Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Hidden Epidemic: Homeless LGBT Youth

Living here in the Bible belt and across the nation, the LGBT community often experiences a hostile environment, illustrated by this current sign in Portland, TN: tenn-causes-controversy-23516.shtml  Some say this “concerned Christian” group is expressing their freedom of speech, but we know that this kind of billboard promotes fear, societal shame, and anger, especially toward all of the youth who view it.

Chris Sanders, Chair of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), says of this signage, “We are obviously concerned about how these messages contribute to LGBT youth homelessness... At their best, faith communities can bring people together around shared values. This [billboard] message is divisive and picks on vulnerable gender and sexual minorities in an area where there are few resources.” Chris adds that this kind of religious fervor can motivate parents to eject their LGBT kids from their homes, prompting severe psychological and physical distress, which is sometimes fatal.

A recent Rolling Stone article points out that while life gets better for millions of gays, the number of homeless LGBT teens keeps growing: forsaken-a-rising-number-of-homeless-gay-teens-are-being-cast-out-by-religious- families-20140903  In the Rolling Stone article, when a young college student told her pious parents she was gay, one answered: "I don't know what we could have done for God to have given us a fag as a child.” Although this young woman hoped her parents would come around in time, they completely cut off all emotional and financial support to her. She was left with nothing. The Rolling Stone further reports that social service workers believe that family rejection partially explains that an estimated 40% of the homeless youth population are LGBT when they make up only 5 % of the total youth population. More kids come out earlier to their parents than in the past and teens are cast out out of their homes prior to finishing high school. LGBT kids are seven times more likely than their straight counterparts to be the victims of crime, often violent ones.

When young people are rejected so completely by their parents, imagine the toll on the child. Their once loving, supportive parents now turn their backs on these young people, prompting much suffering. During the past several years, the LGBT movement has focused on laws around marriage equality, changing 'don't ask, don't tell,' and obtaining adoption rights but hasn't been dealing as much on the homeless youth epidemic. The tide may now be changing.

LGBT youth are at risk because they often lack access to medical care, they attempt suicide, use hard drugs, and are more likely to be arrested for survival crimes. Some turn to survival sex. Also, for children who have grown up in sheltered, religious homes, their ability to cope with and handle homeless life is significantly decreased. And, if a child chooses to stay in the closet so parents won’t resort to extreme measures, they often suffer from depression, panic attacks, and sometimes get suicidal while they live a lie with great fear of being found out. This is no way for a child to develop into a healthy adult.

The bad news is that in June 2014, Nashville’s Oasis Center was forced to close its Transitional Living (TL) program due to the lack of available funding sources. Three years ago, Oasis lost federal funding for the TL program which had been functioning since 1992. Prior to June of this year, Oasis spent more than $700,000 to cover the federal funding loss, according to Pam Sheffer, Program Director for Just Us @Oasis Center.

The good news is that Pam is trying to coordinate several Nashville shelter programs to increase their access to homeless youth by initiating a Task Force to develop plans for youth’s immediate needs, like places to sleep: #streetfreesleep. Although many have already joined the Task Force and have volunteered to create solutions to this problem, Pam would love to have more people involved. The Task Force has developed mid-term and long-term goals as well. Please contact Pam if you would like to help out in any number of ways:, (615)-327-4455.

We are all in this together. We need to help our LGBT youth experience hope and find better ways to live without so much risk of danger, marginalization poverty and misery. What are you willing to do to help out? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blaming the Victim

How easy it is to blame the victim.  Most of us have made that mistake even when we don’t believe in doing so. How does this happen?

When bad things occur, whether it is sexual assault, domestic violence, police brutality, or plain ole bullying, we wonder: did the victim participate in this tragedy in some way?  Is he or she partially responsible?

We human beings want to discover any and all explanations possible about how an act of violence happens.  Yes, we blame the perpetrator primarily.  No child asks to be sexually assaulted by a parent.  No woman asks to be knocked out in an elevator. No black boy in the street asks a white cop to kill him even if he is noncompliant. 

So, why then do we wonder if Janey Rice had something to do with her husband’s punching her out cold?  Why do we wonder if Michael Brown had done anything approximating the severe punishment of being killed by a white cop?  We are a frightened and vulnerable people, sometimes paranoid while living in a world where terrorists behead Americans and Brits, and where college frat boys rape young women just because they can.

We want to control whatever we can, we want to protect ourselves and our children, and some of us also want to protect the poor, and brown and black males who are targeted far too frequently by the police.  We want to explain how these tragedies can occur and once we understand the dynamics, we fantasize that perhaps we can prevent this from happening.

We also find ourselves evaluating and judging victims unconsciously, without intending to do so.

The police seem to have their own code of ethics and have covered up for each other when “accidents” or mistakes occur.  We still wonder about the victims, hoping that they did just one thing to provoke their perpetrators, so that we can tell ourselves that if only we don’t do that one thing, we and/or our kids will be safe.  Not so.

A violent crime can happen to any of us, no matter who we are or how much money we have.  What is important is for us to provide support, services and thorough investigations into violent acts without prejudice toward any one group or funding source. We need to stop our sloppy police and justice work that ignores victims’ rights and justice for all.

We also need to explore our own biases, our beliefs about who did what to whom and why.  There are so many variables that enter into a criminal act, much should be examined instead of our developing hasty and uninformed conclusions.

Blaming the victim is too simple and ignorant.  Let us educate ourselves and others so that we can develop a wider lens to view these problems instead of blaming the victim and letting the perpetrator off one too many times.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Domestic Violence: Inside a Man's Head

We cannot decrease domestic violence without first getting inside men’s heads.  I do not condone physical violence of any sort, but until we understand the abuser, we cannot change the pattern.

I am not defending men’s actions. It is always wrong to hit others, but our culture also contributes to this problem.  Our country fights other countries in the name of freedom and liberty, politicians fight, and boys fight on the playground. Women may learn to fight with their words more than with fists, but boys and men are often taught to fight back physically.

A man leaves work, a bad day.  His boss told him that his job may be cut.  He is the primary breadwinner, having agreed that his wife stay home with their 3 kids.  If he loses his job, what will happen, what about their debts?  One of his few enjoyments in life is going to the neighborhood bar on his way home, drinking a beer, or six.

His wife texts, asking where he is. He texts her that he is at his mother’s and will be home soon.  Later, as he walks in the door, his house is a mess, the children are loud, the baby is crying, and his wife looks like a homeless woman, trying to cook amidst this chaos.  He growls, throws down his jacket and grabs a beer from the refrigerator.  His children shrink away and go to their rooms.  His wife asks him again where he has been, claiming that she called his mother who hasn’t seen him.

A flood of shame and rage assaults him both from his wife’s shouting and from inside his own head. He is not hallucinating but he loathes himself while hearing these phrases: “You good for nothing drunk!  Why can’t you make more money, we can’t live on your pitiful salary!   If you were a real man, you would ask for a raise.  What’s wrong with you?”  He feels like a failure and has always been told he would never amount to anything.  His wife’s voice colludes with his own internal voices: “Why are you always so mad, why do you drink so much?”

The man finishes his beer and tries to drive away in the car.  His wife pulls his arm, begging him not to go, that he might get a DUI. He doesn’t care, he might as well be dead instead of live one more moment making himself and everyone miserable. No one cares about him except for his money.  His wife won’t sleep with him anymore, and his kids look at him with fear and hatred. All he wants to do is say “STOP!”  But, that isn’t manly, it’s shameful and weak. He lashes back not with his words but his fist.

What can we do to help this man and his family?  What services or interventions might change some of the variables that create this perfect storm of domestic violence? 

Tennessee Abortion Amendment

Imagine that it is the year 2017. You are a 15 year old girl who does well academically and has a good relationship with your parents. After two weeks at church camp, you are glad to begin school again. Then, you find out you are pregnant. You wonder how to handle this, feeling alone and frightened. A pregnancy will embarrass and disappoint your parents tremendously, your dad being a respected church elder.

You fell hard for a 17 year old boy at church camp. It surprised you when he pressured you to have sex with him and although you didn’t really want to, you didn’t want him to stop dating you either. After sex, he dumped you for another girl. Your heart was broken but you mostly felt embarrassed and ashamed that you let him have sex with you.

If Amendment 1 to the Tennessee Constitution had been voted down in November 2014, there are professional consultation services available to you. You can talk with a doctor or another healthcare provider, who might help you talk with your parents, or find the services you need. With much thought, reflection and consultation, you decide to get an abortion with your parent’s consent, a safe medical procedure.

But, if Amendment 1 had passed in 2014, here is what may happen. Since then, Tennessee legislators have introduced and passed bills so there are few if any legal, professional abortion services available. Since you know how distressed your parents will be if they find out about the pregnancy, you ask friends to help you decide what to do, and they find someone who will abort your pregnancy. You get the abortion, and go home.

Now, imagine yourself as this child’s mother or father. Your daughter has been such a gift to the family, so loving and kind. Then, one day she is sick with a fever, cramping. You figure it is her period along with a virus and urge her to stay home from school, and then you will take her to the doctor if she doesn’t feel better soon. The next day when you go off to work, she is pale, so you set a doctor’s appointment for tomorrow. Tomorrow is too late. When you return home, you find your child dead from hemmoraging.

All because Tennessee stopped granting the right to privacy and to choices about female reproductive health. In 2017, abortions in Tennessee are no longer available. Your beloved daughter is dead unnecessarily because she got butchered by an untrained abortionist. This feels like the 1940’s, but it is the year 2017, and the Tennessee legislature has made it almost impossible for a teenager to make an informed decision with her doctor, family and faith leader about what to do because of an unwanted pregnancy.

Your daughter is dead. You wish you had voted in November 2014 against Amendment 1 so that this type of tragedy had never happened. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Pitfalls of Football

Though there is some good news in knowing that the Dallas Cowboys have added Michael Sam to their practice squad, you can’t help but wonder if the St. Louis Rams were a bit homophobic in cutting him.

Michelle Garcia, writing in The Advocate, noted that the Rams as an organization, the coach and the cut itself may not have been specifically homophobic actions, but our culture is still homophobic, especially in the football arena. Michael Sam’s coming out, being drafted and then being cut illustrates why sports guys feel the need to stay in the closet given all the hubbub around such events. It takes a well-put-together guy to be open, honest and able to handle all the media hype and reactions to him. Some say that guys should take lessons from the women in sports who deal with sexuality issues more easily and openly.

American football is also full of sexism, toxic masculinity, and physical trauma, damaging our football players’ heads for life. Players are taught from day one not to “play like a girl,” to be a super masculine guy. And yes, NFL players make great gobs of money, and “choose” to play this traumatic sport. But how do we deal with our own enjoyment of watching the game, knowing that the prognosis for the players’ health and well-being is poor?

When the NFL recently came down hard on domestic violence cases, we may cheer their decisions. But, when we look closely at this decision, it is also troubling that the Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Roger Goodell, will be the ultimate judge and jury regarding who gets to play football. Just look at the way he handled the Ray & Janay Rice case prior to yesterday.

The NFL also reeks of racism: the white “plantation owner,” Goodell, lords over his “slaves,” taking whips to them for what is perceived to be their insolence or insubordination. The white slave owner is also marketing his business mostly to whites and makes huge amounts money off (many) blacks, while damaging their bodies at the same time. We Americans are complicit in this set up as well.

These new punishments for NFL players – who have been only accused of domestic violence – include sitting out of some games, losing some of their income and sometimes their entire jobs. I want women to report abuse but this new decision may backfire in that regard. African-American women especially do not want to criminalize their black partners who are already inordinately targeted by police and justice systems. 

After TMZ released the video yesterday of Ray Rice beating his fiancĂ© – now his wife – in public earlier this year, we are all celebrating his firing by the Baltimore Ravens and questioning the NFL and Commissioner Goodell regarding how much they knew prior to the TMZ release.

Most frightening of all, though: what do you think is happening in the Rice household today? Right now?