Category Archives: Queer

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

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

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

From the G-List Society: THE BLACK LGBTQ INFLUENCER: Michelle E. Brown

by Waddie G

The G-List Society profiles an individual whose social platform brings empowerment to constituents, peers and fellow leaders in The Black LGBTQ Influencer weekly column. The Black LGBTQ Influencer column is part of my mission for The G-List Society of empowering and celebrating the greatness of Black LGBTQ people.

This week’s Black LGBTQ Influencer is Detroit activist and radio host Michelle E. Brown.  Brown was selected by me because I have noticed her work as writer and activist by name long before we met.  Since meeting her, my personal and online interactions with Ms. Brown has always been warmingly positive.  Brown is one of the few people in the LGBTQ community I can say without hesitation that her platform is authentically selfless to benefit us LGBTQ people of color. I also feel that she truly cares that I keep up the work that I do for the community.

Read the entire article at: http://www.glistsociety.com/2015/11/the-black-lgbtq-influencer-michelle-e-brown/

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Black identity, Black women, Health and Happiness, lgbt, literature, Pop Culture, Queer, Social Media | Leave a comment