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Why Won’t the FDA Let Me Donate Blood?

I have type O-negative blood; I am what's called a "universal donor." My blood is the most sought-after because no matter what type of blood you have, you can receive O-negative blood. For that reason, in the event of an emergency, first responders bring O-negative blood to the scene.

I was in New York City on 9/11, and blood banks, which were inundated by people who wanted to donate, would only accept O-negative blood.

I am a happily married man; we've been together for seven years, and we are monogamous and happy. We live in a row house with a porch swing and a white fence; we volunteer in our communities; we both work in the public interest.

Our nation is facing a major blood shortage, "one of the worst [shortages] that the Red Cross has seen," according to the Red Cross.

But a blood bank won't take my blood, because they can't. I am a gay man, and the FDA forbids it.

I tell this to my straight friends, and they can't believe it, but it's true. According to the FDA:

Having had a low number of partners is known to decrease the risk of HIV infection. However ... [the FDA has been unable to] reliably identify a subset of MSM (e.g., based on monogamy or safe sexual practices) who do not still have a substantially increased rate of HIV infection compared to the general population or currently accepted blood donors.


You heard that right: Despite being in a seven-year monogamous relationship, I am still, somehow, at a higher risk of contracting HIV.

Recently, an FDA advisory panel considered walking back that prohibition by proposing a rule that would have allowed gay men to donate blood if they abstained from sex for one year. By their logic, if I stopped sleeping with my husband for 365 days, my risk for HIV would be magically reduced and I would be allowed me to donate blood.

The lack of logic, on its face, is mind-boggling, especially when you consider that both the American Red Cross and the American Medical Association have said that the ban is scientifically outdated and unnecessary.

But this is far more than just a policy relic that is caught in the slow churn of bureaucratic regulatory reform. No, this is of course another in a litany of double standards that the LGBT community faces.

Heterosexuals (regardless of their character) can serve in the military, but the LGBT community had to fight for our right to fight (and die) for our country. Heterosexuals (regardless of their character) can marry (and divorce) in all 50 states; the LGBT community has had to push -- state by state, one by one -- for our right to commit to the person we love. Heterosexuals (regardless of their character) can adopt; same-sex couples can jointly petition to adopt statewide in only 23 states and D.C.

On 9/11, after the towers fell to ash, I approached Second Avenue, headed toward the New York Blood Center. There were no cars on the streets, just thousands of people making a slow exodus north to their homes. The line to give blood was three blocks long.

Standing on the corner of 67th Street, I faced one of the most acute moral quandaries I've yet to confront: Do I lie about my identity to help my fellow brothers and sisters, or do I stay true to myself and know that the Red Cross would, by law, dispose of my blood?

* * *



The FDA recently rejected the Advisory Panel's one-year-abstinence recommendation and elected to keep the permanent ban in place.

One of the doctors who voted for the ongoing ban clearly found the debate to be an irritant; she was quoted complaining that "[i]t sounds to me like we're talking about policy and civil rights...."

Damn right. And no policy should force me to lie so I can give back.
20
Dec
2014

Busted: Leaked Salvation Army Document Shows It’s Still Homophobic

What's more annoying than the constant ringing of bells by Salvation Army donation-bucket volunteers during the holiday season? The organization's longstanding, outspoken homophobia, of course!

Last year the Salvation Army did a media blitz claiming that it no longer believes same-sex lovin' is a sin.

Turns out they were lying. An internal document was recently leaked, and it reveals the dishonest disconnect between what the Salvation Army was telling the public -- that they are more LGBT-friendly than their checkered past would indicate -- and the fact that they are actually still just as homophobic as ever.

The document, which was sent around to internal stakeholders and explicitly reads, "This is not for public use ... including social media of any sort," outlines external messaging that sounds inclusive:

The Salvation Army does not believe that homosexual orientation is a sin. ... We simply do not discriminate against the people we serve or hire. Our doors are open to all. ... We serve and hire all people without discrimination."


But then the letter goes on to say some very contradictory things that are right in line with its history of exclusionary and anti-LGBT policies:

Leadership roles in denominational activities such as teaching or holding local officer roles require certain adherence to consistently held spiritual beliefs. This would apply to any conduct inconsistent with Salvation Army beliefs and would include same-sex sexual relationships. ... For anyone in a Salvation Army ministry position, the theological belief regarding sexuality is that God has ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and sexual activity is restricted to one's spouse. Non-married individuals would therefore be celibate in the expression of their sexuality. This is the long-standing expectation of all individuals in ministry roles in The Salvation Army, including lay people.


There are lots more gems, including instructions that Salvation Army officers not appear in uniform when attending same-sex weddings, and that consequences for such actions "may include termination."

A Salvation Army spokesperson told Queerty in response to the leaked memo:

The Salvation Army serves 30 million people a year without discrimination, as you will see by the information included in the communications packet you have. We realize our message of service to the LGBT community and our non-discriminatory employment practices have been overlooked, misconstrued or misunderstood in recent years, and our focus the past 12-18 months has to be address these failings. We have traveled the country extensively meeting with Salvation Army officers and employees to help communicate the mission of The Salvation Army as it relates to the LGBT community and encourage them to reach out to LGBT organizations on a local level as we have on a national level.


Not only is the official response from the Salvation Army tone-deaf, but it doesn't even begin to address the disconnect between their internal and external policies. In the era of leaked information, the Salvation Army better plug its holes and get its story straight -- or should we say "gay"?
20
Dec
2014

Cutting Holes in the Law

Opposition to faith-based legal exemptions is about equality, not payback.

"I'm sorry, but we don't serve your kind here."

This overt discrimination is something that leading gay libertarians, who otherwise support marriage equality, think should be legal for wedding photographers, bakers, and other business owners to say to gay couples. (The libertarians' side lost when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Elane Photography case.) They believe that government, as much as possible, should leave people alone.

It is true that government regulation can go too far, hampering businesses and treating adults like children who need constant supervision. One can easily compile horror stories portraying an out-of-control "nanny government." I would say that generally, government should protect us not from ourselves but from one another. When your cigarette smoke invades my airspace, or when your gun obsession endangers schoolchildren, or when you try to impose your faith's "thou shalt nots" in the public marketplace, then we are headed for trouble.

An upstate New York couple that rents facilities on their farm for weddings was fined $13,000 under the state's Human Rights Law in August for turning away a lesbian couple. David Boaz of the Cato Institute tweeted sarcastically on Dec. 9, "Let's go around fining everyone $13,000 to show the need for tolerance." Stephen H. Miller of IGF CultureWatch criticized it as "payback."

Pardon me, but discriminators are not the aggrieved party. This is not about provoking discrimination to seek punishment for homophobes. Most gay people simply want to go about their business without being degraded and denied service. But fines are a means of enforcement. A prohibition without penalties is merely a suggestion.

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a bill modeled on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which featured in the Hobby Lobby case. The Michigan measure may allow emergency medical technicians to invoke "sincerely held religious beliefs" in refusing to serve LGBT people.

Where will religious demands in daily commerce end? If you view conscience clauses only in terms of gay families, the problem might seem limited. But what about people who object to interracial marriage or to second or third marriages after divorce? Assuming that gay conservatives are motivated by more than axe grinding against gay liberals, why does their solicitude for the religious right appear reserved for gay-related cases?

If an anti-gay Christian receives legal exemptions, why should a Christian Scientist parent opposed to modern medicine not be exempt from child welfare laws? Why should a Muslim devoted to the subordination of women (which, to be fair, is disputed within Islam) not invoke Sharia law? Satanists, amusingly, have already responded to a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma state capitol by demanding equal placement of a monument to the demon Baphomet.

Whether you are an EMT who deplores gender nonconformity, a pharmacist who anathematizes birth control, a county clerk who opposes gay marriage, or a police officer whose faith forbids interracial marriage, you should separate your beliefs from your duties or find other work. To call my position intolerance on my part is to turn the truth on its head. None of those prospective customers is trying to change your beliefs; they just want to be treated the same as others. (I should note that libertarians do not object to nondiscrimination laws as applied to government; they object to imposing them on private businesses.)

To keep from swirling into chaos, we must resist letting individuals cut holes in the law to reflect their personal list of abominations. Unacknowledged privilege lurks at the heart of the demand for faith-based exemptions. Put the shoe on the other foot, and it may dawn on people that their intolerance can come back to bite them.

Living in a diverse society obliges us to put up with one another's differences. Getting clever and insisting that your difference requires intolerance of mine will not do. I will not be a second-class citizen, wondering whether my marriage will be recognized in this shop, and whether whether my prescription will meet with the pharmacist's approval in that drugstore.

America is fractious and fragmented enough in the ordinary course of things. To preserve civil society, we cannot permit ad hoc exclusions from equal protection.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade.
20
Dec
2014

Who Are We to Judge (Uganda)?

This week The Washington Post highlighted plans by conservative lawmakers in several states to push to expand rights to discriminate against same-sex couples by empowering individuals and businesses to refuse service to gays.

This is happening. In 2014 (nearly 2015). In America.

A state legislator in North Carolina is proposing a bill that allows "government workers to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples," despite the fact that such unions are now legal in the state.

A group of state congressmen in Texas is preparing a bill "to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty" -- widely expected to entail measures that threaten the civil rights of gay Texans. Others in the Texas legislature are working to amend the constitution to effectively make LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances unenforceable by the cities that have adopted them.

In Michigan the State House has just passed a set of its own highly controversial "religious liberty" bills, including one allowing adoption agencies to refuse placements to couples if it is "in violation of their faith." Not difficult to read between the lines on that one.

While same-sex couples now have their right to marry enshrined in law in 35 states, this renewed wave of discriminatory and bigoted moves serves as a poignant reminder of how far we have yet to go.

Before we can consider our society and our political leadership to be "progressive" -- and certainly before we are in any position to point the finger at other governments of the world that are also moving too slowly toward progress -- we must take a realistic look at where we are on this issue. We need to read the fine print.

Despite the strides the LGBT community has made in recent years, bigotry and ignorance toward gays is alive and well in America, as evidenced by what's occurring on the floors of our capitol buildings.

And this is why I've grown frustrated with the battle cries against Uganda's government. My frustration goes far beyond the points I made in a recent HuffPost blog post on the hypocrisy of decrying Uganda's policies while turning a blind eye to other offenders around the world. What tests my patience, what troubles me beyond all else, is our propensity for pointing the finger at others while ignoring our own flaws.

The truth is that the United States is not yet at a point where it can self-righteously condemn others for their intolerance toward LGBT people, at least not with a straight face.

Someday we will get there, and we will lead by example. But not today.
20
Dec
2014

The Top 10 Bestselling Gay Sex Books of 2014

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As a sex-advice columnist, I like to keep up with the latest books on gay sex. Given how obsessed gay men are with the subject, you'd think this category would be producing more titles than an automatic profile generator on Grindr, but it isn't. If you look at my list of the top 10 most popular gay-sex books on Amazon, you'll see that only one of the books was published in 2014. The rest go as far back as 1998! Take a look:

1. How to Bottom Like a Porn Star*
Published: 2014
Amazon ranking: 35,000

2. How to Bottom Without Pain or Stains
Published: 2013
Amazon ranking: 44,000

3. The Joy of Gay Sex
Published: 2006
Amazon ranking: 80,000

4. Anal Health and Pleasure
Published: 2011
Amazon ranking: 149,000

5. How to Ejaculate More and Shoot Further
Published: 2013
Amazon ranking: 160,000

(Click here to see the rest of the list.)

Want to know what "Amazon ranking" means and how it translates to the number of books sold per day? Click here. You'll be able to look at any book on Amazon and estimate how many have been sold (a neat trick to impress your writer friends!).

Why would there be so few gay-sex-advice books on the market? Gay men are at least as interested in sex as straight men, yet there are far more sex guides for them than there are for us.

We Know More Than They Do

Clearly, one of the main reasons has to do with innate knowledge. When it comes to relating, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. But when it comes to sex, men are from Pluto and women are from Narnia. Their sexual plumbing couldn't be any more different, and because of that, men's ignorance could not be starker. That opens up (pun intended) a huge market to fill the void.

But that isn't necessarily true for gay men. Our plumbing works exactly the same way. You say "tomato" and I say "tomatoh," but we're still talking about the same vegetable (or fruit, depending on your politics or your botanical background). We don't need to be told to do this or that for him, because we're doing it for ourselves. It doesn't take much to understand that he's probably going to like what we do.

Still, gay men are men, and as the old Polish saying goes, "If there are tires or testicles, there will be trouble," meaning male ignorance knows no bounds and pride enforces silence. Many of the letters I get to my sex-advice column are astoundingly ignorant. One good book out of our top-10 list would've stopped them from being written.

Just because your sexual plumbing is nearly identical to your partner doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be good at sex, though. Raise your hand if you've ever gone home with a guy who was so bad at sex that the Peeping Tom put down the binoculars. Now keep those hands up. The odds are some guys were thinking about you when they raised their hands. The truth is that being good in bed is a learned behavior. Few of us are born knowing what to do and how to do it.

And that's why we buy gay-sex-advice books -- because some of us, and I include myself, know what we don't know and like the idea of constantly improving our ability to experience and deliver pleasure.

There's Just Not Enough of Us

But there's another reason that gay-sex books don't sell well, and it's the same reason that most gay books -- fiction or nonfiction -- don't do well: Gay men don't buy gay books. Raise your hand if you bought any kind of gay book in the last year. Keep them raised if you bought two or more.

I assure you that the pitiful number of hands that went up had nothing to do with worries about underarm stains. There are hardly any gay bookstores left in America, but you would be wrong if you thought that the only thing that decimated them was Amazon and the rise of digital books. Gay bookstores had always struggled even before the dawn of the digital age. When you combine how few of us there are (what, 6 percent of the population?) with how little interest we have in gay subject matter (other than porn), you have a recipe for what's happened: gay book stores nearing extinction, and, with the exception of Kensington Books, no profitable gay publishing houses.

Still, the need is there, and gay books will never go away. If you haven't bought one in a while, pick one out of Amazon's list of the top 100 gay and lesbian bestsellers. It'd make a great holiday gift for you or someone you love.

*I authored this book under a pseudonym.
20
Dec
2014

Empathy and Kindness

Even when my 89-year-old dad could barely walk and had compromised memory, he would survey his elder community's dining hall at meal time to see if anyone was sitting alone and join them, even if he had already finished eating. It was a simple act of empathy and kindness that I believe he absorbed from his parents, trying to make ends meet in small town Illinois during the Great Depression. Indeed, I remember that my dad, who passed away earlier this year, throughout his life gravitated in social situations to people he perceived to be excluded or to be less popular.

At age 19, my dad was preparing to ship out to the Pacific Theater in World War II, when he heard an African American soldier's story about how in a military lunchroom two dozen German prisoners of war and their white American guards ate, laughed and smoked cigarettes together, while he and the other African American soldiers had to look on from the kitchen. My dad was outraged and wrote to his parents:

The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. Also we happen (supposedly) to be fighting this war for the reason that Hitler says that the Germans are superior to all others, and that certain others (the Jews for one) are decidedly inferior. We are fighting these doctrines... and what do we do but turn around and do the same thing. We persecute the Negroes; we persecute the Jews; we persecute the Japanese-Americans... we consider the Chinese below us...


I've always been struck how my dad, who grew up in small town Southern Illinois, developed such a keen multicultural and civil rights awareness as a teenager. Only recently have I come to perceive it as a political manifestation of the practice of simple kindness that surrounded him in my grandparent's home. My dad and mother continued that mission and educated my brother and me about the civil rights movement as we grew up in the 1960s in Missouri.

In 2004, I attended a marriage equality forum that brought out many politically conservative Christians, where a teenager approached me and asked me a common evangelism opener: Do you know what will happen to you after you die? Not knowing what I wanted to say or how we could find connection, I replied: "Why do you ask? What are your intentions?" We talked for a long time, with my responding to whatever he said with silence and then questions to elicit more deeply what his intentions were. After a while, the teenager appeared somewhat uncomfortable with the unusual conversational style, and then seemingly out of nowhere said, "I guess I'm not being very kind." I smiled and spontaneously responded that we had finally found connection: the value of kindness.

Last year's holiday season witnessed the amazing sight of LGBT couples dashing to get married in Salt Lake City. This year, we await news of whether the United States Supreme Court will review one or more of the marriage cases now before it and establish nationwide marriage equality in 2015. At the same time, events like the ones in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland, and the responses to them dominate the news. All of these things remind us of the truth that anytime anyone is treated less than equal because of who they are, we are diminished as people. We look to the new year to bring full constitutional rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans at the Supreme Court and for our nation to chart a new course to address racial and social injustice. This holiday season we reflect on empathy and kindness. Happy holidays and New Year.
20
Dec
2014

Reflections on My <i>BOYSTOWN</i> Series

Like others my age, I remember the moment when I heard about the death of Karen Carpenter, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and Princess Diana's fatal car crash. I also remember when I watched Dynasty's Steven Carrington stand before his fictional family and declare, "I'm a homosexual, Dad. I'm gay." With the rich, shoulder-padded members of his family staring him down, Steven said the words that I hoped to one day be able to say to my family -- perhaps with the affirmation of a sibling like Fallon, who acknowledged her brother's orientation by stating, "Steven is gay."

As a young, gay fan of dramas such as Dynasty, Dallas, and Days of Our Lives, I hoped for the day they would feature a gay character, someone I could relate to in some way. So when Dynasty introduced me to Steven Carrington, I was hooked. In Steven I saw someone who struggled with at least a few of the issues that were running through my confused, teenage mind. Even though the show later altered Steven's face by recasting the actor, adjusted his homosexuality by making him more bisexual, and killed off two of his lovers (one at the hands of his father Blake, and one in the show's famed Moldavian massacre), as young gay man searching for people like me on television, I was grateful for Steven.

Three years after Dynasty was canceled in 1989, Fox brought me Melrose Place and its gay character, Matt Fielding. Ten years had passed since Steven Carrington's coming-out moment, and not much had advanced in terms of gay characters on television. In fact, I recall the "hype" surrounding an on-screen kiss that was supposed occur between Matt and one of his boyfriends, which never aired due to concerns from the network and its sponsors.

Thankfully, things have improved quite a bit since those days. I now enjoy watching Will and Sonny on Days of Our Lives, and gay characters populate many shows on television and online. Still, I still keep thinking that there is room for more.

All my life, friends and family have told me that I should be writing for television. As those who know me watched as I engaged with my TV dramas, they saw in me something that, until recently, I didn't see: a true passion for interesting characters and continuing storylines.

Once I recognized that passion myself, an idea was born: What if I created my own continuing drama that consisted mainly of gay characters? I started to ponder the idea more and more, and in June 2013 I began writing my drama focused on gay characters, BOYSTOWN.

Like all good soaps, BOYSTOWN needed a "core" family; thus the Mancini family was born. The Mancini brothers -- as well as their friends and significant others -- are at the center of BOYSTOWN. Emmett Mancini, the youngest of the brothers, is a bright, caring guy whose boyfriend has a few secrets Emmett has yet to discover. Derek Mancini and his wife Joyelle are BOYSTOWN's straight couple -- but a recent encounter with hunky Cole O'Brien could have life-altering consequences for Derek. And Justin Mancini, the oldest brother, brings with him a family history that both Emmett and Derek were hoping to forget.

I decided to publish one BOYSTOWN "episode" online per month, each ending in a cliffhanger. To my surprise, the story became so popular that people from all over the country began to email me demanding to know what happened to their favorite characters and wanting the episodes to be released more quickly.

Readers then suggested that I publish the first 10 episodes as a book. I took their advice, and BOYSTOWN Season One was published. The book began to sell well locally and nationally. In the meantime I continued to write additional episodes. Episodes 11 through 20 were released as BOYSTOWN Season Two in July 2014, and I am currently working on BOYSTOWN Season Three, which will be released in 2015.

I have been so intrigued by the fans' responses to the characters and couples in the series. For example, I never anticipated that so many people would be fans of "Kemmett" (Keith and Emmett). Fans are very vocal about what I did to that couple at the end of Season One and provided many ideas for how I should write those characters in Season Two. And I have to admit that some of the characters have taken on a life all their own. I created Michael Martinez simply because I needed a police officer for a brief scene and then, all of a sudden, came up with a huge idea, and now he is one of BOYSTOWN's most liked characters.

Because BOYSTOWN is written like a TV series, it reads quickly and keeps people on the edges of their seats. And because of people's comments that BOYSTOWN "needs to be on TV," I am now working to bring BOYSTOWN to television. I recently "converted" the books into TV-script format and am working with a few people in "the business" who can help to bring BOYSTOWN to TV. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the line-up on a network like HBO or Showtime. The people who have read the scripts really like them, so I remain optimistic that people will soon be gathering around their TVs to watch BOYSTOWN. I am also seeking an agent who would be interested in working with me on both the books and the TV series.

Writing the BOYSTOWN series has been the most fantastic experience of my life. I have been so touched by the outpouring of kindness and support that I have received from BOYSTOWN readers, and I am excited to see what the future holds for BOYSTOWN, both as a book series and TV series. And maybe, just maybe, I have Steven Carrington to thank for it all!

BOYSTOWN is available in paperback and all e-book formats at JakeBiondi.com. Author Jake Biondi may be reached through JakeBiondi.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@boystown_series).
20
Dec
2014

Larry Robinson Talks New Help-Yourself Book <i>Mirror, Mirror</i> and More (AUDIO)

2014-12-17-HUFFMirror.jpgThis week I talked with psychotherapist and life counselor Larry Robinson about his new book, Mirror, Mirror: Reflections of Self: 365-Day Life Journal. Robinson's book evolved from 35 years of counseling both gay and straight clients, and from his Facebook page "Mindful Thinking," which has over 165,000 followers globally. The emotional growth that can be achieved through this book is truly unique and a fabulous way to start 2015. Mirror, Mirror is not a self-help book but a help-yourself book. After each of the 365 lessons, readers will find a question to answer, and space is provided for their answer. You can work on these lessons alone or with a partner. Readers can then return to it any time and check their progress, and each time they go through its pages, they will discover something new about themselves.

I talked to Robinson about his inspiration for writing Mirror, Mirror, and about his spin on LGBT issues. When asked about his involvement with the LGBT community, he stated:

My involvement goes back at least 40 years, as my first volunteer job was at a place called the Homosexual Health Center, on Boylston Street in Boston, where we did volunteer counseling with gay and lesbian men and women. It was operating for about five years, and then it shut down, and that's when I decided basically to go into my own business. Probably it was 1981 that I did some volunteer work for the AIDS Action Committee, and I got my first AIDS patient, and it wasn't even identified as AIDS then in '81; it was called "gay cancer." Unfortunately so few people were out at that time. My client was diagnosed with whatever they believed it was, and he died about three weeks later; it was very quick. From there I worked with many gay men who were infected with the AIDS virus, who were all HIV-positive, and unfortunately they all died. I think my job, basically, at that point, wasn't about how to live; it was more about how to die, because the death rate was so enormous at that time. So my hand has always been involved in the community, and I think I'll always be involved. I work now with gay couples, singles. I think it's part of my life to help people feel better about who they are.


LISTEN:



Larry Robinson has a Master of Education in counseling from Boston University, is a clinically certified forensic counselor working with the Essex County district attorney's office in the Juvenile Diversion Program, and is a certified divorce mediator. He is the founder of Mindful Thinking, which focuses on change and living in the now. His new book, Mirror, Mirror: Reflections of Self, published by Xlibris, was written with this in mind, and with the intention of helping people across the world change and better their lives.

For more information, visit the "Mindful Thinking" Facebook page.

Listen to more interviews with LGBTQ leaders, allies, and celebrities at OUTTAKE VOICES™.

Download interviews on iTunes.
20
Dec
2014

One Pronoun at a Time: The Struggle for Transgender Health in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

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While I've never been anti-LGBT, I can honestly say that before I went to prison, it was a world I was utterly clueless about. If I'm completely honest, I didn't even know that transgender people actually existed. I don't say that to be disrespectful but to show how ignorant I was, and as a point of pride to show how far I've come.

My own introduction to LGBT culture came in the form of a friend, whom I eventually became cellmates with. Her name is Sangye Rinchen, and she's a transgender woman. Incarcerated for unarmed bank robbery, and perhaps even more of a "solid convict" than I was (she's Boston-born, after all), Sangye taught me virtually everything that I know about transgender issues and, in particular, the concerns and struggles of those who are incarcerated. When I was asked to learn about the issues at hand and help in the litigation struggle -- one that has centered on the case of Ashley Arnold -- I became an ardent supporter of their cause.

When it comes to transgender inmates in transition, official Federal Bureau of Prisons policy is to maintain the hormone levels from prior to incarceration. But exactly how this policy is implemented in practice is a whole other matter. Again, had I not had the privilege of getting to know members of the LGBT community in FCI Petersberg, I would never have been aware of how badly overlooked their medical needs have been. Despite the Bureau's "policy," it's taken dedicated work to ensure that these treatments are actually available. I've worked alongside transgender inmates to force administrators to provide androgen blockers and estrogen (via patch and injection), all essential parts of treatment.

For many people, the day Chelsea Manning announced that she identifies as a woman and would be transitioning was the first time they ever thought about life as an incarcerated transgender person (Orange Is the New Black has helped along those lines) and the specific medical issues it involves. But while talking about transgender issues openly may seem like a relatively recent thing, medical protocols for transgender health have been around since 1979. So what we're pushing for here is simply for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adhere to the Standards of Care that were adopted almost 40 years ago and have been reaffirmed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

What many on the outside looking in don't realize is that this isn't about "special" treatment. For people with gender dysphoria (a diagnosis recognized in the DSM-V), physiological and psychological treatment is medically necessary. These things are not optional, but even so it's been a battle to make them available in prisons. We have pushed administrators to provide inmates with bras (though not frilly ones, much to the dismay of some) -- something that anyone following the Ashley Arnold case knows is no small feat. And inmates now have improved access to counseling. However, there are a number of mental-health aspects to the picture that are ignored by officials, and we're pushing for more novel therapies: hair-removal options, vocal training, female underwear, and ultimately sex reassignment therapy. The mental-health component of the issue can't be understated.

Prison is not a very nice place. This is especially true for those who don't conform to the traditional image of a convict. Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or even just effeminate do not have a very good time. And while none of us expect prison to be "fun," they face especially dangerous situations with potentially permanent consequences. Transgender inmates face a much greater risk of sexual assault and are frequent victims of harassment from both inmates and staff. Staff will often refuse to use the correct pronouns when referring to an inmate (using "he" instead of "she") or may berate others for employing the correct ones, and medical staff may sexually intimidate transgender prisoners who come to them for assistance. Sadly we have witnessed both types of incidents at FCI Petersburg.

It is not only transgender inmates who face social stigmatization while incarcerated, either. It is not always easy to support LGBT persons in the prison environment. As an ally I've lost friends over my involvement. I certainly lost the respect of certain hardline groups in the compound, and this weighs on me as part of the broader prison community. But I have also gained the respect and trust of the LGBT community here at FCI Petersburg, and this I place at a much higher value, both socially and morally. I'm a man of principles, even when these principles cut against me.

As the battle for LGBT rights has waged on at FCI Petersburg, the attacks have become more personal, and the tactics increasingly underhanded. Outside of prison staff reading all incoming and outgoing postal mail (SIS technicians now monitor all of my communications), they have also started to do the same to inbound privileged legal correspondence, in an apparent effort to understand my litigation strategy against them for their conspiracy to deprive me of my First Amendment rights. But for me and other LGBT allies at FCI Petersburg (and there are many among staff and inmates), we'll continue to fight the good fight regardless of how painful it might become. It's a matter of principle, a matter of humanity, and it's simply what needs to be done.
20
Dec
2014

Your Gay vs. My Gay: Coming Out and Becoming a Better Parent

I came out in the early 1980s -- into a thriving lesbian community that was fueled by the feminist movement and had some overlap with the gay male community. I always knew that there were different realities for gay people and that many still were in the closet. I dismissed these realities as not being connected to mine. It wasn't until I met Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed., and read her books (her latest is a memoir, Jennifer, Needle in Her Arm: Healing From the Hell of My Daughter's Drug Addiction) that I began to reconsider.

Kaye is an internationally known author and counselor to straight women who are married to gay men. She also counsels closeted gay men on how honesty can help them and their female spouses.

An opinion piece in The New York Times reports that "the openly gay population is dramatically higher in more tolerant states...." Based on factual research, the author concludes, "The evidence also suggests that a large number of gay men are married to women."

Of course, there are also many closeted lesbians who are married to straight men, something that was documented on The Huffington Post.

There are many similarities, but there are also some differences. Every relationship is different. But I came to the conclusion that homophobia is hurting us all -- the straight spouses, the closeted gay or lesbian spouse, the children and particularly the children of closeted gay parents who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Ultimately I was left with more questions than answers. Here Bonnie answers them.

Janet Mason: Could you please explain the nature of your counseling work and how you came to be involved with it?

Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed.: My counseling work specializes in straight women who unknowingly married gay men, and gay men who were hoping they were straight and believed marriage would "cure" those attractions for other men. I started this counseling after the end of my own marriage to a gay man in 1978. Since that time, I have worked with over 100,000 people in this situation, 96 percent women and 4 percent gay men. I currently have a mailing list of over 7,000 people who receive my monthly newsletter.

Mason: What are some of the signs that straight women might be involved with and married to gay men?

Kaye: I have a checklist that is on my website at gayhusbands.com. The checklist includes a decline in sexual activity early in the marriage, a lack of interest in foreplay, unexplained absences of their husbands, a lack of emotional intimacy, viewing gay porn, extensive homophobic remarks, stating he's "confused," and accusing his wife of being too sexually aggressive.

Mason: When a woman discovers that her husband is gay, does the marriage necessarily have to end?

Kaye: I believe these marriages are toxic. Marriages are based on honest communication, intimacy on a physical and emotional level, and fidelity. A gay husband isn't able to provide this to a woman in a sustaining way, as his urges to be with men heighten as the years go on. In many cases, the husband becomes either emotionally or physically abusive due to his frustration of being in the wrong place with the wrong gender. The marriage needs to end because both parties are losing out on what they deserve. However, families can be "redefined" after divorce and remain close as each partner has a chance to find his and her true soul mate.

Mason: Watching the HuffPost Live segment on the Straight Spouse Network, I noticed two things in particular. A gay man mentioned that he became a much better father after he came out, and a straight woman mentioned that her closeted gay ex-husband was homophobic for the 15 years of the marriage before he came out. What are your thoughts on this?

Kaye: Living a lie takes its toll on the whole family unit. They say that secrets destroy families, and this is certainly true. Most children are so sophisticated today that they learn the secret before their mothers do. Then they become keepers of the secret, which tears them apart. If they tell their mothers, they fear it will destroy her life. If they don't tell her, they feel a sense of betrayal because their father is cheating.

Mason: There is an apt saying: "You're only as sick as your secrets." I've known several lesbian friends who have unsupportive closeted gay fathers. Could you elaborate on how having a closeted gay parent can be particularly damaging to someone who identifies as LGBTQ?

Kaye: Children who are gay struggle so much more with dishonest gay parents. Children can sense or know when they have a gay father. His rejection of their homosexuality makes their struggle that much more difficult. They start feeling that "If even my gay father won't accept me, how will others?" In my recent book about my lesbian daughter's life and early death from drugs, Jennifer, Needle in her Arm, I discuss how her gay father's rejection of her lesbianism hurt her deeply. He called her dirty names on a regular basis and told her to make sure not to tell any of his business associates, in case they would think he was gay.

Mason: Obviously, society has to change for the temptation to pass as straight to lose its appeal. Meanwhile, straight spouses of gay partners have to protect themselves. Do you have any final words of advice?

Kaye: Straight spouses need to find support to go through this grieving process in order to move on. Gay partners have to learn that they have the responsibility to help with the collateral family damage that will take place once this revelation is out. The beginning is always filled with turmoil and angry feelings, but the goal should be to redefine the family but work together as much as possible. Sadly, many gay partners are so happy to finally be "free" they pursue what they feel they've missed for so many years and don't provide that support.
20
Dec
2014