Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A watershed moment...

The last few weeks have been historic for the intersection of LGBT equality and the broader issues of diversity and inclusion.  A resolution from the 64 members of the Board of Directors of the NAACP in support of “marriage equality” as a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment was a watershed moment and the words of our board member, Rev. Gil Caldwell, published on Huffington Post last week, truly reflect what we here at PFLAG National feel about these significant steps.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

These words of Martin Luther King have become almost like a mantra to me. My entire life in the pulpit has taught me that words do matter and our values are reflected in words.

This mantra has served to remind me that even as I remember the injustices that my African and African-American ancestors experienced, and as I have experienced personally because of my race, I must not be unaware of, insensitive to, or disregard the injustices that others experience. Their injustice experience may not be race-based, but whatever the reason, theirs is an injustice that is linked to the injustice I have known.

I joined the struggle for LGBT equality because of this shared experience of injustice. No immediate member of my family is an LGBT person, and my sexual orientation is heterosexual, but if I claimed to embrace the words of Dr. King, I must live and act out the values of those words.
The recent announcement of the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) proclaiming their support for marriage equality for same-sex couples was for me a long-awaited decision by an organization that has been such a stalwart in the struggle for Constitution-based equality and justice for African Americans. The NAACP, through some of its branches, had resisted the efforts of some states that opposed marriage equality, but the decision by the national board has historic importance for a host of reasons, including that words do matter.

There was a moment in the press conference announcing the decision by the NAACP when the words of Martin Luther King showed themselves to be personal to Ben Jealous, the President of the NAACP. In response to a question, he choked up as he remembered how a couple, not a same-sex couple but an interracial couple, his parents, had to encounter and transcend the legally enforced bias once imposed on interracial couples when they sought to be married.
It has been difficult for me to understand how any person who is aware of the prohibitions against interracial marriage of the past, who cannot comprehend how that could be true in the United States of America, would not feel the same way about the denial of marriage equality to same-sex couples today.

When I first heard of the action of the NAACP, I thought of Dr. King's words and of someone who embodied them as a life member of the NAACP: Kivie Kaplan. Kivie was known throughout the nation, particularly among blacks, for his enthusiastic commitment to the NAACP, as a national board member and officer of the organization. A white Jewish man from Boston, Kivie was deeply involved in the efforts of Jews to challenge the insensitivity and bias they experienced, and he also understood the similarities of injustice, as well as the meaning of Martin Luther King's words about the interconnectedness of injustice. He always saw the relationship between the struggles of his people and the words and actions of the NAACP.

I also thought not just of Dr. King's words but of the words of a song by Billy Taylor, the gifted jazz musician: "I wish I knew how it feels to be free. I wish I could break all the chains holding me."

The founders of our nation, despite their sometimes contradictory actions, believed that all persons were created equal. They believed that this was a "self-evident" truth. That is why Martin Luther King, in his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, repeated those words in his call for civil rights: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal."

I find it especially encouraging when persons whose may have experienced exclusion for reasons of race, place of birth, or otherwise affirm marriage equality for same-sex couples. Colin Powell, for example, a person of color with a Caribbean background, in an institution -- the military -- that once was racially segregated, understands, through experience and insight, the foolish folly of bias against any person or group.

It is why when the president of the United States stood up and uttered his support for marriage equality for same-sex couples, it mattered. It is why, when the NAACP passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage and spoke of the relationship between their work and LGBT equality, it mattered. And it is why when our former Secretary of State, a retired four-star general of the U.S. Army, stood up this week in support of marriage equality, it mattered.

When marriage equality for same-sex couples becomes a national reality, the legal chains that have for so long limited the freedom of LGBT persons and same-sex couples will be on their way toward being broken completely, and we all will have moved closer to the one day when our national creeds are reflected in our deeds without exception.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Transforming Our Cultures

Today, in honor of National Asian Pacific Islander Month, we are so happy to welcome guest blogger, Eileen Ma, Executive Director of API Equality-LA.  Since graduating from Columbia University, Eileen in 1993, she has worked as an organizer and field coordinator for many labor and community organizations nationwide, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, SAG, Health Access, Power U Center for Social Change, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, and many others. She has worked on a wide range of issues, including environmental justice, labor rights, equitable development, health care, and LGBT rights. Eileen is active in the Los Angeles community as a core committee member in the Asian/Pacific Islander Queer Women/Transgender Activists and other groups.

“A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people."
- Mahatma Gandhi

A recent API Equality-LA study on family relationships of Chinese gays and lesbians living in the US indicates that family acceptance of gays and lesbians is impacted significantly by broader community and cultural influences.  In addition to great concern about their parents’ feelings and expectations, gays and lesbians cite pressure from peers and social networks, fear of negative community perceptions, lack of representation of gays and lesbians in ethnic media, as well as family background, such as place of origin and family migration history, as factors in their coming out or staying in process. [1]

This study hints at the breadth of work the LGBTQ community and our allies need to do to create a truly accepting society where all gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people have the support they need from their families and communities.  The measure of equality is not just the quantity of laws on the books proclaiming equal rights, but must include the degree to which people are able to live lives free of the burdens of discrimination on a day-to-day basis.  In addition to the important work of PFLAG to build more loving families and beyond the legislative and policy battles for civil rights and recognition, we must aim for a more comprehensive cultural transformation in each of our communities.  

For API Equality-LA, in Asian communities, this means that beyond electoral and policy battles advocating for our rights, the most impactful work we do generates dialogue to reach hearts and souls in the Asian/Pacific Islander community, hoping to spark processes of evolution like the personal one President Obama just shared, which led him ultimately to support marriage equality.  We reach out to civic leaders and respected community organizations.  We reach out to people one-on-one at time-honored community events to invite them to consider issues of equality.  We participate actively in community activities to increase visibility of the LGBT community and to show our common cause with all.  We have learned to speak to our community in the language and with appropriate information they can understand, so that we meet people where they are and start from a common ground. 

This work takes time, but the results are remarkable.  After 7 years of hard work, API Equality-LA is proud to have helped to create a more positive climate for the LGBT community; we have influenced decision-makers and those who disseminate information and shape public opinion.  Every API state legislator in CA is now on record in support of marriage equality and acknowledge our power and importance as a community .  After decades of one-sided coverage vilifying the LGBT community, the major Chinese media now frequently and positively represent us and LGBT issues.  Moreover, LGBT equality has been adopted as a priority by an overwhelming number of well-respected API individuals and community organizations.  These are powerful signs of community and cultural transformation—and harbingers of the future we all want.

Surely, the work and progress may look a little different in every community, since the cultures of America are so diverse and distinct, but some of the major areas of work may be the same.  And the goal is certainly the same for all of us—to ensure that all people, including gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people, can not only have equal rights, but also live equal lives.

[1] Founded in 2005, API Equality-LA advocates in the Greater Los Angeles Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and marriage equality for same-sex couples.  For more information, including API Equality-LA's research, or to learn more, visit www.apiequalityla.org

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Join Betty De Generes and PFLAG In A New Safe-Schools Initiative: Care with PRIDE

PFLAG is proud to announce Care with PRIDE™, a new campaign—in partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies and in association with Walgreens—to help support our important Cultivating Respect: Safe Schools for All Initiative and the work being done by PFLAG chapters in their communities. 

This multi-pronged campaign will help earn PFLAG a minimum of $200,000 to support our  work, including efforts in communities to work directly with schools providing support, resources, training, model policy and creative programs to create an environment of respect for all children. 

As part of the campaign, PFLAG mom Betty DeGeneres has created this special video to support the effort:

Feeling inspired? Then click here to visit the Care with PRIDE website and learn more about how YOU can get involved and help make schools safe, for ALL children

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PFLAG National Response to President Obama’s Evolution on Marriage Equality

WASHINGTON, DC—PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)—the nation's original ally organization, and the largest grassroots-based non-profit for families, friends and allies of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people—issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s support of full marriage equality:

“Today, history was made. President Barack Obama took an historic step as the first American president in office to recognize the importance of the freedom to marry for ALL couples. He joins a majority of Americans who believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to create a loving, lasting and legal partnership—marriage—with the person they love, regardless of sexual orientation.

The President now understands what PFLAG has said for 40 years: that there is power in sharing personal stories and that, when we do, hearts and minds can truly change as we realize our shared values of love and commitment. The president has sent an important message to LGBT people, their parents, families, friends, and allies: that they are accepted for all that they are, that their enduring, loving relationships are the same as all others. 

For all of us at PFLAG who believe in the power of love and acceptance, the message the president sends to our LGBT children is loud and clear: You are loved. You are accepted. You are equal. 

We thank President Obama and welcome him to the PFLAG family.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BREAKING: PFLAG National on North Carolina Passage of Amendment 1

WASHINGTON, DC—PFLAG National (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)—the nation's original ally organization, and the largest grassroots-based non-profit for families, friends and allies of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people—has issued the following statement regarding today’s vote to pass Amendment 1 in North Carolina.

“We at PFLAG National are frustrated and furious that discrimination has now been enshrined into the State Constitution in North Carolina. Discrimination in marriage equality was already the law of the land in North Carolina. Who will this amendment protect? Certainly not the thousands of families who live and work in the state that will now have further rights stripped away from them, leaving them unprotected in matters of healthcare, domestic violence, estate planning, tax benefits and more.  And certainly not businesses headquartered in the state, like our partners at Bank of America, Replacements, Ltd., Mitchell Gold – Bob Williams, which understand that discrimination in any form is bad for business. 

PFLAG National stands in solidarity with Equality North Carolina and the many coalition partners of Protect North Carolina Families to continue to educate every community across the state about why this kind of discrimination is wrong for all families and what we can do together to create the cultural change necessary to end discrimination against our LGBT loved ones.”
- Jody Huckaby, Executive Director of PFLAG National

Friday, May 4, 2012

"She Brings Honor to Our Family, and That is Good"

Our guest blogger today is Marsha Aizumi, mother of two children, Aiden and Stefen.  She is the author of Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son, and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance, due to be released by Magnus Books in September 2012.  She was recently elected to the PFLAG National Board of Directors.

New Years Day . . . a big holiday for Japanese families.  I am about twelve years old and excited to go to a relative’s home to eat all the special New Year’s foods, food symbolic of everyone’s hope for the year to come.   Black beans eaten for health, shrimp for longevity, sweet potatoes with chestnuts for wealth and financial success.   And our house has to be cleaned top to bottom, because my mom would say, “Your house will be as clean throughout the year as it is on New Year’s Day.”
Marsha's Maternal Grandmother
Now at our relative’s house, I am sitting around the table with my plate of health, wealth, longevity, and more wishes, listening to the adults talking about grandparents and ancestors long gone.  “We have a rich and highly respected family name,” the obvious patriarch of the group proudly declares.   “Only do things that will bring our family respect and honor.  Never bring shame to our name.”  My parents, aunts and uncles nod their head in agreement.

Marsha's Paternal Grandparents
Years later when my child came out as lesbian and later transitioned to male, I remember hearing that same voice saying, “Never bring shame to our family.”  For a while, this voice forced me into the closet, and I could not openly talk about my lesbian child. I was afraid that I would be judged a terrible mother who brought dishonor to her family.  But slowly through support from PFLAG, by reading  and increasing my awareness of what being LGBT meant, and through talking to other families, especially mothers, I realized I did nothing wrong.  My child was born this way and I had to make choice.  I chose to love my child.  When my daughter later transitioned to be my son, I would occasionally hear that voice talking about shame somewhere in the distance, but I was wiser, stronger, and less fearful now.

Marsha's Parents
In the end, I have decided to honor my family name by loving both of my children, by sharing our family’s journey, and by working hard to make this world safer for all LGBT individuals. I think my parents would be proud of the mother I am today and I truly believe that my ancestors are quietly shaking their heads in affirmation saying, “She brings honor to our family and that is good. ”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Murder of Transgender Woman in Oakland May Be Hate Crime

This weekend in Oakland, CA a 37-year-old transgender woman named Brandy Martell was murdered a block away from city hall. This tragic and brutal event took place early Sunday morning at 5:45 a.m. and has yet to be labeled a hate crime.  Ms. Martell was shot by two men who were allegedly having a conversation with her as she sat inside a car after their dialogue took an angry turn for the worse. Martell’s friends speculate that the men became violent once they learned of her gender identity.
“When you don’t provide a space in society for people who you think are the other or different, especially transgender women, especially transgender women of color, when you don’t provide spaces for them to be in a safe environment or a safe space, whether it’s socializing or services, this is what happens,” Martell’s friend Tiffany Woods told ABC7. Unfortunately, this story has not received wide-spread press coverage beyond local media.

Fortunately, some state and local legislators around the country are taking notice of this disturbing series of murders, and are working on crafting legislation to help address the lack of basic human rights protections for transgender people. For example, the New York’s General Assembly passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) with broad bipartisan support. The legislation, which would extend protections to transgender citizens in employment, public accommodations, housing and credit, and education, now advances to the State Senate. It will also add gender identity to the list of protected categories in the state’s hate crimes statute, which is critical to help investigate bias-motivated crimes similar to what occurred in Oakland earlier this week.

PFLAG National strongly condemns the alarming and disturbing trend of violent acts targeting transgender people, both here in America and across the globe. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project of Europe reported that an astounding 539 anti-transgender murders occurred in 42 countries between 2008 and 2011. This type of violence is an assault on all of our families and when unaddressed, puts tens of thousands of lives in danger each day. Many PFLAG chapters including those in smaller communities like Omaha, Nebraska, and larger communities like those in Chicago, Illinois are working with their local law enforcement leaders to help prevent these types of crime from occurring by starting dialogue, forming coalitions, and developing trainings for police staff. But this past weekend’s violence in Oakland only proves how much more work there is to be done, not only on the local front, but also on the state and federal level.

Take Action: We encourage you our members to assert leadership locally by forming strong and meaningful partnerships with local police leaders, building coalition with other social justice organizations, and educating your communities about how to cultivate safety for everyone, especially LGBT folks who are especially vulnerable to bias-motivated crimes. If you are a resident of New York please take a moment to register and attend the Empire State Pride Agenda’s May 8 LGBT Equality & Justice Day. The focus of the event will focus on building support for GENDA, and to encourage the State Senate to take action on this life saving legislation without delay.