Monday, February 22, 2010

Words that Start with the Letter "i" like "impatient" and "inalienable"

In her State of the Union Plenary Address for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rea Carey said: "I suggest, to those who say don't push so hard, just wait — that sounds like advice from someone already enjoying the benefits of equality. Someone who can marry who they want; someone who can serve their country freely; someone who can enter a nursing home without having to go back into the closet; someone who doesn't have to face the indignities of filling out form after form, deciding if they will cross off "mother" or "father" and write in a new word just to reflect the reality of our families."

I was reminded of her address when my ipod Shuffle (it's as technologically advanced as I get...) rolled to Melissa Etheridge's "Tuesday Morning" while I was skiing this weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with the song, the lyrics are here:

and a live performance of the song is here:

The song is dedicated to Mark Bingham, one of the passengers who tried to stop the terrorists on board his flight on September 11, 2001. As a gay man, Bingham could not freely and safely teach in our schools, serve in the military, or be legally married; but he was every bit an "American" when he tried to save the lives of his fellow passengers.

To me, both Melissa Etheridge and Rea Carey are saying that "inalienable" rights are too easy for Americans to take for granted. And yet these rights are not inalienable for many Americans. The American Heritage Dictionary defines inalienable as "incapable of being taken away." But since lesbians and gays do not have, for instance, the right to legally marry at the state (in all but a few cases) and federal levels, it's impossible to take away what we do not yet have.

I do not enjoy being labeled "impatient" when I argue that the time for full fairness and equality under the law is NOW. I do not believe that we should wait until our issues are "politically viable" and I am not satisfied by looking at "how far we've come." I do believe that patience is a luxury I do not have. keeping with the title of the blog, how can I turn this frustration into positive change? Faith. Faith in my work and the work of others to produce change. I can have faith in the work that has been done in California and Massachusetts to challenge marriage equality at the Federal level. I can have faith in the power of the music of Melissa Etheridge to change hearts and minds. I can have faith in the power of my own conversations with folks. And I can have faith in the legions of allies who are straight friends, family, and students (!) who support full equality for LGBT citizens.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Personal IS Political: Or, Why Visibility is Important (Even When It's Difficult)

The first 4,000 or so times that I had to "come out," I would shake and my voice would quiver. Sometimes that still happens. However, I was reminded at the NGLTF conference of the importance of visibility, even when it's difficult or uncomfortable. Research indicates that attitudes towards gay folks are not really impacted by the number of gay people you know, but rather the types of connections or relationships you have with those people. So, it becomes very important for LGBT folks to actually HAVE conversations with people so that others can understand what issues of fairness and equality we face (in the absence of these conversations, people often assume that issues like marriage or employment non-discrimination are not that important to us!).

I also believe it's important to explain why the issues facing LGBT folks are not just "personal" or "private" matters. That is, to explain why "the personal is political."

First, I would argue that it's exceptionally rare that relationship issues or statuses are actually "private" for any of us. For instance, how many of us knew (or know, if we're still taking classes) each year when we started school whether our teachers were married or single or divorced or had children? I knew this information for all of my teachers growing up (and in college for that matter) from the stories teachers would tell in class and from family pictures displayed on their desks at school.

Second, being in a same sex relationship IS inherently political (and not just personal) for members of the LGBT community because we live in a society that is inherently unequal. Not only do we not have the same rights as heterosexual folks (e.g., marriage at the state and federal levels), but we do not have the same protections as heterosexual folks. For example, what happens if a gay or lesbian teacher tells a story about their family or has a picture of a partner and/or children on their desk at school? Rather than being illustrative of a point, or cute, or reassuring, or anecdotal, as it would be for the aforementioned heterosexual teachers, it becomes threatening. AND, in the majority of states in the US, this teacher could be fired without legal recourse or protection just because they are lesbian or gay. [This will continue until we pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in employment at the federal level.]

Third, while visibility is difficult and can be uncomfortable, invisibility is equally so. Not being able to tell the same stories anyone else (who is heterosexual, for instance) would about your family takes a toll on physical and psychological health.

I will continue to do my best to be visible and to not be afraid. And I will take courage from my friends who are straight allies. [Many thanks to my former neighbors (and current friends) who participated with their whole family (!) in a recent peaceful protest against homophobia in Cedar Rapids. LOVE your Facebook pictures from the event and love you!]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor

I'm working on a Letter to the Editor regarding marriage for same sex couples. It was back-burnered a bit by other things in life, and then I happened to pick up Iowa's LGBT newspaper with a headline about the importance of editorials (especially in light of the large, anti-marriage for same sex couples editorial that recently appeared in the Des Moines Register). Guess that was my sign to get back to work. I'm hoping to finish the final revisions this weekend and submit, probably to the Register, next week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Separation of State and Federal Rights from Religious Ceremony

Iowa has a fabulous resource organization (The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa) that makes it clear that same sex couples want the state and federal rights of marriage, but that providing equal civil rights does NOT involve requiring any religious organization to condone, sanction, or perform any ceremonies. In my opinion, that's the beauty of the separation of church and state: No one in a religious community needs to change their beliefs about homosexuality (everyone has a right to their beliefs), but they must recognize that the state and federal government (and not any religious organization) governs the actual rights and responsibilities of marriage.

If you'd like more information, check out the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa website at:

Peace, B

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2 Billion Lost

Just received the link to this video (again, sorry to ask you to cut and paste, but blogging from home with the snow):

2 BILLION in social security benefits lost because same sex couples cannot be married in the eyes of the federal government. Of the almost 1,400 rights of marriage, approximately 1,100 rights come from the federal government, including laws pertaining to immigration, social security, inheritance tax, etc. Because same sex couples are not able to marry at the federal level (with the Defense of Marriage Act still in place), we are not eligible for any of these rights, benefits, or responsibilities. For more information on the specifics of the rights at the state and federal level that come with marriage, see:

Kind People

Wow. I am so, so, so, so NOT a wedding planner. It's not pretty when an obsessive compulsive, anal retentive person no longer retains control of life or limb. (OK, slight exaggeration, but you get the drift.) Please send out a cosmic prayer, chant, mantra, or all of the above to Melanie now :)

Needless to say, in the midst of all of this, I am so thankful for all of the kind people out there. We thank all of you for the supportive and congratulatory phone calls and e-mails we have received. Believe me, this means more to us than you will ever know.

Wonderful folks have even suggested hosting gatherings to celebrate the wedding. This is miraculous to me because I have only once had anyone (thank you, Melanie) convene a party specifically in my honor. So, the fact that people are taking the time and showing the interest in us and our upcoming nuptials is beyond heartwarming.

As the pace of life seemingly continues to accelerate and the demands on our time ever increase, I don't want to miss the chance to thank folks for what really matters, which is your love and support. So...nothing academic for today's blog, just lots of gratitude.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Speech that Spawned the Blog

Cool. All of the video footage from the Creating Change Conference Plenary is now up (in 4 parts, but up nonetheless) at:

Or, you can find the full text of the speech at:

I really appreciate that the argument presented in this speech was that the right to marry (or to be protected from employment discrimination, etc.) is not a lesser issue (than the economy, for instance) nor is it an issue to be considered only in a politically viable way (i.e., it's only brought up when a candidate doesn't fear losing an election because of it). Rather, she presents this as an immediate civil and human rights issue that requires an immediate and equitable solution.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Importance of Awesome Allies (i.e., most of you reading this blog)

We need the support of straight allies (folks who identify as heterosexual but support full civil rights and equality for gay folks). You are the people we turn to for support when the world seems too cruel. You are the people we celebrate with when we are valued (for instance, thanks to all the people at work that I hugged after the Iowa Supreme Court granted marriage rights on April 3, 2009!). are absolutely vital to creating change. You are the ones who often have the greatest power to help explain why this issue is important to those who are less supportive (i.e., you are not seen as "having an agenda" when you argue for full human rights and protections). You are also the statistical majority of folks, which means that we need your support every time these issues are put to a popular or legislative vote.

For all of you who are willing to help (in addition to the great emotional support you already provide for many of us), here are some possible outlets:

1) Have discussions with friends, family, and co-workers about the issues facing the LGBT community. One of the biggest goals of this blog is to help provide information to facilitate these conversations through links to organizations, videos, etc.

2) Or...don't...and just have discussions from the heart. While I'm partial to the facts (hence the teaching gig, I suppose), what I also learned at the conference is the importance of the heart. People are more likely to listen and to ask questions when they understand that "gay people want to get married for the same reason as heterosexual people do." Likewise, people are more likely to listen and ask questions when they are given examples of how the absence of marriage can devastatingly affect things like hospital visitation in times of crisis (e.g., the video "For My Wife" and the videos at Garden State Equality- both of which are linked on my "Cool Folks to Follow" list of links to the right). So, the more stories you can share of the struggles your gay friends have experienced without full protection or rights, the better.

3) Contact your state and federal legislators when LGBT issues are coming up for a vote. In almost every state there are organizations working for marriage equality. If you join the e-mail list of these organizations (like One Iowa whose link is to the ancient home computer will not allow me to insert it here- sorry!), you automatically receive updates and even sample letters that you can send to your representatives. If you have a hard time finding an organization in your state, just leave me a comment here and I promise I will help you find the right organization.

4) Write a letter to the editor. (I'm fixin' to do another one myself in the next few weeks.) If you have moved away from your hometown, send the letter to the newspaper both in your current city and in your hometown. Don't worry about getting all of the facts straight (pardon the pun), just feel free to share your story (or journey) from the heart.

WE LOVE YOU and thank you for ALL that you do to support us personally and politically. Love, B

Saturday, February 6, 2010


So many friendly folks at the NGLTF conference and so many serendipitous meetings. I was feeling a bit weepy this morning and regretful that it was time to leave the energy of the conference when I met a fellow attendee at the elevator. We agreed that we enjoyed our time here and he stated that he felt good about going home because he "accomplished what he came here to do."

What an apt statement. I honestly wasn't sure what I came here to do except to get a sense for this conference and to hopefully learn more about how the issues facing the LGBT community are experienced across the country. (So much for my other goal of finding warmer weather...Dallas was barely warmer than Iowa.) I feel like I accomplished this goal, but that I also gained a sense of inspiration.

I'm not sure what's next for me in this world in almost all respects, and I'm beginning to make a radical peace with that. Before certain people panic (Sweetie), I do know that: I want to marry Melanie and create a life together. (And I've NEVER known that I wanted to do that before.) I know that I love my mom and my boys (the 2 four-leggers she grandma-sits for me). I know that I love my friends so dearly and that I want to make sure that they all know that. I know that I love the rest of my family and Melanie's family.

But, beyond that I'm pretty clueless (as many of you can attest when observing me making AND then remaking the same simple decision for hours on end...really...I wish this were hyperbole...truly "choice" is a luxury and a curse [just read Elizabeth Gilbert's "Committed" for a good diatribe about that]). I do know that the marriage equality (and employment non-discrimination, etc.) movement is of tremendous importance to me. I know that I need to pursue greater involvement in these movements because doing so energizes me and allows me to channel my frustrations about the lack of equal rights and protections for the LGBT community. And I know that, as much as I often feel greatly misplaced in Iowa, I do feel grateful for the space that "marriage" has carved out for us there. I feel badly for my fellow conference attendees who movingly express that "all they want is a space for their families" and "a sense that they are not second class citizens." I want that for all of you, too. Love to you all, B

Friday, February 5, 2010

Other cool resources

The Human Rights Campaign at for information on the latest in state and federal laws regarding marriage, non-discrimination, etc.


The Trevor Project ( providing resources and help for LGBT youth who have considered suicide

and about the story of Charlene and Kate. As Kate was dying, Charlene was denied visitation and also denied the rights of funeral preparation. Video soon to be released on Amazon (in 2 weeks or so).

For all the mothers and fathers of gay folks out there

At the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference, I was fortunate to see a video clip of a very cool parent from New Jersey. This mother wasn't afraid to talk about her gay daughter with coworkers for fear of their rejection of her. Rather, she was upset that she hadn't yet had the chance to participate in the conversations her coworkers regularly had about their own children's marriages simply because her daughter didn't have the right to legally marry. How cool is that? Pride and joy trump shame.

Tidbits from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference

Wow. Just as Melanie and I begin to make legal arrangements that would protect our right to visit and make decisions for each other in the hospital when we are in states other than Iowa, I end up attending a conference that underscores the importance of full marriage equality at the state and federal levels.

So many (too many) examples of couples who were denied the right to visit dying partners (even with durable/medical power of attorney AND civil unions or domestic partnerships) in the hospital because they were not legally married. I can't do the stories justice, but I do recommend that you visit Garden State Equality at to hear/see the couples for yourself. On the main webpage are commercials and compilations of video footage from families denied insurance coverage and access to medical decision making without "marriage" recognition. I wish I could say that New Jersey's examples are isolated ones, but I've heard similar stories from couples in Washington State and Oregon as well.

Blog birth

I was inspired this afternoon by Rea Carey, Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (, to turn my anger at the lack of LGBT human rights into dedication to creating change and to increasing visibility for the LGBT community. Carey encouraged LGBT folks and our straight allies not to give in to anger at the lack of change, but rather to redouble our efforts to engage in conversations, letter writing campaigns, blogging (and any other means at our disposal) in order to create meaningful change in the areas that are most important to us such as marriage equality and employment non-discrimination. She also advocated for LGBT folks to stand united on issues that affect all of us such as federal immigration reform and healthcare reform. Carey's address gave me two important things: 1) a space for my anger, and 2) a place to go with my anger that was productive. I feel fortunate that I was able to thank her in person for these gifts after the address in a rather fortuitous elevator ride!

So...I will dedicate this blog to fulfilling the request of Rea Carey to educate and advocate for change. I will do my best to make blog posts informative and educational. That said, I am not a gifted blogger (as are many of my friends). Rather, I am much more prone to formality and dryness and tangents and excessive use of parentheses, etc., in both written and verbal communication. (See above if you need evidence of this :) I'll do my best not to be too anal-retentive in my tone from here on out.

Thanks for reading. Sarah