handsome, smart, and ambitious â€“ he was the type of man you fall in love with easily. We were introduced in the lobby of a hotel in California, and to me he seemed like magic and I fell hard for him.Â
During the first year of our relationship, he and I lived in separate states. As time progressed weâ€™d take a break for several months, reach out and then with our relationship rekindled, we kept going and finally moved in together in the fall of 2015. To me it felt like a dream come true. Weâ€™d spend holidays together with his family, we got to know each otherâ€™s closest friends, we made our plans to get married, have children and open up a restaurant back in our mutual home state of Texas.Â
Our life was beautiful- suddenly it wasnâ€™t.Â
I soon discovered â€˜My Secondâ€™ had been glaringly unfaithful throughout most of our relationship and he was unwilling to change. One evening I remember him looking me in my eyes and telling me that if we were to be together, I would have settle with his infidelities. His contention was not being faithful to me as his partner was so deeply engrained in him that it couldnâ€™t be changed. Â
Eventually â€˜My Secondâ€™ decided that we should separate, and despite my objections, he insisted that we continue to live together. Things deteriorated rapidly over the next several months as I watched the man I fell in love with bring into what was once â€˜ourâ€™ home, random guys he met on Jackâ€™d. Then heâ€™d pawn the Christmas gifts I had given him to go on dates, and finally openly and often boisterously flirt with other men on his phone in front of me.
I fell into a very dark place and began to isolate myself in my own home. Whenever â€˜My Secondâ€™ and I did speak â€“ it was always heated. He knew about â€˜My Firstâ€™, knew my history with domestic violence. Yet even so, he would routinely â€œrun upâ€ up on me with fists clinched and eyes wide with rage in the heat of an argument. Heâ€™d tell me afterwards how he never really intended to hit me, but the psychological damage and physical intimidation was equally, if not worse, than the would-be assault itself.
It was during this time that I began to fixate on comments â€˜My Secondâ€™ would frequently remark about my appearance. Soon enough I was broken, alone, and depressed. My self esteem was shot, and in its place was a void filled with his criticisms that inevitably lead me to make dangerous decisions.Â
Photos of Kristopher after having cosmetic surgery
In the hopes of fixing an unknown brokenness, and perhaps rescuing myself from the darkness I was in I soon found myself on an operating table having spent almost all of my savings on a string of cosmetic surgeries â€” rhinoplasty, chin & cheek augmentation, a brow lift, and a number of facial fillers. Needless to say, it didnâ€™t work.Â
Today, nearly a year removed from these experiences, I am still searching for the answers to so many of the questions I keep asking myself. It became important for me write this after searching for stories of other queer folks who have experienced domestic violence, and discovering how little is out there.
This story â€” my story â€” is shared by someone who is looking for answers to questions as they journey through the process of reclaiming the pieces of their life just as I am. If you find this, I hope you leave comforted by the fact that you are not alone for I too have labored this burdensome journey. Remain strong, believe in yourself, and know that you are worth every ounce of struggle it takes to reclaim all of who you are.
Top photo: Kristopher Sharp, age 27, stares out of a window in Tulum, Mexico on April 1, 2017.
Guest author Kristopher Sharp is a 27-year-old native Texan currently pursuing studies in medicine. He formally served as a legislative aide for Senator Patty Murray and was a congressional fellow for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S House of Representatives.
The New Civil Rights Movement from time to time publishes op-eds and personal stories, like this, to share views and experiences of our diverse community. All views and statements are from the author and do not necessarily reflect those ofÂ The New Civil Rights Movement.
All images viaÂ Kristopher Sharp.
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‘Beauty and the Beast’: Teach Your Children That We Are All Just Human
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student who is suing his school board for discrimination,Â a mother of six from Tulsa weighs in on the critical importance of educating all folks on â€œdifferencesâ€ in people.
I have actually seen some people post that they are not going to let their child see the new Disney “Beauty and the Beast” movie because there is a gay “moment” at the end of the movie. Just so those of you reading this know, this isn’t a liberal post. It’s an educational post. It’s worth the read. In my family there are bi-racial marriages, gay couples, my transgender nephew Arin Allen Andrews, a North Korean, people with different skin colors and a very good family friend with two prosthetic legs.Â
When my niece Emerald transitioned into my nephew Arin Allen Andrews, I talked to two of my six children, Diamond and Noah ONCE about it. The conversation went like this: “Emerald is now Arin. Arin is a boy and end of the conversation.” Guess what?? They said, “OK!!” Nothing else, and why, you must wonder, was it so very simple? Mostly I think because children are very simple individuals.
One very important observation. Diamond and Noah weren’t confused, scared, or curious, nor did they have questions such as which bathroom will Arin use in public places. They just didn’t care. Arin was just Arin to them, their cousin that they loved. From that day on they called him Arin.
Funny how long it took adults to get the new name and longer to get the pronoun correct. I was with Arin during his talk with his mom when he realized he was meant to be a boy. Transitioning at the age of 15, being kicked out of his Christian school, cutting his hair to finally feel like the boy he was meant to be, going shopping for boy’s clothes for the first time. They were moments I will forever be grateful I was able to walk with Arin. It gave me insight into his struggle â€“not the struggle to becoming the gender he had so wished to be, but seeing his struggle for the outside world to understand it. He had the courage of a lion. He was unstoppable in his quest to be his true self. Â
The first time we had a gay couple in our home, two good girlfriends of mine, none of my six kids asked, “Why would two girls kiss? Why do they like each other? Is God going to hate them? Am I going to be gay?” Because kids don’t think like that. Adults just think kids do. Again, my children had no questions. To them, these were just two people who were a couple â€“Â two people who cared about each other. They didnâ€™t see gender. No questions were asked yet again. It is mind-boggling, I know.Â
Within the walls of my own home we have four different skin colors, five different nationalities, two different eye colors, six different hair colors (I contribute to three of those hair colors).Â Never once have my children asked us why we don’t look like each other. You could say we are like a bag of jelly beans. But the one and only thing those jelly beans have in common is they are all the same shape and we are one family who shares one love.
A little background on how we acquired our special family. We have eight members in our household. My husband and I decided we wanted to adopt as our plan â€œAâ€ for having a family. We became foster parents as soon as we got married and on our five month wedding anniversary, we brought home a 1-year old little girl and a 3-year old little boy. By our eight month wedding anniversary, we had the privilege of becoming foster parents to a total of six foster children all under the age of 6-years old. We would go on to care for more than 20 foster children over the next several years.Â
Eventually my husband and I were able to adopt six foster children with whom we received the honor of becoming their parents.Â Adoption was something that was always close to both my husband’s and my heart.Â My husband Jay is Korean and he was also adopted. He had lived in a Korean orphanage until he was 5-years old. He says he doesnâ€™t remember much except three very fundamental truths: being cold, being hungry and feeling alone or scared. He doesnâ€™t remember specific events, only those feelings. It was important to both of us to adopt instead of having our own family the traditional way even though we were able to have our own children.
The world is full of people so why not save a child from abuse or impoverishment instead of birth one? It is a path we wanted.Â And as we adopted these children, we also adopted their past. Two of my adoptive sons are therapeutic and emotionally disturbed and have been in treatment for several years. Itâ€™s a journey Jay and I will never regret taking.
The two of my children that I previously mentioned, Diamond and Noah, have a very good friend they play with, Madelyn. Madelyn is the most precious 12-year old young girl and she has two prosthetic legs. Madelyn frequently wears shorts with her legs. Probably because it’s comfortable. My two never once ever noticed that her legs were different or even realized that her legs were now stronger than theirs, (she is total a badass,) they just play with her.
The point of this long essay and I hope I still have a few of you with me is this: children don’t see “gay” moments. They don’t notice skin color. They don’t worry about who pees in public restrooms with them.Â
Others that are different from them â€“Â from us â€“Â only become “different” when WE as parents teach fear, teach our kids that others are wrong and we are right, that others aren’t “normal” but we are, that a personâ€™s shape, size and color is not “normal.” Differences only become a bad thing when parents teach children these things.Â
Love, kindness, empathy and understanding are just so easy to become a part of your children. It happens when you teach your children that we are all just human.Â
I am taking all 6 of my children to see the new Disney movie â€œBeauty and the Beast.â€ And I bet they donâ€™t even notice that â€œgayâ€ moment.Â Just a hunch!Â
Guest author Susan Andrews Hill is the aunt of writer, explorer, outdoorsman, and Colorado resident Arin Allen Andrews, who wrote the 2014 autobiography, “Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen.”
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Transgender ‘America’s Got Talent’ Star: ‘I Will Not Be Marginalized. I Am Going to Fight. And This Time I’m Not Alone’
Nationally Headlining Comedienne Says ‘Donâ€™t Take Any Shit From Anyone’Â
When I came out in 1999, most people had no idea what a transgender person was. I was in college at the time studying to be a teacher. I was very stealth and when I got my first teaching job in 2001, I went even deeper underground because back then, it was possible to fire someone for being trans. (It still happens all too frequently today.)
To be honest, I was also still dealing with issues of shame and embarrassment and lived in dread and fear of being outed to my colleagues and most of all to my students. I knew no other people who were like me and for the most part, I lived a quiet, and at times, a very lonely life. Still, I never wavered regarding the decision I had made. Despite having lost my friends and children, I was at peace with myself for the first time in my life.Â
Around 2003, I was feeling pretty good about my life. After a bumpy start, I grew to love teaching. And for the first time in 20+ years, regular salary was paying my bills and even bought a mobile home. It wasnâ€™t much, but it was mine and I loved it. Most important, I was beginning to feel the old me fading away as my new confidence began to emerge. I even put a rainbow sticker in the window facing the street. In short, I was a proud member of the rainbow family and I didnâ€™t care who knew it.
And then it happened.
One morning, as I was pulling out of my driveway, I noticed that my home had been streaked with pink spray paint. It was everywhere. And mine was the only house which had it. The message was clear and filled me with terror. We donâ€™t like your kind here.
I called the police, convinced that this act was vandalism bordering on a hate crime. Standing out there all alone, I felt like I was being watched by the person who had committed the act. And as scared as I was, I could also feel the anger rising inside of me as the officer calmly took my statement and tried to convince me that I was overreacting.
â€œWhat makes you think you were targeted?â€ he asked.
I couldnâ€™t believe it. â€œOh, maybe it was the sticker in my window. Or perhaps because pink was the color the Nazis used to single out gay people as they marched them off to the camps. Or crazier still, and this is just a theory mind you, it might be that mine was the only house on the block that was targeted. Pick one.â€
What I expected was to have him investigate the incident. What I got was, â€œWell if they come back, call us.â€
It was one of those moments when everything I had hoped for in my new life smashed into a million jagged shards. There would be no brave new world, no acceptance of me as a woman, and certainly no justice. I was alone.
Iâ€™m telling you this story because a lot has happened in the past 14 years. But the most profound change in me was that I got angry and to paraphrase Billy Joel, decided that I wasnâ€™t going to take any shit from anybody, anymore. I began to speak up, speak out and in the process discovered the pride in who and what I was. And while I was able to relax a bit during the Obama years, I find myself angry again and like before, Iâ€™m not going to take shit from those who want to make me less because of their own fears, ignorance or prejudice. I will not be marginalized and I am going to fight; and this time Iâ€™m not alone.Â
Make no mistake; there is plenty to be angry about. Recently weâ€™ve seen Milo Yiannopoulos on Real Time with Bill Maher, the North Carolina, Missouri, and Texas bathroom bills, and Trumpâ€™s reversal of Obama’s education guidelines crafted to help ensure the civil rights of trans students are protected, and the use of fatuous and harmful, baseless lies about us have become a danger to our entire community.
The political right is trying to send us back to the dark ages of our history. They are putting us in physical harmâ€™s way. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for Trans folks, with 27 murders recorded and god only knows how many assaults. Our suicide attempt rate is still around 41% and I fear it is only going to get worse over the next 4 years.
Very soon, young Gavin Grimmâ€™s day in the Supreme Court may determine the fate of the trans nation in this country. If he wins it will be a victory, of course. If he loses, the right may see it as a door opening for harsher regulations which will make our lives even harder than they already are.
Trans people are not going away. Weâ€™ve been here since the beginning of recorded time. We are not an aberration, not a fad, not an abomination in Godâ€™s eyes. Some of us are people who if we could have chosen our lifeâ€™s path would not have taken this one. But scienceâ€¦.SCIENCE is bearing out what weâ€™ve always known; that nature loves variety and we are as natural as our straight, gay or lesbian brothers and sisters.
This age of darkness will pass. In a generation or two, people will look back at this time and say, “Whatâ€™s the big deal?” And that will be a good thing. But for now, RIGHT NOW, IT IS A BIG DEAL. What we do now will determine our fate in the future. Every day, more and more of us are finding the courage to reveal who we are to the world. Children like Gavin Grimm are already standing up and being counted. You may not understand us, but trust me when I say that we are just like you. We donâ€™t want special treatment, only just and equal treatment. Stand up for yourselves, for us, and donâ€™t take any shit from anyone.Â
Guest author Julia Scotti is a nationally headlining comedienne and has been for 36 years. In 2016 she was a quarter finalist on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. In January 2017, she was named one of the Top 50 Successful Transgender Americans You Should KnowÂ by the LGBTQ Nation magazine.
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