“…the battle still remains …the challenge is still there…” ~ US Senator Dick Durbin
Hey, blogspot readers, in case you didn’t know …SouthSide is a proud (hard-working, scene queen) single mom of two …a transgender son and bi daughter. And guess what? She’s very cool with that! She loves and supports them both.
That being said, during a recent weekend, she spent her Saturday at the annual LGBT Equality Institute conference session at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. This two-day event was sponsored by her equally hard-working friends at Equality Illinois as well as PFLAG, Lambda Legal, ALCS (Aids Legal Council of Chicago), Human Rights Campaign and many others who are out there (no pun intended) striving and working for the betterment of gay rights and civil liberties.
(Actually, it’s human rights, blogspot readers, but SouthSide will save that argument for another time…)
This two-day conference brought together allies (political and community) and supporters of and within the LGBT community to discuss important issues affecting them such as school to healthcare to equality rights to homelessness and more. Issues in which likeminded people are striving to find goals or solutions …networking with others and making relationships in the end. Today’s session opened with a few remarks by Mitch Lawson who introduced the group to the morning’s speaker US Senator Dick Durbin who bluntly stated that “…there’s going to be resistance…” within the federal level because of both houses of Congress are Republican-controlled. Also, he warned us not to “…think LGBT issues are safe…”, blogspot readers, since they are not. Look at recently happened in
with the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act – a law that basically gives individuals as well as businesses
the right to refuse and or deny services to anyone who’s gay, lesbian, etc.
Those services could include something simple like ordering food at a diner or
complex or even medical like emergency care or getting a check up because the
person sexual orientation offends another’s religious belief or religion. The
LGBT community and it allies are facing a tough uphill battle, blogspot
readers, right here in Illinois as the IL Supreme Court will soon decide issues
pertaining to the Marriage Equality law. Sen Durbin promises to be there to
watch the arguments as he told us what we have on the agenda is what we will
have to fight for. Indiana
With a challenge given to us, it was time for the morning’s panel discussion – The New Agenda for LGBT Youth, blogspot readers, featuring speakers State Representative Kelly Cassidy (of the 14th District, Chicago), Jane (mother) and James (brother) of Tyler Clementi Foundation, and Cassandra Avenatti of Project Fierce Chicago. One thing …actually people who were missing and not represented in this discussion – the youth. There should have been a few representing the LGBT youth since after all – this was panel discussion about what’s effecting the gay youth community today to which SouthSide there are other issues that’s needed to be discussed besides homelessness and bullying. IL Rep Cassidy (whose district includes the diverse Chicago neighborhoods – Rogers Park and Edgewater) is currently sponsoring the conversion therapy ban and told the group how it “…doesn’t cease to amaze…” the hatred is projected towards gay people. She encouraged everyone to stay engaged and stay fighting as well as supporting our LGBT community as allies. Then, we heard the story aboutTyler Clementi’s (a
student) suicidal death. It was very
tragic especially for his mother, blogspot readers, but all too common one when
his college roommate bullied him after videotaping him in a sexual act with his
lover. The video was then tweeted and re-tweeted across the web. Meanwhile his
brother told the group how he had a hard time coming out to his parents because
he was concerned how they would react …wondering if they would accept him as a
gay teen too. Bullying has significantly changed since SouthSide was a kid.
It’s 24/7 because there’s an audience via websites like YouTube, Facebook,
Tumblr, Twitter, and many more watching …re-posting as well as re-tweeting to
their friends who then probably to their friends’ friends and so on so forth.
Just remember – bullying does NOT build character …it tears it down until the
victim does harms to themselves. Both Jane and James (along with Mr. Clementi,
her husband; his father and others) work very hard through the Tyler Clementi
Foundation to make sure there are no more Rutgers University and to “…put an end to on and
offline bullying…” SouthSide highly recommends checking out this organization
for more details as well as supporting the work they do in stopping youth
bullying and harassment at http://www.tylerclementi.org.
Cassandra Avenatti is part of the coalition that’s working on the conversion therapy ban in
but here in Indiana , she’s working hard addressing the
issue of youth homelessness at her organization – Project Fierce Chicago (http://www.projectfiercechicago.org).
Her opening remarks about youth being on the panel since adults are talking
about youth issues (as this reviewer pointed out earlier) got a huge response
from not only SouthSide but from the rest of the group. She pointed out that
growing up in western Chicago as a gay person was dangerous …even
being a non-white, non-Christian and or not straight life would not be safe for
you. “…bullying in general is a power struggle…” were her remarks on the
subject but she also addressed other issues in which LGBT youth are facing
today like family acceptance and rejection (which could lead to drug and
alcohol abuse …not finishing school and ultimately suicide). She added that
parents of LGBT youth should be brought into the conversation because we as
parents sometimes do things we think is best for our children yet our children
may not see it that way and will think of it as rejection/non-acceptance,
blogspot readers. Indiana
All of these issues – are simply not LGBT issues. No. In fact, they connect everyone by class, gender, religious, social, economic, et al …for example – homelessness affects everyone, blogspot readers. It’s not just a “gay” problem …it’s a social problem because it doesn’t discriminate based on sex, gender, orientation, color, religion etc. Other topics briefly discussed during the panel discussion included bullying since it’s a “hot” topic these days. Even SouthSide’s teen daughter was a victim of bullying at her school recently when two students said to others at the lunch table “…look at the two lesbians…” (talking about her and her friend). Luckily, the matter was handled immediately due the school’s anti-bullying policy before SouthSide had a chance to deal with the matter herself. The IL law (modeled after the New Jersey law which is also known as the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act) clearly defines what bullying is, how to deal with it, what to do if bullying occurs and etc – some school districts have policies and some didn’t while a handful had a one-sentence policy at first. Now, here in
, blogspot readers, ALL school
districts are required to have some sort of anti-bullying policy in place for
the school calendar year. The subject of homelessness was touched briefly
however Cassandra told the group that Project Fierce was purchasing a
transitional home (to house up to 12 youths) to help alleviate the emergency
housing that’s currently needed for LGBT youth to which she also addressed the
necessity for schooling and jobs for the youth too. The morning panel session
ended with how can we, blogspot readers, get involved. Besides voting, there’s
communicating with others “…people meeting [other] people…” “…support our LGBT
youth…” was James Clementi’s advice to the group. We need to “…let them know
they’re safe…” and as parents, we need to know the warning signs if our
children are being bullied. Cassandra added her suggestion of donating time and
resources …volunteer and advocating of being “…that person…” that ally.
“...straight people, stand up when you see bullying…” meanwhile “…gay people,
stand up when seeing racism happening…” Profound words of advice everyone
should live by… Illinois
SouthSide’s first session took her to the
mini conference room for Equality
South of I-80 in which she learned about the happenings and concerns of the
LGBT community south of Acapulco city limits. Hosted by Dr. Jonna
Cooley (of Chicago ) and Marcus Fogliano (President of
Peoria Proud), the discussion informed this reviewer of the uphill struggles
having a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) group in high schools. Some districts in
central and southern Illinois will say “…if we allow a GSA group, what’s to
stop us from allowing a KKK group…” since GSA groups are few and far between
…people have to travel great distances just to attend meetings and/or get
services and support. This problem also makes it difficult to work with other
groups within the 70+ counties south of I-80. Despite that difficulty, groups
like Peoria Proud and Phoenix Center host seasonal events for the LGBT
community like Out-N-Proud events (once a month activities sponsored by Peoria
Proud) or youth group meetings for LGBT youth ages 13 - 17 (every Friday night
from 6 -10p) or Springfield PrideFest Club La Cage (happening on april 18,
2015) sponsored by Phoenix Center. The known groups are located in Phoenix Center , Bloomington , Normal , and SIU – Peoria . Luckily, there are 17+ churches in
this region that gladly welcome LGBT worshippers to its doors for Sunday
services. For more information about Carbondale , visit http://www.phoenixcenterspringfield.org
or for more information about Peoria Proud, visit http://www.peoriaproud.org. Phoenix Center
Before enjoying a delicious lunch inside the main conference room, SouthSide checked out The Legacy Walk display, the world’s only outdoor LGBT museum walk that’s located between Bradley and Melrose along north Halsted aka Boystown. The Legacy Project is an award-winning Chicago-based non-profit organization committed to researching and celebrating the contributions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people to world history and culture. This outdoor exhibit is continuously growing that currently features thirty (30) bronze memorial makers aftixed to the “Rainbow Pylons” along Halsted defining the area as the cultural and business center of Chicago’s large diverse LGBT community. During the tow-day conference, participants were able to view a tiny sample of the exhibit as well as the notable 2015 Legacy Candidate for Induction. The candidates featured such notable names like George Washington Carver (Botanist, Agronomist, Educator, Inventor), Frances Perkins (US Secretary of Labor – the woman who gave working people the notion of the 40-hr work week), Leonard Bernstein (composer and conductor), Josephine Baker (Civil Rights Activist and Entertainer – the woman who refused to sit in the back of the Savoy restaurant in 1930) and Grant Wood (iconic artist for his painting American Gothic) …just to name a few, blogspot readers. SouthSide highly recommends checking out this exhibit when the weather is warmer and sunnier …a good educational tool for the youths all ages, gender and orientation as well as for adults. This reviewer plans on taking her daughter during the weekend. For more information about this outstanding project, visit http://www.legacyprojectchicago.org.
During lunchtime, conference participants were briefed on the happenings from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Jonathan J. Smith (Senior Counsel, Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division) which also featured some remarks from Equality Institute’s sponsor Coca Cola. He first told the group that 2015 makes the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, the 25th anniversary of the People with Disabilities Act and 5th anniversary of the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crime Prevention Act. He stated the Department of Justice works hard to protect the rights of all LGBT workers and prohibits discrimination based on sex and sex-based (i.e. gender identity) “…our existing laws protects all people including LGBT…” He also mentioned that the department is also working on discrimination in housing, education, and employment not just marriage, blogspot readers.
After the lunchtime briefing, it was time to begin the long afternoon of sessions. SouthSide attended the Transgender Issues 101 for further education into understanding her son more. This session went deeper than what she sat through during last year’s Transgender 101 session. “…everyone’s unique...” was the theme of the session as participants learned about gender binary (growing up in the orientation you’re expected to be since birth- male or female), gender reality (how we express our sexual orientation …it’s not biological, it’s cultural and or societal), gender identity (the gender someone ids with), gender expression (the way your gender is expressed) sexual orientation and sex assigned (which happens at birth …either born male or female). It was a very information session that thoroughly helped SouthSide understand a few transgender definitions and why some people don’t like using the word “transition” since they feel have always been male or female without changing surgically as well as the meaning of cisgender to terms that are considered “violent” (i.e. terms not used amongst the LGBT community any more such as she-male/he-female) even though in the UK “transsexual” still means “cross-dresser”.
Besides the terms, there are major issues effecting the Transgender community like violence and abuse (they are more likely to experience violence in home, street, healthcare settings) and poverty/homelessness (they are four  times likely than the general population to live in poverty). It was noted that transgender people are likely to be uninsured and or seek preventive health care …about 6400 respondents who identified as transgender have attempted suicide …and the most serious – new HIV infections are amongst transgender people …much higher for transwomen and transwomen of color. There’s also employment discrimination where transpeople experience unemployment at twice the rate than the general population …especially transpeople of color in which they have the highest. Lastly, over 45% transpeople have reported being harassed or faced lost of employment. SouthSide wished this session was at least 2 or 3 hours long because there was SO much information the speakers had for the participants that the 1hr and 15 minute time frame wasn’t enough and they had to skip over a few things. They weren’t able to go into detail about mental health issues that occurs with transgender people or about substance abuse and prevention. Looking forward to attending this particular again next year, blogspot readers.
After taking a mini break between sessions, it was time for SouthSide to improve her networking skills at the Networking 101 class where she had to introduce and speak briefly about herself in front of a group of people. There easy for her but for some people there’s anxiety associated when it comes to networking or interacting with other people. The session speakers Michael and Chris told us that we should set goals for ourselves to help make networking with others a little easier because it doesn’t hurt to go to an event with a purpose in mind. For a successful networking goal, one should find an ice breaker or commonality you might have with the person (s) you want to network with …compliments work too. “…people love compliments…” Other techniques include reading body language and eavesdropping – two certain ways of making your presence known to the person you want to talk to. During this fun session, we were given advice on how to (politely) excuse ourselves from a group conversation or tips on what to do when you’re attending an event and you don’t know anyone there (that has happened to SouthSide plenty of times!). Here’s a tip – want to mingle at a social event? Simply go where the food and drinks are. People at some point will visit the bar and or food station …easy to strike up a conversation then. However, do remember to limit your alcohol intake. No one likes a drunk conversationalist at a public event. Then, we were taught how to continue building relationship beyond the event/conference like sending a follow-up email or phone call …handwritten letter works too, blogspot readers. “…it’s very important to be organized with your network…” and with so many online tools (i.e. Facebook, Skype, Twitter, et al), you should have no problem maintaining that networking relationship. Yet what if you can’t find a commonality with the person you want to network with, well – research your subject …still take a business card – never hurts to take a business card for future reference.
Well …that was a tiny sample of the happenings at this year’s Equality Institute, blogspot readers. It was exciting as well as very informative for SouthSide as she learned to become a better LGBT parent, supporter and ally. She does suggest having LGBT youths to participate (their voices and concerns should be heard too) and some closing remarks to keep participants inspired and fired up for next year’s conference.
See you next year…
Until next time, support your local scene,