Posts Tagged ‘LGBT’

This past Saturday was the day of our big agency fundraiser, Dare to Dream. I joke about it being the 9th time we were running an event that we meant to offer just once. I am asked each year to provide a “state of the agency” commentary to bring our donors up to speed on new and/or fun things that have happened in the past year since we last met. Our landscape for LGBT service provision has changed. Our expectations have changed. I’ve changed. Here’s why.

From Youth Outlook state of the agency, October 21, 2017:

I promised the board members I wouldn’t get sad and sappy while I was up here so let’s pick up where we left off last year. Last year at this event, four days after the election, we talked about community, hope, persistence and determination.

Eleven and a half months later, I can tell you that determination has only grown. I’d love to be able to say we’ve been unaffected by the changes but that wouldn’t be true. A few weeks ago, I even wrote an open letter to the Youth Outlook kids which you will hear in a few minutes. (https://urbantidepool.com/2017/10/05/an-open-letter-to-the-youth-outlook-youth/) While most of the responses to it were positive, one parent did tell me I was fear mongering and then told me I was living in a fantasy because the world has never been and will never be safe.

My first thought to that was –is it fear mongering when I tell you outright what I am afraid of or I repeat what kids have said they are afraid of? I’m not sure I understand your use of that word.

My next thought to that was Wow. We will always believe in safe space. I know what we’ve done in just this past year to create safe, brave space for kids who were struggling with assault, homelessness, rape, and thoughts of suicide.

It’s not like we’re wearing blinders. We know what we are up against. Any one of the staff team can quote Southern Poverty Law Center information that anti-LGBT hate crimes have increased across the country, moving us from the number 4 spot to the number 3 spot since November, outranked only by anti-Black and anti-immigration hate crimes. Anyone of them can tell you that according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators’ Network, we had seen national declines in verbal and physical harassment and sexual violence for several consecutive years, until 2015, when we saw an uptick in every one of those categories and we’re hearing stories that suggest we will probably see another increase in those stats when the 2017 report is released.

We know those things are out there. We’ve seen the Confederate flags flying in our neighborhoods and we’ve led conversations with our kids about white supremacy, privilege and violence.

You know what else is out there? One–A new, rural Youth Outlook drop in center. We put our heads together with a wonderful group of people from the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa last spring and before I could blink twice, we had a drop in center running there that became the second biggest program that we offer.

So that’s out there.  Two– We’ve successfully launched about one new drop in center per year. In a big year, we’ve done two, but those are the exception. This year, we’re averaging about one new request per month to come into a different community and open a another site. The need is there and people are responding to it in ways we have not seen before.

Three–About a month ago, we called together the first meeting of the leadership of the countywide networks of professionals that work with LGBT kids. The network groups are responsible for planning professional development in each of their locations. We started with one in DuPage County, then added DeKalb, then Kane, then Suburban Cook created their own modeled after ours, and now three other counties are considering joining this effort to keep putting accurate, positive information about LGBT kids out into the conversation.

Four–Last June, Youth Outlook had the busiest Pride month we’ve had in the history of the agency, as more corporations than ever asked us to speak for their events. We said yes—to everything. It was Pride month. We weren’t going to do sad and sappy.

In the background of those requests, I took a Friday afternoon off to plant some flowers in my back yard. Some of you have heard me reference my neighbors. They are a rough crowd. So here I am spending my Friday afternoon playing in the dirt, one of my favorite things, and I can hear the neighbors on the other side of my fence. It’s Dyke this, Dyke that, and hey how much fun is it to park that dyke next door into her driveway so she can’t get out past the fire hydrant and the end of my truck?  Yuk, yuk, yuk.

This is, unfortunately, not anything new. I’ve been listening to these people for several years. What was new this year was that it didn’t stop there. I did what I always do—I channeled my inner Michelle Obama and when they went low, I went high. I tuned them out. I tuned them out until one of them approached the fence near where I was working, unzipped his fly and urinated on the fence so that it splashed through on me.

It took two days for it to fully register with me what had happened. I am 52 years old. I have a master’s degree and I run an agency that helps kids. And that man called me a dyke and peed on me. I have to wonder—if it took me at 52, with my social network and my professional status, two days to be able to start processing that event, what about the 12 year olds whose families do not know who they are and they can’t dare say it? How are they managing these situations without support?

Later that week, Carrie, Carolyn and I all had Pride presentations to do. We had an agency to talk about and kids in six counties to support. We can skip the sad and the sappy. But by all means, let’s talk about determination. Let’s talk about defiance and standing up for ourselves and for our kids.

Let’s talk about looking around at what’s going on and saying not just no, but HELL no? This might have gone over in 1998 when I started working here. But now? This is not going to fly. We will not stop talking about what helps LGBT young people feel safe. Part of that is acknowledging what makes them feel unsafe. We will not stop talking about it, no matter how many times I am told that we’re living in a fantasy because we’ve already been told too many times that Youth Outlook IS the only safe space that some kids experience.

I believe we are in for some giant challenges in the coming year. That’s an opportunity for us to step up or step off.

Ask any one of us about this topic, determination. Stepping up is the only option.

boulder

This week I started my 20th year in my job running Youth Outlook where I (do my best to) support the drop-in centers and other services that we offer.  That’s a long stretch of time, especially when I stop to consider that when I started working here, most of you drop-in center kids weren’t even born yet. Matthew Shepard was murdered that week. We were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Kids were wearing bell-bottom jeans and some cell phones still flipped. Can you believe it?

We’ve done a lot of work since that time. There has been an entire generation of young queerlings who came before you and paved the way, people whose courage and persistence was—and remains– nothing short of heroic. I feel like I need to speak up this week, though, because we’ve just been hit with several positively vile things, despite all of that hard work we’ve put in.

You are coming out at a time when we thought we had made the world a little bit better, a little bit safer for you. Now I wonder if it feels like we offered you a world with an illusion of safety and now that you’re coming out, these positively vile things are dropped on your heads. I wonder if it feels like the world offered you a place to sit and the last nine months have wrenched that chair out from under you.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said it’s okay if you want to serve your country and a few weeks ago, our elected officials announced a ban on transgender individuals serving. That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it does not change the fact that we are going to argue your right to serve your country. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that trans people who are serving right now have been put on notice that they are not worth being allowed to wear that uniform.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you’re safe at your job and no one can discriminate against you simply for being LGBT. I’ve said that very statement to a number of Youth Outlook kids over the years. “You’re safe. You have a right to ask for a job there. Go git ’em!” Then a couple of weeks ago, our elected officials announced that they think it’s okay to fire someone simply for being LGBT.  That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to argue your right to hold a job and not be discriminated against in hiring and termination practices and in benefits administration. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that people will be fired in the interim and they have been put on notice that their skills and talents are not welcome in certain settings.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you have inherent value and you are important link in our interconnectedness. Then just a few days ago, our elected officials announced that the US voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a ban on executing LGBT individuals. Truly, truly unthinkable. We stood with countries who want to kill you. We did that. That is and will be argued, and even now the White House is attempting to “clarify” what it meant by voting NO, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed. But it doesn’t change the fact that we just made a huge public statement about our representatives’ profound contempt for queer lives. We did that. Right in front of you. Again.

In a year or four or six, you will leave your teenaged selves in the dust and go on with your lives in whatever is left of the world. You will be the next round of heroes because we will need you to clean this mess up. Since I’ve met you, I have no doubt you’ll do exactly that, as scarred as you will be from this viciousness.

It hardly seems fair, does it? It is a colossal universal joke. We told you the world was safe, then in almost the next breath, politicians advocated to take away your right to serve your country, to be free from discrimination, even to be a living, breathing being on the planet, while you listen to them debate your value—while you listen to them debate your right to exist. When this hateful bubble implodes, as we know it will, you’ll be here to take us to the next steps of our humanity, bearing your scars like badges.

It is unthinkable to me that we ask such a monumental task of you. If we could clap our hands over your ears or cover your spirits with our spirits, to keep you from having to absorb this vitriol, please know we would do that.

You will be the heroes. It is unthinkable to me that you wouldn’t be.

Until then, you have my hands and you have my heart~

Nancy

hands and heart jpeg

Pride 2016: Whiplash

Last week, I left home on a sunny Thursday morning to go to the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. I got a little turned around near the airport with all of the construction and had a hard time finding the economy parking lot, which I thought was kind of funny given the number of times I’ve been to the airport. It was a nice day. I was looking forward to my trip—2 ½ days of conferencing and new ideas and meeting fun, new people, followed by 2 days visiting my sister, whom I have described in previous blog posts as “a colorful character”.

I finally figured out the entrance to the economy parking lot and ditched my car in favor of the railcar to the terminal.  American Airlines buzzed at noon. I went right to the little machine and plugged in my flight number.  The machine couldn’t find me. Rut ro, Raggy.  Just to my right, two American Airlines reps chatted at the counter and one glanced over and asked if she could help.

“The machine can’t seem to find me,” I said. “Here’s my reservation info.”

Dutifully, she began to plug the information into her computer. As she was typing, I happened to scroll down a bit on my phone screen and saw that my reservation was just fine—AND with another airline. I started to laugh and she looked up at me.

“Oh geez! My flight is actually on United! I’m in the wrong terminal.”  The more I thought about it, the harder I laughed. She joined me. Then her counter-mate joined us and we all giggled together.  They wished me a great flight and a nice day and I headed over to the correct terminal.

Lines. Identification. Shoes off. If you fly, you know the drill.

“Step in, feet on the marks, raise your hands.”

The scan machines are so much faster.

“You moved. Can you step back in and we’ll do it again? It’s blurry.”

I stepped back in, put my feet on the Arthur Murray footprints and raised my paws above my head. The machine whirred in a half-circle and they waved me out.

“Please wait here until the scan comes up.”

I waited, idly glancing sideways to see if my belongings were coming through the x-ray machine. Not that I fly a lot, but same old, same old.

An angular, hard-looking TSA agent leaned toward me. “Do you have anything in your pockets?”

I shook my head. I know the drill. Nothing in your pockets when you get scanned.  I voluntarily turned my pockets inside out for her.

She looked back at the screen. “Do you have something in your groin area?”

I didn’t think I’d heard her right.  “I’m sorry. What?”

“The scan is showing a suspicious bulge in your groin area. Do you have anything there?”

Confused, I stared at her for a moment. “No. There’s nothing there.”

“What about your right ankle?”

“What about it?”

“The scan shows something there too. Look.” She pointed at the monitor positioned behind me, over my left shoulder.  I turned around. The admirably gender neutral stick figure on the screen had a bright box drawn around both its right stick figure ankle and its y-shaped, stick figure groin area.

What the actual fuck?

“So do you have anything on your ankle?”

“My sock,” I offered dryly.

“I’m going to have to pat it down.”

“Of course,” I agreed, not putting the whole picture together yet.

She reached down, running her fingers around the cuff of my jeans.  As I’d said, there was nothing there but my sock. When she straightened up, she said, “We’re going to have to pat you down.” She started to rattle off the procedure which involved a female TSA agent searching my body, placing hands in some very private areas.

That’s when it clicked.

It flashed through my mind and was gone in a nanosecond. I wonder how many other trans and gender queer people have come through this airport in the last two days to get to this conference? Are you trying to make a point? See if I’m packing? See if I have a penis and my ID doesn’t match my body? Do you want to make sure I’m using the right bathroom?

I didn’t look any different than I have and I wasn’t wearing anything I haven’t flown in for the last 20 years. I wear one kind of jeans. They’re my favorite. I wear one kind of underroos, also my favorite.  What an odd coincidence that we, as a country, are losing our collective minds over trans people and their right to dignity, not to mention bodily privacy, and the only person getting pulled out of line at that moment  was the only visible gender queer. Maybe it happened to people who weren’t gender queer. I don’t know that for a fact. What I do know for a fact was that I was on my way to work, and all of a sudden, I was required to allow a TSA agent to touch my groin.

I took a step back from her and sweat broke out on my forehead and the scruff of my neck. I felt my head jerk side to side convulsively, accompanied by a reaction of please don’t touch me. My breathing constricted and I couldn’t get a deep breath in.

The agent took a step closer to me. “Would you like to be screened in a private area?”

Yes.

NO! Please don’t take me somewhere and touch my body against my will!

I backed up another half step. Maybe I could just leave. I could collect my belongings and just go home. I could skip the conference. Another female TSA rep appeared at the first one’s elbow. Then a male agent called out something about needing a female to do a private screening and a third one appeared. All three of them faced me, as I stood with my back against the edge of the scan machine, sweat leaking down my temples.

“You’ll need to come with us.”

Could I? Couldn’t I just leave?  It wasn’t too far from the feeling of being with the father when he was arrested for DWI when I was eight and I was told I needed to get in the squad car with him, which was the equivalent of being arrested with him. I could have run then, too, but I had been concerned that I’d be the only fugitive in my third grade class. What if I turned around and walked out now?

A vision of being tackled and cuffed invaded my thoughts.  Was that what happened? Was declining a search and leaving ever an option? What were my rights in this situation? Cold, I realized I had no idea if they’d take me down or what my legal rights were.

The private screening area looked like an overgrown cubicle with a lid on it. I was directed in first, and the three agents followed me, lining up along the inside of the only door, barring my exit.

The young African American woman addressed me.  “Is there anything you want to tell us?”

What could I say? Please don’t touch me? I have nothing in my pants except myself? I don’t know why you’re doing this?  Except I did, because the machine told them there was something there…and this was their jobs.

What came out was, “I… I… this will be hard for me. I will try to stand still.”

Her eyebrows furrowed, then she nodded. “I understand. I’ll tell you everything I’m about to do.”  She held her arms out from her sides, palms up. “Please extend your arms like this.”

I stretched my paws out, also palms up. Cold helplessness sank to the bottom of my stomach like a heavy ball as I tensed all over. I realized my heart was racing.

“I’m going to start here with a pinching motion and work my way around.” She took hold of the band of my jeans.

Okay. Okay, I can do this. Just stand still. I can do this.

She finished searching the band of my jeans. “Please move your feet further apart. I’m going to move my hand up your legs. I have to touch your groin. I’ll use the back of my hand.”

My gag reflex caught. I closed my eyes, my entire body constricted now, and tears ran from corners of my closed eyes.

“Are you okay?” the first agent asked.  “Do you need a break?”

I shook my head.

“You want us to keep going and just get it over with?”

Yes. By all means. Please continue invading my body while I stand here with my arms out until you decide it’s “over with”. I have nothing on my being that you are going to find, so exactly how long is this going to take? The sound that came out was sort of a cracked croak which the agent, now kneeling on the floor, took to be an affirmation.

Hands. Stranger’s hands in places that no one gets to touch …except for those with consent or those who did not bother to get consent.

Focus. Focus. It’s almost done.

The agent on the floor finished running her hands between my legs and got up. “She doesn’t have anything.”

NO SHIT.

To me, she said, “You’re doing great. I just have to swab your hands and we’ll be done.”

When she stepped out of the room to get the swab, the first agent offered me a ragged paper towel and asked me quietly, “Are you traveling with someone?”

I shook my head, unable to look at her, tears still blinding me. Silly me. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring emotional support to get through having some stranger’s hands in my groin at the airport so I could get to work. I glanced around the overgrown cubicle, wondering how many other gender queer people had been rubbed down in this space over the past 24 hours. And how many other sexual assault survivors were systematically reduced to trembling idiots, blinded by their own tears?

The swab was clean, mostly because I so rarely need to handle physical explosives at my job as a social worker. Dealing with emotional explosion is much more our realm. Numbly, I wondered if I had somehow missed some headlines about a run of pudgy, middle aged queers smuggling explosives in their underroos.

The agent who had searched me opened the door. “Thank you,” she said softly, a 180 turn from her approach when she thought I had groin-related contraband.

I stumbled away, one sneaker still untied. Or untied again. I didn’t know. The gate seemed an inordinate distance away; the conference might well have been on the other side of the planet.  I could still feel echoes of strange hands. Someone bumped into me—or I bumped into someone—and I crawled further inside my skin seeking the off switch to my over-extended antennae. I fought the urge to keep repeating, “I’m sorry, please stop!”, as if that had been expected me the entire time and as if that might have had any effect.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be sorry about. Sorry for being at O’Hare? Sorry for having booked a flight that took me through THAT security gate with those particular TSA agents? Sorry for being comfortable in my gender queerness and having the nerve to show up at the airport that way? Sorry that I wasn’t actually packing and there was nothing between the agent’s hand and my groin except my clothing? Sorry that I had the gall to be looking forward to a 3 day conference of open queer-ity in a city celebrating Pride weekend? Sorry… just for being?

The fall from the high of looking forward to the conference ended with a tooth-rattling jolt in an overgrown cubicle with a lid. I’ve been a public queer for almost twenty years. I’ve been helping little queerlings celebrate who they are for almost half the time I’ve been alive. How dare I? How dare I show up at the airport wearing my favorite jeans and my favorite underroos, sporting my gender neutrality? As if this were Pride month… In 2016.

The conference was barely tolerable and I couldn’t wait to find quiet space. Focus. Breathe. Keep breathing. Find pride. I know it’s here somewhere.

My chest eventually opened up and I was able to start breathing deeply again until the news reports of Orlando and LA began. I hadn’t realized that my breathing space was merely the act of climbing the next incline, this time with a drop right off the edge as if the tracks simply ended. When the plunge began, and my antennae shot out so far I could no longer sense where they were in space or time, I had one comfort left.

I texted the Youth Outlook staff whose numbers I had with me. “Watching this story get worse and worse as the day goes one, thinking of my dream team and loving you guys from PA.”

Their responses to me and to each other lightened the day, lifted it, warmed the cold stone in my stomach. Love. Kindness. Support. Honor.

And pride.

Sometimes, our antennae shoot out. Sometimes, the bottom drops out or the tracks end and we drop several emotional stories. Sadly, maddeningly, it isn’t uncommon in queer worlds. It still gives us whiplash. But in the end, we have each other. There is love. Kindness. Support. Honor. And pride.

Grab a hand. We have such work to do in Orlando, in LA, in Chicago, across the country, in this Pride 2016 season, whiplash and all.

strength

 

 

Shy and Retiring

Posted: September 15, 2013 in Blog
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This week I was interviewed by the nice folks at Zen Parenting Radio (http://zenparentingradio.com/), Cathy and Todd, and they’ll let me know when the show will air. We spent about half our time together talking about my work with LGBT kids and the other half talking about Urban Tidepool, both the book and this blog.

It went better than most conversations in which I disclose being a social worker. You know the ones—where the person you’re talking to looks at you as if you’ve just said you have an infectious disease and responds with, “Oh, you must find that sooo rewarding!” because it’s nicer than saying, “Oh, I’m sorry you drive a rusted out old clunker with Flintstone brakes. What were you thinking when you picked a major?”

Social work as a profession is a curious experience. It’s the only profession I can think of where the people involved put themselves tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes up to $100,000, into debt to get a degree in order to get a job that doesn’t pay enough to allow one to live AND pay off the student loans needed to get the degree needed to get the job he or she just took. Do you see the dilemma there? Social work as a profession is so undervalued that sometimes people in the early stages of their career can’t afford to take job within the profession—or have to take two or three jobs to be able to meet their expenses.

In my last job in NY, my supervisor once asked if I’d heard of the social worker’s investment club. I laughed at her. I thought she was joking. When I realized she was serious, I walked out of the room thinking it was the best example of an oxymoron ever invented. Investment club? So we could retire? Most social workers I know don’t labor along the delusion that they’ll ever be able to retire. They plan to die at their desk, at which time they will be promptly filed in the manila case folder of whichever case they happened to be working on the time. It saves on funeral expenses.

That said, I have given some thought to options for my retirement, even before I got the brilliant idea to invest every free moment in writing a book. Occasionally, I go to meetings and share some of my strokes of genius with the other attendees. To date, no one has chased me out of the room with a butterfly net. I think, though, that secretly they may be jealous that they haven’t thought of these things.

My first inspired plan for retirement was the Chihuahua dairy farm. Picture that. It would be a low level of investment, because it wouldn’t need a lot of room— a herd of Chihuahuas shouldn’t take up a lot of space. My goal: produce Chihuahua cheese. I could envision lots of little stools where we would sit to milk the Chihuahuas and thimble-sized buckets for collecting it. It wasn’t until a friend was kind enough to point out that Chihuahua cheese doesn’t really come from Chihuahuas that I realized I probably needed Plan B.

When I finished grieving the loss of my faithful herd of Chihuahuas, I decided to try to tie my retirement plans to the few business trends I could see overtaking the human services profession. With all of this talk that the 90s brought us of one-stop shopping for all of one’s physical and mental health needs (what the hell happened to consumer choice?), I began to contemplate how professional women are forced to waste time on mundane appointments. Surely we could combine some of those appointment services into the one-stop model. I decided on the spot to go to medical school to become a gynecologist. When I was through with medical school, I would go through auto mechanic school. Another vision came to me—a women’s clinic where people could get their annual GYN exam done while at the same time, the oil was being changed in their car. I even had a name for it: Safety Smear.

The time commitment seemed a little daunting, all that med school and auto mechanic stuff. I kept exploring. When I enrolled in culinary school, I thought I had hit on the answer. My pastry chef training was about being creative and making beautiful things. Unfortunately, it also made me about as round as I am high, so that really wasn’t going to work. I had to ask my fabulous spouse if we could let a few things out, so I’d be more comfortable. She asked me which pants I wanted done. I told her I was thinking more about the doors of my car. That’s where we drew the line on the culinary retirement plans.

So here I am. I have a book written and I’m shopping for an agent. It hasn’t put me thousands of dollars into debt or forced us to let out the doors on my car. As retirement plans go, it seems more appealing than falling over at my desk and being filed with a copy of our annual audit. Just between us, though, I do miss the Chihuahuas.

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