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Legislation may negatively impact LGBTQ+ kids already feeling isolated

Why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media

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Graphic courtesy of the Grant Halliburton Foundation

By Isaias Hernandez | LOS ANGELES – It seems difficult to comprehend that living in California in 2022, coming out as queer is still terrifying. With homophobic and transphobic legislation being introduced and passed in states across the country, including Florida’s law that allows parents to sue a school district if a teacher says the word “gay,” it is easy to assume that the state of California is far removed from that.

Unfortunately, laws like these in California are not an impossibility. Let’s not forget, it was just a short 14 years ago that Golden State voters chose to ban same-sex marriage by passing Proposition 8. It’s an unfortunate reality, but the decision to fully come out may never feel completely safe for many of us – which is why finding a community where we feel welcomed and accepted when we are young is so important, and why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media. 

Like many other queer teens who are also people of color, my high school years were hard. I did not feel safe being myself at home or at school, and on the precipice of adulthood, instead of finding my voice, I retreated and shrank myself to fit the role I thought I was expected to play. And then finally in 2019, I created a place where I could be my true self: a queer, brown, environmental justice fighter.  

When I created my Instagram account, @QueerBrownVegan, I was told that I shouldn’t talk about my queerness and that my environmental activism would be diminished by my queer identity. Knowing what I do about LGBTQI+ communities and the outsized impact the climate crisis and environmental injustices have on this vulnerable population, though, solidified my choice to keep my queerness front and center. 

I relied on the social connectedness of Instagram to create my online presence and to discover people who had similar interests as me. The photos, videos, and accounts I searched for would lead to recommendations of other like-minded people. It opened an entirely new world to me – and led to me feeling accepted and seen. This platform has also helped me to hold space for others, too. When young, queer environmentalists find my account, they too can feel like they’ve finally found a space of their own where they won’t feel judged or be bullied for being who they truly are. 

The community I have built on Instagram is one I wish I could have found when I was a teenager. This community has not only allowed me to be myself but also to forgive myself for the years I spent hating who I was. Social media gives teens from marginalized communities – brown, black, queer, disabled, fat, whatever and whoever they are – a place to find a community where they feel less alone and less marginalized. 

Recently, there has been a discussion in California’s Capitol about how to best keep teens safe on social media. To Sacramento, I say this: Queer teens are not safe when they are being ridiculed at school, they are not safe when their parents abuse them for a sexuality or gender they did not choose, and queer teens are not safe when they cannot be themselves. Social media is sometimes the safest space for queer teens who have nowhere else to be themselves. 

Bills like California Assembly Bill 2408 (AB 2408), that would impose strict standards on social media companies, could prevent young people from using social media at all, and that could have a dire impact on an already isolated young person who is looking for information or support from a community of people they otherwise may never find. With 45% of LGBTQ youth having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, that is not a risk lawmakers should be willing to take.

I urge lawmakers to think about queer youth and youth from other marginalized communities – listen to their stories and understand the importance of being able to create a community where they can finally be themselves, unapologetically.

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Courtesy of Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez is an environmental educator & founder of QueerBrownVegan.

Queer Brown Vegan is an environmental media platform that discusses the intersections around climate, LGBTQ issues, and food.

He seeks to advance the discourse around climate literacy through an intersectional media lens.

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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

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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]

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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

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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]

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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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