Category Archives: youth

Disconnecting In Order To Reconnect To What Matters

By Michelle E. Brown

Originally Printed 3/5/2015 in issue 2310 of Between The Lines Newspaper

We have become so connected by text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest, that sometimes we, myself included, forget about personal contacts.

I’ve followed relationships; seen them begin, flourish, sometimes fall apart, then rekindle – often with accompanying photos – on-line.

It’s like we’ve all become Santa Claus – knowing when our friends are sleeping; when they’re awake; when they’ve been bad or good. Especially hoping they’ve been good and if not, for goodness sake, not to have taken photos because they’ll be all over the web for the world to see.

My data usage exceeds my actual minutes because, like so many of my friends, I just send a text. And when I have something juicy to say, I’ve figured out how to relay it in under 140 characters, including hash tags for maximum impact, via Twitter.

When asked about the last time I talked or heard from someone, I often find myself citing a tweet, text or post. I feel like I’m in touch but…

In recent months I have heard about engagements, weddings, births, job promotions and other events mostly on Facebook. It has been generally happy news.

Most of the time it hasn’t come as a surprise. I’ve replied “Congratulations” and then hit send. I’ve looked at the pictures, hit like, smiled and shared them with mutual friends. Some of the more outrageous posts even merit a comment – “OMG,” “WTF” and/or some personal remarks.

Sometimes the news hasn’t been good – illnesses and, unfortunately, deaths. At these moments, “like” just doesn’t get it and comments fall short. Thinking about the losses of Charity Hicks, Robert Clark, Tito Gutierrez, Chantay Legacy Leonard and Santiago Lopez, I have to say these have been the hardest.

We make friends; begin and end relationships; make announcements; organize; mobilize and get our local, national and our all-important entertainment news online.

The world not only is now flat but, with a click of a mouse, we can also connect with people and events across the globe. All this connectivity, all this knowledge at our finger tips… one would think all our problems should be over. In some instances, they seem to be exacerbated as we lose our connection with one another.

Are friends whom we only know in the Facebook World – no matter how many likes/shares – dearer or closer than our “ride or die” friends from ‘back in the day’?

Are we getting beyond the posts, tweets and photos to get the details, to act and/or react beyond the one-click option? And after the firestorm of likes, posts, tweets and hash tags, how soon do we forget about the people?

Where are those kidnapped Nigerian school girls? How has life changed for the thousands living with ALS after the success of the “Ice Bucket” challenge? If “All Lives Matter,” why are members of the black community and transgender community still in peril?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in social media – its ability to connect, inform, motivate and even empower us. But I believe in the power of the personal.

I believe in the power of real conversations with actual friends, checking in on one another and giving real hugs. What if we went out of our way to make a new acquaintance in the real world, like getting to know your neighbor, saying hello to a stranger and smiling (I mean actually smiling with your mouth… not an emoji).

As much as I love looking at photos and sharing with my friends, I believe it is just as important – if not more so – to live our LGBTQ lives out in the world so that everyone can see we – our loves, our families and our lives – are as diverse and unique as any other, and our quest for equality is just and right.

I am no stranger to the selfie, but more important than the likes from friends are the visible changes in attitude from people when my love and I exchange a hug, kiss or hold hands in the real world while at dinner, walking down the street or even traveling.

Maybe it’s time to come out again – out from behind our computers, tablets and smartphones and be out in our communities.

Let’s use social media as a platform to dive back into the lives of our friends, to strengthen the connections within our community, to share news from near and far that will educate, empower and remind us that oppression is interlinked and cannot be solved alone.

But more importantly, let’s use social media to tap into our intersectionality, then move our hearts and minds to get off the couch and get out there to build a better world that, even though it has been flattened by technology, is richer by the diversity found in our online worlds.

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her books are available at bookstore.authorhouse.com or http://www.mychangeiam.com. You can also follow her at http://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Black identity, Creating Change, lgbt, literature, Love, marriage equality, Pop Culture, Queer, Self imaage, Social Media, Transgender, Women, World events, youth | Leave a comment

Black And Gay: My History, My Truth

Printed 2/5/2015 in issue 2306 of Between The Lines Newspaper

History by definition is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. Dig a little deeper and many dictionaries expand the definition to include the “continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc. usually written as a chronological account.”

Really, history is just us telling our stories, but like most stories, the narrative and the outcome often depend on the teller. The bigger, the bolder, the more powerful the storyteller, the more likely it is that that person’s narrative will become the history — right or wrong, no matter how distorted. It will be what people remember.

I have always been a lover of history. I’m the one who will have a list of all the historic sites and go on all the historic tours on vacation. I’ve even been told that sometimes I know more about the area than the “natives.” But, I am also the one who slips away from the group to find the residents of the area to spend time hearing their stories, their remembrances of history.

You see, as much as I love history, at an early age I learned that the “official history” is often told from the view of the beholder and is often not accurate or inclusive. Fortunately history is not solely limited to “historical” records. Depictions of life, love, labor are also passed down through art, music and spoken word.

I would scour the pages of my early history lessons looking for faces like mine because too often it seemed all “important” historical roads went through Greece, Rome and then Europe with just a brief mention of other cultures.

Although the words told one story, images — art, maps, museum pieces — showed that the great pyramids were in Africa. Hannibal of Carthage, despite theatrical portrayals, was a person of color. Brown, if not black, in hue.

For years, the African-American story was shaped by distorted narratives. The memories erased and squashed by the brutality of slavery, but stories of our resilience and strength, even when not included in traditional historical accounts, have survived.

During a visit to Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History, the curator drew our attention to different pictures, asking what we saw. In our childish naivete, we said, “Those are pictures of slavery.”

He encouraged us to look deeper, to see beyond slavery and recognize the artisans, craftsmen and builders responsible for building the infrastructure of this country. Enslaved, yes; denied rights and freedoms, yes; but undeniably there in history for all to see if your eyes were open.

Even when African-Americans were forbidden and, often under threat of brutality, denied access to education, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) served the black community. In fact, until the 1960s, HBCUs, were practically the only institutions of higher learning open to blacks in the U.S.

HBCU graduates from the past to today include Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E.B. DuBois, Patricia Harris, Thurgood Marshall, Alice Walker, Samuel L. Jackson, Wanda Sykes, Oprah Winfrey and Common.

While living under segregated conditions, denied access to basic civil rights and, for the most part, being ignored in the historical narrative of the United States, African-Americans like Charles Drew, Elijah McCoy, Garrett Morgan, George Washington Carver and Percy Julian developed and contributed inventions that benefitted not only America but also the entire world.

Denied equality merely because of the color of our skin, African-Americans fought tirelessly for the equality of others. These warriors included Sojourner Truth, Margaretta Forten and Harriet Forten Purvis in the women’s suffrage movement; labor activists A. Philip Randolph and Norman Hill; and human rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin.

From arts to literature, entertainment to politics, the legacy of African-Americans including Shirley Chisholm, Alvin Ailey, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, James Baldwin, Barbara Jordan, Ralph Bunche, Mae Jemison, Cory Booker and Barack Obama will ensure that not only American history but all history will come closer to a true “continuous, systematic narrative of past events” in the development of the human condition. Progress, yes, but the picture remain incomplete.

Just as in our childish naivete we looked at the pictures and saw only slavery, many want to look at black history and fail (or refuse) to see the members of the African-American LGBTQ community living, working and contributing not only today but also historically.

We were there on the plantation, in the classrooms, graduating from HBCUs. We were leaders during the Harlem Renaissance, breaking barriers on stage and screen, inventing and innovating. And as we marched for voting rights, to end segregation, we demonstrated, organized and participated as protestors in front of and behind the scenes.

We live today as parents, teachers, athletes, clergy and community members facing the same challenges, struggles and opportunities as other African-Americans, but because of whom we love, we are often forced to choose between being gay and black when talking about civil rights.

Being black and gay is nothing new. It is as old as yesterday and will continue tomorrow. It’s a part of history and stands at the intersection of all our struggles of equality.

In an address to the nation, President Ford, following the recognition of Black History Month, urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That work continues.

One of the most memorable portions of President Obama’s second inaugural address was his “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall” remarks. He said “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

As we celebrate this Black History Month, let us remember the contributions of those African-Americans who led in the background, who built the infrastructure without recognition, who marched for freedom and by their courage helped this country come closer to achieving its destiny.

And as we lift up these members of our amazing African-American community, let’s look deeper at the picture and see the faces of our LGBTQ African-American community who were standing on the front lines like “wild fruit hidden in open spaces.”

During this Black History month, as decisions on marriage equality await decisions in courts across the country, as thousands pack the cinema to see “Selma,” we have an opportunity to reflect upon the evils of discrimination and hatred and commit ourselves to doing better.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her latest book of poetry “Three Layers and A Brassiere” is available at bookstore.authorhouse.com

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Black identity, Black women, hate crime, lgbt, literature, marriage equality, Queer, youth | Leave a comment

EVolution Open Mic

On the 2nd and 4th Friday at the AFF Cafe, Store & More located at 290 W. Nine Mile. Featured artists and an open mic for up and coming artist. Hosted by Michelle Brown and China Palazzola.
Featured Performers:
Barbara Teeter

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Creative Writing, lgbt, literature, Queer, Women, youth | Leave a comment

Creating Change Houston: Changing How We Look, Live and Define Our Lives

I just got back from Houston, Texas and NGLTF’s Creating Change 14.

I love Creating Change!!! It’s like getting beamed up to a “Gay World” where you are surrounded by OUR community – all sizes, shapes, hair styles, demographics. OUR community where no one raises an eyebrow if you hold your partner’s hand or plant a wet kiss on their lips.

It’s a space where around every corner, in every session or just lounging about you can sit down and talk about your life and the other person will get it because it’s their life too.

I always come back geeked, full of ideas and ready for action – then reality sets in. The reality that I’m not somewhere over the rainbow and, unfortunately, under the rainbow when the creating change glow has cooled down, my big gay community returns to our own separate silos.

But this year was different. We have seen so many changes in recent years, there has been such momentum, that this year we came to Houston ready not only to create change but to be that change.

The charge was led by amazing Trans-activist like Laverne Cox, Monica Roberts, Kylar Broadus, Bamby Salcedo, Cecilia Chung and Carter Brown who gave a masters class on living authentically and the intersections of LGBTQ equality and humanity.

Wow, that’s saying a lot, but seriously, there were some big lessons being taught in Houston!

I could probably write a book – probably two or three -about the workshop sessions, the plenary sessions, the caucuses, the film screenings, the speakers and the amazing Laverne Cox but for me the big story was the new energy changing how we have come to talk about, advocate for and engage our community.

Lesbian feminist, leather activists, queer, young, old were all there adding their voice to the conversation but the most transformative conversations for me came from our Transgender activists.

Theirs is a Trans story, but it is also our story and a human story – the ultimate quest to be our authentic selves.

Our Transgender sisters and brothers remind us that gender is not just male or female but a spectrum of expression and cannot/should not be defined by anatomy.

By forcing a child , and later the adult, to live by standards conforming to anatomy but denying their spirit/soul true gender expression is not only harmful but keeps us from developing our full potential as human beings.

A baby is born someone looks between his/her legs and labels them with an identity and the accompanying baggage society has given that gender –toxic whether gay, straight and especially if transgender.

Healthcare doled out based on flawed societal norms whether for transgender services, individuals living with HIV/AIDS or women’s reproductive rights is discriminatory.

Homelessness, violence, sexual exploitation, poverty are the evils that man makes and doles out to the poor, immigrants, not just to but most harshly to the LGBT community.

Ironically the very part of our LGB community – the “T” – which has been too often thrown under the bus in “our” fight for equality is profoundly and eloquently telling the story of the evils of bias, discrimination and all the hate based phobias in a patriarchal society – pushing the envelope that could ultimately shift the paradigm on how we value the human spirit.

Will it happen tomorrow as a result of Creating Change? No – but the seeds are planted, the conversations begun, the movement strengthened and the winds of change – well they’re blowing.

Creating Change – not only educating about healthcare but leading the charge to end AIDS now; Creating Change – supporting, engaging, protecting LGBTQ youth; Creating Change – recognizing, celebrating and supporting the diversity within our community; Creating Change – developing strategies for intentional intersectionality not just for survival but as a tool for real social change.

Creating Change Houston  2014 – it was a very good year. Next stop Denver!

 You can also follow me at www.mychangeiam.com or www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

Posted in bullying, Creating Change, DADT, DOMA, lgbt, marriage equality, NGLTF, Queer, Transgender, World events, youth | Leave a comment

SPIRIT DAY: Fifty Shades of Purple

Thursday, October 17, 2013 is “SPIRIT Day.”  The observance began in response to a rash of widely publicized bullying-related suicides of gay school students in 2010.

Since 2010, each year on “Spirit Day” people have been encouraged to wear the color purple, and post purple themed/bannered messages on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to show support for LGBTQ youth who are victims of bullying.

After posting photos/graphics from GLAAD and the Transgender Law Center on my Facebook page, I donned my three shades of purple outfit and headed to work.

I work with a diverse group of people. They are good people but we are different. They tend to be more conservative to my liberal. They are more Christian to my spiritual. They are more suburban to my urban. I know for a fact that I’m the only one with tattoos, piercings other than on the ears, sporting Afrocentric natural hair and openly gay. So I was not surprised that no one else wore purple or knew why I did today.

We live in different worlds, come from different backgrounds but every day I recognize I have an opportunity, a responsibility maybe not to change but to touch hearts and minds.

It’s all part of living an authentic life, of being out and finding those areas of intersectionality that help us move the boundaries of inclusion towards equality.

So I wore my three shades of purple ensemble, and when the opportunity arose I told them why I was wearing purple and talked about the damage bullying does to young lives, especially young LGBTQ lives.

We talked as women. We talked as mothers. We talked as concerned community members. And in the end, we discovered we aren’t so different after all.

There’s a classical Latin phrase carpe diem—usually translated as “seize the day” or “act now.” Occasions, like “SPIRIT Day,” gives each of us the opportunity to act, to touch hearts, minds and be the agents of the change we want to be.

Posted in bullying, hate crime, lgbt, Self imaage, youth | Leave a comment