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.

Peace Corps Week 2017

Peace Corps Week commemorates President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. During this annual event, the Peace Corps community celebrates all the ways that Peace Corps makes a difference at home and abroad and renews its commitment to service.

This year the Peace Corps Week theme is Highlighting Hospitality: How does your Peace Corps Country Make People Feel Welcome? Volunteers are often humbled by the hospitality of their Peace Corps country. Share those traditions of hospitality and feelings of welcome with the world this Peace Corps Week.

In 2017 there are many ways you can join in the celebration.

Anyone

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and RPCV Groups

Be sure to tell us about your planned events in the RPCV Portal so we can send you promotional items to share at your events and a Peace Corps t-shirt.

  • Host a film festival to showcase the Video Challenge finalist videos. We’ll share the link to the videos here when it’s available.
  • Host an International Festival.
  • Host a Story Slam with the theme of welcome or hospitality.
  • Write a blog post about traditions of hospitality in your host country. Share your blog on Facebook and tag @PCThirdGoal and #PCW2017.
  • How do you say “welcome” in your host country’s language? Share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram tagging #hostcountryhello and #PCW2017.
  • Connect with a classroom and teach U.S. students about traditions of hospitality in your host country.

Educators

SOURCE: “Peace Corps Week.” Peace Corps Week. Peace Corps, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.

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.

2015 Annual Report

LGBT RPCV (with side text)

Dear Members, Friends, and Supporters:

It is my absolute pleasure and pride to report with you the activities, energies, and progress that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (LGBT RPCV) have made this past year. In fact, one of the largest shifts we experienced was my personal transition from the Steering Committee as the New Volunteer Coordinator to leading the group as National Coordinator.

Since our inception, LGBT RPCV has been privileged to have the steadfast leadership of Mike Learned (Malawi, 1963-1965) in a variety of different capacities. Under his leadership LGBT RPCV has been working to promote Peace Corps ideals and the legal, political and social rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world. In June, Peace Corps Director, Carolyn Hessler-Radelet, presented Mike a certificate of appreciation for his “invaluable contributions and exceptional dedication to the Peace Corps” (see full report below).

2015 was a historic year for LGBT rights, equality, and struggle. With a strong social media presence, participation at a national conference, and supporting local Pride parades and activities across the country LGBT RPCV has been working very hard to be on the forefront of such important work. I want to thank each of our members, friends, and supporters for their positive contributions in making our organization a success and I look forward to continue our collective well into the future.

In Solidarity,

Manuel Colón
National Coordinator
Paraguay 2010-2012

CLICK HERE FOR FULL ANNUAL REPORT

LGBT RPCV National Coordinator on the “Listening Tour”

by Manuel Colón, 

In my new role as National Coordinator for LGBT RPCV, I decided to make it a point to reach out to each of the continuing Steering Committee members and have a chat. I’ve dubbed this my “listening tour.” I wanted the conversations to serve not only as a time for me to engage with each of the members one-on-one, but also to tap into their individual and collective knowledge of the group’s history and their thoughts on our future. I’m nearly complete, with only two or three more committee members to go, and I cannot be happier with the results thus far.

The conversations I’m having have  been so informative, insightful, and, quite honestly, enjoyable! The knowledge and experiences that each one of our Steering Committee members brings to the table is absolutely great! However, there is a particular incident that has truly surpassed my expectations of what these chats could have produced. LGBT RPCV produces a newsletter that is shared with our followers and supporters on a quarterly basis and done so digitally. However, as you might imagine, when the group first started in 1991, the newsletter was print.

Dennis Gilligan, fellow Steering Committee member, informed me that he still had all the original print newsletters that the group had produced. In fact, he had been meaning to scan and digitize them, just never got around to it. Since our conversation, Dennis has sent me over 70 digitized pages of LGBT RPCV’s newsletters from its early days of inception. I was only two pages into the inaugural newsletter when I was stopped dead in my tracks to learn that in 1991, an RPCV named James “Jim” Kelly wrote a master’s thesis titled “Diversity’s Hidden Dimensions: Gays and Lesbians in the Peace Corps.”

James “Jim” Kelly and Manuel Colón

James “Jim” Kelly and Manuel Colón

In my excitement to find Jim and his thesis, I looked in our university’s database, scanned what Google produced, and even searched Facebook. While I was unsuccessful in my digital search, all I had to do was scroll over to the next page to find Jim’s home address and phone number (as research would have been done in 1991, obviously). I wasn’t 100% positive that the number listed would still be active 24 years later, but it was! Jim answered the phone, was more than happy to chat with me, and, since we are both in Illinois, made time to meet in-person later that week.

I’ve invited Jim to contribute a piece to our website; so that he can expand upon his experience with Peace Corps and his dissertation work. Jim was also gracious enough to provide us with a digital copy of

his thesis (a task he, also, had been meaning to do, but hadn’t until I requested) and we’ll share the full report when we get his written story.

In the meantime, I was able to record our chat. I tried my best to edit it and have shared via SoundCloud. If you have about 45 minutes, CLICK HERE to  take a listen.