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, marriage equality, mass shootings, media, murder, national rifle association, news, news and current events, nra, politics, pride, queer, religion, remembrance, Sexuality, terrorism, transgender, Uncategorized

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

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 activism, death, gay, lesbian, lgbt, news, politics, Uncategorized

Slowly Going Back to Normality: A Brief Update

Back on November 23rd, I wrote a very brief statement letting you all know that I was planning to take a temporary hiatus from blogging. My, has time gone by rather quickly since then! I have certainly taken a lot more time off than I had originally planned, but I hope to start blogging again soon (I’ve actually gotten motivation for my next blog entry). My decision to take a break had to do with some events and stress that were happening in my life at that time.

A lot has changed since my last post back then. The biggest change is that after being unemployed for over nine months, I finally landed a pretty awesome job that I never thought I would get. Not only does my job pay well and open doors to future opportunities, it also has decent benefits and it scores a 100% on the LGBT Human Rights Campaign Employment Index. While I am not currently out to anyone at work, it feels great to know that I am protected from being fired because I am gay and know that if I meet someone that my partner can be covered under my insurance plan. I have also become a state regional leader for the Pennsylvania chapter of Marriage Equality, USA, which advocates for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

While my new job, attending college full-time with honors and being a leader for ME4PA have consumed a significant amount of my time and have been great steps forward, my choice to step away from blogging for some time wasn’t all sweet.

On the early morning of November 23, when I posted my entry about a temporary hiatus, I was laying in the bed in a hotel near Baltimore, Maryland knowing what I was bracing for later that day. Several days before, I awoke to my mother sitting on the edge of my bed. “There’s been an accident,” she began. My 83-year-old grandfather had fallen and his injury was going to require surgery. His surgery didn’t go as planned and his life was in limbo over the next week. Shortly after midnight on November 24, my grandpa drew his final breath.

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In my life, I have been fortunate enough to have not had too much experience dealing with the emotion of grief. I knew I would eventually have to prepare for my grandfather’s death, I just irrationally hoped it would never happen. Over the week when my grandpa’s life was in the balance, and the time between his death and memorial service, I became fairly depressed. I ended up taking a break from school and I lost interest in a lot of the things I enjoyed, particularly writing. I know that I am not back to being my normal self yet, but each day seems to make me feel a little more normal again.

I would like to express my gratitude for all of you that commented and sent me emails about my absence from blogging. It really means a lot to me knowing I have support not only from my friends and family, but also from the friends I have met through this blogging experience. I look forward to continuing to educate others and myself on the important issues that we are all faced with.

Posted in current events, government shutdown, news, news and current events, politics, Uncategorized

Washington Plays Chicken with American Lives

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For the first time in 17 years, the United States government is shut down. In the 11th hour, the United States Congress were unable to meet a resolution to fund the government and now we are faced with the reality that our politicians have failed us. It’s hard for me to not point blame for this absolute failure by our elected leaders, but in the end, both major political parties are to blame. Just as in tort law, which takes into account the negligence of the plaintiff and the defendant and chooses a judgment based upon a percentage of blame, I blame Republicans for the bulk of the situation we are in, but we can’t lay all of the blame on them. Democrats and the President are also guilty.

President Barack Obama (D)
President Barack Obama (D)

While I wholeheartedly believe in a clean bill to fund our government, sometimes we have to swallow our pride and negotiate. I don’t fault Republicans for trying to negotiate, but I do fault them for attempting to pass intangible demands. The U.S. House, which is controlled by the Republicans, and Speaker John Boehner made demands they knew would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Even if by some miraculous divine intervention these bills would have passed the House and Senate, President Obama would likely have veto such a bill before either House had dried the ink. An infamous way of figuring out whether you’re insane or not is when you try the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. You would think that after the U.S. House passed a resolution to defund the Affordable Care Act 42 times that they would get the picture that the result was going to be the same. Apparently not. Not only has the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to defund the ACA 42 times, but they have attempted to attach that vote to the funding of the government to avert a shutdown, attempted to delay the implementation of Obamacare by a year and attempted to limit the availability of contraception for women.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH)
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH)

Now, the right-wingers are likely saying, “Woah, woah, woah! The President and the Senate said they’re unwilling to negotiate!” This is true, and where the Democrats fall short of being able to point full blame for this government shutdown on the Republicans in the House. As I said before, I believe in a clean bill that would fund the government without any additional amendments to it, but when Republicans stood strong on their convictions of adding amendments to a spending bill, the Senate and President should have been more open to negotiating. I understand they didn’t want to come to the table with Republicans because of their attempts at defunding the Affordable Care Act or delaying the ACA, but at some point you must put your pride aside and realize your stubbornness isn’t going to avert the government shutting down.

The moment Congress came back from summer recess both sides of the aisle should have created a committee that would negotiate a compromise on funding the government. In the Senate’s defense, the House refused to create such a committee until they were backed into a corner with the deadline looming and the GOP seeing plummeting approval ratings for Congress with polls showing they would get the brunt of the blame for this now in-effect government shutdown. With 15 minutes to spare, Senator Harry Reid announced there would be no compromises and no committees after Speaker Boehner announced they were willing to assemble a committee to negotiate a fair resolution to the crisis plaguing over 1,000,000 people right now.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

Our elected officials are given the privilege of serving their constituents under the agreement that they will do something. The 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive legislative session in modern history. Washington has become so polarizing and so power-hungry that they’re unwilling to work together. I’ve said in some of my previous posts that ‘bipartisan’ is becoming a dirty word on the Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

As hundreds of thousands of federal employees woke up today, they were faced with the grim reality that they’re either furloughed without pay, or required to come to work unsure of when they might see their next paycheck for the foreseeable future. They struggle to know how they’ll make ends meet and put food on their families’ tables as Congress plays a childish game of chicken. If you’re worried about our Congresspeople getting their paychecks over the course of this shutdown, do not fret; they will be paid on time. Federal prison guards and some of our military personnel will continue to perform their job descriptions likely living paycheck to paycheck, while our representatives and senators continue to receive their $174,000 yearly salary and Obama gets a slice of his $400,000 a year salary.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

This is the first government shutdown to happen since the last democrat was in office, working with Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Republican-controlled House. You should expect to start hearing the soundbites that democratic presidents are inept at averting a shutdown, while democrats point out that the Republicans are unable to control Washington without a shutdown over the course of the next three years. I don’t think this is a Republican problem or a Democrat problem, but it is a Republican and Democrat problem.

Have you ever seen Undercover Boss on CBS? It’s the show where wealthy executives shadow average employees within their companies. The premise is to see how their policies affect the average individual, but by the end of the show, the executive realizes how difficult their minions’ jobs are and how many of their employees have a difficult time making ends meet. Congress is complacent. While they’re busy bickering about ideologies and pointing the blame at one another, they forget how the “little” man lives. I envision Congress as a horse wearing blinders. They can see each other, but they can’t see the wider picture of how their decisions, or in this case indecisions affect their constituents.

We put our Congresspeople in Washington to fight for us. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, they have fought for their own agendas at the cost of taxpayers. If I worked for an advertising firm and had to pitch a presentation to a group of my clients, but missed my deadline, I likely would be packing my desk and be unemployed. Most politicians know they can get away with such blatant disregard for what is good for this country because come election time, we’re unlikely to vote them out. It’s time we hold our politicians accountable. If they can’t get the job done, we can replace them with people who will, while at the same time reminding them they work for us, not their political party. Save your polarizing banter for a rainy day. Both parties are only alienating themselves from each other and halting the government to a standstill. If Republicans want to defund Obamacare, let there be a referendum on November 4, 2014 and November 8, 2016. Don’t hold everyone else hostage and refuse to compromise on a resolution that could free the hostages. It’s time for D.C. to stand up and do something, instead of having yelling matches and pointing fingers between the two chambers. If I was able to make a rule for Capitol Hill to follow, it would be: you can’t leave until the job you were elected to do and granted to you by the Constitution is done.

I will leave you with this quote that has been circulating around the Twitosphere by our second president of the United States, and one of our founding fathers:

“In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, 2 is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” – John Adams

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 current events, EMPLOYMENT, ENDA, gay, lgbt, LGBTQ, news, POLITIC, politics, Uncategorized

Grassroots Campaigns Launch to Support Employment Non-Discrimination Act

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I went to college and had my first “professional” job while living in the Ozarks. I lived in southwest Missouri, which is in the heart of the Bible Belt, and one of the most conservative parts of the country. I remember going on a date with a guy that was a performer in Branson, Missouri. Branson is one of the biggest tourist traps in Missouri, and provides “wholesome” fun and entertainment for families. He worked for the a theater that told Biblical stories through theater. He told me the gut-wrenching story about how he had been called into his boss’s office. They confronted the guy asking him if he was gay. He refused to tell them, and attempted to deflect the question. They didn’t fire him at that point, but he knew it was likely only a matter of time. He was a great actor, he could sing and he was a dedicated employee. His perceived orientation didn’t fit with the company’s public image. He quickly found another job acting at a theater in Branson that was more accepting of diversity.

States with protections against LGBT discrimination
States with protections against LGBT discrimination

I don’t go around announcing that I am gay to everyone I see, but I do tell those that I feel need to know. At my job in Springfield, Missouri, there were a few of us that were gay and weren’t open about it to our supervisors. We feared going to work and being found out only to be fired. I had a coworker challenge me on my Biblical beliefs about homosexuality while at work once. I ran out of the room nearly in tears, but I didn’t feel like I had recourse, because I didn’t want to be seen as the aggressor and possibly lose my job.

When I moved to Pennsylvania, I wasn’t going to let my bosses know I was gay. When I was working on a unit with some teenage girls, the girls asked me if I had a girlfriend. I refused to answer the question, and they assumed I was gay. It began spreading around work that I was gay, even though I never said the words, “I’m gay.” I often worried that I would be fired.

Postcards you may see a lot of over the next few weeks that will be sent to U.S. senators
Postcards you may see a lot of over the next few weeks that will be sent to U.S. senators

The sad truth is that this is a fear a lot of us live with on a daily basis. No one should ever have to fear for their job because of their sexuality. When I was beginning to accept my sexual orientation, I fell in love with the TV show, Queer as Folk. One of the characters, Brian Kinney was asked by a homophobic candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh that he was helping to elect if he was gay. Brian said it best when he basically said that he was, but it didn’t really matter if he was or not because his sexuality didn’t define his work ethic. Unfortunately – in the real world – for residents of 29 states, they can be fired because of their sexual orientation, including Pennsylvania (there are some restrictions on the state and municipal levels) and Missouri.

In just a few weeks, the United States Senate will begin debating and voting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Senate Bill 815. ENDA would ban discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity in employment across the United States. This bill would be no different than the protections given to race, sex, religion, disability and nationality.

Earlier this week, I attended a kick-off event that is being pioneered by the Americans for Workplace Opportunity in conjunction with the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Pennsylvania, the ACLU and several other non-profit organizations to help persuade Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R) to vote ‘yes’ on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it comes up for a vote.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)

The campaign to persuade legislators into voting ‘yes’ on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is not limited to Pennsylvania. There are campaigns being launched in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia, focusing on 13 senators. If you live in any of these states, including Pennsylvania, I urge you to find out how to get involved in these campaigns to ensure ENDA passes in a few weeks.

Despite the fact that 80% of Americans, including 70% of Republicans support the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, many may be reluctant to support ENDA because they believe religious institutions should have the right to choose whether they want to hire gay people or not. ENDA does not strip away this choice for churches, synagogues, or any other faith that are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law also does not cover small businesses with 15 or less employees or create an affirmative action for LGBTQ individuals. So, there is no logical reason why ENDA cannot pass the U.S. Senate. Now is the time for us to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

There are a lot of ways that you can get involved. Contact your U.S. Senator and let them know that you support ENDA and want them to do the same. You can look up your senators here. Call them, email them, write them letters, write letters to the editor of your newspaper, and most importantly, pass the word to your family, friends and colleagues to contact their senators as well. I also highly encourage you to find a local campaign in your area if you want a more active role in ensuring the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. If you cannot find out how to get involved, feel free to contact me and I will be sure to do my best in order to find out the required information for your state.

If you are a Pennsylvania resident, you can email Senator Toomey by filling out this form. You can also call his constituency offices by finding out your local number here. His Washington, D.C. office is: (202) 224-4254. Senator Bob Casey is already a co-sponsor for the bill. If you want more information on how to get involved with the campaign in PA, feel free to contact me through the many different avenues I have available. I will be sure to provide the information to you.

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Posted in current events, gay, holocaust, lgbt, news, politics, russia, Uncategorized, united states

Russia Leading LGBT Community Down a Dark Path

blood

As I looked at the videos and photos coming out of Russia after the archaic laws banning “gay propaganda” was signed into law by Vladimir Putin, I was shocked. I was angry. I felt like we had to stand up and do something! I felt like protests and raising awareness to the travesty that is happening in that country might change Russia. It might give gay Russians a way to look forward to brighter days and a better tomorrow. I’m now falling into a feeling of disconnection and sickness. I am physically nauseated by the conditions the gay community in Russia is being subjected to.

pinktriangle
Uniform gay people wore in Nazi Concentration Camps

I read an article on the Advocate called “Russia Raids Gay People’s Homes.” As I read this, my mind went back to the days of Adolf Hitler, and his raids on suspected Jews, gypsies, handicap and gay homes. The parallels to the Holocaust in and around Germany and what is going on in Russia today are eerily similar. The above article states that Putin’s government is passing out pamphlets that warn people that they could fall victim of the anti-gay propaganda laws and face the consequences. They are creating a hysteria that being gay is this evil sickness that must be exterminated and those that may speak with a gay neighbor and not turn them in for their propaganda may find themselves victims of these atrocious laws.

Another alarming revelation coming out of Russia is that the Russian Parliament is beginning debate on a “gay conversion bill” in which gay people can voluntarily begin treatment for their gay “illness” for free. As it stands now this law would only be voluntary, but as The New Civil Rights Movement points out in their article, “Russian Parliament Working on Bill to “Return Gays” to ‘Normal Life’ via ‘Ex-Gay Therapy,’” how long will it be before this voluntary measure becomes a sentence for those that are found to be guilty under the “gay propaganda law?”

praygayaway

The LGBT community in Russia is getting brutally attacked by heathens that hide behind Putin’s laws to physically harm and kill gay people. The Russian government is creating an environment in which people are being taught that gay people are sub-human and sick. The government is now discussing a voluntary service to make gay people straight, which is harmful and destructive to those it is brought upon. I question what type of ex-gay therapy will they use. Will they use torture? Will they use shock therapy? Will they use the “voluntary” ex-gay therapy as a means to plea bargain with suspected gay people? “If you agree to this counseling, it won’t go on your record. You won’t be branded a homosexual and disgraced by your family, your friends and your community. Your current and future employers won’t have to know.”

There have been rumors flying around, which I have heard on the news and it is brought up in the New Civil Rights Movement article that Russian Parliament is considering a bill that would allow the government to remove children from their parents’s homes, if the parents are suspected of being gay. At what point will it stop? To what point will the degradation and humiliation of the LGBT community in Russia end?

The treatment of the gay community in Russia by it’s people and by the Russian Parliament will manifest the idea that gay people are less than and that they are sick. “They must be treated.” “There is a cure for their deviance.” “When we break them down to where they won’t have their family, to where they lose their identity, only then will they be broken down and have no other choice than to leave their deviant lifestyle and stop infecting our innocent children.”

vladimir

We’re headed down a dark path. A path that doesn’t have an end in sight, and a world that stands idly by. I don’t know what I can do as one man that just scrapes by with what I have while attending college. But I know I can’t remain silent. I can’t stand idly by. The cost is far too great for any of us to stand idly by.

I can’t say for certain another Holocaust will happen, but Russia sure is beating the drum to creating torture chambers there. They already have in so many respects. It’s only a matter of time before people start dying at the hands of the Russian government under the anti-gay laws. Putin won’t be as openly defiant to a world court by creating obvious gay storehouses, but his gay conversion therapy could be the perfect cover for a disgusting chamber where gays are helplessly tortured. We can’t sit idly by this time. Something has to be done.