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Making history in Mississippi

The times are finally changing in the Deep South

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Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade
Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Brandiilyne Dear officiates the first same-sex marriage in Mississippi on the steps of the Forrest County Courthouse between Amber Hamilton and Annice Smith. (Photo by Kristie Dillstone)

Just south of the Mason-Dixon line there is a place cemented in time — welcome to Mississippi. This is where folks wave as they pass by on the road, laws protect the majestic magnolia trees, and sweet tea is the house wine. Down here people take pride in their heritage, which includes, but is not limited to, their “young’uns,” their pick-up trucks and their church. Although living in the Deep South has its charms, there are giants in the land that many continue to fight. Those giants include discrimination, close mindedness and racism.

Religion, the mother of all giants, is such an intricate part of the tapestry that is the south. Many of us were raised on a church pew and have been instructed on the laws of God. These laws were very clear, love God, respect your momma, don’t mix races, and homosexuality is the unpardonable sin. Many of these laws were never spoken aloud. They were just understood as the laws of the land, the foundation of southern heritage, and statues that would never change. Until June 26, 2015.

These southern regulations were so deeply engrained in my own identity that I did not accept my sexuality until I was 37. As soon as I broke free from religious misconceptions, I quickly founded The Dandelion Project, an LGBT advocacy group, and Joshua Generation MCC (Metropolitan Community Church), a radically inclusive church. These things were unheard of in southern Mississippi. We joined forces with others across the state and began to fight to tear down some of these decrees that were not only causing people harm, but were denying them equal rights. So when the ruling from the Supreme Court came down we rushed to the courthouse; this was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Only minutes after the decision, there I stood, a lesbian pastor, on the steps of the Forrest County courthouse officiating, not only the first same-sex marriage in the state of Mississippi, but this was an interracial couple as well. As I prayed over the newlyweds, Amber Hamilton and Annice Smith, it was as if I could see many of those giants begin to fall. The social climate was changing right before my eyes. That was a victorious moment as we began breaking free from the “Old South” and her heritage. I wrapped my arms around Amber and Annice and we wept. We not only made history, but we overcame it!

There were more couples that began to come in that day to apply for a marriage license; only two more were issued. The fourth couple was denied. This giant was not going down easily. We were soon forced to halt all ceremonies; it was devastating. But there was no way that we were going to stop fighting now.

Despite the delays on Friday, we got the all-clear early on Monday and quickly rushed back to the courthouse where same-sex marriages resumed. The couples that were denied on Friday were first in line, each afraid that this window of opportunity would close as it had seemingly always done before. I have since, in less than one week, had the honor of officiating nearly 20 same-sex ceremonies from all walks of life. Some have waited three years to marry the one they love, while others have been waiting 30. However, whether 3 years or 30, we have waited a lifetime to overcome discrimination, bigotry, and the “heritage” that haunts the South.

Although the laws of the land have indeed changed and same-sex couples can now partake in the constitutional right of marriage, minds are not so easily swayed. There is still work that has to be done. We have made progress, albeit slow, we have progressed nonetheless.

As with any place, there are positives and negatives of living in Mississippi, but as things go here in the South, slowly and surely as the biscuits are rising in the oven on Sunday morning, the positive is overcoming the negative. I can still hear the faint echo of the old southern mantra, “the South shall rise again!” I’m not so sure she has ever been on top, but today I am certain that she is now rising freer from bigotry and hate because times, well, “they are a changing.” “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”

Rev. Brandiilyne (BB) Dear is founder of the Dandelion Project.

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Jeff Whitey White

    July 11, 2015 at 6:23 am

    This article feels as if it is you trying to pretend you were the one who created the movement in Mississippi while there were so many others who were involved other than you. It dismisses and erases the people and organizations that were on the front lines in Mississippi while this change was being created as if you were the sole force behind the history. There were numerous people on the ground before you came along, yet only you get the glory, the red carpet, the praise, and awards. This article isn’t about history or Mississippi, it is about Brandiilyne. As all things in this state are. Attention whoring as you do, it is amazing that more people have not caught on to your agenda.

    • msfreethinker

      July 14, 2015 at 1:07 am

      You people here in Mississippi are ALL out to make celebrities of yourselves. You, this lady, and many others before you have self-appointed yourselves spokespeople for the LGBT community in Mississippi.

      – A professional organization working for the improvement of a community it represents doesn’t bask in making headlines. The fact that such a big deal is being made that you were on the news or made the front page of a paper shows just how small and immature the organizations (and the people in charge of them) are. I’d love to see more community interaction and outreach/volunteerism vs shared news stories with these head organizers mugs posted on the front of them. Show me the people you are helping!

      – A professional organization working for the improvement of a community it represents doesn’t self-promote while acting in the capacity of a minister of marriage for a wedded couple. The fact that the founder is using this a promotion material is disgusting. I had friends that used to attend The Dandelion Project meetings and the main organizers’ goal was to be on the Ellen show. My friends say they made no secret that they wanted to be celebrities. Hopefully the community can see through their celebrity dreams and see their activism is a farce for more self-promotion.

      – A professional organization working for the improvement of a community it represents doesn’t argue and name call on social media. No matter who does what, IGNORE IT! Higher-ups in an org should not stoop so low to argue with people. That is what attorneys are for and

      – A professional organization working for the improvement of a community it represents doesn’t take down another organization because their own voted them out as Executive Director. (I saw this one coming from 50 miles out. The way you treated people was horrible!) I will give you that you were the heart and soul of your project, but your professionalism was lacking. Your Rainbow Room or whatever will most likely shut its doors without you. I am sure, based on your comments on other websites, that is what you hope for.

      Working with the LGBT Community, OR ANY COMMUNITY, is a hard job. It requires patience, goals, money, volunteers, and respect. Sometimes your will be a target, other times you will feel neglected and under appreciated. It’s the nature of working for/with the public. But as time progresses, they will fall by the wayside like your old org will. They will become irrelevant as the biggest domino has fallen on the journey to equality for LGBT people.

      I expect you to keep playing victim as you still continue to lash out at the community you supposedly used to “lead.” But it tells the world that you are not moving on. You are still stuck! Kinda sad really.

      • Susan Mangum

        July 14, 2015 at 3:49 pm

        I would like to talk to you. Can you pm me on fb? My name
        Is Susan Mangum

        • msfreethinker

          July 14, 2015 at 10:56 pm

          After Googling you, I see that you are the other half of “The Dandelion Project.” I’d prefer not to sip from that pitcher of Kool-Aid. Google also returned that foul video of you cussing at some hate-filled man harassing you on the phone. Its sad that people like him exist in the world, but you brought yourself down to his level by responding to his taunts. The language you used was so classy. Again, where is the professionalism? As someone who has never been to one of your functions, what I see on the internet (your social media and videos) turns my stomach. I know you and your wife mean well and are putting yourselves out there for folks like me to judge as to whether I would want to associate with you in your cause, but your publicity is NOT SO GOOD. Realistically, this could be the reason for inconsistent participation within your org and also why only a handful of people (according to Facebook) take part in your events.

          I hope my feedback helps you become better as it is only my opinion and why I choose not to participate. It is not to tear you down or take away from your contributions toward the cause of LGBT Equality. I just think you guys are a PR nightmare. I would prefer to help my community in other ways than protesting one-on-one against people who have proclaimed themselves as haters and will never be open to logical and ethical reasoning (the KKK).

          God Bless

          • Susan Mangum

            July 14, 2015 at 11:15 pm

            Thank you for your scintillating review of my actions and life. I actually had no idea that I was being recorded and did not approve of that being posted.. But my wife has assured me that it has been removed from our channel. Every day we give ourselves to this community and we have no regrets. It’s easy to judge from your sofa,
            But thanks for the input. I know all about younthatbi need to know. Have a good night.

          • msfreethinker

            July 14, 2015 at 11:37 pm

            NEWSFLASH! When you present yourself as servants, spokespeople, heroes and advocates for a cause in the public domain, you unfortunately sign up to be judged. Judged continuously by your peers and people of your community as to whether or not they deem you worthy of joining your group or want to associate with you and your “project.” Again, I think you and Mr. White have a lot in common in the area of having the lack of experience and talent to successfully run an organization.

            The fact that you took this personally instead of as feedback to improve your business model tells me what I need to know about you as well. And I think I expressed my many thanks for putting yourselves out there for the cause. And yes, until I see an organization that has integrity and displays professionalism here locally (like GLAAD & HRC does on a national scale) I will gladly get up from my sofa and join them. But Rainbow Room and the Dandelion Project, not so much. Sorry that hurts your feelings.

          • Susan Mangum

            July 15, 2015 at 12:00 am

            I’m curious.. Are you from Mississippi?

          • msfreethinker

            July 15, 2015 at 12:04 am

            Yes.. I live in the Meridian vicinity of Lauderdale County. I have lived here all of my life…

          • Susan Mangum

            July 15, 2015 at 12:20 am

            That’s not too far from us. Maybe we could sit down and talk about this one day. You have made some interesting points but the dandelion project isn’t all that we are about.

          • msfreethinker

            July 15, 2015 at 12:32 am

            By all means what I am about to say is not picking on you, but take a look at your Facebook page ( your main means of connecting with people). When pulling it up all I see are pictures of you and your wife and what looks like your L-Word Mississippi photos. Where are the faces of the people in your community you represent or help? Are you a church or an LGBT advocacy group? Are your meetings your church services? It’s like there are 5 different things going on with your page.. It’s like a personal page meets a church page meets a community org page meets a news website.. If this is how you are trying to reach people like me, you are inadvertently sending the wrong message and are scaring people away.. It
            really seems all about you..

          • Susan Mangum

            July 15, 2015 at 12:45 am

            My personal page? The dandelion page? Or the Joshua generation page?

            I don’t post much on mine.. But things get shared to it a lot. But it is a personal page. My wife loves to post on hers.. Lol.

            The dandelion page in primarily informational. We do post some l word info because the bulk of the over 6,000 members became a part of the page because of ghe documentary. The most recent l word post was when GLAAD came to Mississippi to screen the show and present the award for outstanding doc.

            Check out the Joshua Generation MCC page.

            I’m not offended at all but I am perplexed as to what you are saying. Our church is a 501 (c) 3… The dandelion project is not. We operate the church under the very strict procedures required by the Metropolitan Community Church.. The project page is to keep folks informed and, yes, to keep them updated on where our lives are.

          • Jeff Whitey White

            July 15, 2015 at 3:03 pm

            It’s amazing that as a leader Susan is allowed to attack people all across the Web and does so to the sound of praise. You’re a leader, Susan. You need to start acting like it or just be quiet. From your numerous personal attacks against people you admittedly do not know, to your disgusting words to that man who called after the movie debuted- you’re just a nasty person. And please, do not for one second try to pretend that you didn’t know that video was online when your wife put it out to the world as you all sought sympathy for your victimization. You women put it on the news and out in the media, you knew it was being recorded and you reveled in it. How did it to get to HuffPost? You women sent it. You used it to give yourselves national attention.
            In the grand scheme, you are no different or better than I am. You’re exactly the same yet get a free pass because you are a woman.
            The amount of vicious backstabbing that comes from The Dandelion Project far outweighs the good that any of you have done. You are selfish people who are looking to capitalize on the suffering community. You’re sad and I am so glad to know that others see it.

            Remember when I didn’t listen to the community or your wife when I was warned? Try not to make that same mistake. Listen. Pay attention. This is not about you or Bb. It is about our community. You people are not the only ones who have been working on this history. Yet you both always ignore the numerous people and organizations who have worked with you to create change here. Not just me and The Rainbow Center, but dozens of others from IFYBWS to ACLU and Prism there are so many who aren’t you that did this work. Where are they in this article about history being made? They are in your rear view because they are only the stones you women have stepped on in order to become the famous “activists” that you are today.

          • Jeff Whitey White

            July 15, 2015 at 3:09 pm

            Who flew put to Denver to meet with Ross in order to get GLAAD to come to Mississippi? Who provided them with the names on that list of six that were featured? It sure wasn’t any of you. That would be Jeff.

            See, I used my name to lift you all up despite the amount of hatred you people heaped upon me for years. I know that importance of a united leadership. You people only see the importance of yourselves. Our community suffers more due to the hateful actions of your so called church leaders. You are no different than any other Christians. You destroy anyone who you see as less holy. You’re ugly people with ugly hearts. This autofelatio of an article is just proof of that.

      • Jeff Whitey White

        July 15, 2015 at 5:08 am

        I never wanted to be a celebrity. I never tried to be one. I wanted change to come to my state and I was lucky enough to take part in seeing it happen. I feel blessed for that, but I never did it to be famous. I’m not the one who hit the red carpet and whored myself out to the movies or begged to get on Ellen.
        I spent most of my time avoiding the spotlight as much as possible. I never allowed the hero worship or accepted the praise for my actions. Throughout my time in leadership I begged for my team and community members to speak on the news or in the papers- none of them would do it. They left it to me, so I did it. And because I did, that meant I was trying to be a celebrity? If you say so. I know that I’m not the one who gets plastered on every news paper in the state anytime something good hapoens- that would be the lovely pastor.

        I was never voted out. I stepped down. The last thing that I want to see is The Rainbow Center close. Unfortunately, the people who replaced me are not capable of running the organization properly. They have no clue what to do because they never showed up for work. It kills me to see it failing as it is. However, this was a long time coming as Brandiilyne is one of the leading antogonists in this state who made it her mission to tear down anyone who she deemed a threat. She was gunning for all of us for a long time, and now she is in control of more simply because she has everyone fooled into believing she cares about more than her own name.

        I never claimed to be professional nor have I ever attempted to take down another organization. I was just a guy who had had enough of the crap here and decided to do something. But I don’t fit in with Jackson gays or Laurel lesbians so I got ostracized by everyone until I finally gave up and stepped aside.
        I simply will not put up with the attacks that were heaped upon me by my community and those outside of it. My plan was to resign on July 16th of this year after having trained the Transgender Advocacy Director to take my place. The sad thing is, she never tried to learn the stuff.

        Lastly, I’m not playing the victim. I called this woman out for her self serving attitude. In no way did I whine or complain about what was done to me, nor did I mention it. Have I moved on yet? No. It still hurts and I’m still a bit lost as I rebuild.

        See, this wasn’t about me. It was about Brandiilyne using this event to further her celebrity status and feed her grotesque ego. But of course, I can never speak out against anything without someone accusing me of playing the victim.

        Before you ever speak to me again about these things, know first that you have no clue what was going on behind the scenes. You have no idea the amazing work that was done by me, yet you’ve heard the stories. I asked my name to be left out of certain things because the people I helped were more important than myself. There are dozens of articles put there about people who I’ve helped yet my name is no where in them, because it isn’t about me. So Do T Say We ALL were trying to be celebrities when some of us were actually in it to help the people who suffer.

  2. Harshan

    July 11, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    “Just south of the Mason-Dixon line”? For the author: The actual Mason-Dixon line determines the southern border of Pennsylvania, then turns down about 90° to establish the western border of Delaware. It would take about 14 hours by interstate to drive from Jackson, MS to the Mason Dixon line.

  3. cunzlosma

    July 14, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    I think BB has done great things for the community, along with ALL the others in the state that are involved in LGBTQ activism. The Washington Blade contacts people for these stories, I’m sure you are aware of that. Should they refuse to do a story for the Blade, would that be better? I don’t think so. I think that the more people speaking out, the more people involved the better.
    I have found BB great to work with – her motives are pure and she went through hell to get to where she is now (just like a lot of others). Recently the SCOTUS decision certainly made the news – should they have banned the reporters from the courthouse? News is news and in this case the marriages were the first in the state – I’m thankful someone as caring as BB was there that day to perform those ceremonies for each of the couples. She made a difference in their lives that will always be remembered – and isn’t that what we all want? I know some of these couples and they wanted the publicity in some cases – it was way past time that they were treated equally and they wanted others to see that!

    Shameless self promotion is certainly something that one of the posters understands. I’ve never seen a more self centered person running a non profit. However to compare the two is unfair, they are worlds apart. I think it’s a shame anyone feels the need to be negative about such a positive story. I think it says more about the people being negative than anything else.

    • msfreethinker

      July 14, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      I think it says a lot about people who don’t realize that the comments section was made for posting opinions and creating dialog. To label someone as “negative” you are yourself picking a side. I would characterize Mr. White as immature and lacking experience and professional knowledge on how to run a 501(c)3. Instead of letting the deeds and work he has done for the local LGBT community speak for themselves, he personally attacks someone while tactlessly announcing that he helped too! Continually posting on your social media account every time you are on TV or in a newspaper is the SAME thing. It is a little less aggressive but the SAME.

      For example, you don’t put a $100 bill in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time and then post a picture of your hand putting the money through the top slot on Facebook with the caption of, “I just helped the needy!” That is horrible and attention seeking. You just do it and move on. If you get recognition from the community, MOVE ON and smile and feel like you made a difference. Don’t BRAG!

      Did I explain myself better?

      • cunzlosma

        July 14, 2015 at 11:23 pm

        Thanks for the explanation however I’m still unsure what the issue is with BB’s article. The press presence after the SCOTUS decision was pretty thick. I don’t know how anyone could have an issue with these marriages being covered by the local news etc. The Blade likely contacted her for the story, I’m not sure on that, so why wouldn’t she agree to do it? I thought it was well written and a she described the after effects of SCOTUS along with her view of MS currently. I didn’t see anything self serving in it. I do think that Mr. White is being negative, but then I’ve rarely seen him to be anything else. He apparently was really good at getting attention, and seems like he might have been effective but the attacks he launched on others were just awful. So, in my response I was including his response as well by calling it negative. I hope that explains my position better.

      • Jeff Whitey White

        July 15, 2015 at 5:15 am

        Hi. There are years of conversation between Bb and I about this topic. She did the same thing with this article that she accuses me of doing, so I called her out. I have that right.

        When I share news stories on my pages, it is to get the stories out there. Not to promote myself. I share it so my mom will see it. I’m sorry that you think that, but you don’t know me. I never cared about fame.

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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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Opinions

Thanksgiving is a time to share

Take a moment to think about what you can do to help others

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This Thanksgiving, many of us will once again celebrate with family and friends around the dinner table. Sadly at too many tables friends and family members will be missing. They will be one of the over 766,000 Americans who lost their lives to coronavirus. May the shared grief over lost loved ones cause us to try to bridge our differences and lift each other. As those of us with plenty sit down for dinner let us not forget the many in the world not so fortunate and think of what we can do to make their lives better.

In the midst of the pandemic we defeated a president who through his words and actions tore our country apart — a president who managed to poison relationships among family and friends. We elected a president who we felt would try to unite the nation. But we know that has yet to happen and the recent reaction to the not-guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial shows us that. The use of race-baiting in the recent Virginia governor’s election shows us that. We still suffer from the implicit permission the former president gave to some Americans to once again give public voice to their sexism, homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. That didn’t suddenly end with his loss. While we cannot pretend those feelings weren’t always there it seemed we had reached a point in American society where people understood you couldn’t voice them in public without rebuke. While it will take many years to put that genie back in the bottle we need to try if we are to move forward again. Around our Thanksgiving table is a place to begin. I am an optimist and believe we can do that even while recognizing it won’t be easy.

Thanksgiving should be a time to look within ourselves and determine who we are as individuals and what we can do to make life better for ourselves, our families, and others here in the United States and around the world.

Around our Thanksgiving table we should take a moment to think about what we can do to help feed the hungry, house the homeless, and give equal opportunity to everyone who wants to work hard. Maybe even give some thought as to how we change policies causing institutional racism to ones giving everyone a chance to succeed. It is a moment to think about how we can open up the eyes of the world to understand how racism, homophobia, and sexism hurt everyone, not just those who are discriminated against.

We must renew our efforts to heal the rifts in our own families and make an effort to try to see each other in a more positive light. If we start to do that with those closest to us we might have a fighting chance to do it with others.

I recognize my life is privileged having just returned from a 14-day transatlantic cruise. My Thanksgiving weekend will be spent with friends in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and we will remember our experiences over the past year. For many it also begins the Christmas season and the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend each year Rehoboth Beach lights its community Christmas tree. So surely we will talk about what that season means to each of us.

For me each year it means thinking about which charities I can support as the requests for end-of-year gifts arrive. It is a time to think about volunteering some precious time for a cause you care about.
Wherever you live, there are many chances to volunteer and do your part to make a difference for others. The rewards of doing so will come back to you in abundance. As anyone who has helped someone else will tell you the feeling you get for having done so is wonderful.

So wishing all my friends and those of you who I may be lucky enough to call friends in the future, a very happy Thanksgiving. May this holiday find you happy, healthy and sharing peaceful times with those you love.

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

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Commentary

Fighting for equality for decades, trans elders still face endless hardships

Lisa Oakley rejected by 60 long-term care facilities in Colo.

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 20 will mark the 22nd International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event honoring and commemorating the many transgender people murdered in transphobic hate crimes every year.

Since 2013, at least 200 transgender people have been murdered in the United States alone, 80 percent being Black and Latinx women. This number is undoubtedly an underestimate, as many murders go unreported and trans victims often are misgendered by law enforcement.

These murders are not isolated crime statistics. They grow out of a culture of violence against transgender and non-binary (TGNB) people that encompasses stigma, exclusion, discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to essential resources, including health care, employment and housing. 

These challenges result in early death. In Latin America, for example, it has been reported that the average life expectancy of a transgender person is only 35 years.

This climate of stigma and transphobia is particularly challenging for TGNB older people, who face extraordinary hardships due both to the cumulative impact of lifetimes of discrimination and regular mistreatment in their elder years. Due to isolation from family and greater medical and financial needs, trans older people are more likely to require professionalized elder services and care. 

Unfortunately, these services and the facilities that provide them are often either unavailable to TGNB elders, or hostile to them. A national survey of LGBTQ+ older people by AARP found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. This includes the fear of being refused or receiving limited care, in danger of neglect or abuse, facing verbal or physical harassment, or being forced to hide or deny their identity once again. 

This is a sobering reality. In October, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders filed a claim against Sunrise Assisted Living in Maine, which openly denied admission to an older transgender woman because of her gender identity. 

In Colorado, Lisa Oakley was, astonishingly, rejected by 60 long-term care facilities, which her caseworker ascribes to Lisa’s gender identity. One facility that agreed to admit Lisa would only house her with a male roommate. 

After waiting far too long for welcoming care, Lisa eventually got help from SAGE and other community supporters and found a home in Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Fortunately, Eagle Ridge has participated in specialized training to be LGBTQ+-welcoming. While Lisa feels welcomed at Eagle Ridge and has made friends, she has been forced to live far from a community she loves. 

These cases in Maine and Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination faced by TGNB elders. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Equality Act, which would once and for all prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in key areas like employment, housing, and care and services.

And while legal progress is important, it’s not enough. TGNB elders need more equity in their day to day lives. Older transgender people are more likely to experience financial barriers than non-transgender elders, regardless of age, income and education.

They’re also at a higher risk of disability, general poor mental and physical health, and loneliness, compared to their cisgender counterparts.

These experiences have been part of everyday life for trans elders for far too long. We continue to see them struggle with the long-term effects of transphobia and violence every day. That’s why organizations like SAGE are stepping up our support for TGNB elders by investing $1 million to support TGNB-focused services and advocacy both in New York and nationwide.

And we are continually amazed by the resilience of TGNB elders, creating communities built on their strength and courage. 

Their resilience is nothing new. It dates back generations and was evident during the Stonewall Uprising. Over the years, trans luminaries like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz—leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—and countless others have repeatedly proved that they will not be invisible.  

We see this determination in so many programs and activities led by trans elders at SAGE. 

For example, the TransGenerational Theater Project brings together transgender people of all ages to create theater from their experiences and perspectives. These types of elder-driven programs serve as powerful reminders that transgender older people are leading their lives with resilience, creativity, and perseverance, despite the dangers they face. 

Transgender and non-binary elders have survived and fought for equality for decades. They are brave. They are strong. They are leaders. Here at SAGE, we will continue to walk side-by-side with them as we continue the fight to ensure TGNB elders get the respect, change, and acceptance they deserve.

Michael Adams is the CEO of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders.

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