Tag Archives: queer

Deadly season for lesbian, bisexual TV characters

A record number of gay characters are featured on broadcast series, but small-screen shows overall can be deadly for the female ones, according to a study released this fall.

More than 25 lesbian and bisexual female characters died on scripted broadcast, cable and streaming series this year, the media advocacy group GLAAD found in its report on small-screen diversity.

While TV remains far ahead of film in gay representations, the medium “failed queer women this year” by continuing the “harmful ‘bury your gays’ trope,” the report said.

The violent deaths included characters Poussey Washington (played by Samira Wiley on “Orange is the New Black”) and Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack on “Wentworth”).

It’s part of a decade-long pattern in which gay or transgender characters are killed to further a straight character’s story line, GLAAD said, sending what it called the “dangerous” message that gay people are disposable.

For its annual report titled “Where We Are on TV,” researchers tallied the LGBTQ characters seen or set to be portrayed in the period from June 2016 to May 2017. Counts were based on series airing or announced and for which casting has been confirmed.

The study, which in 2005 began examining other aspects of diversity on TV, found record percentages of people of color and people with disabilities depicted on broadcast shows.

Among the detailed findings:

  • Broadcast TV includes the highest percentage of regularly appearing gay characters — 4.8 percent — since Gay rights organization GLAAD began its count 21 years ago.

Among nearly 900 series regular characters on ABC, CBS, CW, Fox and NBC, 43 characters are LGBTQ, up from 35 last season.

  • Streamed shows included 65 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, up six from last season. Lesbians, including characters on “One Mississippi” and “Orange is the New Black,” account for the majority of characters, 43 percent, a far higher share than on broadcast or cable.
  • Cable series held steady with 142 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, with a 5 percent increase in the number of gay men but a 2 percent drop in the number of lesbian characters depicted.
  • The number of transgender characters in regular or recurring appearances on all platforms has more than doubled from last season, from seven to 16.
  • Characters with a disability represented 1.7 percent of all regularly seen broadcast characters, up from 0.9 percent last season. Each platform has at least one LGBTQ character that’s HIV-positive, with only one such character a regular (Oliver on “How to Get Away with Murder”).
  • African-Americans will be 20 percent (180) of regularly seen characters on prime-time broadcast shows this season, the highest share yet found by GLAAD. But black women are underrepresented at 38 percent of the total, or 69 characters.
  • The percentage of regularly appearing Asian-Pacific Islanders on broadcast TV hit 6 percent, the highest tally found by GLAAD and slightly more than the group’s U.S. population percentage. Contributing to the increase are the Asian-American family shows “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken.”
  • Latino characters rose a point to 8 percent, equaling the highest representation found two seasons ago by GLAAD. That differs sharply from the 17 percent Latino representation in the U.S. population as measured by the Census Bureau, the report said.

Year in Review: The year in queer

The year 2015 will always stand out for me as the year American gays and lesbians won the right to marry. Here are some other people and events worth remembering.

Lesley Gore, who recorded pop hits like “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” in the 1960s, died at age 68. All her angst-ridden songs about boyfriends were quite an act because Gore was a lesbian who is survived by a female partner of 33 years.

After her success as a teen, Gore went on to a songwriting career and performed in nightclubs. “Out Here on My Own,” a song written with her brother Michael for the movie Fame, was nominated for an Oscar. Ten years ago she hosted In the Life, the PBS show about LGBT issues. In 2012, Gore participated in a public service video of her hit “You Don’t Own Me” — now recognized as a feminist anthem — urging women to vote against Mitt Romney and anti-abortion candidates.

Also passing this year was Ronnie Gilbert, a member of The Weavers folk-singing quartet founded with Pete Seeger in 1948. The Weavers had several hit records before the socially conscious singers were blacklisted during the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. 

Gilbert worked as an actress and toured the women’s music circuit in the 1980s and ‘90s. She recorded two albums with Holly Near and often performed with her. Gilbert married her partner of 20 years, Donna Korones, in 2004. She died at age 88.

In June, the Tony Award for Best Musical went to Fun Home, based on the graphic memoir by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel. The show follows Bechdel as she grows up and discovers she’s a lesbian in the confines of a dysfunctional family whose father is a closeted gay man.

Although gay-themed plays and musicals have succeeded on Broadway for decades, Fun Home is the first musical with a lesbian protagonist and lesbian love songs. Before an audience of millions on the Tony Award telecast, Sidney Lucas sang “Ring of Keys,” which expresses young Bechdel’s wonder at identifying with an older lesbian. Later in the show, after making love with a woman for the first time, college-age Bechdel sings the hilarious “I’m Changing My Major to Joan.”

Transgender lives came into greater prominence this year with the highly publicized coming out of Caitlyn Jenner and the success of the Amazon TV series Transparent.

Veteran TV and film star Jeffrey Tambor, who won an Emmy and Golden Globe as lead actor in a comedy for his portrayal of the transitioning Maura, honed his craft with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in the 1970s. Tambor’s co-star in Transparent, Judith Light, who has won two Tony Awards for her work on Broadway, also acted with the Milwaukee Rep early in her career. Lesson: Buy some tickets to the Rep and watch new stars emerge!

Unfortunately, greater awareness of transgender individuals induced Toilet Panic, with GOP legislators here in Wisconsin and elsewhere trying to restrict gender non-conformists or people in transition from their choice of restrooms. It would all be a sick joke except for this: the threat of unisex bathrooms hyped by anti-feminist zealots contributed to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution in 1982.

I’m not offering “toasts and roasts” this year because far too many villains dominated the news. My greatest hope is that reason triumphs over all forms of extremism in 2016. 

StageQ’s ‘Standards of Care’ spotlights transgender issues

Transgender issues take center stage at Madison’s StageQ this month. The company opens its 2014–15 season with Standards of Care, a play about a therapist specializing in transgender issues whose professional and private lives collide.

It’s a big step for StageQ, which is considered the premier queer theater in Madison (if not Wisconsin), yet has only produced one play with a transgender focus in its 14-year history — 2008’s Looking for Normal. Standards of Care looks to be a powerful follow-up, with author Tobias Davis — himself transgender — examining the lives of two trans characters mid-transition with humor and heart.

“My own experiences being trans affected the narrative in the sense that I like to create stories about trans people,” says the Massachusetts-based Davis. “That said, neither of the trans characters in the play are particularly like me. I wanted to explore some of the nuances of different trans identities.”

The two central trans characters are David (Rowan Calyx), who needs a letter from a therapist in order to pursue genital surgery, and 16-year-old Jessica (Loryn Jonelis), who’s beginning to discover his own transgender identity as Jason. They’re initially connected only secondhand through the play’s third major character: Nancy (Petrovinia McIntosh), David’s therapist and Jason’s mother. But when Nancy refuses to accept that her child could be trans, Jason visits a local LGBT center and finds a mentor in David.

The ensuing collision results in an honest exploration of some of the harsh realities members of the trans community face — not just in adapting to their new identities, but in adapting to a world that doesn’t understand them. The misunderstanding world isn’t limited to straight cisgender individuals, according to director Callen Harty.

“I believe that the next important civil rights battle will be for transgender rights,” Harty says. “For years, even the bulk of the queer community tended to ignore the ‘T’ part of ‘LGBT.’ It has only been in the past several years that a concerted effort to understand transgender issues and incorporate those into civil rights struggles for all has come into the forefront.”

Harty calls this production a critical one for StageQ. “As an LGBT theater group,” Harty says, “I felt it was a very important project for StageQ and for Madison. I  believe it moves our understanding of transgender issues forward, but it does so by showing us real characters living real lives. Parts of the play are very funny and other parts are poignant.”

The lessons in the play may be especially important for the sizable cross-section of cisgender members of the gay and bisexual community who are sympathetic to transgender issues but don’t really understand them. Davis’ goal in crafting the play was to open the eyes of allies on both sides of the sexual orientation spectrum.

“I would like audience members to leave with a little more insight about some of the issues facing the trans community, especially surrounding mental health care and family support,” Davis says. “I also want audience members to empathize with the characters — to laugh and cry with them and be touched by their stories. I think the world is lacking in compassion and theater is a place to really connect with each other’s humanity.”

Stage Q’s 2014–15 season

Tobias Davis’ Standards of Care opens a season marked by humor, music and maybe just a little heartache.

Christmas with the Crawfords (Dec. 5–20): Just in time for the holidays, StageQ recreates the infamous 1944 Christmas Eve broadcast from Joan Crawford’s California home. Numerous stars drop by to steal Crawford’s limelight, including Judy Garland, Ethyl Merman and Bette Davis in her “Baby Jane” drag. 

Body Awareness (March 27–April 11): A controversial painter of female nudes shakes up the lives of a lesbian couple hosting him in their home for a Vermont college’s “body awareness” week, especially when one of the women considers posing for him.

Queer Shorts 10 (June 12–20): Playwrights and actors come together for a variety of short plays based on LGBT themes. Fans of the series take note: This might be the last season of Queer Shorts.

Onstage

Standards of Care runs Sept. 5–20 on the Evjue Stage at Madison’s Bartell Theater, 113 E. Mifflin St. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Tickets are $20, $15 for Thursdays and matinees. For more details, visit stageq.com or call 608-661-9696.

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U.S. to dedicate Harvey Milk stamp

Time to find a pen pal in Finland.

On Harvey Milk Day, which is a state holiday in California on May 22, the White House will hold a ceremony to dedicate the Harvey Milk Forever Stamp.

Milk, according to a news release from the U.S. Postal Service, was a “visionary leader.” He was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the country, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. A year after he took office, he and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone killed by former Supervisor Dan White.

Milk believed that government should represent all citizens, ensuring equality and providing needed services, according to the post office’s announcement.

In 2009, Milk was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

A second dedication ceremony for the stamp will take place in San Francisco on May 28.

Meanwhile, Itella, the Finnish postal service, has announced a line of stamps featuring the work of Tom of Finland aka Touko Laaksonen.

A statement from Itella said, “His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures. …The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer.” 

A petition is circulating that calls on the service in Finland to remove the ToF stamps from circulation.

 

San Francisco Pride organizers name Chelsea Manning honorary grand marshal

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower in prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, is the honorary grand marshal of this year’s San Francisco Pride parade.

Manning, in a statement released through her support network, said, “As a trans* woman, I appreciate the Pride movement’s significant role in bringing together diverse communities and elevating the public profile of the fight for queer rights. I have always enjoyed attending Pride celebrations given the opportunity, and I’m deeply honored to receive this title.”

The statement noted that Manning uses an asterisk after “trans” to “denote not only transgender men and women, but also those who identify outside of a gender binary.”

Last spring, Manning was selected as one of several grand marshals in the 2013 parade. But within 24 hours of making the selection public, the Pride parade board president rescinded the honor, trigger widespread controversy and debate in the national LGBT community.

Since then, Manning has been convicted of multiple offenses for providing classified documents to WikiLeaks. She also has come out as transgender and is waging a campaign for fair and respectful treatment of transgender people in the federal and military prison systems.

This year’s San Francisco Pride board president, Gary Virginia said in a statement, “SF Pride’s oversight of the Electoral College community grand marshal nomination and election process in 2013 was mishandled. Even with this controversy, thousands of Manning supporters in the 2013 Pride Parade represented the largest non-corporate, walking contingent in the parade.  I want to publicly apologize to Chelsea Manning and her supporters on behalf of SF Pride, and we look forward to a proper honor this year.”

The parade takes place on June 29 and the Chelsea Manning Support Network plans a large presence.

The network is working to help raise money for Manning’s legal appeals, as well as to further her request for hormone replacement therapy and a legal name change.

IMAGE THIS PAGE: How Chelsea Manning sees herself as a trans woman. This image was created by artist Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Manning, according to the Chelsea Manning Support Network.

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

‘Vaginal Knitting’ raises a number of feminist issues

Melbourne-based feminist artist Casey Jenkins says she had no idea that a video clip showing her “vaginal knitting” performance art project would go viral, attracting more than 4 million viewers after it was featured on SBS, an Australian news publication. 

“In my mind it was a subtle piece of performance art, marked by quietude and space,” Jenkins says.

The short video shows Jenkins sitting in the Darwin Visual Arts Association knitting with yarn pulled from her vagina. The skein of wool lodged within her was wound in such a way that it unraveled from the center when pulled. In the video, her pace is slow and calm as she adds to the long scarf-like banner hanging from wire hangers in the gallery. 

For 28 days last fall, Jenkins engaged in this performance art piece titled Casting Off My Womb. Each day she inserted a new skein of wool until the piece was finished, along with her menstrual cycle. Then her long scarf-like creation was “cast off.” 

“My take on performance art is that it is poetry of action,” Jenkins says. “Casting Off My Womb follows work I’ve done previously where I’ve consciously subverted low expectations of craft-making techniques associated with women to encourage viewers to look at an issue from another angle,” Jenkins says.

She considers herself a “craftivist,” an artist who combines craft-making with activism. Currently she is working with Knit Your Revolt, a group of craftivists combating extreme conservatism.

Jenkins says Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot is a “regressive nitwit in the style of George W., and he’s been introducing all sorts of draconian policies that target the most vulnerable since he came into power last year.”

The Knit Your Revolt group hopes to “knit him out of office.”

A very personal experience

In the work Casting Off My Womb, a large part of the video’s shock value comes when she was working with blood-soaked yarn. She says the resonance of the piece would have been lost if she didn’t include the days when she was menstruating.

Jenkins says that at times the project was uncomfortable and the yarn became difficult to work with.

“I’m trying to draw the warped and misogynistic views about the vulva and menstruation into the open,” she explained in her artist statement. “I hope the dissonance between those views and the dismissive responses to knitting (in a patriarchal world) will begin to break down both responses and the damaging ideas behind them, showing them to be absurd.”  

After SBS posted the video to its YouTube account and dubbed it “Vaginal Knitting,” responses came flooding in. Some of them were positive but most were negative and sexist, prompting SBS to block all commentary. The video has since been reposted to sites like Gawker and the Huffington Post. Typical comments from Huffington Post readers include: “Glad she hasn’t taken up baking” and “Reinforcing the idea that women ARE their genitals.”

“These negative reactions come from preconceived disturbed ideas about vulvae and menstruation, not because my work contains any moment of actual lurid drama,” Jenkins responded in her artistic statement.

One aspect of the project that SBS excluded was Jenkins’ queer identity. Although it was important to the piece, she was thankful it was left out because she feared it would provoke gay bashing. She believes a lot of ideas about our bodies arise from society’s fixation on a heteronormative gender binary system. 

“To me, it feels like such a gift to be queer, because you’re released from all of those limiting ideas,” she says.

Despite all the social and philosophical ramifications of Casting Off My Womb, Jenkins says her piece was intended to be a very personal experience. It was about becoming intimate with her own body and reflecting on her own free will.  

“The work was a long and gentle process for me,” she says. “I marked the rhythms of my body and made an assessment of what I intend to do with my body and my life, away from the hyperbole of public expectations and judgments.”

Memoir longs for unconventionality of queer life

The year 2013 is shaping up to be an important one when it comes to queer memoirs, with books by Barrie Jean Borich, Rigoberto González and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore at the forefront. Sycamore’s non-traditional memoir, “The End of San Francisco” (City Lights Books, 2013), flows stylistically from stream of consciousness to rant to stage dialogue. A cross between an activist handbook and a cautionary tale about activism, it is a queer travelogue that includes stops in a number of LGBT-friendly metropolises.

Sycamore spoke recently about his work.… 

Gregg Shapiro: Congratulations on your book “Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?” being a Lambda Literary Award finalist. 

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: “Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?” is also an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book, and I’m really excited by all the attention it’s receiving. It was actually a hard book to get published, so it’s gratifying to see reviewers, librarians, booksellers, awards judges and other readers relating to both its strident stance and the vulnerability of the essays by the 30 different authors inside. I meant this book as an emergency intervention in the morass of consumerist gay culture, and I really feel like it is making an impact.

As someone who has written fiction and non-fiction, why did you choose to write “The End of San Francisco” in the form of an unconventional memoir?

I wanted to make this story as vulnerable as possible. I think that conventional memoirs adhere to a formulaic narrative, and I wanted to resist that tidy linear path, but at the same time this book obsesses over my formations, and their undoing. I keep circling around the moments that have made me – socially, politically, sexually, emotionally, ethically – and for me that’s what makes it nonfiction, even though it’s structured more like an experimental novel. 

Is your goal as a writer to give a voice to an unheard population?

I think that’s fair – I think that the queer voices that mean something to me are almost always shut out of mainstream gay and straight discourse. It’s important to me to break down the fence that separates those that matter from those that don’t.

In the chapter that shares its title with the book, you wrote, “We were the first generation of queers to grow up knowing that desire meant AIDS meant death.” 

I’m glad you’re calling attention to that line. To me it’s a really crucial place in the book where I talk about this “we” of queer freaks and outsiders and whores and vegans and anarchists and dropouts and activists trying to survive in the face of so much death, both internal and external. I think that’s had as much impact on me as anything else – that and growing up as an incest survivor and seeing how my parents’ professional and financial “success” enabled them to camouflage their abuse so successfully. 

You write about the outsiders’ need to assimilate. Do you fault the LGBT community for trying?

I do. The way I see it, assimilation is violence. The violence of arresting homeless queers for getting in the way of happy hour. Of evicting people with AIDS and seniors in order to increase property values. Of pushing everyone aside who doesn’t belong instead of making more space for those on the margins. It makes me so sad to see marriage and military inclusion championed as the dominant goals of the so-called “LGBT movement.” We need to get back to fighting for gender, sexual, social and political self-determination for everyone. As a start.

In the chapter “What We Were Creating,” you write about “the end of San Francisco as a place where marginalized queers could try to figure out a way to cope.” In truth, the same thing was occurring in queer neighborhoods across the country. Do you think that there was anything that could be done to slow or prevent it, other than the methods that you and your allies employed?

What breaks my heart the most is that so many gay neighborhoods were formed initially because queers didn’t have spaces where they could express themselves, where they could find one another for sexual merrymaking and risk-taking on their own terms. But what has happened in cities across the U.S. is that these same gay neighborhoods now police the borders so that only those willing or able to conform to upper-middle-class white norms are allowed. Can you imagine how different these places could be if homeless queer youth, trans people, people with disabilities, seniors, welfare queens, migrants – if all these people were at the center? 

The book begins and ends with your biological family, which is an interesting way to frame what occurs between the pages, particularly because incest and confrontation are central to the story. Do you know if any of your family members have read the book?

My mother had a particularly interesting response. She said that because of the way I write without the conventional boundaries of plot structure, the separation between what happens in the book and herself as a reader wasn’t there. She said she felt immersed, like she was in a movie. This is in spite of her unwillingness to acknowledge the abuse that frames the story, her own role or my father’s. Still she was able to appreciate the writing on the terms I intend, and I find that kind of exciting.

On the shelf: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore appears at UW-Madison on Oct 3. For more, go to mattildabernsteinsycamore.com.

Fox Valley dives into diversity initiative

On a chilly December day, Fox Valley leaders from every sector of the community took The Plunge.

They dove into an initiative to promote tolerance, celebrate diversity, understand LGBT issues and create safer schools.

“Every student deserves to come to school and feel safe and feel their voice is heard and respected,” said Ben Vogel, an assistant superintendent for the Appleton Area School District who took The Plunge.

The Plunge is an annual activity in the Fox Valley area sponsored by the Community Health Action Team led by ThedaCare. In December 2011, the team brought together 60 community leaders to delve into issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. They explored language and terminology and discussed religion, politics and education.

“It’s really good to bring together people to have these conversations,” Vogel said. “Sometimes we get scared to talk about certain issues, and if you don’t talk about them, bad things can happen, and misunderstandings can happen. The first step is to get people to have conversations – honest and open dialogues.”

Vogel attended the daylong event as a representative of the school district. Other educators, business leaders, health-care experts, elected officials and police attended.

From The Plunge came an initiative called INCLUDE, sponsored by CHAT, the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley Region and the Les & Dar Stumpf Family Fund. Partners in the initiative include the Harmony Cafe, the Fox Cities and Oshkosh LGBT Anti-Violence Project, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and more.

The goal has been to “make the Fox Valley more inclusive, safe and welcoming for everyone,” said Chad Hershner, an INCLUDE steering committee member and development director at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

INCLUDE is a four-month, communitywide campaign that was launched at a breakfast in January attended by more than 350 people. An emphasis of the campaign has been reaching students and staff in schools with cautions against bullying and affirmations for acceptance.

Nabozny returns

To reach those in the schools, the INCLUDE team turned to Jamie Nabozny, a safe-schools advocate who, in the mid-1990s, challenged anti-gay bullying in Ashland, Wis., and won a settlement in a landmark federal case.

For four years, Nabozny was subject to relentless anti-gay abuse in his middle school and his high school. Students urinated on him, pretended to rape him during a class and, in one incident, kicked him so many times in the stomach he was hospitalized and needed surgery.

Nabozny attempted suicide, dropped out of school and ran away in an effort to flee the harassment. Complaints from him and his parents were ignored or dismissed by school administrators.

Eventually, Nabozny went to court, with the support of attorneys from Lambda Legal. In July 1996, he won a federal appeals court ruling that said public schools must protect students from anti-gay abuse. Months later, a jury in Ashland found school administrators liable for failing to protect Nabozny. Before the jury could decide damages, the school district settled with a nearly $1 million award.

Nabozny, who lives in Minneapolis, said he learned of INCLUDE through a PFLAG representative. 

He’s used to traveling to speak to schools about bullying, but the Fox Valley community campaign is the biggest he’s been involved in, with 23 speaking engagements.

“I was blown away by what happened,” he said. “Out of this will come change, huge change.”

Nabozny went to Appleton for the INCLUDE breakfast in January, gave community talks at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley and Lawrence University and led school assemblies with students and staff. His program generally included a screening of the documentary “Bullied,” followed by a discussion about the lasting impact of bullying and what students can do to change their schools.

Nabozny proved persuasive.

Students, in a series of emails to Nabozny and also in Facebook posts, admitted saying “that’s so gay,” “fag” and “queer” without understanding the harm. They confessed to bullying others and promised to apologize. They also praised the assemblies as the best part of 12 years in school.

Vogel and others with INCLUDE also were impressed.

So impressed, Vogel said, that Nabozny might be returning to Appleton in the 2013-14 school year to talk with staff and perhaps middle school students.

“The message to students,” said Vogel, “is that they have the power to control the culture of a school. They have the power to create an environment that will be inclusive of all. …You can’t sit there and be a bystander.”

Barker carries on son’s work

But more than 15 years after Nabozny’s legal victories, a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey of students found that a hostile climate remained in Wisconsin’s public schools. Eighty percent of LGBT students in Wisconsin said they experienced verbal harassment, 38 percent experienced physical harassment, 92 percent said they felt excluded or ostracized by their peers, and 80 percent said they were the subject of rumors and lies.

Those numbers don’t surprise Darla Barker of Shiocton, whose 17-year-old gay son Cody committed suicide in September 2010. Cody, who had been working to organize a gay-straight alliance at Schiocton High School and attended an LGBT youth group at the Harmony Cafe in Appleton, hung himself in a barn on his family’s farm. He’d been a high school senior for nine days.

“He had a tough time,” his mother said. “He had a lot of pushback in school. And he was such a positive young man. He just wanted to make the world better.”

Darla Barker followed her son’s lead and became a safe schools activist. She’s involved in PFLAG and with the gay-straight alliance her son worked to create.

And Barker is involved in INCLUDE, offering a mother’s reflection on the consequences of anti-gay harassment and bullying in a documentary made for screening in schools. 

“INCLUDE, I think it’s great,” Barker said. “It’s important to reach kids, especially the ones out there struggling.”

Marriage equality rally groups apologize for exclusionary actions

Groups involved with the massive marriage equality rallies last week at the U.S. Supreme Court are apologizing for two exclusionary actions that took place.

In once instance, an activist was asked to move a transgender Pride flag from behind the podium. In another instance, an activist who spoke at the rally was asked to remove a reference to being an undocumented immigrant from a speech.

For both incidents, the United for Marriage coalition, the GetEQUAL activist group and the Human Rights Campaign issued apologies.

HRC vice president Fred Sainz stated, in part, “HRC regrets the incidents and offers our apologies to those who were hurt by our actions. We failed to live up to the high standard to which we hold ourselves accountable and we will strive to do better in the future. Through both our legislative and programmatic work, HRC remains committed to making transgender equality a reality.”

GetEQUAL co-director Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, in a statement titled “A Heart to Heart with the LGBT Community,” said, in part, “As one of the members of the coordinating committee that led the efforts around the country and in DC, GetEQUAL wants to reaffirm our commitment to being radically inclusive. Our commitment to inclusiveness is deep and it is reflected in our campaigns, in our organizational culture and in our leadership. We have deliberately debated how to respond to the issues that happened on Wednesday in Washington, DC. We have decided to go beyond just an apology and create a few organizational commitments — commitments that we expect that the community will hold us accountable to: We are committed to making sure that the voices of trans people and people of color are part of our leadership bodies such as the board directors and our organizing structures. We will push like hell for the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform because we will not let more than 250,000 LGBTQ immigrants live under the constant threat of deportation. We will continue pressuring President Obama to sign the executive order that can protect 25% of the labor force in this country against workplace discrimination. We will also push Congress to pass a fully inclusive ENDA, one that would protect our trans* sisters and brothers, so all of our people can thrive in this tough economy. We will continue highlighting and honoring through our local and national organizing the beauty in the diversity of experiences in our community.”

The United for Marriage Coalition issued a joint statement on behalf of its 180 partner organizations that said, “Over the course of two days, we were joined by over 50 speakers from the LGBT community and from allies in the labor, women’s, civil rights, faith, and immigration movements. As a coalition we have achieved historic accomplishments and have become stronger together.

“We came together as a coalition to speak to America about the values of love and commitment, to mobilize people across the country to build a groundswell of support for the freedom to marry, and to prepare people for the work ahead. We have achieved so much this week as a movement and as a nation.

“Since the conclusion of the rallies on Wednesday, the coalition has learned about the mistreatment of a few individuals who were attending and speaking at the rallies. In one case, a queer undocumented activist was asked to edit his speech to hide part of who he is. In another case, several activists were asked to lower the trans* pride flag in order to keep out of the scope of TV cameras.

“We apologize for having caused harm to the individuals involved. Apologies are being made individually and collectively and we are working to make direct amends.

“We know that apologies alone are not enough. We are committing to the following steps: Individuals involved with the process of talking with rally speakers about the content of their speeches are reaching out to apologize for harm caused. We will build on our conversations to also seek ways that we can come together for joint action on issues of shared concerns such as immigration reform and other issues that advance equality and justice. Individuals involved with the request to lower the trans Pride flag are reaching out to apologize for harm caused. Opportunities for broader education on both trans* and queer undocumented issues within the greater LGBT community will be taken.”