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Everybody Has a Pulse

Last year, I chose to return to undergrad for the upteenth time in order to pursue my Bachelors of Arts degree in Communication. I can now say with excitement that I am just four courses away from graduation. Last week, I turned in my final project for my Media Writing class. The project was a “feature story” that would be published in a magazine. I chose to write about the Pulse Nightclub and coming out. To memorialize the lives that were lost and directly impacted one month ago today, I have chosen to post my final project at the approximate time it all began with little editing (that’s why my citations are in APA style).

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On June 12, 2016, hundreds of people filled the Pulse Nightclub, a bar that catered to the LGBTQ community. The patrons checked their worries and stressors at the door. They were there to let loose, to be among friends, and to dance the night away. Most importantly, they were there to live. Pulse wasn’t any ordinary nightclub. It was a place of empowerment, solidarity, and it was a refuge for so many people that felt the world didn’t understand them. In the early hours of that Sunday, a gunman entered Pulse armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and opened fire inside. Pulse Nightclub was the latest location of the mass shooting epidemic that has plagued the United States for the last couple of decades. 49 people would ultimately perish, with 53 more injured, becoming the deadliest shooting in American history, and the worst attack against the LGBTQ community in the United States. As the names, ages, pictures and stories of the victims began to be released, many people were drawn to the heartbreaking story of Juan Guerrero and his partner Christopher Leinonen. They were planning their dream wedding together. Ultimately, their lives were cut short, but their families knew the undying love they had for one another. Instead of the dream wedding, their families were planning a joint funeral (Merchant, Johnson & Webber, 2016). As everyone was reeling in the pain and sadness of the massacre at Pulse Nightclub, those within the LGBTQ community were having a harder time coping with the tragedy. Juan’s story resonated with so many that identify as LGBTQ. He came out of the closet to his family in recent years. He feared they wouldn’t accept him; a fear many LGBTQ individuals face everyday.

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At 22 years old, Juan Guerrero had been with his partner, Christopher Leinonen, 32, for three years. Guerrero worked as a telemarketer, but had recently started taking college courses at Central Florida University. He had only recently come out to his family, fearing he wouldn’t be accepted. Not only did Juan’s family accept him, but they also revered Christopher Leinonen as a family member (Merchant, Johnson & Webber, 2016).

The fears of coming out that Juan Guerrero had were common. Sexual orientation encompasses a person’s sense of identity, which is referred to as being how an individual feels, what they call themselves, and whom they want to share their life with and have an intimate relationship (Perrin-Wallqvist & Lindblom, 2015, p 467-468). The Human Rights Campaign notes that 26 percent of LGBT youth state their biggest problems include the feeling of not being accepted by their families, trouble at school and bullying, and a fear to be out and open (HRC, 2016). Heatherington and Lavner (2008) state that when a gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual person chooses to come out to family members, it is an important psychological decision and is a major obstacle in the mind of people that identify as LGBTQ. They often fear the negative consequences that can come from coming out to family, including being kicked out, or losing financial or emotional support from their families, and take those issues into consideration prior to and during the coming out process (as cited in Perrin-Wallqvist & Lindblom, 2015, p 468). Many of the victims at Pulse on June 12 lived with those fears.

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There was a report about one victim that had not been claimed by his family. A father was so ashamed of his son’s homosexuality that he refused to claim his body. He lost his life in an unfathomable way, but his father was still too ashamed to say “He is mine,” (Keneally & Lantz, 2016). Another story that gripped national headlines was about Brenda McCool, a mother of 11 that loved to dance, especially with her gay son that she was so proud of. In an effort to save her son’s life, she shielded him from the gunfire. Brenda was a hero, and stood up to the gunmen to symbolically proclaim that “He is mine” (Summers, 2016, para 20).

 

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Whether you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, have a family member, or a friend that identifies as such, know that there is nothing wrong with being gay, nor does anything change. The lives that were lost that night are no less a person’s child than before they were brutally murdered. The coming out process isn’t a cookie cutter. While the process isn’t unique, each situation and story is unique. Coming out experiences can fall into several different categories from planned discussions to spontaneity. Coming out stories aren’t limited to the list provided here, but in part, Manning (2015) classifies coming out as “the pre-planned conversations,” “emergent conversations,” and “confrontational conversations,” (p 127 & 131). The pre-planned conversation, which is likely the most common way of coming out of the closet for an LGBTQ individual, is the conversation in which the person has made a previous conscious decision to reveal their sexual orientation. Juan Guerrero likely used this method to come out to his family. Emergent conversations occur when the topic of homosexuality come up during the natural flow of conversation, and the closeted LGBTQ individual reveals their sexuality during the evolution of this discussion. It’s common for parents to sift through their child’s belongings. Parents may feel it’s necessary to do this in order to ensure their children are not endangering themselves through the people they hang around with, that they are involved in drugs, or engaging in other illegal activity. During this process, parents may discover their children may be gay. The parents discover this through reading notes and letters, or overhearing phone conversations. In these situations, parents describe themselves as being angry, while their children feel betrayed, scared and confused (Manning, 2015, p 127 & 131). Since there are a multitude of scenarios, LGBTQ people, their friends and family experience and deal with the process in many different ways. When dealing with the realities of being LGBTQ, or having someone in your life that is, love the person, embrace them, and dance the night away with them, just as Juan and Christopher did, and just like Brenda McCool did. It’s important that their deaths are not in vain, but instead are springboards to create dialogue, and better assessments of what love, commitment and compassion truly mean.

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In the end, people in the LGBTQ community only want to be accepted for who they are. Only then can lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and those they deeply love begin to cope with the realities that nothing is different. In fact, the lives of Juan Guerrero, Christopher Leinonen, Brenda McCool and the countless lives that were directly impacted by this mass shooting encapsulate that notion. The sonnet that was passionately and eloquently drafted, and spoken by Lin-Manuel Miranda during the 2016 Tony Awards reminds people that “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside,” (Miranda, 2016). Love conquers hate, and no matter how hard people try, that is a constant that will never change. Love one another, embrace each other, and accept each other, because when the dust settles, that’s one of the only things that everyone truly wants.

HRC (2016). “Growing up LGBT in America,” Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from:

http://www.hrc.org/youth-report/view-and-share-statistics#.V31BmZMrLeQ

 

Keneally, M. & Lantz, D. (2016, June 13). “Mother of Orlando Shooting Victim Makes

Emotional Plea,” ABC News Retrieved from: http://abcnews.go.com/US/mother-man-missing-orlando-club-shooting-breaks-awaits/story?id=39794076

 

Manning, J. (2015). “Communicating sexual identities: a typology of coming out,” Sexuality and

Culture 19(1). Retrieved from: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=8b5e899c-a41e-4ee9-aeac-c5f0b5660941%40sessionmgr107&vid=4&hid=104

 

Merchant, N., Johnson, C.K., & Webber, T. (2016, June 15). “Victim Vignettes: All remembered

for joy, love they brought,” AP The Big Story. Retrieved from: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/5fb45f7bd2564c769ff6f3692c305c44/victim-vignettes-all-described-kind-loving-full-joy

 

Miranda, L. M.[Entertainment Tonight] (2016, June 12) “Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Emotional

Tonys Acceptance Speech: ‘Love is Love’.” [Video File] Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUffUHGqYco.

 

Perrin-Wallqvist, R. & Lindblom, J. (2015). “Coming out as gay: a phenomenological study

about adolescents disclosing their homosexuality to their parents,” Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal 43(3). Retrieved from: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=ea33bbe5-b183-436c-a921-9107fa13a5c2%40sessionmgr102&vid=3&hid=104

 

Reynolds, D. (2016). “A Father Refused to Claim Body of Pulse Victim,” The Advocate.

Retrieved from: http://www.advocate.com/families/2016/6/24/father-refused-claim-body-pulse-victim

 

Summers, C. (2016, June 21). “’She was the mom everybody wanted’: Orlando massacre survivor

breaks down in tears at funeral for his hero mother who shielded him with her body and saved his life,” Daily Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3652052/Orlando-massacre-survivor-breaks-tears-funeral-hero-mother-shielded-body-saved-life.html

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Posted in crime, crime and punishment, current events, death, discrimination, EQUALITY, FAITH, gay, gun control, gun violence, hatred, homophobia, homosexual, homosexuality, lesbian, lgbt, LGBT RIGHTS, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, love, marriage equality, mass shootings, media, murder, national rifle association, news, news and current events, nra, politics, pride, queer, religion, remembrance, Sexuality, transgender, Uncategorized

A Place of Solidarity, Empowerment and a Place to Live

In times of hardships, tragedies and even triumphs, I find myself picking up a notepad, a drafting pencil or a paint brush to allow my creativity to flow. It’s in these moments when I find my motivation, peace and serenity. Often times, I don’t have a difficult time finding the words to say. After many tragedies, I had no shortage of words to write, but in the face of yet another national tragedy, I’ve found myself at a loss for words.

It’s been four weeks, and it is still incomprehensible to think about what happened at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The worst mass shooting in American history where 49 people died, and 53 others were injured. The spot was chosen because of its popularity, and its LGBTQ clientele.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.President Barack Obama (June 12, 2016).

I’ve been working on what to write in the wake of the massacre, but at times I’ve been overcome with grief, sadness, and unable to conceptualize my feelings into words. I’ve wanted to write something that expresses my own feelings, advocates for awareness, and most importantly honors the victims. 

Eight years ago, my friend invited me to her 21st birthday celebration at Martha’s Vineyard, a gay bar in Springfield, Missouri. I had never been to the bar, but I had always been interested in going… as a “straight” guy, of course. While I was eager to go to Martha’s, by the time I got in there, I felt awkward, uncomfortable and out of place. Deep down inside myself, I knew the truth; I was gay, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. As the night progressed, I loosened up, and began enjoying myself. When we were getting ready to leave, my friend’s friend, who is an openly gay man, came up to me. He put his sweaty arms on my shoulders and said “I know you’re straight, but I just want you to know that you’re adorable.” I don’t know what it was in that moment; maybe he whispered a subliminal message to me – it’s OK to be yourself. I found myself at a crossroad in my life. I could wallow in my self-pity and continue lying to myself, but I didn’t want to live a lie anymore. I was sick of the battle, and I wanted to be true to myself, and the world.

Over time, going to Martha’s became somewhat of a weekly ritual for my friends and me. We went to watch drag shows, we went to drink, to dance, to have a good time, and most importantly to be with friends. One of my greatest memories at Martha’s Vineyard was New Years Eve, 2008. The year was being capped off surrounded by friends that just a year ago, I didn’t know. As the clock struck midnight, drag kings and queens got on stage as we all sang “Seasons of Love,” from Rent. In that moment, I was excited for the path my life was headed on. Everything felt right. As I look back upon my experiences at Martha’s Vineyard, I remember how comfortable I felt there. I could be myself without fear of being harassed; I met like minded people and developed a supportive network of friends.

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“Seasons of Love” at Martha’s Vineyard – New Years Eve, 2008

My personal experiences and feelings aren’t unique.  In fact, they are on par with the norm. As I asked my own friends about their experiences at gay bars their descriptions were strikingly similar to my own. They expressed that they felt at “home” and like they were among “family.” Gay bars, diners, resorts, and other establishments that cater to the LGBTQ community are seen as safe havens. We don’t have to fear the harassment, discrimination, bigotry or hatred that people in the LGBTQ community are all too often faced with. Martha’s Vineyard was my respite from a world, and more importantly, a town that didn’t understand. British comedian, David Morgan said:

People have been asking why the media and our politicians keep referring to Pulse Nightclub as a gay establishment, rather than just calling it a nightclub. Pulse is not just a nightclub, and to refer to it as such would be both disingenuous and misleading. The nightclub was not targeted simply because it was a popular bar, but because it was a popular gay bar. Whether the gunman targeted that specific location because of his religious ideologies, or his hatred for the LGBTQ community, the location was chosen because the patrons were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and straight allies.

The sobering facts that LGBTQ youth represent approximately seven percent of the youth population, but account for 40 percent of homelessness among all teenagers, and LGBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide, while questioning youth are three times more likely when compared to their straight counterparts are troubling, but the troubling facts do not end there. In circumstances in which LGBTQ youth are physically or verbally harassed or abused, it is reported that they are two and a half times more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors. Additionally, youth that come from unsupportive families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide when compared to LGBTQ youth that report little to no family rejection.

The raw emotions those of us in the LGBTQ community are feeling understand the struggles the people at Pulse went through in everyday life. We faced the discrimination, the bigotry and the intolerance first hand, just as they did. We know the stories of the “medical experiments,” torture and death those suspected of being gay were subjected to in the concentration camps during the Holocaust that history books tend to forget. We understand the first pride march was a riot – the Stonewall Riots in 1969. We understand the arson of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 in 1973, and was the largest mass killing of LGBTQ individuals in the US prior to Pulse, was motivated by hatred. We understand that Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die, because he was gay. We understand that Lawrence King was murdered because he professed his love to a male classmate, and his educators ignored the warning signs and pointed blame at Lawrence, rather than his perpetrator. We understand that our transgender brothers and sisters are being discriminated against, abused and killed at even greater alarming rates than lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and our politicians seem preoccupied with legislating what restrooms people should use, rather than creating meaningful legislation. We understand that we couldn’t openly serve in the military until 2011, June 30, 2016 if you’re trans, or get married in all 50 states until last year and we understand the “religious freedom” laws for what they truly are. We also hear loud and clear some of the rhetoric being preached in the wake of the Orlando tragedy in the name of “God.”

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While this attack has affected anyone that values freedom and human life, regardless of their sexual orientation, it’s important to realize this tragedy impacts all of us in different ways, and we mourn in different ways. We respond differently, and even have different connections to the victims and location of the attack. You might be mourning the loss of innocent lives, broken dreams, and families and friends that have to deal with the emptiness their lives now have. You may be heartbroken over the carnage that was spilled on June 12 because of hatred, intolerance and bigotry. You have every right to feel the way you do, because the people that died and the people that are dealing with the injuries and scars are ultimately a part of all of us.

As I wrote this, I felt it was important to capture voices from the LGBTQ community and beyond. I asked a couple of my straight friends for their thoughts on the attack, and this is what they had to say:

“It bothers me that a heavily armed man went into a nightclub and shot a lot of people. Those people were someone’s son or daughter. An act of hate took them away from their families. As a straight mother, I keep thinking that there are parents mourning the loss of their sons or daughters, brothers and sisters. I have a five-year-old daughter, and it scares me that she could be in the wrong place at the wrong time someday because of a hateful person with a weapon.” – Jodi

 

“It’s hard to really put into words what I’m feeling. No one deserves what happened in Orlando.I would be considered by many to be very conservative… Perhaps even a “right wing-nut” to some, but that doesn’t mean I lack compassion. I have been praying for the families of the victims, just as I do for any national tragedy. We can all unite and agree that what happened was absolutely terrible. It especially hit me when I heard he had scouted out Disney World. If he had chosen that as his target, it likely would have been the week I was there for my first Disney trip, as I was there during the Disney “Gay Days.” To think I could have been that close to a national tragedy is hard to fathom, and makes things hit a little closer to home. I have friends in the LGBT community, and to think that they could be targeted for their sexual orientation is just as tragic as Christian persecution in the Middle East*.” – Allison

While we understand and still endure the discrimination, hatred, bigotry and tragedies we have faced over the decades in the LGBTQ community, there’s still reasons to be optimistic. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done for equality, especially for our transgender brother and sisters. We’re still going to face the bigotry and hatred that has plagued us, but we’re in a far better place today than we were even just 10 years ago. The Stonewall Inn was just designated a national historic site by President Obama and just last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the transgender ban in the military. We may still be reeling in the pain of Orlando, and that will take time to heal, but I have hope for a better tomorrow.

“The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up. […] And you, and you, and you, you have to give people hope.” – Harvey Milk (1978).

In November, I will cap off an epic expedition to Berlin, Barcelona, the Canary Islands, and Puerto Rico in Orlando. I planned to go to Pulse Nightclub prior to June 12, and that plan has not changed. Barbara Poma initially opened Pulse to keep her gay brother, John Poma’s heartbeat alive after he died. She and co-owner Ron Legler vow to reopen Pulse with a stronger heartbeat than ever before; a pulse strong enough to memorialize 50 lives (49 victims that died, and her brother). A good friend of mine that I met through LGBTQ advocacy often calls us a family of choice. While talking about the reopening of Pulse, Poma reiterated that when she said:

“We just welcome those families into our families. and we just have to move forward and find a way to keep our hearts beating and keep our spirit alive; and we’re not going to let somebody take this away from us.” – TODAY Interview (6/14/16)

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If Pulse is reopened by November, I will go there and dance the night away. Otherwise, I will pay my respects in another way. As Barbara Poma said:

“It’s important to never let hate win.”Today Interview (6/14/16)

Love conquers hate, because:

“We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers 
remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love 
is love is love is love is love
Cannot be killed or swept aside”Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tony Awards (6/12/16)

 

*- I don’t want to take away from the sentiments of this comment, because it’s important, however I feel it is also important to point out that many groups of people from many different cultural groups are persecuted in unfathomable ways in parts of the Middle East.

Posted in crime, current events, gun control, mass shootings, navy yard, news, politics, Uncategorized, violence

When Will the Next Massacre Happen?

President Obama speaks at Navy Yard Memorial
President Obama speaks at Navy Yard Memorial

President Obama was faced with delivering yet another heartbreaking speech at a memorial remembering victims of yet another shooting rampage in the United States last week. During his remarks about the Navy Yard massacre in Washington, D.C., President Obama was quoted as saying, “Sometimes I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal. We cannot accept this.” Dr. Janis Orlowski likely gave the most impassioned speeches after the injured and dead began flowing into her hospital. She said, “There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.” She continued on by saying, “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots and not to be an expert on this.”

The innocent lives that were lost at Sandy Hook
The innocent lives that were lost at Sandy Hook

I thought that after 20 innocent children were brutally murdered and six individuals that gave their lives to protect these children were killed that we would begin getting serious about real ways to eradicate the evil that is emanating in our society. It’s no secret that our political climate is severely broken. While those on the far right want us to have access to weapons with little to no restrictions and those on the far left would rather see us ban guns in our society, the polarizing partisanship in our politics stalls any chance of productive discussion about reducing massacres. We live in a time when ‘bipartisan’ is becoming a bad word. Both sides of the aisle are positioning themselves to one up the other. Instead of sitting down and working on real resolutions to the gun violence that is plaguing America, nothing is being done at the high cost of innocent lives. I fear this political attitude is making us complacent and numb when it comes to mass shootings. Instead of finding resolutions, we wonder when and where the next shooting rampage is going to happen.

Navy Yard Shooting, Washington, D.C.
Navy Yard Shooting, Washington, D.C.

The tragedy at the Navy Yard came on the eve of the release of the latest version of Grand Theft Auto. Before the blood on the floor dried, political pundits were pointing the blame of a violent American society on violent video games.  A violent video game is not going to cause an individual to suddenly get “motivated” to go on a shooting rampage any more than a sexual assault is going to turn someone gay. The perpetrators of the Navy Yard and Sandy Hook could have had stockpiles of violent video games, but those games did not create the monsters in them. Someone that is predisposed to violence is likely to get involved in shoot’em up video games. If we think violent video games kill people, we’re only distracting ourselves from what really matters.

The perpetrators that carried out the Columbine High School rampage, Aurora movie theater shooting, the massacre at a Safeway in Tuscan, Arizona and last week’s Navy Yard shooting had significant mental illnesses. They had a mixture of antisocial personality disorders, depression, manic depression and possibly schizophrenia. The shooter at Tuscan was taken to a federal medical prison in Springfield, Missouri until he was deemed competent enough to stand trial. The murderer at the Aurora Century 16 movie theater has plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Despite the scientific proof that mental illness is a significant factor in mass shootings, funding for the research and treatment of mental illnesses has been drastically cut at the tune of more than $4.35 billion over the years. While the issue of mental illness has been getting louder over the years, it’s still just a faint whisper. The whispering dialogue about mental health needs to become a loud roar that can be heard from coast-to-coast.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords
U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

In light of the unconscionable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, CNN’s Piers Morgan offered one of the most asinine ideas for reducing gun violence. He said:

On the other side of the spectrum, Republicans relish in the ignorant belief that President Obama is going to create some sort of militia that is going to break down our doors and take our guns from us. They ignore that Obama has repealed more gun control laws in his first year in office than President Bush did in his two terms. He has also been given an F by the Brady Campaign on gun control. In spite of this, just the mere notion by Democrats and Obama that they want to discuss more reasonable gun control laws being enacted sends gun advocates and the National Rifle Association into a frenzy.

Aurora Movie Theater Shooting
Aurora Movie Theater Shooting

Louisiana residents were so fearful about Obama’s imaginary militia that they overwhelmingly passed a state Constitutional amendment defining gun ownership as a ‘fundamental right’ in 2012. Because of their irrational fears, the people of the state failed to realize the ramifications such sweeping legislation could do to the state. Just a few months ago, a convicted felon challenged the state’s ban on felons owning firearms. A judge ruled he had a fundamental right to a gun under the Louisiana Constitution.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

In 1999, two high school seniors opened fire on their unsuspecting students and faculty at Columbine High School. There were warning signs that these individuals were plotting a devious plan that so many people simply ignored. Do you think that if Rachel Scott, Richard Castaldo, Daniel Rohrbough, Sean Graves, Lance Kirklin, Michael Johnson, Mark Taylor, Anne-Marie Hochhalter, Brian Anderson, Patti Nielson, Stephanie Munson and William David Sanders would still be alive if individuals didn’t ignore the warning signs? It is our responsibility to be diligent when individuals begin showing signs that they could be in trouble. If the police had taken a couple of concerned parents more seriously. One of the prepetrators had a violent online manifesto that police were aware of, but ignored. The boys had bomb-making materials and blueprints of the school in their rooms, but their parents didn’t suspect anything.

Memorial for the victims of the Columbine High School Shooting
Memorial for the victims of the Columbine High School Shooting

A week after the massacre at the Navy Yard, the mainstream has already moved on. We’ve changed our focus to the Nairobi terrorist attack, the government shutdown and whether or not Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton will  run for president in 2016. While the first two are news stories that should be capturing headlines, we’ve already lost focus on the gun control/mental illness debate. I wonder if the shooter at the Navy Yard had been a Muslim if we’d still be talking about the incident. We are becoming complacent again, and it seems as though it took far less time to become that this time around. The media didn’t even pick up on a mass shooting that happened in Chicago three days after the Navy Yard shooting. Was it not discussed and analyzed because there was no loss of life? Was it deemed ‘not important?’

Gun violence has gotten so engrained into American society that mass shootings are expected. It’s time to divorce the intertwined relationship between shooting rampages and our unintended fascination with the evil acts. It’s time we in society and our politicians put their partisanships aside, sit down and have meaningful discussions on how to prevent future massacres. It’s only a matter of time before the next sociopath goes on another shooting rampage, unless we get real and realize that human life takes precedence over guns, power, politics and money. If we sit back and do nothing, then we have blood on our hands.

** I intentionally left out the names of the perpetrators involved in the shootings I mentioned. They don’t deserve the dignity of the carnage they have created while most of us can’t name one person that was a victim of a mass shooting. **

Posted in crime, crime and punishment, current events, news, race, racism, self defense, stand your ground, Uncategorized

We Can’t Keep Sweeping Race Under the Rug

trayvon
Trayvon Martin

In 2005, I was wrapping up my first year at Missouri State University. I chose to take summer courses at the local community college in my hometown. One of the courses I took was an introduction to sociology course. One thing I learned from that course that still resonates with me today was when our professor called a student out on the issue of race. I can’t remember the exact issue the man brought up, but I do remember her response. She said, “I will accept dissenting opinions that are based on fact, but one thing I will not tolerate is sweeping the issue of race under the rug.”

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. The case caused the issue of race in America to resurface. While I without a doubt believe the prosecution did a poor job of proving their case and never wanted to prosecute George Zimmerman in the first place, I believe there are several elements that prove George Zimmerman was negligent in his actions that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin. So many people wrote on Twitter and other social media that the justice system failed us in this trial. The truth of the matter is our justice system didn’t fail us in this trial but the prosecution did.

George Zimmerman
George Zimmerman

I don’t believe race was as big of an issue as the mainstream media portrayed it to be, but it has reignited the debate on race relations in America. Was Trayvon Martin profiled? Without a doubt he was. I just don’t know if he was profiled because of his race, or for the fact that he was a suspicious individual walking down the street in a hoodie. I’m not in any way excusing George Zimmerman’s profiling of Trayvon, but what exactly he profiled about Martin is up for debate.

Don West and Mark O’Mara, the two defense attorneys for George Zimmerman made some startling comments after the not guilty verdict was handed down that makes me worry about the future of America. Don West stated that the prosecution of George Zimmerman was disgraceful. Mark O’Mara said that if George Zimmerman had been a black man this case would have never been tried. O’Mara is the same man that days before the verdict was read stated that race wasn’t an issue in the case on ABC News. I responded to Mark O’Mara’s comments fairly strongly on Twitter. I wrote,

“GZ’s attorneys ignore the fact that blacks are disproportionately represented in criminal cases. If GZ was black, he’d face death penalty.”

The fact of the matter is that while African-Americans make up approximately 12% of the American population, they represent over 40% of those incarcerated. Inequalities exist in the American justice system and there is no denying that fact.

For those that have followed the trial of George Zimmerman from the very start, you may remember that the defense originally intended to claim the “Stand Your Ground Law” to defend George Zimmerman. The law ended up getting pushed aside so the defense could focus more on Zimmerman’s right to self-defense.

Marissa Alexander
Marissa Alexander

For those unfamiliar with “Stand Your Ground,” in Florida, it’s the right for individuals to not back down when they feel threatened in a situation. This trial exposed gaping flaws in this law. More damning evidence that this law is flawed and the inequalities of minorities in the criminal justice system comes to light in the 2012 trial of Marissa Alexander of Florida. She shot warning shots into a wall to warn her abusive husband that she was standing her ground. She referenced stand your ground in her defense, but she ended up getting charged with aggravated assault and was offered a plea deal of three years in prison. She rejected the plea deal by the same prosecutor that reluctantly pressed charges against George Zimmerman. She opted to go to trial. Marissa Alexander, a woman that had graduated with her masters degree, had three children and had been hospitalized in the past by her abusive husband was found guilty by a jury of her peers and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Another example of how blacks are treated poorly by the justice system comes in the form of penalties for cocaine. Crack cocaine is more likely to be used by poor black people compared to affluent whites using powder cocaine. Before President Barack Obama signed the ‘Fair Sentencing Act,’ in 2010, people caught with crack cocaine could be charged more harshly compared to individuals possessing powder cocaine. Under federal law there was a five year minimum sentence for the possession of crack. That gaping injustice was patched up by the Fair Sentencing Act being signed into law.

Crack Cocaine
Crack Cocaine

It’s no secret that black people are given a harder time in the criminal justice system across the United States. They are disproportionately represented in prisons, they receive stricter penalties when they commit crimes, and they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. When we begin advocating for equal justice for all, we can progress as a nation. We can’t continue to ignore the issue of race and crime in America. Trayvon Martin had helped us to remember this problem we have in America still exists today. We must begin a national dialogue for real reform in the American justice system. If there is one thing Trayvon Martin taught me, it’s that we can’t continue sweeping race under the rug any more.

Posted in crime, discrimination, gay, Harvey Milk, lesbian, lgbt, Milk, murder, San Francisco

Dedication to Harvey Milk: Happy 83rd Birthday

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I wasn’t familiar with the man, Supervisor Harvey Milk until Sean Penn portrayed him in the 2008 blockbuster, Milk. When the movie first came out, I didn’t quite understand what it was about and had no interest in seeing it. As a guy that had been recently diagnosed with lactose intolerance, I thought the movie was about the dairy industry. Some friends of mine convinced me otherwise and a group of us went to see it in the theaters. At the time the movie came out, I had just finally accepted myself and had just recently come out to most of my friends.

For those unfamiliar with Harvey Milk, he was a city supervisor for the city of San Francisco. He is believed to have been the first openly gay elected official in a major city. Milk worked tirelessly for the gay rights movement, cosponsoring a bill that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the city of San Francisco. He became the face of the opposition to Prop 6 (The Briggs Initiative), a movement to ban gay teachers, suspected gay teachers and any faculty member protecting those gay teachers from holding a position as an educator in the state of California. When he took on the role of the voice for anti-Prop 6 supporters, the bill was favored to pass by a 2-1 margin in the upcoming elections. Harvey Milk traveled the state garnering support for his cause by having public debates with the sponsor of Prop 6, State Senator John Briggs. The initiative failed in 1978 in a relatively close race.

Harvey Milk along with Mayor George Moscone of San Francisco were brutally assassinated by the former city supervisor Dan White after Moscone refused to give Mr. White his job back after he had resigned from that position.

This past Wednesday would have been Harvey Milk’s 83rd birthday. As I trek along on my own path into the political field, Harvey Milk has become an inspiration and hero for me. He stood for what he believed in and never backed down. He educated Californians on homosexuality and how we are not sick. He encouraged young gay people and advocated for people to come out of the closet. He said if people around us realized they knew someone that was gay, it could help open their hearts to the LGBT community and vote no on the Briggs Initiative. His strategy must’ve worked as Prop 6 failed by a margin of 58.4% to 41.6%.

I often wonder how different this country would be if Harvey Milk’s life hasn’t been cut short. He had successfully lobbied for equality and change on the city level in San Francisco and accomplished a significant amount during his 11 months in office. With Prop 8 now before the United States Supreme Court, I wonder if the outcome for the ballot initiative would have been the same if Harvey Milk had still been around, or even if he had more time in the political arena.

Those are always going to be questions I ponder but will never know the answer. The legacy of Harvey Milk should be required knowledge for anyone who happens to be gay, and even for those who are not. His legacy should be a reminder to all of us that change can happen. Equality can happen and that we’ve got to have hope. Harvey Milk is an inspiration to all.

As I think about my own career path and my own life, I often find myself pausing and asking, what would Harvey Milk do? I don’t want to be a politician. I want to work on campaigns whether they be for politicians or initiatives I believe in. I want to lobby for equality, tolerance and acceptance. I want to work tirelessly and be as passionate as Harvey Milk was to pass sweeping reform in San Francisco and to bring down a bigoted and misguided proposition. I want people to know whether you’re gay or straight, bisexual or asexual, no matter what you are, you are no less than any other person in this world. On that same token, you’re no better than anyone else either.

Whether you’ve been out for 50 years, just came out, thinking of coming out or you’re deep in the closet, know that you are not alone. You are unique and bring a special quality to this universe. You have a large family of LGBT and allies that support you and love you for who you are.

If you are still in the closet, I encourage you to come out, but only do it when you’re ready. I’m only about 95% of the way out of the closet. The other 5% will come in time. I cherish the relationships I have with the 5% that don’t know too much to possibly destroy those relationships. It’s primarily to keep my grandparents out of the loop. Once they are gone, I will come out to the remaining family members, unless something happens that forces me out, such as a ballot initiative in Pennsylvania about gay rights.

Harvey Milk is an inspiration to us all and we will continue to carry on his legacy of equality as we fight to be treated the same as our straight counterparts.