About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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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!”
Printed 4/30/2015 in Between The Lines issue 2318
I’m always surprised by the reactions of people when I tell them I have been (more than once) to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
Most often the response is either, “You went?” “You camped?” or, after thinking about me/my life while shaking their head, “Of course, you would go!” Then the real questions begin – were there many black women there? You slept in a tent? Did you get naked? But most often, the question asked is why I, a self-proclaimed lover of all things urban who considers “roughing it” staying at a hotel without room service, would go the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. My response generally involves telling the story of my first MWMF!
I went primarily because Shea Howell was going. Everyone has one of those friends who they would follow anywhere, who strongly impacts their life and who they straight-up, unashamedly, unconditionally love. Shea is my person. The Meredith Grey to my Cristina Yang, you might say. We’ve worked on many things together. We marched together. We summered together. So when she said I needed to go to the festival, I was ready.
Shea and the rest of our group went up before I did earlier in the week. I was supposed to drive up with a mutual friend on the weekend who had attended before and knew the location of the spot Shea et al. camped at every year. The festival is on over 600 acres; I needed a guide.
That Friday, when we were supposed to leave, my guide was nowhere to be found. Made a few calls and discovered that she had left without me. Undaunted, I threw my gear into the car and headed toward Hart – a little cranky, but I had plenty of time to get there before dark.
When I arrived, culture shock kicked in. I was a “Festie Virgin.” I had no idea where Shea was camped, and I had all this junk to lug across a huge parking lot into the woods and I didn’t know where I was going!
I walked and as I walked, I got angry. Angry at my guide who had left me and angry at myself, but then the magic of “The Land” began. Women came up to see what was wrong. They took my bags. They set about finding my friends. They comforted me and made me feel welcome. I was part of the sisterhood.
We came from different socio-economic classes. I was African-American while most of them were white. We had each experienced patriarchy, but many of them had also experienced a privilege I never would because of their race. But on “the Land” it didn’t matter – we were all womyn/sisters.
They didn’t just drop me at the campsite and forget about me. They checked in on me, helped me navigate the showers, pathways and workshops. We danced naked under the moonlight.
That weekend and at the other festivals I attended in later years, I learned what it was like to be in a space created by, for and about women. It was empowering.
After I tell people about my first trip, I go on to tell them about the women who build everything! The women who not only make sure the land is handicap accessible but help women with disabilities experience the festival fully – pushing wheelchairs, getting meals, etc.
I tell them about the marvelous feeling of walking clothed or naked amongst your sisters, feeling truly beautiful just as you are with no “body shaming.” I tell them about the acceptance and respect for each other and different lifestyles. And how being in this space opened my eyes and helped me evolve as a person of color, a woman and a lesbian – to think differently, to challenge patriarchy and to, more than ever, stand in my truth.
I had experienced a freedom that every girl/woman should have the opportunity to experience in their life – a freedom that can gird us for the fight that continues for full equality. However, it was because of the lessons learned that I stopped attending.
The lessons you learn on “the Land” go home with you, some short-term while others for a life time. It was during these years that my LGBTQ family increased as I met and became friends with many transgender sisters and brothers. One day while having coffee with a friend, she said, “I just want to be accepted as me. You have no idea what it’s like to be judged by how you look.”
I thought back to that day wandering around in the woods. Someone could have looked and seen this angry black woman wandering about, turned and walked away. Instead, they saw our commonality, our womanhood, our humanity.
When I arrived on “the Land” I was welcomed as a woman with the understanding that my path to womanhood was unique, but we shared a humanity.
We were different, yes. My path had been different from my Trans Sister, but here we sat sisters in struggle. Here was a member of my community facing the challenges in our woods of oppression, trans-phobia and discrimination. Her safety, her protection, her equality was on the same path as mine. We — all of us in the LGBTQ community — are on that path.
The times they are a changing. We know that gender is more than chromosomes. More of our children are declaring that they are transgender at an earlier age. Too many of these children are dying often at their own hand because we are still defining masculine and feminine by what’s between their legs.
We are one community – LGBTQ – still discriminated against, still under attack. It’s time we have dialogue on the core values our community will embrace for ourselves, our children and generations to come that must include respect for our diversity and inclusiveness for all members of our community.
I was deeply saddened to hear this is the last Michigan Women’s Music Festival. It has changed hearts, minds and lives. It provided a transformative space for women to grow as women where we can find and live our truth. Strong, empowered women can not only change the world but also the boys/men who live in the world. The loss of this space and its potential for transformation, growth and change is a loss to our entire community.
By Michelle E. Brown
Hard to believe July is over; and our season of pride picnics, marches and celebrations is coming to an end . We’ve raised our rainbow flags across the country, marched and partied like there’s no tomorrow – no tomorrow when we go back to being second class citizens, separate and not equal.
We’ve had so much to celebrate as our Equality Train has left the station and is gaining momentum state by state, month by month.
It feels good, really good, especially for me, this year. Instead of going from city to city, wishing and hoping, I’ve just been happy, walking hand in hand with my lady love believing, BELIEVING, that yes it would happen in my lifetime.
At every PRIDE, from east coast to west, WE were celebrating the change that seems to be finally arriving.
And it wasn’t just at PRIDES where you could sense the change. At restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and resorts in states where discriminatory laws had been overturned and even where they were still in place, you could sense the difference.
Visibility in the media, high profile coming outs, legal victories, just about every week there’s been another reason to celebrate. But with the celebration there has also been the nagging reminders that we still have a long way to go.
Even though we are winning in the courts, the sobering reality is that our rights are still under assault from a well-funded, politically savvy enemy with a powerful secret weapon in their arsenal – US!!!
US??? Yes! You, me, LGBTQ, friends, families who party through PRIDE, wrap ourselves in progressive mantles but through our apathy have allowed out-of-touch, xenophobic, trans/homophobic conserva-fools take over state houses, governor seats, the congress and allowed the creation of a Supreme Court that has granted corporations the same rights as people, ala Citizens United, which tip the scales against equality.
While we have danced at our weddings, religious fundamentalist continue to flex their muscle attacking women’s reproductive rights state by state. The recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling not only bolstered this attack on women but by, once again, giving a corporation’s religious views the same gravitas as an individual’s constitutional rights for religious protection, has now put an already tenuous ENDA in jeopardy.
The same bigots leading these attacks and spreading hatred “in the name of the father” are using their influence not only here but internationally, exporting trans/homophobia overseas especially in Africa where death for LGBTQ individuals is the law.
But that’s Africa and we have weddings to plan, right? Well these hate-filled chickens are coming home to roost with even greater global implication with the election of Sam Kutesa, a supporter of Uganda’s anti-gay law as President of the U.N. General Assembly.
The U.N. is the most representative inter-governmental organization of the world today. Although it’s effectiveness may be debatable, the United Nations’ role in world affairs is irreplaceable by any other international or regional organizations and it’s president is a supporter of some of the most repressive anti-gay laws – laws written by leaders who were suckled at the breast of US fundamentalists.
And what’s to become of the thousands of Ugandans and others seeking asylum and immigration by coming to America? Will they find a country welcoming ‘the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” or face immigration legislation that is far from welcoming being influenced by a legislature we elected even if we cast our vote merely by staying home and not going to the polls.
Luke 12:48 says (yes I googled it) “To whom much is given, much will be required.” Growing up I always thought that meant if something good happened to you, you passed it on, paid it forward. When my mom won the lottery, she always tithed a portion to church. When I get something new or have extra, I share the blessing. You probably have heard of similar practices. But I’ve been thinking about it differently these days.
We’ve received such good news of late, made such progress, and seen changes that most of us never thought we would see in our lifetime – much has been given. But now is not the time to sit on our laurels, be complacent and do nothing –much is required.
In many states we can be married, time and the courts seem to be on our side but we still can be discriminated against in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA remains in jeopardy even more so following the Hobby Lobby decision.
The clock is being turned backwards for women, taking us back to the days of “back-alley abortions and unplanned/unwanted pregnancies with no protection even in the case of rape and incest. Contraception, family planning is more than just a health issue for women, it’s an economic issue. The earning capacity of women is already lower than that of most men, taking away/diminishing reproductive rights will only plunge more women and children into poverty.
Despite higher visibility our transgender sister and brothers are still targets for violence. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth and those perceived as LGBT are at an increased risk of being bullied.
And we don’t live in a little gay bubble, we live in a world where the gap between the haves and the have not’s continues to grow. We live in troubled urban areas, struggling rural areas.
We share an environment of dwindling resources and growing threats of pollution, global warming, etc.
Much is required from each of us whether LGBTQ or A.
At Motor City Pride in Detroit, singer-songwriter Nikki Holland was sporting and selling a t-shirt. It said “UNTIL WE ARE =, BE > ignorance, sexism, lies, hate, racism, stereotypes, violence, prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, the self-righteous.
So now that the official PRIDE celebrations are just about over be joyful for all that we have achieved and been given in these changing times but remember much is required. Much is required from each of us to keep these freedoms, ensure that they will be extended to everyone and be there for future generations.
Your first task is GET REGISTERED TO VOTE, vote in the August primaries and show up at the polls in November. Let’s not give the Senate and return the Congress to those who would take away rights not expand them to all. And at the State level, let’s vote in the change we want to see for ourselves, our families and our future.
Progress comes through change. Change can cause anxiety and fear. Fight back! Fight for equality! Fight for humanity by being greater than ignorance, sexism, lies, hate, racism, stereotypes, violence, prejudice, bigotry, hypocrisy, and the self-righteous.
Remember to whom much is given, much will be required. Step Up Community!!!