Of Death and Passing On

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

I think of my own death often. I wonder how it will be received by those still alive. How will they mourn? How will they react? Will they react at all? Who of my friends will still be around when I take my last breath? I wonder.

I have lost 2 friends and colleagues in the last 3 days. Thinking about passing on is at the forefront of my mind these days. These losses affect me personally and professionally. The personal loss is selfish. I won’t have the chance to enjoy a 55+ Traveler at Perkins with my friend Evelyn. We had been waiting 5 years for me to “qualify”. Then, when I finally made it to 55 earlier this year, Covid hit and we never made it back to Perkins together. I will stop by and order eggs, scrambled, what toast, no butter and bacon, extra crispy to honor my friend. However, I will skip the coffee, ya know, because I’m a tea girl.

Last evening, Covid took another friend. Lynn was a powerful, two-spirit identified agent of change. The impact that Lynn has had on, not only me, but a wide reaching network cannot be told in just my blog. Google Lynn Young and read for yourself. I first met them through Indiana University’s South Bend campus. We had many chats about trans inclusion and LGBTQ advocacy. When I began TREES, Inc., Lynn told me they thought our mission was spot on. Several times she mentioned how impressed they were with the impact TREES was having. Lynn was instrumental in the annual Trans Day of Remembrance in South Bend. We worked together each Fall on planning the event. Lynn began the process this year but fell ill and has not made it to the event they helped make possible. I will miss our chats immensely. Though their body does not, Lynn’s spirit lives on in all who knew them.

Nov. 20 is Trans Day of Remembrance. This years has had the largest lose of transgender lives, 31, in the United States. We must remember that these are not just names we read once, they are people who have families, friends, colleagues and communities who are hurting, as I am with the loss of Evelyn and Lynn. Please take a moment to reflect and remember.

Meghan
she, her

Five Years In, Thanks for Following

It’s a milestone anniversary, but we’re only just beginning.

I missed our anniversary. On April 12, 2020 OUT in Michigan City turned five years old. COVID-19 has us all distracted. I was aware that the anniversary was coming up and I wanted to throw a huge party with our logo on everything. I had hopes of raising money for Michigan City PRIDE Fest 2020 by making our anniversary party a fundraiser. Yet here we are, like for so many people life is on hold. It’s like we’re fly’s stuck in amber watching the world go by without us. PRIDE events all over the nation are being cancelled including the iconic San Francisco and New York PRIDE events. I haven’t heard what’s going to happen in our hometown but I don’t have high hopes.

John M. Livelsberger interviews LGBTQ rights activists Steven & Joshua Snyder-Hill. Photo Jack Foos-Gordan

I started OUT in Michigan City five years ago after a visit to Indianapolis. My husband and I traveled to Indy so I could get an interview with LGBTQ rights activists Steven Snyder-Hill and his husband Joshua for an LGBTQ online news magazine based out of Chicago and we participated in a protest march during the weekend of the NCAA playoffs. The march was in protest of the newly signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I had never marched in protest before, but what I found in Indianapolis was a community that pulled together. The energy and love in the air moved me and was so palpable you could almost reach out and touch it. By the end of the day I got my interview with the Snyder-Hills but I brought back to Michigan City so much more.

We have a large LGBTQ community here in Michigan City and in the surrounding communities, yet why weren’t we organized? So I started OUT in Michigan City. I wanted our community informed on what law makers in Indianapolis were doing. I wanted us to have a sense of community and I wanted us to support and love one another. Lot’s of city’s have a “gayborhood,” Michigan City is one big gayborhood and it was long past time that we pulled together as a community and showed our PRIDE in our city and each other.

From Left, Jayda Pill, Wilma Fingerdo, and Dena Richards. Photo: Facebook

In the five years since we went live others in our community have had the same idea. Michigan City’s LGBTQ community has arrived and we’ve become an oasis in Northwest Indiana where we can live and love openly and I could not be anymore prouder of my adopted hometown. We now have LGBTQ friendly business’s, those businesses are suffering because of the social distancing restrictions, yet there’s hope. Drag queens Wilma Fingerdo, Jayda Pill, and Dena Richards are helping support Fiddlehead Restaurant and it’s employees by running take out orders to waiting cars on Saturday afternoon. Because of them giving a few hours of their time Fiddlehead sold out of food they last two Saturdays and can remain open and pay their employees. There’s the love and sense of community I was looking for five years ago, as I figured it was right in our backyard this whole time.

Protesting RFRA in Indianapolis. Photo: John M. Livelsberger

Despite what’s going on in the world OUT in Michigan City is going to keep growing along with our LGBTQ community. We we first started we were just a Facebook page. Now you’re reading this on our website outinmichigancity.com. We’ve also started a podcast called The Bent Edge. It’s the Region’s first unapologetically gay podcast. Where as OUT in Michigan City is news oriented and serious The Bent Edge is irreverent and witty where no subject is off limits. So, to the over 1,655 people that ‘like’ or ‘follow’ us on social media, thank you, we hope you stick with us for the long haul, our story is just beginning.

Please give OUT in Michigan City a like on Facebook as well as The Bent Edge Michigan City only unapologetically gay podcast with new episodes weekly. The Bent Edge can be heard on Apple Podcast, Spotify and other platforms.

“First Name Mayor, Last Name Pete”…Why Running for President Mattered.

On Sunday Mayor Pete suspended his presidential campaign, but in running for president he changed perceptions and started a conversation.

On June 26, 2015 Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend Indiana published in op-ed in The South Bend Tribune called “Why Coming Out Matters,” effectively letting all his constituents know that their mayor was a proud gay man. Since coming out Mayor Pete and his husband Chasten have lived openly and proudly sharing their lives with the City of South Bend and the rest of the state of Indiana. Last year he announced that he was a candidate for President of the United States. Building a grass roots momentum as the only gay man to ever run for president he was able to out raise campaign funds of other more established candidates that have been on the national stage for years. After winning the Iowa Caucus but showing a poor performance in the South Carolina primary the New York Times and other media outlets reported on Sunday that Mr. Buttigieg has suspended his race for president. Stating in a speech given in South Bend Sunday night, “The truth is that the path has narrowed to a close, for our candidacy if not for our cause.” Mayor Pete’s popularity and visibility comes on the heels of the damage that now Vice-President Mike Pence tried to do to Indiana’s LGBTQ community by signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

Governor Mike Pence signing RFRA

On March 26, 2015 the state of Indiana gained national attention when then Governor Mike Pence signed RFRA into law behind closed doors and surrounded by local religious “leaders” thus sparking national outrage and drawing protests to Indianapolis. A year before that the LGBTQ community were fighting HJR-3, a proposed law that would change Indiana’s state constitution stating that legal marriage was only between one man and one woman. The LGBTQ people of Indiana were not just fighting for the freedom to have our relationships legally recognized we were fighting for respect. We were fighting to show all law makers both Democrat and Republican that our lives and relationships mattered, they mattered just as much as the cis gendered straight couple getting married in that small town church on any given Saturday. 

Over the years so many of this states LGBTQ youth have left to make their way in Chicago, New York, or other “big” cities, leaving their home towns because they were either disowned by their own families or they felt like more accepted more in a strange city. How many amazing and talented people have we lost because they felt unaccepted?

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s so many gay men were vilified by the HIV/AIDS crisis. Gay men were portrayed in the media and television and effeminate or as joke, never to be taken seriously. In Mayor Pete we have an example of what could be accomplished. Mayor Pete’s political agenda aside, in running for president and proudly embracing his home town of South Bend, Mr. Buttigieg has set an example for not just the LGBTQ youth of Indiana but to the entire LGBTQ community. As a solider in the military he showed the world that a gay man could be brave. When he was still Mayor of South Bend he was deployed for active duty. In the time he was gone he did not take his mayoral salary, in this he showed the world that a gay man could be honorable. While running for president he talked about his Christian faith and how proud he was of it. He showed the world that you could be a gay man of faith. 

Pete Buttigieg in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: CNN

Mayor Pete will not be the president elected in 2020 and that’s okay. What he did do though was change the playing field. When he stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest on the candidates during debates or in interviews, when you saw him on television or in your news feed unashamed to embrace his husband it started the conversation, it set an example. Pete Buttigieg showed that whoever you are, however you identify and no matter where you’re from it’s not the bigots or the homophobes that define who you are or where you choose to live, it’s you. Pete Buttigieg showed us all that it’s okay to be exactly who you are and that is not something the Donald Trump’s or Rush Limbaugh’s or the Franklin Graham’s of the world can ever take away from us.

Thank you Mayor Pete, job well done.

A Time To Honor, Educate, and Love.

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!

Angelique Munro Miss Trans USA Indiana 2020

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, How the VA Failed a Gay Marine

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.”

LeRoy Kloss shortly after he joined the Marines. Photo: Facebook

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.

X-Ray of LeRoy Kloss after angiogram.

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.”

Click to donate to LeRoy’s GoFundMe page.

Please join local entertainers Welcome to the Other Side as they host a benefit in LeRoy’s honor Saturday May 11, 2019 at Mugshots Lounge 1901 S Woodland Ave, Michigan City, IN 46360. The Doors open for this 21 and over show at 8pm show starts at 10 pm. There will also be a silent auction and all proceeds go to help KeRoy Kloss. Cover is $12 at the door.