Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In the Afterglow of the Bruce Jenner Interview: So Where Do We Go From Here?

As I settle in to write this, 48 hours have passed since the airing of the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner. 17 million viewers, over 675,000 tweets and innumerable Facebook posts (including mine!) later, I feel compelled to ask the question: so what has the transgender and gender non-conforming community gained as the afterglow of this past Friday's watershed event ever so slowly begins to fade? In a word: Plenty.
To better substantiate my claim, let me first take you back to Tuesday of last week when I found myself at the ABC News studios in Manhattan in a conference room with Diane Sawyer and her production team. We were all gathered together that evening to screen, for the first time, the program in its entirety. I was asked to serve as a consultant to the team at ABC because it was very important to them that a trans person not involved with the production itself had a chance to provide input and offer insights on the show. From the moment I met everyone, it was very apparent that Diane and her entire team had a sincere desire to make sure that the finished product was a genuine, honest and human portrayal of not only Bruce's journey, but of the myriad issues that the transgender and gender non-conforming community face. And you know what? They hit it completely out of the park in all respects.
The point that I made that evening that thankfully was not lost on anyone in the room was the importance of not losing sight of the larger context within which Bruce's story was being told. To be sure, the main drawing card of the show is Bruce's story: to finally hear what he had to say -- his feelings, his emotions and his journey thus far -- it provided a much needed counterpoint to the tired, overblown and all-too-intrusive tabloid coverage that we've had to endure of late.
But the program would have done a horrible disservice to the trans/gnc community if it did not employ the forum that the story of Bruce's journey to embrace his authentic and true self provided. Thankfully, that was not the case at all -- and that's a very good thing.
The legacy that the show will leave behind has yet to be fully written. For one thing, Bruce's transition is far from over. In so many ways, it is only just beginning. Months from now, when we look back on what transpired last Friday night, that fact will be quite apparent. But the immediate -- and I hope lasting impact -- is its ability to instantaneously create a public discourse -- a conversation about not only the issues facing the trans/gnc community, but who we are as human beings -- in places where perhaps it has never happened before across the country. The opportunity this presents for our community to simply tell our stories, have them be heard and, most importantly, to educate -- is what the real legacy of this moment is.
As I was rushing home on Friday night from another commitment I had in New York City, I had one eye on my Facebook feed to see what people's reaction to the interview was. Honestly, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Having already seen the show I knew that it was a solid, non-sensationalistic portrayal, but that was just one trans person's opinion, and obviously mine was just a bit biased.
What I saw amidst the repeated pinging and buzzing of my phone was one very obvious truth: people were all talking to each other about what was unfolding before them on the television screen. They were sharing their stories. They were sharing their feelings. They were teaching. Teaching everyone that we share one common desire: to be happy. The pursuit of happiness -- a concept our founding fathers got a long time ago.
To see such a display of truth and authenticity left me feeling grateful -- for having had the opportunity to serve as a consultant to Diane and her team, emotional -- because there are so many parallels I can draw from my own journey to Bruce's, and last and most importantly -- so very proud of who I am, my history and the community I am a part of.
As a runner, I subscribe to inspirational quotes that I receive in my email each morning. They help me get out on the road on those days when I would rather do anything but that. Much to my delighted surprise, today's edition was from another American Olympic hero, Frank Shorter, which beautifully provides inspiration for not only my newest sister, but for all of the transgender and gender non-conforming community: "Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next."

PRESS RELEASE: PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby: “There is only one right decision in this case...love must always win!”

Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org | (202) 657-4026  

PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby:
“There is only one right decision in this case...love must always win!”
WASHINGTON, DC—The United States Supreme Court today heard arguments on four marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. PFLAG National Executive Director Jody M. Huckaby gathered with PFLAG staffers and supporters—and thousands of others—at a rally at the court, and issued this statement:

Today marks an important step on the journey to full equality. And we will keep the forward momentum going by continuing to share our stories--just as we have done in the amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in these cases--on the impact of treating our loved ones and their families as less than equal in the eyes of the law. PFLAGers believe strongly that there is only one right decision in this case: A decision in favor of the freedom to marry. Love must always win.


Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and self-identified queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. To learn more, visit pflag.org.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Powering up PFLAG voices, state by state: A Letter from PFLAG National ED Jody Huckaby

Dear PFLAG Members and Supporters:

Governor Michael Pence of Indiana signed into law a bill that gives people permission to discriminate against others, citing their religious beliefs. Some people claim that it is “just” a bill about religious freedom, a founding principle of our country, and that it is not intended to be discriminatory. However, the current language of the bill allows people to use a claim of “freedom of religion” as a freedom to discriminate. We are so proud of Indiana PFLAGers who have been relentless, vocal, and organized in letting all other Hoosiers know the real impact of the Indiana law. On CNN, on local news, in social media, and even organizing and leading the charge at rallies, PFLAGers are sending an unequivocal message that PFLAG’s values are America’s values.

Marriott Int'l. CEO Arne Sorenson Accepts Honors On Behalf of the Company
PFLAG members are standing alongside business and industry leaders who are raising their voices--and in some cases, closing their wallets--to send a powerful message that writing discrimination into the law is bad for our country and bad for business. Look no further than Marriott International CEO and President Arne Sorenson calling the law “madness” and “idiocy” while he spoke at PFLAG National's Seventh Annual Straight for EqualityTM Gala this week in New York City for evidence of how strong the response has been.

In Arkansas, a similar law is pending that the Governor today urged the legislature to clarify as not discriminatory, but still could be signed into law, even without that clarification. In that case, leaders at Walmart, including their CEO Doug McMillan, have called the proposed law a threat to “the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas.” Meanwhile, in Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida, our transgender community is being subjected to bills that criminalize and/or fine their ability to use a restroom.

There have been more than 70 state legislative bills in more than half the states in our country that would harm people who are LGBTQ, and some states have introduced multiple bills; Texas alone has 20. To date, three have become law--in Indiana, Utah, and Arkansas.

PFLAG Indianapolis' RFRA Opposition Billboard
Across the country, PFLAGers’ voices are strong, clear, and heard. Many PFLAGers who identify as people of faith, have expressed shock, anger, and sadness that some of their elected officials would shamefully attempt to make discrimination the law of their state and use religious liberty as the rationale for doing so. PFLAG family and ally voices have always had a critical role to play in moving equality forward. Today is no exception. In fact, PFLAGers are standing up and demanding that this be called out for what it is--discrimination is wrong, no matter how it gets packaged. To pair it with religious liberty is an insult to those of us whose family, culture, and traditions are steeply rooted in faith tradition.

Our family and ally stories mirror how people’s lives are affected by potentially harmful actions, and not just those who are LGBTQ. PFLAG voices represent a large number of people--parents, family members, and allies--who might not otherwise be visible and whose opinions may not be represented anywhere else. PFLAG voices are the voices of our neighbors, our coworkers, the people with whom we gather in our faith communities. PFLAG voices are the voices of local communities across each state and throughout the country. PFLAG voices truly are America’s voices.

PFLAG will not accept actions by any level of government in our country that enshrines into law the permission for people to legally discriminate against our children and grandchildren, our loved ones, ourselves. We will continue to raise our collective family and ally voices against discrimination.

Tell your elected officials, your neighbors, your colleagues--anyone you think will have influence to stop this onslaught of discriminatory bills--that PFLAG’s values are America’s values, and we won't let up until each and every one of these bills ends up on the legislative trash heap where they belong.

Yours in PFLAG solidarity,
Jody M. Huckaby, Executive Director
PFLAG National

P.S. A conference committee of the Indiana state legislature, moments ago, began debate on a proposed amendment to Indiana's law to clarify that it prohibits service providers from using the law to deny services, goods, facilities, or accomodations, and bars discrimination based on stated protected classes, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and others.

However, there is no guarantee that it will pass through a conference committee, and both the Indiana State House and Senate...and it does not erase the more than 70 other similar state legislative bills still in play.

We must keep the pressure on!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stunned in Selma on Saturday

From PFLAG National Policy Director Diego M. Sanchez, APR:
Diego M. Sanchez, APR
On Saturday, March 7th, 2015, I methodically adjusted my tie to center its lip as I made my way down U.S. Route 80 from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, where Majors Creek shares banks with The Alabama River. I expected to have a range of emotions on this historic occasion commemorating the 50th year since "Bloody Sunday" in 1965, but I could not have anticipated the cornucopia of overflowing reactions that raced through me when I spotted The Edmund Pettus Bridge.  I was captivated by the fact that this bridge is the site where brave people of all ages, of many races, mostly African-American, tried to march peacefully, saw what Congressman John Lewis always calls “a sea of blue,” knelt to pray, and were beaten by Alabama State Troopers.  That bridge and those 600 people were the centerpiece on the table leading Black people to have the right to vote in my lifetime.  Fifty years later, we are now fighting to restore the Voting Rights Act.
My tie was the only thing centered about me, and the entire experience seemed surreal.  While I felt overwhelmed by the expanse of people, I was more taken aback by the range of emotions people’s faces revealed.  Some were somber, others excited.  It was easy to spot who was “on duty” because of their focused gaze and alert posture.  There were families and people of all ages, mostly dressed in what we Southerners call Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.  Certainly this was a special occasion, and my insides felt like a blender with a reversible blade—spinning counterclockwise with somberness and humility for a moment, then clockwise with patriotism and pride the next.  
John Lewis Leads Marchers across
the Edmund Pettus Bridge,
Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965.
Copyright by the Birmingham News,
all rights reserved.
Every year, I watch cable programs about Selma, which always include interviews with Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) and others as they recall and retell what happened in 1965.  But being there this Saturday, while many of the original leaders with whom I had the great privilege of working in the ‘80s in Atlanta filled me with awe.  I have been blessed to share projects and time with Ambassador Andrew Young when he was Atlanta’s mayor, and the same is true for many beacons cited by name—John Lewis, Joseph Lowery (absent on Saturday due to illness), Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy; we have shared victories together.  And then it struck me: we also shared and pushed through similar struggles and pain.
Selma is a mere 350 miles from my hometown of Augusta, GA, and back in 1965, sentiments toward people who are “not white” were as real and kindred as their Southern roots.  Being back home in the South last weekend reminded me of some regional language distinctions that buttress cultural ones. For example, in the South, the three meals are breakfast, dinner and supper, while elsewhere, they are breakfast, lunch and dinner.  We Southerners say the word “y’all” as singular for “you,” and the plural is “all y’all.”  We love our tomatoes fried and green, our peanuts boiled, and our tea sweet.  Back in 1965—as brave people kept trying to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery—our Southern schools were still populated along race lines.  And that brings rise to another language distinction of historical significance. Those days predated school integration.  It’s called “integration” in the South rather than “desegregation” as it’s termed in the North because to de- something, you have to discuss the rest of the word, and that wouldn’t have felt gracious or proper.
I often joke that my parents raised me as if every day was going to be their last on earth.  Nothing ever went unexplained or unexpressed.  Both Mom and Dad watched the news if they were not working, and I joined them in silence.  We discussed news reports after they aired.  For our family, that meant we talked after Walter Cronkite said, "And that's the way it is."
Being in Selma on Saturday crystallized for me so many past and current intersections in my life.  Quoting the late Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy as he spoke at a tribute for his brother Bobby, “In many ways it seems like only yesterday because the memories are so vivid and so enduring.” Growing up as an Army brat, first at Ft. Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone and later at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, GA, I remember when we came by ship to New York from Panama en route to Georgia.  My dad explained to me the meaning of The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, reminding me of how he and his Army buddies as soldiers protect us and keep us safe, and how the Army saved Mom from the concentration camp before I was born.  But when we moved to Georgia, there was no way to shield how white kids treated me, far from the safety of the jungles of Panama.  
There was no rational response to my constant question of, “Why, Dad, why?” “Dad, why can’t we go to the swimming pool over there near our house?”  “Dad, why can’t we eat at THAT restaurant?”  I was a kid smack dab in the middle of human disregard because I had dark skin, because of who I was.  No, I never got beaten on a bridge, but I’d like to believe that’s only because at age eight, I wasn’t yet old enough to carry myself 350 miles.  By the time the festivities ended on Saturday, and before Sunday's service at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, I realized that my early life prepared me for what I’d have to endure later as an openly transsexual Latino immigrant.  I also said some prayers of gratitude for the brave 600, those who followed on Turnaround Tuesday and for the thousands more who joined and succeeded on the third attempt, reaching Montgomery from Selma.  
It’s a precious lesson in powerful planning and persistence, and unfortunately, we need to call up that energy and dedication again right now to gain victories we thought we won long ago.  Yes, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson and reauthorized under two Republican Presidents since. However, on June 25th, 2013, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a 5-4 vote, struck down Section 4 of the VRA, the part that requires some areas of the country to have federal government or federal court clearance to change their voting laws to ensure that those changes not restrict people’s right to vote by enacting prohibitive voter ID requirements.  The result of removing Section 4 has been some states enacting new laws mirroring practices that would have been shameful in 1965, let alone in 2015.  We must demand that Congress fix this now.  Ironically, on the next day, June 26th, 2013, also in a 5-4 vote, SCOTUS struck down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the part that said a marriage is between one man and one woman.  So while we hope and expect for marriage equality certainty to be fully resolved in June (when SCOTUS rules on the cases it will hear arguments about on April 28th), we have no certainty on how or when The Voting Rights Act will be fully restored.  That’s unacceptable.

Many packed up and went home after Selma this past weekend, including me. But there is work to be done—no matter where we live—to honor the thousands from 50 years ago, as we follow their beacon and promise to step up our hard work ahead to reach full equality and justice for all, including our LGBTQ youth and their families.  We work with strength, conviction, and love so that their children's memories can be gentler than some of ours.  And indeed, together we shall overcome.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Announcing our 2015 Straight for Equality Gala Honorees!

WASHINGTON, DC – What do the worldwide leader in hospitality, the creator of the most honored TV show of 2015, and an Olympic gold medalist New York Ranger have in common? All three are being honored by PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization uniting families, allies, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)—at the Seventh Annual Straight for Equality Awards gala.
Marriott International will receive the Straight for Equality in the Workplace award, Jill Soloway, creator of the new Amazon Original Series, TRANSPARENT, will receive the Straight for Equality in Entertainment honors, and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will receive the Straight for Equality in Sports award. The event is being hosted by actor/comedian Alec Mapa.
Straight for EqualityTM—a national outreach and education project created by PFLAG National— invites, educates, and engages the next generation of allies joining together with LGBT people in the effort to achieve equality for all. Straight for Equality awards are presented to individuals who are transforming the way that LGBTQ people are understood and treated, using their talents and platforms in their respective fields to empower others to become engaged and outspoken allies for fairness and inclusion.
In a year that has seen huge strides forward in equality for people who are LGBTQ, Marriott,Ms. Soloway, and Mr. Lundqvist have been at the forefront in their own respective areas of expertise.
As a steadfast partner with PFLAG National, Marriott has been especially prized for its enduring dedication to inclusion, acceptance and welcome for all. The company shows its commitment to LGBTQ equality in countless ways including its recognition as one of the very first hotel leaders to offer same-sex partner benefits beginning in 1999. And last year, they launched their popular and award-winning #LoveTravels campaign, expressing Marriott’s commitment to make every traveler feel comfortable being who they are, everywhere they travel.
“Marriott has been a leader in championing basic fairness for all, including LGBTQ employment nondiscrimination,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby. “They stood with PFLAGers in opposing Arizona’s hurtful anti-LGBTQ legislation, and are vocal supporters and advocates for marriage equality. We are proud to honor our longtime partners and supporters at Marriott...and in one of their own beautiful properties—the New York Marriott Marquis, where we have held this event since its inception in 2007!”
In 2013, Apoorva Gandhi, Marriott VP for Multicultural Affairs, served as co-chair for the Fifth Annual PFLAG Straight for Equality Gala, sharing his own story of bullying which moved the room of more than 500 people. This year, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson will accept the award. Gandhi was thrilled to learn of the honor.
“PFLAG embodies the values that inspire all of us at Marriott,” said Gandhi. “This special award reflects our longstanding dedication to equality, inclusion and respect for all of our guests and associates.”
Few have had as profound an effect on our culture’s attitudes about people who are transgender and gender nonconforming as Entertainment honoree Jill Soloway. From the many LGBTQ characters represented on her current show TRANSPARENT and in her past work on SIX FEET UNDER, to the number of LGBTQ writers, actors, and crew members she employs, Soloway walks her talk as few do, and her stories of the intricacies of family, of sexuality, and of gender, all resonate profoundly. TRANSPARENT was included on nearly every television “Best Of” list for 2014, and garnered major awards for its efforts, including two Golden Globe awards, one for Best Television Series, Comedy or Musical and the other for Best Actor, Comedy or Musical, as well as a Directors Guild of America (DGA)award for Ms. Soloway.
“Jill Soloway created a game-changing show which, through the stories of both people who are trans and their families, demonstrates the challenges we face, and the integral role that supportive allies play in ensuring that everyone is valued, included, and respected,” said Jean-Marie Navetta, Director of Equality & Diversity Partnerships, and leader of PFLAG National’s Straight for EqualityTM project. “Her storytelling is honest, showing that allyship isn’t always neat or easy, but the work we do to get there is very literally, lifechanging.”
“We make TRANSPARENT because we believe that the LGBT community and their families have important stories that can teach us all about the power of love,” said honoree Soloway. “PFLAG is a shining example of love's power to change the world, so it is a profound honor to be recognized in this way.”
On the ice, Henrik Lundqvist—or “King Henrik,” as Rangers fans refer to him—is a formidable opponent. Off the ice, however, he is one of the more outspoken allies in the sports world, strongly supporting the NHL’s partnership with You Can Play (a nonprofit working to combat homophobia in sports), and creating his own anti-bullying “I Won’t Stand For” video for USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign.
“Henrik Lundqvist is a true ally, working to pave the way for an openly gay player in the NHL,” said PFLAG’s Huckaby. “He often speaks about the importance of opening a dialogue in order to make everyone feel more comfortable being who they are, and that is what an ally does: meets people where they are, and facilitates conversation. We’re truly thrilled to be honoring him this year.”
Said Lundqvist, “I am very honored to receive the Straight for Equality in Sports award from PFLAG National, an organization that believes, as I do, in the ideal of equality and inclusion for all. I am happy to support them.”
The Seventh Annual Straight for Equality Awards Gala will be held on Monday, March 30th in New York City at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, with a VIP reception sponsored by KPMG, which was honored with the Straight for Equality in the Workplace Award in 2012. For more information visit straightforequality.org/2015gala.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A joint note of family support from PFLAG National and NQAPIA to Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 18, 2015
Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org | (202) 467-8180 x214

WASHINGTON, DC – PFLAG National and The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) have issued the following joint note of support to Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17), who at today’s Courageous Conversation symposium in Los Angeles, CA, shared that he has a beloved transgender granddaughter:
On behalf of the many API and LGBTQ families across this country whose children have often been the victims of bullying because they are different, thank you Congressman Honda.   
Your steadfast leadership for our families, and the issues of equality and anti-bullying, has been a source of support to us for decades. From our families to yours, count on our support for your family.
Your visibility today in speaking of your hopes that your transgender granddaughter can feel safe going to school without fear of being bullied is one we all hope for, just like you, for  all children.
We ask everyone to make the same pledge you made—and we reaffirm today as well: refuse to be a bystander while millions of people are dealing with the effects of bullying on a daily basis.
Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Made up of families, friends, and allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas across the United States. To learn more, visit pflag.org.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) is a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations.  We seek to build the organizational capacity of local LGBT AAPI groups, develop leadership, promote visibility, educate our community, enhance grassroots organizing, expand collaborations, and challenge homophobia and racism. Learn more at nqapia.org

Friday, January 16, 2015

MEDIA STATEMENT: The Law Must Protect All Families Equally

Liz Owen | lowen@pflag.org | (202) 657-4026  

WASHINGTON, DC – PFLAG National—the nation's largest organization uniting families, allies, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)—released the following statement following today’s announcement that the Supreme Court would take up four cases regarding same-sex marriage bans:

“PFLAG’s values are America’s values and that means recognizing that all marriages deserve equal respect and recognition no matter where they are celebrated. Since the last time the Supreme Court took up marriage equality, PFLAG has shared family stories in courts across the country, including in the Sixth Circuit, which demonstrate the harm done when marriage is denied, not just to the couples, but also to their families. PFLAGers will continue sharing their stories so that the Supreme Court will realize the law needs to protect all of our families equally.”

Founded in 1972 with the simple act of a mother publicly supporting her gay son, PFLAG is the original family and ally organization. Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy. PFLAG has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas in all 50 states. To learn more, visit pflag.org.