They came from 33 states; they were bishops, imams, pastors, chaplains, congregants; they were religious and a few not-so-much; some were legendary zealots and others fledgling activists; they were all colors of the rainbow and ranged from octogenarians to young adults. But, despite seeming differences, these 200 plus gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer and allied folks all came to Salt Lake City, Utah to spend a week together strengthening and sharing their skills in combatting the anti-LGBTQ discrimination that is so loudly and shrilly emanating from conservative churches and faith settings across the U.S.
This Faith and Family LGBTQ Power Summit, produced by the National LGBTQ Task Force and its Faith Organizing Team, grew out of the need to push back against the vitriolic homophobia and transphobia from faith groups such as the World Congress of Families that seek to diminish LGBTQ persons and their families; paint our families as not “natural” and deride our faith and spirituality because is doesn’t conform to their narrow view of what a relationship with God is all about. The World Congress is also a major exporter of homophobia to Africa.
Bishop Yvette Flunder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries gave a rousing, Biblically-based keynote address to give a powerful kick-start to the Power Summit.
After the morning session, a press conference featured black faith leaders Imam Daayiee, Bishop Rawls, Bishop Tolton, Bishop Abrams and Reverend Rodney McKenzie, Director of the Task Force’s Academy for Leadership and Action. Each of them spoke about the necessity of shifting the faith narrative that denigrates the lives and loves of LGBTQ people and families.
The remainder of the day was devoted to a Racial Justice Institute that intentionally and thoughtfully facilitated conversations about race to increase people’s capacity to address racism in their everyday lives, in their activism, and in their faith communities.
During the evening hours, Power Summit participants were able to engage in either a People of Color Caucus or a White Caucus. These caucuses were private confidential gatherings guided by the experience of participants. The intention of the POC Caucus was to explore what it means to have solidarity across of lines of difference within the identity as a person of color. The intention of the White Caucus was to provide participants with an understanding of their role as white people and how to grow the base of white people for racial justice.
Day Two of the Power Summit holds even more opportunities for growth and personal development.
by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, The National LGBTQ Task Force
This month LGBTQ advocates across the globe are celebrating LGBTQ History Month. What better way to celebrate this month than to keep the spirit of the LGBTQ activists that came before us than by lobbying Congress for positive and lasting change? That’s exactly how I welcomed October, by joining the National LGBTQ Task Force and Immigration Equality during this year’s ACTober lobby days organized by League of United Latino American Citizens (LULAC). For me, it was truly an honor for me to join LULAC, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights groups, at the daylong effort to push members of Congress to support the Equality Act, the Runaway Homeless Youth Act, the Safer Schools Improvement Act, and to call on the Department of Homeland Security to stop the unsafe detention of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants.
I’ve been on a number of lobby trips before but this has been by far one of the best organized. We started our day around 6:30 a.m. with a breakfast for all lobby day participants from across the country. I was a little worried (and still half asleep) when I joined a table of strangers who all appeared to know each other for years and were already deep into a thoughtful conversation about the upcoming 2016 election. I was hesitant to speak up since, as a white male of European decent, I already felt like an outsider and my coffee hadn’t quite kicked in yet. Soon the conversation turned to social movement theory and the cyclical nature of history. As an aspiring history buff, my ears perked up and I was soon part of the conversation. Our fruitful dialogue ended all too quickly as everyone was called into a separate room for introductions and basic training.
During the welcome remarks, I was pleasantly surprised to see at least three past LULAC presidents and nearly every generation present among the hundred attendees. Soon we were all placed into two separate teams that focused on LGBTQ initiatives on the LULAC national policy platform. Within our team, we each selected one or two issues we felt comfortable speaking on behalf of – ranging from LGBTQ homelessness, LGBTQ student safety, and immigration policy. We were given some convincing talking points and encouraged to share our personal stories—and wow did our stories matter.
Up next were our meetings on the hill. Each team visited between three and six Congressional offices and spoke with either Representatives or the Representative’s staff. I found that while the facts we shared were important, it was our personal stories that left a lasting impression. Many of the Representatives were sympathetic to our issues and also the dozens if not hundreds of other issues that come to their attention. What they needed was a gentle push and prod from us to have them prioritize our issues – the essential effectiveness of many lobby days. From my experience, lobbying rarely “flips” a candidate from one side of an issue to another. Instead, it galvanizes those on the fence into taking real action. Once committed, what they needed was our stories that they can share with the public and other members of Congress. Yet telling our stories wasn’t only for them. We did it for ourselves and each other. There’s something cathartic about telling your story–it’s healing and self-rejuvenating. It grounds you in the meaning of our work. Furthermore, sharing our stories formed a formidable bond between members of my team. There’s an intimacy you create when you reach down into your gut and weave a story that is your truth. And that truth is powerful.
This month, as we continue celebrating LGBTQ History Month, I encourage everyone to educate others about our rich cultural history but to also share their stories with their lawmakers. Remember, it’s their job to listen!
By Adam Waxelbaum, Executive Assistant to the Deputy Executive Director
My earliest memory of having a crush on a girl was in third grade, and while I knew this made me different than my friends in some way, I didn’t have a word for it. The negative words that kids used on the playground didn’t match up with the positive feelings I had. While I knew it was socially unacceptable, I wasn’t bothered that I felt that way.
“When I was 16 years old, in 1982, I came out. In part, coming out…was mostly just about living my teenage life, having girlfriends and not hiding it. I resented the idea of having to ‘come out’ because my straight friends didn’t have to come out about being straight…I was very lucky to have a relatively easy time in being out in high school. Many LGBTQ people are not so fortunate.
Coming of age as a lesbian in the 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to rage and so many people I knew were HIV-positive and getting sick, had a profound impact on my life, my activism and my sense of community. At the time, there was also increased attention to the high suicide rates among queer youth. There is no way to explain how it felt to be surrounded by these tragedies…There are thousands of people like me that carry with us in our activism the privilege of being alive now, after having seen so much loss. Every day, I am working to honor those who are no longer here and to make it safer for LGBTQ people to be out.
by Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force
This post originally appeared in “‘How I came out’: 6 LGBT influencers tell us their amazing stories” on Mashable
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a lobby day on Capitol Hill with LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. I was in a group with Marco Antonio Quiroga, the National Field Officer at Immigration Equality. Marco impressed me with the way that he talked to the Congressional staffers about urgent need to end LGBTQ detention. When I later learned that Marco, who came to the US as a child when his mother fled Peru, was out as undocumented, I wanted to know more. As we prepare to celebrate National Coming Out Day and continue to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, here is our conversation:
Noah Lewis: What were some of the additional pressures and burdens you had to deal with as a result of growing up undocumented?
Marco Antonio Quiroga: I was taught at a very young age that I had to hide pieces of my identity from others. I was told that I should never talk about where my family comes from, where we live, or any struggles we were going through. My mom, a single-parent of four, emphasized that we were distinctly vulnerable. If people knew we didn’t have immigration documents, they could exploit us; and if the government found out, our small family could be separated from each other.
How did being gay compound the uncertainties of being undocumented?
As an undocumented and gay youth, fear casting its shadow over me is one of the earliest memories I have.
I grew up fearing police. I knew that if they questioned me, I did not have any identification. If they found out I was undocumented, I could have been thrown into immigration detention; a dangerous place where our LGBTQ community is ten times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted. It could lead to my deportation to a country that I have no connection to. Worse, for our LGBTQ community, deportation can be a death-sentence in many parts of the world. My biggest fear in the South was that police actively worked with immigration enforcement, and I knew my undocumented status placed my family in danger of deportation as well. There were so many uncertainties.
How is coming out as gay more challenging when you are undocumented?
Growing up, my family was the only support system I had in my life. Society rejected me for being undocumented. Individuals I once trusted would, without really knowing me fully, make “those people” comments that made me terrified they would expose me. The only people I could really trust with being undocumented were my family, and I was hiding from them as well. Coming out as gay risked everything; there was literally no where I could run for help.
Because of our undocumented status, unstable housing and homelessness was a harsh reality for my family. My mother is my (s)hero. She safely got us through it all. When I was 17, someone threatened to out me to my mother. Deep in my heart, I knew this would devastate her and it would devastate me in turn. Fearing rejection, I ran away. That is when some of my harshest experiences that I had to confront alone as an undocumented and gay homelessness youth began.
What led you to come out—as gay and as undocumented?
For me, being in the closet as gay was detrimental to my mental health and emotional well-being. For me, being forced to live in solitude regarding my undocumented status actually left me more vulnerable to being exploited, detained and deported.
I found a community that empowered me, led me towards liberation, and gave me courage. They articulated their experience as undocumented people with courage and from a place of power. They took me in and encouraged me to represent my full-self authentically.
You are a DACA recipient. What are the barriers you still face as a result of your immigration status?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was won by the community, particularly courageous undocumented youth who stood up and confronted power head-on. DACA gave me work authorization, lifting me out of the shadow economy. For the first time, I can access healthcare that is privately provided by my employer (DACA-recipients and undocumented folks are still not eligible to access Obamacare). My quality of life and members of my family that I support is generally better. However, DACA is temporary. Decision-makers in Washington weigh re-authorization every two years and could take it away at any point. Furthermore, many LGBTQ families and individuals do not qualify. My mother, here for more than 20 years, remains undocumented.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about coming out—either as gay or as undocumented—but are afraid to do so?
Coming out is a process. Only you can choose when you are ready or when you are able. If there are people in your community working for immigrant justice, join them in whatever small way you can. Living in solitude makes someone who is marginalized even more vulnerable. Know your rights. Know there is a strong, broad and diverse community out there that cares for you. Know I care for you.
Not everyone has the courage to come out. How does your coming out affect people whose circumstances cause them to hide parts of themselves?
It does take courage, but I am actually really privileged to be at a place in my life where I am able to speak out. I see it as my responsibility to use whatever platform I have to uplift the countless undocumented LGBTQ folks in my community who do not currently have that option due to varying degrees of hardship and dangers it would impose on their lives. I am humbled, fortunate, and thrilled to be an advocate for my community.
The only difference between me and my undocumented, queer and trans community who have been criminalized, who are in prison, in detention, and fighting against deportation, is that I was fortunate enough to have a mother who re-opened the door for me to return home. I had a community provide me with opportunity.
How can LGBTQ organizations and activists better meet the needs of LGBTQ people who are immigrants?
There are over 267,000 LGBTQ adults in the US and many more children who are undocumented. They have families. Many do not qualify for DACA or any other form of relief. Four out of ten homeless youth identify as LGBTQ and many of those are undocumented. Many are particularly vulnerable to an immigration system that partners with for-profit corporations, like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, that profit from placing people in detention in private facilities that are extremely similar to or worse than prison. Some come from countries where conditions for LGBTQ people are life-threatening. Trans women of color are particularly victimized and criminalized.
We need LGBTQ organizations to call for an immediate end to inhumane LGBTQ detention. President Obama and decision-makers at the Department of Homeland Security have the authority, ability and responsibility to use their discretion to end LGBTQ detention today. We need local groups to support formerly detained individuals meet their basic necessities of shelter, food, clothes and healthcare. We need LGBTQ organizations to call for an end of dangerous deportations of LGBTQ individuals and their chosen families.
We can all do our part to make America a welcoming place for LGBTQ people who are simply seeking a safe place to call home.
By Noah Lewis, Policy Counsel, Trans/Gender Non-conforming Justice Project, National LGBTQ Task Force
When the Supreme Court ruled in support of marriage equality last spring, many of us felt a huge sigh of relief blow through the LGBTQ and Progressive communities. That decision left many of us with the sense that our goals of justice and equal rights had been achieved.
But in the few months since then, a torrent of religious refusals has blown away any temporary sigh of relief. Individuals and organizations refuse to abide by the law, and cite faith and religious freedom as their reason.
We all saw media coverage of Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis lauded as a hero of religious freedom. Compared to President Lincoln, Davis was heralded by her supporters as another Rosa Parks and a new Martin Luther King, Jr.. It is important that we see this disheartening episode for what it is: a calculated and dangerous re-framing of history. It is a sophisticated kind of depravity that is willing to plunder the legacy of Civil Rights icons, robbing descendants of their inherited birthright, in an attempt to suppress equal protection under federal law.
The constitutional rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families are at risk. The perpetrators of inequality are shrouding themselves behind a mantle of faith. America is plagued with a history of hucksters crying religious freedom to justify and maintain the status quo: the buying, selling, and ownership of human flesh, the subjugation of the female body, and separate and unequal for the LGBTQ community.
Now is the time for the Winds of Change. It is the time to transform a limited, stifling faith narrative – one rigidly framed in judgment and condemnation – into a conversation that reflects and engages reality: millions of LGBTQ people, as well as their allies, are also people of faith; we are members of families, and have families of our own, which are whole and enduring.
This is the purpose of the Faith and Family LGBTQ Power Summit, which is scheduled for Salt Lake City, Utah, this coming October 20 – 23.
The Power Summit is being held to train and mobilize people of faith and secular progressives to create positive change, to organize against this latest affront to equality, and to shine a light on the global exportation of homophobia and transphobia.
I am also very excited to share the news that renowned welcoming and affirming faith leader Bishop Yvette Flunder will provide our keynote address.
The Summit is also just a few days before the anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families holds their first meeting in the U.S. Their intention is to promote their understanding of a “natural family,” defined by them as excluding LGBTQ families, as well as thousands of other families that do not meet their limited vision. The Faith and Family LGBTQ Power Summit will be the counterpoint to their discriminatory views of family, love, and faith.
We encourage you to be part of the Winds of Change by joining us in Salt Lake City in October. You can find more details and registration information at http://www.thetaskforce.org/utah-faith-family-lgbtq-summit/
We look forward to seeing you there!
By Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr., Director of the Academy for Leadership and Action, The National LGBTQ Task Force
As we prepare to observe LGBT History Month in October and celebrate our achievements, we must also recognize that our movement is about much more than same-sex marriage. True equality also means the fundamental right to sexual health and freedom, and the right to decide whether or when to become a parent. That is why the National LGBTQ Task Force is joining All* Above All in support of the EACH Woman Act (H.R. 2972 – Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act). This important bill would restore public insurance coverage so that anyone who needs it can get affordable, safe abortion care. When it comes to such important life decisions, it is vital that a person is able to consider all the options available to them, regardless of income or insurance.
Why should the LGBTQ community care about the EACH Woman Act? Because the movements for LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice are inseparable: we are all working for the right to live our lives fully and the right to choose how we use our bodies—without government abuse and intrusion. The opposition to comprehensive and affordable reproductive healthcare are often the same forces that want to control what we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, and queer people, do with our bodies and our access to health care. In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, it is more important than ever that we build strong, inclusive coalitions to win progressive change. Reproductive rights is an LGBTQ issue.
The EACH Woman Act creates two important standards for reproductive health. First, it ensures that everyone who receives care or insurance through the federal government, such as through Medicaid or a federal employee health plan, will have coverage for all pregnancy-related care, including abortion. Second, it prevents political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care.
Millions of people—including cisgender lesbians, bisexual women, queer and gender non-conforming women, and transgender men—are denied access to safe, affordable, and life-saving abortions. Since 1976, the federal government has withheld funds for abortion coverage in most circumstances, which impacts people who are insured through Medicaid, as well as those who receive insurance or care through other federal health plans and programs. The LGBTQ community is more vulnerable to being poor and therefore more likely to rely on such programs. In fact, poverty rates on average are higher among lesbian and bisexual women, young people, and African Americans within our community, with more than one-quarter (28%) of lesbian and bisexual women living in poverty. In addition, several states also prohibit abortion coverage in private insurance plans within or beyond health insurance marketplaces under Obamacare.
The impact of these bans is far-reaching, especially for individuals struggling to make ends meet. Studies show that when policymakers put severe restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion services, it forces one in four poor cisgender women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. When people are living paycheck to paycheck, denying coverage for an abortion can push them deeper into poverty. In fact, when an individual seeks abortion services but is denied, they are three times more likely to fall into poverty than one who can get an abortion. Lesbian and bisexual women in particular already experience an increased risk for adverse health conditions, especially those with low incomes; denying access to abortion care only exacerbates existing health disparities.
These challenges make it all the more important for the LGBTQ community to support the EACH Woman Act. We must ensure that all people can make the best decisions for themselves and their families, no matter how little money they have or however they are insured. The Task Force is proud to be part of All* Above All. Join us and show that you, too, are “All In” for lifting the ban on abortion coverage.
by Zsea Beaumonis, National LGBTQ Task Force Reproductive Justice Fellow
As I sat in the Eisenhower Office Building next to the White House, I was reduced to tears three times even before the White House Bisexual Community Policy Briefing began. Reconnecting with friends I hadn’t seen in 25 years; watching dozens of veteran and emerging activists converge for this moment; all I could think was, “Wow.”
This second-ever White House event was a long time coming, and was the product of four decades of activism from the bi+ community. (I use the term “bi+ to be inclusive of all non-monosexual identified and behaving people, including those who identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, etc.).
For me, it’s been three decades. In 1984 I co-founded the first bi+ support group in Philadelphia. I was tired of friends meeting my bisexuality with everything from discomfort, to downright hostility, to objectifying me as exotic. It turns out I was not alone in that experience. Today I am sorry to say that while recent studies put the bi+ population at over 50% of the LGBTQ community, many bi+ people continue to have the same negative experiences I had 30 years ago.
Yet at the same time, so much has changed. Incredible terrain has been covered, bringing us to this moment.
My activist trajectory took me to Washington, DC, where I continued bi+ social and support group leadership. I soon moved on to political action work, co-founding AMBI/the alliance of Multicultural Bisexuals and its direct action arm, AMBUSH, the Alliance of Multicultural Bisexuals United to Stop Heterosexism, Homophobia, Hate Crimes and everything else toxic that starts with “H”.
For five years I served on the team of National Coordinators for BiNet USA. I represented us at the National Policy Roundtable, a semi-annual meeting of the leaders of all the national LGBTQ policy-oriented organizations. I lobbied Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, taught about the bi+ community in hundreds of venues, published a newsletter, created an ally campaign, and facilitated meetings. You know, like you do.
As I eased out of volunteer organizational leadership, I published the anthology “Blessed Bi Spirit, Bisexual People of Faith” in 2000. I also continued public speaking, and along the way, something shifted. I became a professional in both the LGBTQ and Jewish worlds who just happened to be bisexual. I continued to advocate, educate and represent, but in a different way. I watched with delight as some of my colleagues worked with an astounding next generation of bi+ activists who picked up the mantle and made huge strides.
Though there is always room for improvement, today there is much more research capturing the realities of bi+ people’s lives. LGBTQ organizations, publications and conferences continue to address our stories and issues, and many finally have out bi+ staff. New policy mavens have emerged, bringing together brilliant analyses on a multiplicity of issues. They are influencing state and federal policy on matters related to employment discrimination, immigration rights, violence against bi+ folks, mental and physical health issues specific to our population, youth needs, HIV concerns and more.
My activism shifted gears as amazing new opportunities opened to me. I facilitated the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, became the first out bisexual Executive Director of a religious movement’s headquarters (ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal), became ordained—becoming one of only a handful of out bi+ rabbis—, and most recently, became the first out bisexual Executive Director of an LGBTQ organization, Nehirim. I kvell; I glory in being able to sink into the leadership of the next generation.
One of my greatest delights in being a bisexual leader is the commitment the bi+ movement has always had to intersectional activism. That was quite evident at the White House Bisexual Community Policy Briefing. Attendance at the meeting helped ensure no one felt tokenized—at least 25% of those attending, and over 50% of the speakers, were people of color. Many were trans* activists. The issues we addressed took into account the complexities of the intersections of class, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and all aspects of our communities.
As the meeting came to a close, I pondered with gratitude having met and developed a deep and abiding friendship with Sheikh Ibrahim baba in DC over 25 years ago, as two of several co-founders of AMBI and AMBUSH. Though he was not present at the White House, he will be with me in Portland at Nehirim’s Inter spiritual Queer Clergy Conference. Together with Rev. Tara Wilkins, we will lead the group in activating queer clergy and our constituents around the U.S. to take part in the Black Lives Matter movement.
So much has changed in the 30 years I’ve been a bi+ activist. Yet there is still so much work to be done. What a blessing to be here now.
by Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Executive Director, Nehirim