Type your search keyword, and press enter

Learning By The Books – Martin Library Has A GSA?!?!

Martin Library
Martin Library

Martin Library is one of my favorite places in York. Every age, race, economic status level, ability level…everyone comes to the library and feels welcomed and engaged. I’ve gotten to be personally involved in some of their especially dynamic student program, like Y.E.S. (The Youth Empowerment Summit, a full day conference for students from all over the county), the Martin Library after-school program in partnership with the City of York and their annual poetry competition. Imagine my delight and surprise when some of the students I met at the library told me about a program that the library started but that is very much student driven and student run, the Martin Libray G.S.A. I got the chance to chat with Youth Services Director, Reed Apostal, about the program and its impact on York area students. Awesome and not surprising, some of the enterprising students wanted to add in a few words themselves!

Martin Library’s GSA is a student-driven Gay-Straight Alliance that focuses on hanging out and collaborative projects. Their first project was making a support/informational zine. It meets every other Wednesday at about 6:30pm in Martin Library’s Teen Forum. The next meeting will be 6/10. You can find more information right now in the Teen Forum, and we’re looking at starting a Facebook page to share information. The formation of the group was inspired by Erin and Meghan, two of our student leaders, who noticed lack of LGBTQ+ support at their school and wanted to create an environment that would promote tolerance and friendship. Goal: Create a local safe place for LGBTQ youth to hang out. This really is an example of a student-driven program – they asked for it, they found a meeting time, they picked some projects, and they started bringing friends and building the group. It’s been really exciting to see it come together.

Back in “my day” (we won’t use specific numbers) men and women would live whole lives repressing or simply not knowing or understanding their sexual or gender identity beyond what was expected of them by the social norms of the time. If a someone came out, it was as likely to be after a couple decades of married life or thoughtful singlehood before striking out on the LGBT road was even viewed as a possibility. Thanks to a culture of acceptance and the availability of media, among other things, saavy teens are exploring their identity and demanding recognition in a way many would not have been able to before. It’s all kinds of 2015.

So what does LGBT awareness look like for teenagers (the group is just for students, ages 13-18, although adult speakers or presenters can come in)? FUN! Stuff like ‘Safe Space + Dress Day'; a day that people can come in and try on clothes – dresses, suits, shirts, pants, regardless of gender or current self-expression where you can try out a new style or type of clothing in a safe, welcoming space. Creating a support board and a zine. This is a modern take on activism and a fresh, broad-minded new approach to reaching LGBT youth.

So where does this program fall in terms of the library’s duties or priorities? Why now and why at Martin?

The GSA at Martin is a student driven organization that embodies teenage activism. Martin library = visible home base for local teens. WHY NOW? WHY NOT?! This falls right in line with the other Youth & Teen Services Martin offers, like TAB (Teen Advisory Board), writing, video/board games, anime, art, and book clubs, poetry competition, monthly parties, Batteries Not Included board game tournament, Blockbuster Books, Summer Reading Club, YES (Youth Empowerment Summit) and more. As the students say, the activities are all about ‘new friends, free snacks, acceptance, meeting like-minded people and fun activities.’

Well said Reed! And kudos to the brave, beautiful and fabulous teen leaders who are stepping up to the plate to make York a better place for us all.

I’m a super cool, average York teen. Oh yeah, and my Dad is gay.

Emma is absolutely awesome. She’s stylish, talented, bright, insightful, a mature conversationalist and really fun. Her Dad is also James, a school board member and a gay dad who was highlighted in last week’s two-part article. I wanted to catch up with Emma though, and get the perspective of an absolutely all-American teenager who plays in the band and attends Catholic School … and who has a gay parent. This is what Emma had to say.

311569_3830853604510_2092018216_n

Emma and her dad, James
Emma and her dad, James

“For me having a gay father is actually a relief. That sounds very weird to say but the idea of having to deal with another masculine and straight man on top of my step father sounds terrifying! Up until I think age ten, I never really used the word gay to explain my father due to the fact that I didn’t know what that word meant and didn’t care. My dad was my dad. That’s it. When I got older, however, I started paying attention to his relationships with men which, for the longest time, I thought were my dads different roommates he shared apartments with. I also heard my mom’s talk with my stepdad about my father. That’s where I heard the meaning of being gay and how it was connected with my dad. I never disliked my dad for liking guys. I appreciated him for creating his own path and ignoring the social norm. I still admire him today for embracing who he truly is. My earlier statement about finding masculine guys scary is probably due to not having a straight father. I don’t find that upsetting because I see how it’s like to have that kind of father by watching my stepdad. I much rather have my dad who is not only my best friend but truly defines the term for daddy’s girl. He proves that you don’t need that straight father figure to learn what a true relationship is suppose to be like.

Having a gay father has helped me learn the meaning of being yourself and what love is. He also helped me to see what I should look for in relationship and how it is to struggle to find your soulmate. I also learned that I don’t have to identify myself as anything I don’t want to be to fit into my Catholic school or friend groups. I find a huge part of myself in my dad, including his selflessness and positivity that I admire so much.
I also learned to love myself and my background. I know how to handle the questioning after the many friends I had to explain my life to. It’s actually pretty funny watching their faces as they try to process it all. I learned to be more accepting of others and how to be more understanding. I can’t imagine being like other people I know who do not accept homosexuality. When they tell gay jokes it offends me personally and takes me time for me to remember that others weren’t raised like I was. I believe my life is a blessing and isn’t damned by God like many say. I am Catholic but I accept love as love and see homosexuality equal and as deserving of the same rights as heterosexuality.”

311569_3830853604510_2092018216_n

Absolutely beautifully said Emma! Love is love, at any age and across any color of the LGBTQIA spectrum.

Your Vote Matters!

Primary day is coming up, and no, we aren’t talking about elementary school or primary colors. We are talking about the day that many races are decided and that the candidates are chosen to compete in later races while others are left behind and unheard. Its not a presidential year, but that is what makes your voice even MORE important! For example, here in York City, more than 43,000 people live here but less than half of those people are registered to vote. Guess how many will actually make it out on voting day? Only a couple thousand. Elections are literally won or lost by a few hundred votes, sometimes an few as a handful. You can and DO make a huge difference in the political races that affect your everyday life. I don’t care if you vote Democrat, Republican, or standing on your head…as long as you can reach the “cast your vote” button. Just please, get out there and make your opinions matter!

The Capitol Stonewall Democrats are a local organization that rates democratic candidates on their gay friendliness and activism. Here is a great breakdown of candidates that the Capitol Stonewall Democrats have chosen to endorse in the 2015 election cycle so far. (And no, I am NOT just posting this because they chose to endorse me for City Council…although I would love it if you voted for me 😉

http://capitalstonewall.org/2015_Endorsements.php

The Log Cabin Republicans of Pennsylvania are sadly no longer active so I wasn’t able to get a similar set of recommendations from the Republican side but please, take the time to do some research. With issues like marriage equality, hate crimes, discrimination, equal pay and more still up for political grabs, we can’t afford to let someone else make our decisions for us. As my mama always used to say, if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

10569080_329648697245739_2267730009616032788_n

Better Than A Smoothie – The Gay Blended Family! (Part 2)

We started talking with James Sawor in my last post. He is the dad of an awesome teenage daughter, Emma, and we spoke a little bit about how a gay man ends up with a biological child, a phenomenon we see a lot more often than people seem to expect in the LGBT community. Hey, stuff happens! And what a joy it is when it brings us the fabulous adventure of a child. James was also a teen dad, and is also part of a blended family filled with complex and intricate relationships AND very diverse religions that require plenty of balance, compassion and patience to make work.

How did your family respond to gay and teen parent announcements?
“The impending parent announcement came first. My mother was excited to have her first grandchild. At the time her youngest son was just 10 years old himself. My father on the other hand had a heavy outburst of anger. The anger was understandable. I was always given much freedom by my father who was the custodial parent. That freedom had been abused. I was a bright, high achieving child, on my way to be the first in my family to attend college. On coming out as gay, my cousins and friend’s reactions were, “I always knew that.” My mother’s family, the Mennonite side, was just confused because they still to this day do not understand what being gay is. The worst reaction was being voted out of my church. Coinciding with my coming out period, the church had changed pastors. The new pastor decided to hold a vote to have the church leave the Mennonite USA denomination because of their liberal leaning conversations at convention regarding homosexuality. This was in the early 2000’s. Since then, the Mennonite Church has not altered its position against homosexuality, but the fear mongering that the pastor brought to the congregation caused a vote that even my family members voted in favor of leaving the denomination. To this day I still identifies as Mennonite, but I have never returned to the church which now operates as a Bible Church. The family all embraces my new family though, and for the most part we all work together helping each other.”

James with his mother.
James with his mother.

How is the relationship with Emma’s mother?
“Emma’s mother and I are truly great friends. We support each other in many ways and given that they have been friends for 17 years, it is not surprising that sometimes we disagree on things, but our support is unwavering, even when we are angry at each other, or do not believe that the other is doing the right thing for our daughter. We talk it out and make sure that there are no lingering hurt feelings. I truly respects her as a woman, and an educator. She is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and deserves to have a great life, especially considering being pregnant at 15, working several jobs to put herself through high school and college, but still graduating with honors from high school and Gettysburg College. She is now on to her Master’s degree, and is a well respected teacher in the county.”

How is integration with partners?
My current partner and I have recently reunited from a separation, but never stopped being close friends. We consider our 3 children to be all one family, which includes Emma’s half sisters who went to school with my partner’s son. They have had integrated birthday parties and interactions for years now, including the kids and both mothers. I feel that life is all about the kids, and doing right by them. I remain friends with most of my previous partners. Most will ask how Emma is, whether they met her or not. I have always tried to keep my relationships mellow and family focused, for fear that by hiding a part of me, I would be doing a disservice to allowing my daughter to see the normalcy of gay relationships. During the recent separation, dating was of high concern because it was the first time since Emma was of dating age herself that not being in a stable relationship was an issue for either parent. In the end the desire to reunite the family was more important.

James and his partner, Dominique.
James and his partner, Dominique.

As If Parenting A Teen Wasn’t Enough?!?! (Part 1)

Anyone who has a teenager knows that they can be challenging, thrilling, shocking and inspiring…all in the same day. James Sawor is a 33 year old man who has been out for 13 years and is in the 7th year of a relationship that recently reunited after a challenging time of rediscovery for both partners. He is a hardworking dispatcher for first responders, a union secretary and even a York City school board member. He’s gay. And he is also one of the coolest dad’s I’ve ever met of an utterly fantastic teenage girl named Emma. So how does he balance helping to run the city and being the dad of a super active teenager while still navigating being an LGBT activist in a relationship? Balance and commitment are the keys to everything!

james 1

James grew up pulled between a Mennonite family and a Catholic family. He ultimately chose to be Mennonite when he was 14 and was extremely active in the church. James feels he had little concept that people were actually gay, and that it wasn’t just something you did. He had always been teased for being gay, but the bullying did not affect him the way it does so many youth theses days because he had little concept of homosexuality. James feels he first knew he was attracted to males when he was 7 years old. He had some interactions with school friends, camp friends, or friends in the neighborhood, but never pursued anything more than physical contact because he didn’t understand that someone could be in a relationship with another person of the same gender. Growing up he had plenty of childhood girlfriends. Once he began attending HACC after high school, he better understood “being gay,” by interacting in chat rooms but this was after James was 17 and he had his first love, a high school sophomore girl. They were together for nearly 4 years while both worked at discovering who they were. While the two were together they had a child who is now 15 years old. James came out when his daughter was still a baby.

Emma is now a 15 year old student who is interested in forensics, journalism, and animal science. Emma has chosen the Catholic faith, but considers herself a free thinker. She is an honor student as both of her parents were. Emma is the oldest of 4 girls in her household with her mother and stepfather. She has a blended family between both her mother and father’s families and yes, we will talk to her next week!

james 2

So how did a boy who had been exploring his gay identity from the age of 7 get a kid?
“I believe that sexuality is fluid, and is on a scale such as Kinsey, yet love is not always directly connected to sexual attraction. I was a virgin when I began dating my daughter’s mother. That inexperience led not taking the correct precautions to avoid pregnancy. I told my daughter’s mother about my attraction to guys during the relationship, but guaranteed her that I loved her. Which was my truth.”

What is it like being a gay parent?
“I don’t see any difference between being gay parent or a straight parent. Just because you are gay does not make you any different as a parent. I have spent a lot of Emma’s life as a single noncustodial father. Being a noncustodial parent is taken for granted. It is hard because you do not want to violate the rules of the regular household, or spoil the child in a way that would make it harder for the other parent. Often you are seen as more of a friend to the child than as a parent by the other parent. That is not true. Even if you disagree with the rules of the custodial household you have to bite your tongue because you do not want bad blood.

The main challenge was not related to being gay, it was related to being a teen parent. I was accepted to all of the universities I applied to, as far away as Oklahoma, but chose to stay behind and be with my daughter. The biggest challenge was the fight that ensued between myself and Emma’s mother when I began dating my first boyfriend. There was bad blood for a few months, but it all passed when we realized that our friendship was more important than the now obvious conclusion that we would not reunite.”

What are your worries for Emma?
“My worries for Emma are that she would have to explain how she came to be from a gay father. I don’t want Emma to have to consider that her parents did not love each other. My biggest fear is her understanding what a stable relationship looks like. As a father I want her to have friends and be sociable.

If the subject of her parents comes up, it is more often regarding their youth than their sexuality. I believe the most confusion for us is from strangers who think that Emma is older and I is younger or even that we are dating. The smaller difference in age than normal is a source of humorous frustration for the two of us when in public. Most of all, my biggest worry is that Emma will get in trouble through her school for standing up for what she believes in. This is Emma’s reality, the only one she has ever known. I have never attempted to hide being gay, and doesn’t recall ever needing to have a conversation with my child on the matter. It simply is.

james 3