Connect with us

Commentary

Living an ‘American nightmare’

Blade contributor describes La. detention facility as hell

Published

on

Yariel Valdés González, a Washington Blade contributor who has asked for asylum in the U.S. speaks to Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers from Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La., on July 1, 2019. Valdés remains in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has described the facility’s conditions as a human rights violation.

Editor’s note: Yariel Valdés González is a Washington Blade contributor who has asked for asylum in the U.S.

Valdés has previously described the conditions at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La., where he remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody as a human rights violation. An ICE spokesperson in response to Valdés’ previous allegations said the agency “is committed to upholding an immigration detention system that prioritizes the health, safety, and welfare of all of those in our care in custody, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.”

The Blade received Valdés’ op-ed on June 29.

PLAIN DEALING, La. — The American dream to live in absolute freedom; safe from the threats, persecution, violence, psychological torture and even death the Cuban dictatorship has imposed on me because of my journalistic work fell apart in my hands as soon as I arrived in Louisiana. The Cubans here who are also seeking protection from the U.S. government welcomed me to the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility with an ironic surprise. They opened their arms and told me, “Welcome to hell!”

I could hardly believe they have spent nine, 10 and even 11 months asking, waiting for a positive response from immigration authorities in their cases.

I was under the illusion that after an asylum official who interviewed me at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Center in Tutwiler, Miss., on March 28 determined I had a “credible fear of persecution or torture” in Cuba, one hearing with an immigration judge would be enough to obtain my conditional release and pursue my case in freedom as U.S. law allows. But I was wrong. The locals (here at Bossier) once again took it upon themselves to dash my hopes.

“Nobody comes out of Louisiana!” they proclaimed.

It only took a few minutes for my dream, like that of many others, to turn into a nightmare. The more than 30 migrants who arrived in Louisiana on the afternoon of May 3, coming from Mississippi after more than a month detained at Tallahatchie, were plunged into a deep depression that continues today. Only the tears under the blanket that nobody can see are able to ease my desperation for a few minutes and then I once again feel it in my chest when I think of my family in Cuba who continues to receive threats of jail and death from the Cuban dictatorship because of my work with “media outlets of the enemy.” This reality is the only thing that awaits me back there. I therefore see the situation in Louisiana and I am once again afraid. I cannot see an exit. Prisoner here, prisoner if I return to Cuba. I feel trapped.

Violation of their own laws

I realized a few days after I arrived in Louisiana the subjectivity of who makes the decisions matters, not objectivity or attachment to those who are being held. Louisiana feels like a lost piece of “gringo” geography at which nobody seems to look, or to the contrary, it is a coldly calculated strategy that triumphs on authoritarianism, abuse of power or intransigence. I don’t know what to think.

More than a few who have arrived here have come to the conclusion the U.S. has made migrants its new business. Keeping migrants in their custody for so long keeps hundreds of employees and lawyers in business, as well as generating huge profits for the prisons with which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts. It has become clear the government prefers to waste more than $60 a day per migrant than set us free under our own recognizance.

“Louisiana is an anti-immigrant state,” Arnaldo Hernández Cobas, a 55-year-old Cuban man whose asylum process has taken 11 months, tells me. “It is not possible for any of the thousands of people who go through the process to leave victorious.”

Hernández tells me ICE agents have not met with him once during his confinement and the deportation officer has never seen him.

“I don’t know if I am allowed to have bail,” he says. “Judge Grady A. Crooks affirms that we do not qualify for this and he does not give it to those who qualify for it because they can flee. This only happens in this state because migrants in other places are released and can pursue their cases on the outside after they make bail.”

Another way to obtain conditional freedom is through parole, a benefit the federal government offers to asylum petitioners who enter the country legally and are found to have a credible fear of suffering, facing persecution or being tortured in their countries of origin.

“To grant it, ICE asks for a series of questions that relatives should send to them, but what is happening is that they don’t give them enough time to do so,” says Arnaldo.

This is exactly what happened with me.

My family managed to send the documents the next day for my parole interview, which was scheduled for the following day. ICE nevertheless denied me parole because I did not prove “that I am not a danger to society.” I am sure they didn’t even take my case seriously.

There are stories that border on the absurd because many migrants have received their parole hearing notifications the same day they should have filed their documents. One therefore feels as though ICE mocks you to your face and your feelings of helplessness reach the max.

The awarding of parole is a new procedure ICE must complete, but it does not go beyond that. They use this and other crafty strategies to “stay good” in the eyes of the law and they therefore keep asylum seekers in custody for months. They bring them to hearings they will not win, pushing for the deportation of those who do not succumb to the pressure of confinement without properly assessing the risk to their lives that returning to their native countries would entail.

ICE is required to free us a few days after it grants parole, and we already know it doesn’t want to do this. Their goal is to keep us locked up at all costs.

“The cruel irony is that the majority of asylum seekers who follow the law and present themselves at official ports of entry don’t have to ask an immigration judge for their release from custody,” declared Laura Rivera, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that provides legal assistance to immigrants, in an article titled, “Stuck in ‘hell’: Cuban asylum seekers wither away in Louisiana immigration prisons.” “To the contrary, their only avenue to secure their freedom is to ask the same agency that detains them, the Department of Homeland Security.”

But DHS — as Rivera details in the article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center — is ignoring its mandate to consider requests for release in detail. And to the contrary it denies conditional release without justification.

“Men are kept hidden from the outside world, locked up and punished for defending their rights and are forced to bring their cases before immigration judges who deny them with rates of up to 100 percent,” affirmed Rivera.

Another of the process violations in Arnaldo’s case was he was assured where he was first detained that he could win his case along with that of his wife, “but when he came” to Louisiana the judge “told me this was not allowed, that each case is different.” Arnaldo’s life cannot be different from that of his wife because they have been together for 37 years. His wife has been free for nine months, but he remains behind bars. And so, it happens with mothers and sons, brothers and people who have identical cases. Once again, subjectivity determines a person’s fate.

During his hearing with Crooks, Arnaldo declared he feels “very uncomfortable” because he considers him an extremist.

“He said that he only recognizes extreme cases,” says Arnaldo. “Doors mean nothing to him. He describes himself as a deportation judge, not an asylum judge. In the entire time that I have been here nobody has won asylum, not even bail, only deportations.”

Conclusive proof of the judge’s extremism came one day when another judge ran the hearings and the migrants who presented their cases that morning received asylum. The example could not have been more illustrative.

Douglas Puche Moxeno, a 23-year-old Venezuelan man who has spent nine months in Louisiana, also said the detainees “did not receive more information on how the process should be followed and how one should do it.”

“I don’t know if they explained to us the ways to obtain a conditional release,” he says.

In relation to their hearings, Douglas says “the judge told me that he knew the real situation in Venezuela, but he did not grant me asylum because I am not an extreme case. He is waiting for someone to come to the United States without an arm or a leg to be accepted.”

The migrants in Louisiana are trying every way possible to be released. They have made these complaints on television stations and have even gone to Cuban American U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“We have reached the point of filing a lawsuit against ICE,” Douglas explains. “A team of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center have proposed a lawsuit seeking a reconsideration of parole. This is one of the most hopeful ways that we have to obtain freedom. If we are successful, the benefits will be for everyone.”

“Various protests to pressure authorities and to reclaim our rights as immigrants have been organized,” says Douglas. “Relatives, lawyers and various institutions have come together in Miami, Washington and even here in Louisiana to make ICE aware of the injustices that have been committed against us for more than a year.”

‘This is not your country’

Bossier is a jail deep in Louisiana, hidden in the woods that surround it. Each day inside of it is a constant struggle for survival that takes a huge toll on my physical, psychological and above all emotional capacities. More than 300 migrants live in four dorms in cramped conditions with intense cold and zero privacy.

My stay here reminds me of the school dorms in Cuba where we were forced to share smells, tastes and basic needs. Here we also share Hindu, African, Chinese, Nepali, Syrian and Central American migrants’ beliefs, cultures and ways of life.

My personal space is reduced to a narrow metal bed that is bolted to the floor, a drawer for my things and a thin mattress that barely manages to keep my spine separated from the metal, which sometimes causes back pain. The most painful thing, however, is the way the officers treat us. For “better or for worse,” you feel as though you are a federal prisoner.

“According to ICE, we are ‘detainees,’ not prisoners, but we have still suffered physical and psychological abuses,” says Arnaldo. “I remember one time when an official dragged a Salvadoran man to the hole for three days simply for eating in his bed. They don’t offer anything to us and they don’t talk to us, they yell. They wake you up by kicking the bed.”

“The slightest pretext is used to disconnect the microwave, the television or deny us ice, affirming this is a luxury and not a necessity,” alleges Arnaldo. “When we complain about these situations. They tell us, ‘This is not your country.'”

Smiles are not common inside the dorm. The faces of affliction and sadness predominate. Good news is almost always false and the frustration and stress this confinement causes us therefore returns.

“I feel very sad, afflicted here, as though I had killed someone because of the mistreatment that we receive, the place’s conditions,” declares Damián Álvarez Arteaga, a 31-year-old man who has spent 11 months as a prisoner in the U.S.

“Freedom is the most precious thing a human being has,” he adds. “I hope that I will receive a positive response to my case after spending so much time detained. We have demonstrated to the U.S. that we are truly afraid of suffering persecution or torture in Cuba.”

Hours in here seem to have no end: They stretch, they multiply, but they never shorten or pass quickly. Our only contact with the outside the world are telephone communications or video calls (at elevated prices) with relatives, friends or lawyers and sporadic trips to the patio to greet the son and take fresh air.

“In all of the time that I have been here, I have seen the son a few times and only for 15 minutes and this is because we have complained,” recalls Arnaldo.

The yard, as we also call it, is a small rectangle of fences and surveillance cameras with a cement surface at the center of it where some of us play soccer when they give us a ball. I roll the pants of my yellow uniform up to my knees to allow the sun to warm my extremities a bit while my eyes wander towards the lush forest that is a few meters away from me. I admire the sky, the few vehicles that are driving on the nearby highway and I take deep breaths of oxygen because I know I had just come out of the deep sea and desperately needed air to keep me alive.

“Everyday is the same here from the same food to the same activities,” says Douglas. “This prison does not have sufficient spaces to accommodate so many people for so long. We don’t have a library or family visits.”

Yariel Valdés González interviews a Mexican migrant at a lesbian-run migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, on Jan. 27, 2019. Valdés, who is from Cuba, has asked for asylum in the U.S. and remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Louisiana. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘Soup is currency’

My day at Bossier begins a bit before 5 a.m. With the call to “line-up,” I receive a plastic tray with my breakfast. Today is cereal day, low-fat milk, bread and a small portion of jelly. The menu is the same each day of the week. I always save part of it because there is nothing more to eat until midday.

“The food is not correct,” opines Damián. “My stomach is already used to that small portion. A piece of bread with hot sauce and some vegetables or mortadella cannot sustain an adult man, nor can it keep you in shape to resist such a stressful process.”

The last meal of the day is at 4 p.m., and because of this it is a fantasy to be in bed at 11 p.m. with a full stomach. I reduce the hunger pains with an instant soup to which I add some carrots and a hot dog that I steel for myself from the day’s meals.

Since I still have some money, I can buy soups and extra things to make Bossier’s bad food a little better. Bossier classifies those who don’t receive economic support from their families as “indigent” and they are forced to clean up for their fellow detainees in exchange for a Maruchan soup. Here soup is currency. Everything begins and ends with it, the savior of hungry nights.

“You can buy these and other things at elevated prices in the commissary, the only store to which we have access and for which we depend on everything,” says Damián.

Bossier’s medical services on the other hand are so basic that there is not even a doctor or nurse on call, nor is there an observation room for patients and consultations only take place from Monday to Friday.

“One who gets sick is put in punishment cells, isolated and alone, which psychologically affects us,” notes Arnaldo. “People sometimes don’t say they don’t feel well because they are afraid they will be sent to the ‘well.’ In extreme cases they bring you to a hospital with your feet, hands and waist shackled and they keep you tied to the bed, still under guard. I prefer to suffer before being hospitalized like that.”

Yuni Pérez López, a 33-year-old Cuban, experienced this unfortunate situation first hand. He was on the hole for six days because he had a fever.

“I felt as though I was being punished for being sick,” he says. “And even when the doctor discharged me, they kept me there. It was like being in an icebox: Four walls, a bed, a toilet and a light that never turns off. To leave from there I had to stop eating for an entire day to get the officials’ attention and they returned me to the dormitory.”

Bossier also leaves you chilled to the bone because we cannot use blankets or sheets to cover ourselves from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is not a question of esthetic or discipline because the officials are not interested in whether your bed is made well. The only thing that bothers them is when we are cover ourselves from the dorm’s intense cold.

The migrants interviewed by the Washington Blade are those who have been at Bossier the longest. They are all appealing Crooks’ decision not to grant them political asylum. I have not presented my case yet, so I am still a little hopeful that I will receive the protection of the U.S. Like them, I am trying to get used to this harsh reality and be strong, although most of the time sadness consumes me and erases positive thoughts.

The U.S. to me — like for many — does not represent a comfortable life, the newest car or McDonald’s. None of this will ever be able to fill the void of my family, friends or passionate love that I left behind. The U.S. represents the opportunity to LIVE, so I will hold on to it until the end.

Yariel Valdés González was a reporter for Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, before he left the country in 2018. He took this picture of the Pride, transgender and Cuban flags at Mi Cayito, a gay beach east of Havana. (Photo by Yariel Valdés González)
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Commentary

Appreciating lesbian thinker & activist Urvashi Vaid

“I remember her as a whip-smart lesbian of color who stood up and fought but also offered peace and hope when possible”

Published

on

Urvashi Vaid (Screenshot from The Charlie Rose Show/PBS)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Urvashi Vaid was whip smart. She could look at you with some analysis spinning behind her eyes and then smile a deep broad smile and you could exhale as a shared vision started coursing through your veins — a warrior sisterhood striving and fighting for liberation.

And you didn’t even know liberation was on your wish-list. 

It’s hard to register that Urvashi Vaid is gone

Urvashi Vaid speaking at AB 101 protest (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Urvashi could seduce your brain with elevated and clear-spoken common sense. And damn if she couldn’t rile you up and spur you to action as she did in Sacramento in 1991 after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed AB 101, the gay rights bill he promised to sign, and with her 1993 speech at the March on Washington.

Urvashi at March on Washington (Screenshot/CSPAN-2)

And we needed that. After years of excruciating pain losing lovers, family and friends while Ronald Reagan’s spokesperson laughed about the scourge of AIDS in the White House press room, a serious LGBTQ political movement was emerging in the late 1980s. And igniting those righteous flames of fury was this short, thin, proud lesbian of South Indian heritage who exuded the perfume of power. She knew her stuff. And she was at ease with powerbrokers, including Hollywood A+ types who made history attending an August 1991 benefit for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, thrown by gay Hollywood manager Barry Krost, entertainment attorney Alan Hergott and Hergott’s lover, NGLTF Board co-chair Curt Shepard. Hollywood was finally showing up for AIDS benefits — but gay rights was still just too controversial. It was a very big deal. 

Urvashi Vaid with Curt Shepard, Alan Hergott, and Barry Diller in 1991 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Among our own, Urvashi would let fools yammer on with puffed-up opinions. But eventually she would halt us with a glance, a quick quip or a concise Marxist-ish dissertation on any situation and its connection to poverty, rendering you dumbstruck, agog – pick a synonym. 

Urvashi was a teacher, a mentor — though I don’t think she thought of herself that way. She was merely trying to help a brother or sister — especially younger folks — learn to think differently, think for themselves, and think of themselves as part of the larger movement for civil rights. 

One moment perfectly captures that for me. I was a freelancer covering the monumental 1992 Creating Change conference in Los Angeles. That was the year when esteemed gay author Paul Monette (Borrowed Time) ripped up a picture of the Pope, freaking out a lot of Catholic Latinos. I kept an eye on Urvashi and her pal Torie Osborn, head of the LA Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, as they talked art with closeted LA City Councilmember Joel Wachs, as well as the usual leadership discussions, debates and skirmishes among activists in a heightened political year. 

I also covered breakout sessions and one proved to be particularly daunting. It was a discussion about race in the gay movement. A young fierce gay Asian artist named Joel B. Tan took over the discussion and challenged my press credentials, my commitment to the movement, and my ability to report ANYTHING accurately or fairly about that meeting because I’m white. He called for a vote on whether I should be allowed to stay or get kicked out. 

Some folks in the room, familiar with my reporting since the late 1980s, defended me. I was prepared to get shamefully kicked out when Joel went just a tad too far and started claiming the Task Force itself was a cauldron of white racism. In fact, the whole damn gay movement was basically a rich white gay conspiracy to get power and use everyone else as pawns. 

When Joel finally took a breath, a muffled sound came from just outside the room. We looked and there was Urvashi, casually leaning on the door jamb with Phill Wilson, then co-founder of the National Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum and of the LA chapter of Black and White Men Together. “What about us?” Urv asked very simply. The tension evaporated, I was allowed to stay and racism within the gay community was discussed with passion but without grandstanding. (I called Joel later and he said my report was acceptable.) 

The tension eased so quickly because Urvashi had been fighting systemic racism at every level for a very long time, including within the gay community. Her power was smarts, compassion, humor — and credibility.    

Not to say Urvashi was perfect. In fact, I had a serious disagreement with her over an incident that happened in Los Angeles. There was a ballot initiative that called for a new statewide Insurance Commissioner to be appointed by the governor. APLA Board Chair Dr. Scott Hitt and political consultant David Mixner opposed the initiative, which drove some AIDS activists crazy. We were in the middle of the second wave of AIDS and we needed government help. Hitt and Mixner explained that they didn’t oppose the idea, just the method: the Insurance Commissioner should be elected, not appointed. Imagine if we had a governor more horrific than Pete Wilson?

I reported that and activist writer Stuart Timmons freaked out. He wrote a 7,000 word thesis in a treading-water alternative weekly bashing Hitt and Mixner. He also showed up at my apartment screaming about how I was afraid of these prominent politicos. I was pissed — so I did my own deep dive into his tome and found people who complained that he quoted them out of context or actually changed their quotes to fit his activist premise. Eventually, we all moved on, including me since Stuart was friends with my friend Harry Hay. 

But then Urvashi quoted extensively from Stuart’s disinformation piece in her book Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation.  I tried to reach her but failed. I later heard her cite Stuart’s story as an example of bad gays. I fumed for a moment, then let that go, too. 

Besides, Urvashi was doing so much good. And her relationship with Kate Clinton was so cool and extraordinary. I learned what a “soft butch” was — but that’s another story. 

Urvashi Vaid with Andrew Sullivan on The Charlie Rose Show 1993 (Screenshot/PBS)

Urvashi Vaid is appropriately being lauded as an exemplary warrior for justice and civil rights. I remember her as a whip-smart lesbian of color who stood up and fought but also offered peace and hope when possible — as she did appearing with conservative gay writer/editor Andrew Sullivan on the Charlie Rose show before the 1993 march.

Urvashi with friend Ann Northrop and David (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Last July, Urvashi was the guest on Gay USA, anchored by her friends Ann Northrop and Andy Humm. She talked about the National LGBTQ+ Women’s Survey, an American LGBTQ+ Museum — and about fighting breast cancer. Urv seemed upbeat but a burdened aura of mortality cloaked her Zoom appearance. She seemed determined to approach death as she had lived — educating people about our ongoing fight for liberation and, with a deep, broad smile and thoughtful eyes, telling the truth about her own humanity. 

Thank you, Urvashi Vaid.

********************

Gay USA 7/7/2021- Free Speech TV:

********************

Karen Ocamb an award winning veteran journalist and former editor of the Los Angeles Blade has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

She lives in West Hollywood with her two beloved furry ‘kids’ and writes occasional commentary on issues of concern for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Christian middle school forces kids to “Say Gay.” To condemn gay friends!

The Don’t Say Gay movement across the USA stresses talking to kids about sexual orientation/gender identity is “inappropriate” & sexualizing

Published

on

Image licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – As a child, did you ever get a homework assignment requiring you to convince a close personal friend to stop being gay? To persuade them God doesn’t approve of them? To “prove” it to them from the Bible? Would it ever occur to you that such homework could be handed out to 11, 12, and 13-year-olds?

In a move that reeks of Orwellian word twisting, a large Christian school system in Kentucky just taught kids they should morally condemn their friends.

And they’re forcing them to practice!

Besides being odious to Jesus followers who reject far-right extremism, this heinous homework pulls the mask off the Don’t Say Gay movement. It demonstrates that when conservative Christians say “love,” they mean something completely different from what most people mean.

Pulls the mask off? Sure.

The Don’t Say Gay movement steamrolling across red states stresses that talking to kids about sexual orientation and gender identity is “inappropriate” and sexualizing. Conservative Christian parents say they don’t want their children “exposed to sex” in school. They say just hearing gay people exist forces kids to think about sex. (They don’t explain why hearing about straight couples doesn’t have the same effect.)

Kentucky is one of many Republican-dominated states about to pass a law prohibiting discussion of gender and sexual minorities in public schools. Lawmakers introduced it as an “emergency measure,” saying Christian parents insist that kids learning about transgender and gay people is a genuine crisis.

Um … really, Jan?

Check out what this Kentucky Christian middle school is handing out as required homework.

Kentucky business owner and Christian JP Davis tweeted screenshots yesterday of a homework assignment given to a family friend’s young children. The kids, students at Christian Academy of Louisville, had to write a letter to a hypothetical friend “struggling with homosexuality” to persuade the friend to “reject homosexuality,” to tell them “homosexuality will not bring them satisfaction” and to tell them “you love them even though you don’t approve of their lifestyle.”

The kids are also to tell their friend they “don’t approve of any sin.”

This homework was given to children who are 11, 12, and 13 years old. I don’t know what they’ve been learning in class, but given the assignment, they had to have been learning about sex, specifically that sex between same-gender partners is immoral. They’re expected to be able to quote the Christian Bible to back that up.

I don’t know the details of what they learned, but can we all agree, please, that these 11, 12, and 13 year-old children have learned about sex in EXACTLY the way Don’t Say Gay supporters argue is harmful and wrong?

Screenshot/WKLY CBS 32 Louisville, KY

Here’s what else those children learned

  1. Christianity and the Bible condemn homosexuality. This is not true. Theologians and biblical scholars do not agree the Bible does any such thing. In fact, theologians are increasingly pointing out the weaknesses in traditional Christian teaching about the immorality of transgender and gay people. Major Christian denominations are increasingly moving to fully affirm transgender and gay people instead of morally condemning us. Based on the kids’ homework assignment, they didn’t learn any of that.
  2. Gay people don’t lead happy or satisfied lives. This is absurd. Nuff said. If you doubt me, google LGBT mental health and dive in. Study after study demonstrate that trans and gay people who are accepted by family and friends feel just as fulfilled and happy as anyone else.
  3. Christians should morally judge gay people and brand them as sinners. The premise of the assignment is that gay people are sinful and that Christian children should confront them with their sin. Notice there’s not a word about individual consciences or living and letting live. These children are not just being taught they should morally judge their peers, they’re being made to practice doing it.
  4. Morally judging gay people is a form of love. I’m going to try to tone down my reaction here, but my fingers are hitting the keyboard very hard as a few choice expletives escape my lips. Let me say this much: I’ve been in the crosshairs of Christian moral judgment far too often, and the rejection it leads to bears no resemblance to love. Love is about accepting people for who they are, not about trying to persuade them they are immoral and must change.
  5. Gay people can choose not to be gay. No, we can’t. The way we experience sexual and romantic attraction is not something we can decide to experience differently. Conversion therapy does not work. The only thing that happens when gay people try not to be gay is that we suffer — from loneliness, lack of love, and despair. Gay people who try not to be gay often end up deeply depressed and suicidal. Which, please see point 4 again.

JP Davis is a gay Christian from Kentucky, and he is appalled.

Davis told the Louisville Courier-Journal that this homework assignment is personal to him. He says he took to Twitter to expose it because he spent the first 23 years of his life hiding his true self from friends and family, fearing their judgement and rejection. He says he doesn’t want the next generation to face the same pain he lived with:

Davis told the Louisville Courier-Journal that this homework assignment is personal to him. He says he took to Twitter to expose it because he spent the first 23 years of his life hiding his true self from friends and family, fearing their judgement and rejection. He says he doesn’t want the next generation to face the same pain he lived with:

The statistics speak for themselves on suicide among LGBTQ+ people, and these are seventh-graders that are being subjected to hate and division, and it’s not necessary. I know it’s a Christian school, but that’s not my Christianity. That’s not my values. And that’s not what Jesus, if they want to make that argument, represented. Jesus didn’t go around asking people to judge and tell other people how they’re wrong and shame.

See the photo I headed this article with? Two boys of middle-school age are fighting in school. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when children are taught to morally judge their friends. That’s EXACTLY what Christianity is supposed to oppose.

I know plenty of Christians who don’t presume to judge, who either fully affirm LGBTQ people or who leave our moral worth up to God and our own consciences.

So why is the Christian Academy of Louisville, part of a school system with over 3,000 kids, teaching judgment? Why are they trying to redefine hate as love? I don’t know, but I wish they’d stop.

Are you a Christian? Could you consider reaching out to the school and asking them to please stop teaching young children to attack LGBTQ people? Could you ask them, please, to emulate Jesus instead? I thank you for that, if you do, from the bottom of my heart. I’m JP Davis would to.

As for everyone else, can we please learn from this? When conservative Christians say it’s not OK to “say gay” in school, tell them about Christian Academy of Louisville teaching 11, 12, and 13-year-olds that it’s perfectly OK to say gay — as long as you’re condemning your gay friends.

Then ask them to get their story straight.

************************

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Don’t Say Gay 2.0 is Here Already, and It’s All About Hate

Think Florida’s law is bad? You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Republicans are waging war on PEOPLE -They don’t care who gets hurt

Published

on

The Seminole County, FL schools superintendent tried to censor these photos. The local community told her to go to hell. But jack-booted bigots in much of the rest of Florida are winning. (Blade file photo)

By James Finn | DETROIT – What’s Don’t Say Gay 2.0? In one stunning example, New Hampshire is about to pass a law that not only prohibits teaching about transgender and gay people in public schools, but requires teachers to report effeminate boys and insufficiently feminine girls to parents.

Find details below about how Don’t Say Gay 2.0 is about to unleash genuine hatred in schools in Republican states. But first, let’s talk about the censoring, silencing, and shaming Don’t Say Gay 1.0 is already enabling.

Don’t Say Gay in Florida ushers in waves of shaming

Florida’s new Don’t Say Gay law prohibits teaching about gay/trans people/ ideas in kindergarten through third grade and makes doing so difficult or impossible in older grades. It plants seeds of shame in queer kids and teaches other kids that queer people are shameful.

The law doesn’t take effect for another 49 days, but jack-booted Florida bigots like Serita Beamon and Stephen Covert are already erasing, censoring, and silencing LGBTQ teachers, students, and allies.

The New Hampshire Senate is REQUIRING teachers to police gender expression. I can’t believe I just wrote that. But it’s real. It’s happening.

As reported in The LA Blade, Beamon, superintendent of the Seminole County Public Schools district, ordered yearbook photos of Lyman High School students protesting Don’t Say Gay to be blacked out by stickers.

The Seminole County Board of Education slapped Beamon down, voting unanimously to overrule her, but that’s a cautionary tale more than good news. Students at the diverse, progressive high school near Orlando beat Beamon back by engaging their progressive parents, Democratic politicians, the press, and their local community — who showed up en masse at a board meeting to to tell the superintendent to go to hell.

She lost, but authoritarian bigots like her all over Florida are winning more than they are losing.

Zander Moricz, the openly gay senior class president at Pine View School in Sarasota County, says Principal Stephen Covert called him into his office and told him if he doesn’t toe the Don’t Say Gay line during his graduation speech, his microphone will be cut off and he’ll be forced off the stage. (Principal Covert sorta/kinda/maybe/but-not-really denies this. You can read the details in a Sarasota News Channel 8 report, but if you can unravel clear meaning from Covert’s bureaucrat-ese, you’re doing better than me.)

Staffers at pro-LGBTQ Equality Florida say they’re logging“daily” reports from queer students and teachers all over the Sunshine State — saying they’re being shamed, censored, and silenced. Bigots like Beamon and Covert are, for the moment, winning — even before Don’t Say Gay becomes official. Queer students and teachers outside progressive bubbles have nowhere to turn for help.

Louisiana’s Don’t Say Gay 2.0 bill makes Florida’s law look like a genteel garden party

As bad as Florida’s law is, copycat bills springing up all over the nation, as in Alabama, are far stricter and more explicit. Dominating queer-press headlines today are bills in Louisiana and New Hampshire, both of which stand excellent chances of passing, and both of which can be fairly described as heinous.

The Louisiana bill had died in committee, but as Brody Levesque reported yesterday in The LA Blade, house Republicans just revived it with a parliamentary end-run. Analysts expect it will now pass the House and likely pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has released a statement opposing the bill, but if he vetoes it, a Republican override would be likely.

Think the Florida law is bad? Louisiana Republicans rip off their masks and leer:

  • No teacher, school employee, or other presenter shall cover the topics of sexual orientation or gender identity in any classroom discussion or instruction in kindergarten through grade eight.
  • No teacher, school employee, or other presenter shall discuss his own sexual orientation or gender identity with students in kindergarten through grade twelve.

Gay/trans teachers and counselors would be required BY LAW to be closeted at work. Legally married to a same-sex spouse? Don’t tell your students, or you’re fired. Think that will apply to straight teachers? After all, straight is as much a sexual orientation as gay. If you think straight teachers in Louisiana will be barred from telling their students that they’re married or engaged, please note that the Pelican State overflows with investment-grade swamp land. Get it while it’s hot.

LGBTQ teenagers with questions? Teachers would be required BY LAW not to answer them. It doesn’t get any uglier than this. Cis/straight is fine, normal, ordinary. Gay/trans is too shameful to talk about. You don’t teach anti-LGBTQ hatred to children more effectively than this. Except …

Except in New Hampshire. In a bill that requires reporting sissies and tomboys to their parents.

New Hampshire’s Don’t Say Gay 2.0, HB1431, widely expected to pass given the state’s Republican “trifecta,” requires teachers to report gender-presentation deviance to parents.

Yes, I really just wrote that, and I’m not exaggerating even slightly.

Note, I didn’t write that the bill requires teachers to out transgender students to non-supportive parents. It certainly DOES that, but it goes even further, signaling a return to 1950s America, to an era when people were ruthlessly punished for not conforming to rigid gender standards.

Just look at the text of this proposed law. It’s naked hatred:

Is Jonny dressing or acting more feminine than usual? HB 1431 says school staff MUST call Jonny’s parents. Does Suzy seem a little too butch? Report her! Would the kids’ conservative parents flip out? Tough shit. Pick up the phone.

The New Hampshire Senate is REQUIRING teachers to police gender expression. I can’t believe I just wrote that. But it’s real. It’s happening. New Hampshire is going to force education professionals and counselors to out trans kids to non-supportive parents and even to out kids who aren’t masculine or feminine “enough.”

Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill once contained a clause requiring schools to out LGBTQ students to parents even if educators feared such outing “could lead to abuse, neglect or abandonment.” The bill’s sponsor pulled the language, saying it was “distracting,” but he told reporters he was still in favor of it. Apparently, New Hampshire Republicans are less constrained by decency and respect, less worried about kids getting hurt.

This is naked hatred. This is Don’t Say Gay 2.0.

It’s coming to a school near you, and it’s coming soon. The United States is not having a culture war. That’s a euphemism that lets us avoid calling real things by real names. Republicans are waging war on PEOPLE. On Black people, women, immigrants, and queer people.

They don’t care who gets hurt.

It’s all about the hate, even when queer teenagers are in the crosshairs, even as they overwhelm suicide-crisis hotlines at The Trevor Project, even as Republican politicians and thought leaders call out Trevor volunteers as pedophiles and groomers.

Don’t Say Gay is ugly and getting uglier. This November, vote like your life depends on it. Be sure of this: somebody’s life really does.

************************

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular