Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill: North Carolina Governor Doubles Down

(Anti-LGBTQ North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory)

Republican leadership in North Carolina can’t take a hint.

After sparking a massive controversy earlier this year with the so called “bathroom bill” designed to marginalize trans people, the Tar Heel State’s Governor Pat McCrory is lashing out again at the state’s LGBTQ community.

The bathroom bill – HB2 – was rushed through the state legislature in response to a city ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that gave trans residents the right to use restrooms corresponding to their gender. HB2 forbids transgender North Carolinians this basic civil right. Furthermore, the law does more than merely nullify Charlotte’s law, but goes as far as neutralizing local legislation designed to prevent workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community broadly.

The latest affront from North Carolina’s bigoted governor came in the guise of a “compromise’ which, in reality, amounts to a reaffirmation of the state’s willingness to enshrine discrimination in its legal code. McCrory offered to convene a session of the state’s general assembly to repeal HB2 if Charlotte willingly repealed the initial law that set off this totally unnecessary firestorm.

McCrory’s singular commitment to persecuting the transgender community of North Carolina is shocking, even if you only consider the economic backlash and national isolation it has caused. A number of businesses – from Paypal to Deutsche Bank, General Electric to Whole Foods – have boycotted North Carolina. Nationally touring musicians have refused to perform in the state. And, in the latest news, the NCAA has pulled seven NCAA championship games out of the state.

Combine these developments with the generally low support that North Carolinians have for HB2 – hovering around a mere 35 percent in one poll – and the Republican establishment’s fixation on this issue is confusing to say the least.

Gays Against Guns: LGBTQ Activists Take a Stand Against Gun Violence

A group of LGBTQ activists are taking a stand against gun violence, with hundreds participating in direct actions against gun companies and their allies around the country.

Gays Against Guns (GAG) formed following the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando this past June, in which a gunman murdered 49 people at the popular gay bar. The activist collective has chapters in 9 cities and boasts more than 300 members in New York City. The group plans to target gun manufacturers including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co – the two largest in the United States – as well as the National Rifle Association.

The group’s Facebook page states: “Queer complacency is over. We call for a ban on assault weapons and sensible gun regulation. We will not let our 49 siblings’ death be in vain.”

The direct actions – slated to kick off Monday – are partly inspired by older activists in the group who participated in the Act Up gay rights campaign of the 1980s, which offered advocacy for people in the gay community affected by AIDS and broadcasted their plight. Act Up’s direct action approach is credited with successfully bringing AIDS into the public spotlight.

GAG seeks to not only elevate the discussion around gun violence and rail against the cynical lobbying of the NRA that persistently blocks meaningful gun laws, but to target companies and individuals with financial stakes in weapons manufacturing.

On Monday, activists staged a “die in” outside of BlackRock, an investment firm with large investments in Smith & Wesson.

Cathy Marino-Thomas – a campaigner for GAG – discussed the rationale for protesting BlackRock:

Here is a company whose CEO, Laurence Fink, prides himself on their socially conscious investment yet comes right out and tells clients that mass shootings worked to their financial advantage,” said campaigner Cathy Marino-Thomas. “They’re smart enough to acknowledge they profit from massacres but can’t find a way to unload those stocks? That’s amoral.

GAG also looks to call attention to firms that vie benefits to NRA members, including car rental companies and Visa.

The nascent organization may just be getting off the ground, but its moral vision and willingness to act are inspiring qualities. With more organizations representing a greater diversity of US citizens forming a loose coalition fighting for sensible gun laws, the tide may slowly turn in favor of sanity in a political arena dominated by Second Amendment extremists.

Orlando Shooting: ‘Angels’ Block Westboro Bigots

(“Angels” arrive on the scene to help block Westboro Baptist Church members from funerals for Orlando shooting victims)

The Westboro Baptist Church – a fringe, virulently bigoted and homophobic congregation based in Kansas – has made headlines throughout the years, picketing national tragedies in efforts to broadcast its hateful message.

Following the mass shooting in Orlando, it was safe to assume that the congregation would stage some form of action. The Pulse nightclub was popular with the local LGBTQ community, meaning that its clientele is one of the primary targets of the church’s animus.

But when the congregation showed up to protest funerals for the shooting victims, a number of community members and allies staged a massive counter rally in order to prevent the anti-LGBTQ protestors from reaching the mourners.

“Angels” from the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre donned large white wings to block Westboro members from view, while 200 people joined together to form a human chain.

This outpouring of love and humanity – significantly larger than the hate it stood opposite from – is a heartening display in the wake of tragedy, as well as a sign that the hate the precipitated the Orlando shooting has no place in our society.

Congress Could Have Prevented Orlando Shooting

(The gunman who killed 50 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando used an AR-15 assault rifle, a military-grade weapon that the NRA wishes to keep legal for everyone to purchase)

The public’s response to the tragic Orlando shooting on Sunday has largely been hopeful and loving. Already, Equality Florida has raised more than $1 million through a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of victims and their families. Voices from around the world have spoken out against violence and fear and in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Other responses – however – leave something to be desired. Presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to congratulate himself for crediting the attack to Islamic extremists. A rather tone-deaf move as investigators still navigated the crime scene identifying victims.

Also, many politicians struggled to name the LGBTQ community as the target, belying the very real, continued presence of homophobia in our society.

Remaining optimistic in the face of nihilistic murder is a powerful statement, and the country appears ready to embrace this path. There are, however, real steps that politicians can take to prevent bigoted individuals and hate groups from exacting the awful toll that we witnessed this week.

Congress, in fact, had an opportunity last year to prevent individuals such as Omar Mateen – the perpetrator of the Orlando terror – from acquiring the kind of military-grade weapons that were used to kill 50 innocents at the Pulse nightclub.

Shortly after the San Bernardino shooting late last year, Senator Diane Feinstein sponsored legislation to block suspected terrorists from buying weapons. Virtually all Republican senators, however, voted against the measure.

The NRA’s influence among elected officials is well-known. Any attempt at even modest gun control – including the popularly supported, common sense effort to prevent suspected terrorists from buying weapons – is anathema to the extremist organization, which maintains a radical and uncompromising look at the second amendment.

As politicians begin blaming political correctness or targeting particular ethnic and religious groups over the Orlando shooting, remember that there was a very real chance to prevent this tragedy. An unstable and capricious individual such as Mateen hardly resembles the well-connected and resourceful terrorists that pull off carefully planned and coordinated attacks. The spontaneous, lone-wolf assault on Pulse nightclub is of a different mould – one that the United States can readily combat with the political willpower to move past the dangerous intransigence of the NRA.

Orlando Shooting: Help Victims of Anti-LGBTQ Hate

Last night, a lone gunman committed the single largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, targeting the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida. At least 50 people were killed and more than 50 hospitalized when a man open fired at Pulse nightclub using an AR-15 assault rifle – a weapon commonly deployed by mass shooters of late.

As authorities pursue leads pertaining to the gunman’s ideology and political orientation, the nation grieves for the victims of the Orlando shooting, killed at a popular gay bar while celebrating the nationally-recognized gay pride month.

According to media outlets, the perpetrator’s father remarked that his son was angered at the sight of two men kissing. This horrific act of violence reminds us of the lingering societal danger of homophobia. Gay rights victories notwithstanding, the LGBTQ community is still vulnerable to the malice and caprice of bigoted individuals and hate groups.

Discussions regarding religious fanaticism and the seemingly endless torrent of gun violence in the United States are sure to follow. The way forward from this tragedy is uncertain. But there are ways that you can help immediately.

Equality Florida – the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organizations started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the victims. Consider donating to not only lessen the tremendous burden on the victims and their families, but also to express solidarity against the wicked hate that precipitated this heinous act.

Trey Pearson, Christian Rock Star, Comes Out

Trey Pearson – lead singer of the popular Christian rock band Everyday Sunday – made waves this month, advancing visibility of the LGBTQ community in a social sphere long-considered hostile to non-heteronormative lifestyles.

In a thoughtfully penned and emotionally riveting open letter, Pearson came out as gay.

“I never wanted to be gay. I was scared of what God would think and what all of these people I loved would think about me,” he wrote.

The 35 year-old singer has sold more than a quarter of a million albums with his band, and has toured all 50 states and 20 countries.

In a separate interview, Pearson remarked that accepting his identity as a gay man would not interfere with his longstanding faith: “There is absolutely no conflict with accepting who I am and following Jesus. God wants me to be healthy, authentic, whole, integrated and my truest self.”

The band performs for largely evangelical Christian circles, which are historically unaccepting of gay lifestyles. Those tendencies, however, may be changing, especially as more individuals such as Pearson break the mold for future Christians to openly practice their faith while being honest to themselves.

Read his full letter below:

To my fans and friends:

Most of us reach at least one pivotal moment in our lives that better defines who we are.

These last several months have been the hardest — but have also ended up being the most freeing months — of my life.

To make an extremely long story short, I have come to be able to admit to myself, and to my family, that I am gay.

I grew up in a very conservative Christian home where I was taught that my sexual orientation was a matter of choice, and had put all my faith into that. I had never before admitted to myself that I was gay, let alone to anyone else. I never wanted to be gay. I was scared of what God would think and what all of these people I loved would think about me; so it never was an option for me. I have been suppressing these attractions and feelings since adolescence. I’ve tried my whole life to be straight. I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids. My daughter, Liv, is six and my son, Beckham, is two.

I had always romanticized the idea of falling in love with a woman; and having a family had always been my dream. In many ways, that dream has come true. But I have also come to realize a lot of time has passed in my life pushing away, blocking out and not dealing with real feelings going on inside of me. I have tried not to be gay for more than 20 years of my life. I found so much comfort as a teen in 1 Samuel 18-20 and the intimacy of Jonathan and David. I thought and hoped that such male intimacy could fulfill that void I felt in my desire for male companionship. I always thought if I could find these intimate friendships, then that would be enough.

Then I thought everything would come naturally on my wedding night. I honestly had never even made out with a girl before I got married. Of course, it felt anything but natural for me. Trying not to be gay, has only led to a desire for intimacy in friendships which pushed friends away, and it has resulted in a marriage where I couldn’t love or satisfy my wife in a way that she needed. Still, I tried to convince myself that this was what God wanted and that this would work. I thought all of those other feelings would stay away if I could just do this right.

When Lauren and I got married, I committed to loving her to the best of my ability, and I had the full intention of spending the rest of my life with her. Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.

I have intensely mixed feelings about the changes that have resulted in my life. While I regret the way I was taught to handle this growing up, how much it has hurt me and the unintentional pain I have brought Lauren, I wouldn’t have the friendship I now have with her, and we wouldn’t have our two amazing, beautiful children. But if I keep trying to push this down it will end up hurting her even more.

I am never going to be able to change how I am, and no matter how healthy our relationship becomes, it’s never going to change what I know deep down: that I am gay. Lauren has been the most supportive, understanding, loving and gracious person I could ever ask for, as I have come to face this. And now I am trying to figure out how to co-parent while being her friend, and how to raise our children.

I have progressed so much in my faith over these last several years. I think I needed to be able to affirm other gay people before I could ever accept it for myself. Likewise, I couldn’t expect others to accept me how I am until I could come to terms with it first.

I know I have a long way to go. But if this honesty with myself about who I am, and who I was made by God to be, doesn’t constitute as the peace that passes all understanding, then I don’t know what does. It is like this weight I have been carrying my whole life has been lifted from me, and I have never felt such freedom.

In sharing this publicly I’m taking another step into health and wholeness by accepting myself, and every part of me. It’s not only an idea for me that I’m gay; It’s my life. This is me being authentic and real with myself and other people. This is a part of who I am.

I hope people will hear my heart, and that I will still be loved. I’m still the same guy, with the same heart, who wants to love God and love people with everything I have. This is a part of me I have come to be able to accept, and now it is a part of me that you know as well. I trust God to help love do the rest.

– Trey

6 Artist Reactions to the N.C. Bathroom Bill

(Bruce Springsteen cancelled a North Carolina performance in protest of the discriminatory HB2, also known as the bathroom bill)

Since North Carolina passed HB2 – legislation colloquially known as the bathroom bill that prohibits transgender individuals from using restrooms that correspond to their gender -there has been immense blowback.

Initially designed as a ill-conceived response to an ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that granted explicit permission for the transgender community to exercise this basic right, the law has resulted in a legal battle between North Carolina and the federal government. The Department of Justice has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state, and has threatened to slash federal funding for North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina. The governor and other high-ranking officials chose to respond with a lawsuit of their own, making it official: HB2  is not only the latest attempt at state-sanctioned discrimination against a historically marginalized group, but also a complete waste of public tax dollars.

Once again, resources that could work toward the Social Good are instead used to prop up inequality and create social division.

In addition to the federal government’s swift response, a number of other organizations, companies, and public figures have staked their own positions, either protesting the law, supporting pro-equality groups, or boycotting North Carolina until the discriminatory measure is repealed. The list of businesses that have boycotted the state grows every week, and as of this writing includes Paypal, Deutsche Bank, General Electric, Hyatt, Hewlett Packard, Whole Foods, Levis Strauss & Co., and Lionsgate.

Artists, too, have made their opinions heard in one way or another. Here are 6 examples of artists and groups voicing their support for the transgender community and the nonprofit groups supporting greater equality in North Carolina and beyond.

1) Bruce Springsteen – The Boss decided to cancel a show scheduled in Greensboro in protest of the law, releasing the following statement:

To my mind, [HB 2 is] an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments.Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them.

2) Itzhak Perlman – The renowned Israeli-American violinist joined ranks with Springsteen, announcing that he would not follow though with a May performance in Raleigh with the North Carolina Symphony. For an artist representing an underfunded art form, the move is quite bold. The virtuoso explained his decision to NPR, stating that he intended to go through with the performance so long as he was permitted to donate his fee to Equality North Carolina, a nonprofit organization working for equality, and publicly explain his reasoning. The symphony informed him that the state would now allow such a statement. That’s when he made up his mind:

I thought, ‘I am going into a hostile situation.’ And that’s when I said, ‘As much as I hate to cause problems and stress, I have to have a stand. I’m canceling.’

3) Animal Collective – The popular electronic-indie group may not have canceled any performances over the bathroom bill, but have instead released a pair of live albums intended to raise money for North Carolina-based organizations fighting to reverse HB2. The band wrote an explanation to fans:

We felt that canceling our [Asheville] show, like many others have done in protest of this law, would be a disappointment to our fans and decided to go on with the performance. That being said, we don’t condone or agree with any type of bigotry or discrimination…For those who were at the show, you may have seen a table set up for Progress NC, who we were introduced to by NC Needs You. They are an organization ‘dedicated to being a voice for forward-thinking North Carolinians who want to protect the balanced approach to government.

4) Beyoncé – International pop sensation Beyoncé voiced her opposition to HB2, releasing a statement in support of Equality North Carolina. The singer appealed to fans to donate or volunteer for the organization in order to make a difference on behalf of the transgender community. Her statement reads in part:

It all began earlier this year when Charlotte passed a decree expanding North Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws allowing LGBT people protection in places of public accommodation. The ordinance, which was set to go into effect on April 1st, would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify as, amongst other progressive rights.

Rather than accepting the progression in LGBT rights, that same night, legislators returned to the state house to overrule the ordinance that would ban discrimination against LGBT people…Among the many organizations doing the good work to get this bill overturned, there is Equality NC, a local organization dedicated to securing equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) North Carolinians.

5) Maroon 5 – The popular pop band headed by singer Adam Levine announced that they, too, would be canceling North Carolina performances – in both Charlotte and Raleigh – in response to HB2. In a statement posted online, the band expressed regret – but also their resolve – in making the decision:

We have announced that we will be canceling our upcoming shows in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina because of the recent passage of the HB2 legislation. This was a difficult decision for us to make as a band. We don’t want to penalize our fans in North Carolina by not I’m going to create an event around the show as a form of protest to say that despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away.performing for them, but in the end it comes down to what we feel is morally right.

6) Against Me! – The critically acclaimed art-punk has no plans to cancel an upcoming show in North Carolina. The band’s lead singer Laura Jane Grace – an outspoken transgender woman passionate about social activism – responded on Twitter to questions as to whether her band would cancel a May performance in Durham: “It was suggested to me in an interview that we might cancel our May 15th show in Durham, NC because of the states HB2 bill. Hell no!”

She elaborated further on the decision for Buzzfeed:

I’m going to create an event around the show as a form of protest to say that despite whatever stupid laws they enact, trans people are not going to be scared. They are not going to go away.

Germany Poised to Annul Convictions of Gay Men

(Participants in Cologne’s 2014 Gay Pride March)

The Federal Republic of Germany took a positive step toward atonement this week, as the government announced that it would annul convictions of homosexuality left over from a now repealed law known as Paragraph 175. The annulments will apply to the convictions of more than 50,000 men.

The law was first put in place toward the end of the 19th century, though was half-heartedly enforced, especially in Berlin where gay culture thrived compared to other European capitals during the first quarter of the 20th century. Under the Nazi regime, however, gay Germans faced fierce prosecution, with many sentenced to castration and over 15,000 sent to concentration camps where Nazi authorities compelled them to wear pink triangles to distinguish themselves.

Following WWII, West German authorities left the law in place, maintaining a persecutory environment that greatly harmed Germany’s gay citizens. While the law was largely defanged in 1969, the government did not take the full leap in reconciling itself with the nation’s history of anti-gay sentiment and policy. For instance, while most survivors of German crimes against humanity during the Nazi terror received some form of reparations by the late 1960s, those prosecuted for homosexuality did not.

Paragraph 175 was fully repealed in 1994.

While the LGBT rights movement has secured major victories over the past several decades, even gay-friendly nations have not addressed past human rights transgressions committed out of anti-gay animus. In 2013, British Queen Elizabeth II granted a post-humous pardon for Alan Turing – the brilliant mathematician depicted in the 2014 film The Imitation Game who was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration. He died shortly thereafter. The pardon occurred after an online petition called for the restoration of Turing’s good standing. A mass pardon for thousands of men similarly convicted, however, was put on hold in 2015 after members of the Tories claimed that the pardon would benefit those convicted of pedophilia.

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