A Gay Man Gains Perspective

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned

A Gay Man Gains Perspective

 

 

Two years ago, a life changing thing happened to a young man. It was perhaps the biggest, scariest yet thrilling adventure of a certain person’s life. His life had many struggles, some even hidden so deep down he didn’t understand until later in life. Even now fear still crouches at his door waiting to devour him, and well, to be honest- fear almost won out. That person was me. Two years ago, I took a leap of courage and came out as gay. Since that day, I have come to look at my life and situation as an adventure. Like any adventure in life, it has been bared with many foes and many dangers. I am grateful for all of it; even the bad. That is a tough thing to do, accepting the bad things in life as something to be grateful for. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to accept that. I would have thought a person was crazy to suggest liking the bad just as much as the good.

Five years into the past, we are looking at a different me. I was selfish back then: only looking out for myself. The personal lives of my friends didn’t matter to me. Imagine yourself trapped inside your own universe, all alone, with nothing but your self-pity and woes being the center of your everyday life. That’s how it was. It was that way because selfish, self-centered me had nothing else he wanted to do but keep a secret hidden. My life became so focused on my fears that it drove away a lot of people. No one wanted to be around me, and now, looking back on all that has happened- they were right to do so. By letting darkness, fear and anger to crowd me, and wanting to come out of the pit but refusing to take that leap of bravery, it had damaged me- almost to the core. I was consumed with hatred. I couldn’t allow myself to think even one positive thought. I was making myself the prey; the target, just waiting on the front lines for someone to play the predator card. In the winter of 2010, I met a guy, unexpectedly. We connected with each other through some close friends of mine, and we became friends.We were hanging out pretty regularly, but in 2011 during one of our routine conversations, some heavy truths were revealed to me. He had kept a record of our recent conversations at the time. He told me how selfish I was. He emailed me every word of our previous conversations, including the one we were having. He was right. Everything was about me. The whole conversation was completely one sided. He would try and talk about his schooling; I shot it down, started talking about my woes. He would try and talk about something positive, and I would always find a way to turn it around and make it negative. Basically, I was like a thorn in his side. My heart just sank at that moment. I felt a terror come over me I had never felt. I was fixing to lose a friend; the only friend I had. For a few brief moments, I found out what it was like living in my small, one sided, little universe. He had given me acceptance and understanding. He knew I was gay and he accepted me. He was honest, and it hurt when reality struck. I knew right then if I couldn’t change my bitter heart, loneliness would be my only friend. But I had become so bitter I didn’t know how to find my way back. Fortunately, I was able to save my friendship, and we slowly began to rebuild our bridge. But it wasn’t enough.

There was something else that needed to be done, and I was afraid to do it. I was afraid of what people would say or think. I was afraid people would fear me and cast me out of their lives. After a near attempt at suicide by trying to drink poison, I knew at that moment it had to be done. For the sake of my sanity, and my life was on the line. I told everyone I knew that I was gay. That very moment, after I had made it known to everyone that I was gay, and could actually say that word out loud- all that bitterness, hatred, self-loathing and fear left me in an instant. Just like The Flash, the monster that crept within me was gone. But I didn’t know then that it was only the beginning. I soon faced rejection, phobia of my orientation, and with some family members I was even denounced and ostracized.

Presently, for the past 2 years, starting in 2013- I have been writing blogs for The Pink Panther Movement. Lately, I have really felt discouraged. Since I debuted with my first blog for PPM in the spring of 2013, I didn’t feel worthy to be writing alongside all these people on the blog team who have been through so much. I read their blogs all the time as each one surfaces, and I see so much more they’ve been through, and all I have to worry about is an uncle who lives over 900 miles away, and the occasional religious attacks I get that don’t happen very often. These people who write these blogs, not all of them are LGBT, but they suffer just as much. Yet they come on top of the discrimination every time, and even stronger than before. And they have faced some true devastation. A few weeks ago, I was ready to throw in the towel. I wanted to give up thinking I had nothing to give that was of value. But one evening last week, I was talking to the very same friend who revealed the harsh truth four years ago. I told him about wanting to leave the PPM movement. He was surprised I was even considering it. He asked me a question that took me off guard. He asked me if I realized how far I had come since 2010. I asked him what he meant. He laughed about it, and for a moment I didn’t understand what was so funny. He told me I didn’t even see it. He told me how much I had changed in the last five years. He reminded me that what I’ve gone through was bad, and it was a serious situation at the time. But it doesn’t seem so bad anymore, because I came out on top. I was shocked! I had lived through my worst nightmares and didn’t even realize I had conquered them. So twice now this close friend of mine has given me a reason to keep going, and keep fighting for a better future. But as I look back on those five years, I have to be grateful for all of it. I’m grateful for my uncle, and even all the religious people who parade up and down sidewalks protesting. I am grateful for all of it. Why, you may ask? It is because, if those things in the past hadn’t happened- I wouldn’t be here today. The special friend of mine gave me a reason to fight for a better me, and a better future. My uncle taught me that forgiveness is important. All those religious people who scorn me on the streets with their picket signs, they give me a reason to be proud of who I am.

All of those people throughout those five years helped me to become who I am today. Some were good- others were bad, but I needed all of it. So that is why I am grateful for the bad things in life just as much as the good. Because I know I will always come out on top. When you face your greatest nightmares and overcome them, you can triumph over anything.

So, any of you in the LGBT community, and it doesn’t even have to be that you are LGBT. Perhaps you have a gay son or daughter you have chosen to accept, or perhaps you were horribly bullied in high school. It can be anything. When you feel yourself doubting your true potential, and you question whether you have anything you can give to the world, I encourage you to look back on your life. Remember the people who walked the path with you, both good and bad. Let the good people remind you that you are worth something, and let the bad people remind you why you can’t give up the fight. Each person on this earth is unique in their own way, and sometimes you can be so unaware of how special you really are.

Stay encouraged!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No Man’s Land: Notes from the Bisexual Experience

 

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“Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, Here I am , Stuck in the middle with you…” –Stealers Wheel

Sometimes I wonder how far we’ve really come. Oh sure, in the legal sense, we’ve gone a mile a minute; more and more states have marriage equality and it looks like the Supreme Court may be gearing up to settle the question once and for all, our reflection is posted all over Main Street USA, with Lady Gaga racking up millions in record sales and Glee coming in on top of the ratings. Hell, even our opponents seem to be on the retreat, with the notorious and once powerful National Organization for Marriage (NOM) being reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves, their primary activity these days is sending out emails begging for money.

But somehow in all this excitement and seemingly forward movement, I feel left out. I’m a bisexual dude, the “B” in LGBT you might say, and to quote Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get no respect at all.

Bisexuality is a strange thing in America, it seems if you’re bisexual and you’re female, it’s somewhat respected (manly because heterosexual guys fantasize about having two women at the same time), but if you’re male and bisexual, you get a lot of stick from all sides.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, when I starting coming out publicly (a process that took seven years and towards the end, enough liquor to float the liver of Charles Bukowski) I got a lot of flak from gay guys. I heard it all, “Oh you’re just too afraid to come all the way out of the closet”, “It’s just a phase”, “You’re just experimenting” or the biggest kick in the balls, “You’re just riding our coattails, you’ve never suffered for your sexuality!”

And this attitude isn’t just confined to the gay guys I knew in Indiana, noted gay journalist Dan Savage at one point even denied the existence of bisexual guys. He has since amended his position and has acknowledged our existence.

But beyond just questioning my very existence, once someone accepted the fact I was bisexual, it opened up a lot of other odd questions. A primary one I got was just “how bisexual” I was, you know, did I dig mainly dudes and just sleep with the occasional woman or was it the other way around, that sort of trip. Was I mainly gay? Was I mainly straight? I’m neither, I’m bi, I’m a guy of options. It depends on the person as to whether or not I’m attracted to them.

Apparently I’m expected to be fifty-fifty, total Kinsey Scale middle to be accepted as “truly” bisexual.

The deepest cut of this erasure and confusion comes close to home for me. Like many LGBT folks, coming out to my family was the hardest part and some of them still don’t know. But one person I didn’t want to find out was my grandfather. He’s very conservative and pretty stuck in his ways, especially when it comes to LGBT folks. I had a lot of respect for him; he taught me the art of telling a really good story and how to take pride in turning an honest dollar. The last thing I wanted was for him to disown me because of my sexuality.

Well one night earlier this year, I was out to dinner with my Aunt Debbie, who could be counted as “liberal”, at least by my family’s standards, and the subject of my sexuality came up. I mentioned that when I came out to my mother, the one thing we agreed on was that we wouldn’t tell grandma and grandpa. Well apparently grandpa knew.

She told me my cousin Morgan (her son) had been over at our grandparents’ house with a friend of his and grandpa was showing them some family photos. When grandpa flipped to my picture, he said to my cousin’s friend, “This is W.T., he’s gay, we just don’t talk about it” and moved on.

Now on one hand, I’m glad grandpa didn’t disown me or have another heart attack, but on the other hand, I resented being called gay, because I’m not. I’m not straight either for that matter. This black and white, one way or another bit really frustrated me.

As much as it hurts to admit, part of this erasure does fall on some members of the bisexual community. I’ve known people who are bisexual who end up in a long-term relationship with a man or a woman and they just publicly identify as either gay or straight, whatever the case may be. I’ve asked a few of them why and the response is usually the same, “Oh I got tired of explaining it, I got tired of the hassle.” Damn it, brothers and sisters, hoist that bisexual flag high and proud! Don’t identify yourself one way or another just because folks won’t accept it!

I don’t want to be all heavy here, so I will leave with a laugh. When I finally finished coming out publicly, a lot of my friends were surprised, telling me, “You’re bi? Huh, never saw it coming.” My response was, “Really guys? Have you ever been to the liquor store with me? It takes me half an hour to pick out a damn drink! I’ve always liked my variety and options.”

Coattail Rider Blues

(By Walter Beck)

Dancing on a tightrope
Strung across two worlds,
Time warping on a high wire
Over a sea split by colors.

Yeah, I’m a fence rider,
Leaning one way or another,
With the person holding on
Absolutely terrified
I’m gonna jump ship
And swim in the other side.

Boots boogieing on a thin rail,
No pan tapping to hold my rhythm.
I’m a coin toss
Betting on heads and tails,
Fizzling out and plummeting down
Into the melding middle stripe
Strung between two worlds.

 

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Three Steps That Will Save Your Life Open Letter to Andrew Caldwell

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My heart was broken this week, but not in any way anyone would expect. A video was messaged to me from a close friend who really suggested that I watch it. The video was recorded during a very wild revival at a Christian church. A timid, young man named Andrew Caldwell was asked to come up front. The preacher asked him what he needed to change. He grabbed the microphone and declared he wasn’t gay anymore. He said “I like women. I love women.” Over and over he said it. “I will not carry a purse, I will not put on makeup, and I love women.” He began dancing very wild like, and as he danced, several men came up and danced around him, leaving him in the center of the circle. He began to run up and down the center aisle, and when he was finished, he was given 200 dollars and he sat back down.

Normally, when I see a video like this I usually let it go. I usually don’t consider it my business to police people who decide to go back into the closet. I’ve been down the hard road just as they have. I know how hard it is to keep yourself in the spot light. That is not what troubled me in the least. When I saw that video, I saw the man I was last year. There was the look of terror in his eyes. His entire body was trembling, and while he danced, he was crying. I’m not talking about a few tears. No, I saw a broken man. I saw a man who could hardly stand to live any longer. I saw a man who had given up on the chance of anyone truly loving him. I saw a man who was forced and paid by the church to say he wasn’t gay, when all the while he knew it was a lie.

I have decided to reach out to this man the only way I know how… Through an open letter.

Dear Andrew Caldwell, I love you. You don’t know me, but you don’t have to know someone to care about them. Only a year ago today, I would not have been able to write this letter to you. I would not have been able to say the words I am gay. I gave you those three powerful words in the beginning for a reason. I love you was the very thing that saved my life. The words I love you, spoken by a true, sincere person, was the very thing that kept me from suicide. I meant what I said. I love you. I am the youngest and only son in the family with two older sisters, but if I had the chance to have a younger brother, I would imagine him somewhat like you. I will tell you another thing. You are beautiful. You are beautiful just the way that you are. So what if you want to carry a purse. So what if you want to wear makeup. That is who you are, and who you are is just fine. You are not damaged. You were made perfect. You are exactly how nature intended for you to be. Believe me I know the look that I saw in your eyes, because it’s the same look I gave myself in the mirror for years.  I gave you three words in the beginning, now I will give three steps that will save your life, and I just helped with one of them.

  1. Believe that you are loved, and that you are perfect and beautiful just the way that you are.
  2. Be nothing more than exactly who you are.
  3. Be true to yourself. Do not let anyone tell you that you are damaged or a lost cause.

I hope you are able to read this letter, Andrew. Just as one man did with me, I know that I am loved. Now I can spread the love chain on to you.

You’re in my thoughts. Should you ever find this, please, come out of the shadows. Your hanging off the edge of a cliff, and my hand is reaching out. If you look hard enough, soon you may find others offering their hand to you. When that happens… Take it.

A Challenge to my “Family and Friends of Faith”

Ken challenge

Here is just a small sampling of some of the headlines I’ve picked out this week.  Trust me, this is a small sample.

Bryan Fischer:  ‘The Mark of the Beast Today is the Rainbow Flag’

‘Vatican Changes Actual Translation of Draft That ‘Welcomed’ Gays’

‘Top Vatican official tells parents to shun gay relatives’

‘Duck Dynasty’ Star: You Can’t Catch STDs from ‘Biblically Correct Sex’

Amongst these headlines, and the large amount of others just like it, can you guess how many I was able to find by religious people which did NOT promote hatred of another group?  That’s right,  none.  Not a one, Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  Are you getting the point?

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some headlines that include acceptance from some smaller church bodies, such as:
‘Hillsong Church Pastors Won’t Speak Out On Gays Because Jesus Didn’t Either’
And the blogs released over the last few weeks, one from a Christian pastor and one from a rabbi explaining what they would do if they found out one (or more) of their kids came out. (Spoiler: They’d accept, and continue loving their children, no matter what.)

For the longest time, I’ve been attempting to get people who tell me “Not all (insert religion of choice here) are like that.  There are many of us who don’t feel that way.”  Whether it’s about gay rights, marriage equality, a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices, any number of issues, it seems that the right-wing fundamentalist minority are the only ones we hear from.

When are we going to see a headline that reads:

“Vatican Opens Up to Gay Congregants.”

“Muslim Leadership Accept Women as Leaders.”

“Mormon Tabernacle Hosts Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony.”

Oh yeah…never.

I don’t expect the world’s religions to change overnight, but I would like just a bit of proof that not all people of faith are as hate filled as their extremists are.  If you’re going to tell me that you’re  ”not all like that,” do me a favour, put your money where your mouth is.  Get together with your friends who are of the same mind as your, and start to make some noise.  Hold very public rallies, telling the world that your particular faith group is truly one of love, that accepts ALL people, regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual identity…  and get yourself in the headlines.

Start a Facebook page that shows you ARE affirming.

We live in a world in which you can be a complete stranger to the world one day, and the next have innumerable people knowing your opinion, knowing where you stand, and from those, you can grow your base of people who “are not like that.”  Telling me that since you’re not the pope, or some self-styled celebrity, or the head of an internationally known group is NOT a good enough excuse.  Just look at my friends list for proof.  I have the honour of being friends with incredible voices for rights, equality, and life.  Five to ten years ago, nobody had heard these people’s names, and now they are known internationally.  How?  By standing up, and raising their voices.

This is my challenge to you, my family and friends of faith who are “not like the others.”:

Take a stand.  Raise your voice, shout out to the world that not all people of faith are like the hate mongers that we keep hearing from.  Prove to me that you believe in a religion of love.  Give me at least a bit of hope that there is some love left in the world.

Please.

Ken

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.

The Day a Ninety Year Old Told Me to be “a Betty”

Be a betty

I am a 63 year old transwoman who is three years in on hormone replacement therapy.  When I was younger there was a huge lack of understanding, education, and role models in people who are transgender. I was confused and misguided and when I finally realized the truth about myself.  I was almost 60 years of age.

I struggled with alcoholism all my life and I was able to finally embrace it and own my recovery from it and in doing so, I saw my life had purpose and meaning. I was surprised when my head cleared and I began associating with other people who shared this disease and were living sober and were happy people!

Through these people I learned to begin to think differently and look at things differently. I began to find I had courage inside me that I never thought I had. I went through therapy. I attended a group for male survivors of sexual abuse. I joined a group of people who are transgender. I really worked on myself. I was sent to a doctor in Santa Cruz along with a letter from my therapist stating I had met all the requirements for beginning hormone therapy. She gave me two prescriptions, one for estrogen and the other for spirolactone which is a testosterone blocker.

At this time of my life I was having trouble finding work in my new profession as a caregiver/home health aide and it was very frustrating. I have come to believe that when I do all the right footwork amazing results happen. The day I took my first dose of hormones my cell phone rang. It was a woman who had seen my flyer I put up at the Carmel Foundation stating I was available for caregiving work and she asked if I would be interested in coming over to meet her mother. I told her I would be happy to.

Her house stands on a corner lot in Carmel just two blocks from the beach.
I parked my car and got out. I went through the rickety old gate and immediately noticed there were a couple of bird houses, one on the side of the house and another up in a tree. I have always loved birds and I collect bird houses. When I was younger I had wanted to be an Ornithologist. I also had wanted to be a Nun. I once told a friend this and they laughed saying I could have been the flying nun! So right away I felt a connection to this old house with the wood shingles and reddish paint on the window trim.

The door opened and a lovely woman with a big smile came out and greeted me. She introduced herself and told me to please come in and meet her mother. Inside the house everything appeared very old yet there was a warmth to the interior. She guided me to the living room where I saw this very sweet looking older woman with white hair sitting on the couch with her feet up on the coffee table knitting a scarf. She smiled at me. “Josie this is David. He came over to meet you.”

Right away she looked puzzled and she leaned forward and put her knitting down.
“David?” she said. ”David? Why did your parents name you David? You should be a Betty!”

I laughed, I was surprised at what she had said to me and I was trying to figure out what to tell her. I looked at her daughter who was smiling at me and it felt right to say “Josie I have no idea why they named me that but it’s been an issue with me…”

“Well I should think so!” she agreed.

The three of us sat and talked and found we all had some things in common. Josie grew up in Pasadena, California and I had lived there many years myself. Her daughter had been born in Gloucester, Massachusetts and I was born in Boston. Eliza, the daughter lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had been there for two months working with Josie and decided help was needed as Josie was dealing with dementia.

I spent a few days with Josie and it was clear she needed someone with her 24/7 and I worked out an agreement to live there with her for five days, 24 hours, with weekends off.
I also disclosed to her daughter that I was a transwoman who had just begun hormones.
She just lit up! She told me she had a cousin who was transgender. Here I find a job doing what I love and taking care of a woman who sees me as a woman. I began my transition and my life was far better than I could have ever dreamed.

Josie grew up very privileged. Her paternal great-grandfather was Gustavus Swift, the founder of a major meat processing company, and her maternal grandfather was Arthur G. Leonard, president of the Chicago Stockyards. He had built a beautiful big home right on the water at Eastern Point, Gloucester, Massachusetts which at some point a big storm had damaged it so badly they had it torn down. The property there is still owned by the family but only the Gatehouse still stands and Josie’s younger sister occupies the Playhouse next door, and another sister lives further up the road.

I began developing a deep bond with Josie. Her daughter returned to Santa Fe and I had yet to meet her two sons. One son is a photographer and was up at their ranch in Wyoming and the other son is in Rwanda coaching a bicycle team, he was the first American to ride in the Tour de France and he won the Race Across America back in the1980’s.

Josie was an Alpha Female and did what she wanted. She walked with two canes or used her walker. Every day at 5:00PM we had a fire in the fireplace and she wanted to go out and bring the wood in herself, forgetting she couldn’t do it carrying canes or pushing the walker. I was able to keep her dignity by letting her put the logs in my arms.

She always wore wrap around skirts and she thought any woman who wore slacks was suspect of being a lesbian. She seemed to be preoccupied with lesbians.

One time I was running through the house with a load of dirty laundry in my arms and she was sitting on the couch, knitting, which I called her office because she sat there and knitted all day and I stopped and kiddingly said to her, “Josie! We should go get drunk!”
She looked up at me and said, “I’d rather get laid.” and winked at me.

After dinner and her ice cream cone we would sit and talk and she disclosed things to me that were very personal. I felt honored she told me these things. Before bed time I would get her nightgown and place it over the fire screen to warm. She encouraged me to get in my nightgown and sit and knit with her. At first I wouldn’t because A. I didn’t own a nightgown and B. I didn’t know how to knit.

She taught me how to knit and went to Macy’s with me to pick out a nightgown.
We had a great time sitting and knitting in our night gowns at night or as she said, ”Shitting and knitting. She appreciated me helping her undress and get into her night gown. She would look down at her breasts and remark about her nipples. “I nursed three children.” she’d say. “Did you nurse yours?”

“I didn’t have children Josie.”

She really liked me tucking her in bed and giving her a kiss on each cheek and a hug.
I would then go to the door, turn and smile and say “Goodnight”, and go upstairs to my room and get in bed and read as I listened to the waves crashing at the beach. One time as I leaned down to kiss her she said to me “Lets hug like lesbians!” I laughed and hugged her, went to the door and smiled at her and as I turned to leave said “Lez be friends!”
I went upstairs, got in bed, and heard her door open.

“Are you still awake?” she called up to me.

“Yes I am” I replied.

“Then get on down here and lez get on it!”

I laughed. Ninety years old and she still has “it” on her mind. That August her grand daughter was getting married at the family estate out on Eastern Point and she began worrying how she was going to introduce me to everyone at the Yacht Club.

I had not quite decided what my female name was going to be so I hadn’t chose one yet.
We flew to Boston and the wedding had been moved up a day because Hurricane Irene was heading up the coast. We missed the actual ceremony which was held down by the water in the pitch dark with clouds of mosquitos all around. Both her sons had driven us from Logan up there, then jumped out of the car and ran down to the beach to catch the end of the ceremony leaving Josie and I in the pitch dark falling all over the patio furniture on her sisters back deck.

The ceremony ended and a mass of humans began coming into view out of the darkness as I held Josie up so she wouldn’t fall over. We were driven over to the Yacht Club and people began making toasts and one of her sisters made a toast to Josie in honor of her 90th birthday. Josie got up and thanked the 200 odd guests then had me stand up and introduced me as David. “This is David and HER parents had wanted a boy and that’s why they named HER David. She should have been a Betty!”

Everyone raised their glass to me and said “Welcome!” I was very surprised at such a warm welcome.

Josie has passed away now, and I miss her.  She was a character, but that is not why I tell her story.  I am telling you this because this dear woman afforded me the opportunity to be ME.  While I am not actually “a Betty”, I AM a Dana, and I do not have to pretend to the world that I am a David anymore.  Thank you, Josie, my angel.