7th Annual LGBT Heritage Month

By Charles Chan Massey, Co-founder and Executive Director, The Personal Stories Project
May 31, 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 7th Annual LGBT Heritage Month kick-off event earlier today at the Los Angeles City Hall.

Community members Alexandra Billings, Michael Kearns, Sara Ramirez and Alexei Romanoff were honored, each giving powerful remarks to the audience.

Alexandra’s words, in particular, struck a chord with me so I’m sharing a portion of her remarks below.

“I’m a trans person of color. I’m an ex-sex worker and I ate out of the dumpsters of Burger King so I know what it is to have absolutely nothing. And now I’m on a TV show. It makes absolutely no sense and I only say that because I understand what gifts truly are. And how divine they are. How inspired they can be. And how truly humbled and grateful I am for the gifts that others have given me.

I stand here a trans person of color. I carry all of my brothers and sisters in the past with me so I don’t stand alone. There were many voices silenced in the 80s. The suicide rate for transgender youth is 62%. And when we kill ourselves, we throw ourselves off bridges, we hang ourselves in closets and we shoot ourselves in the head. We’re dying, ladies and gentlemen, and we need your help. We do not need you to speak for us. We need you to speak with us.

I’ve run into many people in my life who say ‘I don’t see color.’ I’ve seen that many times. They say ‘I don’t see race.’ Here’s what they mean – they see everyone as white. That’s what they mean. I have run across people who say ‘I don’t see transgender and I don’t see LGBT.’ If you don’t see my transness, you don’t see me. I’ve worked too hard and too long. It’s not a choice I made – my transness, just like my color, is not a choice I made. It was something I was born with and something I carry proudly.

I want to leave you with one last thought. This is a speech that’s easy for us to make, all of us, because we all agree with each other. There’s no one here in this room that’s thinking ‘oh my goodness, those people are wrong and should be sent to jail; those people should be marginalized.’ This is a safe place.

We’ve got to get out of this place and go to the unsafe place. We’ve got to gather ourselves together as a group. That’s revolution – when we can talk to those who don’t agree with us and who do want us dead and do want us marginalized – those are the people that are ill-informed, spiritually bankrupt. We have to help them the best way we can with education, with compassion, with kindness, and with a revolutionary spirit that bore the LGBT community from the beginning of time. We come from revolution. We don’t have to drum this up. This is who we are. It’s in ourselves.

It’s in our spirit. It’s in our molecules, it’s in our footsteps; it’s in how we paint, how we speak. You would not have art if it were not for the queer community, so we know how to do that. We can create revolution. Let’s change the world.

CLICK BELOW for video of Alex’s remarks. 

LGBTQ Pride Month, explained

A month of celebration, protest, and political activism.

This year, probably more than ever, it’s important that we remember where we came from. This excellent article by German Lopez says it all. CLICK HERE for the original article on Vox, which will open a new window.

Get ready for the rainbows. June is LGBTQ Pride Month, which means Americans around the country should expect some colorful marches throughout the month as people make a stand for equality.

In recent years, the month has been marked by celebration — over the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, as well as some of the other progress made in LGBTQ rights in broader American politics and culture. This year, Pride celebrations fall in a markedly different atmosphere. Although LGBTQ advocates have seen big gains in recent years, the election of President Donald Trump and state-level initiatives against LGBTQ rights — such as bills in North Carolina and Texas to stop transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity — have shown just how fragile these gains can be. The less friendly political climate, however, is in line with the original Pride marches, which were often protests — not celebrations — in response to the violence and brutality that LGBTQ people faced at the hands of their fellow Americans, police, and the government. It speaks to the mixed nature of LGBTQ Pride Month: It’s a time to celebrate a person’s true identity, but it’s also a time to stake some ground in the ongoing political and cultural battles for equality.

Pride celebrations began to commemorate a pro-LGBTQ uprising

The first march came at a time when Americans were considerably less accepting of LGBTQ people. Back in the 1970s, Gallup found Americans were evenly split on whether homosexuality should be legal in the first place.

That first march, back when the events were known as Gay Pride Marches, took place in New York City in 1970 in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots.

Through the 1960s, it was fairly common for police to raid gay- and transgender-friendly bars. But in June 1969, LGBTQ patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City decided they had enough and refused to cooperate with police. When police tried to arrest and allegedly mistreated the bar’s customers and employees (including trans women of color), four nights of rioting commenced. Police and protesters were injured, and dozens were arrested.

“Police brutality (particularly NYPD raids of gay bars, nightclubs, and bathhouses) had been documented in New York City since the beginning of the century,” Kevin Nadal, executive director at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, previously wrote in an email. “So, by 1969, LGBT people were quite fed up with this unfairness and decided to fight back.”

A year after the riots, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee held the first Pride March.

Fred Sargeant, one of the original organizers of the march, recalled his experiences in the Village Voice. The idea, Sargeant explained, was to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and move away from a conservatism that had mired LGBTQ organizations, such as the Mattachine Societies, that led the movement at the time.

“Before Stonewall, gay leaders had primarily promoted silent vigils and polite pickets, such as the ‘Annual Reminder’ in Philadelphia,” Sargeant wrote. “Since 1965, a small, polite group of gays and lesbians had been picketing outside Liberty Hall. The walk would occur in silence. Required dress on men was jackets and ties; for women, only dresses. We were supposed to be unthreatening.”

Sargeant pointed to one particular situation that inspired him and his partner, Craig Rodwell, to do away with the careful approach: “When Craig returned from Philadelphia [from the 1969 Reminder], he was blistering over an incident: Washington Mattachine’s Frank Kameny told two women holding hands that there would be ‘none of that’ and broke them apart. This physical act confirmed for Craig that we needed something much bigger and bolder than the Mattachine Society.”

Breaking through that conservatism, however, proved to be difficult. The Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee had to negotiate with a dozen small LGBTQ organizations to give everyone a seat at the table, and the committee had to leverage the mailing list Sargeant and Rodwell had built up after they opened one of the nation’s first gay bookstores.

Sargeant recalled the first march as much more of a protest than a celebration. There were thousands of people, but there were no floats, music, or scantily dressed men. Marchers instead carried signs, chanted, and waved to reportedly surprised onlookers.

Nadal said the first march showed society that LGBTQ communities existed and included family members, friends, and neighbors. And it helped encourage other members of the LGBTQ communities to come out and be proud of who they are.

Pride celebrations spread over time

The knowledge and outrage of the Stonewall Riots gave LGBTQ advocates the momentum necessary to turn their cause into a true nationwide movement.

“Before Pride and Stonewall, there really wasn’t a comprehensive LGBT movement,” Nadal wrote. “Stonewall really was the first time that demonstrated that protesting and rioting and fighting back actually worked for the LGBT community.”

Indiana University sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Suzanna Crage explained that the reaction to the police raid at Stonewall Inn — the riots — resonated with LGBTQ people. After centuries of oppression, they understood why people would feel the need to react violently to yet another sign of discrimination and oppression. The Stonewall Riots, in other words, came at an exact moment in which social dissatisfaction and other political elements converged to push forward a larger LGBTQ movement.

It took just a few years for the movement to spread across the country. On the same year of the first Pride March in New York City, marches also took place in Los Angeles and Chicago. The next year, Dallas, Boston, Milwaukee, and San Jose took part. By 1972, participating locations included Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, the District of Columbia, Miami, and Philadelphia.

As Kameny later described, “By the time of Stonewall, we had 50 to 60 gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least 1500. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was 2500.”

Since then, the LGBTQ movement has grown even further. At first, LGBTQ Pride was typically celebrated on the last Sunday of June as Gay Pride Day or Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. Over time, that day grew to a month of events for all LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ Pride Month is now a mix of celebration, protest, and political activism

LGBTQ Pride Marches in the US have become much more celebratory in nature over the decades, with more attendees, participants, and organizations taking part each year in the events.

There’s good reason for the positive outlook: While Americans were divided on the legality of homosexuality in the 1970s, a majority now support same-sex marriages, and marriage equality is legal across the US following a Supreme Court decision.
Those victories, however, have been met with a backlash in recent years. In 2016, North Carolina passed an anti-LGBTQ law that banned transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and prohibited local ordinances that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination — a law that was only partially repealed after the state’s Republican governor was voted out of office later in the year. Several states, including Texas, have proposed similar measures.

The election of Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress have also highlighted the potential dangers that a mere change in government can present for LGBTQ rights. The Trump administration, for one, already rescinded an Obama-era guidance that asked public schools to protect transgender students from discrimination, telling schools to let these students use the bathroom and locker room that align with their gender identity.

So Pride events in 2017 have largely become about the resistance to Trump. On June 11, the Equality March for Unity and Pride will make its way through Washington, DC — much like the Women’s March and March for Science did in response to Trump.

But the political activism of Pride isn’t just about Trump. Even before Trump, the US has by and large turned a blind eye to discrimination against LGBTQ people: It’s not explicitly illegal in most states to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and schools. This means that a person can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, kicked out of a business, or denied the correct bathroom facility just because an employer, landlord, business owner, or school principal doesn’t approve of the person’s gender identity.

There are other issues as well. As a few examples, advocates point to LGBTQ youth homelessnesshate crimes, health issues like HIV/AIDS and Syphilis, the unique problems LGBTQ people face in the criminal justice system, and various other disparities.

“We don’t have full equality throughout the nation,” Jim Williams, who worked with New York City Pride, previously told me. “Although we’re very pleased with the progress that’s been made, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Pride Month highlights these issues by giving advocates a chance to rally supporters. The Pride Run, for instance, each year raises funds for a different LGBTQ organization. This year, contributions are going to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which helps LGBTQ people. In the past, the run supported the Anti-Violence ProjectBroadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, the It Gets Better Project, the Ali Forney Center, and Immigration Equality.

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(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In New York City, there are also huge historical overtones going back to the Stonewall Riots. New York City Pride, after all, arguably represents the birthplace of the world’s modern LGBTQ rights movement. That’s why march organizers closely follow the advice of the Stonewall 50 Committee, a group that is working toward commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, to stay true to Pride’s original intent.

The celebration of LGBTQ Pride has also spread to many more events than just a march. New York City’s Pride group, for instance, plans to host a public rally, a festival, public dances, and even a family movie night.

Participants “need an opportunity and a place to celebrate, to play, to feel comfortable, to dress how they want to dress, to march with their friends,” Williams said. “There’s something very empowering about walking down New York City streets with crowds of people cheering you on.”

 LGBTQ Pride Marches are also international, including in countries where the public remains much less supportive of LGBTQ people. In those places, the marches still act as one of the very few ways advocates can show their solidarity and support.

Where can I attend my local LGBTQ Pride March?

For a comprehensive list, GayPrideCalendar.com tracks all LGBTQ pride events.

If you want to participate in one of the biggest LGBTQ pride events of the year, check the list for New York City, San Francisco, Montreal, London, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo, and Buenos Aires. It can be a lot of fun!

Stay Out of This. It’s None of Your Business


Photo credit: The Georgia Straight

Author’s note: I originally posted this a year ago today and, unfortunately, it’s still timely. Possibly even more so than it was just a year ago. As I write this I am on the final episode of Dustin Lance Black’s “When We Rise,” the epic miniseries that chronicles the modern LGBT civil rights movement from the Stonewall riots to the present day. For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it. CLICK HERE to watch on ABC.com. And share this link with your family and friends – “When We Rise” is a must see for anyone who identifies as a member of the LGBT community, for those who identify as allies of our community, and, frankly, for anyone who’s human. Let me know what you think after you watch it – send me an e-mail to .

“Stay Out of This. It’s None of Your Business”

“For the record, Charlotte passed a non-discrimination ordinance, not a ‘bathroom bill’ as folks have been calling it. The legislature saw this as the excuse they’d been looking for. But it wasn’t enough for you to punish Charlotte for being ahead of the curve. You took your deadly game to a whole different level. This hateful new law will not only cost the state of my birth business. It will cost lives. Bullies will hear a message that it’s OK to commit acts of violence against the LGBT community. Members of the LGBT community will take their own lives because the message they hear will tell them they’re not worthy of living or that it’s simply not worth it to live as their authentic selves. And you, Gov. McCrory, and Lt. Gov. Forest and your colleagues will have their blood on your hands. The entire GOP arm of the NCGA is just as guilty of what the bully will do as if they threw the first punch, just as guilty of any deaths that occur as if they killed them themselves. Yes, this is that serious. McCrory talks about ‘government overreach?’ If anyone’s guilty of that it’s y’all.”

I posted various versions of this comment, this particular one on North Carolina Speaker of the House Tim Moore’s official Facebook page as well as edited versions on those of Gov. McCrory and Franklin Graham last week in response to some of their posts trying to defend themselves for disseminating hate.

Responses have varied, ranging from “It’s none of your business” to “You’re sick, please get help,” along with the usual expressions of concern for my safety from friends and family members. While I appreciate everyone’s concern, I can’t and won’t stop talking and posting and here’s why: you attack my community, you attack me. It doesn’t matter that I live in California nor, frankly, that I’m from North Carolina. It matters to me as a human being who happens to also identify as a member of the LGBT community.

A good friend contacted me this morning for advice about how to politely yet firmly turn down business in North Carolina. I sent my friend verbiage from communications I’ve had with folks from what I refer to as the “affected areas” where I have politely and professionally let them know why I won’t be going out of my way to do business with their destination and what it will take for me to re-evaluate my current policy.

That discussion ultimately led to me sending over these quotes:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemöller

and

“I need to fight for what’s right. I need to fight what I believe in and I can’t just stand back anymore. Maybe that’s why this all happened. Maybe this is part of the reason, is to open my eyes and to inspire me to want to make a change and want to fight for equality. I just don’t know if people will listen. But I guess no one’s going to listen if I don’t talk. So I’m talking.” – Shane Bitney Crone

I then closed our conversation with this – “I’m going to keep talking until they make me stop. Maybe not even then.”

This is why I do what I do. And this is why I’ll keep doing it.

Originally posted on March 28, 2016 by CHARLES CHAN MASSEY on his personal Facebook page.

Blog

Thanks for visiting our website! This is our first official blog post, an updated version of one originally posted on Charles Chan Massey’s personal blog in May 2013.

We plan to utilize this page as a discussion forum to share our journey and will also feature guest bloggers who will share their insight as well.

How I Became an “Accidental Activist”

Charles Chan Massey

“It has been said that sharing personal stories is one of the most effective ways to change people’s hearts and minds”. Shane Bitney Crone

Although it may seem like my life is pretty much an open book this is probably one of the most personal stories I have ever shared in an open forum.

Enter with an open mind and an open heart.

This is my story. And I’m sticking to it.

Charles

My partner (now my husband) Joseph and I took a quick trip to New York in April 2013. We had been working hard over the previous several months so I decided to treat us to a few days of vacation in the Big Apple. In truth, I’d actually had the whole trip planned for several weeks and I sprung it on Joseph at the end of a meeting in Palm Springs.

We did the usual touristy stuff – a Broadway show (we saw “Mamma Mia!”), went on a tour of the NBC Studios, had dinner at Tao, etc. Lucky for us, we also happened to be in New York during the Tribeca Film Festival and I was able to snag a pair of tickets for a screening of “Bridegroom”, a powerful documentary that has become a part of my journey.

Before I go further I’d like to back up a few years to where I believe my journey actually began, on a flight Joseph and I were on from Washington, D.C to Chicago.

It was a Sunday and we had stayed over for the weekend after a conference. Our upgrades had come through and we were comfortably seated in the first row of first class.

About a half hour or so into the flight the lead flight attendant came to our seats and said she wanted to introduce us to someone she knew who was seated nearby. That “someone” was a retired flight attendant named Alice Hoagland. If her name isn’t familiar to you perhaps the name of her son, Mark Bingham, is.

Mark is one among a group of heroes credited with commandeering United flight 93 on September 11, 2001 and bringing it down into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania rather than what was likely its intended target, the United States Capitol. It just so happens that Mark was also gay.

His heroism, along with his athleticism and masculinity, served to debunk gay stereotypes for many Americans. Alice had been in attendance at the Human Rights Campaign dinner and had accepted an award on her son’s behalf. We instantly connected.

I was deeply touched by her story. We shared some laughs, some tears, a hug or two, and exchanged contact information. We kept in touch for a few years via e-mail but eventually lost contact.

In early May, 2012 a video entitled “It Could Happen to You” went viral on the Internet. It is the true story of a young man’s tragic, accidental and untimely death and all that his partner went through in the aftermath.

Somehow it didn’t make its way to me until May 27th. I shared it on Facebook, commented, cried and shared, then got so busy with my own life once again that I didn’t think about it much for a while.

On July 22nd I received a very interesting Facebook message from the daughter of a high school friend. In her own words:

“I came out to myself when I was 13, but I only came out to my mom two and a half years ago, when I was 15. The road since then has been a long and bumpy one but it has been a journey that I’m glad I have been given the opportunity to embark on.

As we were talking it out that first day your name came up. She said her best friend had a gay brother and that he was one of the kindest and most successful men she had ever known. It still took her a while to become okay with me being gay but I feel like if she hadn’t known you, she would still be holding back to this day.

My dad still does not know, nor does most of my family, but I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I get there. I believe you helped me through a situation that I might not have been able to get through on my own, and for that, I just wanted to say thank you”.

I felt gratified that my story had somehow touched and helped another person, without me even knowing. Once again, I responded back, we kept in touch, and yet again I got busy with my own “stuff”.

In February of this year I received an e-mail from my youngest sister. Again, in her own words:

“Remember my friend whose house I got married in? Well…she has a 14 year old son who is gay – just coming to terms with it in the past 6 – 8 months. Such a different time now. Youth are so much more tolerant today thank God! Anyway…u should friend her. Love you…”

I was touched by the story of her son’s coming out to her, a story of acceptance, love and social progress. So I sent her a friend request, we started “liking” one another’s posts and finally started communicating directly around the end of March. By the way, that friend, Sara Christie, would soon become co-founder of the Personal Stories Project. Who knew?

If you’ve read this far you’re likely thinking “if it was a snake it would’ve bit him”.  And you’re right. These stories were changing something in me, affecting me, calling me to action. All the signs were there but for some reason I wasn’t seeing them.

That quickly changed, also in March 2013.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s hearings on Marriage Equality Facebook became an endless sea of red and white “equal” signs in varying shapes and sizes. I could see it all around me. Activism was alive and well and gaining momentum!

At about the same time I started seeing posts announcing that “Bridegroom”, referenced above, would premier at Tribeca. It’s a documentary based on “It Could Happen to You”, that first story which touched me so deeply.

I knew I that Joseph and I had to be there. As I started to put together the pieces of the puzzle, all of the stories felt like signs that had been slapping me in the face to help, to try, to DO SOMETHING!

On April 9th I sent a message to a group of my Facebook friends. I announced that, although I have never considered myself an activist in any way, I felt called to work on a project related to both my business and personal lives that supports the LGBT community. I admitted to being both excited and a little frightened. I asked anyone interested in joining me to email me and let me know.

Almost immediately after I hit “send” my inbox began filling up with messages from all corners of my life. Gay, straight, young, old, male, female – you name it, all with messages of support. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction.

I wasn’t connected with Alice Hoagland on Facebook, but I was able to reconnect with her via email. I cut and pasted the message into an email and sent it off. Within about 15 minutes Alice sent me a message back indicating that she was “in” as well.

And that, my friends, was the moment I became an “accidental activist”.

I am still amazed at how much my perception of my life and purpose had changed by the time Joseph and I made our way to New York to see “Bridegroom”.  We were first in line so we got our pick of seats. Once the movie started my eyes were glued to the screen and the next 70 minutes flew by.

After the film we were privileged to participate in a Q&A with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the director and producer of “Bridegroom”.

In an unexpected surprise Linda announced that Shane Bitney Crone, the partner of Tom Bridegroom and the subject of the film, was also in attendance, sitting just a few rows in front of us. At that moment I realized that his story had so profoundly affected me I drew in a quick breath and I am absolutely certain that my heart stopped for a second or two.

At the end of the Q&A Joseph and I stood in line to speak personally with Shane.

If I could find any one word to use to describe Shane it would be “normal”. The fact that he had the courage to share his story has and will continue to change countless hearts and minds. But he’s just a regular guy. We chatted for a bit, exchanged handshakes and hugs, then Joseph and I left the theater and walked back towards Midtown and our hotel.

The next morning I reached out to Shane via Facebook message to let him know how profoundly his story had affected me. “You’ve touched my life in a way I don’t completely understand and your story has awakened something in me I didn’t know was there. For that I will remain forever grateful to you and Tom.” To my surprise, exactly 11 minutes later I received a message back from Shane thanking me for my support and kind words.

So here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – why am I telling you this?

I’m part of a group that is in the early stages of forming a social media based, not-for-profit organization that will use the power of story-telling to benefit the LGBT community. By providing support and a forum to those who have the courage to share their stories we believe that we can change hearts and minds about crucial LGBT issues and inspire people to activism, advocacy, and support for a broad range of issues – be they political policy or real-world needs-based initiatives.

This project is still in the early stages but I can guarantee you it’s going to happen.

If you’ve read this far and you haven’t seen it before Shane’s original YouTube video “It Could Happen to You” is in our “Videos” section.

I think you will agree that stories well-told are pretty powerful stuff.

We have a long and complex journey ahead of us. With the help of each of you, and all the folks I’ve referenced above, I have no doubt we can accomplish anything we set out to do and more.

I am grateful for the outpouring of encouragement I have received from so many people I have shared my story with thus far.

I wanted to give you an update on our progress and to let you know that I am more committed, excited, and dedicated to effecting change than ever before.

What very recently seemed like a dream to me will no doubt become a reality with the help of you all.

I’ll keep you posted as our project progresses, so stay tuned!

Best Wishes, Charles