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This pro-LGBTQ Catholic Priest asks you to share love with homeless

“Every time I meet one of these kids, I know what’s important in life. Who’s really important & that the rest is just a lot of crap”

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Photo of graffiti at Venice Beach, by David Poe. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By James Finn | LOS ANGELES – Back in January, I wrote about Andy Herman, a Roman Catholic priest in Los Angeles who rebuked the Bishop of Marquette for effectively throwing trans and gay people out of his diocese. Well, Andy did the writing, I just helped get it to you. His stirring words generated more email than most stories I write, many from people asking about his work with homeless youth.

He’s been reluctant (to put it mildly!) to publish details, but a few nights ago he sent me an email that touched me so much I almost begged him to let me share it. He refused at first, but finally agreed. Scroll down for the story, but first, Andy wants to tell you why he changed his mind.

Hi.

My name is Andy Herman. I’m a retired Roman Catholic priest. And other stuff.

I work getting homeless kids and young people off Venice Beach. I’m homeless myself. That’s another story. And I have a roommate these days. That’s another story too.

The story that follows is true.

I change a few details, like the name of the first young guy I met, because he deserves privacy, like so many others — of every age, sex, gender, you name it — who live a very public life out on the street, scrutinized up and down or ignored until the place SHE sleeps is ordered sanitized, or THEY (non-binary, trans) are moved out of sight to pretty-fy the neighborhood, or until HE is arrested or dies.

Please be clear: I am not a rescuer, a savior, a hero, anything like that. I simply meet up with the people I’m meant to meet up with. And vice versa. I can’t feel anything but honored by and grateful for these kids and young people allowing me in their lives, for what they give me, for what they teach me.

Even when they’re traumatized, brain ill/addicted, or living basically in what certain people describe as shit. (“Look at all that shit! How can people live like that?”)

I am very lucky I’m able to do this work. I’m retired, I have a certain personality that goes to the wall to get something done, and, sadly, in LA, the opportunity never lets up.

I’m no lone wolf. I have an incredible support network. The enormous financial and emotional support of St Joseph Center, the Venice Family Clinic,
and many cops, doctors, and personal/professional friends basically keep me alive so I can do the same for somebody else.

I only have one purpose writing this: I hope maybe wherever you are, you will find a little more strength in your own self to realize that you might really be able to make a difference in the lives of kids and young people who are out in the street.

Where you live. So get out there and do it.

I have only one mantra. From the Talmud. I tweak it a little: “Save one life, save the world entire.” That’s enough for now. God, the universe, life, and karma, bless you. Here’s my story.

Thanks for reading, And hope you… enjoy (?).

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

My roommate texts from work, forgot something important, asks if I can bring it up.

“OK, on my way.”

That’s the way it always starts. Text, email, a look. I head over on an early-dark Sunday night toward the beach, toward the roomie’s work. West on Venice. Red light at Grand View.

I’m passing through the Westside neighborhood called MarVista. Not really a great Vista of the Mar. Not really a grand view either. But, well, it’s LA. Slow night, intersection’s got maybe 20 cars. I hear a voice that keeps getting louder, hollering

Hey … Hey … HEY … HEEEEEYYY.

I turn my head, and three feet from me a young guy is standing in the middle of traffic. He hollers, only to me, to none of the other cars or drivers —

PLEASE PLEASE HELP ME HELP ME

ANYTHING FOOD MONEY PLEASE!!!

Looks very young, skinny, sweating, filthy clothes, bad tremor. And I am stunned. Not only because it’s happening. Again.

But because except for the bad clothes, the sweat, and the tremor, he looks like the roomie when we connected at the beach two months ago. For a second, I thought it was him, and I am stunned.

Takes me a second to tell the kid to get the hell out of the traffic, meet me over by a safe curb, at a little strip mall kitty corner.

We connect there, I tell him my name and what I do, ask him if he’s homeless or a local or both (he’s both), tell him I have to go on an errand, give him five bucks to hold him over, and tell him I’ll be back around in about half an hour.

I make the drop-off to the roomie, high-tail it to the nearest Jack In The Box to pick up something for this kid — thank God my CalFresh EBT just kicked in! — head back to the little strip mall to give it to him, but can’t find him anywhere.

There’s another kid sitting against the hood of his car in the little parking lot. So I drive over and ask him if he’s seen the other kid. I describe him, particularly the bad tremor.

He points the first kid out to me, scrinched in a little corner nook by the liquor store over to the right.

Then the second kid turns back to me, stares at me, throws me a bunch of nonverbals, and it takes me a minute to realize he’s hustling me.

For sex.

I’m a little stunned again. I’m thinking, wait a minute, what is this, this is all done online now. Wrong. Or maybe his apps aren’t working?

And then something catches my attention, and I’m wondering, God do I know this kid from somewhere? Cuz he looks very familiar to me. This kid is physically gorgeous, cute, blonde haired, blue-eyed, impeccably dressed.

And then it hits me.

Except for the blonde hair, he’s the spitting image of Jimmy Springer, the kid I lost 50 years ago in Chicago, the 17-year-old gay hustler. The kid who was murdered. My “younger brother”.

My head is now saying, What the hell is going on here? The kid finally realizes I’m not interested in his soliciting me, so he throws me a

and tells me to have a blessed night.

I back the car up, and the first kid with the tremor comes out of the liquor store with a Twinkie or something. I give him the food and drink, and phone numbers, including mine, and addresses for services (he doesn’t have a phone, but says his uncle (?) does (?), (who really knows). And I give him another 10 bucks.

The kid’s name is Matthew.

He’s 25. Looks 19 to me. In pretty bad shape. I’m guessing alcoholic because of the tremor, but probably something else too. His gaze is straight on, wide-eyed. Might be a friend of Chris.

Certainly neuro-damaged.

I ask where he’s sleeping tonight and he tells me further down Venice toward the beach, on the median by the big Venice Library. The same place my roommate slept the night before he and I met up.

Hustler kid then comes out of the store and asks if I have a quarter. I give it to him, and as he takes it he signals me in the palm of my hand how much it would cost to have oral sex with him.

It’s been many many years, but I recognize the gestures immediately. I signal him that I am not interested, make sure that I also signal that I’m making no judgment.

He sends me the

again, again wishes me a blessed night, and heads back to sitting against the hood of his car.

Matthew sits down on the sidewalk to eat his food. I tell him I will try to keep tabs on him, to make sure he’s doing okay, see where we can go from here.

He seems for the moment peaceful and content. But I have no idea how I’m going to do what I just told him. My commitment is now to my roommate 24/7, first. Time, energy, everything.

And he’s giving everything he’s got.

But somehow I will try. Always the same flood in my head: This kid, Matthew, deserves a future. A better one than he had, a better one than he has. Just like the roomie. So, I will try. Always sigh when I say that. Dramatic, but it feels right. Like I’ve been doing this for a thousand years.

Will try to reconnect too with the kid who hustled me, to find out where the hell that need is coming from.

I will try.

Gonna all be very interesting.

I head down to the beach, Clear my head. Park in the Rose lot near the Cadillac Hotel. I can jump their Wi-Fi if I need it.

Forgot why I love when the immensity of the ocean called peaceful meets up with my tiny existence.

Roomie gave me that back.

Waves. The sound. Don’t even need to see them. Just the roll in, the crash, the recede.

What happened tonight happened because the roomie forgot something. I don’t believe in coincidence. Try to figure out what’s behind it all, what I should do with it.

A friend always tells me in jest it’s because I forget to turn off that damn neon sign on the top of my car, the one that blinks on and off, “NEED HELP?”

Good for a laugh. Wish it was that simple.

I’m pretty simple. I know that what happened tonight is another way for God and life and karma to tell me, once again, cuz I’m stupid and I forget, that the need out there is really big.

That s/he is giving me a gift.

Every time I meet one of these kids, I know I’m in touch with what’s important in life. Who’s really important. And that the rest is just a lot of crap I waste my time on.

I repeat to myself that I’ll try, embrace the gift, the people. To shut the hell up, and be grateful.

I pray now. Meditate.

Give my brain a good washing out. Put my hands up to cover my face. And just hear those waves. Try to do it as long as I can. And not let them lull me to sleep. Because in a couple of hours, I pick the roommate up from his work, we head home.

To a motel room. Two big beds, nice bathroom, TV, microwave. Cheap. No bugs. Near the beach.

Never called it home before he got there.

Do now.

Nice to have it.

Hell of a lot better than where Matthew is sleeping tonight.

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

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.

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Texas Christians terrorize church supporting Trans Christians

Neidert often appears to call for violence against LGBTQ people. Twitter banned her from the platform this summer for that reason

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Graphic from First Christian Church of Katy, and Swastika-wearing anti-LGBTQ “Christian” protestor.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Protect Texas Kids, a group led by anti-LGBTQ activist Kelly Neidert (who describes herself as both an Evangelical Christian and a Christian fascist) are protesting today outside the First Christian Church of Katy, Texas.

Neidert made a big name for herself in conservative circles as a student at the University of North Texas when she led protests demanding anti-LGBTQ policies. She often appears on Fox NewsOne America NewsNewsmaxInfowars, and the QAnon-linked Real America’s Voice.

Today’s protest is a serious threat for First Christian Church, because Neidert’s group has a track record of violence and extremism that can fairly be called terrorism.

Neidert often appears to call for violence against LGBTQ people. Twitter banned her from the platform this summer for that reason.

Neidert describes LGBTQ people and symbols like the rainbow flag as “disgusting,” falsely claiming that same-sex marriage has led to a wave of “pedophilia” and “child abuse” across the country. She reserves the bulk of her anger for transgender people and drag queens, although she seems to have difficulty distinguishing between the sometimes-overlapping groups of people.

(Most drag queens are cisgender gay men, although being a gay man is not part of the definition of drag queen. Some trans men and women do drag. Some cisgender straight people do drag too.)

Neidert has not commented on reports of actual, pervasive child-sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches or on findings that the Southern Baptist Convention covered up such abuse for almost two decades, keeping lists of credibly accused Southern Baptist child abusers secret from parents of children at risk.

Image from Transparent Closet, sponsored by First Christian Church of Katy, Texas.

Neidert’s group is protesting because First Christian Church is raising money to support local transgender people

The church runs a modest charity called Transparent Closet, a free boutique aimed at supporting young LGBTQ people, including trans teenagers, in the conservative west Houston suburb of Katy.

The church’s work feels to me like genuine Christian love in action.

LGBTQ youth in conservative areas report feeling isolated and alone, under attack by lawmakers and activists. Groups like Trevor Project and Rainbow Youth Project USA report that crisis calls from suicidal transgender teens in Texas are flooding in at alarming and increasing rates.

Trevor Project has announced hiring and fundraising drives to address what it calls an unprecedented spike in demand.

Rainbow Youth case managers have told the Los Angeles Blade that over 66% percent of their crisis calls nationwide come from Texas.

First Christian Church is reaching out locally to offer love and support to a uniquely vulnerable group of people. They recently announced a fundraising evening of “adult bingo” featuring “family-friendly” drag entertainment.

For those who may not know, drag is a tongue-in-cheek art form that features exaggerated costumes and (usually) lip syncing to vocals by pop music stars. While drag for adults occasionally parodies burlesque, “family-family drag” means performances that are free of sexualized content.

Neidert’s “Christian” organization has a disturbing Texas track record

At Texas events protesting LGBTQ events last summer, members of Protect Texas Kids showed up waving guns, wearing white nationalist and even Nazi symbols. The supposedly Christian protestors shouted slurs like “faggot” and “pedophile” at families that included teenagers and young children. Men wearing swastikas (like in the tweet above) and other white-supremacist symbols often surrounded Neidert as bodyguards.

For more photos of Nazis and white supremacists at Neidert’s “Christian” protests last summer, see this story in The Houston Chronicle.

When did conservative Christianity decide to focus on hatred?

I was raised Baptist and spent part of my childhood in Baptist churches in the South, but I don’t recognize the faith of my childhood. I recognize perfectly well that Baptist churches have always taken strong theological stands against homosexuality, but what’s happening today in that Texas protest is something very different.

Screaming profanity, threatening violence, and marginalizing vulnerable people is something Baptists of my youth, even the most conservative Baptists, would have distanced themselves from at all cost. In my day, Evangelicals seemed to take Jesus’s teachings too seriously to engage in open terrorism.

I should add a strong caveat that some of the Baptists of my childhood were outspoken racists, so I’m not trying to paint them in an entirely positive light. I’m just saying that waving swastikas, brandishing guns, and screaming at parents and children is an escalation I would never have expected from 21st century Christians, no matter how conservative.

But that’s exactly what’s happening right not, maybe even as you read this story.

Protect Texas Kids protestors are expected to show up today outside First Christian Church at about 5pm Houston time. A group of Christians who say they hate the “LGBTQ agenda” will begin screaming profanities at Christians working to welcome and support beleaguered transgender people. Only one of those groups of Christians seems to remember Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Speaking of “doing for the least of these,” First Christian Church did not cancel their fundraiser when they learned about the planned protest, despite having suffered vandalism three times in recent weeks in attacks they say are related to their message that LGBTQ Christians are welcome and affirmed in their congregation.

They’re going ahead as planned, apparently because they take seriously Jesus’s command to love.

What about you? Do you want to help push back against astonishing waves of hatred coming from self-described Christians? Whether you’re Christian or not, you can help First Christian Church in Katy by reaching out on Facebook with encouragement and love.

Do you know LGBTQ families in need? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Rainbow Youth volunteers are ready to help. Right now.

Also, please consider contacting Rainbow Youth Project USA to learn how you can make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ teenagers in crisis.

Click to visit Rainbow Youth

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

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.

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Meet Kody & his Mom: Homeless LGBTQ refugees from Florida

It was either leave Florida or watch her 16-year-old transgender son wither and possibly die- She had good reason to fear

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A group of LGBTQ young people at a homeless shelter (Blade file photo)

By James Finn | DETROIT – What would you do as a parent if your comfortable home and middle-class lifestyle were killing your kid?

Pack up whatever possessions you could fit in your car? Drive 1,300 miles over four anxiety-filled days, spending almost your last penny to get your son to safety? I can hear parents everywhere shouting, “Of course! That’s what parents do!”

When I lived in Germany, I met parents who fled conflict zones and impoverished themselves to give their kids a shot at safety and happiness. I never dreamed I would meet fellow Americans who chose to become refugees right here in the U.S.

Then two nights ago, I spend two hours on the phone with “Kate” and “Kody,” who just fled Florida for a New York homeless shelter.

53-year-old Kate tells me she had no choice. It was either leave Florida or watch her 16-year-old transgender son wither and possibly die.

She had good reason to fear.

Years ago, she spent a month sleeping on a sofa in the living room with Kody. He was only 13, he’d tried to overdose, and even though he said he was fine, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight.

Everything got better for a while. Kody made friends with other trans kids, he started puberty blockers, he felt good about himself, and life seemed okay. Kate let her guard down, and then … all hell broke loose.

This is Kody’s story. And Kate’s.

Kody tells me on the phone that he first realized he was trans when he was 7. I’ve only emailed the family up to now, and I’m interested to note that Kody sounds like a typical 14 or 15-year-old boy. His voice is reedy and rough — not yet a man’s but no longer a boy’s. He’s sharp. Talkative. Well informed. If I didn’t already know he was 16, I might have guessed 17 or 18.

He and Kate are on speakerphone with me, and he tells me he didn’t have a label for transgender at 7, but he knew. When he was 8, he told Kate.

Kate says her first instinct was denial.

“I went through all the stages-of-grief process, including fear and terror, in about 15 minutes. He was just looking at me, and I didn’t say anything. Then I said to myself, ‘Shit, this isn’t about me.’ I thought about how scared he must be about all the things he would have to face.”

Kody tells me, “My mom’s support and her open mindedness was pretty quick. The next day she was like, ‘What do you need me to do, and what do we do next?’”

He didn’t come out to anybody else for years, but he was a stubborn little boy. He couldn’t bring himself to wear a uniform skirt to school. “The staff was adamant, but I refused. They finally stopped trying to make me. Otherwise, I flew under the radar.”

Then as puberty started, Kody started to spiral. Kate says she’d been worried, knowing the changes would be traumatizing. One day when Kody was about 11, he walked into the bathroom to take a shower and noticed his shoulder-length hair in the mirror.

“I had started puberty early, and did not want to be viewed as a girl. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was like, ‘That has to go!’ I took my grade-school baby scissors and chopped it all off.”

Kate laughs a little, remembering how crazy Kody’s hair looked. Then she says, “When you came out of that bathroom, it completely broke my heart.”

She took him to a barber, got him a buzz cut he loved, and that began his difficult public coming-out process.

“Mom knew how serious things were getting. I was beginning to lose friends, so she researched community support. She eventually found a program called Compass.”

Compass is an LGBTQ community center in Palm Beach County that offers a peer-support group for youth. Kody started attending and making friends when he was 12.

“That’s when my social transition got more pronounced. I had my name picked out, and I was sort of telling teachers as I went along. Then I came out to my dad. He was often busy at work and was not as present as average, but we had a decent relationship.

“One morning when he got up about 6:30, I asked him if he could talk to me for a second. He was in my room beside my bed. I took my blanket and threw it over my head so I couldn’t look at him. I blurted really quickly, ‘I think I might be trans.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s it?’ I took the blanket off, and he said, ‘That’s OK.’”

Kody’s dad did not reject or mistreat him, but he remained in Kody’s words, “not present.”

Despite family and peer support, Kody spiraled further.

“I had just gotten into 7th grade at a new [public] school and it was the worst school year of my life. I was getting bullied a lot. I was extremely depressed and started seeing a psychiatrist and taking anti-depression medication. It wasn’t working. I was still bullied and severely depressed. Staff were not queer friendly. There was only one other trans student at school.”

Students and staff constantly bullied Kody and the other trans kid. “The guidance counselor told both of us separately that Jesus would save us [from being trans]. She said we still have time and we don’t understand what we’re feeling, but Jesus does.”

Kody tells me with a mixture of amusement and anger that the other kid is Jewish. Kate was incensed, but there wasn’t much she could do. Besides, she had her hands full.

Kody began to have “meltdowns.” He says, “When mom got me up for school, I would scream, cry, kick, whatever.”

One day on the way to school, “Mom handed me the bottle of antidepressants and I stared for about 30 seconds. Then I opened it to take my medicine, and in one swell swoop I took all of them.”

I’m not expecting Kody to say this, so I’m shocked into silence. When I catch my breath, I say, “You were only 13. Did you take those pills to send a message or did you really intend to die?”

Kody voice goes whisper quiet. “I really wanted to die.”

He moves on fast. “Mom immediately pulled over to a gas station, called dad and asked him what to do. I tried to throw up and did a little. It was mostly regret but also because I didn’t like the way my mom felt.”

Kody was hospitalized for quite a while, although the medications he took aren’t lethal even at high doses. Doctors worried he’d try again, and when he finally came home, Kate went into hyper-protective mom mode, not letting him out of her sight even to sleep.

Kate realized something had to change fast.

She reached out to Compass Center staff, and they got her a list of six local doctors who do gender therapy. She found one who took their insurance and who eventually prescribed puberty blockers to ease Kody’s traumatizing dysphoria. She panicked over the impossible $4,000.00 annual price tag. Then she qualified for a financial aid program, and Kody received his first of four quarterly injections to put his sexual maturation on hold.

“Did that help?” I ask.

His tone says, ‘Not really.’

“By the time I started them, I was well into being 14. They stopped my cycle, which was the worst part. They slowed breast growth but didn’t reverse existing growth.”

He took the shots for about a year, then on his doctor’s advice, he started testosterone. For almost another year, things started looking up.

That’s when the “hell” I mentioned broke loose.

The State of Florida passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which filled local news with angry voices of conservative parents hating on trans students and calling their parents groomers and pedophiles. Kody watched carefully as the Texas governor announced child-abuse investigations of parents with transgender children.

When the governor of Florida suggested he’d do the same thing, Kody felt guilt that he might hurt his parents and intense fear that he’d be taken from them. His grades suffered and so did his mental health.

Kate says, “I became terrified of child abuse investigations and Kody being put in foster care. He could not survive in the system. This was a matter of life or death.”

Then as if things weren’t bad enough, Kody’s doctor moved away.

Kate went back to Compass for a referral, but their list of 6 doctors willing to treat trans kids had shrunk to one, and when Kate called up, that practice didn’t take her insurance.

Kody was forced to stop testosterone cold turkey, and his mental health took a nosedive.

Together, mom and son decided they absolutely had to get out of Florida. They planned it for months.

New York was Kody’s idea.

Trans teens he talked to there told him they felt safe and supported at school instead of bullied. He needed that! Kate saved every dime she could, and in a leap of desperate faith, packed the car up at the beginning of September and started driving her son toward hope. She tells me she didn’t have concrete plans, that she struggled with extreme anxiety for the four days the trip took.

I ask her what the final straw was. “What got you in that car?”

Her voice shakes. “My son lost another one of his peers.”

I don’t know what that means, so Kody spells it out. “I had a trans friend I’d known for years and got the news he committed suicide.”

Kate says, “That for me was it!” She became convinced that getting Kody to New York was a matter of saving his life. Nothing would stop her, not even anxiety.

Things are finally looking up.

I first learned about this when Kate emailed me from New York several days ago. She wrote to thank me for my recent article about the Rainbow Youth Project, which provides crisis support for LGBTQ kids. She wrote that she was reaching out to them and felt really hopeful and — finally — not alone.

I immediately contacted Rainbow Youth and after a couple days learned they were working to arrange medical care. Kody is assigned to a case manager now, and from what I know of the organization, they’ll do whatever it takes to get him the care he needs.

By the end of the call, Kody’s voice sounds more than reedy and rough. It sounds happy. Full of hope.

He describes the tiny, kitchen-less room they’re sleeping in as clean and private — as if living in a homeless shelter is the least of his worries. He’s excited about school, which he says he loves. He’s making friends. His teachers are calling him by his chosen name using he/him pronouns. All he had to do was ask!

In Florida, he says, “It’s like pulling teeth.”

About New York, he adds, “I am incredibly optimistic. Obviously, we face a lot of hardships getting into stable living, but I no longer have this looming dread waking up in the morning.”

Kody and Kate are going to be okay, but the desperate situation they found themselves in is shared by far too many LGBTQ families in the U.S.

Many parents of transgender kids in conservative states are scared to death about abuse investigations and lack of health care. Rainbow Youth case managers tell me Kody’s lack of access to a doctor is becoming normal in some red states, particularly Florida and Texas.

In Texas, child abuse investigations have been stopped by the courts, allowed again, and stopped again in some cases. Parents have no idea what to expect.

This summer, the outspoken transgender girl Kai Shappley, who has testified multiple times before the Texas Legislature to advocate for transgender youth, announced a fundraiser so she and her family could flee Texas.

Kai and Kody are tips of the iceberg. I hear from LGBTQ families constantly about the danger they feel they’re in — about how becoming refugees in their own country feels like their only option to stay healthy and stay together.

Do you want to help?

Get out and vote this November. Send a message to Republican leaders that picking on LGBTQ families for political gain is a losing tactic. Do you want to help families more directly? Give generously to local and national LGBTQ organizations that provide direct services.

Read about the Rainbow Youth Project USA here, or click the graphic below to learn how you can help by volunteering time or funds.

Do you know LGBTQ families in need? Do you feel helpless or hopeless? Rainbow Youth volunteers are ready to help. Right now.

Click to visit Rainbow Youth

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

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.

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Bisexual activists cautiously optimistic after White House meeting

Sept. 20 gathering took place during Bisexual Visibility Week

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From left to right: Ellyn Ruthstrom, Tania Israel, Nicole Holmes, Mimi Hoang, Ezra Young, Lauren Beach, Belle Hagget Silverman, Diana Adams, Heron Greenesmith, and Khafre Abif. Kneeling: Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson and Blair Imani outside the White House on Sept. 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Heron Greenesmith)

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Sept. 20, just in time for Bisexual Visibility Week, a diverse group of 15 bisexual and pansexual activists met with officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Melanie Fontes Rainer, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

The 15 advocates comprised a wide cross-section of the bisexual community, including nonbinary, Transgender, female, young, older, Black, Asian and Muslim advocates, people with disabilities and parents. We came from many walks of life: Academia, education, research, health care, advocacy, law, media and community activism. This isn’t unusual: Bisexual people comprise more than half of all LGBT people, totally approximately 12.5 million bisexual adults in the U.S. Strikingly, 15 percent of all GenZ adults — nearly 1 in 6 — identify as bisexual. People of color are more likely to identify as bisexual, as are cisegender women and Transgender people in general. 

It has been a painful six years since the Executive Branch last met with bisexual activists (you do the math.) Those meetings, like this one, were the product of tireless advocacy from a population with zero paid organizational staff and less than one percent of all philanthropic dollars earmarked for the LGBT community. It was these stats and others that we shared at HHS on Sept. 20. 

Bisexual and pansexual people face specific disparities in mental and physical health, intimate partner violence and monkeypox prevention, treatment and care. Did you know, for example, that nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped? And did you know that federal reporting on monkeypox doesn’t disaggregate between gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, despite evidence that bisexual men are uniquely vulnerable to MPX and other infectious diseases. 

Khafre Abif is a Black bisexual educator, father and person living with HIV. At the meeting with agency officials, Abif shared the story of how staff at his HIV-care clinic initially denied him the monkeypox vaccine, despite Abif being bisexual and thus in a population of special focus for the vaccine. 

“This meeting has been a long time coming for the bi+ community,” said Abif. “I’m looking forward to a dialogue with federal officials about solving some of the health issues we face.”

In order to begin remedying these disparities and more, we presented the administration with a set of benchmarks, including the creation of a Federal Interagency Bisexual Liaison and a Federal Interagency Bisexual Working Group. Other benchmarks included training for HHS staff on bisexual disparities and remedies thereof, funding streams for bisexual-specific funding and interventions, and the disaggregation of data on specific health disparities. 

Robyn Ochs is a pillar of bisexual and pansexual community organizing. At HHS, Ochs shared more about her specific expertise. “Research has made clear our health disparities and invisibility. It’s time for federal interventions to catch up with what we already know through research and lived experience.”

Frustrated by years of inaction by the federal government to release bisexual-specific data, target the bisexual and pansexual community with tailored interventions, or recognize the importance of bi+ health in general, we are cautiously excited by this opportunity to share critical data and remedies. 

Heron Greenesmith is the Senior Research Analyst for LGBTQI+ Justice at Political Research Associates, and the co-founder of BiLaw and the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. Find Greenesmith on Twitter @herong.

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