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About the Author

outandabout

"OUT & About in York, PA" is an LGBT and allies centered lifestyle blog written by local poet/publisher and Equality Fest founder, Carla Christopher.

LGBT Yorkers of Faith Come Together This Saturday!

“For our congregation, part of what it means to be a beloved community of God’s children is our commitment to making sure that no one faces discrimination because of who they are. There has been too much hurt, too much damage inflicted through acts of discrimination and it is at the core of the Christian gospel that this injustice must be corrected and the rights of all people protected.” – Pastor Amy Schultz of Heidelberg United Church of Christ

This Saturday York People of Faith celebrate church welcome for LGBT people and call for statewide nondiscrimination protections at a special fundraising event and community concert.

Who: Equality Fest York, Heidelberg United Church of Christ 
What: Coming Home: A Cultural Celebration of Reconciliation
When: Saturday, October 17, 2015, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Where: Heidelberg United Church of Christ, 47 West Philadelphia Street, York, Pa.

This event welcomes home LGBT Christian artists: singers, songwriters, poets, and visual artists who have often been made to feel unwelcome in the church, a place where they once felt at home. This event is a proclamation to the community that there are churches where all people are welcome and their gifts celebrated. The event will accept donations for admission and include performances of spoken word, poetry, music and a silent auction of local art to benefit the Equality Fest York Scholarship Fund.

Pastor Amy Schultz from Heidelberg United Church of Christ will offer reflections on why her faith commitments compel her to support LGBT people who face discrimination, including the LGBT people in her congregation. Local LGBT people will share stories of experiencing discrimination.

Attendees will take action to support the Pennsylvania Fairness Act (SB 974, HB 1510) by signing a faith petition and calling on state legislators to update the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to protect LGBT people from employment, housing, and public accommodations discrimination, along with other minority groups.

As all this wonderful social justice and faith community awareness will take place amidst a celebration of local art (being silent auctioned off for the Equality Fest Scholarship Fund, an annual award given to an LGBT High School Senior who volunteers with Equality Fest), spoken word including Ladi Glori from Baltimore and TruPoet from Harrisburg, and local music including The Holland-Garcias and CAT, a popular acoustic indie duo from York comprosed of Cas Dell and Tara Jean, who will be sharing her story at the event along with her music.

With a pastor for a father and a church organist for a mother, it’s no surprise that I grew up in a strong faith tradition. It was a miracle to know that I’d always be cared for and protected… unless I was gay. There would be no hope for me, then. So when I began to struggle with the gender I was assigned at birth, I feared for my salvation. I thought I could still be saved if I turned my thoughts away. From the earliest I can remember to the time I was 17, I tried to keep it to myself. I knew what the punishment was if I decided to be who I knew myself to be. So I tried to blend in, and began using homophobic slurs myself. Despite my repression, I was still beaten up in gym class because a classmate “thought” I was gay.

When I informed my summer job about my gender transition, I was told it was fine as long as my performance did not change. I had no issues in the two and a half years prior, and though my performance did not change, I was written up and fired. Simultaneously, I had a job tutoring at school. A friend outed me as transgender to my program directors. Soon after, I was told that my position would not exist after the current semester. My hiring manager fought the directors who said I was “no longer a proper representative of the institution,” (an ironic statement after a year and a half of dedicated, reliable service,) and in retaliation, his employment contract was not renewed. When I found work again, I was in a warehouse working 12hr shifts. Harassment regarding my gender identity was frequent and unrelenting. One particular incident saw my next-cubicle neighbor shouting “You have something wrong with you. You must have unresolved trauma. Someone must have raped you. What you’re doing is an abomination to God!” When her shouting called my manager’s attention, I was somehow deemed the problem. Though my job performance was top-notch for seven months, I was fired again.

After this, I wanted to go to church. Sadly, my relationship had been broken by churches who still believe in “Don’t ask, don’t tell:” I was not harassed, but my story was not worth telling. It’s a pure accident that I stumbled upon Heidelberg. Here, I’ve found a family that has not only accepted me as I am, but embraced me for who I am. This congregation is an embodiment of Jesus’ love for all, but especially those scorned and rejected by society. That is the spirit in which we hold tonight’s performance.

Musician and trans issues activist, Tara Jean
Musician and trans issues activist, Tara Jean

The LGBT Center of Central PA Brings Programming to York

The LGBT Center of Central PA has been a fixture in LGBT services and advocacy since 2004, when a strategic planning group “broke ground” on the concept of having a regional community center. Over the last decade, programming and services have expanded to offering youth programs like the GSA Leadership Summit and the Common Roads Youth Group, Aging with Pride programs, the LGBT History Project based out of Dickinson College, Social and Cultural Programs like Lancaster Pride and Outreach and Education initiatives such as a lending library and the Silent Witnesses Peacekeepers Alliance.

For the last year and a half, the executive director of the LGBT Center, Louie Marven, and his staff have had their eyes on York. As Louie stated, “There is great energy here. Some amazing people and great programs like Equality Fest and The Curve [a youth group that meets out of Planned Parenthood Keystone’s York Branch] and the York PFLAG chapter [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York]. It clearly demonstrates there is a desire for LGBT specific gathering spaces and community here.”

And so, beginning in November, York will become the base for a new pilot program consisting of a satellite center based out of downtown’s Heidelberg United Church of Christ at 47 West Philadelphia Street. Heidelberg, led by Pastor Amy Schulz, is an accepting and affirming congregation which specifically strives to provide a safe space for LGBT Yorkers of all religions. By entering through a garden of congregation planted flowers outside the Beaver Street entrance on the side of the church, every Wednesday night, LGBT citizens of York and their allies can take part in original and York specific programming designed from surveys and focus groups made up of members of the York LGBT community.

Initial programming will include LGBT Parents on the first Wednesday, LGBT Men on the second Wednesday, LGBT Seniors on the third Wednesday, and LGBT Women on the fourth Wednesday. All groups will take place from 6:00 – 8:00pm and be free of charge. There will also be an LGBT book and DVD lending library on site and information about local and regional programs and resources.

As LGBT Center staff member and York County resident, Patrick Gann, who will be helping facilitate each group along with a local volunteer coordinator or coordinators said, “Common to each group, we’ll be having psycho-educational presentations, facilitated discussions, informal group discussion time, guest speakers, maybe a social night or movie night. Once a group is established, we would encourage the group members to give feedback to direct the programming of the group in one direction or another. The goal of each group is to provide supports specific to those audiences – networking, information/education, social support, and sometimes, just a place to vent, connect or hang out!”

For more information about taking part in the drop-in meet-up groups, to volunteer or learn more about York LGBT Center programs, feel free to contact Patrick Gann at pgann@centralpalgbtcenter.org.

LGBT Center of Central PA Director, Louie Marven, Women's Group Facilitator, Carla Christopher and LGBT Center volunteers with members of Common Roads LGBT Youth Group.
LGBT Center of Central PA Director, Louie Marven, Women’s Group Facilitator, Carla Christopher and LGBT Center volunteers with members of Common Roads LGBT Youth Group.

Reality…Revised. The Community Weighs In.

Yesterday I couldn’t help blogging about the new movie, Stonewall, depicting the Stonewall riots which were the start of the LGBT rights movement. The thrower of the first brick, and the hero of the movie, was changed from the African-American drag queen of reality to a young, white, traditionally masculine looking/acting man. I felt strongly that this undermined the harassment, the marginalization, the building frustration from multiple fronts that finally made the continually harassed LGBT patrons of the Stonewall Inn and members of the New York LGBT community stand up for themselves and fight back. I felt it too poetic license beyond the boundaries of cinema tactic and became disrespect and dishonesty. I wanted to check in with some other members of the community though, because part of me is still unbelievably happy that we live in an America where a gay-themed movie can at least be made and given mainstream theatrical release. As a very thoughtful Nancy Y. from Reading, PA stated

Everything’s perspective, so the white guy who made it is giving his, obviously. I’d say its worthwhile, if even only to that audience. I love to see foreign films and see the world through another culture’s eyes, so maybe others cultures can gain something from his, as well.

There are others, like York’s Bryan S. who found the movie a catalyst to do more research and was inspired by knowing anything more about the LGBT community.

Personally, I think that everyone should see this movie regardless of your stance on the “white washing.” This was the turning point in the LGBT movement and one of the reasons why the LGBT community has gained so much momentum quicker then other groups! (Having Larry Kramer on your side helps as well). Personally I think that they should have stuck to the racial groups that were there however, the event itself is very historical and a turning point so I really thing the movie needs to be seen solely off of that. I want to see it, but I also have looked into Stonewall a little and can tell you most of the people there were not white.

Reign T. of Harrisburg, PA and an LGBT person of color herself, had this to say;

If it was a completely fictitious story, then fine. But its not. As a queer woman of color, I find that we are far under represented in our community. Frankly, I’m fed up with supporting Hollywood’s fictitious renditions of History… So much so, that I wrote a poem about it. If I want to know more about what happened at Stonewall, I will read a book. Or ask my elders, because I now live in New York and volunteer with LBGTQ community organizations.

Want to know more about Stonewall? About LGBT history and experiences? Ask someone! Hopefully, ask multiple someones to receive as wide a perspective as possible. Here is a great list of LGBT films from Mic.Com that will give you some great insight into the history of the LGBT rights movement.

http://mic.com/articles/125779/10-queer-films-that-will-teach-you-more-lgbt-history-than-stonewall

Most importantly though, remember to greet everyone you meet today with respect, thoughtful compassion and true listening interest. We all have a powerful, and genuine story.

Reality…Revised.

This week’s hotly debated scandal on the message boards is the debut, at long last, of the eagerly awaited LGBT themed saga film, Stonewall. First, let’s catch everyone up with a little help of some Carla edited Wikipedia…

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community and their allies in protest of a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

LGBT Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-gay legal system. Very few establishments welcomed openly gay or transgender people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars. The Stonewall Inn catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be popular among the most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, masculine presenting lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. Violent and harassing police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn. They attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for LGBT Americans to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

Within a few years, gay rights organizations born from that movement, were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, June is known as LGBT Awareness or “Pride” Month and events are held annually throughout the world as close to the end of June as possible to mark the Stonewall riots.

A pretty amazing story right? The American Revolution revisited starring homeless youth and drag queens instead of Paul Reveres. The birth of an international movement. Power to the people in living, righteous color. Sounds like a great idea for a movie to me. I am just surprised it took this long. So why the question?

Let’s take a look at the character who throws the first brick, incites the riots and is generally the hero of the Stonewall riots in the MOVIE version.

StonewallMovie

Now, let’s take a look at the ACTUAL hero…

MarshaJohnson

Marsha Johnson was one of the city’s best known drag queens. In the early 1970s, Johnson and close friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR); together they were a visible presence at gay liberation marches and other radical political actions. In the 1980s Johnson continued her street activism as a respected organizer and marshall with ACT UP. With Rivera, Johnson was a “mother” of STAR House, getting together food and clothing to help support the young drag queens, trans women and other street kids living on the Christopher Street docks or in their house on the Lower East Side of New York.

In July 1992, Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River off the West Village Piers shortly after the 1992 Pride March. Police ruled the death a suicide. Johnson’s friends and supporters said she was not suicidal, and a people’s postering campaign later declared that Johnson had earlier been harassed near the spot where her body was found. Initial attempts to get the police to investigate the cause of death were unsuccessful. After lobbying by activists, in November 2012 the New York police department re-opened the case as a possible homicide.

Marsha also threw the first brick at Stonewall.

I, for one, think she deserves to be remembered.

A True LGBT Hero, with a Tale to Tell!

In the wake of Stonewall movies and memories, LGBT History month (did you know that’s what October was now?), and a looming election which will decide the Pennsylvania Fairness Act among other important issues, it’s clear that LGBT history is more important to remember than ever before. So who are the people truly telling the story? People like Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media.

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Mark is one of the founders and former president of both The National Gay Press Association and the National Gay Newspaper Guild. In the radical days of June 1969 New York City, Mark was one of the four members of the Action Group that organized demonstrations for three nights after the infamous Stonewall Riots. His personal accounts of that night appear in numerous history books. He was one of the initial voices in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and founded Gay Youth, the nation’s first organization to deal with the issues of gay teens and endangered LGBT youth.

Like many grass roots activists who realize that stronger protections are needed, Mark turned his energy toward bringing change to the political establishment. Again, his fearless voice and bold tactics made him a force to be reckoned with. Few candidates running for election in Pennsylvania go through the state without a courtesy call with Mark or — in the case of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — an interview in the Philadelphia Gay News, which Mark founded in 1975 to promote connection, education and the free and fair dissemination of information for and about the LGBT community.

Still going strong, in 2012, PGN won an unprecedented 10 awards from the Local Media Association — the largest number of awards given to any LGBT publication by a mainstream journalism organization and in 2015 they received 11? Mark was recently inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association’s Hall of Fame and was appointed a member of the Comcast/NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Board where he advises the entertainment giant on LGBT issues.

markbook

With all of that history behind him, at the request of friends and fellow activists, Mark finally sat down to record his eagle eye view of American LGBT history in a new book available now, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality.

Over the years, people have suggested that after 40 plus years of working for LGBT Equality, I might have some stories that could add to our History. After re-reading my first draft it surprised me how many issues through the years I had been involved with. The first non-discrimination bill in Congress, founding the first Gay Youth organization in America, the work I did to end invisibility on Network TV, marriage equality (a great story about how it managed to happen in Pennsylvania a year before the Supreme Court ruling), and of course building one of the first LGBT affordable Senior homes in America. It overwhelmed me.

This October, honor the lives and spirits of those who have gone before, who have worked so visibly, so tirelessly and so courageously to ensure safety, visibility and possibility for LGBT Americans. We salute you Mark, one of Pennsylvania’s own, and those who worked beside you. Happy LGBT History Month everyone. More heroes to come!

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Get in the PIPELINE!

When the very cool Jamie Martin first got in touch with me about the Pipeline Project, I was shocked there was something going on I hadn’t heard about. Especially because it was something that sounded like SUCH a great idea. But it turns out that Pipeline is a group that stays mostly behind the scenes, helping others shine. Well, I think it’s THEIR turn in the limelight. So…what exactly IS Pipeline?

The Pipeline Project is a recruitment, retention, and leadership advancement initiative. The initiative’s goals are to produce programs and engage in activities that together represent a long-term effort to increase the number of people of color working within the nation’s LGBT rights, service and advocacy sector, and ultimately increase the level of diversity in the leadership of our movement.

So basically they are a group for people trying to help the LGBT persons of Color community. They train the trainers – teach them how to be heard, how to organize and how to get work done in the government, business and nonprofit sectors, among others. Their goal is to see more LEADERS from minority communities in the LGBT movement. After all, aren’t we all about wanting the lesser heard voices to have a seat at the table?

The Pipeline Project has some awesome programs…like the The 21st Century Fellows Program. It is a year-long program for LGBT people of color managers currently working at human rights, service and advocacy organizations, with an emphasis on those working at LGBT organizations. By working with specific individuals, the provision of leadership development support for people of color managers within LGBT organizations coupled with opportunities for those managers lets them connect with and learn from each other. Then there is the Organizational Change work.

The Pipeline Project works with organizations using individually-tailored processes in the style of strategic planning to assist managers, Executive Directors and Boards in understanding the historical and contextual reasons their organizations have had difficulty attracting and retaining people of color staff and Board members.

They even have a careers in the LGBT community website with jobs from across the nation!

I couldn’t be more excited to have Jamie and the team working here with several Pennsylvania organizations and I love being able to present them as a resource for businesses, LGBT community leaders and people seeing careers in the field of LGBT service and advocacy. Then them out at

http://www.lgbtpipeline.org/.

Happy Voter Registration Day!

October 5, 2015 is the last day to register before the November 3rd election. Today, September 22nd, is National Voter Registration Day however. It’s now easier than ever to register to vote – you can do it on-line, right from the comfort of your own home! Just go here:

https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/Pages/VoterRegistrationApplication.aspx

Less than a month ago, Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortés launched an online voter registration system, making Pennsylvania the 23rd state in the nation to do so. The new system makes it so easy to register to vote, there is no reason not to do it. Please, if you are not registered to vote and are reading this post, register today, on National Voter Registration Day. If you are already registered, help get a friend or family member registered to vote. the deadline to vote in this November’s election is November 3. And last, but perhaps most important of all, vote this November.

November 3 will determine York County’s next slate of County Commissioners, Judges, School Board members, and many other elected officials whose work directly impacts your day-to-day lives. This November will also determine the next slate of Judges for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court…and those are the people who will be hearing cases and making final decisions about issues like what groups of people are protected by non-discrimination laws and protecting marriage equality against challenge.

Please, be involved. Register to vote today.

Keeping Connected in LGBT York!

The LGBT community have been masters of social media since its earliest days. Remember message boards? AOL and dial-up? Chat lines? Well, social media of the new millennium is still a great way to keep connected with what’s happening in the southcentral PA community. In person connections still feel more, well, personal to some. You have those options too! Here are a few easy ways to get and stay connected if you have the love, but are lacking in or want to know more about, the community. Just wanted to make sure as many people as possible know about the cool stuff waiting for you in and around York.

The nearly 400 person Facebook group, PA LGBT events is a fun and positive place for event posting and promotion. Lots of the events are from this area and the moderated format keeps it on topic. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1431152210447639/

Want a slightly more adventurous take on the LGBT community? Try that Facebook group LGBT nightlife in Pennsylvania. It can be Philly heavy, but there are still plenty of closer events worth checking out when you’re up for some fun.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1385022511797461/

Another, even more locally focused, option is LGBT in York. LGBT in York was founded in 2010 as a group for people in York, PA who identify as LGBT to network and build community. Commonly referred to as “Gay Club”, the group meets every 1st and 3rd Thursday at First Capitol Dispensing Co. (57 N Pershing Ave., York) at 7 PM. Additionally, group members often hold holiday get-togethers and volunteer with other community-centered events. All LGBT in York meetings and events are open to anyone who identifies as part of the LGBT community. They also have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lgbtinyork or you can email lgbtinyork@gmail.com. There are about 10 members involved regularly plus plenty of others float in and out and newcomers are always welcome with open arms. It’s about 60/40 men to women and ages range anywhere from about 30 – 60 years old. Make sure to check them out!

Looking for a woman only social experience? MeetUp is still a happening place. There isn’t a York group yet (who wants to start one???) so as a result, the Harrisburg Lesbian MeetUp group has plenty of York representation. Basically, this is a group for southcentral PA area lesbians and those who love them. It’s a chance to get out, meet like minded ladies, have some fun, make some friends, explore the area, laugh a little or a lot, and get off the couch or out of the office for a bit. They try to have a relaxed atmosphere in this group, and make a point to welcome women who are lesbian, bisexual and pansexual and have strict policies prohibiting bullying of any kind. This isn’t a dating group, just good old fashioned networking and getting a chance to meet new people.
http://www.meetup.com/OUT-and-About-Harrisburg-Area-Lesbians/

This is just a sampling of the buffet of possibility, community and connection out there. Happy friendship-ing! I’ll do what I can to keep the resources coming and hey, if you know a great faith community, social gathering or activity, festival or service that I haven’t profiled yet feel free to email me at poemsugar@gmail.com and I’ll post it!

Equality Activists Spread Love Overseas!

Local poet and spoken word artist, Dustin Nispel, and his fiancee, performance poet, Jessica Flynn, have been selected as a dynamic duo to attend the annual Ditet e Naimit International Albanian Poetry Festival in Tetova, Macedonia. Why is this so amazing? Because in addition to being incredible performers, they were highlights at Equality Fest for 2 years in a row and because Dustin and Jess are a powerful set of community activists for Equality in all it’s shapes and forms. It’s amazing to know that two York born-and-bred Equality activists are being recognized on an international stage. York has talent that is just THAT good!

With appreciative love given to photographer, Daniel Walczyk. All rights reserved.
With appreciative love given to photographer, Daniel Walczyk. All rights reserved.

Dustin and Jessica were recommended for the honor by former Berks County Poet Laureate, and United States nominating committee chair, Craig Czury, who says this of the couple; “They perform their poems together and separately, and are a total power force of poetry.”

“We hope to represent our culture and our country.” Dustin said to me. “We want the world to know what York, and what the U.S. urban culture, has to offer.”

Dustin, the winner of the 2014 Capital City Slam Competition among tons of other competitions is the author of The Tower from local printing house, PoemSugar Press/Community Arts Ink (www.communityartsink.com). Jessica is the author of the forthcoming book, Through The Cracks, also from PoemSugar Press. They make up two-thirds of the ownership of local gallery and retail space, The Rooted, fast becoming a creative anchor in the emerging “WeCo” (West of the Codorus, for the uninitiated) community on York’s west side, where they hold poetry readings as well as art openings. The Rooted has also been integral in bringing art to the community by being a partner in the 2015 Creekfire festival series and partners with local charities such as St. Jude’s Children Hospital and The York Rescue Mission and many others in efforts to raise donations and drum up local interest and support.

I was curious, how does a poet, the kind of person who often falls outside of the more political or technical aspect of things, become so passionately involved in working with marginalized communities – ones who doesn’t even belong to. Dustin said this; “Poets are often held in higher regard in other cultures because of their empathy and emotional insights. For example, it was the custom of ancient Middle Eastern rulers to consult the court poet before going to war or taking other important actions. It is imperative that we support our community as they have supported us for all of these years. It is important that we use our voices to lead and motivate positive change.”

Dustin and Jessica, have been writing and performing since high school and serve as frequent mentors and speakers at local schools and community organizations. They consider themselves primarily spoken-word artists. Unlike more traditional poets, they focus more on drama and delivery than form or guideline structure. And their often rapid-fire delivery and raw emotion stand in contrast to the more formal contemporary poetry style popular in Europe.

Jessica – who began writing poems secretly at 13 as a way to cope with a tough adolescence – also wants to start workshops for people to use poetry as an outlet for emotional pain and a vehicle for personal growth.
“If they could just pull out whatever is inside of them and find their passion, poetry can change their lives,” she said. “That’s what it did for me.”

Readings hosted by the Rooted occur every 2nd and 4th Friday at the Rooted, at 101 N. Newberry St. Dustin and Jessica are also seeking sponsors to make their trip to Macedonia possible. They have set up a GoFundMe at gofundme.com/DustinandJessica. Individuals or organizations seeking more information can contact the duo at dnispel@gmail.com or at therootedart@gmail.com. Learn more about Dustin and see some cool performance footage at http://www.denpoetry.com/

US

Life Lessons from Veronica Lush!

In my last blog I introduced you to Yorker turned Baltimore title holding drag performer, Veronica Lush, also known as V-Ron. Miss Charm City Triple Threat 2015 gave me a great primer into just SOME of what it takes to be an award winning queen, but it turns out she has learned a lot along the way about how to be an amazing person and mentor as well as a performer. I thought those lessons were just as important to pass on, especially because there are still young people now going through the trials Veronica did.

Lush4

When we talk about Baltimore, in my personal experience, I’ve had mostly positive times. I don’t mean to attack anyone, but York was not very friendly to me when I had come out. There was a lot of bullying, to say the least. I’ve never had that happen to me here in Baltimore though. The mayor is a great supporter of the LGBT community. There is also a huge yearly pride event which takes place an entire weekend.

When I was in high school I wish I would have had someone to help stop and prevent the bullying. I was not the only gay person, and definitely not the only one bullied…It was a huge problem and had a lot to do with my dislike of going to school. When I performed at Equality Fest in august, I met some kids that had similar experiences going on in their school. I’m glad that I got to be there to show them that it happens, and it does get better. They told me they reclaimed the word “Freak” as their own, which is what I also consider myself and my drag. Being normal is boring, #Freakzilla. It would have been nice to have someone like that, or just to have someone tell me its okay not to be ‘normal’ while I was growing up.

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I wish I could say this is the first time I have heard an LGBT or minority or differently-able beautiful young person mention that, even in today’s supposedly more liberal climate, bullying and discrimination are still very real things. I wondered that seeing a more accepting alternative community was part of the drag world’s appeal. Don’t we all need a place where we can feel safe just being ourselves and having fun with that?

I didn’t really expect to find this kind of community. I’ve been accustomed to being kind of an outsider but I was fortunate enough to find the right people as soon as I started here. It’s become a form of a second family. I am lucky enough to have my entire [nuclear] family support my drag, and now they even welcome a lot of my drag family as their own too. It’s not what I expected at all, but I’m very lucky to have found it. It’s been one of the biggest driving forces to keep me going and trying to go bigger and more bad ass every time.

But what initially drew me in – being able to have an outlet for creativity. I can have a transformation. A complete mind, and body change. I can be whatever I want to be, and be as goofy as I want.

Well sweetie – be however you want to be…and have a great time with it. You’ve earned it!

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