Delaware Considers ‘Dangerous’ Policy Forcing Schools to Out Trans Students to Parents

A proposal currently under consideration in Delaware would force teachers to out trans youth to their parents if students ask to be affirmed by their gender identity in schools.

 

Regulation 225 was originally introduced last year at the urging of Delaware Gov. John Carney, who instructed its Department of Education to deliver clear guidelines on nondiscrimination. The initial draft version, put forward in September 2017, allowed students to self-identify their race and gender without prior permission from a parent or legal guardian.

 

The policy also advised teachers, administrators, and staff members to treat trans children in a manner consistent with their gender identity—whether it’s access to locker rooms and restrooms, use of name and pronoun, or playing on team sports.

 

But conservatives warned that adopting the policy would infringe on the rights of parents to determine what is best for their children. Terri Hodges, president of the Delaware PTA, told Fox News that she “would be livid if the school allowed my daughter to make such a significant decision” without consulting her family members first.

 

Meanwhile, the Delaware Family Policy Council falsely warned that the regulation would “allow for boys to play female sports, and male students may access female restrooms, locker rooms, and overnight accommodations.”

 

“They simply need to ‘identify’ as female to gain access,” the anti-LGBTQ lobby group claimed, citing a widely debunked right-wing myth.

 

During a 30-day public comment period which ran until December 4, more than 11,000 comments were submitted on Regulation 225. The vast majority of those responses—a reported 8,000—were negative.

 

The Delaware DOE announced earlier this month that it would be introducing changes to the proposal in response to virulent right-wing backlash. The revised version of Regulation 225 mandates that trans students get authorization from their parents before any changes are made to how schools officially address their gender identity.

 

Mark Purpura, a board member for Equality Delaware, called the amendments “misguided [and] dangerous,” claiming they “run the risk of emboldening discrimination and violence against LGBTQ students.”

 

“These changes were crafted without the input or knowledge of the very team that spent months carefully drafting a comprehensive regulation and run counter to federal civil rights laws and the overwhelming consensus of educational and medical experts,” Purpura claimed in a statement provided to INTO.

 

National civil rights groups have likewise condemned the legislation as encouraging the very thing it was designed to address: widespread discrimination against LGBTQ youth in schools.

 

“If adopted, Regulation 225 would license discrimination against transgender students, violate federal civil rights laws and undermine the health, safety and dignity of kids who deserve our support,” claimed Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. Requiring the forced outing of transgender students as a precondition to protect their rights is discriminatory and cruel.”

 

The National Center for Trans Equality further pointed out that it would actually make it harder for trans students to integrate fully into their schools.

 

“The regulation would… create burdensome processes for students to change their name and gender markers on school records, as well as participate equally in extracurricular activities,” the advocacy organization states in a press release. “In many cases, this regulation would make it difficult or even impossible for schools to support transgender students.”

 

For Delaware native Sarah McBride, the issue is personal.

 

Now the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, she helped fight for the passage of a statewide nondiscrimination law in 2013. That legislation outlawed bias in housing and employment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, passed months after the state passed a bill legalizing marriage equality.

 

McBride claimed that making Regulation 225 official policy would serve to roll back the work of LGBTQ advocates across the state—and put the lives of trans youth at risk.

 

“Across Delaware, far too many transgender students wake up in the morning fearful of bullying and discrimination during the school day ahead,” said McBride, who is also a board member of Equality Delaware, in comments provided to INTO. “The current draft of the regulation fails Delaware’s moral and legal obligation to ensure a safe and quality education for all students, including transgender students.

 

LGBTQ youth in Delaware are “frightened by this regulation,” she added.

 

In a 2012 survey from the Human Rights Campaign, 60 percent of trans and gender nonconforming youth reported having no support from parents or family members. Meanwhile, a 2015 report from the National Center for Trans Equality found that one in 10 trans youth had been attacked or assaulted by a relative after coming out.

 

DeShanna Neal, a family organizer for the National Center for Trans Equality, said Regulation 225 “ignores the harsh reality faced by kids around Delaware and around the country.”

 

“We cannot expect students to thrive when they feel unsafe, unaccepted, or unwanted at school,” Neal said in a statement. “For too many kids, however, that sense of rejection starts at home. While I could never fathom rejecting my transgender daughter because of who she is, there are some parents that will have no difficulty pushing their children away simply because they are transgender.”

 

“I urge all supporters of transgender equality to tell Governor Carney of Delaware that this regulation will undermine protections for our most vulnerable students,” she continued.

 

Fortunately for trans youth and their allies, the policy is far from a done deal. The public will have until July 6 to submit comment on the amended version of Regulation 225, and anyone who wishes to sound off on the proposal can mail Tina Shockley at the Department of Education, 401 Federal St., Suite 2, Dover, Delaware 19901 or send an email to [email protected]

Ohio House Approves Bill Allowing Wedding Venues To Turn Away Gay Couples

A bill which would allow people of faith to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings passed the Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday.

House Bill 36, also known as the “Pastor Protection Act,” would prevent the state from taking action against any minister who declines to officiate an LGBTQ couple’s wedding because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Sponsored by Rep. Nino Vitale, the legislation applies to judges in county and municipal courts, as well as members of “religious societies.”

Vitale, a Republican representing Urbana, has been pushing the bill since 2015, when the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalized marriage equality. He  claimed HB 36 is not a “sword” but “a shield to protect everyone’s rights.”

“Do we want Ohio to be a state that imposes something on pastors that is against their deeply held religious beliefs?” he asked colleagues during debate.

“This bill is not only timely,” Vitale added, “it’s much needed.”

Supporters of the legislation, which includes the Catholic Conference of Ohio, agree that HB 36 is necessary to prevent the so-called “religious liberty” of faith-based entities from being violated by LGBTQ people.

In a letter to the Ohio House, local pastor Brian D. Kershaw claimed the legislation would “explicitly protect the convictional voices of pastors.” He added that the same-sex marriage issue posed “a very real threat [to conservatives] which has become imminent upon the free expression of religious conviction.”

None of the religious leaders who backed the bill, however, had been forced to officiate an LGBTQ wedding. As opponents pointed out, ministers already have the ability to refuse to solemnize same-sex unions under current law.

Critics warned that the passage of HB 36 would amount to a license to discriminate against same-sex couples.

“Proprietors of property and services that rent to the public-at-large can turn away members of the LGBTQ community,” said Cleveland Heights Democrat Janine Boyd, who pointed out that the phrase “religious societies” is undefined in the bill.

“There is no feeling at all like being turned away for what you are, for who your Creator made you to be,” she added.

The potentially sweeping implications of HB 36 are what makes LGBTQ groups so vehemently opposed to the legislation. Advocates pointed out that HB 36 would permit a Knights of Columbus hall or other wedding venues to turn away an interfaith or interracial couple if they cite religious reasons for doing so.

“Property and services rented to the public at large must be available to all, regardless of race, sex, religion and other protected characteristics,” said Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum in a statement.

Jochum called it an “RFRA for your wedding day,” referencing an Indiana bill signed into law by former Gov. Mike Pence which allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. That legislation was “fixed” in 2015 following a national boycott of the state which resulted in $60 million in lost revenue, as well 12 conventions pulling out of the state in protest of the anti-LGBTQ law.

Equality Ohio noted in a press release that Vitale called HB 36 “an Ohio RFRA” on the floor of the House.

Even despite the concerns of Democratic members of the House and local LGBTQ advocacy groups, Vitale’s bill passed on Wednesday by a 59-to-29 vote, which included a provision by Republican House Rep. Bill Seitz granting HB 36 the right to supersede local public accommodations laws.

The legislation passed the House Community and Family Advancement Committee on Tuesday by an 8 to 4 vote after being sidelined since February.

HB 36 will now head to the Ohio Senate, where Republicans hold a wide majority. Twenty-four of the 33 seats are held by conservatives. Should Gov. John Kasich (who is also a Republican) choose to veto the bill, supporters would need a three-fifths majority in both houses of the Ohio Legislature to override it.

That outcome is likely given HB 36’s wide support in the House, where it passed with two-thirds of the chamber’s approval.

HB 36 is just the most recent anti-LGBTQ bill to advance in Ohio in recent weeks. Last week the Community and Family Advancement committee heard debate on House Bill 658, a proposal which would grant parents greater authority to block trans children from transitioning and force teachers to out transgender students to their families.

Author of Notorious PrEP-Shaming ‘Times’ Op-Ed Lashes Out on Twitter

After publishing an op-ed, “The End of Safe Gay Sex?” about the state of the American HIV epidemic in the New York Times, historian Patrick William Kelly spent the rest of the afternoon fighting with other professional writers about the piece online.

It did not go well.

Kelly spent the rest of Tuesday fighting with people online and ended up tweeting out some truly bizarre retorts. Kelly insulted Rich Juzwiak of Jezebel for his extremely thoughtful response to the article, calling Jezebel a gossip rag, probably because misogyny is real and sites that are in any way associated with feminism must just be gossip rags, right?

Juzwiak’s online responses were met with schoolyard taunts.

Juzwiak later tweeted out emails Kelly had sent him claiming he was mad that he was not published in the Times. (Google New York Times and Juzwiak’s name and you’ll see the paper has cited him several times, by the way.)

When two other academics at Kelly’s institution, Northwestern University, tweeted him about his lack of racial analysis in his piece, he responded with a super professional “fuck off.”

When Kelly responded “Who are you?” to be petty, Steven Thrasher, an incoming professor at Northwestern, responded: “I’m the Daniel Renberg Chair of…wait for it…media coverage of sexual & gender minorities at…wait for it…Northwestern! Where I will…wait for it…research AIDS!”

Award-winning HIV reporter Tim Murphy tried to engage with him as well and was met with snark. Murphy wrote the first landmark piece about PrEP in 2014 for New York, “Sex Without Fear.”

Kelly ended up tweeting more insulting things about legendary AIDS activist Peter Staley, who was one of the subjects of the Oscar-nominated film How to Survive a Plague, as well. Since then he’s just tweeted random insults, apologies for being white, and more!

And, just for a little icing on the cake, Kelly seems primed to go full Chadwick Moore. After his conversations online, he says he now has “sympathy” for the right!  

Uncovering the Lost History of Two Lesbians in Mid-Century Chicago

Romance is the ideal in one’s life and it is very lonely living with it lost.

“The Good Anna” from Three Lives by Gertrude Stein

Queer existence during the pre-Stonewall era was riddled with hatred, oppression, and harassment. Women in the post-war 1940s and ‘50s were expected to facilitate more domestic roles in order to create a heteronormative nuclear family. Lesbianism was not an option; instead, it was considered a perversion.

Nevertheless, the 1952 Kinsey Report found that six percent of women between the ages of 20 and 35 had a type of lesbian curiosity. Most lesbians during this time lived heterosexual lives in order to fulfill societal standards, concealing their sexual identities and effectively forgoing their true selves. Others refused husbands but kept things as covert as possible for the sake of safety.

“Women in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s often held hands as they walked down the street or danced together at public dances,” award-winning digital and film artist Michelle Citron tells INTO. “No one thought that meant they were lesbians, and most weren’t.”

For almost 50 years, Norma Roos and Virginia Kaitchuck lived together in the Northside neighborhood of Rogers Park in Chicago before dying in 1999 and 2001, respectively. Brief moments of affection — a foot touching a leg, a hand grazing a shoulder, or a head lying in a lap—are seen in the snapshots that Citon found in boxes full of more than 2000 photographs, black and white memories of two young lovers whose lives were lived in secret. Citron was researching her narrative Mixed Greens when she met Patrick Gourley, who lived behind Norma and Virginia and was left with the task of cleaning up their home after they died.

As the author of Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions, a book on how snapshots and home movies create a  visual history that can both tell specific stories as well as speak to broader LGBTQ culture, Citron would find Norma and Virginia to be compelling subjects for her new film,  Lives: Visible.

“I grew up in the 1950s and clearly remember my mother and her best friends showing this kind of affection in public,” Citron says. “I think that public norms of how women acted together, and what that meant, changed in the 1970s. But you also have to keep in mind this invisibility was true for lesbians who ‘passed’ as straight. Women who looked very butch had to be extremely careful in publicly showing affection for other women. It was dangerous for them to do so.”

Not much is known about Virginia, who remained inside of her home into her 70s and didn’t discuss much of her life. Norma was outgoing and lively and worked as an AT&T engineer, very personable by comparison.

“There’s so much these snapshots tell us,” Citron tells INTO. “They show that Norma played in the women’s professional baseball league during WWII. By the 1950s she was a national champion bowler as well.”

The images of the couple’s younger years are pertinent in understanding the visibility, through small and very much in the details, of the mid-century lesbian community. Since Norma and Virginia were closeted their entire lives, the displays of public affection found in the photographs collected by Citron exemplify their inability to truly hide who they were.

“The snapshots also show how this community of white, working-class lesbians who lived on the Northside spent their time,” Citron says.

The photographs are crucial and remarkable because of the erasure of gay history; archives have been lost, stories have been eliminated, names forgotten. Norma and Virginia were just your average couple, who existed, kissed, loved, and built memories.

“Over four decades we see them gather together for holidays, dance and drink at house parties, hang out at the beach, and go about their daily lives as they switch partners and age,” says Citron, who notes that the photos are primarily taken between 1939-1975.  They are now a part of Lives: Visible,  the 58-minute film (which is available from Women Make Movies).

Lives: Visible features images of the couple with narration by Citron, who explains the history of the couple and their life in a time preceding gay liberation. She interviewed a lesbian who had lived down the street from the couple, as well as a gay man who befriended them and took care of them during the last decade of their lives.

The film is a continuation of Citron’s work, which has a theme of creating fabricated home movies of lesbian life. Growing up in Boston, Citron says her father would take home movies and she incorporated those movies into a 1978 film, Daughter Rite.

“Home movies and snapshots have been an integral part of my films since the late ’70s,” Citron says.  “Given how prevalent selfies are today, home movies and snapshots are still central to how we define ourselves.”

This defining affection—though small and subtle—can be seen in the honest and intimate gestures between Norma and Virginia; finally visible after all these years.

 

Jonathan Van Ness Scalds Antoni Porowski With Severely Hot Masterpiece Cakeshop Tea

The Fab Five of Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot look like they know how to throw a dinner party. They also know how to throw down at one.

In a new interview with Vulture, the Fab Five covered a wide range of topics, but when it came to politics, the gloves came off when it came to the hot-button topic of civility and Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Interviewer E. Alex Jung asked the group whether they’d do a makeover for the Colorado baker behind the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Antoni answers affirmatively, and says, “I would. I want to know what that’s about. I want to know about who your parents were, how you were raised. I want to know, if this person were vetted, if there’s a willingness. Then I want to know about where that willingness is coming from.”

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However, Jonathan isn’t having it.

“Personally, where I come from, I have had people my entire life tell me to my face, ‘I don’t agree with your lifestyle. You should never be able to be married. You’re a faggot.’ Pushed down the stairs, ‘faggot’ spray painted on my car. When I say chased around with pitchforks, I’m halfway kidding. So when you close the door [and] walk out of that room, I’m pretty sure I know the type of language that was used to describe what you’d be doing in a place like that,” he said.

He continued, “When I walk out of a room with someone like that, I know very clearly the thoughts that are going through their head. Would they say it to my face? No. They’ll shake my hand with a smile on their face, and then they’re going to go and take your mom’s health care, take your children’s health care, and they’re also going to try to take food stamps from people and make sure women need to qualify how much work [they] can get so they can feed their children. So to the baker, this is someone who is fighting for the extreme right to win something on principle that the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against—”

As Jonathan goes on, Antoni says that Jonathan is making a lot of “assumptions” about the baker in the case. But Jonathan has done his homework.

“I’m not making too many assumptions,” Jonathan responds. “I let you finish your point on the baker and wanting to work with him, so I’m going to finish mine. This is someone who has led a charge from the fanatical wing of the U.S. to disenfranchise gay people and further feed the flames of the right, who says we’re evil and shouldn’t have the right to marry. Exactly what’s going on with Roe v. Wade will be the case for gay marriage if these same people continue to win Supreme Court decisions like they just won. So by legitimizing them, especially the person that has stoked such an intense case against marriage equality, that also presents such a big bone in the side of furthering marriage equality. Because even though this decision was close and it didn’t reverse the decision of the Ninth District and the Colorado board that decides the governing ethics that this baker reversed, that Supreme Court decision wasn’t super-duper clear because it didn’t reverse the initial… It was very narrow. But once you’ve lived a struggle that is not the struggle you’d have growing up in Montreal or Houston or a bigger city, and really had those people’s policies affect your local life, you have to be very careful. Especially given the opportunity the five of us have been given. To have this platform and have these followers, to be taking interviews and to say lightly that you’d take him [put the baker on the show], I don’t know. That’s why I don’t know if I’d want that episode.”

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Later, Jonathan asks Antoni if he’s read the story of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, to which Antoni says no.

“So you’d know, if you did, that I’m not making a lot of this up,” Jonathan responds. When Antoni says he wants to meet the guy, Jonathan says, “Well, good luck to you. Read the article.”

The point is, protect Jonathan Van Ness at all costs.

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Photo by Mary Clavering/Young Hollywood/Getty Images

LGBTQ Advocates Urge Senators to Block Trump SCOTUS Picks After Kennedy Announces Retirement

Just hours after news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement broke, advocacy groups called on Senators to block any replacement opposed to LGBTQ equality.

 

As was long anticipated, the 81-year-old justice announced he will be retiring at the end of the 2018 term. A moderate conservative appointed by Reagan, Kennedy served as a liberal swing vote on many of the Supreme Court’s most progressive rulings on LGBTQ rights, authoring the majority opinions in the Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down state sodomy bans and the Obergefell v. Hodges verdict legalizing marriage equality.

 

During the 2016 election, President Donald Trump vowed to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would overturn its 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage. After tapping Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, the POTUS will now have a chance to fill another seat.

 

LGBTQ advocates and their allies urged lawmakers to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who would help Trump follow through on that promise.

 

“Whoever is confirmed to the seat will serve for life, and the values they bring to the job will shape our country for a generation,” said People For the American Way President Michael Keegan in a statement. “The stakes for this nomination couldn’t be higher, and Senators should make clear that they’ll oppose any nomination that isn’t the result of meaningful bipartisan consultation.”

 

Others argued the Senate should block any Trump appointee until after the 2018 midterms.

 

“The stakes for the next nomination are too high for our community to sit back and let the White House ram through another anti-LGBTQ extremist,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, in a statement. “It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure Justice Kennedy’s replacement is willing to stand up to the Trump-Pence Administration and protect our civil rights.”

 

“We urge every member of the U.S. Senate who supports equality and social justice for the LGBTQ community, for women, for immigrants and for communities of color to refuse to confirm any nominee until after the November midterm elections,” he added.

 

Other LGBTQ groups agreed with that assessment.

 

“We cannot allow 40 more years of Trump’s values on the Supreme Court,” said Lambda Legal CEO Rachel Tiven said in a statement. “Attempts by President Trump and Vice President Pence to use a new court vacancy as a way to deprive us of our dignity, to demean our community, or to diminish our status as equal citizens will be met with a chorus of opposition from civil rights leaders across the country.”

 

“Now more than ever, we need all Senators, including principled moderate Senators, to hold the line to prevent any nominee who would fail to ensure our country’s most basic principles of justice and equality for all,” added National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Legal Director Shannon Minter.

There is relatively recent precedent for members of the Senate intentionally delaying the vote on a president’s Supreme Court pick.

 

When President Obama tapped Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in March 2016, conservatives in the Senate Judiciary Committee stated in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they would “exercise [their] constitutional authority to withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by this president.” The 11 signatories included Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Sessions.

 

Blocking a replacement for Scalia for more than a year paved the way for Gorsuch, an arch-conservative jurist who opposed same-sex marriage in his 2004 dissertation at Oxford University.

 

Since joining the Supreme Court last year, Gorsuch has sided against LGBTQ equality in every case that has come before the nation’s highest bench. When SCOTUS issued a “narrow” 7-2 ruling in the case of an anti-gay baker who denied a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, he was part of a conservative contingent that wanted the ruling to go further—and issue a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

 

Gorsuch was joined in that opinion by Justice Samuel Alito.

 

As the court weighs in on issues of “religious liberty” and other key battles down the line, advocates claimed it was critical to ensure the White House doesn’t have the power to continue to rollback LGBTQ rights through the courts—as Trump has consistently done since taking office.

 

“The next justice could cast pivotal votes on whether it is legal to fire a transgender employee, target transgender students at school, or refuse health care to transgender patients,” said National Center for Trans Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling in a statement. “Unfortunately, every member of President Trump’s ‘shortlist’ has been vetted to ensure they will not uphold these basic rights.”

 

Previous Supreme Court candidates put forward by the Trump administration include Diane Sykes, who argued that university groups which discriminate against LGBTQ students should still have the right to funding from their college, and William Pryor, who supports laws criminalizing homosexuality.

 

Nearly one-third of all judicial nominees appointed by Trump have a noted record of opposing LGBTQ rights, according to Lambda Legal.

 

The difference between Garland and any nominees tapped by Trump, however, is that Republicans held a majority in the Senate in 2016. Democrats—who occupy 49 seats in the upper house of the legislature—do not hold that bargaining power alone and will need conservatives to join them in preventing a SCOTUS appointment. In addition, Senate Republicans altered procedural rules following the standoff over Garland making it more difficult for Democrats to filibuster in the future.

 

McConnell has pledged a vote on Kennedy’s replacement by the fall.

The Hetero-Based Fear of Queer Children is Killing Us All

November 6th, 2017 is a day that I’ll never forget.

That day, a young man by the name of Giovanni Melton had his life taken by a gunshot wound at the hands of his father. The 14-year-old’s crime was nothing more than him being gay. His father’s homophobia outweighed the “unconditional love” one is supposed to have for their child. Unfortunately, Giovanni’s father is what happens when people want the “perfect child,” a notion that continues to kill queer children, in turn killing us all.

“I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.” These parting words from Melton’s unremorseful father speak volumes about the homophobia that continues the pattern of violence against the queer community. Yet there was community silence around this death. He was a Black life that mattered, yet many didn’t speak about the loss. It left me to wonder if it was fear that they would be too closely associated with supporting queerness, or fear that they too could see themselves as being that violent towards a queer child? I fear the latter.

As our community continues to evolve, queer people become more visible, despite the fact that we have always existed. This visibility is often seen as a threat to the heteronormative community, lending to the violence we face, which threatens liberation for us all.

I recently attended a gender reveal for my soon to be nephew. Although I was apprehensive because my own work is about deconstructing gender, I knew the importance of celebrating this moment with my family. It was a joyous pre-event to the baby shower where we could all sit in the excitement of welcoming the newest baby into our family. My brother shot the balloons filled with paint until he hit one that was blue.

The family screamed and shouted in excitement. There were tears and hugs and congratulations. All were excited including myself. Not so much because by society’s standard our family was about to have a boy, but because I knew my family was welcoming a child with love regardless of what the gender stated. I knew that because I was once a blue balloon, too.

Now fully out and queer and unapologetic, I know what it is like to face the expectations of what a boy is supposed to be and what can happen when he doesn’t fit the standard. I’m grateful to my family who allowed me to grow into the person I was supposed to be rather than the person society expected me to. I got to be a kid despite my effeminate mannerisms. Although I dealt with bullying, I didn’t have to come home to it; a fate that many unfortunately deal with in our community.

The risks queer children face are higher in just about every category when placed against our heterosexual counterparts. The risks of contracting HIV, of homelessness, abuse, and other social determinants of health create a multitude of oppressions for queer children which also leads to higher rates of self-harm and suicide within our community. Unfortunately, like most behaviors, queer antagonism is learned through conditioning of those responsible for raising queer children and those raising heterosexual children in homosexual environments.

We see time and time again, people within the Black community – most often religious leaders, socially conscious rappers, and folks within cornerstone environments in the Black community like the barbershop – come out against LGBTQs. These locations are where many queer children exist within Blackness but only absent their queerness. I’ve personally had this experience where I’m invited into a heteronormative space to only be condemned as a patron or parishioner. My money is still valid, of course, but my total being? Not so much.

These leaders, however, have a platform. Social media isn’t the only place where a follower count matters. When leaders of these local platforms speak the words of homophobia into a room that takes it as facts and law, those listeners, in turn, take those words and put them to action. That action being violence against queer people in the community. With much of the violence either ignored or swept under the rug, where abusers become glorified and victims continue to be demonized.

Our community can no longer survive instilling our children with homophobia and queer antagonism. Children are not born hating other children. Children are taught to be divisive, with many bullied for even having queer friends. The birds of a feather logic is used as a tool to deter heterosexual allies from associating publicly with their queer friends.

Queer people have continued to fight for us all. Queer children continue to come out younger and younger and be even more vocal about the oppression they face from their queerness and their Blackness. They are often unsupported in their plight and victimized for their request to be as they are, in totality, of a Blackness inclusive of queerness.

The story can no longer be just wanting a boy or a girl. You should want a healthy child, one that you will support, raise, and protect with unconditional love despite their choice in gender or non-identifying. We have seen too many Black queer bodies die at the hands of our own community. No one is free unless all of us are free. That starts with freeing your mind of fear that you one day may have a queer child.

What It’s Like to Be LGBTQ With PTSD

When I decided to write a PTSD Awareness Day piece to be published today, June 27, I hoped to speak to a dozen or more queer survivors of PTSD and complex PTSD from a range of backgrounds, who would — more or less — present a slice-of-life, if anecdotal, account of queer post-traumatic stress in mid-2018. I’m not a mental health practitioner, and I’m certainly not a researcher. Still, I’m in the business of storytelling, and, given how important telling and recontextualizing my own story has been to my own recovery process, I expected many others to be interested in sharing their stories with me.

I was wrong.

I don’t in any way mean to scold those who, for whatever reason, declined to participate or reneged their interest in participating once they learned the limited scope of my project. I see their decisions not to participate as self-loving and self-protective acts, for which I have tremendous respect. I’m grateful my own recovery has occurred on my body’s own timeline.

Rather, I’m sad for those of us whose access to judgment- and stigma-free care for post-traumatic stress is limited or nonexistent, despite the emerging modalities and treatments that can make life livable for so many of us. I’m sad for those of us who lack family, friends, or other supportive communities that could prop us up as we do the courageous and difficult work of making it through each day. I’m sad that so many of us don’t get to see into the messy, chaotic lives of others who are fighting the same battles and working to overcome the same barriers we are. I’m sad for those of us who believe our experiences aren’t important or valued. I’m sad that so many of us suffer in silence. I’m sad that so much of our suffering ends in premature, permanent silence.

But this isn’t just about me and my feelings.

I was able to speak to four individuals whose encounters with post-traumatic stress have validated mine and emboldened me to live the best life I can. I hope they do the same for you. I challenge you, specifically, to take on the mantle of deconstructing prejudice and stigma around mental illness — not just post-traumatic stress, but also post-traumatic stress; and not just for yourself, but also for yourself.

A word of warning: the accounts below describe emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence. Take care of yourself and opt out if you need to — and, anyway, the tl;dr is: Whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Some names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.

Ariana

On Thursday, Ariana will be 29 years old. She was diagnosed at age 15, “so I’ve had it for almost half my life at this point,” she says. Her diagnosis came after a sexual assault. She’s been sexually assaulted twice, and her symptoms have been aggravated by abuse from romantic partners between those assaults.

“For a long time, I didn’t want to be around men — like, I would get really nervous and scared,” she continues, “so like, if it was on an elevator and it was by myself, I would avoid men entirely.” Ariana has a long history of nightmares that end in cold sweats. They continue to this day. “I get really jumpy. I get startled really easily. And if there was anything similar, like, if I was experiencing any kind of bad behavior from other people, then I would get upset again and I’d have the symptoms recur. I also have really bad anxiety.”

Ariana, a queer woman of color, spent the eight months leading up to March of this year living in the New York City shelter system. A physical disability, the result of a pulmonary embolism, poses challenges for her work and social life, but Medicaid covers transportation by car to her therapy appointments, and her college’s accessibility office provides accommodations around her education.

However, access to other resources is less readily available. She’s been trying to find a support group for survivors of sexual assault, but resources are scant. She also finds that, as she gets older, her access to care becomes harder to find, because care providers want to send her to queer-only — as opposed to general-population — facilities. It’s easier for Ariana to open up to others in the evening, so she prefers evening therapy appointments, which are hard to come by. Having been seen, for most of her life, by white practitioners, she prefers to work with those who are people of color — after 20 years in therapy, she’s currently working with a person of color for the first time.

After becoming disabled in 2011, Ariana began drinking and using drugs more heavily. She went to AA for 18 months, but ultimately found that, rather than being an alcoholic, she simply used alcohol to cope through a very difficult time in her life. She sees 12-Step programs as only one method of working towards sobriety. Queer people, she says, face judgment and heteronormative cultural practices they find alienating. Though the friends she made in AA abandoned her after she left the program, she maintains friendly contact with her former sponsor.

She’s worked with EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and has found it helpful; she’d like to come back to it. In the meantime, she is hopeful about a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) group she’ll be starting soon, which works to address both her PTSD and BPD (borderline personality disorder) symptoms. She’s also found art therapy and adult coloring books to be effective.

“I feel like group therapy is tricky,” she says, “because if you don’t have a group of people that you’re comfortable with, it can turn the whole experience sour.” Ariana says that, for group therapy to be effective, there has to be a common respect for experiences of difference and a willingness to listen to everybody.

“I’ve been through a lot,” she responds, when asked how her relationship with trauma has changed over the last few years. “Like, last year, I was homeless, and I was living in a shelter… it’s definitely something ongoing. I haven’t gotten to a point where I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m totally over this.’ I don’t know if that exists, or you just get to a point where you’re, like, ‘Okay, I can deal with this better than I could before,’ you know? One of my closest friends, he’s got the complex PTSD and he’s 31 and still processing. So it’s like… it depends. I don’t know. For me, I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away; I just think it’ll get easier for me to deal with.”

As far as how she’s doing now, she says, “I wouldn’t say I’m happy all the time, because no one’s happy all the time, but I just feel like, overall, I’m more content with who I am as a person, now, than I was a few years ago. I’m able to deal with things in a more healthy way.”

She says that talking about what happened to her is helpful: “It relieves some of the burden. It may not take away the pain, but I think you just feel a little bit lighter.”

Katrina

Katrina doesn’t have a PTSD diagnosis — her therapist doesn’t like to talk about diagnoses out of a concern for labeling her. She hadn’t heard about complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, until she saw my call for stories. After doing some research, she feels that a C-PTSD diagnosis, and the treatments it may open up for her, could help her to process some of her early life experiences.

Katrina is a 50-year-old lesbian who grew up with artistic talent and high hopes for her artistic career. Recently, though, she finds it difficult to do even the things she loves to do. “I’m not enjoying my life,” she says. “I’m not doing the things that make me happy. I have some kind of fear of success. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m blocked, just completely blocked, in a way that shifted in my adolescence. I feel like I lost my life, and I’m trying to claim myself back and be that person who… I was very sure of myself as a kid, and, just… things happened.”

She was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital at 16, but 34 years later, she feels like she’s still there. “They put me there because they didn’t know what else to do with me,” she says. “I just wanted to get away from my family. It was a very, very destructive place, certainly an awful place to be. But it had long-range consequences, because they convinced my parents that I wouldn’t graduate from high school, that I had all kinds of psychiatric deficits. I’m not sure what they happened. They just… the constant pathologizing of me, it just beat me down.” She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, but a PTSD diagnosis didn’t enter her awareness as a possibility until recently.

Her hospitalization came in response to an episode of traumatic grief after losing her grandmother, the closest person to her. Katrina’s parents ignored, neglected, and emotionally abused her throughout childhood, but her grandmother was always there for her. “So when she was gone,” she says, “there was nothing… I had no one on my side.”

Like Ariana, Katrina has nightmares, but she also relives her traumatic experiences through flashbacks and is subject to retraumatization. Her nightmares are recurring, and they involve being locked up in the psychiatric hospital and being mistreated as a psychiatric patient. “I was not ill,” she says of herself when she was hospitalized. “The treatment — I’m sure wasn’t meant to be cruel — made me ill.” When she has to go to hospitals today, she freezes, feels helpless, and experiences a feeling “of being a child, and needing something, and it not being there, and I’m going to die, and no one cares.” When her mother died, she witnessed her mother’s death over and over again — two to three times a night — in her nightmares. Those nightmares persisted for over a year.

Katrina tried to communicate to her parents, in childhood, that she had an eating disorder, but they refused to listen: “They said I just wanted attention and ignored me.” Her eating disorder went untreated until after graduate school. “I had a childhood in which my reality was constantly denied by my parents and it made it so that I didn’t feel like I could trust myself,” she adds.

She really likes her current therapist, who she’s been seeing for five years. She even has a huge crush on her. “I thought that that connection, since I don’t feel that connection very often,” she says, “would push me more than I’ve been able to push myself with other therapists. Even if I was doing it for her, which didn’t turn out to be the case, at least it would push me toward health.” Her one complaint: “I wish she would work with me more on exploring things,” she says. “She only lets me talk. She doesn’t want to see anything creative, which is how I access my feelings — you know, they don’t come to me when I’m speaking.”

Katrina first was exposed to literature on trauma in graduate school, when one of her advisors recommended Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. Even the little bit of research Katrina has done on C-PTSD has been helpful for her. “You know, in reading this stuff, with the traumatic grief and complicated mourning,” she says, “it helps me to wrap my mind around what happened to me so I can just… you know, sometimes, if you can put something into a sentence and put a period at the end, or a question mark, or whatever you need, and just express it, it helps to clear the path for you to create another sentence.”

With regard to her relationship with her trauma over time, Katrina says, “It gets better as I get older.”

Ralph

Ralph, a 28-year-old white gay man, moved to New York two years ago for graduate school. “I grew up in this Southern culture,” he says. “I didn’t grow up, necessarily, in the church, but definitely the kind of culture that places respecting your family and having this false sense of obligation to blood members of your family being the end-all, be-all kind of attitude.”

His mother was 16 and ill-equipped to take care of him when he was born, so he was raised by his paternal grandmother. He and his mother didn’t bond growing up, and they no longer speak. “I spent most of my childhood with her on weekends and different things,” he says, “but it really wasn’t, honestly, until I was an adult, and I came out, and I started to have a little bit more self-reflection in college, and then, it fully wasn’t until after I’d separated her from my life, that I started really evaluating the not-okay interactions with her.”

The hallmark of Ralph’s mother’s abuse was to create situations in which Ralph was dependent on her, then shame him for his dependence. “She would hand you a gift then punch you in the face, metaphorically,” he says, “and then be angry that you didn’t thank her for the gift after she punched you in the face. It was a lot of psychological torture.”

After college, Ralph’s mother offered to buy his car from him so that he wouldn’t have to keep making payments on it, then changed the arrangement right before he was about to leave for New York, asking him to cosign a sketchy loan with her new beau instead. When he pushed back, the conversation escalated. She physically attacked him and began to destroy his things, at which point he called the police. When the police arrived, she misrepresented the story to them. “I had a window of opportunity of finally being able to stand on my own two feet without needing anyone else in starting my own life in New York,” he says. “And that wasn’t comfortable for her, because she wanted to have power and wanted to have control by any means.” When I spoke to Ralph, it had been exactly two years since he cut off contact with his mother.

But the effects of her abusive manipulation haunt him to this day. “Any time I had ever achieved any kind of accomplishment or had something great to look forward to or, just, anything good that was like happening in my life,” he continues, “she would always find a way to insert herself and create chaos and disruption and trauma. And I realized that as graduation [from graduate school in May] drew near, it really didn’t feel like an accomplishment for me. I had a sense and a feeling of terror and impending doom.”

He also finds it difficult to socialize, accept friendships, and ask for help when he needs it. In graduate school, he found it difficult to work in the noisy lobby of his department, and became aggressive and angry at fellow students when it became too much. When his doctor asked why he felt he should be able to work in the noise, he said, “because I feel like I should be able to do anything and not be completely crippled and angry when there is noise around me.” He also has recurring depression and anxiety.

As an artist, he’s had to reckon with the cultural notion that artistry requires abstinence from psychiatric medication, but went on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) while in graduate school. The medication made him feel like a zombie. When he asked to go off the medication, his doctor put him on a 10-day tapering protocol. “That was way too fast,” he says. “And then I had a complete breakdown and I had very terrible withdrawals where my body was, like, complete electric shock.”

Ralph had access to counseling while in undergrad, which he says saved his life, but he isn’t currently in therapy. “To me, the way that I’ve actively tried to combat [the effects of trauma on my life] is to practice gratitude and generosity,” he says. “Any time where I felt like I’ve been overwhelmed, I’ve just tried to constantly reach out and verbalize and affirm my thanks for people that have even done small acts of kindness for me. Or actively trying to acknowledge and verbalize when I see someone doing something that I think is amazing.”

He still experiences fear that he won’t be able to manage, but he’s aware of his resilience. “I haven’t ever been in a situation where I couldn’t figure out my way around it,” he says. “And I think, the longer that that has been true, and the more that I have navigated through that… even though things are stressful, and I feel scared, and things are not easy, you do kind of develop a competence to keep moving forward.”

Jeffrey Anthony

Jeffrey Anthony is a certified health education specialist with a background in public health and health education. His focus is in human sexuality, and he works with gay male, queer, and HIV-positive populations. He currently works for a sexual violence program where he does crisis counseling, grant-writing, and educational material design. His clients have lived through sexual violence and often have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. He is a white, cisgender, queer gay man, and he suffers from PTSD, C-PTSD, bipolar depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and was recently diagnosed with high-level autism (ASD Level 1).

“I will tell you that my one thing that I do appreciate about the trauma is it gives me a sense of humor,” he says. “And I actually think that is a common theme in a lot of people that have experienced trauma is a dark, morose, and absolutely beautiful sense of humor.” But there’s plenty Jeffrey doesn’t love about his trauma.

“PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder,” he continues. “And the main difference is one is an acute trauma, and the other one is an ongoing trauma. Now, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, and I’ve been diagnosed with complex PTSD. So I am a survivor of sexual violence, twice in my life — one being far more a physical assault and rape than the other one, which was molestation. And there was sex and grooming and things, but it filled other emotional needs. And so none of these things happened in a vacuum, and that kind of builds on each other. But the other thing that I come from is a family that was emotionally and physically abusive. And so that continued — ongoing belittlement and physical abuse throughout my early childhood and into my teenage years. I’m 32 now, and occasionally my father still tries to make a snip at me. And now, I’m like, ‘Old man, I will break your arm.’ But it’s that ongoing abuse that led to that complex PTSD: that constant trauma, that ongoing, chronic trauma. That’s the difference.”

Jeffrey’s parents sought out diagnoses for him throughout childhood — he believes it was a way for them to feel better about their mistreatment of him. “My parents brought their bullshit with them and took it out on me,” he says. “And so I became their punching bag. And so that’s kind of the impetus for the development of my complex PTSD.”

His recent autism diagnosis sheds light on a childhood he’d previously misunderstood — he now sees a connection between his symptoms and the way fights escalated at home. Though his symptoms weren’t his fault, he internalized the blame. “I identified my parents as people that were supposed to protect me,” he reflects. “But why weren’t they protecting me? Is it because they were flawed humans? Or because I was a terrible person?” Jeffrey was physically abused by his parents as early as first grade, if not earlier. “It [was] far easier, and less terrifying, for me to identify myself as a bad person than the people I trust.”

“So it is this ongoing relationship where it manifests another way, where people say, ‘Oh, you’re still hearing your father talk to you like you were a child,’” he continues. “That’s kind of what [complex] PTSD is: that little voice from your childhood that’s having things just come back, and kind of flashback, versus an acute thing where, you know, fireworks go off and someone’s a wartime vet, and the fireworks sound like a shell going off, and they suddenly flashback to wartime. Very similar mechanisms, but it happens in very different ways. And so the complex PTSD then also starts to develop anxiety, because the coping mechanism, then, is, ‘I have to worry how am I going to survive. What would my survival skills? What I need to do?’ I’m a very charming person because I was afraid that I was going to be killed by my parents, specifically, my father. So I’m very good at getting people to like me, and for that reason, I also don’t trust when people like me and genuinely seem to like me.”

While the ongoing abuse at home led him to develop C-PTSD, the sexual assaults he endured were acute and led to his PTSD diagnosis. “When I was in high school, I was sexually assaulted,” he says. “They physically knocked me unconscious. They tied me down and then they raped me. And so that built some trust issues. I very much can’t handle bondage or the idea of being restrained — it makes me very claustrophobic. And I can’t handle certain things. It also was a person that I trusted, and so it built into other trust issues that already existed. I had an ongoing sexual experience, when I was 12, with someone who lived in the neighborhood, that was, give or take, 18. And at the time, I was very aware of what I was doing — probably that I shouldn’t have been doing it — but that this person made me feel special and wanted. And so, to that end, that continued, in some ways. And I look back on that and, you know… there’s a chance that that never would have happened, had I had a family that was more supportive, and gave me the attention that I desired, because I know that there was part of me that actively sought out that attention.”

Jeffrey has a long history of bad treatment from unqualified mental health care practitioners, one of whom used their sessions as an opportunity to vent about his divorce. “The concept of trauma-informed care is a relatively new concept,” he says. “And I think a lot of that is ego, on the part of practitioners, not recognizing that Sigmund Freud is an asshole and doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about and doesn’t contribute much to the field of psychology. Doctors kind of want this prestige of, ‘Oh, I’ve fixed you,’ and you don’t do that with mental health. There is no ‘fixing,’ really. There’s healing, and there’s scarring, but ‘fixing’ is not the word anyone will use.”

“The other part of it is,” he continues, “because individuals experiencing mental health issues are so disempowered, it creates an unfortunate power dynamic that exists where psychologists, therapists, what have you, won’t do the work to empower you, just… what is the way to make them feel like you’ve made progress?”

He speaks from personal experience with therapists and doctors as a client. On the other hand, he also attests that many of his colleagues in the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists are wonderful at providing trauma-informed care.

What ways can people suffering from trauma do to empower themselves? “I don’t know that I’ll tell anyone that they don’t need to be saved,” he says. “What I would tell them is that, if you think you need to be saved, unfortunately, you’re the person who has to save yourself. No one else can do that for you.”

“One of the ways to empower people is to let them feel the way they want to feel,” he continues. “Give yourself permission to feel. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. You can learn to understand why you’re feeling it. That’s the way to heal. I don’t need to be fixed. I need to heal and I need to grow. And it’s it’s about shifting that mindset of ‘Oh, I’m broken. Oh, I’ve got baggage.’ We all have fucking baggage. No one’s shit smells like roses. Even if you take the damn pills to make it [smell like roses], it’s still shit that smells like roses. It’s still shit. We all have it. And acknowledging that — in the very holistic way that I am —we’re all going to fucking die anyway, so what does it matter? But also, at the same time, that doesn’t mean I can’t have the best life that I want to have.”

While he’s aware of the loaded language behind terms like “victim” and “survivor,” he does hope to point those who suffer with trauma to a mindset of having survived. “The idea of being a survivor is that you acknowledge it is an ongoing thing. I have complex PTSD. I relive a lot of trauma all the time. I left work two hours early today because I had an anxiety attack so bad I threw up and I was having hot flashes and I couldn’t work. And I don’t always function. Where I have the choice, and it’s not an easy choice, is to do what I need to do to take care of myself so I can get to a sense of peace, and, perhaps, happiness. I don’t know that happiness needs to be the goal. I don’t know that I will ever be a happy person. I have moments of joy. But the choice is, I could stay at work and continue to be miserable, or I can go home and take care of myself and get a little bit better by taking care of myself and prioritizing that. That is the choice.”

“And I would say, even if you don’t think you’re worthy yourself, there are people that will always stick with you,” he continues. “Try and remember that that means you’re worthy. Find other ways to support yourself, with people that will say, ‘It’s okay to feel that way. I can support you without actually taking on your burden because you’re not a burden to me.’”

Justice Anthony Kennedy Announces Retirement From Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring.

Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, confirmed long-held speculation he would be stepping down at the end of his term in a Wednesday letter to colleagues. In a message tweeted by Bloomberg Law reporter Kimberly Robinson, he told his fellow justices: “It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court.”

His decision will be effective on July 31 this year.

The moderate conservative authored many of the Supreme Court’s key verdicts on LGBTQ rights, including the Lawrence v. Texas ruling striking down state sodomy bans and the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing marriage equality in the United States.

More recently, Kennedy penned the 7-2 majority opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which justices ruled that federal entities in Colorado illustrated anti-religious bias in weighing a discrimination claim against Christian baker Jack Phillips, who turned away a same-sex couple in 2012.

Kennedy’s decision notably punted on many of the key aspects of that case, like whether Phillips had the right to discriminate in the name of religion, while upholding the right of LGBTQ people to protection in public accommodations.

The Supreme Court vacancy will give President Donald Trump a second seat to fill with a conservative justice.

Before tapping conservative Neil Gorsuch to the bench in 2017, Trump vowed to appoint justices in the “mold of [Antonin] Scalia,” who vehemently opposed LGBTQ equality in his two decades on the courts. Since joining the Supreme Court last year, Gorsuch — who opposed same-sex marriage in his 2004 dissertation — has sided against every queer and trans issue that has come before the bench.

Currently, the Supreme Court is a five to four split between conservatives and liberals, with Kennedy occasionally joining the liberal members of the bench.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images