Category Archives: marriage equality

Aging: Taking Care of Ourselves Includes Speaking Up for Those Most Vulnerable

I’m getting older. Aren’t we all? From the moment our lives begin, we are on that road to the end of life as we know it. I’m in pretty good health and most days the brain cells are functioning optimally. Like many folks I tend to live in the moment. For me “Every day you wake up on the ‘right’ side of the grass is a GOOD day!

I probably haven’t spent as much time as I should planning for my golden years.  You know, there’s always tomorrow! However, two films I viewed recently have had me thinking about just that.

I wasn’t in a rush to see Freeheld,” an adaptation of a documentary about a lesbian couple who mounted a campaign to have pension benefits of a terminally ill lesbian go to her partner. After all marriage equality is now the law of the land, so in most cases, this is a moot point. Right?

But as I watched the film, I got to thinking about my pension benefits. You see for many years I worked for a Catholic institution and am entitled to a pension from that institution. I’m not married right now but have to wonder what will happen if/when I do marry and I try to change my beneficiary to my spouse what would happen.

Would some bigoted review board, like that depicted in “Freeheld”, emboldened by proposed Religious Freedom Restoration bills, block my assignment of my benefits to her? With mergers and acquisitions there’s no telling who might hold the pension “purse strings” when the time comes.

Pensions, like social security, are one of those benefits we pay into assuming they will be available when the time comes for ourselves and families.  But even having access to these benefits and the ability to leave them to our spouses/partners is no guarantee that our final years will be golden.

It’s bad enough that we in the LGBTQ community can still be fired for being gay, but proposed RFRA’s would exempt people from state and local laws if they can prove those laws violate deeply held religious beliefs, in effect, giving them a “license to discriminate.”  What if I need assistance to stay in my home or long-term care? Could my safety or health be compromised just because someone’s “deeply held religious beliefs” would allow them to withhold or give me inadequate care?

The question of who will take care of us as we age, is something we all wonder at some point. The documentary “Gen – Silent” took me deeper down the “rabbit hole” of LGBTQ senior living. The 2010 documentary follows the lives of three couples and a transgender woman facing the challenges of building support networks to assist them in maintaining their quality of life as they age.

The people interviewed have for the most part lived “private lives” but like many from that generation have not been as “out” publicly as those of us from later generations.

Often LGBTQ partnerships and marriages feel, to the couples, like it’s just the two of us against the world.  We may not have extended biological families or children. Despite growing acceptance in the community at-large, many of us remain estranged from our families.

The uncertainty of the quality of care or acceptance in healthcare/long-term care institutions is a reality and has many in the LGBTQ community wondering if we will have to go back “in the closet” one day if we are no longer able to take care of ourselves.

Couple this with the fear of not having the financial resources to stay in our homes or maintain a decent quality of life, it paints a scary picture for aging LGBTQ people – very scary!!

The good news is LGBTQ folks are great at making our own families and building our own networks.  Our network/links are only getting stronger as we are “OUT” in our communities. This network now includes SAGE – Metro Detroit to fill in the gaps for our elders.

Marriage equality wasn’t the end of our journey, only one step along the way. For us to no longer live in fear, to have full equality and equal rights/protections for ourselves and our families, being in the closet is not an option.  We must be out to our families, in our communities and for one another

Activist and revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs, who died at age 100 October 5th, often said “The only reward for good work is more work.” We’ve come a long way in a short time. We can serve openly in the military, get married and are gaining more protections through Human Rights Ordinances in municipalities across the country. Progress yes but there is still much work to be done.

For those most vulnerable, especially our LGBTQ elders, the next chapter of our work must include being out for them so that their golden years and final days can be lived with dignity.

Posted in breast cancer, DADT, DOMA, ENDA, Health and Happiness, lgbt, Love, marriage equality | Leave a comment

Winning in the Name of Love/Marriage Equality and Beyond

By Michelle E. Brown 6/26/2015

Like so many in our community I have awaited the Supreme Court’s opinion affirming marriage equality with both hope and anxiety.

Although I proudly wear the beautiful ring my beloved gave me and joyfully celebrate the nuptials of my friends, no license or ceremony, could further deepen our love or seal our commitment to one another.

Marriage gives official recognition and access to benefits/protections but I am under no illusion that it will immediately grant us the respect from those who just don’t get it.

They are the same people whose minds/hearts are so warped by generations of hate and racism that they, consciously or unconsciously, will cast the same side eye at interracial couples years after the Loving v. Virginia decision that they will at LGBTQ newlyweds.

As more members of the LGBTQ community marry, raise families and live openly in communities, hearts and minds will be moved and/or changed and the wall of bigotry, racism, homophobia and transphobia will start to crumble and fall, hopefully once and for all.

We need to feel good sometimes, to celebrate historic victories. And this is the mother of historic victories for the LGBTQ community – LOVE WINS!!!

I know that with every victory will come a backlash so we have to keep our armor on. But this time our world won’t go back to that scary place because, with this decision, a light has been shed on the discourse that can never be extinguished.

So before we leave all our energy on the dance floor, sigh a big sigh of relief and start planning our many, long overdue weddings, let’s take a moment to look at our imperfect union and the inequalities that still require our attention and fervor.

Tomorrow the same religious bigots, who would protect a child’s right to life from conception with no regard for the health of women (even if that women has been raped), will continue to push through legislation to impede adoption rights of loving LGBTQ families. And there will be other RFRA’s to keep us jumping through hoops, taking two steps forward and one step back as we prepare to march down the aisle in wedded bliss.

Women will continue to, on the average, make only 78% of their male counterparts while members of the LGBTQ community remain especially susceptible to being placed at a socioeconomic disadvantage. With efforts for workplace equality legislation continually thwarted, we may be able to get married but face firing the day we return from our honeymoon.  It’s time for a fully inclusive ENDA and amendment of civil rights laws like Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen to protect and prohibit discrimination against all Americans.

LGBTQ youth will still experience some of the highest rates of homelessness. Their lives remain at peril. Our futures lie in their hands but too many young people are still bullied, ostracized, kicked out of homes, schools and churches because they are gender nonconforming. According to data from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), large percentages of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students across the country experience physical assault as well as physical and verbal harassment in school. They want only to live their authentic lives.

Sisters and brothers in our Transgender community will be harassed, confronted with bad bathroom legislation, detained/incarcerated in cells where they are subject to attack and rape with little or no protection from law enforcement. While Laverne and Caitlin grace the covers of magazines, a record number of members of the transgender community, mostly women, have lost their lives in 2015 at the hands of others. Trans lives matter everyday not just when memorialized each November.

LGBTQ elders who paved the way for many of our victories will live in poverty. Some will find themselves going back in to the closet when they enter eldercare facilities ill-equipped and under trained to deal with the needs of our elders. Marriage will have come too late for many who have been unable to receive benefits, pensions or recognitions a heterosexual spouse would receive. They deal with significant health disparities and social isolation.

Tomorrow our post racial America will remain a hoax. Black youth are shot for buying Skittles, playing music too loudly, being seen as a threat for their hoodies and sagging pants.  Shot to death while running away from a traffic stop, choked to death while gasping “I can’t breathe”, spine snapped while in custody in a police van – A threat despite “Hands Up, Don’t shoot” while the white shooter, who left nine dead in a Charleston church, was successfully arrested without incident. Taking down, burning and eradicating every Confederate flag will not take the place of real conversations and work on racism that’s been long overdue.

Perhaps I carry too many cards in my human wallet. I am female, African American, Queer and getting older. Each of these identities carry a full subset of other memberships. I tend to look at the world through lenses which often highlight the contradiction and ironies so intensely that it makes my head hurt and my heart ache. I can’t separate one from the other – Trans lives matter.  Black lives matter. All lives matter.

Despite all the challenges, I believe in the power of democracy – from the White House to the State House.  Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. We, the LGBTQ community have proved this, changing hearts and minds by telling our stories, living our truth.

As President Obama said in his remarks from the Rose Garden following the decision “On the many issues with which we grapple real change is possible……Today we can say we made our union a little more perfect.”

We won!  This decision is another step on our march to equality for all Americans. Love is love. Love wins when we wage love – so let’s WAGE LOVE!!!

Posted in bullying, Creating Change, DOMA, lgbt, Loving v. Virginia, marriage equality, Queer, Transgender | Leave a comment

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

It’s here!!! My new book available for purchase online

My new book of poetry “Three Layers & A Brassiere” is available for purchase online! Book signing is in planning stage but get your’s today and receive a special gift at the book signing.

Order at:

http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000956771/Three-Layers-and-a-Brassierre.aspx

Book Over view:

On a frigid November weekend in 2012, I took a trip to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My plan had been to catch a train, hit the city and just wander about taking in the sights. I wanted a lost weekend, to wander around to find something—just what I really didn’t know. But these uncertain plans took an unexpected turn when, instead, I hitched a ride with a friend.

I met an amazing woman named Gwen who was in her eighties, and over the course of the weekend, she shared stories of her remarkable life. One afternoon, we were heading out, and her family, being protective as families can be, gathered sweaters, scarves, and jackets and proceeded to try to convince Gwen to put them all on. Her response: “I’ve got three layers and a brassiere, that’s enough to keep me warm.”

On the ride back to Detroit, I thought about Gwen her life and the three stages of life—childhood, adulthood, and those final days.  Maybe all we need are those three layers, not all those mountains of things, just to see us through to warm our hearts, our spirits, and a brassiere to hold the memories.

Order at:

http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000956771/Three-Layers-and-a-Brassierre.aspx

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Black women, Creative Writing, Detroit, Detroit Bankruptcy, Detroit Spirit, lgbt, Love, marriage equality, Pop Culture, Queer, Self imaage, Women | Leave a comment