Tag Archives: lives

Book delves into lives of gay Indiana steelworkers

Two women who worked at a local steel mill hid a secret from their co-workers — they lived together and were romantically involved.

But one sunk deeper into depression until her partner returned home one night to find her with a gun in her mouth.

She pulled the trigger.

The steelworker frantically tried to resuscitate her partner, but it was too late.

Though grief-stricken, she still had to show up for her shift the next day because no one at the mill knew they were a couple or even that they were lesbians, and she feared being exposed. She could not let on that anything was wrong.

That was one of the stories Indiana University Northwest English professor Anne Balay gathered while interviewing 40 gay steelworkers for her book, “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers,” which was recently published by the University of North Carolina Press.

The first-of-its-kind book was written for a wide readership, and has won praise. Author E. Patrick Johnson, who wrote “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South,” called it “a fascinating and insightful look into the lives of queer steel mill workers.”

Balay, who lives in the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, Ind., had been a car mechanic before she became an English professor and knew what it was like being gay in a blue-collar and traditionally male workplace. When she started to teach in Gary eight years ago, she became fascinated by the steel mills — by how they hulked majestically like prehistoric dinosaurs and yet were mysterious. She wondered what it was like for gay and lesbian steelworkers who toiled inside.

She could not find any academic literature on the subject. She scoured local libraries and a Pittsburgh library with an extensive collection of research on the steel industry, but to no avail.

Since Balay could not find any book on the subject, she decided to write one herself.

Balay wanted to let people know that gay steelworkers exist and suffer harassment, ostracism and isolation despite progress made with gay rights. She also wanted to let gay steelworkers know they are not alone.

“We have a picture of what it’s like to be gay in America and often perceive gay people as affluent, as white architects who live in Boystown,” she told The Times. “But there’s a growing body of scholarship that shows what it is like to be gay wherever you are, in rural areas or elsewhere. Not everybody moves to the city. They might be attached to the area or their family might all live there. It’s hard not to go to a city where it’s easier for gay people to live, but they should be able to figure out who they are wherever they are.”

Clad in her auto mechanic jacket, Balay sought out subjects to interview in steelworker bars and gay bars throughout northwestern Indiana. The university required they sign consent forms even though she protected them with aliases and by avoiding any identifying details, such as race or which mill they worked at.

“It was hard. It’s not like they have rainbow stickers on their cars,” she said. “They were trying to be invisible. I was looking for people who were trying not to be found.”

The steelworkers were used to hiding their sexuality but wanted to be heard after years of silence, Balay said.

“I showed up to one steelworker’s home and he just hemmed and hawed, and asked me to tell him what he was supposed to say,” she said. “I asked him just to talk about what the job is like, and he talked about his life for eight hours. The thing about the steelworkers is that they’re storytellers. They live exciting and dangerous lives. It isn’t boring – there’s always something happening, always danger and excitement. Being gay isn’t boring. There’s love, excitement and fun.”

Steelworkers opened up about how they were alienated at work, and about how they had to be careful about what they said and watch what pronouns they used if they were asked about their weekends. They talked about how they were harassed, beaten up and sexually assaulted. They recounted how they would find their tires slashed or their lug nuts loosened.

The steelworkers told Balay about how they fended off abuse, such as a woman who swung around and knocked off her harasser’s hat with a pipe, telling him next time it would be his head. Another got up on a catwalk, lowered a noose around a man’s neck, pulled him up on his tiptoes and told him she would pull tighter if he ever bothered her again. He didn’t.

They talked about the stress of being guarded all the time at work and how hard it was on their partners.

“It’s a dangerous, stressful job,” she said. “The partner knows the risk, but wouldn’t get notified if anything happened because they’re not legally recognized. What would that feel like, if your partner just didn’t come home and no one called to tell you what happened?”

Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

HOPE Act lifts ban on HIV-positive organ donations

Federal lawmakers introduced the HOPE Act on Valentine’s Day 2013 hoping that someday an organ donated by someone who had lived with HIV might save the life of someone living with HIV.

The HIV Organ Policy Equity Act passed with bipartisan majorities in Congress — in the Senate in June and in the House in mid-November. President Barack Obama signed the legislation on Nov. 21.

“For decades, these organ transplants have been illegal. It was even illegal to study whether they could be safe and effective,” the president said in a statement after signing the bill. “But as our understanding of HIV and effective treatments have grown, that policy has become outdated. The potential for successful organ transplants between people living with HIV has become more of a possibility.”

The HOPE Act lifts the federal ban on the donation and transplantation of organs between people living with HIV that Congress implemented in the Organ Transplant Amendments Act of 1988. The 1988 act was meant to ensure that organs from HIV patients would not be given to HIV-negative patients. The blanket ban even barred the collection of organs from deceased people with HIV infections for research.

“Since the ban was implemented, the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy has significantly improved the life expectancy of people living with HIV,” said Jason Cianciotto, the director of public policy for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City. “As a result, the population living with HIV in need of organ transplantation has grown significantly.”

Cianciotto said passing the HOPE Act is critical in “ensuring that people living with HIV can give and receive the gift of life. The HOPE Act is not only a scientifically sound public health policy, but also a great act of compassion.”

At any given time, the number of people in the United States in need of organ transplants exceeds the availability of healthy organs. More than 118,000 people are actively waiting for organs, but fewer than 30,000 transplantations are performed annually.

Permitting organs from HIV-positive donors to be used for transplant to HIV-positive recipients has the potential to save 1,000 patients suffering liver and kidney failure each year, as well as shortening the general waiting list.

With the president’s signature, the HOPE Act directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Organ Procurement Transplant Network to develop and institute standards for research on HIV-positive organ transplantation. In its second phase, the act authorizes Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to permit positive-to-positive transplantation.

The act also amends federal laws regarding HIV transmission to clarify that organ donations are not barred.

Chief sponsors of the legislation included U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Barbara Boxer, Tom Coburn and Rand Paul and U.S. Reps. Lois Capps, Michael Burgess and Andy Harris.

Advocates of the new law — representing AIDS United, amfAR, and the American Medical Association — say it has the potential to save hundreds of lives.

“Passage of the HOPE Act will save lives and also help break down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS,” said Kevin Frost, amfAR’s CEO. “This legislation makes federal organ donation regulations more reflective of the evidence and allows for critically important research to move forward.”

 “The HOPE Act is a common-sense policy,” said Dan Salomon of the American Society of Transplantation. “The AST and its thousands of professionals worldwide strongly support this legislative proposal allowing for greater use of life-saving donor organs and much needed research in the area of HIV organ donation and transplantation.”

Salomon said the bipartisan and bicameral efforts to send HOPE to the White House were refreshing.

President signs HIV Organ Policy Equity — HOPE — Act into law

President Barack Obama on Nov. 21 signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act into law.

The measure had the support of a large coalition of HIV/AIDS organizations, as well as medical organizations. The act passed the House earlier this month and the Senate in June.

The president, in a statement issued after he signed the bill, said, “Earlier today, I signed into law the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that allows scientists to carry out research into organ donations from one person with HIV to another.  For decades, these organ transplants have been illegal. It was even illegal to study whether they could be safe and effective.  But as our understanding of HIV and effective treatments have grown, that policy has become outdated. The potential for successful organ transplants between people living with HIV has become more of a possibility.  The HOPE Act lifts the research ban, and, in time, it could lead to live-saving organ donations for people living with HIV while ensuring the safety of the organ transplant process and strengthening the national supply of organs for all who need them.”

The president also said, “Improving care for people living with HIV is critical to fighting the epidemic, and it’s a key goal of my National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The HOPE Act marks an important step in the right direction, and I thank Congress for their action.”