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
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has announced that early bird registration is now open for the 27th Annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. We are expecting more than 3,800 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community leaders and activists from across the country to assemble in Denver, Colorado, on February 4-8, 2015 for the nation’s premier annual organizing and skills-building event for the LGBTQ community and their allies.
“Creating Change offers attendees the chance to engage on a multitude of issues and action – from changing laws to improving lives. For more than a quarter century, the conference has trained over 40,000 activists and community leaders from across the country and elsewhere in the world,” said Sue Hyde, Creating Change Conference director. “The conference brings together pioneers and emerging leaders from diverse communities of the LGBTQ equality movement by cultivating a unique space that enables innovative ideas to be shared, critical skills to be taught, and new friendships to be formed. We’ve made significant gains in our work to secure basic rights for LGBTQ people, but our nation’s promise of full equality is yet to be fulfilled. Our work to create change continues, and along with our coalition partners we’re excited to open registration for 2015’s conference in Denver.”
Creating Change’s Early Bird Registration Rate ($300) is available for all attendees registering before the October 31 deadline. A Presenter rate of $225 is offered to anyone who submits a Request for Proposal (RFP) by the September 30th deadline and a special complimentary rate of $0 is offered for those under 16 and those over 65. A Limited Income and Student rate of $165 is also available for anyone for whom the cost of attendance may be prohibitive.
Included in the cost of registration is admittance to any of our many pre-conference daylong institutes, welcome reception, four dynamic plenary sessions, and over 350 skills-building workshops, presentations, and trainings. Attendees may also choose to engage in the Task Force’s Academy for Leadership and Action sessions, in which our team of Task Force organizers offer trainings and strategy sessions on a range of issues. In addition to its plethora of programming the conference offers attendees the chance to attend receptions, caucuses, film screenings, networking sessions, hospitality suites, interfaith services and much more.
For more information about the conference and to register, please visit www.CreatingChange.org
For media credentials, please contact Jorge Amaro at jamaro@theTaskForce.org
With sweaty palms and an empty stomach, I sat in Representative Frank Lobiondo’s office on Capitol Hill waiting for my appointment to begin. I nervously twiddled my thumbs as I looked around the office filled with South Jersey memorabilia and reminisced about my childhood in Egg Harbor Township. The Congressman has been representing my district for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and I was minutes away from speaking to him about an issue I cared about: Transgender equality. As I sat there, I reviewed my training until I heard:
“Hi, I’m Frank.”
I had never lobbied before, so participating in this year’s Transgender Lobby Day was a first for me. Immediately, I was impressed with how well organized the Lobby Day was. While the actual lobbying took place on Tuesday, July 15 the event was actually two days long. Monday, July 14 was a mini-conference in which different speakers educated activists on best practices. On the second day, over 200 activists from across the country—and even some from outside the U.S. — applied their learned skills to speak with Congressional officials about the need for legislation to protect transgender people.
Beyond its focus on lobbying Congress, Lobby Day itself was an opportunity to build a queer community and a chance to share our stories with one another. It was a space to also express the pain that comes along with queerness, specifically within the trans* people of color community. As I learned firsthand at Lobby Day, while society lumps us all into one category of LGBT, it is important to recognize the subtle differences between each of our distinct identities and also within each of those letters—“L” “G” “B” and “T.” Differences of opinion are not uncommon especially when qualities such as race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status among others are incorporated into the conversation. As Parker Hurley from the Trans People of Color Coalition during Lobby Day said, “We do not exist in single issue movements. We are not single issue people.” These disagreements are hard to avoid in communities with such broken histories – histories that are filled with so much suffering, but together we can move past that pain to build a stronger, more inclusive movement.
As one of the organizers who helped prepare for Lobby Day, I spent many late nights in the Task Force office making hundreds of phone calls and writing countless emails. The hard work continued up until and through Lobby Day itself. The environment behind the scenes was always high energy with no time to even think about slowing down. As participants attended different sessions, other people prepared food, printed handouts, and even continued to secure appointments with Congressional leaders.
I am so grateful for everyone I got to work with for Lobby Day, and want to thank those who gave me the opportunity to help. Thank you to everyone who put in so much hard work to make the Transgender Lobby Day a success. All of the hard work paid off.
Victoria Kim, Creating Change Intern, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Last week I was dispatched to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the fourth LGBTQ ballot measure campaign I’ve worked on since coming to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2009. But, unlike my time in Pocatello Idaho; Royal Oak, Michigan; and Rochester, Minnesota, the experience of working on the Yes Chattanooga campaign was unique for me because the battleground was my hometown.
The outcome of the campaign was, of course, disappointing – we lost, which means from now on it will be perfectly legal for city workers to be fired or not hired on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Even those who keep their jobs will also now not be able to offer their benefits to their same-sex domestic partners. But, when I really think about it, my overriding feeling is not so much disappointment as confusion.
Of course there are many reasons not to be confused about this outcome – the early polling numbers, the fact that Tennessee arguably has the worst legal environment for LGBTQ people of any state in the US – but what remains befuddling for me is the extent to which this feels contrary to my own experience growing up in Chattanooga and the nearby town of Signal Mountain.
I count myself lucky whenever I tell my story of growing up and coming out. My multiracial family has always been fiercely supportive. My mom has even gone so far as to make transgender justice a part of her work in the world, co-founding a local peer support group and making sure that trans people have access to the mental health provider letters they need to get hormone replacement therapy and surgeries.
Even as a very young child, I felt well-held in Chattanooga. I got to attend a kindergarten and pre-K where my language arts teacher was a gay man who provided me with a role model from a very young age. I met my first gay male friend when I was six years old and the benefits of having another little boy as feminine as I was have undoubtedly stuck with me through today.
Later, when we went to high school, I came out at my all-boys Christian school and never had a lack of guys to pal around with and date. Plus I was able to assemble a group of friends that included lesbian and bi women, trans women and trans guys, as well as all manner of other queers experimenting with a range of articulations of their genders and their desires.
So I think it’s easy to see why I can’t cast Chattanooga as a place entirely unfriendly to LGBTQ people despite this electoral loss. However, many of the city’s queer residents have not enjoyed the same love and support I did. Also, I know firsthand the problems of racism and segregation that Chattanooga continues to struggle with.
And despite our loss, there was incredibly important work accomplished during this campaign to educate residents of Chattanooga about LGBTQ lives. Leading a diverse team of LGBTQ individuals and straight allies from Chattanooga and nearby areas in having conversations with their friends, family members, and strangers at their doors has undeniably changed the culture of Chattanooga for the better. Also, the work done by all the campaign organizers and the field director, Reece Rathgen, truly touched the lives of volunteers like Lee, Ty, and Jill, who learned to take leadership of their own individual liberation. I know that all our collective work left Chattanooga queerer than it was before.
Jack Harrison, E-Learning Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action
In the wake of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, ignorance and anti-LGBTQ bias led to state legislatures across America passing a myriad of laws criminalizing people living with HIV/AIDS. These laws were based on and furthered misconceptions about HIV transmission. In the decades since these laws were passed, they’ve caused untold amounts of harm by legalizing discrimination and bias against LGBTQ people and people with HIV. While our scientific understanding of the cause and treatment of HIV has changed substantially since the height of the AIDS epidemic, currently nearly two-thirds of states have HIV criminalization laws in place.
Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released new guidelines urging states to reform their criminal codes to reflect current scientific understanding about the transmission of HIV. In its memo to state attorney generals, the DOJ explains the current scientific understanding of transmission risk, tying current science to HIV-specific criminal laws, and urges reforming these laws.
Rather than help people living with HIV find treatment that would help them and at the same time prevent HIV transmission, HIV-specific criminal laws stigmatize HIV positive individuals and forced them to live in fear, and cause others to be afraid of getting tested for HIV. This stigma is compounded for LGBTQ people already facing discrimination, especially trans people and people of color. State laws often criminalize the failure to disclose HIV-positive status to a partner well as behavior which poses almost no risk of HIV transmission, such as spitting or biting. What’s worse is that people charged under these laws are prosecuted regardless of whether HIV was actually transmitted. Additionally, they face lengthy sentences and in several states are required to register as sex offenders.
A groundbreaking report published in May 2014 by the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, “A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV,” which included policy suggestions from the Task Force, offers additional insight into the problems with HIV-specific criminal laws. It also includes this personal story by David Plunkett:
On September 18, 2006 I was jailed and eventually sentenced to a ten-year state prison term for aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. According to the county Supreme Court the deadly weapon was my “HIV infected saliva.”… After my arrest I lost many things I had worked hard for: I lost my business, my home, and most importantly my reputation. I have had to start my life all over, and finding employment has been impossible with the nature of the alleged crime…
Simply put, these laws are wrong. Lack of understanding and baseless opinion should never be the leading motivation to criminalize a group of people. As the work continues to repeal these hurtful and ill-conceived laws, the DOJ’s guidelines are a valuable tool for advocates and a step in the right direction.
We at the Task Force welcome DOJ’s new guidelines but know that they are imperfect. For example, many states that don’t have HIV-specific laws do use someone’s HIV status to charge them with crimes such as reckless endangerment or assault for the same behavior (spitting, biting, etc.), yet the DOJ guidance fails to address this issue. Also, the DOJ’s guidance could go further by calling for an end to all HIV-related felony prosecutions.
This week AIDS and HIV researchers and activists from around the globe are gathering in Melbourne, Australia to convene at the annual International AIDS Conference. As we look forward to the conference, and mourn the tragic loss of key scientists responsible for cutting edge HIV research in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 7, it is important to reflect on the unfinished work on HIV that lies ahead.
By Meghan Maury, Policy Council for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force