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Dear Pope Francis: Is the Church Door Half Open or Half Shut?

September 24, 2015

Over the years there have been numerous metaphors about the doors to the Vatican – are they open or shut? Is the Catholic Church ready for renewal or closing in upon itself again?

Earlier today, Pope Francis became the first-ever Pope to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Next week, as part of his first visit to the US as Pope, he will speak at the 2015 World Congress of Families in Philadelphia. And while his calls today for better environmental stewardship, fair and comprehensive immigration reform, and an end to war and poverty were heard loud and clear, there is still much speculation about the future direction of the Catholic Church.

In 1959, Pope John XXIII was credited with throwing open the Catholic Church’s doors when he called for a gathering of all theologians and faith leaders in what became known as Vatican Council II—which eventually gave birth to significant changes within a moribund Catholic Church. The popes that followed–Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI–slowly started to walk back the progress from Vatican II and the doors of the Church began to close, and in the eyes of many observers, the Catholic Church moved back on a path towards decline and irrelevancy.

In 1959, Pope John XXIII was credited with throwing open the Catholic Church’s doors when he called for a gathering of all theologians and faith leaders in what became known as Vatican Council II—which eventually gave birth to significant changes within a moribund Catholic Church. The popes that followed–Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI–slowly started to walk back the progress from Vatican II and the doors of the Church began to close, and in the eyes of many observers, the Catholic Church moved back on a path towards decline and irrelevancy.

Then came Pope Francis—the first pope elected to the post originating from either North or South America. With little fanfare, and even less pomp and ceremony, he began to shake the church by challenging many of the Catholic Church’s dogmas and long-held convictions. Some of his changes have been substantive and structural, others have been cultural and symbolic and more to do with the tone of the church; few have been doctrinal.

The rub is, how does one read the direction that Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church—are the doors just slightly ajar or is it the beginning of a real opening up of the Catholic Church? For LGBTQ people of faith – some of us cradle Catholics – the messages have been truly mixed.

During today’s speech in front of Congress, Pope Francis called on everyone to exercise the Golden Rule and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yet for every similar remark and “who am I to judge?” moment of affirmation, in the same breath the Vatican continues pushing for discrimination against LGBTQ people, the rejecting of trans people as Godparents, the belittling of LGBTQ families, and the trashing of children adopted by gay and lesbian parents. It is the continued mistreatment and rejection of LGBTQ people that overshadow well-intentioned gestures by the Pope, such as meeting with trans and gay activists, washing the feet of a person with living with AIDS, and a report released by Catholic Bishops in Rome suggesting that the Church create a more inclusive space for LGBT Catholics. And while these are simply just gestures, these actions would not have taken place under previous Popes.

As I continue to listen to Pope Francis’ remarks during his historic visit to the US with mixed emotions and expectations, I share with him the following exhortation: Pope Francis, you have opened a crack in the Church door around a number of significant issues – but we need you to swing that door wide so that actions will follow words.

 by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, The National LGBTQ Task Force

Bi Mental Health Tips For New Activists

September 24, 2015

Research has revealed that bisexual people are more likely to experience serious and long-lasting mental health challenges when compared to their the gay or straight peers. So it is vital for bisexual people, especially activists, to treat themselves well and do what they can for their mental health. Here are some tips my personal tips that will hopefully help.

  1. It is ok to say “no” on social media: Especially when you first come out, it seems like it is imperative to attend every biphobic “debate” that crops up on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. It really, really isn’t. You can say no.
  2. Bring reinforcements: If you do get involved, on social media or in person try and bring back up. It is much easier to affect meaningful change when you and others have a united front. Also if things get too stressful and draining for you, it’s nice to be able to tag someone in.
  1. It is O.K.  to enjoy things: I made this mistake when I first started doing activism. I dove in head first, off the deep end. I was very much all-activism all the time. I felt that everything I watched, listened, read, ate and thought had to be 100% free of problematic elements. This very shortly lead to me having nothing left. This inability to have a separation, to still enjoy and share with others was a huge blow to my mental health. No media, especially mass media, is ever going to be problem free. Our job as activists is to acknowledge these problematic, even oppressive things and  work to fix them. But while doing that we can enjoy things. So you love “Teen Wolf,” but maybe you are frustrated by queer – baiting plot lines and scenes. You can work with other fans to create change, while still tuning in every week to get your werewolf fix.
  1. Don’t let your identity become a weight. Coming out, being able to be ourselves authentically, is vital to our mental health. But at times being out can bring on new stresses. From suddenly becoming everyone’s personal bi educator, to direct biphobia our once liberating identity can feel like a weight. If you feel that way it is ok to refer to #1 on this list and say no. You can pass on educating cousin Sammy at the family BBQ, they can easily conduct research online using Google. You can choose to only participate in affirming fun activities that celebrate who you are. And if it’s still too much, you can take a break.
  1. You, healthy, happy and alive is the most important thing. You being you, healthy and happy as best you can be, is the ultimate triumph against biphobia and oppression. Living, breathing bi people are what create change and triumph. Take care of yourself and you are already winning.

By Aud Traher, Vice President, BiNet USA

bi health outcomes


Ending Biphobia in LGBTQ Spaces is Not the Job of Bisexuals

September 21, 2015

When I first came out as bi, I eagerly sought out the LGBTQ community. Seeing that lovely shiny “B” right there in the acronym, I waited to be embraced by this new, wonderful rainbow of a community. I was taken aback that my first forays into this community space actually made me feel worse than I did before. The spaces I entered were very monosexual (experiencing attraction only to one gender, unlike bi, which is an attraction to two or more genders) focused. I felt awkward going to events with my partner, fearing I wasn’t “queer enough” and that I didn’t “deserve” to be included. At some events emcees regularly derided bipeople, either knowing we were in the room and simply not caring or they believed that we simply didn’t exist.

Aud Traher at Bisexual Week Rally at White House

Aud Traher at Bisexual Week Rally at White House September 21, 2015

Around the time it was the bullying and discrimination got to its worst, and while I was thinking about simply going back into the closet, I discovered the online bi+ community. I learned that what was going on in those spaces was something called “monosexism”, the belief that only monosexual identities are valid. While this monosexism is often done unconsciously (I very much doubt that any of the people I was interacting with at that time sat at home rubbing their hands evily, and muttering “good, good, cry you bisexuals! Only monosexuals are worthy mwahahha!”) but it was still hurtful, and it definitely did make me feel like I wasn’t “bi enough” or “queer enough” to be there.

The greatest, and most hard won realization I made was that not only did I belong but those feelings of exclusion, of isolation were not my fault in any way. It was not because my identity was difficult to grasp, it did not need changed, this was not just “how things are” in these spaces and I would have to deal with it. It was also not my burden to single-handedly make every space that claimed to be “LGBTQ” into a bi safe space.

It is NOT our responsibility to do so it is not the responsibility of bi individuals to make what should be a safe inclusive LGBTQ space into what it advertises itself as. The onus, the burden is on those who fund, organize and run those events.

So here are some things that you, as an organizer and bi ally can do to make your your bi members, attendees or guests feel like they belong.

  • If your event or group is supposed to be represent “LGBTQ” make sure it really is. Go online to websites like Binet USA or The Bisexual Resource Center and educate yourself on bi issues. Do this before anyone points out that you are not being inclusive. The goal is to be proactive!
  • Make sure power and responsibility is distributed equally. If you are creating an event that will have hierarchy, such as a board of directors, GSA, charity fundraiser, etc., make sure that bisexual people are included in the process and in positions of power. Something that often happens in LGBTQ spaces is that gay and lesbian people are too often in the position of power, while bi (and transgender) people take on a role of a supporter or ally.
  • Avoid alienating language. If you are talking about marriage equality, use that phrase, not “gay marriage.” Also, make sure that all emcees, DJ’s and performers know that bi bashing is not tolerated in anyway.
  • Don’t perpetuate the “Anything But Bi” (ABB). This refers to a situation when someone openly identifies as bi, but is pressured to change their identifying label to, “anything but bi.”
  • Often furthered by well meaning folks, this most commonly takes the form of people perpetuating the false notion that “bi” refers to only 2 genders, which is then used to accuse people who use the “bi” label as transphobic or perpetuating the “gender binary.” Then there are people who perpetuate the idea that labels are not important–i.e. “labels are for soup cans.” While well meaning on the surfaces, these reinforce biphobic attitudes and bi invisibility and are harmful. If you see this happening in your group, step in and affirm that all identities are valid.

Be proactive. Bisexual people make up over half the LGBTQ community. We are not a small slice. Research and coordinate with the larger bi community. Ending biphobia isn’t the job of bisexuals.

By Aud Traher, BiNet USA Vice President

Let’s Talk About the “B” in LGBTQ

September 20, 2015

With this year’s landmark Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality all across the country, many have wondered: what’s next for the LGBTQ movement? Yet despite the significant gains in the work to secure full equality for LGBTQ people, many continue to overlook the “B” in “LGBTQ” — bisexual people. This month, from September 20-26, bisexual people all across the country are coming together to celebrate Bisexual Awareness Week with the goal of elevating the voices of bisexual people and addressing the unique obstacles that bisexual people face. At this point, there are some who might be asking themselves, “wait exactly how people living in the US identify as bisexual?” More than you think.

Participants at the Bisexual Pride March at Creating Change 2015: Denver

Accurate numbers on LGBTQ populations in the US are not collected by the Census Bureau, yet the Williams Institute estimates that there are over 9 million LGBTQ people in the U.S. Of those, more than half (51 percent) or almost 5 million people, identify as bisexual. But if more people throughout the country identify as bisexual than they do as lesbian or gay, why don’t we hear from them or talk about them more consistently?

bi family and friends

Bisexual invisibility Coming out as bisexual can be more challenging than coming out as gay or lesbian. Part of that challenge is the pervasive negative stereotypes and lack of inclusion. Bisexual people often report feeling excluded from the LGBTQ community—an unfortunate reality further perpetuated by the lack of representation of bisexual people in media, film and television. A common misconception about bisexual people that further feeds into the bisexual invisibility is the negative stereotype of “bi now, gay later,” or the erroneous belief that people who initially come out as “bisexual” will later come to identify as “gay” or “lesbian.” The assumption is sometimes based on who the person is currently dating; if the person is dating someone who is of the same-sex, the identity of gay or lesbian is imposed on them; if the person is dating someone of the opposite sex, then they are labeled as a straight person. The fear of this stereotype can make it more difficult for people who actually are bisexual to come out. Because of the lack of understanding and acceptance they experience, bisexual people are six times more likely than gay men and lesbians to hide their sexual orientation. Furthermore, BiNet USA reports that these myths not only contribute to the erasure of bisexual people but also leads to discrimination, harassment, mistreatment, and a myriad of disparities.

Inequalities bisexual people experience.
Multiple studies have shown that being stereotyped negatively can have real life consequences. Even though bisexual people make up the largest number of people in the LGBTQ community, they experience a disproportionate level of poverty as well as mental health issues when compared to their lesbian and gay peers. Over all, while LGBTQ people are more likely to face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes than straight people, bisexual people face even more disparate treatment in many arenas. Among the most prominent issues include poverty and health disparities.MAP bi Poverty

Bisexual people living in poverty
Bisexual people face a greater risk of living below the poverty line. A report from the National Survey Of Family Growth (2006-2010) found that approximately 25% of bisexual men and 30% of bisexual women live below the Federal Poverty Level, compared to 15% of heterosexual men, 21% of heterosexual women, and 23% of lesbian women. Looking at this from a different angle means that bisexual women (18-44) are 2.1 times more likely to live in poverty than the general population. Unfortunately, while these numbers are alarming, it is not the only challenge bisexual people face.

Bisexual health
Bisexual people also report higher rates of poor physical and mental health. Studies from Kent State University and George Mason University reveals that being misunderstood by both straight and LGBTQ people place bisexual people at an elevated risk for a host of problems including binge drinking, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions. According to the American Journal of Public Health, bisexual women report the highest prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 26.6% compared to 6.6% of straight women. Also, bisexual adults have a higher risk of attempting suicide. One study found bisexual people were four times more likely than straight people to report attempted suicide. A study titled, “Health Inequities by Sexual Orientation in New Mexico,” found that bisexual men were 6.3 times more likely to seriously consider suicide in their lifetime than gay and straight men. Another recent report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that bisexual teens who reported suicidal thoughts did not report a decrease in these thoughts as they aged into adulthood, unlike their straight peers.

While bisexual people comprise more than half of the LGBTQ community, they experience significant health and economic disparities. Research on bisexuality is growing, as is the importance to distinguish bisexual people from their gay, lesbian and straight peers among researchers. Even more critical is the responsibility of community organizations that support LGBTQ people to provide culturally appropriate care to their bisexual clients. We have come a long way in the work to advance full equality for all, but it remains crystal clear that more needs to be done to eradicating stigma and discrimination against bisexual people. We hope you join us in celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week this September by starting a conversation about the hurdles bisexual people face when attempting to access full equality and encouraging others to join the work to eliminating bi-invisibility and bi-phobia.

by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow

This article originally appeared in Adelante

Elevating the Voices of Black Cisgender Women in the Reproductive Health Movement

September 18, 2015

The reproductive justice community must elevate the reproductive healthcare needs of black sexual minority cisgender women.  But what exactly are those healthcare needs?


National Black Justice Coalition’s Out on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit

As I listened to an Out on the Hill Black LGBTQ Leadership Summit panel, where I heard from policy experts including the National LGBTQ Task Force’s own Stacey Long Simmons discuss this very topic, I realized that before this discussion I did not really know what the specific reproductive health care needs of this community were. This realization shocked me.  As a black heterosexual cisgender woman, I have spent the better part of my academic and professional career studying the intersections of race, gender and sexuality, and I have specifically focused my energy on ensuring that black women, regardless of their sexuality and gender identity, have access to the reproductive care that they need.  But, today I learned that I really need to dive deeper to learn from and advocate for the minority groups within larger minority groups.

This panel discussed several key healthcare needs that black sexual minority cisgender women need.  First, one panelist, a M.D., made a cry for credible research.  She declared, “There is no credible research around the health of lesbian [and bisexual] women.”  This obviously is a problem.  Before necessary public policies can be enacted to help the sexual minority cisgender female community, research must be completed to determine what healthcare needs actually exist.  Also, a panelist made a call for more culturally competent healthcare providers who can actually provide care without stigmatization.  Another panelist argued that insurance providers need to understand the unique healthcare needs of black sexual minority women so that these women can access the proper healthcare that they need without extreme financial burden.

These are just three areas that must be addressed before black sexual minority cisgender women will be able to receive competent reproductive healthcare.  The reproductive rights movement needs to recognize that a reproductive-rights-for-all narrative is great but still is still not inclusive of the plight than many minorities (whether race, gender, sexual, or a myriad of other differences) within the reproductive rights community face.  We must learn from each other and advocate for each other.  Only then will there be a chance of comprehensive reproductive healthcare for all.

Let’s get started.

by Candace Bond-Theriault, National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Counsel, Reproductive Rights

World Bank: It’s Time to Stand Up to Economic Discrimination

September 16, 2015

Dr. Jim Yong Kim

This letter, which the National LGBTQ Task Force signed on to, was recently sent to Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, by the Council for Global Equality:

The World Bank’s website professes two primary missions: to end poverty, on the one hand, and to “promote shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40% for every country.”

Those clear and lofty goals are undercut, however, by the Bank’s slowness thus far to confront economic realities that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, along with other marginalized and disfavored populations, face in a vast preponderance of countries around the world.

In most of the world’s countries, LGBT populations are well within “the bottom 40%” that the World Bank wants to uplift. So are a disproportionate number of women. Yet still today the Bank has no “safeguard” – a World Bank term for a set of internal guiding regulations – requiring that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity be considered when designing new programs, or when entertaining host government requests for new loans.

The Bank, too, has devoted little attention to commissioning the research needed to document, with greater precision, how inattention to inequality only hampers the economic progress that governments should be seeking, and that citizen-funders of the Bank’s programs are right to expect. What little research has appeared on this topic, indeed, has been startling.

For over two years, the Council has engaged alongside other civil society partners in efforts to urge that the World Bank adopt new safeguard language that would challenge governments to meet the needs of their full populations – male and female, lesbian and gay, transgender and queer. We’ve now written to World Bank President Kim to urge immediate action.

We’ve been impressed with Dr. Kim’s personal leadership in speaking to the moral and economic imperatives of addressing LGBT and gender inequalities. We know that he and other Bank leaders understand that countries are only as strong as their economic empowerment, sound health policies, and social inclusiveness allow.

So when World Bank officials hold important meetings in Lima October 9-11, will the Bank’s leadership fight for, and achieve, an overdue commitment to serve the needs of ALL populations, in line with the Bank’s professed mission?

Dr. Kim’s personal convictions and leadership need to translate into concrete progress in reforming the Bank’s sterile inattention to that bottom 40%. We ask that the Bank make its programs relevant to the goals it has proclaimed by addressing – over national government objections if necessary – the economic discrimination that so many LGBT populations face.

The time for action is now.


Latino Heritage Month, A Month to Celebrate All Types of Diversity

September 15, 2015

Latino heritage celebrations in the United States began in 1958 as “Hispanic Heritage Week” under President Lyndon Johnson. Originally a weeklong celebration of Hispanic and Latino communities, President Ronald Reagan expanded these celebrations in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. Since then, it has been recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month, and it begins each year on September 15 and ends on October 15. This month we celebrate diversity, and all the contributions the Latino population has made to American society and culture.

Thur AM Latino Institute by Anna Min-13-2 smaller

Attendees at the Latino Institute at our 2014 Creating Change Conference

Throughout history, millions of people around the world have left their home countries looking for a better life in the United States. Since 1960, the Latino population has increased from 6.3 million to roughly 55 million people. It is estimated to grow to 119 million by 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Although there are people emigrating from every country in Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center, the four largest Latino populations in the United States, are: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and Cuban. People of Mexican origin are the largest subgroup, at 64 percent of the Latino population.

I immigrated to the United States from El Salvador at the age of 15. I am currently a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Sociology and Communication Studies. As I learn more about the history of Hispanic and Latino communities in the United States, my sense of pride increases to be part of such a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse group of people in the United States. I have met people from many different cultural backgrounds, people from Colombia, Argentina, Honduras and many other countries. It is always a pleasure to converse about both our differences and the similarities we have in common.

I’ve also learned that there is no single definition of what it means to be a Latino in the United States. For some Latino and Hispanic families, the country of their ancestors may still resonate through their food, traditions, stories, language, and identity. To me, being Latino means to live by the values and morals that my family taught me. As a first generation college student, I have learned to appreciate the opportunity I have been given by my parents to attend an excellent university.

Our diversity is one of the things that I value the most about being Hispanic. The Latino and Hispanic populations in the Unites States are people of different ethnicities, cultures, and even sexual orientations and gender identities. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, about 1.4 million Latinos identify as LGBT, so it is important that in this month we not only celebrate and be proud about being Latino, but also that we celebrate those Latinos who identify as LGBT.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it is important to reflect on our own personal stories about our Hispanic and Latino identities, and to share and celebrate the beautiful diversity of our experiences.
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow












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