Posts tagged “tolerance

Thank you, “Being Gay, Becoming Gray”

Much gratitude to the wonderful and inspiring Paul Boynton, author of “Begin with Yes,” who asked that I contribute something to his blog “Being Gay, Becoming Gray.” I appreciate the empowering site and accompanying Facebook messages, and I hope you’ll check out my contribution here. Thanks, Paul!

Please De-Friend Me


If you plan to vote for Mitt Romney, you are putting a nail into my civil rights coffin, and I’d rather not have friends who think I deserve anything less than equal treatment under the law. Romney supports DOMA (which directly and negatively impacts me, restricting my partner Russ, our kids, and my federal protections and tax benefits under the law), and has noted his support for an anti-marriage equality amendment as well. While you may see your vote for him as one about the economy (and we can debate who’d be better for that until the cows come home), what you INTEND by your vote really doesn’t matter. Your vote means that you are supporting someone who not only thinks I’m not equal to you, but who works vigorously to ensure my “less-than” legal status. Your vote for him means that you are totally fine with me being treated with disrespect.

Now, you may see this as an indication that I am being too “single minded”, and I’ll admit that when you’re denied even the simplest of human considerations, it makes it difficult to look beyond that. But this is about much more than my treatment under the law. Who I am and what I believe passionately in are also things which Romney discounts. I believe in full and fair treatment of ALL people, but Romney believes that women should not receive equal pay for equal work. I believe we need to take care of our earth, even if it means tightening our belts, but Romney favors further deregulation over environmental concerns. I think it is our duty to support things like art and culture (I view them as essential), but Romney disparages the role these play in enriching our lives; he sees them as extraneous and will cut public funding. I believe, just as education is a right, healthcare is as well, but Romney wants to abolish the Affordable Care Act. I care about those less fortunate and the elderly, and think it is our collective responsibility to ensure their well-being, but in Romney’s eyes, these people are victims and moochers. In short, who I am isn’t just who I love, it is the things I feel passionately about. And Romney stands against almost all of them.

BOTTOM LINE: I don’t care who you are–whether you are my relation by blood or a longtime acquaintance, I don’t want “friends” who don’t think I’m as good as they are. I want friends who value me, who see my worth as a human being, and who fully support my equal protections under the law. So, if you’re voting for Romney, whether you follow me on twitter or facebook, please de-friend me. You won’t hurt my feelings. I won’t cause a big stink. In fact, you’ll be creating space in my life for others to come in who do feel that my being here on the planet matters.


– Kergan

Cross-posted on Bilerico Project and Huffington Post.  Photography by Sara + Ryan.

A New Anthology of “Letters to My Bully”

With bullying and teen suicides continually in the spotlight, I was honored to have been asked to write a preface for a new anthology, Letters to My Bully, which examines this topic in great depth.  My own Letter to My Bully was incredibly difficult to write, as was the video to make, as it took me back to those difficult days of high school, where I was nervous just to walk across campus.  How someone deals with such experiences can shape their adulthood, for better or worse.  I asked Letters to My Bully editor Azaan Kamau if she would be willing to share her inspiration for the collection, as well as her views on other issues the LGBT community is facing, and am grateful  that she took the time to talk.

It was your vision that led to the creation of this anthology, Letters to My Bully.   What inspired you to compile people’s stories?

Back in October 2010, I wrote and published a book called Got Homophobia.  I was so outraged by the staggering numbers of youth who felt they had no choice but to commit suicide, and felt it was time for us to start the healing process. As adults we subconsciously carry our childhood baggage into adulthood, and that baggage shapes us.  Letters to My Bully was born of necessity to heal the bullied, addressing the issue head-on instead of sweeping it under the rug.  I wanted to send the message that you can survive this–that there are other options beside suicide.

Were you yourself the victim of bullying?

Yes, and I share some of those experienced in the book’s introduction. (more…)

My High School Bully

I’ve written about my high school bully before, and the responses I got were very touching and supportive.  So many of us were greatly affected by being bullied, for better or worse, which makes it imperative we continue to highlight the issue.  I’m happy to note that a new collection, entitled “Letters to My Bully,” to which I was honored to have been asked to write the preface, will be released this month.  I’ve also taken this opportunity to finally put my words on film, and created this video (below) about my own experience.

But I want to hear from you: What was your experience like growing up?  Were you bullied?  How did you survive?  What advice do you have for others?

How can we teach others that even words can leave scars?  That old “sticks and stones” poem had it all wrong…  Words can harm.

Of Mother’s Day and Misogyny

As a gay man, I’ve long been accustomed to being called names, and have developed, as a result, a rather thick skin; perhaps too thick.  Negativity tends to roll right off my back, as if my body were slathered in Vaseline, or–in my case–AstroGlide Sexual Lubricant.  Typically, I am able to greet each and every volley with a shrug, but a recent event occurred which I’ve yet been able to shake.  Someone insinuated that I hate women, and while I’d never remotely thought that to be the case, given the many terrific relationships I value, as we approach Mother’s Day, I ironically find myself pondering how I feel about the opposite sex.

To give a brief introduction to the incident, I recently released my debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, and have been happy to see it receive positive reviews from such varied sources as The Advocate, Midwest Book Review, and Kirkus Reviews, who tout themselves as “The World’s Toughest Book Critics,” just to name a few.  Today, it was even named the winner of the 2012 Indie Book Awards in the LGBTQ category, and was shortlisted in the same category for the Independent Literary Awards as well.

Given this acclaim, I was a bit disheartened to read my first negative review, which–of course–I’d fully anticipated.  I’ve long known that you can’t please everyone, and understand that not all readers will appreciate a book about a funny but cynical man facing death, trying to make amends to those he has wronged.  After all, the character has more than his share of gallows humor, and his tale of love, longing, and redemption may not resonate with everyone.  Still, it was not the reviewer’s issues with the story which gave me pause; it was that her main objection to the book seemed to be that it was, in her words, “dripping with misogyny.”  She further noted, in the comment section of her post, that “it is hard not to see the author behind the scenes choosing to write it.”  And that, in the end, is what really pissed me off.

To be clear, the character of Gabriel Travers is indeed misogynistic.  He is hateful, petty, and spiteful, even on the best of days, and a good deal of that venom is spit towards women.  But the reviewer missed the more important point, in that Gabriel hates everyone and acts similarly towards others, yet always reserves the harshest criticism for himself. He strikes out to prevent others from getting too close, only to wonder why his friends hold themselves at arm’s length. Like so many of us, he wants to grow and better himself, but hasn’t a clue as to how to do so.

Aside from this overarching character trait, what the reviewer failed to note is that the women in the book–each and every one–are working to better themselves. Gabriel’s mother makes great strides in learning how to love, another woman ultimately rejects Gabriel due to his negative nature, and a third offers him redemption, when he most needs it. They are the true heroes and heroines of the story–which is part of why Gabriel is so angry with them.  These women are doing for themselves exactly what Gabriel himself hasn’t yet been able. It is one thing to want to change; it is another to know how, and to have the tools necessary for such growth.

Far from being blessed with a nurturing and warm Leave It to Beaver maternal figure, my own mother was more like the character Mary Tyler Moore played in Ordinary People–brittle, tightly-wound, with the possibility of explosion just around the corner.  My sister, dad, and I continually walked on egg shells, highly aware that even the smallest of missteps could easily break our fragile truce of peace.  Today, happily, my mother has grown and bettered herself, becoming, if not the mother I’d always wanted, at least a mother I can live with.  I’m appreciative of her efforts towards growth, and have tried to improve my own damaged self, with varying degrees of success.

While my mom may not have been the ideal image of maternal nurturing, thankfully, there have been other women who have more than met that need.  My eldest son, Mason, was born to a wonderful woman in Tennessee, who allowed me to be in the delivery room at his birth.  She realized that she wasn’t able to tend to his parental needs, and so entrusted him to my care.  Her generosity, warmth, and spirit carry on to this day, through our continued contact.

Our youngest, Marcus, had a more difficult and challenging relationship with his mother.  When he was 6 months-old, his birth mom took him to a crack house, which was then raided, and he was placed into foster care.  Though they attempted to reconnect the two, given her inability to leave drugs behind, it proved impossible.  Still, I’m grateful to her for the gift she gave us: an amazingly resilient and loving son.

For me, my assessment of people has not been based on gender, but on deed.  And, thankfully, my list of the phenomenal includes many women, particularly our dear friends Deb and Mary Kay, who became the first legally church-wed lesbian couple in Orange County, CA; Karen, who works tirelessly in the jail system, helping to wean inmates off addictive behavior; and darling Lisa, who continually offers me  smiles, encouragement, and words of good cheer.

While this is, by necessity, a short list, my admiration for women extends far past the few mentioned.  I came of age during the AIDS epidemic, and will forever pay tribute to those brave women who stepped into vacant leadership and caregiver roles, whose many accomplishments are now largely forgotten.  But simply listing the women whom I admire is a bit akin to the old “some of my best friends are ___” argument.  The bigger question is, what makes someone a misogynist, and am I one?

When I contemplate the word “misogyny,” I think of anger, hatred, and dislike, which doesn’t remotely correspond with my feelings.  And when I think of “women,” no negative connotations arise, either.  Still, if a friend were to call me out for perceived misogyny, I would no doubt listen, for I have found that I become a better person from examining my failings.

With a creative work, however, linking artist to art can be tenuous at best.  In my novel, each and every word Gabriel utters, whether towards women or men, was carefully chosen for effect; sometimes for humor, sometimes for pathos, and other times to offend.  It is his nature to live life unfiltered, but for me, I long ago learned the perils of such behavior, and work rigorously to examine my insecurities and feelings in an ongoing attempt to better myself.

While I’m not convinced that I am, indeed, misogynistic, I’m leaving the door open to that possibility, for the best way I can think of to demonstrate my respect for women is to live authentically, treat others honorably, with my eyes open to opportunities in which I can improve myself, those around me, and the greater world at large.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and Bilerico Project.

Even in Failed “Worldwide LGBT Equality March,” a Grassroots Effort Finds Seeds of Success

The LGBT community would be nothing were it not for the many and varied grassroots efforts which have sprung up throughout our history, spurring us forward in the name of equality.  While our national organizations may serve a purpose in terms of presence and lobbying, in my view, most of the monumental changes have occurred as the result of groups outside the mainstream.  Whether it be Lt. Dan Choi and GetEqual helping to bring about an end to DADT, or ACT-UP in demanding resources and awareness during the AIDS epidemic, or the small but laser-like focus of the American Foundation for Equal Rights in working to bring marriage equality to California, these smaller groups have often been able to affect change where our national organizations can’t–or won’t.

I came of age during the days of Queer Nation and ACT-UP, and every rally, march, or benefit I’ve attended or organized has helped instill in me the belief that power, indeed, lies with the people.  Last  year’s Occupy movement further reinforced that conviction: on a local level, a band of committed individuals can move mountains.

Washington, D.C., April 21st, 2012

In February, I wrote about a planned “2012 Worldwide LGBT Civil Rights March”, slated for April 21.   The idea for the march had sprung from a facebook group called Let’s Reach 1 Million People Campaign, and the group’s founder and lead organizer, Joseph C. Knudson, asked if I would write an article about their efforts.  I agreed, but as I began to look more closely at the event, I realized that I couldn’t deliver the promotional piece they’d desired.  The article, What if They Threw a Worldwide LGBT Equality March, and No One Came?, noted my concerns around the planning associated with the effort, and questioned if the event was truly designed for success.

The article prompted a firestorm of protest in the comment sections on both Huffington Post and Bilerico Project, primarily from those organizing the event, and included accusations of inaccuracies, questions about my motives, personal attacks, and even resulted in a rant about me on Knudson’s blog.  And yet, despite each of their energetic volleys, the questions I raised were never fully answered by the event organizers.

Instead, I and others with questions were simply urged to read the group’s disclosure document, as if the answers to each of our varied questions could be found in that single document.  While some have speculated that this event was simply a promotional effort, designed to draw attention to a book Knudson had written, it was assured time and again that the Worldwide LGBT Equality March had no connection to his personal endeavors.  But where, you might ask, is the group’s disclosure document located? Not on their website, as one would expect.  Instead, a link redirects you to Knudson’s own site, where the document is posted beneath links to his book trailer, author page, and book press release.  A minor point, perhaps, but hardly the kind of thing which eases concerns about either his motivation or the separation between the two endeavors.


Disqualified from High School Contest, Gay Teen Speaks Out

Kearian Giertz is the gay Fullerton, California, 17-year-old who made national news headlines last week, following his disqualification from a school contest for his statement supportive of marriage equality. During an annual rite of passage at his high school, known as the Mr. Fullerton Contest, Kearian was asked, in front of an audience, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?,” and expressed his desire to find his life mate and be legally wed, only to find himself disqualified by a school administrator, who had his microphone cut off.  Upon hearing his story, several elements stood out to me as intriguing.  First, compared to my own angst-ridden life in high school almost 25 years ago, it was refreshing that this young man felt comfortable enough to proclaim his desire to wed another man.  Second, I was impressed by how quickly the high school responded to his disqualification, firmly supporting Giertz’ right to free speech and calling the administrator’s actions inappropriate.  Lastly, I was struck by how, upon being disqualified, instead of reacting with the expected anger and hostility,  the teen and his friends chose a more peaceful option, turning this disqualification into a teachable moment.

Having recently written my own letter to my high school bully, I was curious as to how today’s youth were coping with harassment on campus, as well as in their daily lives, and sat down with Giertz, fellow out-teen Blake Danford, and heterosexual, LGBT-supportive Katy Hall, all friends since 7th grade and now Fullerton Union High School seniors, to discuss what it is like to be out and gay in school, as well as the event which propelled them into the headlines.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:   First, let’s start with you, Blake.  When did you first realize you were gay?

Blake Danford:  I first realized I wasn’t really attracted to girls around 4th grade, but came out as gay in 8th grade to a girl in my English class, who was a lesbian.  Eventually, I told a few others, about 5 people total, but it wasn’t until my freshman year I began telling even more people.

Edwards-Stout: At what point did you tell your family?

Danford:  I came out to my mom in my sophomore year.

Edwards-Stout:  And she’s been supportive?

Danford:  Definitely.  I think it was actually harder for me, as I was expecting her not to be.  It was almost like, “Wait, are you really okay with this?” Her support almost seemed fake to me. My parents divorced when I was three, so I’m still not completely out to my dad’s side of the family, as we don’t see them.  Anything out of the norm is not okay with them.  I’ve had them tell me, directly, that if I ever “became” gay, they’d kill me on the spot.  And I assumed that was how everyone would be, so my mom’s support really threw me.  But I’m really glad her support was genuine.

Edwards-Stout:  Kearian, what about you? Did you always know you were gay?


A Letter to My Bully

Dear Dirk,

I have hated you almost every day since we first met. But for different reasons altogether than you might expect.

I still remember the terror I felt, every time I approached the soccer field. It was junior high, a difficult time for almost everyone, but for me, especially so.

You see, I’d always known I was gay. Even in kindergarten, just looking at Jeff Hayward’s smile would make me happy, and I knew, intrinsically, that it was alright to feel this way—to love other boys—as everything about it felt completely natural and unforced.

In junior high, however, once placed on the same soccer team with you, everything changed.

What I had seen as natural and good, you were suddenly calling abnormal and detestable. Every “faggot” you spit towards me hit directly between the eyes, and the whispers, taunts, and dirty looks you and Mike Baker sent my way continually unnerved me, affecting both my sense of self, as well as my performance on the field. Because of you, questions about my masculinity hovered over me, and I would feel physically ill at the thought of another practice or game. I would choose different, roundabout paths to my classes, just to avoid where I knew you’d be.

In high school, while I went on to be active in theatre and academics, you and Mike continued to rise socially, becoming the big men on campus that I’d longed to be. You were even voted onto the homecoming king’s court, and as you took to the field, flashing your charming smile, all I could see was the sneer on your lips when you turned and glanced my way.

But that isn’t why I have hated you.

Just prior to our senior year, during summer break, word came that you’d tried to commit suicide and were in a coma. No one knew what had happened, but you eventually returned to school our senior year.  You were just as popular as you had been before, and perhaps even more so, now that you had this added sense of intrigue about you.  But despite your outright hatred of me, I still wondered about you and about what could have possibly led you to try to take your own life.  You, more than anyone, seemed to have it all, and despite the way you continued to torment me, I felt a pang of pity for you.

The following summer, I got another call. You’d again tried to kill yourself, tying a noose from the garage rafters–only this time you succeeded. Your mother discovered you, hanging there, upon her return home.


Going Beyond “It Gets Better”

I’ve written before about my friend Charles Perez and his NoShame Project, which is attempting to eradicate the shame around being gay.  While the “It Gets Better” campaign tells people that, in time, their lives will indeed improve, NoShame takes it one step further, insisting that there is no shame in being gay in the first place, and it is the larger world around us we need to change.

The NoShame Project now has a revamped website, and I am happy to be one of its first contributors. Check out my post, below, and the NoShame website. Together, we can make a difference and build a more tolerant world where our differences are seen not as divisive, but as complementary.

The Unlikely Bully – Turning Terror into Triumph

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

I still remember the terror I felt, every time I approached the soccer field. It was junior high, a difficult time for all, but for me, it felt even worse.

I’d always known I was gay. Even in kindergarten, just looking at Jeff Hayward’s smile would make me happy, providing boundless energy which would propel me throughout the day. And I knew, intrinsically, that it was alright to feel this way—to love other boys—as everything about it felt completely natural and unforced.

But in junior high, things changed. What I had seen as natural and good suddenly was being labeled as abnormal—detestable, even. While I caught flak from many, and would dodge the verbal taunts at lunchtime, the worst offenders turned out to be fellow members of my soccer team. You’d think that, as team members wanting to win, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman would have supported me, but every day I would face a barrage of insults, some veiled, some not, as we sat on the sidelines.

“Faggot” was spit towards me, with the kind of bile and hatred I could both feel and see, plain on their faces. Whispers and dirty looks on a daily basis would continually unnerve me, affecting both my sense of self, as well as my performance on the field. These questions about my masculinity hovered over me, and I would feel physically ill at the thought of another practice or game.

Somehow, however, I survived. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, keeping myself at a distance from all who would harm me. And, as the phrase goes, it did get better.

In high school, while I went on to be active in theatre and academics, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman continued to rise socially, becoming the big men on campus that I’d always longed to be. In our junior year, Johnny was even voted onto the homecoming king’s court, and as he took to the field, flashing his charming smile, all I could see was the sneer on his lips when he turned and looked my way.

A short time later, during summer break, word came that Johnny had tried to commit suicide and was in a coma. No one knew what had happened, and he eventually returned to school our senior year, but I could sense something in him had changed.

The following summer, I got another call. Johnny had tried again to kill himself, hanging a noose from the rafters in his garage, and had succeeded. He’d also left behind a note, writing that although he did not like girls, he did not want to like boys.

As difficult as it may be to see at the time, our tormentors often have their own issues, to which we are not privy. Whether they are secretly gay, or filled with self-doubt, or are simply taught at a young age to hate, their anger and animosity is fueled not by us, but from something deep within.

I later learned that Johnny’s buddy Mike had a younger brother who came out as gay, and at our high school reunion, Mike sought me out, attempting to make amends for his past actions.

We all grow. We all have the capacity to change. The question becomes, how do we deal with abuse? Do we let our tormentors corrupt us? Do we turn into them? Do we hide? Or do we call out abuse for what it is, and insist that our lives not fall victim to it?

If you are experiencing harassment, in any form, take advantage of the resources in our community. Seek out a counselor or therapist. Find a support group, in person or online. And make sure that you use the opportunity to better yourself and those around you.

Take control. Don’t let the moment define you. Let it be you that defines the moment.

We can be so much better, if only we try.