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Archive for the ‘news’ Category

A photo of Hudson River Park taken at sunset.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

In June of 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo established a commission to seek out a design for a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida that had happened earlier that month. Submissions were accepted in October, and on Sunday, June 25th 2017, the winning design was announced

Anthony Goicolea, the victorious designer, was perhaps destined to win it. A Cuban-American who grew up in the south and now shares a Brooklyn home with his husband, he is a part of the communities hit hardest by the shooting, which stands as the deadliest civilian incident of gun violence in the United States.

His design is an arrangement of nine boulders, most of them bisected by thick, polished layers of refractive glass. The glass slices will act as prisms, using any available light to throw rainbows in all directions. The boulders, in their loose circle, will remind visitors to the space of ancient sites, like Stonehenge and burial mounds.

“This monument will serve as a communal space filled with light, color, and hope where the visitors can sit, mourn, love, and remember for years to come,” Giocolea stated. 

The site of the new monument, Hudson River Park, is Giocolea’s home turf. He often runs there. And it is an important place to the LGBT community as well; the Stonewall Inn is only a short walk away.

“It feels like there are certain shapes and patterns that are encoded in our DNA as humans that transcend any particular culture and speak to how we are unified in the larger scheme,” Giocolea added. “I wanted to create a space that feels familiar, even though it is new.”

While the announcement of the winning design was timed to coincide with NYC Pride festivities, there is currently no official date for the completion of the installation.

A photo of a legal document that's titled "lawsuit."

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Donna Kikkert calls herself a “mainstream” student. By that, the 59-year-old woman chasing her first degree at the University of Wisconsin means that she is straight, white, and Christian. She took a poetry class, and is suing the professor for choosing a reading selection that did not “serve her needs.”

Without naming titles, Kikkert claimed in course records that the assigned readings for her Creative Writing Poetry course focused on “lesbians, illicit sexual relationships, incest, and frequent swearing.” She had demanded more “classic” works, and when that was denied, she complained first to the professor, then to the university, and then, after her failing grade was upheld and the course was finished, to court.

Kikkert’s demands included not only an A grade for herself, but also that the teacher, Professor Patricia Dyjak, be fired or suspended without pay for a full year—four times the length of the course. Kikkert also made personal accusations of inappropriate behavior against Dyjak, accusations refuted by other students.

For generations, literature studies have included only the works of white men and the occasional white woman, only the experiences of the majority. Decades of poetry written by LGBT people, people of color, women, and other “fringe” populations have been left out of the curriculum, and now that they are there, the “mainstream” students feel attacked by their very presence.

There’s a supported study by Australian Dale Spender which indicates that men feel that women are dominating the conversation if women speak 30% of the time. One assumes the same winds up true no matter which majority and minority you substitute in.

Kikkert could have chosen to include the titles from her professor’s curriculum. That she didn’t implies that she knew an actual review of the content wouldn’t support her accusation. And even if those accusations were true, there’s nothing in the law or in the tenants of University of Wisconsin that requires a course to cater to her. That’s why the court not only dismissed her case, but also her request for free counsel.

A mass gathering of protestors in Taiwan who are holding signs in favor of marriage equality.

Protestors gather in Taiwan to voice their support for marriage equality.
Photo credit: weniliou / Shutterstock

Chi Chia-Wei spent more than five months in jail in 1986 for publicly being out as a gay man. That was when Taiwan was under martial law, and he secured a pardon before the year was out, but that was only the beginning of his fight for actual justice. In the 30 years since then, Chia-Wei has campaigned for gay rights in Taiwan, leading petitions and lawsuits against the island nation’s evolving government.

His work has finally borne fruit. In a ruling that may set a brand new precedent for Asia, Taiwan’s constitutional court announced on Wednesday, May 24th, that laws against same-sex marriage have been found unconstitutional. The legislature has two years to amend their Civil Code to reflect the decision or to pass laws specifically regarding same-sex marriages. If they fail to do so, those marriages will be legalized by default.

The justice’s wording called sexual orientation an “immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” and therefore laws against same-sex relationships violate the personal freedom and protections of everybody.

While Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, has shown only lukewarm support for the cause and there have been outspoken rallies against it, the general atmosphere around this decision is not one of surprise. In 2013, the marriage of two transgender women was upheld. In 2015, the most recent year Chi applied for permission to marry his committed partner, the legislature was already considering changing Taiwan’s Civil Code, which they are now obligated to do.

Chi and many others are going to remain active in the legislative process surrounding the new decision. They are adamant that it is the Civil Code which must be amended, rather than a separate marriage law for same-sex couples.

“In Asia, every country’s situation is different,” Chi said after the announcement. “But this should certainly offer some encouragement to different societies to consider following in Taiwan’s footsteps and giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.”

The YouTube logo.

Image credit: rvlsoft/ Shutterstock

In its constant push to make YouTube into a mainstream, profit-generating machine, Google has (hopefully inadvertently) started blocking content by LGBTQ+ creators. The introduction of a “restricted mode” for the service is designed to make it more “family friendly,” allowing parents to feel better about their kids poking around YouTube, which can contain a lot of profanity, hate speech, and nudity.

The problem is that somehow or another, the system used to define what is restricted has flagged some videos from LGBTQ+ content creators. The implication seems to be that content by and for LGBTQ+ people isn’t “family friendly,” an outmoded way of thinking for sure.

According to Tyler Oakley, a gay content creator, YouTube is “often the first place many LGBTQ+ youth around the world see themselves and their stories shared and celebrated.” Representation, whether of the LGBTQ+ community or other marginalized groups, is hard to come by in mainstream media.

For the most part, YouTube has, until some recent changes, been a place where anyone can post content and be seen. And while it’s still true that anyone can post content, it appears that not everyone is being seen. This comes at a time when LGBTQ+ visibility is more important than ever before.

For the record, Google has never taken an outward stance against diversity or the LGBTQ+ crowd, so it’s unlikely that the system is flagging such videos intentionally. The system uses “community flagging” and other signals to filter out content. There are literally millions of videos on the platform, so Google uses a software system to streamline the process.

But YouTube is also a place where bigots gather, so it’s entirely possible that somebody figured out that those videos could be blocked by flagging them as inappropriate. It wouldn’t be the first time that trolls abused a system to punish people they don’t like.

An elderly woman at a gay pride festival.

An elderly woman takes part in a gay pride parade.
Photo credit: Ivan Bandura at Flickr Creative Commons.

There are roughly 2.7 million Americans over the age of 50 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and that number of expected to hit 5 million by the year 2060. So why is it that a recent study from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work is the first to actually study this population?

The longitudinal study, called Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study, interviewed 2,450 adults aged 50 to 100. The study investigated factors such as race and ethnicity, relationship status, resiliency among HIV-positive gay and bisexual men, and transgender people who served in the military. Researchers found “higher rates of disability, cardiovascular disease, depression and social isolation” among this population, compared to other people in the same age group.

Studies like this are important because they help shed light on an underrepresented population. While the LGBTQ+ rights movement has scored some victories in recent years, the primary focus has been on the younger population. We have to remember that older people should be included in this movement as well. If anything, they should be front and center of it, considering that the previous generations paved the way for the rights we have today.

But we also need to remain cognizant of the fact that populations experience aging (and the medical, emotional, and psychological affects thereof) in different ways. That’s why it’s important to study populations through various lenses and remember that being gay and being old are not mutually exclusive. Information from studies like this allow us to better address the problems of the population in question and also allow us to better plan for the future. Everyone stands to benefit from this type of work, considering that we’re all going to get old someday.

Two signs leading in opposite directions. One reads, "Republicans" the other reads, "Democrats."

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The phrase “religious freedom” makes the LGBTQ+ community cringe. But that’s understandable given that religious freedom is often used as an excuse to freely discriminate against queer people.

While conservatives normally take the flak for this, it’s important to note that not all conservatives agree with religious freedom laws. Conservatives are often unfairly cast as “extreme right-wingers” when not all of them fit this bill. Surely, this is a concept that liberals can sympathize with, considering that Democrats face their own stereotypes.

That’s why Robin Fretwell Wilson, Director of the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois College of Law, organized a meeting to try and bridge the divide between the left and the right. The meeting, hosted at Yale University, was meant to get the dialogue started around how to approach religious freedom laws.

Wilson organized the meeting because he believes that “reasonable people in the middle” get drowned out by the constant bickering between the left and the right. He figured if he could bring both Democrats and Republicans together, they could find some common ground.

But Wilson was wrong.

Wilson is a leader in what has been deemed the “Fairness for All” camp. In short, he works alongside lawmakers and politicians to try and reach compromises. But what he found was that even when he proposed a law that was catered to both parties’ interests, someone always objected. Either a conservative didn’t find it to be protective enough of their religious beliefs, or a liberal didn’t find it to be protective enough of their civil liberties.

It’s a lose-lose situation.

But Wilson is going to keep trying, especially because he knows that conflict is inevitable. He fully realizes that he won’t be able to please everyone, he only hopes to please the majority of the people who find themselves caught in the middle of the political divide.

An image that reads, "stop sexual assault."

Image credit: Shutterstock

Dr. Candice Bridge is a chemistry professor at the University of Central Florida who was recently awarded a $324,000 grant to research alternative methods of investigating sexual assault. Sexual assault has been a huge focal point in the media lately. Reports have shown that a vast number of rape kits remain untested due to lack of DNA evidence.

Unfortunately, lack of DNA is precisely why lots of rapists and sexual assailants walk free. But Dr. Bridge is trying to change that. Dr. Bridge is researching ways to investigate sexual assault and prove the guilt of perpetrators without relying on DNA samples from semen or blood.

But sexual assault is a far more complex crime than the stereotypical image of a violent rapist hiding in an alleyway. It is a pervasive problem, and one that is routinely ignored, covered up, or simply forgotten by universities, municipalities, and voters.

As we move into a presidential administration that obviously doesn’t see sexual assault as a crime, Dr. Bridge’s work will be essential to helping women get the justice they deserve. It’s going to be a struggle, but it is one that Dr. Bridge is fully equipped to handle.

You see, Dr. Bridge was the first black woman to teach chemistry at the University of Central Florida, and was one of the first people to receive a PhD in forensics here in the United States. The STEM fields, despite a lot of talk about opening doors to women and people of color, haven’t exactly deconstructed their racial or gender biases.

In 2002, only eight black women received PhDs in computer sciences, and by 2012, that number had risen to only 16. Almost half of all black or Latina women in the STEM field have been mistaken for custodial or support staff. Dr. Bridge is someone that a lot of people can and should look up to, and she’s using what access she has to power to make the world a better place.