Food Insecurity In The LGBT Community And What You Can Do About It – David Stevens

     According to the Williams Institute LGBT people are disproportionately food insecure. Last surveyed 2.2 million or 25% of LGBT adults experienced a time in the past year where they did not have enough money to feed themselves or family. I am one of those people.
In fact the second half of virtually every month my family struggles just to eat. My husband and I live on minimal social security disability benefits but somehow make $50 too much to qualify for any food stamp assistance. We are not alone but it feels as though we are,  shame and stigma surrounds the food insecure.
The affluent grapples with food insecurity also. Just on different levels. To explain away why some people go hungry, some conclude there must be a reason such as laziness or stupidity to justify it. But my husband isn’t lazy or stupid and neither am I. We are both educated but disabled queer folks struggling just to survive like so many others.
     To survive and feed our family we are forced to food pantries with long lines every month. Sometimes the wait for a couple bags of non fresh groceries and canned goods is up to two and three hours. To qualify for the assistance there is always a degrading interview where you supply things like income verification, your lease and utility bills. With this process some, including the homeless are often left out of the loop. Often times I get a sense of judgment as the interviewer scans us and our documentation. Perhaps it is my imagination or perhaps the subject of hunger is so taboo and painful, people would rather place judgment to explain it. Never the less it’s judgment and long lines or go without, so we press on.
     I chose to write about our wrenching food insecurity not to seek pity but to help expose a deeply relevant topic too many in the queer community face.
On July 18th 2016 the headlines in the New York Times read: A Hunger Crises In The LGBT Community. And is true that LGBTQ adults are 1.6 times more likely to report food shortages.
     It’s mind-numbing to be so poor for there is never a break. No vacations, no entertainment, no movies, no dining out. There is no respite where one momentarily steps into wealth. You either have money or you don’t and right now many don’t.
     Until the day comes when and if poverty is systematically removed from society by corporate powerbrokers there are a few things people can do to help relieve those in need.
1) Organize food drives specifically targeting the LGBTQ community. Canned foods are good but fresh food, especially proteins are even better.
2)  Sponsor a LGBT family or seek out LGBT people in need. Call your local LGBT center or LGBT food panty and ask if you can sponsor a family at the holidays or different intervals throughout the year. You will literally make someone’s day and life much easier and better.
3) Remember poor people have pets. They provide us with love and warmth all year round. Don’t forget many food pantries take pet donations in the form of cat food, dog food and kitty litter.
4) Erase all pre conceived notions of what poverty looks like. Queer people are experts at hiding, this includes being able to mask poverty.
5) Don’t pass judgment. It will only impede your ability to be of service to mankind and it’s just not helpful.
6) Be creative. In tackling poverty the sky is the limit. If you have the will, resources and time, createyour own organization or 501c charity.
     And finally, to be sure to reach your target audience including the homeless, if at all possible shed unreasonable documentation requirements. After all if you want to be able to help the most people possible this is only reasonable. It creates unnecessary barriers to receiving help and really is a huge waste of valuable time and resources. When being of service a” no questions asked”  policy is the best way to approach and to help the maximum number of individuals. Good luck!
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An Atheist Evolves – Spirituality Under Construction

spiritualpinkpanther     I was raised; partially at least, by a verbally abusive adult. This person whom identified as a Southern Baptist
had me read the bible frequently as a child, although she had zero credibility to me. For every wrong turn I made I was told I was “going to hell and burn eternally.” Another Christian fundamentalist, family member I overheard speak of “worrying about David and faggotry” when I was nine years old. This was hurtful and devastating to my young ears.

I prayed to “God and Jesus” on a nightly basis in tears for years to remove my being gay. This is how I know that I was born gay. If God really wanted me to not be gay it would of been removed from me. God knows I tried, well actually begged. Perhaps if you are LGBT there are chances you have also experienced similar language and threats from “loved ones” whom claim to know the mind of God?

However instead of drawing me, and perhaps you: into an all loving energy, as I grew older I rejected and even mocked all forms of religion as “foolish” and “imagination run wild”. The few times I as a child I went to church all I could ever notice was the out stretched hands of a preacher asking for money. The particular church I went to in the 80s gave children large candy bars on a silver platter upon exit from Sunday School. This was reason enough for me to go.

Up until very recently though, I had become such a hardline atheist that my basic belief was that human beings were nothing more thank a walking, talking, thinking pile of organized meat and bones. I, like some other LGBT atheists in recent years adopted in your face confrontation and shaming of all religions, especially Christianity; both in person and online.If all your life, all you ever hear from “Christians” is about “homosexuality” and how this “All Knowing,””All Loving,” “God” was going to punish me with eternal “hellfire” one might understand the repelling of religious mindsets and institutions.

But something serious lacks from any religious movement that exudes a message of love on Sunday and then uses fear, threats, hate, intolerance, exclusion and violence the rest of the week. On the flip side of that same token? Shaming and embarrassing Christians or any other person of religion will never sell nor inspire free thinkers to emerge. As Hillary Clinton so eloquently stated in her famous “Gay Rights Are Human Rights” Speech. “Nobody ever changed their mind as a result of force.”

By my nature I am an agitator and aggravator. And this past year has brought me some of the greatest stress of my adult life. Few people understand my particular type of radical activism and shocking words on my bullhorn to be street theater and I have paid some real costs that I am not at liberty to discuss at this time but I can tell you that on a couple occasions I have been forced to stare death in the face and have been shaken to my core. When people say they find God in times of great distress, for me that has been at least somewhat true. Being shaken so deeply one starts to think about God, spirits, afterlife, spirit guides and spirituality.

So this is where I am. I cannot accept at this point that one man sits on a cloud judging billions of people for which path they have chosen to their God. No jealous Gods interested in popularity contests burning those different from Him interest me. No God that judges people for natural things such as erections and sex. Being Gay is natural and sex is natural. LGBT people come from the natural world so that makes it natural. This is important to say because it is true.

For me, if God if real, is most likely a female energy and is our global collective conscious. God is love and light and total unconditional love, flaws and all. God is in you and is in me. Each time we chose to act out of love and service instead of ego and selfish needs, that is God. Each time we show grace where grace & forgiveness is not due, that is God. Each time we stand up for the little guy, the underdogs, the marginalized; that is God.

My spiritual awakening started recently and is more about spirits and spirit guides and protection. Opening myself just to the possibility of a loving God has set off some of the most vivid imagery. I imagine being struck by lightening, beautiful, blue, green and golden lights encircle me, protect me, and gives me strength. Some may call it hocus pocus and that is okay because this is my struggle and not theirs. My relationship with God is not out of self importance but out of the desire for God to be real and working for us – not against us. To put it simply I am evolving on spirituality.

There is nothing wrong with activists using agitation and aggravation but to dismiss “educate and advocate” is to dismiss the other half of the formula for successful and real change. LGBTQI, Atheists only partaking in angry activism that involves throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks might fail and miss their goal. Belittling people and shaming any person will always fail. Angry activism while maybe great street theater isn’t changing hearts and minds.

What opened the door for my spiritual awakening was not threats of violence and hellfire. What opened the door for my newly sprung spirituality has been the work of friends, fellow activists, and from believers of all faiths offering me the space to grow and to be who I am, without pressure, without damnation but with grace people still wanted to be my friend. I try to remain open to the message and not the messenger always and my life and mental health has only gotten better for it. No church is ever needed to reach the spiritual realm. Mother Earth, God, Nature, whatever you choose to call Her.

As LGBTQI Activists we’ve been fighting for Rights and tolerance for decades. We demand the space to be ourselves, unapologetically and for good reason. We have even gone so far as to “come out” and politicize our lives for our cause. However, there has to be room for everyone. How does it look for me to demand tolerance If I’m not willing to offer you that same respect?

If you must stick a label on me I am a spiritual agnostic. Agnostic means I do not know if there are Gods and spirits or not. I just feel better when I choose to believe there is something bigger than me. I can choose to be the bigger man. I can choose to respect you and any non-violent religion that people find central to their lives. I can choose to not berate and shame people looking for something more out there.

It was intolerance and hate of gay people introduced to me as a young kid that propelled me away from all forms of God and it was intolerance, hate, and exclusion that allowed me to shame those that seek outside spiritual interventions. In such a painful world filled with violence, especially towards LGBT people, don’t make the same mistakes I have. As activists whether we like it or not, people are looking to you, looking for you to lead and possibly to even inspire them. It’s kind of difficult to inspire when we leave people out. When we create the space that allows for others to be more human; we are in-turn creating the space for ourselves to be more human.

When we allow all a seat at the table, unconditionally it is only then that we are walking the talk and getting down to the real hardcore business of changing hearts and minds, One person at a time.

Dear Brave Trans Lady

transbeat

Dear brave Trans lady, I do not know your name.

Dear brave Trans lady, what’s happening is a shame
You see I’ve heard your cries and screams of terror; in the
wee hours of the night, stumbling upon you was an error.
  I can only guess at the horrific scene, that drove you from
 your homeland, hoping on America you could lean.
But no haven have you found in your new Indy city.
The  beatings continue, the Hoosier homophobia isn’t pretty.
But you keep coming out demanding to be free
 no English and Asian, you refuse to flee.
Your audacity to live your authentic self, Inspires me
and others to always be ourselves.
The ugly of this country has been exposed to you early,
 bruised and cracked, it’s absolutely nothing pearly.
 Not all of humanity is sinister and dark but why would
you believe that; when the state leaves its mark?
Please hang in there change is on it’s way
 No beatings, no harassment, it will be a beautiful day.

Thoughts on the Oscars 2015

oscars     In general I’m not a big fan of Hollywood and celebrity status. Although I love a good horror, documentary or animation.

Often I’m often turned off just by the concept of celebrity alone. People who make their living pretending to be one of us average folk in society.

     Thin and beautiful millionaires convene once a year for the Academy awards and give each other gold trophies, thank god and advocate world peace.
There is no doubt in the potential power of celebrity in concept of platform and audience alone but too often I am disappointed. When I
think about world problems and celebrities I wonder why there are so many stars with so much money, resources and platforms that
go unused? Why aren’t celebrities more of a driving force for social change?  Of course as a gay man I’m happy to see an out gay man host
the Oscars. It’s a cultural shift in our society in visibility alone.  For too long Hollywood erased gay men. Rock Hudson, Robert Reed and Liberace come to mind. All gay male celebrities that died in the closet from HIV.  So yes I was content with Neil Patrick Harris. Although I’ve never been a NPH fan or watched his work I was excited about the possibilities of a gay man, live with an audience of 37.3 million at his feet and a room full of money.  However I was only to be let down by poop jokes and a half naked NPH standing in his briefs; amounting to what some on twitter described as desperate. Tegan and Sara, lesbian sister singers whom I usually enjoy, performed a horrible song called “Everything is Awesome” the sound was funky and it’s just an untrue statement in these times because everything is not awesome. The awful sound and swirling, plastic legos dancing around the stage and audience was appropriately fake, and plastic just like that song.  One of the lego dancers gave Oprah a fake, plastic, Oscar award. All performers knowing of the ire the Oscars were drawing over race. All knowing not a single acting nominee was a person of color. Giving Oprah a fake Oscar felt too staged and desperate for blackness. At one point Neil Patrick Harris put the microphone in the faces of two random blonde, white women, sitting in different sections who both turned out to be ‘seat fillers’ NPH seemed horrified the two people he picked were seat fillers. I was interested in why his subconscious chose two, white, blonde,thin women? Even more interesting knowing the controversy around the Oscars, Why were the seat fillers white, blonde, thin beautiful women?
     Openly bisexual singer Lady GaGa for whom we have long depended to bring the edge and a beat performed a slow, classical like tribute to The Sound Of Music. A musical, A movie not every gay man enjoys believe it or not. A musical shot before my time, I struggled to understand why GaGa whom is way younger than me would choose such a number but I was weaned on techno, dance, and rock. For me, musicals are like a joke that I’m not in on. I struggle to enjoy any aspect of them and have never understood the almost cult like following The Sound Of Music has with some gay guys. Likewise people often don’t understand my bias towards musicals.  I have a hard enough time paying attention, combine any slow music with the long night and long speeches and it becomes a job. If I was directing the Oscars I would insist on upbeat, happy, or energetic musical numbers to offset the long night, long speeches and to wake people up at home.  If I was in charge of the Oscars I might request Oscar winners say their thank yous to 25 different people via twitter or press release, after the show.
     German Playwrite Bertolt Breecht once said “Art is not a mirror to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it” and Austrian writer Ernst Fischer once wrote “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful must also reflect decay”.  I don’t know about you but I was born and raised in the city in a post segregated school and neighborhood. My playmates, classmates and teachers were often black. At no period in my 40 years alive have I lived anywhere where blacks sing, dance and deliver gold gifts to rich white people.
     There was supposed to be a red carpet protest but regrettably it was cancelled at the last minute per request of the Director of Selma.  On twitter I pushed the boycott organized by black twitter where I was met by comments like “blacks have to earn Oscars on merit” But how can you be nominated if there are no roles for you?  Why was Selma the only black movie? And consider the budget difference in black movies. Selma was only budgeted for $20 million while American Sniper had $60 million to work with. And why are there black movies to begin with? because traditional, white Hollywood refuses to portray the reality that many of us live in racially diverse neighborhoods.
     Neil Patrick Harris didn’t perform poorly but I wasn’t razzle dazzled. I can’t help but wonder, does NPH, a rich white gay, famous since childhood have any idea what it is like to be a gay youth homeless on the streets as I was and thousands of lgbt youth are now? Does Neil Patrick Harris have any idea what its like to struggle with food insecurity as many of us do?  Why does it seem like if every rich, famous, connected gay could organize with Cyndi Lauper at the FortyToNone Org we could start to put an end to homeless LGBT youth? And while we are on the topic why was Cher the only celebrity to say anything to Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas about SB202? How many movie tickets, t-shirts, books, recordings etc do we have to buy for everyone in Hollywood to tweet Arkansas?  Why don’t celebrities care about us? Why aren’t they all hopping on a plane to defend the lgbt community riding off into the sunset to save the day together? I mean if they really wanted to; they could do that, but seriously a tweet would of been nice.
     “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850 — Bravo John Legend.  2,266,800 people are in US, federal, state and private for profit prisons.  1 in 31 people in the United States is in the grips of the criminal justice system. The highest rates in the world thanks in large part to the war on drugs. Many of these prisoners are in for non-violent crimes and 1 in 31 also potentially represents 1 in 31 families that are shattered by the government due to our national twisted obsession with punishment.
     Depression and suicide is rampant. According to the World Health Org approximately one million people per year are dying of suicide.  An increase of 60% in the past 45 years. Suicide did get a shout out from best documentary short subject, producer Dana Perry. Her film is Crisis Hotline.
     3.5 million people are homeless in the United States, many of whom work at least part-time if not multiple jobs just to stay alive. 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty now, the highest the poverty rate has been in 54 years! The creative ways people are coping with their situations deserve Hollywood’s attention.  If you believe in listening to the message and not the messenger, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to equal pay for women but her comments were overshadowed by backstage comments about gays and people of color finally helping women for a change of pace. And again she is a millionaire complaining about her pay but hey, at least she got a conversation started!
     Activism is alive and thriving in LGBT rights, marijuana and #BlackLivesMatter among other movements. Washington DC is divided. Many people are angry. The country is polarized, black and gay power is palpable, these are very exciting times we are living in where things are rapidly changing.  If Fischer or Brecht are correct about art reflecting society good and bad, Hollywood is doing a miserable job in my opinion. Academy membership is 94% white and 76% male. These numbers are totally unacceptable. However these conditions are producing some amazing and resilient people who will help shape our countries landscape. It may not be pretty, romantic or funny but these are the conditions millions of us are living under. But it’s the truth and people like the truth and what’s familiar. People like to see their lives reflected back in the arts. I can only guess but it’s probably why reality television is so popular. Even though most people know that reality tv is often scripted or staged people are clinging to the hope  that some moments are real and authentic.
     The arts and the movies may sometimes have the power to change hearts and minds by storytelling but not if that story is placed too far out of reach. We can’t all be lawyers and Doctors and that movie has already played. The only thing close to reality drama in my book is Empire. A new, groundbreaking show on Fox that reflects, angry, black, gay, homophobic, and violent America. It’s an urban jungle out here and people want something real they can hold onto. Something that represents them and their struggles.
     In the end the Oscars were punished with their lowest  viewership since 2009 and a decrease of 17% from just last year.  To make matters worse; despite her lengthy career in show business, Joan Rivers, Queen of the red carpet itself was left out  from the death roll montage. Perhaps the academy knew it would be controversial and felt that controversy was Joan’s calling card.  The twitter outrage was one final controversy in the life of Joan Rivers. The culprit most likely, unfortunately is the Hollywood boys club. Johnny Carson locked her out of any recognition as a serious, legendary entertainer and in a final dig of disrespect so did the academy. Something you would expect from an academy that is 94% white and 76% male.
     The Academy Awards have the potential to change, evolve and diversify becoming something people of all backgrounds can enjoy but only if movie makers themselves have the courage to take those steps so that Hollywood’s future is diverse, bright (and dark) and symbolic of the actual times we live in.

Is Western Union Blocking Financial Aid To Gay Uganda?

Uganda

Is Western Union blocking financial aid to Gay Uganda? Fred Kwint of the Netherlands sure thinks so.

Two Years ago Fred was raising thousands of Euro per year online through a GoFundMe account out of the Netherlands. The money raised, was routinely wired to gays in Uganda via Western Union.

Suddenly, the gay Ugandan whom was receiving the funding from Mr. Kwint was arrested and beaten by Ugandan secret police. According to the anonymous Ugandan source, multiple questions where asked about donors from outside Uganda whom were accused of seeking to “spread homosexuality” via wire transfers.

Fred states that Western Union stopped all wire transfers in his name and began asking for extra information to process his future transfers; such
as Fred’s source of income and for photo copy id’s of gay Ugandans needing the assistance. Information that Fred would not be able to give.

Mr. Kwint would like to continue to raise money for gay Ugandans in need but he is being stonewalled by Western Union. Mr Kwint has filed an official complaint with Western Union but has yet to hear back on it. At the time of this writing I have reached out to Western Union for comment. Western Union’s only response back to me was a blank email a couple hours later.

Western Union only scores a 30 on the HRC Equality Index Score. HRC has reached out to Western Union to participate in the Equality Index Score survey multiple times but Western Union has always ignored it.

So what about you? Have you or your friends encountered any trouble wiring money to Uganda through Western Union? Good or bad experiences with Western Union and gay Uganda to report? Please leave your experience in the comments section below.

What To Do With That Anti-Gay Award

antigayaward

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.

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.