Category Archives: State of the Union 2016

Orlando, Sit-Ins and Our Vanishing Illusion of Safety

I know exactly where I was when I heard about Orlando. I was in the South, the Bible-belt South, the red South where I was seeing more Trump signs and Confederate flags than I ever had planned or wanted to see in my entire life.

It was a place where, as an African American, not overtly religious, queer woman from the North, I was feeling like the proverbial fish out of water. After I’d been there a few hours, one of the first things I asked was “Is there a gay bar around here?” I needed my tribe, my temple not just for a “good time” but to feel safe and secure.

In our post-Obergefel world, images of LGBTQ people are more common, but it’s still only in the sanctity of the club where we can dance, laugh, and even kiss with freedom. Freedom to be brand-new, awkward in our coming out with the knowledge that someone shares an equally awkward coming out story. We can turn off the gay-dar and flirt outrageously. Whether you are newly out or have been living out for years, gay venues provide a space where we can relax, and generally let our hair down without wondering about reactions from onlookers and checking for safety. Gay venues, especially bars and discos, are the places where you stop being the “odd one” out in the group.

Even though as an African American, queer woman I have no illusions about being safe from violence in this world, in moments of insecurity I find joy, happiness and safety in queer spaces. The massacre at PULSE shattered that last illusion of safety

Bad things have been happening in our world violating our safe spaces – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a “mass shooting” is any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed.  By that definition, there have been 136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year. In the first six months of 2016, 273 children under age 11 have been killed/injured. 1,388 teenagers have been killed/injured. In the first six months of 2016, the murders of 14 transgender people have been reported.

People – women, children, young, old, gay, straight and transgender – are dying, being murdered often in spaces once considered safe – schools, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces and now a gay bars. We are not safe!!

But rather than looking at the root cause of violence we have strapped up, citing our 2nd amendment right to bear arms, erroneously believing that if we all had guns we would all be safer.

Now I am not anti-gun, but the proliferation of guns, from hand guns to assault rifles, and the mounting number of deaths from kids getting accidently shot by unsecured guns, to random street violence (gangs, road rage, etc.) to mass shootings have made me feel less secure.

The vigils, the reading of names, the photos in the media every day – I’m cried out, almost numb and more than a little angry. And our legislators (many receiving thousands of dollars from the gun lobby) after taking a moment of silence have gone on to do nothing. All talk and no action. No wonder so many have been turned off by politics.

While still trying to cope with the loss of 49 lives in Orlando, remembering the senseless massacre of the Charleston 9 the previous year, after watching Congress again fail to take action on measures to expand background checks for gun purchases and prevent suspected terrorists from buying the weapons, something amazing happened.

Led by Civil Rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, House democrats began a sit-in on the House floor demanding action on gun control that lasted more than 24-hours.

After Speaker Ryan turned the cameras off, House Democrats turned to social media broadcasting from cell phones, tablets and iPads with feeds picked up for broadcast to the nation by C-SPAN. Democrats did not succeed in securing a vote on the gun-control measures they had hoped for in staging the protest but, amidst the chants of No Bill, No Break, you heard real talk about the consequences of our armed society.

There were stories of loved ones who had committed suicide by gun or survived suicide attempts because they didn’t have a gun and had time to rethink and refocus.  There were stories of neighborhoods ravaged by gun violence; families who lives had been forever changed following Sandy Hook. There was a statement from Gabby Giffords.

And then there was the remarkable words of Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez. A man of Puerto Rican ancestry, who spoke about grappling with his Catholic upbringing, dealing with his own prejudice and bigotry, to becoming an ally to the LGBTQ community, of the loss he felt as a member of the Puerto Rican community for the lives at PULSE, 23 of whom were Puerto Rican.

We are not safe not because of guns but because of hatred, inequality, indifference and inaction.

In leading the sit-in Congressman John Lewis said ” Sometimes, you have to do something out of the ordinary; sometimes you have to make a way out of no way.”

We may not see the vote on gun control but with this sit-in perhaps, just maybe, a change is going to come. As Rep. John Lewis said “Don’t give up, don’t give in!”

Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. You can follow her writing and activities at http://www.mychangeiam.com and onhttp://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

Posted in 2016 Elections, Abortion, Creating Change, Gun Control, hate crime, lgbt, Queer, Social Justice Issues, State of the Union 2016, Voting Rights, Women | Leave a comment

Digging Deep, Pulling Together and Doing Whatever it Takes

Published 4/7/2016 in issue 2414 of Between The Lines Newspaper

The win for marriage equality was our high point, but we knew it would not be smooth sailing ahead with this victory. We knew there would remain opposition. We knew there would be push back, but I doubt anyone could have predicted the magnitude of the efforts to turn back the hands of equality.

Last year lawmakers introduced more than 85 anti-LGBT bills in 28 state Legislatures. There was the stunning defeat that crushed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), an LGBT nondiscrimination law. And as the race to the White House heats up, threats to our rights continue.

Trump, the GOP front runner, has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality and has expressed support for the so-called First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which would expose us to more discrimination. His closest rivals, Cruz and Kasich, promise no brighter future for LGBTQ Americans if they are successful. Both have consistently opposed our equal rights. And just when it looked like things couldn’t get more toxic, onerous anti-LGBTQ laws were passed in North Carolina and Mississippi.

So here we are approaching the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. While some are planning weddings, others are girding our loins to continue the battle — recognizing that it’s not enough to be able to wed on Saturday if we can still be fired on Monday, and even worse to see some, if not all, of our rights turned back come November.

Okay, so no one says “gird your loins” anymore, but you get the drift. We must get ready for perilous times. Unfortunately it seems that some folks, at least on the progressive/liberal side, still don’t see how serious this stuff is.

Unlike the scared, misguided and/or lunatic fringe on the right willing to overlook the hypocrisy; vote against their own best interests; hold their nose; and fall in line behind whichever one of the three stooges heads the GOP ticket, our team is still working things out.

Some who are feeling the “Bern” hint that they will sit it out if it is not their candidate. Even worse, some Sanders supporters, most notably actress and activist Susan Sarandon, say they don’t know if they can bring themselves to vote for any candidate but Sanders. Sarandon went so far as to imply that Trump might be better for America than Hillary Clinton. Seriously?

Well, maybe in her world. Maybe in a wealthy, white, heterosexual world with the means and opportunities to seek refuge in greener pastures is that a good move, but for the other 99 percent, those of us in the LGBTQ community and especially those in communities of color, we need to be more thoughtful and strategic.

This does not mean a cakewalk, no matter how historic a Clinton candidacy might be. She has had her missteps and communication gaffs. There is too much information available, too many living witnesses to the past horrors, too many still suffering for ANYONE to be misinformed, misspeak or whitewash history.

Any candidate wanting progressive, LGBTQ and/or POC votes must be vetted fully and schooled on our issues like yesterday. We must ask more than, “What have you done for us lately?” but also, “What haven’t you done for us in the past?” and “Do you understand the consequences of your actions/inactions?” We need to ask them if they understand today’s world or are they still living with outdated values and views.

Having a social media presence and being on late night television might make you seem cool, but we need more than sound bites and slogans. We can’t hope that candidates will educate themselves — we must ask the hard questions and hold their feet to the fire to make sure they get it right and keep it right. That’s the relatively easy part. The pulling up not the girding up, the heavy lifting.

No politician, neither Hillary nor Bernie, can do that. They’re just the standard bearers. We must set and raise the standards which takes us back to the Them vs. Us reality.

They have done a pretty good job of raising a specter of doom and gloom, of portraying a scary future that only a return to their values can redeem — a message so powerful that many would vote against their own best interest to see fulfilled.

Us — well, not so much. Despite the fact that 12 years after marriage in Massachusetts the state hasn’t fallen into the sea (or burst into flames), that the country survived the enactment of the Affordable Care Act and more Americans now have health coverage, and after seven years of an Obama presidency the economy is in a far better place. We/Us still can’t get people to the polls to vote. We/Us haven’t directly or indirectly influenced enough of our friends/neighbors to realize our equality does not mean inequality for them.

When we have come together and raised our voices we have changed the nation again and again. We did this not by holding hands singing “Kumbaya” but by raising our voices in a song for freedom.

Now it’s the time to gird up our loins, to man-up and flex our ovaries and do whatever we have to do to focus not on our differences but on what will make a better world for us all — black/white, gay/straight, everyone. So, to borrow the words of the immortal Bob Marley, “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom? It’s all we’ll ever have.”

Posted in 2016 Elections, Creating Change, hate crime, lgbt, marriage equality, Pop Culture, State of the Union 2016, Transgender, Women, World events | Leave a comment

Politics Be Damned: Time for Saner Minds and Voters to Prevail

Published 3/10/2016 in Between The Lines issue 2410

We’re deep into this election season. Candidates on both sides are vying not only for votes but for those all-important delegates needed to be named the presidential candidates for their respective parties. One name I didn’t think we would still be talking about at this point in the game was Donald Trump. Seriously, didn’t you think that by now we would have all quit laughing and he would have gone back to “The Apprentice”? I’ve known a few Republicans in my time — a few women, more men, some gay and even one black Republican. They were a little crazy, but I assumed there were enough reasonable minds still in charge over there that someone would have said, “Donald, you’re fired!”

But they didn’t! Now the craziest chickens have come home to roost! And those are some mean spirited and angry chickens and “The Donald” is now their would-be “Rooster in Chief,” giving them life as he preaches to every fear, insecurity and bias — the worst in too many of us.

For the longest time, I have been content to let the GOP drown in their own dysfunction; after all, he is their guy, but the recent Trump/Duke mash-up was a reminder that Trump and all he represents is really all of our problem.

Apparently David Duke’s endorsement and Trump’s response were what it took for GOP leadership to finally grow a pair. In a CNN interview, when questioned about the Duke endorsement, Trump would not condemn the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard’s support for his presidential campaign, saying that “he had no knowledge of the white supremacist leader.”

His actually said, “I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on.”

When asked if he would unequivocally condemn and reject the white supremacists who support Duke, Trump said he would need to conduct research into the groups. Really? He doesn’t know anything about “white supremacy or white supremacists”? Has he listened to his own rhetoric and that of many of his followers? Was he just having a brain fart, because in a 2015 interview he knew about David Duke and said that he didn’t want Duke’s endorsement. Well, apparently that was the straw that, while it didn’t break it, put a serious kink in the GOP’s back. Everyone from Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney ran to the mic with varying degrees of condemnation.

Ryan publicly tongue lashed Donald Trump for refusing to denounce Duke and the Klan. Mitt went as close to full on commando as we’ve ever seen him, calling Trump “a phony, a fraud, a misogynist and a bully who threatens America’s future.” Former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman went as far as saying she would vote for Hillary Clinton over Trump.

But seriously, GOP dudes, that’s just not enough! Trump isn’t just some crazy old uncle with the bad toupee saying whatever wanders through his mind that no one takes seriously. You didn’t let him come out for dinner, tell a few silly stories, make some crass remarks and then shuffle off to bed so the grown folks could talk seriously. Those new voters he brought out? Well, he’s been like the pied piper of rabid rats and those rabid rats have taken over the discourse of the GOP. He is power hungry, reckless, dangerous and he’s got your party’s nomination process by the short hairs. Now you’re scrambling to halt his delegate juggernaut.

The sad thing is the rest of the GOP field isn’t much better. Like they say, “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” Everyone was okay with Trump’s antics until he started to rack up the wins.

In my humble opinion, you stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes you cut ties — even if it means a set-back or even a loss — when it’s the right thing to do. Hatred, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and divisiveness are not principles this country stands for — not that they don’t exist in this country — but we have continually strived “to be a more perfect union.”

If the character of the candidate (Trump) does not represent the values of the Grand Old Party, cut him loose. He’s already said he has enough money to run his own campaign, so let him do it and let his ilk go with him

Then stand up and admit your role in creating the political environment from which Trump was spawned; get back to those core, pre-Tea Party values of the GOP and invite those who share these values — candidates and voters — to engage in spirited debates and convention on the issue. You stand up for what you believe in and disavow what you don’t. Maybe they’d lose some of those new voters. Maybe they’d lose the election! But maybe they’d regain some credibility.

If the party leadership doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing, then maybe it’s time for all those Republicans who don’t agree with this politics of division, bigotry and hypocrisy to stand up and throw all the bums out. Now, I’m not expecting this to happen, but it needs to.

The rest of us aren’t off the hook! Voter turnout by Democrats has been down. On Super Tuesday, Democratic voting was down from 8,228,763 in 2008 to 5,557,243 in 2016 while Republican voters increased by 3,282,199.

None of us can sit back and hope for the best. The stakes are too high — all three branches of the government are up for grabs, not just the White House. There really is something you can do about it. Stand up for what you believe in and most importantly VOTE!

Posted in 2016 Elections, bullying, hate crime, Pop Culture, Queer, State of the Union 2016, World events | Leave a comment

2016: Time Has Changed Us, but We Can Change the Future

Printed 1/21/2016 in issue 2403 of Between The Lines Newspaper

Maybe because his music was part of the soundtrack of my youth, or because his fans and the music world were mourning David Bowie’s passing, but I found myself humming “Changes” as I sat down to watch President Obama’s last State of the Union address. These times, and certainly this presidency, have changed me not only as a woman and an African-American, but as a member of the LGBTQ community as well.

It’s been quite a ride these past seven years with extreme highs and devastating lows. Despite advances for many Americans — including recovering from the worst economic crisis in generations, reforming healthcare so more Americans have medical coverage, and delivering better care and benefits for veterans and recognition/protections for LGBTQ families — our communities continued to be ravaged by economic and social injustices while the political discourse, instead of offering solutions, instead has become more divisive than ever.

It’s a new year and like it or not, there will be change! Instead of optimism, if you listen to the tone of the GOP debates, the change the 2016 elections suggest are changes we are more likely to want to run from than changes we can believe in. Fear, hatred, divisiveness spewed from the podium, the pulpit and the media. We all want to believe that they are just a vocal minority; that our friends/families and allies will stand with us on the side of justice and the progress of the last seven years under the Obama administration will continue. But will they? Will it?

Will Black Lives Matter in federal and state Legislatures designed to reflect the interests of the few by gerrymandering – the practice that establishes a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries?

Will rights for all Americans be expanded further and protected if judicial appointments, including those for the next member of the Supreme Court, come from elected officials who spew the vitriolic dialogue of the likes of Trump, Carson, etc. supported by voters who share the same mind set of voters like Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis?

It’s a new year, but listening to President Obama’s final State of the Union address, although inspiring, reminded me of the scary future that lies ahead.

As crazy as the rhetoric from the GOP contenders seems; as divisive and destructive as it would be to continue upon our current political path; as much as we want to believe that the American electorate is smarter than this, many of us are still sitting on the fence waiting – waiting for someone to be the change only we ourselves can be.

Fear and ignorance tends to bring out the worst in people and unfortunately those who can be motivated by fear and ignorance come to the polls voting even when it is against their own best interests and those of their community.

Some folks believe their vote doesn’t matter and opt to stay home on Election Day. We’ve seen what happens when we don’t vote – congressional lines redrawn, voting rights under attack, discriminatory legislation passed and, even when something’s the law of the land, “elected” officials opt to ignore it. President Obama said it best, “It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard.”

There are no quick fixes. 2016 is the short game but to continue the momentum of the past seven years and to go even further to insure those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promised to all Americans, we have to prepare a long game.

How do we overcome the fear, and not necessarily change hearts and minds, but move them to put those unalienable rights of equality first, even when it’s uncomfortable? President Obama summed it up best, “If we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.”

I know you’re saying, “I’m only one person, my voice won’t matter, won’t be heard.” Then join it with others. Find your tribe. Pull up your big progressive, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, intersectional pants and don’t just hope that people will do the right thing: Create Change! And if you’re looking for someplace to start, there will be over 4,000 of us doing just that in Chicago Jan. 20-24 at the 28th Annual Creating Change Conference.

Let’s thank President Obama for his leadership, but now it’s up to us. Let’s roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels and lift every voice to build that nation Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of where everyone will not be judged by the color of their skin, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity but by the content of their character. To paraphrase the late David Bowie, “Time has changed us, but we can change time!”

Posted in 2016 Elections, Arts & Entertainment, Creating Change, David Bowie, lgbt, NGLTF, Pop Culture, Queer, State of the Union 2016 | Leave a comment