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‘October Mourning’ reflects on Shepard’s death

Lesbian author shaken by Wyo. student’s murder 14 years ago

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Stories can be told in many ways. Two new works—one poetic, one academic—take strikingly different approaches to telling the stories of LGBT people and families.

The first is by Lesléa Newman, best known as the author of the groundbreaking children’s book “Heather Has Two Mommies.” Newman is also an award-winning poet, however, and served as the poet laureate of her hometown of Northampton, Mass. in 2008-2010. Her new work draws on her poetic skill, and, with its much more somber tone, is aimed at older audiences.

“October Mourning: Songs for Matthew Shepard” is a cycle of 68 poems that serve as reflections on the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student killed in a brutal gay-bashing in October 1998. Newman was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the university’s Gay Awareness Week just a few days after the tragedy.

Despite being shaken by the event, Newman gave her talk, she writes in the afterward to her book, recognizing the Wyoming community’s need not for her exact words, but for her presence as an out, proud lesbian to show them such a life was possible.

Later, she reflected on the many people who had told her “I can’t imagine,” in response to the murder. Her poems, which she calls “a historical novel in verse,” are her attempt to imagine—not only because that is her job as a poet, she writes, but also because it is her job as a human. She explains, “Only if each of us imagines that what happened to Matthew Shepard could happen to any one of us will we be motivated to do something. And something must be done.”

The poems speak from a variety of imagined perspectives, including Matthew, his assailants, his parents, the mountain biker who first found him, the police officer who came next, the doctor who treated him, and the housekeeper at the hospital—but also the stars above, the deer found curled next to him, and the fence he was tied to, as well as less specific mothers, fathers, students, gay people and others who heard of the killing.

The lines are brief and haiku-like in their simplicity (a few are in actual haiku form), giving them a rawness and impact that might well be lost among more words. Newman’s slim volume reminds us why, even twelve years after Shepard’s death, his story still resonates.

The second new book takes a very different approach to LGBT lives. “Gay Dads: Transitions to Adoptive Parenthood,” by Dr. Abbie Goldberg, associate professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, and senior research fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, is an examination of gay couples before and just after they adopt children. While written in part for an academic audience, the book is nevertheless extremely accessible for lay readers. Gay dads (and prospective gay dads), as well as adoption providers, social workers, and lawyers, among others, will find much of value in it.

Goldberg’s previous book, “Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children,” took a broader look at LGBT families, and remains the best one-volume overview of research on the topic. In “Gay Dads,” however, she looks more in depth at a smaller segment of our community.

Goldberg conducted a study of 70 adoptive gay dads (35 couples) from across the country, interviewing them when they were seeking to adopt as well as several months after they had adopted. More than 80 percent were white and well educated (although over half had adopted trans racially). This is just a slice of our full community—but Goldberg recognizes the need for further work on gay dads of color and working-class gay men.

She starts by looking at the decision-making process that led the men to choose parenthood in general and adoption in particular. After that, she explores how adoptive parenthood—private, public, domestic, and international—affected the men’s relationships to each other, their families, friends and communities.

One major question she tries to answer is whether the men reinforced or resisted the “heteronormative” standard of two parents settling down with kids, often with the mother as a stay-at-home caregiver.

Goldberg found that variation among the men—and even within individuals—means we cannot simply split them into two groups. “Some men conformed to heteronormativity in some aspects of their lives and resisted it in others,” she writes. At the same time, even if they didn’t actively resist traditional ideas, “their very existence [as gay adoptive parents] poses a challenge to heteronormativity.”

The above two books may seem an unlikely pair. One is emotional verse; the other dispassionate research. Each, however, has its place in painting a fuller picture of LGBT people and our interactions with the world around us.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.

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An unlikely revolution is happening at Christian universities

More than half have enacted LGBTQ non-discrimination policies

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Recent headlines have been filled with messages of doom and gloom for LGBTQ people. From bans on transgender women competing in sports to “don’t say gay” laws, it seems evident that conservative Republicans are freshly committed to rolling back the rights of LGBTQ people across the United States.

Yet, despite such recent setbacks, a student-led movement for LGBTQ inclusion is gaining ground in what would seem to be one of the unlikeliest settings — Christian colleges and universities.

Over the past few years, I’ve collected extensive data on U.S. Christian colleges and universities’ policies toward LGBTQ students. In one study, I found that 55% of all Christian colleges and universities in the United States have nondiscrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation. In another recent study, I found that nearly half of all Christian colleges and universities are home to officially recognized LGBTQ student groups. 

Even some of the most conservative Christian colleges and universities have changed their approach to LGBTQ students. When analyzing data collected in 2013, I found that nearly one-third of all Christian colleges and universities had adopted bans on so-called “homosexual acts” or “homosexual behavior” in their student handbooks. Yet, when reviewing Christian colleges and universities’ handbooks again over the past year, I found that under one-fourth of Christian colleges and universities had such discriminatory bans. 

Why are some Christian colleges and universities becoming more accommodating—and even welcoming—to LGBTQ students?

There are several major reasons, but one of the most important is that several Christian denominations already embrace their LGBTQ members. Denominations such as the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterian Church USA, for example, allow ministers to officiate same-sex weddings. An increasing number of nondenominational churches also affirm LGBTQ people. Those Christian colleges and universities that are already associated with affirming denominations are certainly among the most likely to affirm their LGBTQ students. 

Another reason that many Christian colleges and universities are becoming welcoming toward LGBTQ students is that they do not necessarily believe their primary mission is to hold all students to the specific religious tenets of their associated denomination. Rather, they see their primary mission as providing an important service (education) to the broader society. Just as Christian hospitals do not refuse to provide medical treatment to people who are not members of their associated denominations, many Christian colleges and universities have chosen not to deny people an education simply because certain people are not members of their associated denominations. 

A rising number of Christian colleges and universities also recognize the harms that occur when people are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A recent survey by Religious Exemption Accountability Project shows that 12% of all Christian college and university students self-identify as LGBTQ. Because studies show that LGBTQ people in non-affirming Christian colleges and universities report greater rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, many Christian schools understand they would be harming a significant number of their students if they continued to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

And still other schools are simply concerned with their bottom lines. The United States is projected to go over a “demographic cliff” in 2025, at which time the number of 18-year-olds nationwide will drop dramatically. Some reports say that one-third of all private colleges and universities nationwide will face major financial crises over the next decade, causing them to close or pursue mergers. Many Christian colleges and universities recognize that adopting discriminatory policies toward LGBTQ students would alienate significant portions of their potential student body.

Certainly, despite these encouraging trends, those who are committed to LGBTQ rights should not be complacent. Many schools have still been slow to extend nondiscrimination protections and housing accommodations to trans students. And the Religious Exemption Accountability Project estimates that as many as 100,000 LGBTQ students are currently enrolled at Christian colleges and universities that still refuse to affirm the dignity and rights of LGBTQ people. That organization recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, challenging the federal government’s policy of providing loans even to Christian colleges and universities that otherwise violate Title IX protections for LGBTQ students.

It is likely the case that some Christian colleges and universities will not change their policies toward LGBTQ rights unless they are legally required to do so. Still, at Christian colleges and universities across the United States, LGBTQ students are not waiting around. LGBTQ students are actively mobilizing to bring about inclusive policies at their schools, and at a surprising number of schools, they are succeeding.

Jonathan S. Coley is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University and a Public Fellow at the Public Religion Research Institute.

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Positive signs for LGBTQ homebuyers despite hot market, discrimination

GenZ and Millennials coming out, living more authentic lives

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Jim Obergefell walked to the stage at our recent national LGBTQ+ Housing Policy Symposium to a standing ovation. He was speaking just a few blocks and almost seven years removed from the steps of the Supreme Court where he won his landmark June 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage. He was with us on April 28 to share his thoughts on his life after the groundbreaking ruling, which now has him running for a seat for the Ohio State House, and ultimately a continuance of the “Rainbow Wave” we’re seeing in the political arena around the country.

The LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, which is one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ trade groups with more than 2,200 members since our June 2020 founding, is also seeing an LGBTQ+ wave in the real estate industry and homeownership. We were proud, but not surprised, when our friends at Zillow shared last year that 12% of all homes sold in the United States were purchased by LGBTQ+ folks. We also know that Millennials and Gen Z’ers are entering (or will soon enter) their prime home buying years – many as first time homebuyers shifting from renters. Why does this matter? Well, GenZ and Millennials  are coming out and living more authentic lives at a greater pace than any other generations previously, with overall greater representation from our LGBTQ+ community. The impact this will have on homeownership for our community is unprecedented. 

Our most recent LGBTQ+ Real Estate Report (largely focused on discrimination) explored how Jim’s marriage equality win has played a dramatic role in improving home ownership opportunities for our community. Since then, 64% of LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance members have seen an uptick in the number of LGBTQ+ couples as homeowners, with 42% noticing an increase of LGBTQ+ singles entering homeownership. And 40% of our members have recognized an increase in LGBTQ+ homebuyers choosing to live in communities not traditionally known as “LGBTQ+-friendly.” There’s now some supporting data to show that folks are, in fact, moving into the suburbs to expand their footprint, and it’s tied to being able to be legally married and likely starting families.

Moreover, 40% of members reported their number of LGBTQ+ clients has increased over the last three years. That’s outstanding progress, especially given the aggressive market we find ourselves in as a country. 

We found that financial concerns are the overwhelming reasons why LGBTQ+ renters continue renting with home prices and lack of down payment funds as the largest barriers to homeownership. We also know that a lack of education and understanding about the buying and mortgage process exist. The fact remains, very few financial organizations or mortgage companies reach out directly to our community and try to being us information or encourage us to dive into the homeownership process. So, and that’s why it so exciting to share that the Alliance will host our second annual free virtual LGBTQ+ First-Time Home Buyer Seminar on June 14 from 7-9 p.m. EST. You can register at realestatealliance.org.

As many of us know first-hand, however, there is still far too much discrimination against community members during the home buying process. In fact, 38% of our members indicated that there has been no change in the amount of discrimination against LGBTQ+ homebuyers over the last three years, while 14% believe discrimination has actually increased. This discrimination can take on many forms including, but not limited to, unconscious bias and blatant discrimination exhibited by real estate professionals, sellers, lenders and the legal forms consumers have to complete like title documents, mortgage documents or even purchase agreements in certain regions.

Thankfully the real estate industry has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ acceptance. The Realtor Code of Ethics prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which is more than we can say for the protections (or complete lack of) that Congress has continually failed to extended us. Along with National Association of Realtors and local associations, including the D.C. Association of Realtors, the Alliance has some of the largest real estate brands, financial institutions, title companies and insurance firms as partners. They are working closely with us to identify areas of improvement, and we are working with them to ensure they continue to support and push for passage of the Equality Act with their corporate influence. We all know ridding the industry and society of discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity will not happen overnight. It will take a lot of continued work; we are on that path and will continue to move forward despite the actions of select bigoted governors and politicians who want to erase us altogether.

Our LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance members are at the forefront of the fight. They take great pride in working within the community and do not shy away from “who they are” in generating business and income. Forty-six percent of respondents reported they are known in their company as an “LGBTQ+ agent,” and 79% report they want to be known as a professional who specializes in working in the community. 

While you can visit our website to connect with our members at realestatealliance.org, we will soon make it much easier. The Alliance will soon launch  HYPERLINK “http://www.lgbtqplushomes.com”LGBTQplusHomes.com and provide the LGBTQ+ community with a much-needed real estate resource. Along with the ability to easily reach local members, we will have content, tips, reports, trend lists, how-to vids, and so much more. 

Thanks to folks like my friend, and true inspiration to so many of us, Jim Obergefell, our community continues to be a force. We will push on. We will continue to fight for equality and equity. We will win our basic human rights! 

ABOUT THE LGBTQ+ REAL ESTATE ALLIANCE

The LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance is a 501(c)6 non-profit dedicated to empowering the LGBTQ+ community on the path to homeownership as we also advocate on behalf of the community on housing issues. The Alliance, founded in June 2020, is an all-inclusive organization that works to improve the professional lives of its members through a public-facing Alliance Referral Community. The Alliance began accepting members in October 2020 and has more than 2,200 members and 50 chapters in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. For more information visit  realestatealliance.org.   

Ryan Weyandt is CEO of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.

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Musk’s ‘Free Speech’ Twitter policies could harm LGBTQ communities 

Disallowing anonymity poses grave risks to queer users everywhere

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777 via Bigstockphoto)

The recent news that Elon Musk plans to serve as temporary CEO of Twitter means the public won’t have to wait much longer to see how he will follow through with his promise to change Twitter’s approach to free speech and content moderation.

Twitter is billed as a social platform for everyone, but Musk’s approach – or lack thereof – to censorship and “free speech” has many advocates voicing concern about the consequences of reducing or removing content moderation on the platform, potentially making Twitter a platform rife with disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech targeted at minority and marginalized communities such as the LGBTQ+ community.

Each social media platform has its own social culture and Twitter offers a valuable virtual community for LGBTQ+ individuals. Erin Reed, a prominent LGBTQ+ activist with a Twitter following nearing 44,000, said the platform has been instrumental in communicating and organizing with other advocates and interacting directly with legislators. Many other organizations and advocates use the platform to communicate with, organize and mobilize marginalized communities.  Twitter has given birth to social trends such as #gaytwitter and #blacktwitter that fuel change and connection for marginalized communities as well.  

Twitter, like most major social media sites, has spent years creating elaborate guidelines to reduce the amount of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech on its platform. The platform operates on carefully crafted online speech rules and policies around hate speech, misinformation, and political advertising. Content moderation is critical in that process but Musk has said that he supports vastly loosening the company’s content moderation policies, suggesting it should only remove content if it is required by law. This is problematic for LGBTQ+ and other oppressed communities around the world. 

While social media companies do make use of internal content moderating practices to set their own parameters and community standards, they must also consider established laws in countries where their users live. So as Musk pushes for Twitter to follow the laws of the countries in which it operates, he would reduce the safety of LGBTQ+ users who live in countries where LGBTQ+ speech is banned and taboo.

Russia is a prominent example where LGBTQ+ speech is banned and criminalized, and Twitter’s content moderation rules, if they merely follow the law, would lend support to the silencing of Russian LGBTQ+ speech. In our own country, a proliferation of “Don’t Say Gay” laws as seen in Florida and a dozen other states, are highlighting the ongoing risks to LGBTQ+ identity and speech here at home. 

More troubling, Musk himself has used the platform to repeatedly target and mock issues of importance to the LGBTQ+ community. His infamous tweet “Pronouns suck” is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2020, he said social media accounts displaying personal pronouns were “an esthetic nightmare.” Later that same year, the Human Rights Campaign demanded an apology after he posted a meme mocking users who put their pronouns in their social media bios and then tweeted a meme mocking transgender people.

In addition to concerns over how his personal views will influence the social environment of the platform, many have also raised concerns about Musk’s intention to require authentication for “all humans,” since this would make anonymous accounts on Twitter impossible and could disproportionately harm trans people on the platform. 

Requirement for authentication for “all humans” would force users to operate under their full, legal names, which many transgender people do not do. In addition to the proven benefits of using a transgender person’s chosen name, plenty of evidence refutes the notion that tying one’s online identity to one’s legal identity creates more safety for social media users

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has reported that anonymity is essential to protecting users who may have opinions, identities, or interests that do not align with those in power. LGBTQ+ individuals use Twitter and other platforms anonymously for fear of persecution or targeted harassment. In addition to social oppression, across the world, gay and transgender individuals face legal pushback including arrests, threats, and – in very real and extreme cases – the death penalty. Disallowing anonymity on Twitter’s platform would expose them to such harms and run counter to Musk’s touted mission of free speech at all costs.

Defaulting to the law of each individual country where Twitter operates allows the company to shirk its responsibility to manage content. Furthermore, it diminishes the safety of its marginalized users by leaving the door open for disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech and harassment.  Musk’s desire to restrain Twitter’s “overly aggressive content moderation policies” could eventually hurt us all, especially marginalized individuals and communities that will be subject to more harassment and hate speech rather than less if Musk’s “free speech” and anonymity policies are instituted by Twitter.

Carlos Gutierrez is deputy director and general counsel for the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, which works to improve access, increase inclusion, ensure safety and empower entrepreneurship for LGBTQ+ communities around technology.

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