Gay & Christian ft. Terrace Hill (RPCV Peru)

Originally posed on Facebook and can be watched in full on YouTube, CLICK HERE.

Gay and Christian

Can you be a Christian and gay? Often times these two traits can seem at odds depending on the church or crowd you’re apart of. An issue faced by many Christians who are also gay, Terrace Ewing-Hill had to deal with this seemingly contradictory set of traits. Growing up in the conservative town of Lubbock, Texas in a loving, Christian family – Terrace had to struggle with people in her Church and family not accepting her androgynous tendencies and homosexuality. With her youth group critiquing her walk and her parents putting her in Christian conversion therapy, Terrace had to wrestle with her own identity of loving God and loving women.

Terrace speaks so beautifully about her process during these times, the evolution of herself and her family, and gives some really terrific advice regarding any family member who does not accept you for who you are (whether it has to do with sexuality or not).

An eloquent and insightful interview about how to rise above pressures from outside and look within to find what is true for you.

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My Peace Corps Story: Pride Edition

 

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Originally posted on the My Peace Corps Story website, CLICK HERE

Homosexuality is illegal in Senegal. When Patrick Driscoll found this out before he departed for his Peace Corps service, he was immediately a bit nervous about the next 2 years of his life. Patrick had come out during his senior year of college and was generally accepted by everyone and was quite content. Then, he was moving halfway around the world to essentially “jump back in.”

Above and below are excerpts from a recent My Peace Corps Story podcast with Patrick Driscoll (RPCV, Senegal 2014-2016), click on the link above to read the full transcript, see pictures from Patrick’s service, and listen to the podcast.

In Senegal, we live with host families. Mine was truly wonderful. They accepted me, helped me with language, and treated me as part of the family (as much as they could). They were Muslim, as is 92% of the country and the topic of homosexuality was rarely discussed in the household. My host brother, Malick was around my age and we quickly bonded. He was the only local person I ever thought about telling about my sexuality. However, my mind changed right after marriage became legal in the States. Malick made a comment about goor-djigeens (man-woman), the derogatory term for homosexuals, and how the states could ever let this happen. In this moment my mind raced as I tried to come up with a response that would dispel his negative viewpoints. I thought about coming out to him, but quickly remembered that another volunteer had just been evacuated due to his community finding out that he was gay. The Peace Corps deemed it a threat to his safety.

I decided to ask him how he would feel about one of his family members or closest friends telling him that they were gay and in love with another man or woman. He told me that was impossible as that did not exist in Senegal. I asked him, then why was it illegal in Senegal if it does not exist? He responded that it probably does exist, but only in the large cities. We went back and forth for a while and I do feel like I normalized the concept a bit for him, but I was concerned that the second I left at the end of my service he would revert back to his prior thinking about homosexuality.

A few months before this conversation with Malick, my boyfriend, Manuel, came to visit. In Senegal, it is very common for people of the same sex to share a bed. This worked in our favor throughout our cross-country travels and our stay with my host family. Hand-holding is also normal between two men or two women. I spent many evenings walking hand-in-hand around town with the mayor of our small community and with Malick. Unfortunately, I was far too nervous to hold hands with my boyfriend while we were there. I was too terrified of being found out and jeopardizing the town’s perception of me. I was just beginning to make good friends and earn the trust of my neighbors.

My Senegalese family loved Manuel during his visit. After he left, he was the only one that they continued to ask about throughout the rest of my service. It was almost as if they knew how important he was to me, but the topic of our true relationship was never broached. I had several other friends and other volunteers visit me over the two years in my town, but my family still only ever asked about Manuel.

My Peace Corps Story

About My Peace Corps Story:
Since the establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, more than 230,000 Americans have served 141 countries. The My Peace Corps Story Podcast aims to tell some of the many diverse and rich stories of volunteers, in their own words. This podcast will create an oral history of the varied experiences had by generations of Americans when they devoted two or more years of their life to national service abroad.

While often cited as a positive, life-changing experience, service in the Peace Corps is not easy. This show strives to portray Peace Corps service as it is, both the good and the bad. The host of the show, Tyler Lloyd, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and would “gladly and proudly do it all again.” The difficulties and risks of serving abroad, however, should not be understated or taken lightly.

The My Peace Corps Story Podcast will captivate you with the personal stories of Americans working and living abroad. Each episode, we explore the cultures, communities, and people that make the Peace Corps an unparalleled experience, filled with stories worth telling.

World Report 2018: Fighting for Rights Succeeds

Human Rights Watch‘s World Report 2018 summarizes key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2016 through November 2017.

In his keynote essay, “The Pushback Against the Populist Challenge,” Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the surge of authoritarian populists appears less inevitable than it did a year ago. Then, there seemed no stopping a series of politicians around the globe who claimed to speak for “the people” but built followings by demonizing unpopular minorities, attacking human rights principles, and fueling distrust of democratic institutions. Today, a popular reaction in a broad range of countries, bolstered by some political leaders with the courage to stand up for human rights, has left the fate of many of these populist agendas more uncertain.

CLICK HERE to view full report and browse by countries

 

Freedom To Marry Movie

Click image to find a screening near you

The Freedom To Marry is the behind-the-scenes story of the architects of this historic civil rights movement and the brilliant, nerve-wracking campaign to win same sex marriage throughout the United States. The nail-biting, untold story of how same-sex marriage became law of the land. The Freedom To Marry  follows RPCV Evan Wolfson (Togo 1978-1980), the architect of the movement, civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto and their key colleagues on this decades long battle, culminating in a dramatic fight at the United States Supreme Court. More than the saga of one movement’s history, this is an inspiring tale of how regular people can change the world.

CLICK HERE to find a screening near you.

Evan Wolfson biography:
Wolfson is known as the national architect of the same-sex marriage movement. Having written his third year thesis paper at Harvard Law in 1983 on the subject, Wolfson began advocating for the freedom to marry when almost every gay rights leader was adverse. People thought he was ‘crazy’, and that he was seriously overreaching. After AIDS ravaged the LGBT community, and the need for legal protections became clear, Wolfson (as an attorney at Lambda Legal Aid) renewed his push for marriage. He claimed not only that same sex marriage could only become a legal reality, but that by working towards that goal, LGBT Americans could improve their status on a huge host of other fronts.

National Coordinator, Manuel Colón, and Evan Wolfson at a screening of The Freedom to Marry in Santa Monica, CA

In the early 1990s, Wolfson helped fight the first successful legal marriage court battle, in Hawaii. As the movement began to gain traction, he founded, Freedom to Marry, a not-for-profit which spearheaded the strategy and the national campaign. His genius came from an acute understanding of history, and other civil rights campaigns. His catch-phrases like, “wins trump losses”, and “there is no marriage without engagement” underpinned what soon become a national and international movement.

Evan was first to understand that, while marriage battles could be won in court, it would require changing the ideology of the nation – helping non-gay people understand that gays and lesbians were ‘people too’ – to make ‘wins’ happen, and to make them stick.

As he predicted, his early efforts were met with intense opposition from the masses, the Church and even the White House. Unperturbed, Wolfson helped devise and implement a cohesive strategy that included public education, grassroots mobilization, PR, polling, messaging, fundraising, social media campaigns and carefully orchestrated legal efforts. Evan, himself, spent decades criss-crossing America, speaking at every event, large and small, guiding and leading the campaign to win hearts, minds and victories. These efforts led to his eventual moniker, Mr. Marriage.

Wolfson began working on the marriage movement, there was not a single town in America where gay people had even a shred of legal protection. As of this writing, gay marriage is now legal not only throughout America, but in 22 other countries on five continents.

Ironically, having fought the government for decades and won, ironically, Wolfson eventually put himself out of business. Having achieved his organization’s stated mission, he happily closed Freedom to Marry in December, 2015. His staff (with this remarkable victory on their resume) has gone on to key positions at other LBGT and civil rights organizations throughout the United States.

After a short vacation, Evan returned to New York, where he resides with his husband, Cheng He. He has become extremely active in a variety of other campaigns for social justice (including LGBT anti-discrimination) not only in this country, but around the world. Interestingly, much of his current work is now currently sponsored by the US State Department, which has requested Evan to provide his expertise to other nations currently embarking on same sex marriage battles.

The Power of Video Stories

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In September 2010, Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, uploaded the very first It Gets Better video to YouTube. Within months, one video would grow to over 50,000, converting Dan and Terry’s single video into one of the largest collections of LGBT stories in the world. In hindsight, their original goal of one hundred videos – “best-case scenario: two hundred videos”[1] – was a major underestimate, to say the least.

So what happened? How did just one video – and two stories (Dan & Terry’s) – become one of the most successful social media campaigns for social good of all time?[2]

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Some of this success can certainly be attributed to various external factors at play at the time. In 2010, the LGBT community was growing in political strength, and YouTube and other social media platforms were rising in popularity. These elements helped attract pro-LGBT celebrities and political figures to the campaign, which invited mass media coverage to follow. Without these things, the It Gets Better Project might never have become what it is today.

But to give them all of the credit would be wrong. These external factors alone can’t attest for the continued influence of the It Gets Better Project around the world today, or to the seemingly endless support and love we receive from contributors near and far. We attribute that sort of success to one thing: the power of story.

As one researcher put it at the time, stories like those contained within It Gets Better videos have the potential to “set up possible ways of being in the world, [inviting] one to the realization of [their] possibilities.”[3] That’s something incredibly important for people who are LGBT. Although we may frequently identify with one another and can adopt shared cultural values, there is no simple way to do that across generations. As a result, younger LGBT people can have a difficult time connecting with LGBT adults and with finding appropriate role models in times of need.

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The It Gets Better video campaign helped change that. It gave LGBT adults the opportunity to tell their own personal stories, some for the first time. Simultaneously, it provided a portal through which LGBT youth could connect directly with the voices they were in need of hearing the most. That’s why what seemed like a simple idea to Dan and Terry at the time was actually revolutionary. Much more than just telling a story, Dan and Terry were helping to build a community.

Here’s one scholar’s explanation for why collective storytelling can be so important for groups like the LGBT community:

“We celebrate storytelling, and especially personal storytelling, for its authenticity, its passion, and its capacity to inspire not just empathy but action. Everyone has a story, we often say, and that makes for a discourse with uniquely democratic possibilities… In telling the story of our becoming, as an individual, a nation, a people, we define who we are.”[4]

On a community level, it’s this “capacity to inspire” that makes the It Gets Better Project so successful. That leaves us with one lingering question: beyond being valuable to the identity of the LGBT community as a whole, does collective storytelling really help LGBT youth in need?

IGB5As a writer at Vox.com recently put it, “[It Gets Better] is not just something celebrities and other famous people say to make the world feel good. It’s something that’s been backed by empirical research.”[5] Here are just a few of the things that research has told us about the impact of storytelling and positive messaging in general on LGBT youth:

  • Inquiries Journal (2010): Online social support can be an incredibly effective means for helping teens mediate stress and find inclusivity.[6]
  • Public Relations Journal (2013): By effectively utilizing commons-based peer production, the It Gets Better Project has helped teens identify with a greater online community, which in turn can help them combat social isolation and adversity.[7]
  • Clinical Psychological Science (2014): Convincing kids that things can change for the better helps them dodge depression, assists with aggression, and improves general health.[8]

This is what the It Gets Better Project is all about: making the lives of LGBT young people better, one video at a time. To bring it back to the words of Dan Savage: “Let’s all commit to making things better right now, let’s all do what we can to create a world where no child, gay or straight, is bullied for being different…Do your part. Give ‘em hope.”[1] Sometimes all that takes is a story.

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[1] Savage, D., & Miller, T. (Eds.). (2011). It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living. New York: Dutton.

[2]  Skarda, E. (2014, September 16). What You Need to Know About the 5 Most Successful Social Media Campaigns for Social Change. Retrieved from NationSwell:http://nationswell.com/social-media-campaigns-successful-at-change/

[3] O’Connell, Sean P (2001). OutSpeak: Narrating Identities That Matter. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Polletta, F. (2006). It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

[5] Lopez, G. (2016, April 15). LGBTQ study finds it really does get better. Retrieved from Vox: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/29/7945603/it-gets-better-study

[6] Dietrick, Cindy (2010). Online Social Support: An Effective Means of Mediating Stress. Inquiries Journal.

[7] Ward, Jamie A (2013). The Next Dimension in Public Relations Campaigns: A Case Study of the It Gets Better Project. Public Relations Journal: 157-186.

[8] Miu, Adriana Sum and David Scott Yeager (2014). Preventing Symptoms of Depression by Teaching Adolescents That People Can Change: Effects of a Brief Incremental Theory of Personality Intervention at 9-Month Follow-Up. Clinical Psychological Science.