Monday, June 13, 2011

Check it out!

Our friends over at CAR passed along some information on a great new project they're working on, the Lucille Marie Hamilton Youth Center:
Save the Date! July 1, 2011 at 7pm - 800 Scott St. (inside First Presbyterian) The grand opening of the first EVER LGBTQ and ally youth center in the state of Arkansas! Join us for the dedication of the Lucille Marie Hamilton Youth Center! Lucille was an amazing young woman who was a founding member of CAR's youth program DYSC. She left this world all too soon. Lucie's mom Karen Thompson will be on hand to cut the ribbon!
The Center is going to be a drop-in safe space for LGBTQ youth in Little Rock and will be having its grand opening in a few weeks. If you're in town, I hope you can make it to this special event! Check out CAR's facebook note for more info!

love and solidarity,

Monday, June 6, 2011

and then there were pictures

it's me again. looking for pictures of pride? check out the log cabin democrat.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

You Haven't Lived Until You've Watched a Drag Queen Perform in Downtown Conway

Hey y'all. I hope your summers are off to a great start. And happy pride!

As you (hopefully) know, we celebrate the month of June as LGBTQ Pride Month. Why June, you ask? Contrary to popular belief, it's not because the sweltering heat gives the gay boys an excuse to take their shirts off (I kept my deep v-neck on, because I'm just modest like that). It's because 42 years, June 1969, a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, an underground gay bar in New York during a time when our queer forebears were victims of legal persecution, sparked violent demonstrations that we remember as the Stonewall Riots.

And so every June, we gather together in our towns and cities as a community to express our love, pride, and solidarity as LGBTQ folks and allies. Here in Conway, we've been celebrating Pride for eight years. Our Pride festivities are organized by a Stonewall survivor and his husband, John and Robert from the Pink House, true pillars of the central Arkansas gay community. There's a great crowd of Hendrix kids staying in Conway this summer, and today a bunch of us headed over to the Pink House to march in the parade and join in the festivities. The heat was outrageous, but we didn't really mind. (OK, I minded, but I'm just not used to this kind of heat/humidity!) I made cookies to share with any protesters we ran into (check out these posts on my personal tumblr for more about my decision to greet the protesters with love and compassion), but there weren't too many. Just one family who don't eat sugar but were happy to hand me a pamphlet. They didn't really want to chat, and that's fine. I hope they got felt like they did what they needed to do today.

There were a ton of people there to celebrate, though. It was really heart warming to see all our queer brothers and sisters (and straight allies!) who braved the heinous heat to celebrate who we are as a community. This year in Unity, we'll be exploring a lot more what it means when we call ourselves the/a queer community. For now, in honor of Pride, I'd like to hear from you, my dear Unity members (and friends). What do you celebrate about our community? What do you see in it that makes you proud? I can't entice you with delicious treats over the internet like I can in meetings, but I'm sure I can think of a special reward for any one who answers in the comments section of this blog.

Happy Pride, friends!
In love and solidarity,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beauty in Simplicity

Hey, gang! Today, we have an "invitation story" that keeps things short and sweet. Enjoy!

I probably should have realized I was bi way before I actually did. I had always had crushes on girls, but within the first couple of months of my sophomore year of high school I started dating this guy. Naturally I thought we would be together forever, so I ignored any other impulses. I got to college, broke up with the guy, and for the first time in three years I was free to look around. And there she was. My closest friends from high school had been rabid LGBT rights advocates for years, so it wasn’t hard to tell them, but I was a little more worried about my parents and brother. I told my dad in a ridiculous roundabout way, and he ended up being totally fine with it, but I should have known that he wouldn’t be the biggest hurdle. It’s been more than a year, and my mom still is not a huge fan of my identity as a bi person. She was initially so confused about it that she ended up talking about it to a large number of my aunts (I have 11 total), and now I don’t have any idea who I’m “out” to in my family. It made family gatherings a little weird for a while, but then I decided that until I’m ready to tell people, it doesn’t matter who knows. I’m happy and confident in my identity, and I’ll still be that way when my family comes around.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Silence and Stories Told

Today we have something of a compound entry, addressing two different news stories that have a lot to say to one another.

Yesterday was the National Day of Silence, a nationwide grassroots effort by students in middle school and up to bring attention to anti-GLBT harassment and bullying. The event was sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and more than a hundred thousand people registered on the website confirming their participation. Recently, more than ever before, members of Unity had reason to take notice of the silence that pervades the lives of some of our friends and allies. Just a couple of weeks ago, we made some new friends from another school who found themselves in the difficult position of choosing to remain silent about their identities and their truth, or face a lot of controversy and possible disciplinary action at the hands of their school administration. They expressed feelings of fear, frustration, insecurity and sadness - feelings under whose weight they had been living for a long time and continued to live; the light at the end of the tunnel seemed like a long way off. It's easy to forget, at a school like Hendrix, how difficult and even dangerous it can be for GLBT individuals and allies to speak up for themselves and those they love. All too often, it can be their loved ones who don't want to hear the truth. While it's important to remember and commemorate the silence of the members of our community who have to embrace it for the time being, there's a lot to be said for being loud, under the right circumstances. On that note, I'll transition into a fun news story about someone who has renounced silence and experienced an incredible change of heart that led him to take up advocacy on behalf of the community he once worked against.

Louis Marinelli once worked for the anti-GLBT advocacy group "National Organization for Marriage." Don't let the name fool you - they're very much against marriage in all but one form, but you can read their creed and some of the other things they lobby for on their website. Anyway, back to Louis - he was on NOM's payroll as a public relations rep, in charge of coordinating their Facebook page and trying to establish a network of grassroots support through social media. Last summer, Louis helped coordinate and rode along on a bus tour that traveled around the country holding rallies in support of "traditional marriage." At every stop, they were met with a handful or two of their own supporters and, in almost every case, greatly outnumbered by peaceful counter-protesters - gay and lesbian families with children, couples and their friends, siblings, parents and allies. Courage Campaign, a GLBT advocacy group based in California, had reached out to organize the gay community in each of the cities where NOM stopped by sending some representatives on the road to follow the NOM bus. (These adventures are amusing and moving and can be found cataloged here.) The Courage representatives engaged in conversation with Louis at a few stops, and that's where he says he started to wonder what he was doing there. That's right - as a direct result of looking into the faces of the real people whose rights he had been working tirelessly to take away, and as a result of hearing the firsthand stories and feelings of members of our community, Louis Marinelli changed. On April 8, he resigned from NOM, shut down the Facebook page he had been moderating for them, and released a series of public statements saying that he was proud to retract all of the hateful, ignorant comments he had made and would immediately begin working to undo the work he had done. 

Louis is living proof that the things we say and the way we live our lives out in the open can and does make a difference. By just being ourselves around our friends and family, and taking the extra steps to have respectful, informative conversations with people who don't agree with us, we can ensure that no one we know can ignore our struggles by claiming ignorance of the issues or saying they don't care because they don't know anyone who would be impacted. We can end the silence of our brothers and sisters, as well as our own, by knowing when and how to speak our truth to anyone who will listen. Discretion is, of course, very important; we know that it isn't possible for many of us to be frank with certain people in our lives, but this doesn't mean that we should give up on ever reaching them. As Louis has proven, with time, patience and respect, we can win.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Confidence a Lifetime in the Making

Hello, friends! For our first official post, we have an "invitation story" submitted by a member of Unity. All invitation stories will be anonymous in order to preserve a safe environment for our contributors who may not wish their identities exposed to those they haven't invited in yet. (Any other optional pieces may be attributed to their authors.) Nevertheless, we hope you find these stories of courage and constructing confidence in identity encouraging and inspiring.  Enjoy!

My coming out story is one that is very complicated.  It took me years to finally tell my family that I was in fact gay.  Part of it was out of fear since I am the type of person who over-analyzes everything, and I fear how people perceive me. Although I will tell someone if they ask and I generally am open about it among friends, to this day I am still cautious about revealing my sexuality to others. My sexuality is not something that I am ashamed of by any means, but it is something that I want people to learn about me after they have met and interacted with me.  But this is not the only thing that inhibited me from coming out when I first recognized it in myself.  My family is full of people that have varying views on this kind of issue: my mother’s side is fine with and highly supportive of homosexuality but my father’s side is not as open.  Even now, my father still is unaware of my sexual orientation to the point where every time that I see him, he asks if I am seeing any girls.  It is not just him though, that entire side of the family makes horrible remarks about homosexuality any time the topic is approached.  I always remained quiet and externally void of emotion while on the inside I was a raging tempest of resentment, mortification and desolation.  I remain in between these two worlds, but going away to college has alleviated the stress of this situation.  It also gave me the courage to formally come out to the world.
            It all started in seventh grade with the mix of hormones.  My parents had gone through a rough patch for the past two years at this point and divorced in the middle of the year.  This hit me particularly hard since it was the time in my life where I was beginning to find who I was.  This turmoil coupled with my emerging attractions for some of the guys around me caused me to retract myself even more.  I was internalizing anything and everything so my friends pretty much had no idea what was going on and thought I was still the same happy person.  It was at that point that a childhood friend of mine was also struggling with his identity.  His name was Aaron and was my first boyfriend.  We both were very secretive about our relationship to the extreme that no one knew but the two of us.  We helped each other with our issues as the time went on, but his family moved away not long after we got together.  We both panicked and ended our relationship; we saw each other occasionally but we grew apart from each other fairly quickly.  At this point, I had admitted my sexual orientation to myself, but the thought of other people knowing terrified me.
High school had come along at this point and I remained secretive about everything.  I had a fair amount of friends, the majority of which were girls.  Some even tried to date me, but instead of telling them, I just went along with everything till they realized that nothing was going to happen between us.  The school years were busy and the summers were scattered with volunteer trips and vacations.  A few in particular were eventful, I met my second “boyfriend” in New Orleans after Katrina hit, but he never wanted to admit his sexuality to himself.  I never heard from him again after that week; I still think he convinces himself that nothing was present between us.  Two summers after that I went to Europe for three weeks and met my third “boyfriend” which resulted in a similar story.  No one on the outside knew about my relationships or interactions with guys at this point.  At this point, senior year of high school rolled around.  My friend Andy (he was still unaware of my sexuality) had met this guy named Alexx and wanted to introduce us since we had similar tastes in pretty much everything.  We hit it off really well, for the first few weeks of our friendship, we stayed up till all hours of the night talking about lives and school and pretty much everything.  He was the first one to ask me about my sexual orientation, and I was not sure how to respond.  I had admitted it to myself at this point, but I was not sure how he would take it since I had never mentioned it to anyone outside of a relationship.  Truth was, he was perfectly fine with it since he was gay too.  I had begun my relationship with my fourth boyfriend. The problem was he lived in Toronto, Canada and I had never had a long distance relationship before.  For the rest of senior year, we talked and played games together over the Internet.  He would show me his art through Skype and I loved every piece he created since all of it was in an art style that I loved.  He would help me with problems that stemmed from my father since he was about to get remarried, but that is a totally different and very long story.  He was super excited when he found out I had gotten into Hendrix and was all for me going to the school.  Over the summer, he ran into a rough part of his life where he would be gone for weeks, needless to say it tore me apart.  However, it gave me time to find myself and realize who I wanted to be before I got to college.  Alexx recovered from everything and was around all the time again before I moved to Hendrix.  After I moved in, he was so excited to hear about everything like my roommate, where I lived and what kinds of people lived around me.  Andre (my roommate and best friend) and Emily (My best friend who I had known since elementary school) became really close to me the first few weeks of college.  Since I had been talking about how they were great friends, Alexx had added them on Facebook to get to know them too, but I was still sure to keep the fact that he was my boyfriend hidden since I did not want to destroy the friendships that I had made.
I had joined the gay-straight alliance on campus to see what it was like to be out in society partially because Alexx had hinted that it was about time that I come out to everyone.  The meetings were great and I had a lot of fun.  Before I knew it, it was time for the annual coming out week on campus.  Something about that week spoke to me.  So the Saturday before the week began, I had asked Alexx his opinion on how I should come out.  He was ecstatic that I was finally going to do it and said that I should do it soon.  I then took the weekend to think about it and finally on that Monday, I saw Emily on campus and told her that I needed to talk to her later.  A few hours later in my room, I came out to her to which she responded, “I thought so.”  I was surprised by her response since I did not think it was that obvious.  Later on, I told Andre and he was very supportive of everything.  So, throughout the week I walked around campus with the “hello my name is…” stickers on with varying degrees of being displayed since I was still concerned with other people’s perceptions of me.  Emily and I had already decided that we were going back home for the weekend to go to a festival in our hometown.  I had talked to my mother throughout the week to plan this and the conversation had gone back to coming out week multiple times.  She asked periodically if I had something that I needed to tell her, which I responded, “I don’t think so.”  Finally on that Thursday she openly said to me that it was ok to be gay.  I was taken off guard and decided still to wait.  Finally one that Sunday a few hours before I left to go back to Hendrix, I came out to both my mother and my brother.  My brother said that he had known all along and my mother was slightly shaken, but she recovered and is still very supportive.  Alexx was so happy for me since I had finally admitted it to the people around me.  A lot of my high school friends found out over time and were totally ok with everything; they all told me how much they supported me. 
Things with Alexx went downhill a few months after that till the point where we mutually ended everything.  These things happen though and life moves on.  I have felt more confident than ever now that I do not have to guard this secret with my life.  I have been openly gay now for a year and a half and I have never felt better.  I am still surrounded by people who support me and care for me every day.  All along I had nothing to worry about since pretty much everyone I have mentioned my sexuality to has been completely fine with it.  It just goes to show that the mind can make things a lot worse than they actually are, but it is there for a reason.  I guess my story shows that everything does get better. I had my share of hard times, some worse than others, but I pulled though to the point where I am happy with myself and with the choices that I have made.  I may still have my share of roadblocks in the future, but that is part of life.  It would not be worth living if you could get anything and everything that you wanted.  The challenge to live drives us on, for some of us it is inherently harder than for others, but we must persevere until the end!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Welcome to the family!

If you're reading this blog, you're most likely either already a member of Unity or have been directed here by a member of our community. If by some chance you've just stumbled here, allow me to make some introductions.

This is the blogging space for Unity, the Gay-Straight Alliance at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Unity works to establish a community of respect and support for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, or non-identifying as well as heterosexual students who wish to participate in the GLBT community as Allies. Through outreach, activism, and community building, we hope to contribute to an environment of openness and safety in our school community, in the greater Arkansas community, and in our various hometowns and home states. Here on this blog you will find posts on various topics such as news relevant to our community, opinion and reflection pieces by members of Unity, and stories of how members of our community came to invite others into the truth of their lives as members of the GLBT community.

We speak of "invitation" as opposed to "coming out" for a number of reasons, which will be enumerated in a future post (stay tuned!). In the meantime, the goal of this blog will be in keeping with the goal of Unity - to encourage reflection and thoughtful, respectful discourse among members of our community and between our community and others.

If you have questions about the Hendrix community or Unity, or would like to submit an entry, whether a story, editorial, or simply an open-ended topic for discussion, feel free to email us at Happy reading!