One Equal World

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 is a day to go down in Utah history. Salt Lake City, home to the Mormon Church, elected their first openly gay mayor, former lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. And better yet, it was a surprise to no one.

Biskupski says that Utah has come a very long way. When she was first elected to office in 1998, some of her lawmaker colleagues would not shake her hand. And now LGBT issues didn’t even define the race between her and her mayoral opponent, the incumbent Ralph Becker. The two are friends, and he’s vowed to work with her to ensure a smooth transition.

Becker, 63 and a Democrat, helped pass a 2009 city anti-discrimination ordinance and officiated dozens of the first gay marriages after Utah’s surprise ruling overturned their same-sex marriage ban.

The election does, however, come on the heels of a number of local strikes against the queer community. In the days before Biskupski’s victory, a SLC judge removed a foster child from a lesbian family to place her with a heterosexual couple, and the Mormon church issued new rules targeting gay members and their children; specifically that the children of gay Mormon couples could not be baptized until they reached adulthood and publicly disavowed same-sex relationships.

It might not need to be said that Biskupski is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She says that one of her first goals as mayor is to sit with church leaders and discuss their stance, especially in the light that earlier this same year, the church endorsed a statewide anti-discrimination law that included protections for gay and transgender people. While the church is not under her jurisdiction, obviously, they have always played a role in SLC politics.

No word yet on whether this is the peak of Biskupski’s political ambitions. But one could hope she casts her eye on the gubernatorial seat in a few years. She’s more than proven she’s not afraid of the work that progress requires.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

The current rough estimate of how many service members have been summarily dismissed from the army, navy, and air force of the US in the last 70 years because of their sexual orientation is over 100,000. But we’ll never know the true number because for many, other charges were listed as the reason for their discharge. For those on record, many had ‘less-than-honorable’ discharges, which have disqualified them from benefits and protections, like the GI Bill for education and veteran’s health care.

For the thousands discharged before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ became official regulations, it’s nearly impossible for gay, lesbian, bi/pansexual or transgender service members to prove they were discriminated against when they were declared unfit to serve, because it would not have been recorded in their service record.

The repeal of DADT in 2010 made such discrimination illegal, but did nothing for those who suffered under it. The Department of Defense is working to restore dignity and benefits to those service members, to restore their military records to reflect their honorable service. However, the process is not a protected one and requires many legal hoops and steps to go through. This includes counsel that not everyone can afford, and access to records that not everyone has. In addition, there is no legal requirement that the appeals process remain available to anyone.

A bill currently sponsored to congress called “Restore Honor to Service Members” would require this process to be simplified and for access to be protected, specifically making it clear that the burden of documentation is on the Department of Defense, not the applicant. The bill is written by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), and Charles Rangel (D-New York). It has 109 cosponsors in both the House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle.


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About a year ago, Beckie Peirce and April Hoagland decided to get married in Utah. Just last June, gay marriage was legalized across the nation and confirmed that this was OK. Peirce and Hoagland then decided to take in a foster child, welcoming a 1-year-old girl into their home, where she joined the couple’s two biological children. The infant’s biological mother approved the plan for adoption and grew the family to five. For the last three months, Hoagland and Perice have raised their foster child like their own.

But on Wednesday, the couple is claiming that a Utah judge has ordered the girl to be removed from their home because they are lesbian women and that the child would be better off with heterosexual parents.

Hoagland believes the decision is “heartbreaking” as she told KUTV:

“I was kind of caught off guard because I didn’t think anything like that would happen anymore. It’s not fair, and it’s not right, and it hurts me really badly because I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Hoagland told KUTV that the judge, Judge Scott Johansen (a juvenile judge in Utah’s Seventh District), said “through his research he had found out that kids in homosexual homes don’t do as well as they do in heterosexual homes.” A copy of the court order by the judge was not immediately available and the judge refused to show the research on his claim.

The Human Rights Campaign also defended the couple’s disbelief:

“Removing a child from a loving home simply because the parents are LGBT is outrageous, shocking, and unjust. It also flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that children being raised by same-sex parents are just as healthy and well-adjusted as those with different-sex parents. At a time when so many children in foster care need loving homes, it is sickening to think that a child would be taken from caring parents who planned to adopt.”

Hoagland and Peirce are seeking an attorney to fight the judge’s decision.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, more than 575,000 people were homeless in the United States in January 2014 – and nearly a fourth of them were under the age of 18. Estimations from numerous organizations show that the number of homeless youth is increasing; it’s hard to determine how many children do not have adequate housing and other provisions (due to their mobility).

Among the issue of youth homelessness, four years ago, a group of activists saw a dire need to address homeless LGBT youth to get off the streets of Atlanta and into safer places. Lost-N-Found Youth, the city’s only non-profit organization dedicated to helping LGBT youth into more permanent housing, was formed and almost 1,000 youth have been assisted to acquire jobs and into their own homes since that time.

The White House was lit up in rainbow colors in celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage on June 26, which indicated a growing acceptance of LGBT people across the nation. However, Rick Westbrook, executive director of Lost-N-Found Youth, says the need to help homeless young people has actually grown significantly in Atlanta:

“We went from seeing 75 kids a month in our drop-in center to 300 a month,” Westbrook said. “Our phone rings off the hook.”

The reason? “Backlash,” Westbrook said.

TV shows such as “I Am Cait” that chronicle the journeys of transgender people and the Supreme Court decision have led many young people across the nation to believe it was safe for them to come out to their families, Westbrook explained. Parents instead have promptly thrown kids out of their homes, leaving many teens and young adults to have to fend for themselves.

With approximately 750 homeless LGBT youth on the streets in Atlanta, parents kicking youth out of their homes for coming out is the largest reason for homelessness among LGBT youth.

“I would love to retire. But this problem isn’t going to get any better. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in the Bible belt and there are always going to be families that follow that book and adapt it for their needs,” Westbrook said.

Lost-N-Youth is currently seeking to raise $1 million so it can open shelter in the heart of Midtown Atlanta.

Image: President Barack Obama on OUT Magazine

Image: President Barack Obama on OUT Magazine

President Obama has become the first U.S. President to pose for the cover of an LGBT publication. He appears as this year’s face of OUT Magazine’s OUT100 issue as “Ally of the Year.” The list highlights the 100 most influential people in the LGBT community, as determined by OUT. Obama’s views on same-sex marriage have evolved over the course of his presidency, and his landmark cover shows that a change in attitude is possible for anyone.

OUT loves to recognize those who make a difference in the lives of LGBT individuals or promote visibility in the community, and not just through their covers. The magazine also releases a Power 50 issue which profiles 50 high-profile members of the community, including Dan Savage, RuPaul Charles, Shepard Smith, Rachel Maddow, and Ken Mehlman, who recruited over 300 Republican representatives to sign an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of national same-sex marriage.

That brief was eventually heard, and the Obama administration legalized same-sex marriage everywhere in the United Status earlier this year. “Part of being American is having a responsibility to stand up for freedom—not just our own freedom, but for everybody’s freedom,” Obama said to OUT. Our individual stories come together to make one large American story.”

At the start of his presidency Obama did not appear to endorse legal marriage for same-sex couples, but as he entered his second term, he began to voice his changing beliefs, culminating in countrywide recognition of same-sex marriages. President Obama is not the first politician to eventually change his opinion: he is preceded by former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and even actor and former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In an interview with OUT, the president discusses some of the LGBT individuals who have left lasting impressions on his own life, including a young professor he had at Occidental. Happily, Obama later recognized the professor at a Pride Month reception and thanked him for “influencing the way [he thinks] about so many of these issues.”

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

BrewDog, a Scottish craft brewery that intends to spread roots into the United States shortly (Via Columbus Ohio), has created what it calls the first transgender beer. Starting Friday, November 6th, it will be selling bottles of No Label.

“No Label is the world’s first ‘non-binary, transgender beer’ designed to reflect the diversity of the area and champion inclusivity,” according to the company’s website. And that’s not only lip service: All profits from No Label sales will be donated to Queerest of the Queer, a U.K.-based group to support charities for trans youth.

Beer, according to the company, is a natural choice for a brewer’s interpretation of non-binary identity, and that’s all due to one of the key ingredients, hops.

Like many flowering plants, hops plants come in ‘male’ and ‘female’ varieties (meaning they are dioecious). They both produce flowers but since viable seeds ruin the taste of the beer, nearly all fields are culled to only have female plants.

However, it’s far from uncommon for hop plants to change their sex, dropping their female flowers to grow male ones instead prior to harvest. Jester hopes, the varietal BrewDog uses, is naturally prone to this. Furthering the metaphor, they say they brew No Label with hop plants “that have undergone this change and grown male flowers; to add diversity, rather than restrict it.”

Since they’re harvesting the hops before seeds have a chance to form, no harm is done to the flavor.

On top of this, the beer is a Kölsch style brew, which is described as a blurring of the boundaries between lager and ale. In this way, it invokes all those who identify themselves in a similarly non-binary way, neither exclusively female or male, a largely still-invisible part of the LGBT community.

Currently, No Label can only be purchased in London, U.K., but it will soon be available in limited markets in the United States.

The Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. Image: Shutterstock

The Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. Image: Shutterstock

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quietly changed its policy (part of their guide for lay leaders “Handbook 1”) to exclude children of same-sex couples from taking part of the church’s blessings. Under new church policies, Mormon same-sex couples will be considered apostates and their children will be excluded from blessing and baptism rituals (without permission of the faith’s leaders). This rule will remain until they are the age of 18.

Implemented on Thursday and sent to Mormon congregations, the changes were approved by the church’s council after the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriages and high courts across the country.

Spokesman for the Sale Lake City church, Eric Hawkins told NBC News that the policy revisions had been in the works for quite some time:

“The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it respects the law of the land and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”

As you can imagine, not too many people are happy about the new policies.

Jana Riess, a columnist with Religion News Services, was outraged that children born to rapists and murderers can be baptized and blessed, but not children of same-sex couples.

“It’s heartbreaking for me to see my church drawing this line in the sand, which leaves faithful L.G.B.T. members with an impossible choice: they can either be excluded from lifelong love and companionship, or excluded from the blessings of the church,” she said.

The recent policy changes were also perceived as “directly aimed” at destroying same-sex couples, thought Equality Utah, an advocacy group for the LGBT community.

“We support all families and believe that these divisive policies do not represent the Utah values of inclusion and respect,” Equality Utah said.


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