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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.

mark1

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!

mark2