Let “Religious” Freedom Ring

Meghan Buell founder of T.R.E.E.S. and columnist for OUT in Michigan City Photo: Facebook

Happy Pride !!!

Wow, it is June already. It seems like winter just ended and now we are almost half way through Pride Month. A lot has happened since I last wrote. The first half of the year has kept me busy either teaching or traveling for TREES, Inc. (www.webetrees.org). Some thing that happened recently has caused an itch to get under my skin, so, I would like to share some thoughts on it. It is the recent SCOTUS ruling about “the baker”.

For those not in the know, in short, SCOTUS ruled that a baker in Colorado was unjustly “sanctioned” by the local human right commission/ordinance there. However, the ruling has been used as a tool to inspire some folks to think they can openly discriminate with “religious freedom” as the tool for this discrimination. My first, and most significant reaction is “Oy.” In fact, that may be as far as I should go with any reaction, but I won’t.

In my view, if someone wants to discriminate they will. It is only when there is a definitive or blatant record of it can much be done to debate which side is right. We are not at this point yet. See, someone’s “firmly held religious belief” has not been define and in many cases defining it is being avoided. By defining it, those who declare this defense for discrimination would actually be held to some level of accountability. Being held accountable would then mean they would have to show a true conviction to their religious faith. Right now, it is a wide open can of “pick and choose” religious doctrine adherence. Spew a bible verse when it is convenient and works for you. When challenged on other verses, side step them by declaring them obsolete. Wow, what a nice easy tool to be just plain old bigoted. And, as lower courts begin to rule in favor of “religious freedom” there starts to be legal precedent for upholding carte blanche discrimination. This should scare us all.

I mention to folks sometimes that I would love the opportunity to used these rulings to prove a point. I would like to open a restaurant and have the chance to ask people, or just make a blind assumption, about their sexual orientation of gender identity in the hopes that when they answer as straight or cisgender (not really thinking they would know that term but you get it) so I can channel Seinfeld’s The Soup Nazi by saying, “No Soup for You!”. Of course, this would probably land me in the news. In the end, this would be a terrible business model and I’d probably go out of business in short order, unless, I incorporate as an IRS 501c3 Religious Organization. Hmmm? Anyone want to join a board of directors? LOL

In conclusion, talking about religious freedom and discrimination is not going to go far. Actions will speak louder than words on this one. Go out and prove a point in whatever manner you wish, because, until this can is closed, it’s a free(dom) for all. Walk proudly as your authentic self and when someone challenges you to prove your authenticity just say “no proof required due to my religious freedom” and see how they react. Good Day.

Happy Pride !!!

Why I am Walking in this year’s 9th Annual Vincennes AIDS Walk

“Earlier this year Daniel Ashley Williams lost a dear friend from complications due to AIDS. On March 17, 2018 Danial walked in the Vincennes AIDS Walk to bring awareness to the fact that people are still living with HIV/AIDS and that they can still die from it and to honor the memory of his friend” 

Why I am Walking in this year’s 9th Annual Vincennes AIDS Walk.

Daniel Ashley Williams

My reason for participating in the walk this year is one of sadness but also remembrance and hope. In early January 2018 a friend of mine, someone who I have known for several years passed away. Although he was HIV positive, he refused to take medications. He was healthy for a long time until he got Shingles last fall and was sick or didn’t feel well from then on. His husband took care of him as he got worse and unable to walk. He went into the hospital and after five days his husband lovingly put his head on his chest and held his hand, told him he knew he loved him and that he loves him. Then he was gone at the young age of 36.

He wanted a cure. But after the AIDS coalition disbanded he feared that would not come to pass in the coming future. He felt the political climate had changed against the LGBT community.

He loved being a husband. Married only for four years of their twelve year relationship. He served in the Navy. He was smart and adventures. He will always be missed by his husband, his beloved dogs, and friends.  He will not be forgotten.

AIDS Walk is my way of honoring his memory. I walk for myself being positive since 2009, and I walk because it’s the year 2018 no one should die of a condition related to AIDS. Because I take HIV medications and my viral load is suppress, effectively I have no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to a HIV-negative partners. Take responsibility and protect yourself get tested. HIV/AIDS is treatable and preventable.

I Just Gotta Pee

Meghan Buell, Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Hello everyone. I write today waiting in line to use the bathroom, or restroom, or loo, depending on where you reside. Yes, trans people need to go every once in awhile. Not a remarkable discovery, right? I know, right? So, why is going to the restroom the first thing many people want to discuss about the trans community?

Ah, the restroom. A place designed for folks to go #1 or #2. A basic facility usually consisting of urinals, toilets, sinks and, hopefully, towels or hand dryers. Simple design, simple function and just plain simple, correct, or, so we thought. Then why all the interest in keeping trans people out of public restrooms.

There are usually two sides to any argument. In this case there are the trans folk who say, just let us use the restroom that we feel safest in. After all, we only need to go. In, out, easy peasy. The other side of the argument keeps saying that trans people in public restrooms is a safety issue. Of course, not a safety issue for the trans person but for cis (cisgender) women and young girls. Also, apparently, for men and young boys. Interesting. First question would be why would there be a safety concern if everyone is taught or reminded of the purpose of a restroom. So, where does the safety concern begin? It doesn’t begin anywhere because it is bogus. Then what is the real concern?

Raise your hand if using a public restroom is the coolest, most awesome thing ever. Yep, not seeing many, if any hands raised. That is because using a public restroom is a necessity, not a planned destination. It’s not a ride at Disney, people. Because of this some businesses have tried to make their public restrooms as pleasant as possible. Pretty colors, cool posters, couches, big mirrors. All in an attempt to make people feel less uncomfortable in them. Then you have a trans person enter and everyone gets uncomfortable regardless of the décor because people really don’t “get” trans people. Some people get appalled at the idea that trans people would come in and disrupt their comfortable feeling. I was told recently by a woman that the public restroom is their sanctuary. Really? Really??? It’s a restroom. Oh, my. And beside, it’s ok to feel uncomfortable. It builds character.

The point I’m trying to make is that trans restroom discussions are really about people being uncomfortable not them being unsafe. So, please do not fall into the toilet on this discussion and remind people that the restroom is not for resting (from being uncomfortable) but for doing #1 or #2, and occasionally for farting, but that is a whole other blog topic.

Pee, I mean, be well.

The Teacher in Me

Transgender Rights activist, teacher and founder of T.R.E.E.S. Meghan Buell

I grew up, quite a many years ago, in an educator’s household. My dad was in public education for 40 years. When I was young I was pretty much indifferent to my dad being an educator. I did try my best to take advantage of visiting “his” school when he was the Principal because it usually meant a visit to the office supply room. That was my super store of pencils, folders and notebooks. Just to clarify, my dad would pay for the items. So, my dad being an educator was kind of cool. I never envisioned that one day I, too, would be an educator.

I teach all the time. My “classroom” differs often. Much of the time it isn’t even in a school building. In reality, I consider the world as my classroom. This is so because every day I step out of my house I have an opportunity to teach someone something about me. Most times, it is transgender related because I live as an out and proud transgender woman. I am, for the most part, okay with this. I mean, I run a nonprofit organization that specializes in transgender education, so I am kind of destined to teach when I am engaging folks. My educator’s DNA comes in handy. But this is far from the only teaching I do.

In my spare time I work as a Substitute Teacher in a public school system. Yes, school systems do hire trans teachers, well, at least my hometown’s school system does. Being a Sub is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of patience, empathy, quick thinking, and perseverance. As a trans person in education I have found that I fare well for having thick skin, selective hearing and a sense of humor. You might ask why these would be necessary. Here are some examples of my experiences where this has been required.

Thick Skin: Kindergarten.
Boy: Are you a girl?
Me: Yes
Boy: I don’t see it.
Me: Well, I am.
Boy: What about your voice?
Me: I have a deep voice.
Boy: I’m not buying it.
Me: Back to work

Selective Hearing: An Indiana “liberty” organization
Them: This “man” (me) should be spending more time teaching math, English and science instead of spreading their sexual identity to second graders.
My employer: We’re good. Thanks
Me from afar: Did someone say something? Lol

Sense of Humor: 2nd Grade
Student: Miss Meghan, can I ask you a question
Me: Sure
Student: Are you a boy or a girl?
Me: A girl
Student: Oh, but why do you have a boy voice?
Me: I don’t have a boy voice. I have a deep voice.
Student: Have you tried a cough drop?
Me: I’ll have to give that a try. Thanks.

Life as an educator. Thanks, dad.

Changing meds

Daniel Ashley Williams

On average a person living with HIV will visit their doctor and have Labs drawn every three months. This is done to determine not only the effectiveness of the antiretroviral drug combination on the HIV virus itself but also how they’re affecting your body. This is an important process in the treatment for people who are living HIV.

Some of the labs performed from the blood and urine collected:  A CD4 count measures how many CD4 cells are in your blood. The higher your CD4 cell count, the healthier your immune system.  CD4 Percentage: This measures how many of your white blood cells are actually CD4 cells. This measurement is more stable than CD4 counts over a long period of time Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Screening: These screening tests check for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Not only are Labs important but taking your daily regiment religiously is most important to ones health.

Four months or so now I have been taking Tivicay plus Descovy. Before that I was taking Tivicay plus Truvada. Which I had switch to from Complera and before that many many years on Atripla. Atripla was the first antiretroviral drug I was put on and I never liked it had  many unpleasant side effects that made me feel sick to my stomach, have bad dreams, and feel hung over every morning. Back when I was diagnosed HIV positive, I didn’t start meds right away. At the time guidelines recommended treatment using thresholds based on a person’s CD4 count. Now, current guidelines recommended by The World Health Organization recommends treatment be given to people with HIV as soon as possible following diagnosis.

I switched to Descovy because it’s supposed to be less harmful on my kidneys. It seems to be working fine. After seeing the doctor after being on the new medicine she agreed it was working and felt like it was a good move to change meds. I still have a undetectable viral load.

While talking to a friend, who is also HIV positive, we discussed the fact that Descovy had replaced Truvada. Then he asked why I was mutating? I had to explain to him that it was the newer version of Truvada and switching meds address’ long-term health needs such as lower bone and kidney toxicity risks. I feel like more information on the medicine that we take needs to be available to people living with HIV, especially as more of us live longer fuller lives.

At my last appointment I was made aware that Matthew 25 has a patient portal . This allows me to login and see; upcoming appointments, Recent lab orders, Medications, diagnoses and more
“Matthew 25 Patient Portal is a HealthCare Support Portal facilitates better communication with your physician’s office by providing convenient 24 x 7 access.” This also eliminates the paper version I used to get at the end of every visit. They even have a handy app.

 

Got Your Back

Ever wonder if at that certain moment someone might actually be there to help? I always tell people when I put on my activist hat that I get bail money pre-arranged, three-fold. I just want to be prepared, just in case. I don’t want to wonder if, when I make the call, someone will answer.

The transgender community faces a lot of challenges just to exist. Each of us move along our own journeys without knowing what is up ahead of us on the road. For many of us, being able to live an authentic life is the goal. Certainly, for me, that is the goal. This doesn’t always present itself in a nicely wrapped package. We sometimes have to learn some hard lessons. Well, I guess, that is just life. Unfortunately, sometimes when a transperson puts themselves in harm’s way, they ended up injured, or worse, dead. As of mid-July, there have been 15 confirmed transgender murders in the United States this year. This puts us on pace to exceed last year’s total. This doesn’t begin to represent the number of transgender people who “just” get hurt. Well, when they do get hurt, sometimes this leads them down a path to possibly becoming another disheartening statistic connected to the transgender community.

Suicide for the transgender community is a big concern. They happen all too often. I dealt with this myself during my self-discovery time. I never really felt then that I had anyone to call. I struggled along the way just trying to avoid getting to that point of hopelessness. I will confide that it may have only taken one event to put me there. I was reminded of this recently as I, along with a friend, sat anxiously on our phones, they with a young trans person and me with their mother, as we tried to get them to drop the knife they held against their own body with the intent of doing self-harm. I sat wrenching inside with flashbacks but not being in a position to allow my emotions to flow freely. I wanted to cry, scream, lash out in pain, anger and frustration. I held it together until we were successful in saving this young life. By that time I was numb. I couldn’t cry, scream or lash out. Well, not until about 3 hours latter when it all came gushing out. I felt better and had thought I had let it all out. But, I hadn’t. I am still feeling the affects of this event. Although the results were favorable, I can’t help but wonder if a life event like this person experienced is right around the corner for me. Am I strong enough to meet it head on? Who do I call? Will I even make the call? These are the questions I am carrying around with me. Well, I guess this is just life. Right?

ps. I am crying as I end this blog post.

Suicide is never the answer, if you are thinking about or going to attempt suicide please call With Help Comes Hope 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. You are not alone.

POZiversary, Yeah It’s a Thing

Daniel Ashley Williams, Photo: Facebook

POZiversary is the act of celebrating the anniversary of one’s HIV diagnosis. Despite all the progress that has been made in the treatment of HIV and despite the fact that HIV is completely manageable for most people, receiving a positive diagnosis remains a challenge. HIV is not the death sentence it once was in the 80’s and 90’s but the sigma is still there and those newly diagnosed can get scared and that’s okay. Still, why would anyone want to celebrate or even acknowledge the day that they received a positive diagnoses?

It’s been 9 years since I found out that I was HIV Positive. When I found out I was positive there were so many fears. There was the fear of telling my boyfriend, there was the fear of the stigma of HIV/AIDS and there was the fear of the unknown. Later on after telling my then boyfriend about my diagnosis he was tested. We found out that his CD4 counts were lower and that he had HIV longer than me and in fact infected me. I was lulled into a false sense of security because we were in a monogamous relationship.

When I was infected in college all I knew about HIV/AIDS or thought I knew was that it can be transmitted sexually and that gay men were at a higher risk for infection. It’s a common misconception that gay men in relationships are at less risk of HIV and they tend to get tested less frequently then single gay men. There is also a high frequency of gay men in relationships or with their main sexual partner(s) that do not use condoms.

HIV can be transmitted between sexual partners and if condoms are not used there maybe a false sense of security. It’s assumed that everyone in the relationship or the sexual encounter knows his own HIV status and everyone should know their HIV status whether they are in a relationship or not. I recommend getting tested every three months.

After a positive diagnosis the health department will show up at your door and it can be a very scary thing to have a person from the government come knocking on your door asking a great many personal questions that you may not feel like anwsering. I mean who really wants to talk with complete strangers about their sex life? “How many sex partners have you had?” “How many times have you been tested for HIV and when was it?” “Do you have a phone number for any of the people you have had sex with?” It’s the Health Departments job to contact the people that have had sexual contact with a person that is HIV positive and it’s their job to get those people tested, but the health department will not disclose how they received that contact information. This is so you keep your privacy and there is no telling how someone may react so it keeps you safe as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated Lifetime Risk of HIV Diagnosis in Indiana is 1 in 183. Overall, an American has a 1 in 99 chance of being diagnosed with HIV at some point in his or her life. But that lifetime risk is greater for people living in the South than in other regions of the country. Linking people to care within 3 months after an HIV diagnosis improves their health and reduces the risk of transmission. In 2014, the majority of states with the lowest levels of linkage to care were in the South. According to the CDC in 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and about 1 in 8 don’t know it. Make the informed decisions about your health and get tested.

I’m not proud to be HIV positive but I’m proud that I can be open about my status and stand up to the faces of adversity. There are many reasons why a person cannot be open about their status, yet I am one of those people who can and that is why I celebrate my “POZiversary.” It’s like celebrating LGBT PRIDE every year. You are not only celebrating who you are you are celebrating your life and the lives of the people in your community, you are also educating and living by example. You are showing someone else the way out of darkness and ignorance you are shining the light on misconception and sigma. You are showing people who might be afraid, whether they are afraid of their sexuality or their HIV status that there is still light and life at the end of the tunnel, least that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to educate and maybe if I do it right I can give that young kid in college who was just like me, who just got told that he was HIV positive hope, maybe I can let them know that it will be okay. Life will be different but it will be okay. So that’s why I celebrate my POZiversary.

Matthew 25 AIDS Services, INC. is a non-profit healthcare clinic that specializes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. They are only one of two comprehensive HIV/AIDS Service clinics in Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky. 

 

They Can Turn Off the Lights but They Can’t Turn Off Our PRIDE

It’s June and it’s Gay PRIDE month and more then ever we need our PRIDE. For the first time in eight years there will be no PRIDE celebrations in the White House, don’t expect the people’s house to be lit up in rainbow colors or Vice President Mike Pence to be running the halls carrying a PRIDE Flag the way former Vice President Joe Biden did. The only things that are running in The White House this year are the PRIDE Colors, running like they were hit with bleach spray and all we are left with is bland and angry white. Transgender protections have been rolled back. HIV/AIDS funding is being cut. Violence and harassment of all marginalized communities is on the rise. Even on a local level I experienced a disrespect from my employer in regards to my sexuality and my marriage. That disrespect from someone I trusted led me to leave my job, a final straw that not just broke the camels back but left him paralyzed and angry.

This blog was originally going to be the story of what happened to me and what led up to me leaving the employ of a well known local attorney. After two weeks of writer’s bloc and apathy, after two weeks of not knowing what to do with my newly unemployed self and not knowing where to start I’m continuing with the work I’m most proud of, this web-site and our own LGBT Community right here in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana.   “The Beacon” and our sister page OUT in Michigan City & NWIN on Facebook have been a little lite on content these last few weeks, for that I am sorry, I was licking my wounds so to speak. I had put my all into a job and a boss that who was so disorganized, so socially awkward that I thought I could “fix” him. I just thought that maybe he didn’t have the right kind of help in the past, maybe wasn’t the right kind of help. Who knows? I do know this, there are just some things that can’t be fixed. The end came when he not only insulted me, a proud gay man but worse he insulted the integrity of my marriage and made light of my husband.

So I’m done moping, I’m done morning for a job I liked but the baggage that came with it made it not even worth it, especially at the end. It’s PRIDE month and it’s time for us to shout, fight, and let Northwest Indiana, the Statehouse, the Governor’s Mansion and the nation, especially the Trump administration know that we are still here.

President Trump can keep the colored lights turned off, he can refuse to acknowledge PRIDE month. He can refuse to issue the LGBT PRIDE proclamations that have been issued in the month of June for the last eight years, and he can cow tow to Mike Pence and the religious right all we wants but WE ARE STILL HERE. OUR VOICES WILL BE HEARD and WE WILL BE RESPECTED and WE WILL NOT BE IGNORED and WE WILL RISE again and again so long as our lives, our marriages, and our families are being disrespected by an administration that lives in darkness and lies. I encourage you all to go to PRIDE events. Little ones, big ones. Hold them in your back yard or your living room. Invite friends over. Go to the PRIDE events in the park or in the streets of Chicago or Indianapolis. BE PROUD and BE LOUD because the fight is not over and it’s not going to be over until we say it is.

That my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this June 1, 2017 Gay PRIDE month. Be Proud.

 

 

I’m Harvey Milk and I’m Here to Recruit You!

San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk

1960s San Francisco became well known as a mecca for the “counterculture,” hippies, musicians, artists, and those of the LGBT community and for a time it worked. As the years rolled on and the 1970’s arrived a much more conservative attitude took over. Gay men coming from around the nation that wanted to make a home in the city’s Castro District found themselves being discriminated against by not only the the city of San Francisco but by the police who were sworn to serve and protect everyone living in the city by the bay. Gay men often times were subjected to brutal police violence. Yet, as the decade wore on gay men kept moving to The Castro. One of those men was a New Yorker named Harvey Milk. In his 40s equipped nothing but a bull horn Harvey brought together the gay community living not only in the Castro, but in the city itself. Harvey would bring along change that is still felt today.

Harvey used not only his voice to unite the LGBT Community, he used their economic power as well. It was not easy for Harvey to bring about change, he ran three unsuccessful campaigns for city supervisor, finally in 1977 he won. He won by shifting peoples perceptions, he won by becoming a leader and uniting the LGBT community of that time. He won by standing up for the abused and disenfranchised. In a time before social media and instant communication news trickeled out to the mid-west of the gay man who won political office in a major city. The news of Harvey’s success reached those living in the closet afraid of their sexuality afraid that there might be something wrong with them. Harvey Milk gave gay people all over this nation the one thing that was very scarce in the 1970’s, he would give them hope.

Harvey Milk at a rally in San Francisco

“MY NAME IS HARVEY MILK AND I AM HERE TO RECRUIT YOU!” was the rallying cry he used to get not only the attention of the city government. It also got the attention of anti-LGBT conservatives by turning their own false rhetoric against them. Conservative Christians would often claim, and some still do that gays and lesbians recruit children and “confused” adults into becoming gay. Harvey took their lies and propaganda and made it his own and by doing so he united a city. The only thing Harvey and his followers were trying to recruit was equality. Harvey Milk served only 11 months in office until he was assassinated by Dan White a fellow city supervisor. Anne Kronenberg, Harvey’s campaign manager said of him, “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He Imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.”

Harvey Milk: photo by Jerry Pritikin

I’d like to think if Harvey were alive today he would be amazed of how far we’ve came in such a short time. I also think that in today’s uncertain political climate Harvey would continue to rally our community. He would want us to not give up or get too comfortable in our own skin because despite our successes we still have a long way to go, we still have a fight on our hands.

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake, Harvey Milk Day 2017.

Don’t be Afraid of Who You Are

Kane Fletcher, photo courtesy of Facebook

My name is Kane, and this is my blog.

I’m 27 years old trans man and I have been transitioning for almost three years now. Transitioning is a process. It’s a process to get your body to become who you know you are and how you envision yourself in your mind, mentally I transitioned years ago.

I have been on testosterone for three years. The anniversary of the day I started hormones I call my “maniversary.” For me testosterone is the second part of the process. Three years prior to starting hormone therapy I had been binding and living my life as close to male as I could. On April 19th 2017 I will have top surgery. Taking these steps in becoming the man I know I am is the right choice for me, but it might not be the right choice for everyone.

Just because you don’t take the hormone therapy doesn’t mean that you aren’t transgender. You still are. Some people can’t take it and others don’t need it. Sometimes it’s not safe for transgendered people to take hormones or even live as the gender that they identify with. It’s not safe because they are living in a place that if they embraced who they really a they could be in very real physical danger kicked out of their home or even killed.

Just like there are no two people alike, there are no two transgender people alike and some choices might work for some people and others not so much. Some transgender people are happy with their voices and the way that they look. Some people opt not to get surgeries. Yet, these people are still transgender and “We See You.”

In the next few weeks I start the next stage of my journey. I have so many mixed emotions, from excitement or nervousness yet the one constant emotion is that I’m overjoyed. It’s a new chapter in my life and I can’t wait to take the next step. My family and friends will be taking this journey with me and I hope you will too. I will be blogging about my experiences of being a trans man in the Midwest and things that have happened to me in my life.

If you or someone you love is trans and you have questions need support or just want to say hi you can reach me at kane@outinmichigancity.com

Kane Fletcher can be seen performing with his group “Welcome to the Other Side,” Saturday, April 15, 2017, at Shenanigans Pub & Eatery located at 6121 US 20, Portage, IN 46368.