Archive for 2010

Happy Holidays (+ an Awesome Shirt)!

Sunday, December 19, 2010 § 5

I just wanted to use this post to wish everyone a happy holidays, and to let you all know how grateful I am that you choose to spend some of your time reading what I have to say, it really means a lot to me.

But I also wanted to share something I’ve recently come across with you all. I’ve been shopping for gifts the past few days of my winter break, and I came across this shirt (see below) that I absolutely love, because the message it sends is so true. It really gets the message across that no matter our gender, sexuality, race, appearance or anything else, we’re all still human. We're individuals with thoughts, feelings and potential, and that’s something important to remember.

The shirt’s currently on pre-sale with an estimated ship date of the 21st, so it’s pretty unlikely it’d make it for Christmas, but you should definitely order one anyway! New years gift, anyone?

human shirt

An Open Letter to Joseph S. Blatter, FIFA President

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 § 3

Dear Mr. Blatter,

On December 2nd, your organization announced that the 2022 World Cup would be held in Qatar.

Many in Qatar were unsurprisingly ecstatic, though others worldwide were slightly more skeptical. Reading about the choice, I came across a quote by Hassan al-Thawadi regarding his country that would see to assay any doubts:

We are a very, very hospitable place that welcomes people from all parts of the world," he said. "Bringing the World Cup to the Middle East now ... will showcase to the world that the Middle East is home to a lot of people, it's opening its arms to the rest of the world. In doing so, such misconceptions will be dissolved.

After reading this, I was glad. Though I’d of course prefer to have it in the States, I’m also pretty sick of Arab countries being portrayed as oppressive, backwards places. This was a great chance, I thought, for Qatar to have a chance to disprove that stereotype.

And then a story popped into my news reader, “Gays Will Boycott Fifa”, which quotes the Gay Football Supporters’ Network on their decision to boycott Qatar’s FIFA World Cup in 2022.

This decision was reached because homosexuality is illegal in Qatar due to Shariah law, and is punishable with up to five years in prison.

Mr. Blatter (and the rest of FIFA Executive Committee), when you decided on a good host country, did you consider the millions of LGBT soccer fans who would be considered criminals if the attended the World Cup.

Considering the decision of your 22 member committee, I’m going to hazard a guess that if you did, you quickly brushed them aside.

Even more egregiously, when questioned about the status of gay fans in Qatar, you joked that homosexual fans “should refrain from any sexual activities” that are illegal in Qatar. (video can be seen here)

Mr. Blatter, would you be so glib if your own liberties were at stake, if you were eligible to be lashed and locked up for having sex with a woman?

You then followed up those embarrassing words with a slightly more staid, “Football is a game that does not affect any discrimination. You may be assured … if people want to watch a match in Qatar in 2022, they will be admitted to matches.”

Okay, so LGBT individuals can attend matches. But can you guarantee their safety in the streets, or in their hotels? The World Cup is supposed to be a celebration of diversity groups of people, united through one thing-soccer. Does your vision not include members of the LGBT community?

Mr. Blatter, I understand your desire to broaden soccer’s reach across the world. But to do that at the expense of (what should be) basic human right’s, is irresponsible and foolhardy.

Unless you can guarantee that members of the LGBT community will be free from prosecution in Qatar in 2022, I will reluctantly participate in a boycott of the 2022 World Cup, and will encourage my peers to do the same.

Honestly, I’m not sure quite sure if you can fix this at this point. But there’s a few things you can do. Pressure Qatar to be hospitable to all human beings, like it claims. Retract your tactless remark. Make contact with an LGBT organization to ensure this doesn’t happen again (suggestion: gfsn)

And most importantly, apologize to the millions of LGBT soccer fans that you overlooked or ignored when this imprudent decision was made.

Sincerely,

Kyle Albert, a disappointed, 17-year-old, soccer fan.

We Can’t Afford to Compromise Some Rights in Pursuit of Others

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 § 1

Gay men come in all shapes and sizes, both literally and figuratively. Some gay men may express more masculinity in their lives, while other’s might express more femininity (with loads somewhere in-between), and there’s nothing wrong with either. One of original tenets of the gay (now LGBTQ) right’s movement was the freedom of self-expression.

Which is why it bugs me so much when some members of the LGBTQ community express their desire for other members to “tone down” their self-expression. They think that some gay men are flaunting their sexuality, whether it’s by dressing in drag in a pride parade, talking with a “gay lisp”, or breaking gender norms.

A common argument is that by acting in a way that is not heteronormative, gay men are hurting the “community’s” case for rights like being able to serve in the military (DADT repeal) and the right to marry.

This attitude is pretty much exemplified in the following video, where youtube user tifroc expresses his viewpoint that other more “effeminate” men are a “detriment” to the gay “community” and shouldn’t be themselves because it might offend some moderates, and affect “his” potential right to marry. Essentially, he just wants gay men to act more “normal” (heteronormative) around the general populace.

I don’t know why he’s not wearing a shirt, but I do know that I wholeheartedly disagree with him. Maybe his idea of being gay doesn’t involve high heeled boots or purses, but to others, it might.

He makes the argument that “his” right, marriage, is more important “their” right, self-expression. Frankly, he’s being selfish.

People do have different priorities, I get that. But it’s one thing to choose which goals to push for the strongest, and another to try and suppress other’s freedom of self-expression, something many simultaneously exercise and fight for everyday.

In my English class right now, we’re reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is about an English professor’s (Azar Nafisi’s) experience during the Iranian revolution.

In her memoir, Nafisi describes how various revolutionary political entities press (and later force) her and other Iranian women to wear headscarves for, essentially, the good of the revolution. They lose the right to choose how to express themselves. In the revolutionaries minds, the headscarf was simply inconsequential compared to the “fight against the satanic influence of Western imperialists” (pg. 165, for those following along at home).

I hope that the connection is clear. The headscarf is analogous to stiletto heels, painted toenails, or any other sort of expression an individual would like to engage in. No one should be forced to wear or not wear a head-scarf, just as no one should be forced (or kept) from donning a dress and marching in a parade.

Self-expression should be a basic liberty for all, and should not be sacrificed, no matter how grand or noble the cause that’s being pursued is.

The LGBTQ community has so few rights, that to let go of one’s that’s been achieved, (at least to some extent) is simply foolish. I completely support the fight for gay marriage, DADT repeal, and the passage of ENDA. What I don’t, is compromising the rights of self-expression to do so.

Gender is a Field

Monday, November 29, 2010 § 6

I recently came across a blog post by Sarah Mei, one of the developers on Diaspora, that got me thinking about how we think-and talk-about gender.

Diaspora is open-source social network that’s currently being developed. It’s meant to eventually be a competitor with facebook, and it’s trying to do this by stressing its privacy and ownership of content, two things that facebook isn’t do so hot at.

What Sarah Mei wrote the post about was her decision to make the “gender” field on the social network blank, letting the user fill in any designation they wished. Instead of choosing between, “Male”, or “Female”, users could write, “dude”, or “gender-queer”, or “andro”, or “lady-like”. Here’s a cool graphic Sarah made showing some of the genders her contacts on the site chose to identify as.

I really applaud this decision by Sarah, and the developers at Diaspora. Though this hasn’t really broached the mainstream consciousness yet, many individuals do in fact have gender identities that fall outside of the generally accepted gender binary.

For those not as familiar with computers, binary refers to the binary numeral system, which is represented by two symbols, 0 and 1. In that system, there’s no 0.2, or .99, or 1.8 There’s two choices, male or female. Nothing in-between or falling outside.

And that’s how most people think about gender. Many people never question this outdated notion, and have never heard of the numerous identities that fall outside this binary (or, they hear them, and then choose to dismiss and belittle the people who have them).

These identities might be genderqueer, genderfuck, two-spirit, bigender (all subcategories of the umbrella term, transgender, though many transgender individuals do not challenge the binary, they simply switch sides) or anything else someone chooses to define themselves as.

Which is why a new way to describe gender is needed. Some people use spectrum, continuum, or simply call gender, fluid.

But I think “field” works pretty well too. Think about it for a second-a gender field. Geographically, fields are expansive, multidimensional (think hills), and have room for just about everyone, whether they’re in a big cluster, or sitting alone by a babbling brook.

But the term field also works with regards to computers and technology. Fields are inherently empty, ready to be filled by whatever someone wants to type in them. There are no two choices, the possibilities are simply endless.

Sarah Mei, I think you might be onto something.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 25, 2010 § 0

We live in a culture (and blogosphere) that tends to err on the side of negativity. And while there’s a lot to be negative about, I vote we put a temporary hold on the downbeat, just for the day.

Today, let’s be grateful for the good things. DADT discharges have momentarily ended, Victoria Kolakowski recently became the first popularly elected transgendered judge in the nation, and the It Gets Better Project has over 5000 user-created videos and over 15 million views.

They’re small things. And there’s so much more that needs to be achieved. But for one day, let’s be grateful. Tomorrow, we can go back to chaining our-selves to the White House fence, and calling out hate groups for what they are. But today, let’s all give thanks for what we do have, and what we have achieved, even if there’s a long way to go.

P.S. Queerty had a great post up yesterday about being thankful for all the beautiful queer kids out in the world. Check it out if you’ve got a few free minutes.

Reteaching Gender and Sexuality

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 § 0

Many of you have probably heard about the It Gets Better Project, which tells LGBTQ youth through stories that their lives will get better with time. While this project has reached thousands of people, it’s also important to examine the root causes of why life is so bad for LGBTQ youth to begin with.

Below is a video that aims to do just that-it begins to examine the systemic issues and beliefs about gender and sexuality that often have such a negative impact on queer youth, while adding more queer voices into the mix.

If you’ve got a few minutes-watch it. And spread it. We can bring about change, but a dialogue needs to spring from somewhere. And this video is a pretty great place to start.

Reteaching Gender and Sexuality from Sid Jordan on Vimeo.

For more information visit PutThisOntheMap.org.

What Teens Can Do to Stop Bullying in Their Communities

Monday, November 15, 2010 § 1

Let’s talk a bit more about bullying. Or specifically, the bullies themselves.

Anti-gay bullying has gotten a lot of press lately, often referenced as the cause for many recent youth suicides. It’s been compared to witch hunting, and in response to all of the coverage countless anti bullying initiatives have sprung up.

Recently, I read a blog post about the bullying induced suicide of Christian Taylor, and how the bully faced no consequences. He’s still in school, his life goes on as normal, even though his actions led to the end of another.  That story pissed me off. Why aren’t bullies held accountable for their actions? Too many times, bullying is ignored. Excuses are often thrown around, like “they brought it upon themselves by being so different”, or “boys will be boys!”. Frankly, that’s crap.

After ruminating a bit on bullies, my mind sprung to a book we just finished in my English class, The Poisonwood Bible (summary here). The story is about a missionary family (the Prices) who travel to the Congo, and the subsequent affect of this trip on their lives. Around the middle of the book,Tata Kuvudundu, a medicine man in the Congolese village, bullies the missionary family because he disagrees with their western views. He threatens and harasses them and the people close to them. Classic bullying behavior. Eventually, this bullying leads to the death of one of the family members.

The parallels are clear. In both cases, bullying of someone led to death. What’s significant is the way the other villagers in the novel chose to react to this. The other villagers, despite not being the biggest fans of the Prices themselves, shunned the bully. The bully was almost exiled, and lost the regard he was previously held in.

The objectives of bullies is to acquire power over another person. But if bullying leads to a net loss in power, is it worth it for the bully anymore? Tata Kuvudundu lost his respected position through his bullying. If we asked him (which we can’t, cause he’s a fictional character..) I think it’s pretty likely that he’d regret his bullying, not because of his morals, but simply out of practically.

I know high school is not the same as a Congolese village, but in many ways the communities aren’t so different-there are cliques, outcasts, leaders, and of course, bullies. Another thing that’s prevalent in both is peer pressure. Even if school administrators do nothing, teens can still do their part. It's pretty simple in theory, let a bully know that what they’re doing is not okay. If you see someone mocking someone in the hallway-whether it’s for their sexuality, gender identity or expression, or just for being different-let them know that that’s not cool. Many of us have friends who, while they’re nice to us, are not to others. Tell them to cut it out, or drop ‘em like they’re hot (and not in the good way).

I know that standing up to bullies isn’t easy. But it’s one of the few things teens can actually do to try and stop bullying in their communities.

Why the American Library Association’s New “Gay” Award for Youth Literature is More than Just a Token

Thursday, November 4, 2010 § 3

On Monday, the American Library Association announced an addition of a new prize, the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, to their Youth Media Awards.

The honor is awarded to English-language books “of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience”.

This a big deal.

Books receiving this award are put on the same level as the prestigious John Newberry and Randolph Caldecott medals. With this award, the ALA is essentially saying to librarians that, hey, it’s totally cool for American youth to read about the LGBT experience! In fact, here’s some books excellent books that cover just that!

This message was needed. The amount of books that deal with the LGBT experience in libraries across the US is generally pretty abysmal. In my area (northern suburbs of Chicago), both the school and the  public libraries do a pretty good job in stocking a variety of literature. Sadly, this is not the norm (link to a pdf study by the National Association of School Psychologists).

In thousands of libraries across the United States, lgbt experiences are just not represented in youth literature. Whether its from prejudice or simply ignorance, many librarians choose not to stock teen or children's books that deal with the lgbt community. Fifteen-year old Kentucky blogger Brent posted over the summer on the lack of LGBT literature in his community.

He brought up many great points, foremost in my mind being that many LGBT youth, many marginalized by their communities, turn to books to see that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with me being who I am! Stories are important. As I talked about in my previous post about the It Gets Better Project, people look to stories to see that they’re not alone in the their struggles. With no easily accessible books, that becomes a lot harder.

Robert Stevens, president of the ALA, brings up another. By reading books about the LGBT community, heterosexual and cisgendered youth can hopefully become more tolerant and accepting of their LGBT brothers and sisters. Because, after all, stories are also to take in new experiences, to learn about different groups of people. And again, without books, that’s just not gonna work.

Librarians care about the ALA awards. They’re looked at by librarians across the country when deciding what new book to purchase. Maybe, some hesitant librarians will see that because awards are presented for excellent LGBT youth literature, that there’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about stocking it. Maybe they’ll put in an order for Boy Meets Boy, or 10,000 Dresses. Or maybe they won’t. But hey, it’s a step.

The 2010 Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award was given to The Vast of Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd.

the vast fields of ordinary

“Queer”: Its Roots and Modern Significance to the LGBT Community

Monday, October 25, 2010 § 5

After using the term queer in my last post about the It Gets Better Project, I paused for second. Would all of my readers (hey guys!) get what I mean when I refer to “queer adults”. Do I even fully grasp what queer means?

The term queer has a a complex history, with a meaning that’s bended and buckled over time. After it’s origin in the 16th century from the German root Quer, queer was mostly an adjective that meant strange or unusual. Towards the end of the 19th century and most of the 20th the word served as a derogatory slur for (usually effeminate) gay or transgendered individuals. Merriam Webster captures it's various meanings nicely.

While it still can be (and is) used as slur, it has been mostly reclaimed (beginning in the mid 90s) by many in the LGBT community to mean pretty much anyone who’s gender and/or sexual identity isn’t “normative”.

The term queer covers people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, pansexual, pomosexual, intersexual, genderqueer, two-spirit and even asexual or heterosexual individuals who view themselves as not heteronormative, as well as others individuals who don’t fall into any of these boxes*.

Today, the term queer is pretty widely accepted in the LGBT community. It pops up in popular television shows like “Queer Eye”, popular blogs like Queerty and in respected universities in the form of Queer Studies.

The term Queer is important to the LGBT community today for a few different reasons.

1. It’s much more practical as an umbrella term than the common practice of adding more and more letters onto LGBT. The term LGBT was originally coined with the intention of representing a variety of people with varying sexualities and genders. But today? It’s not cutting with all of the differing identities people have. Some people try and fix that by adding more and more letters onto LGBT, but then you just end up with something like LGBTTTIQQAA, an acronym so long it’s almost unusable. Queer is a lot more practical, and frankly less intimidating, especially to those outside the LGBT community.

2. With more and more people identifying as genderqueer or other identities that fall outside of the traditional gender binary, terms like gay or straight don’t quite work. If you identify as somewhere in-between male and female, or another gender entirely, and you’re attracted to guys, what does that make your sexuality? Queer seems to work nicely for many.

3. It’s an inclusive term. Like I mentioned in my 1st point, LGBT just doesn’t cut it any more when referring to all people with sexual and/or gender identities that don’t quite fit the norm. While some in the LGBT community complain about the addition of more and more communities, I disagree. So many of the goals are connected. Hate crime legislation, the right to marry regardless of gender, to adopt, an end to bullying and persecution just for being different. These are not small fights, and excluding people who want to help is not going to make it any easier. To garner support from everyone, its necessary to use terminology that includes them.

Queer is here to stay, and its usage will likely only increase from here. And to me, that’s a good thing.

*Confused about some of these terms? No worries, one of them (pomosexual) even threw me for a loop ! There are a lot of terms out there, and it seems like more pop up everyday! That’s what makes wikipedia and google such great resources, and queer such a great umbrella term =].

The It Gets Better Project: Lives Saved Through Story Telling

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 § 3

Stories are a pretty big deal in our culture. We see them told on television shows, in movies, on the pages of novels, through websites, and in tons of other places as well.

One reason why people tell stories is to share their experiences. Similar experiences can connect and bind people together. Stories can show people that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Dan Savage (of the popular advice column, Savage Love) aims to do just that with his new project.

Dan Savage started the “It Gets Better Project” in response to the suicide of the Indiana teenager, Billy Lucas. Billy hanged himself after being constantly bullied in school due to his supposed sexual orientation. Savage’s project is meant to be a voice of hope to LGBT youth through stories which show how life improves. Queer* adults are invited to post their own videos, sharing their own stories. Below is Savage’s introductory video, along with his husband, Terry.

Billy’s suicide was not an isolated incident. Suicides in the LGBT community are a rampant problem, one that is especially obvious now due to heavy news coverage.

Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, recently jumped off the George Washington bridge, a few days after his roommate broadcasted him having sex with a man online.

Asher Brown and Seth Walsh have also committed suicide in the past few weeks, both due to homophobic bullying.

Queer teens committing suicide is nothing new. One third of all teenagers who attempt suicide are gay. More than half of harassed transgender teens have attempted suicide. There has not been an uptick in queer youth committing suicide, there has simply been an uptick in news coverage.

Which is what makes Dan Savage’s project all the more important. In a few weeks, news coverage of queer youth suicides will likely die down. But the over 1,000 voices recorded will not. These voices tell the stories of LGBT adults, many who live successful, fulfilling lives with people who love them. These stories show queer teens an alternative to their seemingly never ending torment. A light at the end of the tunnel, a pat on the back, a voice saying that it’s going to be okay.

These stories will remain online, reminders to all the queer youth out there that life does get better, and will hopefully prevent some viewers from ending their stories tragically early.

Whether you’re queer or straight, I urge you to check out the videos and share them your loved ones. Stories aren’t just to share common experiences, they’re also for learning about different people, lives and struggles. And that’s knowledge that everyone could use a bit more of.

And if you’re a queer adult (or an ally), and haven’t yet, please, add your voice.

I’ll leave you with a belated happy National Coming Out Day, and a video that I found particularly moving.

*On this blog, queer will be used as an adjective that encompasses the lgbt community as a whole. If there are any  additional terms I use on this blog that are unclear, please let me know so I can clarify. This blog is meant to be inclusive and understandable to all.

Sodomy, Shellfish and Slavery: Why the Bible is Not a Valid Excuse for Homophobia

Saturday, October 2, 2010 § 13

This post popped into my head as my English class was discussing the impact of the bible on society. The bible and it’s cultural impact is very relevant to the LGBT community, as it’s bible passages that many Christians use to justify their homophobia and persecution of gay people, exemplified in the “God Hates Fags” signs that pop up every now and again.

The passages that arguably condemn homosexuality have been picked apart before; there’s really no need to rehash them here. This site does a particularly good job of explaining the various verses often quoted and providing multiple interpretations of them, with some more liberal interpretations even coming to the conclusion that modern homosexuality isn’t a sin at all!

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the bible does explicitly condemn homosexuality. But homosexuality isn’t the only thing the bible condemns by far. It also explicitly bans eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10), wearing polyester (Leviticus 19:19) or getting a short haircut (Leviticus 19:27). How is it that these aren’t even considered sins today, while homosexuality is somehow remains a big deal?

Before I delve into that question a little deeper, let’s take a quick peek at some of the things that the bible promotes as totally acceptable! Oh weird, looks like the bible says it’s totally fine to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), buy slaves yourself (Leviticus 25:44), or have as many wives as you want (Exodus 21:10)!

Look, the bible’s an extremely old document, I get that. Obviously some of the stuff it refers to and laws it decrees aren’t relevant in American society. And that’s awesome, because I have no desire to watch someone get stoned for choosing to go to work on a Sunday (Exodus 35:2). But if Christians can make the decision to abandon these obviously outdated views, which the vast majority do, why do so many of their fingers remain glued to bible verses which demonize homosexuality? If a person has no qualms abandoning some verses, then how can they point others as definitive proof that homosexuality is a sin? It’s hypocritical.

If a person wants to pick and choose what from the bible to believe, that’s totally fine. I try and be very tolerant of people’s beliefs. But If I call someone out for their homophobia, and they point to Leviticus or Genesis, that’s just not gonna fly. In my mind, they lost that right when they put on that cotton-poly blend shirt, or had fried shrimp for lunch. They’re not homophobic because the bible says so. They’re homophobic because they’re homophobic.

Oh hey there.

Thursday, September 23, 2010 § 6

I’m Kyle.

A photographer, avid reader, twin brother, and foodie.

But more importantly for this blog, a budding LGBT rights activist.
Rather than organizing rallies and sit-ins like the admirable Lt. Dan Choi, I’ll be writing about issues that affect the LGBT community. Stuff like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, homo/trans-phobia, bullying, hateful language, the fight for same-sex marriage, and gender neutral pronouns.

Though I’ve always had a strong interest in LGBT issues, my interest ballooned after a history project last spring on the Gay Liberation Movement. Events like the Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride Parades, and early activists like Sylvia Rivera and Brenda Howard all served to inspire me. The amount of progress that that generation made starting from almost nothing was incredible.

My generation is growing up in a time of immense change for the LGBT community. We’re on the verge of achieving workplace protection for individuals regardless of their sexual or gender identity. So, so close to allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. But at the same time, we have a ways to go. Hate crimes against the LGBT community are still rampant, and often not even recorded as such. Many people still remain militantly opposed to same-sex marriages, handpicking bible quotes to support their beliefs.

And though my generation is likely the most tolerant yet, we simply don’t have a strong voice in the blogosphere on queer issues. Maybe it’s because teens are still afraid of being labeled as gay, that they’re simply too busy writing college essays, or any of the other reasons out there. Either way, teen’s voices are sorely unrepresented.

So that’s why I’m here. To tell stories about the people involved with the LGBT movement from my perspective. Of their wins, their losses, and most importantly their spirit.

Like the old adage says, the pen can often be mightier than the sword. I guess we’ll see how mine stacks up.
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