Being your authentic self is a revolutionary act for millions of LBGTQ people.
[this Editorial by Rea Carey originally appeared in The Advocate on Wednesday, October 8]
One of my early memories of feeling like I was fully and deeply me was during elementary school when my little tomboy self climbed up a tree in my Denver neighborhood and just hung out thinking about a girl I had a crush on. I felt strong in my body, climbing branch by branch; looking back on it, I realize I felt something that wasn’t what I knew girls to be or what I knew boys to be, rather something in between; and, of course, the freedom to think about the girl. And I was deeply happy in all of my identities. That’s how it feels to be fully you. To be all of you.
There’s an identity revolution going on in our nation right now. It’s a revolution that shows up in the way people share the many aspects of their identities through social media. It’s apparent when we challenge assumptions others have about us and what issues we care about — like white citizens working on immigration reform or gay men working on reproductive justice or LGBT people working on voting rights. It’s apparent when actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox appears on the cover of Time magazine. We have come a long way in making visible the many ways we live our lives and pursue our passions.
I am seeing a real palpable hunger in LGBTQ people’s hearts not just to be out, but to bring their entire selves to every aspect of their lives: to be you without fear, without persecution, without discrimination, whether you’re L, G, B, T, or Q. But there is also a deep hunger for more change with millions of us still facing formidable barriers in every aspect of our lives: at school, in housing, employment, in health care, in our faith congregations, in retirement and in basic human rights. And while we have yet to win full marriage equality — that fight isn’t over — we must also look beyond marriage to continue the work that speaks to the many things we are as LGBTQ people.
For these and many other reasons, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is changing its name and upping its game to tear down any remaining barriers to full freedom, justice, and equality for all LBGTQ people. We want to create a world where you can be you, without barriers. Our new name is the “National LGBTQ Task Force,” our tagline is “Be you,” and our vision is a society that values and respects the diversity of human expression and identity and achieves freedom and equity for all.
The barriers we face today are far-reaching and they impact LGBTQ lives from childhood to retirement.
At school, LGBTQ students are still being bullied and denied an education for simply being themselves.
At work, LGBTQ employees are being fired for who they are and love. And the likelihood of your being fired is much higher if you are an LGBTQ person of color and higher still if you are a transgender person of color.
At places of worship, welcoming people of faith are being defrocked, excluded, and shouted down by opponents of LGBTQ equality.
In our immigration system, more than 250,000 undocumented LGBTQ immigrants desperately want to stay here and pursue their dreams.
On the streets, thousands of homeless LGBTQ people need decent housing.
At medical centers, despite progress in the implementation of Obamacare, LGBTQ people aren’t getting access to the specialized care they need.
In retirement, LGBTQ seniors are going back into the closet in fear of being discriminated against.
But we imagine a different world. A world in which each person can be fully themselves. Be fully free.
Being you is to be able to walk down the street holding hands and not fear that you will be hit over the head with a bottle.
Being you is to be able to live in any state you want and be legally recognized and honored as your children’s parents.
Being you is to be able to enter a voting station as a black transgender woman and not worry that anyone will question you because of the color of your skin or because your ID card doesn’t match what they see.
Being you is about being able to claim and stand proudly in all of your identities, not having to choose one over another, or denying any part of yourself.
We live in an exciting time where we have the power to define the future we want — and so much of that future is connected to creating a world where every LGBTQ person can be themselves without any barriers. What would it feel like to be fully you?
Let’s seize this moment, let’s be ourselves fully, and let’s make a future together that’s worthy of our struggle.
by Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force
In raising multiple personal perspectives during Bisexual Awareness Week, we published many items — one which was a blog called “Bye Bye Bi, Hello Queer.” It was one of the blogs published on Bisexual Awareness Day. Having listened to a wide array of feedback on the timing and content, we recognize that this blog offended people. For this we sincerely apologize. It has been removed. Our commitment as we move forward with our partners in the bisexual community is to continue to raise awareness of the realities and history of the bisexual community and bisexual people’s lives.
A lot gets done in my name as a trans non-binary person. I choose to label as Bisexual, despite the many different clamoring voices all insisting I shouldn’t. Most often this takes the form of biphobia masking as “complexity of language” and” trans inclusion”. The idea that the word bisexual somehow reinforces the western gender binary, and thus is harmful to trans people like myself, is such a common way biphobia is expressed that it currently is next to “Photograph” by Nickelback on my personal list of things I can’t stand to hear any more.
This idea isn’t rooted in the idea of complex language but biphobia. When people talk about how words reinforce the binary it is ONLY ever in regards to bisexuality. I have been to many LGBT spaces where this has come up. “We need to drop the B” or in a personal context “Oh I don’t use bisexual because it reinforces the binary.”
You know what never ever comes up after? How words like “gay” and “lesbian” are also reinforcing a gender binary. Nobody ever says “We need to change our name from “The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to something more inclusive because gay and lesbian reinforce the gender binary” or “I don’t call myself a lesbian because it isn’t trans inclusive”
That is how I know this is just biphobia masquerading as “inclusive language”. Only bisexuals have to change, only our words are bad. Even though the bisexual community defines itself as “attraction to same/different genders or more than one gender” this binary, cis only men and women definition biphobia is constantly imposed from outside the community by cis people doing it in the name of people like me.
If you feel the need to pick apart, ditch or otherwise get rid of the word bisexual you are harming transgender, genderqueer and non binary people who identify as bisexual. In the bisexual trans community this has become such a toxic poison that it causes people to become depressed, anxious or to self harm. Imagine being told that how you define yourself is harmful. That you are, like your label, bad and unworthy. I know seeing such arguments and statements have brought me back to a place of immense pain and internalized biphobia and transphobia. As a bisexual this is just another form of pain that I have to deal with. It hits the same open bleeding area that is from lesbian and gay biphobia–harmed self-righteously by those who should help us.
I’m never surprised that the same people who advocate for the elimination of bisexual and for ABB (Anything But Bi) terms to replace them in the name of trans inclusion rarely do actual work with the transgender and genderqueer/ non binary communities. The Transgender Violence Tracking Project was created by a bisexual transgender woman and is run and staffed by many bisexuals, including myself. I can nearly always count on support from the bi community as a trans person. The history of friendship between the Bi and Trans communities goes back decades, back past Stonewall even.
If you want to support trans people like me don’t erase me or speak over me or cause me harm out of self-righteous biphobia. Look into yourself and deal with that internalized biphobia and then help others get over theirs. Don’t advocate for the destruction of a community in the name of “saving” it.
And, especially don’t do it in my name.
Aud Traher is a gender non conforming transgender bisexual identified person who lives in Pennsylvania and prefers they, them, their personal pronouns. In 2013, Aud was honored to be an attendee at the LGBT Pride Month Reception at the White House. A prolific writer, Aud operates evenaud.wordpress.org and is currently working on a coming out book for bi teens and young adults while also interning at Quist, a mobile app that displays events from this day in LGBTQ history.
It’s 3:49am. Gabriel, my four-month-old, is crying in his nursery. My partner and I roll over, look at each other, groan. What does it mean to be the best parents we can be in this moment? Allow Gabriel to learn how to soothe himself because we know he is safe, warm, and has a full belly? Or follow our instincts by going up and rocking him back to sleep? We have no guide book. As parents of two children under the age of three, my partner and I are constantly making decisions like this that collectively will shape our children’s lives.
In my role as National Program Director of Keshet, I help Jewish congregations every day make decisions that will shape the lives of their LGBT members. And while, like parenting, these decisions must always first come from a sense of love and trust in each other, I am proud to announce that there is now a guide book to support Jewish congregations in their efforts to create inclusive institutions for LGBT people and their families:
“Kol B’mishpachat Elohim / All in God’s Family: A Jewish Guide for Creating Allies for Our LGBT Families,” is a multimedia curriculum created by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, Keshet, COLAGE, and Family Equality Council.
The High Holidays are the perfect occasion for the release of a new resource. At this time of the Jewish year, during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we enter into a period of reckoning for all the choices we have made over the past year. We do the work of teshuvah, commonly translated as repentance and literally meaning “returning” – returning to our best and purest selves. We struggle to return to the people we want to be, the people we know we can be. We reflect on how whether or not we have shown up for others, whether or not we retreated from ourselves, and whether or not we did the right thing rather than the easy thing whenever we could.
Doing the work of LGBT inclusion in our congregations is doing the work of teshuvah – it’s an ongoing process of reflection, reckoning, and making change to better meet the mark. We can honor our accomplishments even as we strive for improvement. LGBT inclusion is not a box to simply check, not something that is achieved in a single training session. We may have developed an inclusion statement for our website. But did we train our staff in how to be more inclusive in their work? Did we create opportunities for community conversations about inclusion and LGBT themes? Did we make bathrooms available for people of all genders? Did we do enough?
There are no quick fixes. Rather, coming together to enact our values for a more inclusive community is a process, a practice that we carry over time. It involves reflection, teshuvah, consistently returning to the values that characterize our communities at their best.
This is not only a job for me — it’s also personal. As part of a queer family, I want my children to grow up knowing that the essential components of family are love and respect, not one mom and one dad; I want them to know that they have the spaciousness to experience and express their gender and sexual orientation however it evolves over their lifetime. And as part of a Jewish family, I want my children to participate in Jewish community that celebrates and teaches about embracing all people, all families, all genders, all kinds of love.
It’s our hope that Kol B’mishpachat Elohim will support Jewish congregations in pursuing the holy work of LGBT inclusion in Jewish congregations, and will ultimately help all Jewish families – LGBT and straight – experience the richness of a truly inclusive community.
And although there is no guidebook for us as parents, my partner and I will continue our own struggle to make the right choices — time and time again — for our children. But hopefully it won’t always have to be at Four in the morning.
by Catherine Bell, National Program Director of Keshet
Last September, I attended the first ever White House Roundtable on bisexuality. Aside from the abysmal statistics about the prevalence of health disparities, discrimination and violence, I was most personally moved by hearing a speaker talk about the need to continually come out. Their words struck a chord and resonated with me because I too had the same experience every time I changed partners and they were the opposite gender of the person I’d been with most recently.
If I was in a relationship with a man, and it ended, my loved ones and associates appeared confused when next I dated a woman. If I was in a relationship with a woman, and it ended, and my next partner was a man, folks were truly baffled. No matter how many times I told them I was bisexual, they apparently just didn’t believe me. It was as if I’d challenged their conventional understanding of the world and they didn’t have any space between their ears to grasp the concept of bisexuality. I have to admit that sometimes when they’d ask the usual, “but I thought you were a lesbian/straight,” I’d be internally screaming at them, “I AM BISEXUAL!!! What part of that don’t you understand???” But of course I never do scream at them. (Just like I never scream at the well-intended white person who makes an ear curdling remark about black people or race.) I just calmly respond with my usual even-toned expressionless (and at times bemused) face, “I am bisexual. I am attracted to and have relationships with both men and women – but since I am in a monogamous relationship, that translates into only one gender at a time.”
But I wasn’t always so confident about openly identifying as bisexual. There were times when while dating a man, it was easier for me to be silent about my dating history with women. And when I was with women, it was easier to leave out the fact that men were part of my history as well. I thought I’d found my true self when I began referring to myself as a “lesbian-identified bisexual woman.” Aside from being way too long and cumbersome, it was also just a way to curry favor with the lesbian community. It was my preemptive strike against the inevitable questioning I had learned to endure. I knew that identifying as just bisexual meant risking that I could not be trusted. In fact, if I said it in just the right way, it was a way to lead with the word “lesbian” and mumble through the word “bisexual.” I told myself that I felt more at home in the lesbian community and that I felt more comfortable having relationships with women than with men but that wasn’t it. It was just my way of belonging in a world that was (and still is) quick to shun and isolate bisexual people.
But that was then and this is now. Today, I don’t feel defensive about my bisexual identity. Duality is my friend; bisexuality is as natural to me as the fact that I’m neither left handed nor right handed – I’m ambidextrous and there’s nothing wrong with being so. I’ve grown a lot over the years and with age has come not only wisdom but also compassion and patience. In June when I married the woman of my dreams, I was prepared for the countless people who by now have heard me say I’m bisexual and now are asking, “Since you’re married to a woman, you’re not bisexual anymore, right?” Like a merry-go-round, here we go again: I am still bisexual because I am attracted to men and women. I married a woman but I still identify as bisexual. I am in a monogamous relationship with a woman but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer bisexual.
The simple truth has liberated me from the clumsy long title that I’d used to cloak my true self within. What a tremendous gift to be able to celebrate and acknowledge our existence for a glorious week in October. I affirm everyone’s right to define themselves according to their own definition – because I believe defining one’s sexuality is an intensely private matter. It is not for the peering eyes of strangers to observe and whisper about. It’s not for the dictatorial voices of the judgmental to snidely attack or loudly comment upon. It should not be the subject of ridicule or painful jokes.
It is for me to decide and define, however I choose.
by Stacey Long, Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
On August 28, 2014, Andrew Cray, a leading expert in transgender health policy and former Holley Law Fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, passed away at the age of 28. Andrew was a fierce advocate for transgender health policy, including being one of the leading advocates to secure transgender-inclusive health insurance policies in numerous states across the country and in the District of Columbia. This week the movement lost on of the most smart, kind, and effective people we have, and we at the Task Force mourn his loss and celebrate the contributions Andrew made during his short life.
Andrew began working on LGBT health policy as a Holley Law Fellow at the Task Force in 2009, where he was tasked with writing recommendations for inclusion in the various versions of the health reform law then being debated in Congress. His research in this area only deepened an interest he already held for ensuring that LGBT people, particularly transgender people, have full access to the range of health care they need. Following his time at the Task Force, Andrew worked on veterans health policy at the National Coalition for LGBT health, transgender health policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the full range of LGBT health policy as it relates to implementation of the Affordable Care Act while at the Center for American Progress’s LGBT Research and Communications Project.
Andrew’s work on transgender health policy was truly transformative – he was involved in securing life-saving policies that expand access to health care for transgender people in nearly every state that has recently updated their policies to ban exclusion of transgender people from health insurance policies. Indeed, in most of these states he was the leading legal expert and architect of the policy language ultimately adopted. Thousands of transgender people that never knew Andrew can thank him for ensuring that they have access to health insurance policies that recognize their gender identity. And for that, we all owe Andrew a great deal of gratitude.
Andrew was also a founding member of Trans Legal Advocates of Washington (TransLAW), an organization that serves the legal needs of the transgender community in the Washington DC area by training attorneys on transgender legal issues and operating legal clinics for transgender clients. Indeed, Andrew led the group that conducted outreach to the local transgender community to identify needs and inform low-income transgender people about the services offered by TransLAW. Andrew committed his entire life, both personal and professional, to LGBT equality. In fact, Andrew was so committed to LGBT health access that while fighting the cancer that ultimately took his life, he used his experience with the health care system to encourage others to get covered for affordable health insurance access through the Affordable Care Act by writing an op-ed titled “No One is Invincible.”
For us at the Task Force, losing Andrew really hurts. He was a friend, colleague, and true leader creating the change we want to see in the world – and he was really good at it too. As we celebrate his life, we must also remember to continue working toward achieving his dream of seeing a country in which LGBT people have access to the full range of health care they need. The only way Andrew would have us honor his memory is to keep working tirelessly to achieve that dream and make the world a better place. Rest in peace, friend. Andrew Cray 1986-2014.
By Patrick Paschall, Senior Policy Counsel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
I remember my grandfather as both a brilliant intellectual and a humble, caring man. He grew up in Puerto Rico, and served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war he moved to New York City where he found work as an electroplater at a factory making Goody hair products. He handled toxic chemicals with little to no safety protections. Because of these working conditions, he started attending labor organizing meetings in secret. He was afraid of being branded as a socialist and facing even more discrimination. However, he did find a way to publicly advocate for his fellow workers when he became the head of the local electroplating society.
My grandfather lived at a time when a hard day’s work was rewarded with a fair wage, and he was able to rent a house in Queens, provide for my Grandmother and put my mother through college. He also helped my grandmother, who emigrated from Guatemala, through the arduous process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Over the years my grandfather’s health deteriorated due to industrial toxins in his liver and complications from the malaria that he contracted while serving in the Philippines during WWII. However, he stayed with Goody for 35 years, eventually becoming a respected supervisor. At his retirement he was given an engraved company watch, which was later passed down to me.
After retirement, he used his savings to buy a small plot of land in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He taught himself everything he needed to design a house, from architecture to plumbing, then worked alongside local Mayan builders to construct it. My grandfather had always demonstrated a compassion for others no matter their differences and wasn’t afraid to cross racial lines, such as his involvement in improving sanitary systems in nearby communities. When my family visited we were always welcomed into houses in nearby villages with open arms. My grandparents’ house was open to all, including LGBTQ individuals, and was a gathering place for local artists and intellectuals. My grandfather inspired me to seek wisdom and justice, and that knowledge must also be accompanied by hard work and tempered with compassion.
Kayley Whalen, Digital Strategies and Social Media Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
*This blog post was written as part of the Jobs With Justice #TheWayTheyWorked story-telling campaign in honor of Labor Day and Grandparents Day. You can read more stories about how our grandparents worked at thewaytheyworked.org