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Brendon Ayanbadejo: An idea whose time has come

Spreading a message of love, freedom and equality around the world

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Brendon Ayanbadejo, gay news, Washington Blade, sports issue

By BRENDON AYANBADEJO

Brendon Ayanbadejo, Kevin Naff, Washington Blade, sports issue, gay news

Brendon Ayanbadejo took the helm of the Blade for this special issue from editor Kevin Naff. The two appeared at a news conference in June. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After winning the Super Bowl in February, the entire Baltimore Ravens organization was invited on a White House tour, which included a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet President Obama.

The older paintings in the White House detailing everyday life depict black servants and maids. Depending on the dates, they were either workers or, more likely, they were slaves. Even our first president knew slavery was wrong. Our country, which was built on the backs of slave labor, turned a blind eye to this unconstitutional act. In his will following the death of his wife Martha, George Washington declared his slaves free. It took another 60-plus years before the majority of African Americans tasted freedom by way of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which didn’t even apply to the entire country just yet.

President Lincoln died for what he believed in — that every man is created equal just as stated in the Constitution. But 150 years later in 2013, we continue to fight for the same things we fought for in the Civil War — the civil rights and equal rights of every single American man, woman and child. We will continue to spread our message of love, freedom and equality not only in the United States but worldwide. (Civil rights meaning the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. The keyword being “citizens” — meaning ALL citizens.)

FIND MORE OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE SPORTS ISSUE HERE.

The government should not discriminate or segregate by color, age, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or a myriad of other classifications. In 2009, President-elect Obama became a beacon of light shining as bright as Nelson Mandela did upon his release from prison and election to prime minister of the apartheid-torn South Africa.

In 2016, we may see a-mother hero in Hillary Rodham Clinton (pun intended), who could become the most powerful woman in the world since Hatshepsut the (female) king of Egypt’s 18th dynasty in 1870 B.C. some 3,883 years ago. This is the evolution I see in the periphery when we talk about equality, and when we bend down on both knees to tell our children to chase your dreams because you can do anything you set your heart, soul and mind to achieve, as we look them in their eyes with truth and conviction.

Now, how the hell did an athlete get caught knee deep in this whole mess of a deal that some people like to call gay rights? For me it was quite easy because there is no such thing as gay rights. There’s just rights and no rights, and today as you read this article, gay and lesbian couples cannot legally marry in 37 states. In many of those same states, you can be fired from your job and even evicted from your home for being part of the LGBT community. There are more than 1,000 benefits of marriage under the law that do not convey to the LGBT community. We fought through women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, anti-miscegenation laws and today we continue to fight for the same rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters all over again.

As an athlete I realize that I have the ability to traverse the territory between sport and entertainment. I would much rather improve people’s lives than entertain, so I chose to start voicing my views on issues that resonated with me and my personal life. The Super Bowl was witnessed by more than a billion eyes and ears. The timing couldn’t have been better even though I have been publicly campaigning for equality since 2009. What was a grassroots movement is now one of the most relevant topics in America and around the world.

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As we have seen in the United States, it is inevitable that we will one day have marriage equality in every state and federal marriage rights as well. This shouldn’t be up to popular vote or opinion, the Constitution guarantees it, but if this is the route we must take, domino by domino, so be it, and we will look back several years from now in amazement that we ever had such barbaric laws and practices in effect just as we look back on segregation, slavery and other draconian practices over the history of our beloved country.

Reminders of how far we have come are never more evident than when we see the injustices in Russia and its lack of acceptance and tolerance. Worse yet is West Africa, where it can be deadly to be a part of the LGBT community, as people are literally killed simply for being gay. Changing America is the tip of the iceberg. Changing the world in places like my father’s native Nigeria, where the acceptance of one’s homosexuality is as difficult as cultivating a garden in a desert, poses even greater challenges.

As the seeds were planted in America years and years ago by heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Branch Rickey, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Billy Bean and Greg Louganis, to name a handful, we must plant the seeds in our deserts abroad, in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Russia, Iran and all the other intolerant nations so one day they too will be accepting of love, equality and the pursuit of happiness.

Many people ask me, “Why gay rights?” I simply reply that they are just rights and because they would do the same thing for me. Perhaps they already have.

Abbe Land, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Trevor Project, gay news, Washington Blade

Brendon Ayanbadejo met with The Trevor Project staff last week in Los Angeles. He’s pictured here with Abbe Land, executive director and CEO. “It is great to have Brendon as a supporter of The Trevor Project and of LGBTQ youth. We are excited to work with him and raise awareness in the world of sports,” Land said. (Photo courtesy of the Trevor Project)

Brendon Ayanbadejo is guest editor of the Washington Blade. He played for the reigning Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens and is owner of OrangeTheory Fitness and a longtime LGBT and human rights advocate.

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1 Comment

  1. Raj Rawal

    September 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    He's Amazing, love him in the new Trevor Project PSA from What's Trending!
    http://youtu.be/S2qI8Chj-qo

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Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

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It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

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(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Opinions

Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’

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National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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