Why I Fight to Stay Positive

I’m very lucky to have a girlfriend who reminds me that my goal for this blog is to create a safe and positive space for LGBT* non-profit folk. She has had to remind me quite a bit as of late. I’ve gotten fired up about a lot of national and international news; all I’ve wanted to do is to rant and rave about how people are assholes and why everything is terrible.

As much as it tempts me to be pessimistic about the world and the non-profit sector, I will continue to struggle with forcing myself to stay positive. Honestly, it’s a daily struggle. The World Vision controversy of last week had me leaning towards writing a piece about how aid organizations and non-profits who use religious affiliations as an excuse for homophobia are detrimental to the non-profit sector. As much as I want to, I can’t focus on it, and writing about it here will get nothing accomplished besides getting me more angry.

How do I stay positive, knowing that people would condemn me and dismiss my work because of my sexual orientation? I remember that the work that I am doing has a major positive impact on the world. My work is not devalued by organizations like World Vision or conservatives in Congress. I am making a positive difference in the world, and no amount of hate will stop me.

Do I still get pissed off by bigots? Of course.  I have days where all I want to do is focus on my fears of being outed, or getting kicked out of countries for being a lesbian, or not getting funded by an organization that turns out to be homophobic. Honestly these fears have kept me up at night countless times over the past five years. Why do we live in a world that would actively negate our humanitarian efforts because of our sexual orientation?

The sad fact is that we do, but that negativity cannot consume us and shape our work.  People like us need to keep fighting for water development, education, women’s rights, and all of the other noble causes that exist. If we overwhelm ourselves with the hate spewed at the LGBT* community, we cannot put our best work forward.

My main goal working in the non-profit sector is to make my little corner of the world a more positive and equal place. I can’t do that while bottling up resentment toward organizations and people who are actively discriminating against me. I know what my organization is doing for the people I work with. That is what I force myself to think about.

I can’t change the world for the better by focusing on the homophobia and institutionalized discrimination that exists in the non-profit sector. I can change the world by continuing my work and making sure my organization is helping people in the best way possible.

I need to believe that by staying positive I am becoming a better person, and thus a better humanitarian.

World Vision Shows Us That Positive Change Can Be Fickle

This past week has been a roller coaster ride for the LGBT* non-profit community. This past week World Vision announced that they were going to immediately recognize the same sex marriages of their gay and lesbian workers. They were quoted as saying

 “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church. It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”

World Vision is one of the largest  faith driven organizations in the world, working in almost 100 countries. This move wasn’t an endorsement, but it certainly had the potential of creating positive waves in the aid / relief community. Unfortunately World Vision backed out of this decision from overwhelming pressure and bullying from the political evangelical community. I probably should have seen this coming;I didn’t have dreams of grandeur. I didn’t think an acknowledgement of same-sex marriages would lead to every faith-based group to reevaluate their perception of the LGBT* community.

This could have been beyond huge. For too long Christian (and secular) organizations in the non-profit sector ignored or separated themselves from acknowledging the LGBT* individuals in their workforce. Challenging that separation through open acknowledgement would force people to at least look at their understanding of what it means for a queer person who is working toward similar goals. This could have been a time where Christian non-profits to look at itself, its staff, and its volunteers; World Vision had the chance to say that LGBT* workers are just as impactful as their straight counterparts, and should have equal footing.

Instead, we are shown that with enough negative pressure, positive change can be reversed. What could have been a great leap forward towards equality in the non-profit sector has become another example of discrimination and homophobia. World Vision’s mission is to “[work] with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice”. They had a chance to fix an injustice within their own organization. I hope someday that revisit this, and I hope that organizations while acknowledge that LGBT* aid workers fight poverty and hunger, work for quality education, and advocate for those who do not have a voice.

As a  diverse community, we need to focus on WHY we are doing what we’re doing. That is our commonality – what unites us toward making the world a better, happier, and brighter place.

You Need to Be a Better Person Than the Westboro Baptists and Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps was excommunicated from the Westboro Baptists and died this past Thursday; it has been rumored that his excommunication stemmed from a change of heart about Westboro’s message. Whatever the reason, they are various opinions on how the LGBT* community should react to Fred Phelp’s recent passing. While some call or a celebration, I hope the queer community falls more in line with George Takei’s message:

“I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding ‘God Hates Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.” 

I know that the urge to dance on Fred Phelp’s metaphorical grave is extremely tempting. His group has been the face of hate throughout the United States. I attended a counter-protest of the Westboro Baptists at my Graduate school; Fred wasn’t there, but seeing the group across the street was enough to creep me out. While I don’t believe  in Christianity, I do know that the Westboro Baptists do not reflect peace and love that is supposed to be central in the Christian faith.

We just have to be better people. As a non-profit / aid works, do we ever get sustainable positive gains through being vindictive and cruel? Without love of what we do, our passion would fizzle out or be corrupted. We became humanitarians to put good back into the world. We need to be better people in all of this. Being joyous about someone’s death only brings more hate into the world.

We don’t gain anything from hate. Yes, there might be some initial joy after mud-slinging, but after that where does that leave us? Our hate does not change what Fred Phelps or the Westboro Baptists have one, and I doubt it will change what they decide to do in the future.

We are not Fred Phelps. We are not the Westboro Baptists. We are loving, caring, passionate LGBT* individuals who help our local and global communities.

At the end of the day, we are responsible for what we put back into the world. Let’s choose love over hate.

Working in Anti-LGBT* Countries

With the Prime Minister of Uganda  signing the anti-homosexuality bill into law I feel like I need to talk why I work in a country that isn’t friendly to LGBT* individuals. The country outside of the United States that I work in is not on the same level as Uganda or Russia, but it would be hazardous to be openly gay there.

It’s a complicated issue. I have heard professors, teachers, and friends refuse to financially support organizations that are working in anti-gay countries like Uganda and Russia. Which is very understandable.

I’m lucky in the sense that the country I work in isn’t extremely anti-LGBT*. Yes there is a culture of homophobia, but I cannot personally draw a line in the sand and say I’m not willing to work there.

Is there a line that we as gay humanitarians have to draw? I’ll give/volunteer/work in country X only if the government doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT* community and if there isn’t a culture of homophobia? Does a country like that exist?

Sometimes, it is hard to justify working in a homophobic country (especially to myself). Why work in a country that would kick me and my organization out if they knew I was a lesbian? For a lot of the LGBT* community – they wouldn’t participate, and that makes a lot of sense. Supporting your own discrimination does seem counter intuitive.

For me, my reasoning lies with the people I am working with, the constituents. I have an emotional connection to the families, children, schools, and communities. I am constantly reminding myself that the people are not the government, and the government is not the people.

I won’t be outing myself there anytime soon. I don’t want to find out whether people would still like and accept me regardless, and I don’t want the government to kick my organization out of the county. I guess that is cowardly.

Maybe I’m also naive – but I believe someday I’ll be able to talk about my girlfriend to the people I work with here and abroad.

Will I be donating to a Russian or Ugandan aid organization any time soon? Probably not. Will I give up my organization? Definitely not. What is driving me despite everything is the emotional connection I have to the people, the country, and the mission.

We all have to draw our line somewhere.

Young and Sportastic – Visibility in the LGBT* Community

Honestly my first temptation was to rant about the lack of LGBT* representation in the State of the Union last Tuesday, but as I promised my girlfriend and my readers  last week , I won’t turn my blog into a rant fest. (Though I really want to… all I wanted was ONE ENDA mention…)

…Anyway, I want to focus on the increase of youth representation and LGBT* visibility. Many of the kids /young adults that are coming out are active in sports culture, and that’s fantastic. Between Olympians worldwide, and people like Conner Merterns in Oregon, many current players are at the forefront of the LGBT* movement. I can’t speak for the sports culture outside of the United States, but here in the USA the culture surrounding athletics could easily be compared to religious ideology.

The You Can Play project is an example of the decrease of homophobia in sports (even if it’s slow). I love that people are challenging what it means to be strong, and that LGBT* individuals can challenge current perceptions. But gay athletes in the Olympics, college sports, and major sports teams prove that being queer does not fit into a nice hetero-normative picture.

Queer kids can play hockey, football, baseball, or soccer. Go for the Gold (I mean just getting to the Olympics sounds pretty rad).

The thing that I think is the most important about this trend in sports is the spirit of athleticism. Pride in teamwork, hard work, perseverance, etc. are all lauded in American society. The LGBT* community are of course capable of expressing these virtues already, but having kids be able to see these virtues openly expressed in people like themselves is powerful.

Telling kids not only does it get better, but they are amazing, unique and strong in their own way is quintessential. Recognizing your own personal strength is one of the first steps into empowering yourself and making the world a more positive and better place. With more visibility in sports, it’s becoming more of reality for queer kids.

Visibility matters. We’re here, we’re queer, and we can be whatever we want to be.

Even If They Are Assholes: Do You Have the Right to Out People?

Warning: This post is full of conflicted feelings and was written in a stream of consciousness fashion. I don’t apologize.

Like I mentioned last week –  visibility is important. However, when journalist Italy Hodd basically outed Rep. Schock (R-IL), I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. Yes, Schock is a raging homophobe, his political history pretty much sums it up:

  • Schock voted against adding sexual orientation to the already-existing hate crimes law.
  • Schock opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
  • Schock opposes the repeal of DOMA.
  • Schock is against gay marriage; and
  • Schock is for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would add language to the US Constitution banning gay marriage and likely striking down every gay rights law and ordinance in the country.

Some of the arguments supporting outing him I find ridiculous and nonsensical. The America Blog states:

Now, one could argue that being gay can bring with it scorn and prejudice, thus the newly-outed gay person could be harmed by the revelation about their sexual orientation.  But don’t blacks and Jews and Latinos face scorn and prejudice?  A reporter wouldn’t hide any of those features of a congressional candidate, so why hide the fact that he’s gay?

If people don’t want the gay rights movement compared to racial and ethnic equality movements, then we shouldn’t use the same logic as a way to out people. Racial oppression and queer oppression are two separate entities. And if one more person compares being LGBT* to having red hair, I will run screaming into the night.

Obviously I don’t want a self hating gay to be in a position to continuously oppress me, but outing him doesn’t make any past differences, or change that he’s a douche. Yes, he is in the public eye, and in turn has an obligation to not play into the terrible notion that being gay is something that is shameful. Does the revenge of outing him equal out his past transgressions? A lot of people are saying yes, but I’m not so sure.

Being out not in the public eye can be difficult. My non-profit is definitely not even close to being a household name, but that would ultimately be the goal. Do I have an obligation to out myself then (I would actually want an answer to this)? Should we shame Sally Ride for coming out posthumously because she wanted to protect her organization?

I wouldn’t want to be outed because someone views me as technically being hypocritical by working in anti-gay country. Yes I’m not actively working on anti-gay policies, but I am working within a system of government that actively oppresses LGBT* individuals. Someone could easily argue that my hypocrisy should be ‘outed’. I definitely do not compare my work to Schock’s work in Congress. But it could be if one was so motivated.

I don’t have a clear definite feeling of Right or Wrong when it comes to this topic. Some days I have thought ‘Just out the bastard’ while other days I have been more concerned about the societal implications of free-range outing ‘famous’ people, whether they are homophobic or not. I guess the closest thing to a  reasonable conclusion would be:

Outing a famous person is never an obligation, nor should be avoided it at all costs. It is an opportunity that comes with a great deal of responsibility attached. Dragging someone through the mud because they are gay is just as bad as the person hiding ones orientation as something shameful.

Making someone’s sexual orientation into a national pariah story should not be the goal- positive visibility  should be.