What To Do With That Anti-Gay Award

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Last week the Indiana state affiliate of The Family Research Council, The Indiana Family Institute, awarded IN Senator, Tea Party (R) Mike Delph it’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ award. Indiana Chief Hetero-Supremacist, Indiana Governor (R) Mike Pence and friend of the Koch brothers was also present as the keynote speaker for the 25th Friend of the Family Gay Bashing Banquet.

In February Delph had a twitter meltdown over same-sex marriage. For two days the Senator made headlines as he raged and frothed at the mouth about homosexual ‘sin” and “biblical truth” Delph was disciplined by the Senate President for criticizing Senate leaders on gay marriage. Not the first time controversy has swirled around the tea party Senator. Mike Delph has also been accused of hiring ghost employees, participating in illegal Ponzi schemes, and planting military officers at political events. Mike Delph contends he “supports” his gay brother. I support you bro, just don’t expect any human rights?

The Indiana Family Institute advocates for and props up the Family Research Council which is a designated Christian hate group of conservative lobbyist. By taking such award Mike Delph ties himself to hate and exclusion, the very opposite of what his Jesus stood for. All major professional mental health organizations have gone on record to affirm that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, including the American Psychiatry Association. The Family Research Council uses biased and debunked social science that asserts gay men are dangerous pedophiles and calls for dangerous gay repairative therapy that leads so many gay teens to self hate and suicide. The Family Research Council has also called for the jailing of all gay men and has claimed school shootings are caused by same sex marriage.

In a happy, feel good release About Mike Delph, The Indiana Family Institute wrote “We value and respect Senator Delph’s unswerving commitment to faith, family and freedom” Yet they do just the opposite. Up is down and down is up as they work trying to deny human rights and freedoms to LGBT Hoosiers and their families and to incorporate the bible into civil law. Despite multiple pro-gay court rulings in the past year, including Indiana. And Despite the fact 500 Mayors have signed up nationwide for an equality coalition under the Freedom to Marry pledge. The Indiana Family Institute also attacks women’s reproductive health choices at Planned Parenthood. They don’t care that a Woman’s choice about family is central to her life, because – god. Mike Delph is anti-immigration, voted against mass transit in Indiana. Voted for required drug testing for welfare recipients and voted for forced invasive ultrasounds for women seeking first-trimester abortions. In a statement to WTHR13 Mike Delph stated: ” I see identity politics and entitlement not to mention evil marching us down to roman ruin”

Thanks to the internet and access of information, more and more people are turning away from religion and dangerous politicians like Mike Delph who claim to work on the ‘side of god’ Atheism is on the rise in the United States. Last taken in 2012 the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism found that 5% of Americans are now atheist. In 2005 73% of Americans said they were “religious” In 2012 that number had dropped to 60%. Many LGBT people are also atheists and that includes Hoosier families. Many gay atheists view religion as the central cause of homophobia in a socially constructed society. We refuse to accept the teachings of any book or sky god that does not accept us as we are. We reject the silly notion of ‘sin’ We refuse to accept any god that threatens people with burning them with fire, Revelations 21:8. We refuse talking snakes that are banned to roam the earth on their bellies, Genesis Ch31, We refuse dangerous rhetoric like spare the rod, spoil the child Proverbs 13:24, We refuse that a large group of gay men sought to gang rape two angels Gen 19. We refuse the belief that Jesus walked on water, Matthew 14:22-33 And we refuse a book that supports and regulates slavery, Leviticus 25:44-46 and Exodus 21:1-7. and ultimately we refuse to believe in virgin births, Matthew 1:18 – the beginning of the entire Jesus story. Atheist and LGBT people and their families aren’t the only ones not represented when Mike Delph or the Indiana Family Institute speaks. Many religions and beliefs reside within Indiana. By shutting out people whom are not Christian and working to implement Christian, biblical law the IFI and Mike Delph disenfranchise many groups of political power in Indiana that are not conservative christian. But that is what organized religions, especially Christianity is all about. I’m in and your out. I am special because of how I believe. I am saved and you are not. From the eyes of an atheist, religion is all about fear, fear of death, the fear of god, fear fear, fear. Religion forces believers to partake in a dangerous mental fantasy that divides humanity into good VS evil. Politicians claiming to work for god are dangerous because whom they work for never has to make an appearance. The politician can claim to ‘speak for god’ with his votes. By using feel good, warm fuzzy words like faith, family and freedom Mike Delph and IFI are pandering to patriotic, god fearing, tea party voters. People whom likely work too hard for too little but fall for the conservative Koch brothers agenda and vote against their own interests.

Whom we love and form bonds and families with is central to a person’s life. Thank goodness for a candidate like J.D. Ford. Ford is a self described progressive Democrat looking to unseat Senator Delph this November in Indiana’s 29th district. JD is gay, and supports equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, jobs for veterans, and is big on student safety and bullying prevention. He even supports bans on nuts in schools for the safety of allergic students and advocates school buses have seat belts. JD Supports required (AEDs) Automated External Defibrillators in all public schools. Mr. Ford is also looking to start a dialogue about fracking in Indiana. JD Ford is what Indiana is craving right now. Leadership that cares about the little guy and takes progressive steps to implement real policy change in this lifetime and not the next.

Requiem for my Friend, Who Did Not Die…But Instead, Stepped Into a Church

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I lost a friend recently.  No, this person didn’t die, but it feels the same to me.  I’ve known this person for a while, we got along very well, agreed on pretty much everything, and could talk for hours about things we were passionate about.  A few months ago, the conversations began to be a bit strained.  I found out he’d been having some “issues,” and on his parent’s advice decided to talk with the pastor of the rather evangelical church he’d grown up in, but had left, years ago.

Suddenly, he was trying to re-convert me.  The things we had agreed on were now bones of contention.  Freedom of religion, including my freedom FROM religion.  Human rights, equality, even morality was questioned.   Conversations dissolved into arguments.   Eventually, he told me that he could no longer allow me to try to “drag him into the swamp of sin that I had chosen to live in.”

This opened up a number of old wounds that I thought had healed.  They were, apparently only just scabbed over.  I’m usually quite resistant to comments like this, but coming from someone I thought was a close friend, someone who had been “on my side” in these issues, kinda blind-sided me.  And so the friendship ended.

I spent the last couple of weeks questioning whether or not I was doing “the right thing.”  Questioning if I should take a less forceful approach to the issues I believe in.  Wondering who the next person would be that would turn on me like this.  My questions were answered over the last week.  Some of the most amazing, strongest people I know helped to lift my spirits.  I honestly didn’t truly believe that people looked to me for inspiration, looked to me as someone they could lean on, someone who gave them strength.  But a number of people have proven me wrong.  (in a wonderful way)  I had a Facebook chat the other night with my sister in Alberta.  She had just gotten home from spending the day at Medicine Hat Pride.  Apparently, one of her friends was talking about his “favourite Facebook page” (The Equality Mantra) and she surprised him by telling him that her brother is one of the administrators of the page.  By the sound of it he was “fangirling”  (Sharon’s description) for the rest of the day!    It’s silly things like this that make you feel that what you do is worthwhile.

The question this event raised for me is this:  Why do people think that they have the right to impose their view and beliefs on other people?  Sure, you can tell me that by my postings, and blogs, I’m doing the same thing.  The difference is that you can choose to ignore my blogs, and posts, or delete or block me.  But in a face to face conversation, but to take the most deeply held personal beliefs, the front and centre convictions, the most personal truths that someone has shared with you, and to and to crush them because the no longer match your own, is a violation.

It will be difficult to place that kind of trust in others, now.  To put myself in a position in which I share my instincts, my spiritual intuitions, to open up about my deepest, most personal self.  This is the saddest outcome of the past few weeks.  Can I place myself in this position again?  Will I be safe to open my “soul” to a confidant?  Do I need to guard myself from having myself stomped on and thrown back at me because deep in my core I’m “different?”   Can I trust people not to betray my thoughts, my beliefs, my secrets?

So for now, I will mourn the loss of a friendship.  The pain will diminish, life goes on.  At the same time, I celebrate the friendships I have.  The ones that inspire me, raise me up, give me strength.  I celebrate my family, for helping to make me the man I am, for teaching me to stand up for what I believe in.  I celebrate my kids, and grandsons, because in them I see that there is hope for the future.  I’m going to use these relationships to bandage up those old wounds, and to help the pain go away.

My deepest wish is that someday every person will come to the realization that each of us is unique, each of us has a reason to be here, and each of us has equal value to each other.  We only have this life.  Let’s give it our all, and make the best of it.

Ken

Still No Justice For Billy Lucas

Billy

Sometimes there are stories in the media that aren’t just stories for me. Sometimes soul smashing details are revealed, drowning me in the victim’s pain, driving me to act, sometimes to the point of obsession.

     Such was the case of Billy Lucas. The fifteen year old perceived gay teen from Greensburg, Indiana bullied to death in 2010. Four years ago today September 9th 2010 fifteen year old Billy was found dead in a barn at his grandmother’s home. He had hung himself after years of violent harassment including hitting, punching, slapping, kicking and name calling. Student’s reports to local media revealed classmates told Billy to “go kill yourself faggot’ on multiple occasions and earlier in the day of his suicide. Often the violence and hate speech occurred in front of educators. Teachers were accused of actively participating in, and turning a blind eye to Billy’s harassment.  Upon first reading the story and seeing Billy’s photo, I was flooded with instant pain. It was as if someone had turned on a faucet. Hate, betrayal, and rejection pounded over my body, on and off for weeks. Try as I might to focus on other things, I found myself on several occasions doubled over in tears, followed by nausea and vomiting. If I happened to believe in ghosts, (which I don’t) I would of swore the ghost of Billy Lucas had taken up residency with me. Right or wrong I was ‘in’ and there was no escaping that.
     At the time I was operating under ‘GetEQUAL Indiana’ and decided to focus a good deal of energy pursuing the Greensburg Indiana school district. My other half Randy was also moved to help. We organized through Facebook and twitter a ‘phone bomb’ to ‘blow the phones up ringing’ at the school with calls, concern and complaints. People were outraged and wrote emails and reached out to the school. The internet was aglow with Billy Lucas.
      Over the years some schools have agreed to meet with us after anti-gay bullying events to discuss the school’s anti-bullying efforts. We also discuss the importance of student GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance) safe zones and programs and websites like GLSEN (Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network.) Despite numerous attempts to reach out and meet with school officials in the weeks after Billy’s suicide we were met with a wall of silence. Our emails never answered, phone calls never returned.The school and district refused to talk about their bullying policy time and time again.
     So we started attending school board meetings. Each member of the public is given two minutes at the end of meetings to speak. On multiple occasions Randy spoke, I spoke, other activists like Chelsea Grimes, the mother of Dynasty Young spoke. Dynasty made national headlines in 2012 when his mother armed him against school bullies by giving him a stun gun at Tech High School, Indianapolis Public Schools. Each spoke with equal and powerful passion but to a silent school board that wouldn’t even look at us. No ‘thank you’ when people were done speaking, not even a nod. In fact the entire school board seemed very busy shuffling their papers and looking down. It was a very eerie, dead quiet. Dynasty’s mother agreed.
      Current Greensburg teachers Iris Ramp and Darci Kovacich were implicated in a lawsuit filed on the second anniversary of Billy’s death. The wrongful death lawsuit was later settled by the school district and family. According to the filing Ramp and Kovacich witnessed students harassing Lucas on multiple occasions and never intervened. The complaint alleged the teachers encouraged and participated in harassment, ridicule and abuse of Lucas. Kovacich allegedly confined Billy to a work room closet in front of students. In other shocking news former Assistant Principal, David Strouse who allegedly had knowledge of Billy’s on-going bullying but turned a blind eye to, it is now the principal of Batesville Indiana Middle School just up I-74. In fact Mr Strouse sits on the board of directors for the Indiana Association Of School Principals.
     Mr Tom Hunter is the current Greensburg School Corp Superintendent. He was appointed in 2000 by the Greensburg School Board. He has an impressive education background and sits on various committees and boards including:
     Chairman, Greensburg chamber of commerce education committee
     Trustee Greensburg First Baptist Church
     Advisory board Greensburg community learning center
     Advisory board Envision Decatur County
     Advisory board C4 Vocational school
     Chair Greensburg board of zoning appeals
     member Greensburg planning commission
     Chair education committee, Decatur county united fund
     member Indiana Association of public school superintendents
     member American Association of school administrators
     the list goes on
     One time after weeks of calls the Superintendent Tom Hunter finally returned my call, he was rushed, I asked him about GSAs and safe spaces for LGBT youth in which he replied in a condescending tone, “Mr Stevens for me to acknowledge your question would mean that there was such a thing as a gay kid” he went on, “I do not believe there is such a thing as a gay child” I replied, “What are you talking about? Of course gay youth exist, I was a gay youth Mr Hunter” “No Mr Stevens I think not” The problem was becoming more clear to me. The school leaders, the school administration, Tom Hunter specifically didn’t acknowledge Billy’s existence as a gay youth, self identified or not. If they didn’t recognize the existence of gay youth in the first place they could never hope to identify a potential LGBT youth in crisis. I replied, “Mr. Hunter, you can’t be serious, your living in a fantasy world” He replied “nope I don’t think so” and started to hang up. With that regrettably I told him “Well maybe I will come to the school board meeting tonight and maybe when I get there I will knock some sense into ya”  Tom Hunter lost it then, “that’s a threat and now I’m calling the authorities” and he did. He took a common phrase, said in a moment of frustration and turned it into an opportunistic police frenzy.  There were multiple armed cops and media at the school board meeting. The police gave us the evil eye. The district officer denied me the use of a restroom I later discovered to be public. After the usual passionate speeches about “each child having a fundamental right to a hostile-free education we packed up our signs and left.  A Greensburg squad car followed us out of town and up I-74 towards Indianapolis for miles. I can still see the cop in our rearview mirror as the corn fields whisk by. I found it ironic this man needed so much security while he and his employees could not offer security to an out-casted, gay perceived Billy Lucas. For the record I do not believe in violence as a means for change. Violence only breeds more violence.
     In between the school board meetings we worked behind the scenes filing complaints and requesting meetings. Complaints were turned into the Indiana State Department Of Education, The Office Of Civil Rights, The Greensburg Police Department and Decatur County Child Protective Services about the alleged mistreatment of Billy Lucas by school staff. I have never heard back on these complaints because I am not related to Billy but advocates can file complaints on the behalf of other people.  In the weeks following the death of Billy, at least ten more deaths of gay youth would shock the country and spark the formation of the “It Gets Better Project” – founder Dan Savage and Terry Miller. Last year I had a successful meeting with the Indiana Department Of Education. Now thousands of Indiana educators have valuable access to GLESN, the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project via the IDOE website for teaching professionals.
     The small town of Greensburg Indiana population 11,640 is no stranger to anti-gay controversy. In May 2012 a chilling video went viral that surfaced from the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg. In the video an obviously coached young child sings “I know the bible’s right somebody’s wrong…Aint no homos gonna make it to heaven” followed by cheers and a standing ovation by the congregation (Greensburg Residents). The video drew the ire of gay groups for weeks including GetEQUAL Indiana. In fact a town member threatened to shoot me for my sign in front of several Greensburg police officers. The townsman was not armed but lived only a couple houses away from the hate church. His comment went unchecked by cops but officers did ask me for my drivers license. I refused because I wasn’t breaking the law. I was on public land, just not the little fenced in enclosure they made all the gays stand in on the side street of the church. The cops backed down, as we raged against the town and church.
     I’ve since moved on from that hateful, exclusionary town and not since has a story affected me on such a profound level. If Billy was here today and to kids like Billy I would say: Please hang in there, embrace your quirks and love yourself first and foremost. There are people out here willing to fight for your right to exist. There is a wonderful, largely loving community waiting to accept, embrace and love you back if you can just hang on.
     In preparing for this blog entry I reached out to Tom Blessing of Frazier law firm: The Lucas family attorney. I asked him if he wished to express any thoughts coming up on the anniversary of the Billy Lucas suicide. Mr. Blessing stated per our phone conversation: “I hope by taking cases it makes a difference but it doesn’t. I’m frustrated. Schools blind eye bullycide and pay lip service to school safety but schools never tell who, what , when, where or why. The public is met with a wall of silence. All I hear is excuses, excuses. “boys will be boys” “we can’t control kids” The only thing that gets attention is lawsuits but schools have general liability coverage. Settlements do not come out of their budget, I get calls all the time.”
     You can see by his resume, Tom Hunter isn’t just a school superintendent that gives shelter to gay bashing teachers. He has his hands in the Greensburg chamber of commerce, education and church committees, charities, the Greensburg planning commission and is the chair of the Greensburg board of zoning appeals.  Tom Hunter is a central figure in the Greensburg power structure. He oversees millions of dollars while his religiosity fueled ambitions deny the existence of gay children. One might think this dangerous man might seek higher office someday.
     Greensburg schools is a tax payer funded public institution. There absolutely cannot be such a thing as untouchables when it comes to our kids. It is an outrage that teachers Iris Ramp and Darci Kovavich are still on the job after all of this time. Teachers who harass, intimidate or turn a blind eye to anti-gay bullying and lock kids in work closets at school don’t belong on the job.  Denying the existence of ‘gay kids’ and denying the formation of GSAs and safe spaces in the Greensburg Middle and High Schools is absolutely unacceptable.
     At the time of the writing, despite Indiana Sunshine Laws and the fact it’s a public school that receives tax payer money,  the Billy Lucas lawsuit is a settled case.  Greensburg School Corp and the lawyer for the schools, Thomas E Wheeler, absolutely refuse to release simple information like if the middle and/or High school at Greensburg have GSAs complete with safe zones. Thomas E Wheeler was however interested in misdirecting me to alleged domestic charges in the Lucas family home in a fairly long email.  Mr. Wheeler seems uninterested in acknowledging Billy’s right to a hostile-free education in a public school
     For tolerating such unprofessional conduct by employees, that are supposed to offer safe haven to our kids, on this, the 4th anniversary of the Billy Lucas suicide, I call upon the Greensburg Indiana School Corp, school board to immediately fire Tom Hunter, Iris Ramp and Darci Kovavich and release adequate proof Greensburg Middle and High Schools have active GSAs complete with safe zones.  Send a strong message that anti-gay harassment will not be tolerated in our public schools. If Tom Hunter cannot do his job as superintendent of public schools because of his religious views, he should immediately be removed from his post as Superintendent. By denying the existence of LGBT people and kids, Tom Hunter is using his position and children as a political weapon.
     The bigoted message is loud and clear in Greensburg Indiana, but Billy Lucas deserved a chance to thrive without being harassed and intimidated. Schools have a legal obligation to protect all children and offer them a safe space to learn. If that means we need the national guard to escort LGBT kids from class to class, then so be it. LGBT kids nailed inside the closet in Greensburg Indiana deserve a hostile-free education where they can be themselves, focus on learning, and retreat to an LGBT friendly designated safe space if need be.