Mother’s Perspectives: Part Two

Once again, thank you to the speakers who, on Tuesday, decided to share with us their experiences. From what I could tell based on the conversation that followed, there was a great deal of takeaway from these two families’ stories.

Part Two: Verna and Josh

“I taught Josh when we was younger, and he’s teaching me now.”

Josh is twenty years old, and he came out to his mother, Verna, two years ago. Verna, having been brought up in the same generation as Susan, faced the same situation in a very different time.

She said she had an idea about Josh’s sexuality when he was as young as three. “If any one of my four boys is gay, it’s Joshua,” she retells this thought jokingly.

But she opened her story, not with the distress of Josh’s coming out to her, but with the unconditional love she felt then and still feels now for him and all of her children. She strives to teach them to be strong, knowing they (especially her second son) will face adversity. She taught them to take others’ opinions with a grain of salt. It is within your own self and the people that love you that you should find comfort.

One day, Josh called his mom, and she could tell he was nervous. She could tell he had something big to tell her, and it was tough for him.

“Mom, I’m gay.”

“And…? I know Josh; I’ve always known.”

And the simplicity of realizing that maybe his identity was not as secretive as he had thought has forged an even stronger bond between mother and son. She never pushed him; she never even asked him. It was his story to tell. When asked a direct question, Verna’s advice, based upon her own experience was: wait for them to tell you. Even if you have an idea and you want to test the waters, be vague, generic and open-ended. Don’t make them feel pressured to tell something they’re not ready to tell yet. They’ve got to come to terms with it themselves before they can trust others.

For a time, after that confirming conversation, Verna felt legitimate fear for her child. As a Catholic, she honestly believed that, as a gay man, Josh could not go to heaven. Reconciling her feelings for her son and the knowledge that this is something with which he was born, with the belief system of the Catholic church has been a struggle. From the beginning, Verna told Josh to never “lose his faith in God.”

Josh is adamant that he owes all his success to the encouragement from his mother. As of next weekend, Joshua will be a college graduate, having served on the North Idaho College student senate body (ASNIC), as President for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and as Treasurer for the NIC Signers’ Club.

Verna said of Josh’s accomplishments, “I couldn’t be more proud– not because he’s gay, but because he’s my son.”

josh and verna

Josh and his mom, Verna

josh swan 2

This award was presented to the North Idaho College Footsteps Committee by the Task Force On Human Relations for their work in diversity and human rights.

josh swan

Josh (center) and his siblings

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Mothers’ Perspectives: Part One

First off, a heartfelt thank you to Bev Moss, her daughter, Susan and Verna Swan and her son, Josh. It was courageous to stand up the way you did last night and bare your honest experiences with the group. It was wonderful to see how perspectives the same exact situation could differ, even to the point of reminding one another what had happened.

Part one is for Bev and Susan Moss:

“Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

In the case of Susan Moss, her coming out story began at age 16, nearly 25 years ago. Obviously, the societal climate toward the LGBT community was much different. (If you think we’ve got work to do now, just imagine how far we’ve come.) Susan noticed something different about herself as she entered her teenage years, but didn’t have a definitive answer until her first relationship with another girl at 16.

She didn’t want to tell anyone. It is important to note that Susan and Bev never really talked about it.They began the reminiscence by disclaiming that neither one really new what the other was going to say. “Let’s see how this goes,” they said. Bev, Susan’s mother, chimed in to take over a little of the story then. She told us that she had confronted Susan. “Are you gay?” After giving the confirmation, Susan felt like a ‘failure at coming out.’ She felt as though the control she had over her own story had been taken from her, and she ran from the situation, eventually leaving North Idaho altogether for a period.

In the year 1988, Bev cried over the news that her daughter was gay. Not necessarily the fact, but the struggles of disclosing the information to other family members, the unhealthy high school relationship Susan was in and the widespread misinformation of HIV and AIDS during that time. Even though, she’d had suspicions, the confirmation meant she couldn’t hide with her “head in the sand” anymore; she had to wage this uphill battle alongside her daughter.

Advice given to Susan’s parents is universal and so important for all to hear:

Ask your child for three years to fully adjust. It’s likely that it took that long or longer for your child to come to terms with this part of themselves. Do as much research as you can. Get the facts because having knowledge is the best way to assuage fear. Remind yourself that this person is the same person you called your child yesterday; you’ve just learned some new information about them.

This wise, before-his-time man was also quoted as saying “Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

Bev has long since fully accepted this piece of Susan’s identity, spending years manning the hotline for concerned parents of LGBT persons and providing a safe, accepting place in her home for Susan’s peers. And Susan has returned to Coeur d’Alene and is working tirelessly to make Coeur d’Alene schools secure and inclusive for all students.

Bev

Bev

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family

Unitarian Universalists of North Idaho

Q: What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian Universalist?
A: Someone who knocks on your door and asks you what YOU believe.

Have you heard of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? For short, and because meetings are generally on Sunday, we call it “church”. But it’s not like any church you’ve ever been to.

uua logoThe Unitarians promote and live their lives by seven pretty basic principles:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person

2. Justice, equality and compassion in all human relations

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to grow spiritually

4. A free (as in uninhibited) and responsible search for truth and meaning

5. The right of conscious and the democratic process, both in the congregations and society at large

6. The goal of the world community with peace, liberty and justice for all

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Sounds great, right? No dogma or doctrine. Just guidelines for living life well and respecting the lives you encounter along the way. A church that encourages the concept of “life before death”. Learn as much as you want by visiting their website.

coexist2The local chapter of the Unitarian Universalists has been serving the Coeur d’Alene area with meetings most Sundays, book discussions, dances and socials. I’ve attended a handful of times over the last year because, personally, I love the community feeling of a church without Jesus Christ being shoved down my (and my kids’) throat. Just one woman’s opinion.

If you are interested in learning more about the North Idaho Unitarian Universalists, please consider attending a mixer being hosted by one of the congregations members or sitting in on a service. The meetings are held at the Harding Family Center at 411 N. 15th St in Coeur d’Alene from 10:30 to 11:30AM. Childcare is provided for free most Sundays, and this is one of the most welcoming bunches of people I have ever met!  uuni bbq invite 2 jpeg

Laramie and CDA – Not So Different by Josh Swan

Josh Swan is a soon-to-be graduated student at North Idaho College, having completed his general course of study and planning to move on to systems and design thinking and sociolinguistics. In addition to his most recent project of joining the board of directors for the renewed PFLAG CDA, Josh has served on the Associated Students of North Idaho College (the student senate) for two years, as the treasurer for NIC Signers Club and was the president of the NIC Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) for the 2012-13 school year.  He volunteered to be on a talk-back panel for the play. Go ask him a question tonight!

If you want to see the play, there is still a chance! Tonight (followed by guest speaker and actor panel) and Saturday; 7:30PM at the Boswell Hall Schuler Performing Arts Center.

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later was a phenomenal production by the North Idaho College Theatre Department. If you are unfamiliar with the original Laramie Project, it is a play based on the events following the murder Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old gay student of the University of Wyoming.

As this murder attracted national attention, one crew that went in to interview was the Tectonic Theatre Project. Tectonic differed from other media sources as it decided to take the interviews, court transcripts and create a play out of them. A cast of around 8 then presented the play, each with the possibly of playing up to ten different characters. The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is a follow up to that play.

Following the murder, there was a 20/20 episode that worked to discredit the court cases that this was a hate crime. They tried to make the implication that the assault was not about discrimination, but rather a drug deal or robbery gone way too far. The Tectonic Theatre Project re-entered the scene and did some follow up interviews. They spoke with anyone involved or just members of the community whether they were for or against. They even went as far as interviewing Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard, and his murderers Aaron McKinney, and Russel Henderson. This play discusses the changes in climate of Laramie, work done in the state of Wyoming, and even work Judy has done to create federal hate crime laws.

As a native of the Coeur d’Alene area, it was interesting to see. Coeur d’Alene and Laramie have a lot more in common than one might think. In both cities, the college is the “liberal hub”  and while the town of Laramie faced the hate crime that led to Matthew Shepard’s death, Coeur d’Alene has been known for it’s struggle with the Aryan Nations. Both cities resent that past and wish to fully put it behind them. They wish to “forget about the past” in order to move forward. This comes up whenever a law to make a change is suggested or someone digs up a past wound. There even is similarity in arguments in board meetings and senate meetings regarding how the marriage needs to remain an institute between one man and one woman. Hearing the same arguments over again in play format allowed me to realize that every testimony against it was like a stab in the chest, another invalidation of my existence or ability to love. By the end of the play though, there has been some progress forward for change very similarly to Coeur d’Alene. There is still a ways to go, but overall it is stepping in the right direction.

Idaho – Same Sex Marriage Update

In 2006, the people of Idaho voted to have a constitutional amendment ratified which defined “marriage” as between one man and one woman. (Absurd.) It’s been eight years since this vote. Do we think the tides may have changed in this, the third most conservative state in the American union? We can only hope.

In November of last year, a case was brought before the Idaho federal court on behalf of four lesbian couples petitioning for marriage licenses.

Latta v. Otter is a 2013-2014 Idaho federal court case challenging the constitutional marriage ban and corresponding statutes, as well as state recognition of out-of-state marriages. The case was filed on November 8, 2013 under case number 1:13-cv-482, and was assigned to Judge Candy Dale.

A hearing is scheduled for May 5, 2014. Hopefully, we get some good news then.

Read the case notes here.

(It’s good to know Idahoans are not giving up.)

 

Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 1199)

As you know, locally, we’ve been dealing with adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, which would extend legal protections and due process to members of the LGBTQ+ community with regard to employment, housing and service. In addition, advocates are hoping to “add the words” to language in the school district’s anti-discrimination employment and student conduct policies.

Well, turns out, adding the words at the federal level is moving along as well, if not better. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) has the possibility of heading to the House floor, and with just 25 more co-sponsors (that is, legislators willing to vote in favor), it has a good chance of making it up to the Senate. PFLAG National participated in National Safe Schools Partnership coalition, and by persistently contacting lawmakers, they were integral in attaining 11 additional co-sponsors, bringing the total support to 193. Go here to see what you can do to help. You can also use the information you find there if you plan to attend this event. (We need 218 out of 435 to have a majority vote.) Watch this informative video from my friend, Bill, to learn how how a law is made.

Learn more about the SSIA from the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign conducted the largest survey of LGBT youth ever conducted, over 10,000 respondents aged 13 to 17. For the resulting statistics on the unique struggle of LGBT youth, go here.

lgbt bullying

 

The Laramie Project- 10 Years Later

In October of 2008, a young man named Matthew Shepard was lured from a bar, beaten and left tied to a fence in rural Laramie, Wyoming in the middle of the night. He died in the hospital a few days later from his injuries and hypothermia. He was brutalized because of his sexuality– Matthew was gay.

Following the news of this egregious hate crime, the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie and conducted over 200 interviews with the citizens regarding the causes and effects of the horrible event. It bred the most performed play in the United States and an HBO film that went to Sundance and was nominated for 4 Emmys.

Laramie_Book_cover For more information on the Tectonic Theater Project, go here.

North Idaho College and the Theater Department are bringing “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” to Boswell Hall in April 2014. The original creators of the play did a follow-up investigation in Laramie, a full decade after the murder of Matthew Shepard. What they discovered was more that just a epilogue they were expecting.

Read the original article in the Press about the upcoming performances here. (Once again, if you read the comments, you will fume… North Idahoans sure are fun…)

Show dates are April 17-19 and 24-26 at 7:30PM.

laramie303

The Secret Gay Agenda – Letter to the Editor

Locally, we are dealing with a fraught situation. Several months ago, the city council of Coeur d’Alene voted in favor of an ordinance that protects citizens from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Did you know that ‘no state entity acting as an employer (including the CDA school district) needs to comply with the ordinance’? Well, they don’t, and that’s why Susan Moss is spearheading the campaign to extend these securities to both employees and students of the school district.

city ordinance

photo credit: Jerome Pollo/ CDA Press The community room in the CDA Library was packed with people on both sides of the argument last June. Even with two-minute time limits and calls to avoid repetition, the meeting lasted over 5 hours and culminated in a passage of the policy by overwhelming majority.

There have been some rough letters to the editor to the local newspapers, including those which accuse those in support of the policy change of promoting a “hidden gay agenda”.. Here is Rebecca McNeill’s response:

I can’t believe you found us out. The LGBT community is only pretending to want equal rights and nondiscrimination in public arenas. That’s the front, of course. But really, it’s all about the bathrooms. The secret agenda is: Gaining access to all bathrooms, all the time.

As the bisexual mother of two children in the Coeur d’Alene School District, I only pretend to care about the possible negative side effects of declaring that I’m bisexual in this letter. I don’t really worry about my children, or their future freedom from the discrimination I faced as a student at Coeur d’Alene High School and North Idaho College. Don’t be silly. I’m not worried about whether this statement will affect my ability to be hired as a teacher in the district, or if the next parent-teacher conference I attend is painfully awkward. No, Mr. Finney — you have nailed it on the head. I want to use the boys’ bathroom. I want my kids to attend public school and willy-nilly use any bathroom or locker room they please. I can’t believe you saw through our cover story of wanting “equal rights under the law” or “to not be bullied to the point of attempting suicide.” I just want to watch you pee.

 I suppose, now that the truth has been discovered, I shall carry on with my personal LGBT agenda of making dinner for my kids and watching some TV.

Here is the original link. If you read the comments, be prepared to fume. If you can be at the school board meeting tonight, either in solidarity or to speak out about the need for “adding the words”, please join up!

 

Straight 4 Equality

Straight 4 Equality is an organization established in 2007 by PFLAG National in order to have a place specifically for straight allies (who may not necessarily have a family connection) of the LGBT community to go for education and outreach opportunities.

If you’re one of the roughly 8 in 10 people who can say “I have a gay friend (or coworker, or acquaintance)” this is the place for you.

Straight 4 Equality was conceived to address a growing need for people who are supportive of equal rights for all but who don’t directly benefit from policy changes or new legislation. It’s an outsider, standing up for a marginalized group.

I-am-an-AllySeveral campaigns have been launched recently to engage “straight, but not narrow” advocates, including signing an online pledge to stand up to bullies, support individual members of the LGBT community and encourage others to watch their mouths! They also have a campaign intended for both straight allies and those who are in need of straight allies.

Simply download and print out one of these signs (according to your personal affirmation), fill out the form and take a photo of yourself holding it up. Put it someplace visible and get a conversation started! Submit it to all of your social media followers with the tags #straight4equality and #iamastraightally or #ineedastraightally. Share it on Straight 4 Equality’s Facebook page or email it to info@straightforequality.org!

i need a straight ally because  i'm a straight ally because

For those of you who will be attending the next meeting for PFLAG Coeur d’Alene, I will have signs for you to fill out and have your picture taken. Your photos will be shared on the blog, on our local facebook page and with PFLAG National and Straight 4 Equality.

“Out With Dad” – video

Out With Dad is a web-series written and directed by Jason Leaver. In three (and counting) series and 34+ episodes, a story unfolds about Rose, a closeted teen lesbian, and her relationship with her single-parent father, Nathan. The 10-20 minute episodes deal with themes such as the challenges that face LGBT youth in coming out as well as the struggles of the parents of said young adults. PFLAG Canada officially endorses the series.

View the entire series, as well as more information on Out With Dad, here.

This episode show a meeting with a local PFLAG chapter, attended by both seasoned members of the LGBT community, parents and people who are just making the first step. According to the video, the stories told are truthful and only minimal changes have been made for dramatic purposes.

Part I:

Part 2: