As violence against the Transgender community is at an all time high, it’s more important now then ever to love one another for who we are.
This year, Transgender Awareness Week takes place Nov. 13 through 19. The week culminates with Transgender Day of Remembrance, a deeply important observance to honor the memory of those whose lives have been lost to anti-trans violence, on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Transgender Awareness Week serves as both a reflective and celebratory time to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and to shed light on issues our community faces.
Observance to honor those who have lost their lives or experienced violence because of their gender identity or gender expression. We honor those who continue to experience violence and recommit to changing hearts and minds in order that all people are free from discrimination, hatred, and violence including transgender people.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred, prejudice, and violence. Transgender Day of Remembrance serves to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, as well as to publicly mourn and honor the lives of our community members who might otherwise be forgotten.
Societies that forced many of them into working in occupations and participating in activities that society has deemed illegal in order to survive. So many died in a way that confirms society’s uncaring attitude: shot multiple times, stabbed, mutilated, burned, drowned, left to bleed to death, and ultimately dumped like trash, the ultimate and unfortunate metaphor of a society that considers trans people, especially those on the trans feminine spectrum, to be nothing but trash.
Who knows how many trans people have truly been killed? I’m sure so many crimes haven’t even been reported and who knows the exact number of how many trans people have committed suicide thanks to suffering these injustices?
These injustices persist because of the images of trans people that pervade the media. Jokes and slurs are made with the typical jokes about “tranny hookers” and “spotting the tranny.” These jokes and images are conflicting by if a trans person does not blend in to society’s satisfaction, they will be treated like trash and maybe given a death sentence just walking down the street.
During this time, lets stand TOGETHER! The transgender community and its allies, in sadness for the too many that have died (Do not forget for they are all somebody’s child), and in hope, that the future for our young generation will bring with it greater compassion, understanding and acceptance.
We are NO different from you! We deserve to be here just as much as you do!
Not all challenges people in the transgender community face are the same but they can be similar, especially the threat of violence.
Looking back on my journey of 54 years, I can see that I was seeing the world through some very privileged eyes. What I thought were dangerous situations then pale in comparison to things now. But, even now, my situation is not filled with the same challenges as others who may be similar but not the same.
Of what do I speak? I speak of staying alive. As an out and proud white woman, I face challenges, barriers and threats. These come in the form of words, glares and online comments. Rarely, do I face physical violence. I am grateful for this. I am grateful I do not have to literally fight for my existence. Don’t get me wrong. I am fighting. I use education and the platform of my organization, TREES, Inc., to advocate, educate and communicate on behalf of my transgender community. What I don’t have to do is physically fight be be seen. This is not the case for many within the trans community.
Why is my experience different? In short, it is because I am a white, middle class raised, educated person. These characteristics have gotten me to place of relative safety. Those without some or all of these same characteristics face different and, in my view, more harrowing barriers to their authentic existence. Before you pounce, I am not saying that folks with the same characteristics don’t feel the pain of carving out their space in this world. They do. But through my watching, listening and reading I can see there is a difference. There are centuries of cultural difference that make the experience different. There are geographical differences. There are familial differences. This is where a pathway for each of us is unique, yet, not that different. For instance, my “coming out” did not include telling a spouse, my own children, a community of faith, grandparents, or my mother. On a grand scale of things, I had a less daunting road to travel. Could it have been harder? By all means, yes. Was it easy? No. I lost a lot. I lost a job, my house and all of my financial security. But, at no time, even though others were concerned, did I ever think I would lose my life. This is not the case for so many in the trans community. For many, the potential for violence exists. For trans women of color, the threat is real. IT IS HAPPENING AS I WRITE THIS BLOG.
On November 20th of each year, the transgender community, its allies and supporters all of the world remember those for whom the threat became real. This day is known at Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a day to remember those who have lost their lives at the hand of another and those we have lost to suicide. It is a time for introspection. It is a time to reflect. It is a time for thought. It is also a time for action. Please consider attending a vigil near you and, perhaps, you will find a call to action to save a transgender life going forward. There are many in need of your help.
On Wednesday November 20th at 6:30 EST join Meghan Buell at the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Zion United Church Of Christ 211 S. Saint Peter Street South Bend, IN 46617
In Michigan City please join PFLAG Michigan City at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts, 101 W. 2nd St. Michigan City, IN 46360 starting at 6pm CST
Getting older can be hard, especially if you celebrating a mile stone birthday. This is my tongue & cheek way of dealing.
Gay Men over 35, raise your hand if you’ve heard this one, “No one over 30,” or “if you’re old enough to be my father I’m not interested,” then there’s the classic “old dudes don’t even try it.” These are just some of the profiles seen on Grindr or Scruff any other gay “dating” app out there. People are attracted to who they’re attracted too, but blatantly dismissing someone just because of age is not only hurtful, it makes you an asshole. Besides ‘old’ is relative, what’s old to someone might not be old to another.
Playing devils advocate for a minute, yes there are creepy older guys out there that troll younger guys for whatever reason. In a lot of cases if the older guy has money that would be an incentive for younger gentleman to date someone older. Besides, when an older guy is with a younger guy it can help them keep ties to their own youth thus easing their own insecurities about getting older. That older gentleman will then turn into the ever mythical ‘sugar daddy.’ Trust me they are real. Having a sugar daddy was never my thing, but I never judged the guys I knew who had one. In other cases the older guy is just a perv and he’s trying to live out some weird daddy son fantasy to fill the void his emotionless alcoholic father left imprinted on his psyche. But that’s a whole other blog, today I want to talk about agism, gay men and getting older in what some might say is a community that’s obsessed with youth and looks.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a subject that’s easy for me to talk about, I’m just trying to put my best foot forward. I look in the rear view mirror and I see my own mortality catching up to me faster then scared suburban Evangelicals running into the arms of white Jesus or Mike Pence, who I assume are the same person. Kind of like Superman and Clark Kent they’ve never been seen in the same room together.
My biggest worry about aging? I worry about who’s going to run my Facebook page when I’m gone? Which is a sick thought in the first place. Most people worry about the legacy they are leaving behind, but all I can think about is if the person posting under my name is still sharing edgy borderline offensive posts that will either piss off Republican’s, Evangelicals, or my mom. If you can piss off all three at the same time you get bonus points.
Apparently, and no one really told me, this aging thing happens to everyone, even aged obsessed gay guys. Some of these “men” don’t emotionally mature past the age of 20 maybe 25, 30 if they are lucky. We’re out at the clubs, at the gym, or on Grindr jumping from bed to bed or in relationships for a very short time. You do the walk of shame exiting the bath house at 7am coming down from molly, coke, weed, or whatever drug your disco pharmacologist prescribed to you the night before. Then without warning it dawns on you that today is your 40th birthday. You think to yourself, “I was only 25 when I checked in last night. What the hell, how long was I in there?”
Where does the time go? I look in the mirror and I’m lucky I guess, I still recognize myself. I really have no wrinkles. My hair is pretty much the same. I’m not balding, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Bald guys are hot. I keep in pretty good shape and I’ve been told that I look like I’m in my mid-thirties and I should be able to tell people that I’m in my mid-thirties. I mean what’s the point of looking like you’re in your thirties if you can’t lie about your age? Except for the fact that my husband who never seems to age outed me to everyone. Even though he’s as insecure about his age as I am mine, he’s much better at dealing with the reality of age and much more mature about it. Also, our daughter is 27. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above dragging her into my vain and narcissistic illusion that I’m still in my thirties. I’m not proud, I’d totally throw $50 bucks at her to tell people she’s my sister.
Would you believe that there are people out there that don’t have a problem admitting how old they really are? These people will proudly tell anyone who asks them, they’re called lesbians. Since the Hubz outed me our lesbian friends along with everyone else we know, knows my real age, so when I try to lie about it they go after me faster then free tickets to an Indigo Girls concert. Thankfully, the lesbians in our group of friends are also environmentalists, so at the point when we are all at the bar together and I’m getting the lecture on how gay men can be so self serving and age obsessed I put a plastic straw in a nearby cocktail and watch all hell break loose. Soon my age is all but forgotten as I watch them berate the guy who suddenly found a plastic straw in his drink. I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard as he’s told that because he’s using a plastic straw he’ll usher in the end of days, but just to make it look good I join in on the berating. I mean what’s my age matter if we’re all gonna die anyway.
I’m part of a coven of catty gay men, we tease each other incessantly. The teasing is out of fun and camaraderie, we laugh at ourselves as much as each other, never taking it so far that it’s insulting or hurtful. Among various other things we tease each other about our ages. Most of us are in our thirties and forties, some of our friends are in their twenties and sixties, so our group isn’t agist or anything else. Basically, if you want to be our friend just don’t be an asshole and know how to take a joke. Some gay men are so superficial, to be part of their lives you need a great body, money, nice things, and an attitude that’s a combination of bitchy queen and vacant cheerleader. These are the guys that have the hardest time realizing the party is coming to an end and not knowing who they are because that is how they’ve defined themselves since their twenties. All the sudden they are on the other side of Grindr reading the profile that says if you’re over 30 don’t even try it.
Staying relevant in an ever changing social media and technological landscape can be a challenge, it’s easy to feel old when you remember when refrigerators didn’t have TVs on the door and you know how to dial a rotary phone. When I was a kid I promised myself that technology would never be a stranger to me. I also promised myself I would know the difference between getting old and getting older and the difference between being alone and being lonely. Sadly some of us are so busy being superficial, living out the never ending party, always being careful to never get to close to anyone and looking for that next good time, we wake up one day realizing that our lives have suddenly passed us by. Middle age has set in and lot of gay men find themselves old and very lonely. I used to work with this older gay gentleman when I was a bartender in fine dining. His name was Walter and he was about three days older than God and so incredibly bitter that he hated just about everyone, especially other gay men who were happy. Years later my husband and I went to that particular restaurant for a cocktail. I had put my arm around my him, nothing lewd I mean it’s not like I shoved my tongue in his mouth, just my arm around his shoulder. I could hear Walter snarl from behind the waiters station, “hummmph, this IS NOT San Francisco.” I think Walter is dead now, I know for a fact he’s been dead on the inside for years.
So, Monday November 4th is my birthday and instead of celebrating my 38th birthday for the 10th year in a row I’m going to celebrate my 50th. I was born at the tail end of 1969, the same year as the Stonewall Riots, the moon landing, and Sean Hayes (Jack) from “Will & Grace” was born. For some reason that makes me feel kind of empowered. I’m a proud part of Generation X. We’re Right in the middle of Boomers and Millennials. We’re the generation with a sense of humor and a sense of irony. We take things just seriously enough but have no issue telling the over sensitive or the over reactive to get over themselves and sarcasm is our weapon of choice.
My secret to staying young? I keep laughing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my heart broken so bad I never thought I’d laugh again and family disfunction so messed up it makes the Manson Family look like the Brady’s. The dysfunctional family dynamic and toxic people that used to be in my life should have made me feel ‘old’ years ago, but that’s not who I am. I don’t let the hurtful things that life can throw at a person or my sexuality define me, so I’m sure as hell not going to let my age do that. Just like those other things, my age is only a small part of who I am. So, if you’re a gay man or anyone for that matter and you’re feeling your mortality here’s what I do. I laugh a lot and I find humor in the absurdity of life. I also find humor in myself, don’t ever be afraid to laugh at yourself, no one is perfect and sometimes we do dumb shit that’s funny. Surround yourself with good friends, but make it friends that will tell you like it is, not what you want to hear. Embrace your sexuality. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t sneak off when you’re at a boring dinner party and shag your husband or a guy you just met at said dinner party in Phyllis’ walk in closet. So you got a little cum on her Louis Vuitton Call Back Pumps. Phyllis has always been kind of a bitch anyway and besides she throws boring dinner parties. Remember to always embrace your youth because just like your inner child it will aways be there.
Stay young my friends and let me leave you with a parting piece of advice from someone far wiser than myself.
“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived.” Captain Jean-Luc Picard, USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D.
Recently I was asked if I was still single would date I someone who was HIV positive but undetectable. My answer was a resounding yes. If the chemistry were there and I loved that person I would date them if they were undetectable or detectable. I don’t usually write articles about HIV/AIDS, I leave that to our columnist Danial Ashely Williams, since he is HIV positive he has a perspective that I don’t. In this case maybe as someone who is HIV negative, I should share my perspective on dating someone who is HIV positive. All though there is no real cure yet, drug advancements have come so far that with daily treatment HIV can become undetectable in the body and undetectable means un-transmittable, that means you can’t pass on the virus through sex. NOW, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying not use a condom, that is a personal choice. I’m just saying HIV can’t be transmitted to a sexual partner if it’s undetectable in the system. That being said, what do we have to do as a community to make the stigma of HIV undetectable and un-transmittable?
The AIDS epidemic during the 80’s and early 90’s wiped out whole communities. Major Cities like New York, San Fransisco, L.A., and Chicago were not the only places devastated by the virus. The gay community in smaller cities in the mid-west were all but wiped out. Calumet City IL for example. Cal City had a thriving LGBTQ community. Now there’s just a gay bar or two left and the community has never fully recovered. All around the globe, gay or not the world lost potential artists, entertainers, scientists, doctors and people lost loved ones. What if we lost the person who could have actually cured this disease.
Now with the advancements in drug therapy the healing has started, at least for the people who are HIV positive. They have a new lease on life and yes of course the potential that they MIGHT develop AIDS will alway be in the back of their minds, but at least now they have hope. They have the hope that they will live a long normal life and the hope that they will maybe date, fall in love, Netflix and chill on a Sunday afternoon with someone. In the 80’s and early 90’s hope was a luxury that a lot of gay men couldn’t afford.
Life returns to semi-normal if you don’t count the expense of the drug costs and the daily doses of medications, these are things that become routine. Now that HIV positive gay men are living longer what do they hope for now. Obviously I can’t speak for all of them or really any of them, but I imagine that some of them want a heathy dating life. Some may want to find a boyfriend settle down get married get that house with a white picket fence, maybe have a couple of kids and a dog. Live the “American Dream,” but I bet for SOME HIV positive men it’s hard for them to even try.
How many times has someone who’s undetectable started to get close with THAT guy? That crush from the office or the guy who stands next to you in line at Starbucks every morning. That guy you’re finally making a real connection with. The innocent flirting and the unmistakeable chemistry, not being able to concentrate because THAT guy is on your mind all the time. He’s sending all the right singles and admits that he feels the same way. You go on the date you’ve been waiting to go on with THAT guy. The flirting gets to that next level and you finally gather up the courage and tell him you’re HIV positive but undetectable, he pretends not to be taken aback, but you see it in his eyes. You finish your date on a positive note yet he declines the offer to come back to your place claiming he has an early day tomorrow. The next day you don’t hear from him, then three days go by then five. You don’t see him at Starbucks anymore. He doesn’t return your texts, but you knew all along he wouldn’t. You’ve been ghosted, and it fucking hurts like a symptom of the disease you don’t even have.
Look I get it, people get scared. HIV/AIDS has wrecked havoc on a community struggling for acceptance and just when it was starting to happen gay men started dying. The Reagan Administration did nothing at the time to address the epidemic and wouldn’t even utter the word “AIDS.” Lack of response or even acknowledgement from the Reagan White House only made the sigma of HIV/AIDS worse. Like a lot of people I lived through that time. As a teenager in the 1980’s who was growing up in a town so small we only had one traffic light, I automatically thought being gay was a death sentence. I fought my sexual identity until I couldn’t anymore. It was a fight with myself I’m glad I lost. Now there’s another fight happening, the fight to rid this community of the stigma of HIV.
In plain simple terms everyone can understand, if someone’s viral load is undetectable in their bloodstream then they are NOT able to transfer HIV to sexual partners. If you are one of those gay guys that have an issue with HIV positive guys get the fuck over it. They are just as much a part of the LGBTQ community as anyone else and just like our trans brothers and sisters or that kid who has been shunned by his family for coming out or any other person in this beautiful and tough community that we live in all HIV positive individuals need support from us all. HIV positive individuals also need the encouragement that we give everyone else in this community to live their truth.
The best weapon we had during the hight of the AIDS epidemic was education. People had to educate themselves that they couldn’t get AIDS from a toilet seat or drinking out of the same glass or even a kiss. Education is essential. I dated someone once who had cerebral palsy, I read up on what it was and how and what to expect and how to deal with certain things IF they came up, which they didn’t. If you get asked out by a guy who is HIV positive and he’s undetectable educate yourself on what that is and what to expect. Do it for yourself especially if you like him. But, even after everything that I’ve said if you still have an issue and you don’t want to go out with a person who has HIV, don’t ghost them. Have the courage to admit that you just don’t have any courage, it’s the least they deserve. Besides people living with HIV are forced to be brave everyday even when they don’t want to be, they deserve friends and lovers that are as brave as they are.
As we navigate a health crisis together we rediscover the real meaning of PRIDE and love.
It’s a little after midnight, the clock has turned and June 26th, our anniversary is upon us. We’ve been married for five years together for 15, yet it seems like only five minutes. I look up and I see him in his hospital bed rolled over on his left side, it’s the only way he can get comfortable, laying like that is the best way to not get his IV tangled. “Hey it’s officially June 26, happy anniversary.” He rolls over just so slightly and wishes me a happy anniversary and he tells me he loves me. Chris rolls back over, puts his phone down and finally succumbs to sleep. He’ll wake up every so often to look back at me, to make sure I’m still here.
Room 513 has been our home now since Saturday afternoon when they transferred him from the ER and it’s going to continue to be his/ our home for three to five days after his surgery. I’m the only one who gets any relief, I at least get to go home for a few hours a couple time a day to let the dogs out and play with them. Tomorrow they are going to take my husband to an operating room somewhere in the bowels of this hospital and remove part of his colon and re-sect it. For me and for our friends time will stand still and a two to three hour surgery will seem like forever, for Chris though no time will pass and if all goes as planned he’ll wake up in the recovery room and the healing can start. That’s the best case scenario. We’ve been dancing around the ‘C’ word all day today. We meaning us, the doctors, our friends, our parents. Cancer. We’re being told by medical professionals, “Oh I’m most certain that it’s not, but we will need to cut out the blockage and do a biopsy, just in case.” Or my favorite “We’re 95% sure that considering the type of procedure this is that we won’t need to attach a temporary colostomy bag.” I mean nothing ever goes wrong in with a major surgery, right? What me worry?
He’s scared and who could blame him. He’s having major surgery on his intestines and we really don’t know why or how this happened. All of the answers we need are inside of him. In all the years we’ve been together I’ve never seen him in such incredible pain. There’s been CT scans, x-rays, enough pain killers to knock out an elephant. Honestly I thought we wold have been here two days tops, but things are not good. I’m scared, but I have to be strong for him and he needs the strength and even though I’m exhausted, emotionally drained I’ll give him everything I have and let him take more, because he’s my husband. He choose me. If you ask me he got the short end of the stick.
PRIDE this year has two very important mile stones, 50 years since the Stonewall Riots and five years of marriage equality being legal in across the nation. Marriage is a journey, two imperfect people choosing to be a part of each others lives forever, or so that’s the plan. Our marriage comes with passion, baggage from our childhood that we both carry around, fights over trivial things and fights over important things. Marriage comes with, at least in our case, lots of laughter. There have been lean years and prosperous years. There are people who have came into our lives who we loved like family. Then they broke our hearts when they left. Most of all our marriage has been full of dreams and possibilities. It’s been about supporting the other person when they just want to give up. It’s been about supporting our friends and chosen family, but most of all our marriage been about love.
So we canceled our plans for PRIDE 2019. We will be in this hospital dealing with whatever gets thrown at us like we always have. Sure, we’re both disappointed, but PRIDE isn’t just about parades, corporate sponsorship, drag queens, dykes on bikes, or go go boys on the back of floats. The first PRIDE was a riot, a spark of violence that caught fire and became an inferno. PRIDE is all those things. PRIDE is also staying by your very sick husbands hospital bed, praying that he’s going to be okay, because you can’t imagine your world without him. PRIDE is sacrifice, PRIDE is lending comfort to others, Pride is about your friends, PRIDE is our struggle to get and hold on to our rights. PRIDE is our soul and PRIDE is our hopes and dreams, PRIDE is our broken hearts, PRIDE is love.
50 years after Stonewall, it’s the PRIDE of our lives.
PRIDE. Pride is a word that can mean different things to different people. You can take pride in your work, your home, your family, and yourself. For a lot of people taking pride in themselves can be the toughest. Sometimes it seems that despite the progress that the LGBTQ community has made, especially over the last 10 years, finding pride in oneself can be elusive and inconsistent. For many people self esteem comes in waves, sometimes you’re riding high on the biggest wave of the ocean, everything is going your way, other times you keep falling off the surf board and retreat to land thinking that you’ll never have the self confidence to try again. For others there are challenging times for sure, but they always seem to land on their feet and walk through life with a never ending confident stride.
People who are LGBTQ face a unique set challenges that can effect our self esteem. Issues ranging from acceptance of family and friends to discrimination. Health and mental health issues not to mention the disproportionate suicide rates among trans and queer youth. Homeless rates among LGBTQ youth are also disproportionate. Depending on who you are the reality of coming out as LGBTQ can be one of the single most stressful times in a persons life. So, if you are able to navigate any of these challenges in life you are brave.
Take coming out for example, we don’t come out just once, we come out all the time. We come out when we meet new people or start a new job and talk with our new co-workers the conversation will most certainly turn to ones spouse or partner. That happened to me recently. I started a new job and had two days of on boarding with another new employee, we were sequestered in a small office belonging to the human resource manager. The HR manager is an older man probably in his late 60’s and uses terms like “golly gee,” “heck,” and “swell.” As we were going over the companies benefits package I mentioned the low insurance rate compared to what my spouse was paying for both of us to be insured. He asked me what my wife did for a living. Of course I polity corrected him and said that my husband is the director of social services for a long term care facility. It seemed that the awkward silence lasted longer than what it actually did, but the on boarding resumed like nothing happened.
There’s always that fear, the fear of the person that you’re interacting with might get insulting or maybe even violent. I didn’t know either of the people that I was in that small office with, so when I “came out” there was a certain amount of awkwardness. Those awkward moments will continue to happen for the rest of my life. Even though we’ve made progress those of us who are LGBTQ will always be living with a certain amount of uncertainty. This uncertainty straight cis gendered people will never have. Straight people never have to think twice when they share with others who they love. They will never have to worry about getting fired from a new job or any job because of their sexuality. They will never have to worry about discrimination. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who are living our truth live with these harsh facts everyday of our lives.
This year is the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, arguably the start of the modern day gay rights movement. The riots led to the start of the first gay pride parades and festivals around the country. To get where we are now the patrons of The Stonewall Inn exploded into a violent protest after the police raided the bar. At the time raids of gay bars were common practice, but finally the people had enough. The riots became so violent that the police hid in The Stonewall Inn, afraid to leave for 45 minutes. The LGBTQ community has been clawing its way up ever since. Those early protesters were not just brave, they were fearless in finding the courage to fight the New York City Police because they were sick of being treated like their lives, their loves, and their dreams didn’t matter. Just this year The City of New York issued a formal apology to the city’s LGBTQ community for the way that community was abused at the hands of the people who were there to serve and protect all citizens.
The cis gendered straight white guys that are organizing “straight pride” events because they feel threatened that their little world is becoming too diverse, those toxic people want nothing more than to feel better about themselves by taking away our power to feel good about ourselves and undermining the achievements of our community and individuals. Don’t let them.
If you’re LGBTQ and still in the closet, if you’re not ready to come out, that doesn’t mean that you are not brave. Just coming to terms with who you are is one of the bravest things you can do, don’t ever feel pressured to come out. If you’re out always remember, just like those first protesters who took on the police during The Stonewall Riots your lives, loves, and dreams do matter.
So, on the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots think of the sacrifices and hardships queer people had to live through everyday, think of those who succumbed to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and early 90’s. Know that with people like Harvey Milk, Martha P. Johnson, Jim Obergefell, just to name a few we wouldn’t be where we are today. So, honor those who came before and know that they would want you to honor yourself, live bravely, love passionately, don’t be afraid of getting your heart broke, dream big and don’t ever let the world dictate what your truth is. And as always dance like no one is watching.
Michigan City PRIDE Fest is June 29, 2019 in Washington Park at the Guy Forman amphitheaterfrom 1-9pm.
On Sunday June 2nd, in Michigan City’s historic Uptown Arts District the Northwest Indiana Gay Straight Coalition hosted a Jazz Brunch to help raise money for Michigan City’s 2nd annual Michigan City PRIDE Fest. For those who are not familiar with the NWIGSC it is a fairly new non-profit formed just a few years ago that according to the groups website is “A community based organization-fostering policies, initiatives and activities that create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community in Northwest Indiana.” The charity brunch was attended by Indiana State Senator Mike Bohacek (R), who co-authored Indiana’s newly passed hate crimes bill and guest speaker Matt Nosanchuk, former Associate Director of Public Engagement of the Obama White House. Jazz music was provided by the Bill Boris Trio.
In his opening remarks Mr. Nosanchuk commented on the 50th anniversary on The Stonewall Riots, marking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. “The memory of Stonewall and what it represents led to the emergence of the first Pride Parade in New York on its first anniversary.” Michigan City has become the leader in Northwest Indiana for its inclusion of the LGBTQ community as it sees more and more former members of Chicago’s LGBTQ community leave the city to pursue a life in the “Region.” Michigan City gives new and life long residents the appeal of living on Lake Michigan, but without the inflated cost of living that you find in Chicago, yet living here allows easy access to everything Chicago has to offer.
As its already large LGBTQ community grows, Michigan City is now one of the many smaller cities around the nation that hosts its own PRIDE festival and was the first city in the Region to do so. Historically the LGBTQ population here has been large but under represented and far from organized, but recent years have seen organizations like PFLAG open a chapter here. PFLAG offers support to families and members of the LGBTQ community and is also a sponsor of Michigan City PRIDE Fest. As important as PFLAG is to offer support to the community at large, organizations like NWIGSC are just as important because they will be advocating real change in the laws that concern the LGBTQ community as well as pushing for real policy change locally and in Indianapolis, policy change that will have a lasting effect on this community.
Addressing the audience Michael Jefvert, who is a member of NWIGSC board, commented that when he was originally from Indiana and upon graduation from college promptly left the state. He along with hundreds of other young adults that just happen to identify as LGBTQ leave the state because they do not feel accepted in the city or town that they grew up in. How many talented and creative people who just happen to identify as LGBT or Q has Michigan City and the surrounding communities lost because of laws or policies that promote and foster old prejudices? Prejudices that make people feel excluded in their own hometown. Prejudices that can lead to violence against members of a marginalized community.
Organizations like the Northwest Indiana Gay-Straight Coalition and PFLAG are needed and those organizations are on the front lines of bringing real change and real understanding so that maybe one day we won’t lose talented, smart, and creative young members of our community to cities like Chicago, New York, or Indianapolis.
As 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots our community reflects on the progress that we’ve made and the progress we have yet to make. As more and more conservative states enact so called “religious freedom” laws, which are largely created to give businesses a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community grass roots organizations like the Northwest Indiana Gay-Straight Coalition will have the backs of the LGBTQ community they represent and the ears of the policy makers who make the laws that have a lasting affect on all of us.
Long Before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, LeRoy Kloss joined the Marines to serve his country, but it wasn’t his sexuality that got him discharged it was a heart condition. This is his story.
Long before those who enlisted in the US Armed Forces could serve openly and long before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was even heard of LeRoy Kloss was serving proudly in the US Marines. It was a different time back then, you could be dishonorably discharged from the military just for being gay and living your truth. The threat of a dishonorable discharge did not seem to bother LeRoy, he served his country from June 1983 to October 1991, “A friend and I joined on the ‘buddy program,’ I was tired of go no-where jobs,” he told me, “so I thought why not?” I had honestly no idea what I was getting myself into.” LeRoy was just 23 years old. I brought up the fact that he must not have hated it since he served for so long, “It turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. Beyond a steady paycheck I learned something valuable, something I didn’t have going in, self discipline.”
So many men and women who were LGBT at that time served with the fear and anxiety of being drummed out of the military, it was a fear that LeRoy didn’t share. “I didn’t flaunt my sexuality, there was a lot of ‘closet space,’ some people knew, but as long as I wasn’t flaunting it I was left alone. Looking back I never had that fear. It’s surprising, even to me.” LeRoy had long term plans to stay a Marine, but as fate would have it wasn’t his sexuality that forced him out of the military.
“It’s every Marines dream to be a drill instructor, it’s the ultimate head trip, make more Marines.” he told me when I asked him what his long term plans were if he would have stayed in. “I turned down the Warrant Officer Program and Officer Candidate School because I wanted to be a drill instructor first.” LeRoy failed a routine physical for Drill Instructor School, he found out that he had a bad heart, his valves were failing and needed replaced, he was only 28 years old. LeRoy was barred from combat and wasn’t deployed to Operation Desert Storm because he was on medical hold. The US military takes care of their soldiers, LeRoy was treated by the best doctors at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and The National Institutes of Health. When it came to staying in the Marines he held out for as long as he could, “Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I ran everyday day,” but a medical discharge was inevitable and then the reality of VA doctors began to set in. “When it was decided that I needed surgery the first time, they wanted to wait six months, even though my valves were failing.” Two weeks later he was finally allowed to be admitted to Northwestern where he was told he wouldn’t live 6 months. “When I went for surgery I was barely strong enough to walk into the hospital, I literally got thru the door and collapsed into a wheelchair.” At only 37 years old, LeRoy had two open heart surgeries. The day after he had his valve replacement LeRoy had an aortic aneurysm.
After surgery and recovery the reality of the situation sank in, the Marines was LeRoy’s home and his life, now that was all gone, “Not knowing what I was going to do to support myself was kind of scary, I did nothing for a year after I got out.” But they say once a Marine always a Marine and even though LeRoy didn’t wear the uniform anymore he moved passed his grief, he managed to pull himself up by his boot straps, he found the strength to not only heal but move on with his life. LeRoy found a niche and for the last 23 years has been working as a conductor for South Shore Freight Railroad.
In August of 2018 LeRoy found out that once again his heart valves were failing and he was no longer able to work. Surgery has to be delayed due to stents being placed into his heart to unblock his left anterior descending artery. Because of that surgery LeRoy has to be placed on blood thinners for six months, then off of them for two weeks before they can operate. The insurance LeRoy gets through his employer will cover his medical expenses but since he’s not able to work he’s exhausted his entire savings. Sick pay from his job ran out on April 29th and he’s recently had his truck repossessed. LeRoy has a medical discharge and a disability rating from the Marines and he is eligible for a temporary change in status so he can collect disability pay to help with his living expenses, but the VA botched his claim for a benefit increase and the doctor evaluating his situation has yet to submit her paperwork. He’s even called the White House VA hotline, but still he cannot get the help he needs. Not knowing where to go from here LeRoy swallowed his pride and asked for help with a GoFundMe Page. LeRoy Kloss is a veteran with a very serious heart condition and he’s about to get his utilities shut off because of a lack of support and as well as what some people might say is incompetence by the Veteran’s Administration. LeRoy isn’t the only veteran that this country has failed to look after and protect.
LeRoy has been getting a lot of attention lately from close friends and a the tight LGBTQ community in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana, yet he hopes that his struggles will bring attention to others, “I’ll take all the exposure this thing can get, not just for me, but for other veterans having issues.” When asked knowing what he knows about how hard it’s been for him to get proper health care coupled with all bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ that goes along with the VA, would he put on the uniform of a Marine all over again, “yes I’d do it again and I’d recommend it for anyone who needs direction or goals in life.”
Let’s talk about time. More specifically, anniversaries. January 20th is one of my anniversaries. However, prior to this date becoming significant for me, it was just a date on the calendar. But, now this date holds as much, if not more significance as any other date on the calendar. See, on January 20, 2009, I became complete. It was the date of my gender confirming surgery. This past weekend I celebrated my 10 year anniversary of this date.
To think that I am 10 years past my surgery date is a bit surreal for me. I am still processing what this means in the big picture of the overall journey. To be honest, thinking that I could be 10 years beyond an event that I had for a long time given 0% chance of ever happening may be what I am having trouble processing. My journey had a lot of ups and downs but it really wasn’t until the 41st or 42nd year that the idea of having surgery became possible. For the longest time it was just this idea that was fleeting as I considered all that I would have to sacrifice in order to get that. It was always the piece of fruit so high up on the tree that it was unimaginable to think I could reach it. But, I Did!
As I’m writing this I can’t help but think of those in my circumstance who are still seeing the piece of fruit as too high up, too far away to be reachable. I’m here to tell you that it may seem that way now but don’t ever give up on it. Don’t lose focus on it. Wait for that moment when the pathway up those branches becomes clear and then climb. Do so because that piece of fruit for me has been more satisfying as any other piece of fruit I’ve ever tasted. It is worth the wait.
10 years, I welcome you as an anniversary. I look forward to 11 and 12 and all of the others that will follow. January 20th is not just a day on the calendar for me. What will become your date? Peace.
Newly elected state senator JD Ford and incumbent Mike DelphCarmel, IN- Openly gay Democrat JD Ford beat Mike Delph in a contentious race for state senator for Indiana’s 29th district. In 2014 Delph supported an amendment to the Indiana constitution defining marriage between one man and one woman. This is the second time Ford had ran against Senator Delph narrowly losing to the hard line conservative four years ago.
Ford made history becoming Indiana’s first openly gay law maker elected to Indiana’s General Assembly. In his victory speech from the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt Ford said, “I just want to pause for a second to appreciate the historical significance that has happened tonight. Tonight, I become Indiana’s first openly gay lawmaker. Ladies and gentlemen, we just made history and no one can take that from us.” Ford ran what some people would call an unapologetic progressive campaign that advocated raising the minimum wage, environmental protections, fighting the opioid crisis, and passing hate crimes legislation that protects gender identity and sexual orientation. Senator Delph has long opposed hate crimes legislation. Indiana is one of five states without a hate crime law on the books.
Ford’s promised to give and amplify the voices of every marginalized group of people in the state of Indiana which includes “people of color, women, Muslims, Jewish Hoosiers, seniors, LBTQ+ Hoosiers just to name a few.” Local Indianapolis LGBT rights advocate Annette Gross praises Ford for his hard fought victory, “As a resident of State Senate District 29, I am thrilled that we finally have representation for ALL Hoosiers in this district. I watched first-hand as Mike Delph strove to deny same-sex couples the ability to share their lives together legally. In particular, he supports passage of Hate Crime Bill which will offer protections for all marginalized groups. We are finally living under a rainbow in Indiana.” Delph, a hard line social conservative often was perceived as a polarizing figure even among members of his own party. At one point Delph was disciplined by Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long for public criticism of the Indiana General Assembly failing to pass the amendment to the Indiana constitution, known as HJR-3 which would have made marriage equality illegal in the state.
This time around Ford had the endorsement of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and a much bigger ‘war chest’ then he had four years ago beating Delph with 53% of the vote. District 29 includes parts of Carmel, Indianapolis and Zionsville.