Category Archives: World events

It’s a Stacked Deck, but We’ve Got That Woman Card Up Our Sleeve

Printed 5/5/2016 in Between the Lines issue 2418

Life started out simple, or so it seemed. There were two boxes — female/girl and male/boy.

It was all supposed to be simple from there. We would walk down that female/girl path from that first breath to our last without variation. There were supposed to be few curves in this female/girl path, but that path was never a viable way for any woman.

You see, this female/girl path has always been filled with inequities and inequalities. Even if we stayed on the “path,” the sign posts of “you can’t,” “you won’t” and “you aren’t” thwarted our efforts at every turn. They told me I couldn’t, I wouldn’t and I wasn’t and like so many of my sisters I planted my hands firmly on my little female/girl hips and said, “I know I can, so I think I will.”

I am African-American, female, queer, an artist, activist, and so much more. I choose to live all of these aspects of my life out and authentically. You get the picture — I do a lot of things.

The lines of my life are more than criss-crossing. Some days the lines are so blurred, it’s like I’m standing on the central island of a crazy intersectional roundabout pulling me in so many directions it’s at best challenging, if not totally overwhelming.

I’ve got a full house in the game of “diversity and inclusion” but despite my education, accolades and perceived opportunities, the deck has still been stacked against me, because when too many look at that central island of my roundabout, they still see that female/girl box.

We can go to space, lead companies, head foundations, serve in the military and, yes, raise families — but we are still women.

They see that female/girl box and deal their “woman card.” Their woman card says, “Women can’t be effective leaders.” Their woman card says we can’t make decisions about our own bodies. Their woman card says our work isn’t worth the same amount as our male counterparts. In their deck, the “woman” card is the joker and this joker must be tamed, never wild.

The “pink brick road” may be wider and go further than it did in the past, but the glass ceiling and the limited view of the abilities and value of a woman’s worth remains intact. If you had any doubt, just listen to the rhetoric of the current campaign.

At a forum at George Mason University earlier this year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich told a crowd that he won his 1978 election because women “left their kitchens” to support his campaign. When Fox News’s Megyn Kelly attempted to hold Trump accountable for his misogyny in a presidential debate, he dismissed the question as stupid and impertinent. Trump has referred to women he doesn’t like as ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Sen. Ted Cruz envisions a federal government under his administration that “works to defend the sanctity of human life and uphold the sacrament of marriage.”

When they look at our gender identity, their woman card says lesbian love/relationships are “experimental” or for their prurient interest. When forced to face the legitimacy of our LGBTQ relationships, they insert the hate card to attack our families and insert their woman card, supposedly to protect women and girls, to attack our transgender brothers and sisters. With their “woman” card comes oppression, misogyny, disempowerment, repression and would turn back the hands of time not just for women but also for the country.

But we have our own “woman” card. We’ve been keeping it up our sleeve as we’ve played each hand. We have overcome our fear of stepping into the intersections of our realities and our coming together to flex our collective muscle.

We are throwing down our “woman” card and leading the movements — like “Black Lives Matter.”

We are throwing down our “woman” card and fighting for women’s healthcare.

We are throwing down our “woman” card demanding safety for all women and girls, both cisgender and transgender, not only in bathrooms but in schools, neighborhoods and everywhere.

We are throwing down our “woman” card for environmental and economic justice and for families — all families.

We are throwing down our “woman” card because empowering women is a powerful strategy for reducing poverty and achieving other development goals globally.

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump accused Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary R. Clinton of trying to play the “woman” card to which she responded, “If fighting for women’s healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”

Come November, we all need to be marching to the voting booth humming that Sister Sledge anthem – “We Are Family!” Yes, we are family, and I need every sister with me. It’s time for all of us to play that “woman” card up our sleeve, and not just win this election but also change the whole game.

Posted in Black women, breast cancer, Health and Happiness, lgbt, marriage equality, Pop Culture, Queer, Transgender, Women, World events | 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

Why I’m Not Feeling Pope Francis’ USA Visit

By Michelle E. Brown

I am no papal hater. I recognize that a lot of who I am, both good and bad, comes from my Catholic upbringing.

My father came from a family with strong Baptist roots but during a tour of duty in the Army in Italy, he apparently drank the Kool-Aid (or communion wine) and came back Catholic. When he married my mother, she abandoned her A.M.E. roots and accepted his faith and together they raised their three children as good little Catholics. We went to Catholic school, confession every Saturday and Mass enough times during the week and on Sunday to give me “frequent prayer” miles in that Big Book in the sky. By high school, I was over it for the most part thanks to the very things I had learned as a Catholic.

I am not a “recovering Catholic” I’m just over Catholicism. You see by the time I hit high school I was aware of a world outside my parish walls. A world where the doctrine and policies of the Church conflicted with the realities of my African American community and the changing landscape of urban America.

So you see it’s kind of hard for me to get excited about Pope Francis and his visit to the United States.  He’s a new face but for me it’s the same old Church only worse since I was a child.

The church that closed parishes and schools in the inner city – decisions often made with the same cost-cutting, cold precision of any corporation. While abandoning the inner cities with populations that were predominantly Black and Brown, they proselytized in third world countries where Black and Brown folk continue to suffer from economic disparity and political upheaval.

As a woman, I watched the Church lead the attack against my reproductive rights. Even though Pope Francis recently extended to priests worldwide the authorization to reconcile those “guilty” of abortion The Church still holds abortion and contraception to be sinful, thus affecting the reproductive rights of women. Reproductive rights are not a matter of patriarchal morality, it’s a social and economic justice issue especially for poor women. Although women make up the majority of members of the consecrated life within the Church, its largely male hierarchy and refusal to ordain women implies “inferiority” of women.

And even though Pope Francis has made kinder, gentler remarks regarding the LGBTQ community and even hugged a member of our Transgender community, most notably saying “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.” Being “gay” is still considered wrong and LGBTQ employees at U.S. Christian institutions (schools, etc.) are still being fired when they come out, announce their marriage or want recognition for their families and love. Faith leaders continue to harm LGBTQ youth by teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

Pope Francis has landed for a historic visit in the United States. His is a different papacy. Think about it. Traditionally being Pope has been a lifetime job, but Francis ascended to the thrown after his predecessor Pope Benedict  resigned basically telling the “Big Guy in the Sky” to take this job and shove it.

Maybe God took a look at this Church and decided it was time to shake things up a bit, move things in a different direction. So he looked to the “New World/Third World” where so many injustices and inequities have resulted from the Old School Papacy and picked a new leader – this Pope from Argentina.

After a private meeting with President Obama, on official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn and parade, Pope Francis will have the first-ever joint address to Congress by a Pontiff. He then heads to New York where he will host a religious service at the ground zero site of the 9/11 attacks and address the United Nations. Then he heads to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families is a triennial Vatican-backed event, held seven times previously starting in 1994 with the goal of strengthening marriage and families.

Pope Francis has received “Rock Star” treatment for comments emphasizing the central themes of his papacy — that the unfettered capitalism practiced in the United States and the West is fostering income inequality and creating an economic culture where the poor are simply discarded.

But this former Catholic will be watching to see what he does about cleaning up his own house – the Catholic Church – which has too often been a silent partner, even benefitting from, fostering the income inequality and creating the economic culture where the poor are simply discarded worldwide.

The Catholic Church has a long history, great influence and deep resources. Talk is cheap. Here’s hoping Pope Francis can be the change so many want to see.

Posted in Creating Change, lgbt, Love, Papal Visit, Pop Culture, Queer, Transgender, Women, World events | 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