Friday, May 23, 2014

17 May 14 - LGBT Equality Institute

“...Being LGBT does not make you less human, and that's why gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights...”
former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

SouthSide is a proud parent and fully supports her children as well as friends and everyone else who is part of the LGBTQ community.

Recently, she spent a very informative Saturday at the Embassy Suites Downtown-Lakefront hotel attending the LGBT Equality Institute Program. This one-day event was designed to help parents, supporters as well as LGBT(Q) to connect, network, “...have ongoing conversations with....” others sitting at the tables and learn what’s happening within the LGBTQ community besides the passage of marriage equality. That alone is very important however as the saying goes “...we have a LONG way to go, baby...” It was designed to help everyone be better advocates ...improve our networking skills ...or learn about what’s available to older LGBT members as well as getting a quick overview of some of the historic events happening within LGBT Equality. Besides, the hour-long sessions (some should have been given more than an hour due to the information and discussions), there was a lunch panel  about the LGBT policy on the federal level featuring U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky (senior member of the Illinois Congressional Delegation), Quatam Raghavan, White House Public Engagement Advisor on LGBT Issues and Meg Gorecki, Midwest Director for the U.S. Department of Justice.

After a warm and friendly welcome by Patty and Michael of Equality Illinois, SouthSide attended her first session – Transgender 101 and came out of it wanting to learn as well as discuss more about what’s happening not only within the LGBT community but also the in-fighting within the Transgender community that her own son is experiencing (i.e. the sense of “entitlement” or “ don’t understand what I’m going through...” online). Session leader, Owen Daniel-McCarter (an attorney at Chicago House) had each one of us attending to say our name, a little something about ourselves and our “...preferred pronoun...” which was something this reviewer never thought before. Yet, later into the session, Owen told us we should ask the Transgender person what is their preferred pronoun or let them tell us. “...self identification the best way to go...” suggested Owen, “...let them identify themselves to you...” She learned how society sees that if you’re born female/male, you’re expected to have the characteristics and mannerisms of your respected gender. Yet, a Transgender person born female can identify more as a male and the same could be said for someone born male identifying as a female ...and then there are those who don’t fit in neither – I (or Questioning). Other topics discussed were “Transgender Umbrella” in which we labeled the proper and improper (those negative/offensive) words used to describe Transgenders like drag, FTM / MTF, tranny, GNC (gender non-conforming), lady boy, queens and so much more, the two important dates in a Transgender life (the one when they knew and/or the one when they trans into their “correct” sex/gender through surgery), the need to educate those within the LGBT community about discrimination against Transgender people, CIS sexism – the belief that Trans people don’t exist and the “action steps” that should be taken and how to be supportive like how it’s very important not to “out” a person who’s passing at Transgender, interrupting transphobia when it happens is a big help and being respective of a Transgender’s identity, And if you make a mistake, it’s very important that we as supporters acknowledge it right away. SouthSide can attest to that last statement as she adjusts to having a FTM transgender son and is constantly schooling herself on the proper pronouns (he, him, his) whenever talking with her son. So much information yet so little time to really go deeper with this subject. In this reviewer’s opinion, it should have been split into two sessions – Transgender 101 and 102 because there was some much left to discuss.

Other sessions during the first hour of the LGBT Equality Institute Program included – Youth Issues: Homelessness and Bullying (a session that also should have been given an afternoon time since SouthSide was interested in attending) – what can be done about the youth homelessness and bullying on LGBT youth and “I tolerated difference: Isn’t that enough?” – “...while tolerance of LGBTQ individuals in the state is an important step, it’s important that we move beyond tolerance to a place of welcoming acknowledgement and support...”. Throughout the day, there were 15 minute breaks in which you could browse at some of the booths set up in the hallway such as ALCC (AIDS Legal Council of Chicago), American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (SouthSide might sign-up to participate in their walk that’s happening on September 20 this year) and National Immigrant Justice Center as well as PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) and The Alliance (Illinois Safe Schools Alliance). She checked out a few booths and resources to help be a better supporter for her own children and find them support groups and resources too. Before attending the lunch panel, sessions included The US Military: LGBT Issues in a Post-DADT(Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) World – Quatam Raghavan shared insight on the process of repealing the policy and ways the culture has changed in the US military; Networking 101 – how to work the room. make contacts that might boost your career and build relationships; and Thinking Strategically About Ally Development – learning how to be and build allies as well as how to develop educational and outreach initiatives.

The lunch panel discussions were based on participants’ questions to the three featured panelists ranging in subjects like Obama’s support going from here (especially at the repeal of DADT and support for marriage equality) which he’s looking into transgender people and military service to hate crime prevention and lifting the lifetime ban on Bi/Gay men donating blood (participants were told that will take some time but hopefully with health and medical research, we can move in the right direction to lift the ban). What most stood out during the panel was the call for worker’s equality especially for Transgender people and the caution that we will see more alliances that aren’t politically align where (for example) you might see Black Baptist ministers aligning with a political coalition to keep a band on marriage equality. There was some discussion about Article 3 of DOMA yet there still needs to be clarity on other things like Social Security and military benefits as Illinois prepares (statewide) to enact marriage equality on June 1st. Rousing applause could be heard throughout the room when participants were informed that it was the tenth anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts ...but we still have a long way to go with marriage equality. Other topics included cyber bullying (need to know the hate crime laws and how navigate through them (Meg Gorecki offered to send information to those who were interested), the international memorandum on LGBTQ rights on a global level, a continuing discussion about LGBTQ youth homelessness (especially in Chicago), and the 2014 mid-term elections (“...there are ways around the money ...people power can win ...let’s not use the billionaires and money as an excuse ...nothing is automatic’s about working our tails off...” ~ U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky).

Wow. Now that was a good lunch discussion, blogspot readers.

It was time to join an afternoon session during the LGBT Equality Institute Program which included Access to Health Care as a Civil Rights Issue – about unique service provision, cultural competence, access, education and public policy components; and Transgender Legal Advocacy – answers the question “what happens when non-discrimination legislation is not enough?”. SouthSide attended What can people of faith do to support LGBT equality? which featured guest panelists Stacy McGaskill (Reconciling Journey) and Pastor Vernice Thorn (Broadway Methodist Church) with Chris Prett acting as moderator. The institute did reach out to the Muslim and Jewish communities but there were scheduling problems that prevented the persons from attending. Pastor Thorn shared how Broadway is all about inclusion especially those who are LGBTQ. “’s important to welcome people...” and make them feel included even during church services. Also she said that Broadway has not only a mission statement but an inclusion statement that’s read during the service during Black History and Pride months – it’s about people working together not just Black History being about Black people and Pride being solely exclusive to the LGBTQ community. “..I’m angry when people are mistreated unfairly ministry is about healing those wounds...” On the other hand, Stacy McGaskill, who didn’t come out as lesbian until she was thirty, sees the church as a battleground between faith-based and LGBTQ faith-based to which each will have to face to end the fight of non-inclusivity. She saw many churches/faith-based people grouped into two positions – A: All inclusion ...God created me gay and on the flipside B: Yes, this may be genetic but I believe the Scriptures call me to live the life but as single (i.e. celibate). She also mentioned how faith communities do a huge service being LGBTQ allies yet are also the ones who work against the LGBTQ community (for example – marriage equality). “...sometimes we expect immediate acceptance but don’t work on patience...”

Pastor Thorn also commented on that statement by advising “ patient...” to the “envelope pushers” and keep building allies at the end of the session. Stacy suggested “ out [but] stay in a safe place and open ...stay true to what God’s calling you to do...” SouthSide was able to spend some time with Stacy McGaskill for some advice what’s happening in her own personal life with her family. Being in the middle supporting her children and having a faith-based father who’s still adjusting to having a FTM transgender grandson, it’s hard, blogspot readers, but she did appreciate Stacy’s advice about being there for both and be patient without shutting out unaccepting family members ..acceptance will take time. Other afternoon sessions include Addiction and the LGBTQI Community - a workshop that provide an in-depth look at addiction within the community whether it was alcohol/drugs or process addictions (sex, porn, gambling) with tips for treatment; LGBTQ Priorities for Immigration Reform - "...marriage recognition is only one step to reforming an immigration system that addresses the full needs of the LGBTQ community..."; LGBT Older Adults: Preparing for the Age Wave - as we age, there's a rapidly growing number of LGBT older adults in need of services; The State of the State - discover what else needs to be addressed and done  to secure and protect the rights of LGBT Illinoisans after a post marriage equality age; So you want to run for office? - learn how to make that bold step in making a change by running for a political office and how to make that dream a reality; and Bird's Eye View of LGBT Equality - what has happened over a course of a year for the community. The day ended with closing remarks.
After attending this day-long event, blogspot readers, this reviewer learned that the LGBTQ have made significant strides and gained considerable ground (besides marriage equality) with acceptance and equality however there's plenty left to accomplish. She recently received an email from Patty Dillion of Equality Illinois who echoes the same sentiment as SouthSide. " much [left] to do..." Patty went on to say in the email that one key priority now is improving the lives of the LGBT youth such as  " to pass a stronger anti-bullying bill that would  increase protections for all youth in schools.  It would require school districts to keep track of their bullying incidents..." as well as "...key federal issues of Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the blood ban on gay and bisexual men with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and officials from the White House and Department of Justice..." She then ended the email with the following statement - "...We have much more work to do to achieve full LGBT equality. And we look forward to working with our community to find ways to move forward on the issues that affect our daily lives including transgender rights, access to healthcare, faith inclusiveness, youth homelessness, immigration, and senior and housing issues..."

Until next time, support your local scene,

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