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Killing ‘conversion’ therapy a worthy LGBT goal

Gay, trans youth don’t need to be fixed — society does

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reparative therapy, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists marched through the streets of downtown D.C. in a ‘Justice for Leelah Alcorn Rally and March’ on Jan. 10, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Republicans take over Congress and we move toward spring and start getting serious about the 2016 presidential race, the question must be asked: What should the LGBT community focus on?

There are two areas needing immediate attention and in some ways they are connected yet not the focus of the community. They both require society to look at itself and become more accepting of differences. Currently the Human Rights Campaign is committed to supporting and championing the introduction of comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation in this Congress. HRC has begun work on its southern strategy and we know work is still needed to ensure same-sex marriage is legal in every state. Progress on marriage will now come through the courts. We know there are still issues with regard to gays and lesbians in the military, allowing transgender persons to serve, and ensuring they all have every right accorded to others.

Today you can be married in 36 states and the District of Columbia yet in many of those states you can marry on a Saturday and be fired from your job on Monday. You can be married and kicked out of your apartment and not have access to adequate healthcare. All the fights for our individual rights must continue while we work to pass that comprehensive LGBT civil rights bill.

But other fights we must take on are jumping out from today’s national headlines and we can no longer ignore them. One is the issue of conversion, or some call it reparative, therapy. This is the discredited therapy some young people are still forced to undergo by their parents trying to change them from gay to straight.

Recently D.C. became only the third jurisdiction in the United States, joining California and New Jersey, to prohibit reparative therapy for those under 18. It was an honor to witness Mayor Vincent Gray sign the bill. At the signing I had the chance to chat with a young man, Samuel Brinton, who I first noticed when he performed an amazing solo with the Gay Men’s Chorus at a Christmas concert. He is hard to miss with his bright red Mohawk. But when you get to know him you realize quickly his hair is really the least amazing thing about him. Among other things Sam is taking a lead in bringing the issue of banning conversion therapy to national attention traveling the nation to do so.

Last Saturday, I joined the D.C. rally in remembrance of Leelah Alcorn, the young transgender woman from Ohio, who committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck. Her story is tragic but she left a suicide note saying her death wouldn’t be in vain if it led to making a difference for other transgender persons. At the rally a number of people observed the Trevor Project uses the line, “It Gets Better” to help young people deal with their sexuality and bullying, but added through personal experience they knew for a transgender person it often doesn’t. Others spoke words that resonated with me about conversion therapy: “While we can now get married in 36 states and the District of Columbia in 48 states parents can still put their children through torture in an effort to turn them into something they are not.”

On Sunday night at the Golden Globes, the award for best TV series, musical or comedy went to “Transparent.” The show was created and is directed by Jill Soloway. It revolves around a Los Angeles family and their lives following discovery that father Mort is transgender. One review in the Jewish Daily Forward by Debra Nussbaum Cohen said, “Transparent is a television series about a transgender father coming out to his three young adult children. It weaves together the tragicomic family dynamics of five unbelievably narcissistic people.” So while this ‘comedy’ won an award, Leelah Alcorn wasn’t alive to see it because her life, in school and at home, was so unbearable it led her to suicide.

The time has come for the entire LGBT community to focus on ending conversion therapy. We don’t need to fix or change LGBT people. We need to fix society. Together we can make a difference, we can make it better and we need to do it now.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bryan Christopher

    January 15, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I spent well over a decade desperately involved in "ex-gay" therapy and immersed in a fundamentalist Christian world. I was a true believer. At 31, I had a girlfriend…but there I was, taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and once I made it to the top, I planned on jumping. I just didn't see a way out. My truth was abominable to the Church and shameful to my family should they ever find out. I'm exhibit A as to what this type of "therapy" does to one's mind and spirit. I'm encouraged by this and hope someday lawmakers and religious leaders understand this practice is leaving scars on the souls of humanity and must be stopped before another kid jumps or steps in front of a moving train.
    Bryan Christopher (Author, "Hiding from Myself: A Memoir")
    http://tinyurl.com/o4frmhp

  2. David Pickup

    January 16, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    What this author is reporting is false and misleading information and it serves to traumatize children and adults for whom AUTHENTIC Reparative Therapy does indeed work, and with which they grow into more of their authentic selves. NONE of what this author states about real RT is true. I have so many clients who have had a marvelous, emotionally changed experience for which there is much evidence. In fact, it is high time LGBT reporters exhibit true diversity by listening to the voices who have a different experience instead of trying to push their bigotry and agenda through false reports. There is room for both voices, LGBT and real Ex-gays who are in fact heterosexual. If you have experienced a horrible therapy experience then I don't believe you've experienced real RT, and the non experts who are doing this kind of thing should be dealt with. Real RT's first goal is to remove any and all shame for having homosexual feelings, but I'm sure this reporter never discusses this point.

  3. Stanley James

    January 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Your comment is garbage – all you do is terrify people and turn them into pathological liars. while transferring the self hatred to another victim eg several of these v victims said "gays support the westboro baptists because it brings them sympathy

    The other part of this is right wing extremists doing this create a situation where kids often victims of this child abuse commit suicide at a horrific rate I'm sure your just trying to feed more money to right wing causes. Not one reputable psych or med group says you can change sexual orientation.

    stuff your ideas up where the son doesnt shine or GO FIND ANOTHER PLACE WHERE THEY USE WITCH DOCTORS – YOU MIGHT FIT IN THERE.

    wE ARE GOING TO OUTLAW THIS CRAP AND THE PENALTIES FOR PRACTICING MEDICINE / PSYCHOLOGY WITH OUT A LICENSE ARE SEVERE

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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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