From The Shadows

“Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”  French Proverb~

I have thought over this blog entry for the past several days and even still, I cannot come up with the proper words on how to start this.  It honestly breaks my heart to even think about this.  But as it seems to continually surface in the news, I feel like I need to speak up… to lend my voice with those of my community so that the light might shine again for those that find themselves stuck in the shadows.

Behind the smiles and the friendships and the everyday lives is the pain and the suffering of someone’s soul.  Despite their outward appearance, they find themselves slipping farther and farther away and feeling as if there is no way out… no where to turn for help.  They might be young; they might be middle-aged; or they might be elderly.  It is defined not by any age or race or religion, but it usually ends in the same result… someone with no hope left just giving up.

Whether we know the individual or not, whether it makes headline news or not, it still affects those of us that are left behind.  We wonder how and why.  We look for absolution, though it never comes.  We carry the burden in our hearts and hope that there is no more.

We live in a changing time.  Though LGBT-rights have been making progress over the past several years, there is still much to be done.  For those that have gone before, we keep their memories in our hearts as we move forward.  For those of us that have lived through it, we know that it gets better.  We know that there are places to turn to when we need that helping hand… whether it be a family member, a personal friend, or an organization within the bigger community.  All we ask is that before things get so bad, that one seeks out help and guidance.  There is nothing wrong in admitting that help is needed.  Even I, at one point in my life, needed that crutch, and it helped me get through some dark days.  That crutch was that light that I needed to get me to emerge from the shadows.  And there is a light for all of us.  We just must take the time and not be afraid to reach out for it.

Amongst our changing world, there is plenty of hate, violence, and bullying.  It can seem as though that’s all our culture is.  But there is plenty of love, kindness, and hope that exists out there, as well.  Sometimes, we just have to look a little harder to find it.  No matter who you are… no matter of age, race, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc… there is someone out there that cares about you, and they might not even know you.  It can be hard to turn off all the negativity that exist within life, but it can be done.

Albert Einstein once said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow.”  Even if yesterday was horrible and today is no better, there is always hope for a shining light tomorrow.  Regardless of what life throws at you, you have the ability to overcome.  All one must do is plant his/her feet firmly on the ground and march forward.  Suicide is never an option and should never be considered as such.  There is much more to live for, and we all have a reason for being here.  Let us stop the hate and the bullying.  Let us reform our culture to be one of positive energy instead of negative.  Let us build people up instead of always tearing them down.  Let us remember that we are all someone’s father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter, aunt or uncle or cousin, husband or wife, friend or foe.  No one deserves such harsh treatment that they wish to make an early exit from our realm.  Mind your words and your actions for they do have consequences that might not be considered.  Let us together end the suicides that are plaguing our community, and let everyone know, no matter where they are, that there are those of us out here that care about them and will help get them through whatever dark time they are currently in until they can once again emerge from the shadows.  No one is ever alone.  No one is ever alone.

For those that have already fallen, we will never forget them.  For those of us that remain, we must do better to make sure no one else follows them.  We must be willing to stand up and say “We Care!” and reach out to those that need us.  I am proud to stand up and say that “I Care!”.  The bigger question is, do you?  And if you are one that needs that helping hand, do you have the courage to seek that crutch that you need so that you can stand up with us?  I know that within your heart, you do.  So reach out today for your community is here to help you.

INFORMATION:
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 1-866-4-U-Trevor (1-866-488-7386).  You can also click on the link for The Trevor Project.  There are people there that are willing to listen and to help.  You can also look up your closest LGBT Center.  Remember, you are loved… whether you know it or not… and you can get through this.

“He who has health, has hope.  And he who has hope, has everything.” Proverb~

In Memory of Those that have Fallen…
Let there be light so there are no more shadows.

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A New-Found Voice

As of this morning, it is official… Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the military policy that refused to allow gay servicemen and women to serve openly for their country, is a dead and a part of the history books.  It is a new day for our brave men and women in our armed forces who are constantly putting their lives on the line for our country and for our freedoms.  And though we celebrate the end of this draconian law, we must remind ourselves that despite winning this battle, the conflict that we fight still rages on.

Though our fellow brothers and sisters can now officially be out and proud of who they are, instead of hiding in shame on fear of being discharged, they are still denied the same benefits that their heterosexual colleagues enjoy.  If a gay couple is legally married, they are still not allowed to get a pay raise or an increase in housing allowance… though the straight couple would.  When a gay spouse is deployed, the partner is not given a family separation allowance.  Same-sex partners are denied dependent identification cards, so that if i gay partner is injured, the spouse has no way of gaining access.  (I’m not sure if the Obama administration’s new policy regarding gay partners and hospitals has changed this for military families.)  It also doesn’t allow the gay partner access to the same shops, gas stations, or other recreational facilities that are given to other military spouses.  And here’s the worst of it all… If a gay spouse in killed in the line of duty, the partner is denied survivor’s benefits.

As you can see, though we have won the bigger battle of getting this law repealed, we still have a long road ahead of us with these smaller battles.  We must not let our celebratory mood allow us to forget.  In an issue that pertains to them, gay servicemen and women that are currently serving in our armed forces were forced to keep silent on the very issues that pertained to them.  Now, for the first time, they can speak up loud and clear on these issues and make sure that all the elected officials in Washington can hear their voices and their side of the issue.

There is but one thing that keeps most of these smaller things from disappearing in the same way that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has now done.  It’s the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in which the federal government does not recognize any same-sex union… whether it be gay marriage or a civil union.  It is this draconian law that now needs to be dismantled so that our brave countrymen and women can enjoy all of the same benefits that other military families enjoy.  Let those new voices speak up with the rest of us to end this grave injustice and set our country on the right course.  Even now, the Respect for Marriage Act, the official repeal of DOMA, has been introduced once again in Congress.  Though it is unlikely to pass, yet again, our voices must still be heard, and we welcome the voices of our servicemen and women on this very issue as it does pertain to them, as well.

They say the military is a microcosm of the American public.  It is through changes in military policy that have led the way before.  It was in 1948, that President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which order the integration of all our armed forces.  (President Truman was able to bypass Congress with the Executive Order since there was no actual federal law that Congress would have to abolish.  It was just a long-standing policy.  This was not the route that President Obama could take as a result of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being passed by the Clinton administration.)  It was a major step in the civil rights movement.  And as the desegregation of our armed forces took hold, a bigger and better conversation began to evolve.  And though there were still many dark days ahead in the civil rights movement, the military stepped up to start the country on a new path… a trend that I hope continues with today’s news.

These are our the men and women who serve our country both at home and on the front lines.  They deserve our utmost respect.  Still classifying them and treating them as second-class citizens is an abomination and disrespectful.  Without these men and women, the very freedoms we take for granted each day would be in peril.  We in the civilian world fought a fight for them that they could not lend a voice to.  Now, in our ongoing struggle, they have the ability to speak up and add their voice to ours without the fear of being discharged.  The witch-hunt is over, but the quest for our rights is still ongoing.  Though I am saying “Huzzah” to the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I know that it is not the end of the ordeal.  And to all of our armed forces, I say thank you for your commitment and dedication to your country… I salute you.

LINK:  http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/20/opinion/watts-dadt-equality/index.html

VIDEO:  A Gay Soldier Comes Out To His Father

Tar Heels

Last week, the North Carolina legislature (both the state House and Senate) passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and sending it to a vote of the people once again.  The House vote was 76-41, and the Senate vote was 30-16.  The measures were supported by Republicans and by some Democrats.   North Carolina is the last state in the southeastern US to have no constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage… and is the last state in the entire South.

For some this move might not be shocking.  The thought process being that the state is part of the South, which is largely anti-gay, and it does have a record of being discriminatory.  It was part of the Confederate States of America and it did have Jim Crow laws in effect, too.  However that it might have had Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction ended, North Carolina was one the last states to officially seceded from the Union, which it did on May 20, 1861.  (Virginia and Tennessee had both seceded already, but it was not ratified until May 23 and June 8 respectfully… after North Carolina had done so).  And when North Carolina did vote for secession, it was only passed by a few votes.  When it came to Sherman’s march from Savannah, Georgia up to meet with Grant in Virginia, he told his troops when they crossed into North Carolina that they were to be respectful as the state had been divided almost evenly on the issue of secession… which was in stark contrast to what he told them to do in South Carolina where the war had begun.

North Carolina seems to be trying to buck the southern-style image that the states around it have.  It’s a huge center for banking… which isn’t that surprising since it was the place of the first gold rush in the US.  It’s population in increasing… barely missing adding an addition seat in the US House of Representatives by a few thousand votes in the 2010 census.  Rather than being a solid-red (or solid-Republican) state… it is quickly becoming a leaning-red (leaning-Republican) to a toss-up state (or purple state).  On a personal side note, I think North Carolina is becoming more of a purple state as Missouri becomes more of a red state.

According to a recent poll, 55% of the people in North Carolina would vote against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  But that doesn’t mean there is reason to celebrate.  Some seeing that this amendment is coming to a vote in 2012 would think that it was a repeat of 2004 and trying to get conservatives to the polls to carry the state for the Republican nominee for President.  However, the vote on this is not coming in November, but rather in May during the Republican Presidential Primary… therefore, hitting the real core of those that would be for banning same-sex marriage and not letting the majority of the people in the state have a voice on the matter.  North Carolina has closed primaries but has opened them up to unaffiliated voters… and there is a Democratic Primary the same day, so the amendment will appear on all the ballots.  However, being that there is a sitting Democratic President, the turnout among Democrats will probably be fairly light as compared to Republicans.  (The same works vice versa when there is a sitting Republican President.)

The course of events in the fight for same-sex marriage is making a dramatic turn.  The real truth is starting to sink in amongst the general population.  We are being seen more as just normal, everyday citizens like everyone else around us.  Who we love and who we decide to marry only concerns ourselves… the same as theirs only concerns themselves.  Who someone marries has no affect on anyone else’s marriage.  Gay marriage has not, and never will, destroy the sanctity of marriage… at least no more than the institution of divorce already has.  Several states this year have already passed civil unions, too.  Though they aren’t full marriage equality, they are a step in the right direction, and I see those states passing gay marriage within a few years.

As North Carolina begins its battles, the pro-gay marriage advocates have a serious battle on their hands.   Because of the way this whole thing is being done (sounds rather back-handed), I do think the amendment will pass, but I hope the people of North Carolina will surprise me and show the entire nation how “purple” or mid-mainstream it has become over the past few years.  I encourage the people of the state to stand up and make it clear that the tide on gay marriage has turned.  The sky has never fallen because of gay marriage, and it never will.  The state will be the focal point of this battle, as it is the only state concerning itself with this issue at the current time.  I will, of course, be watching and hoping that this amendment will go down in defeat… making it the first ever to do so.  We in the community will be able to see how far our message is starting to sink in, and how far tolerance for those in the gay community have gone.  I have faith in The Tar Heel State, and hope that the right message can get out and a new direction can be forged.

A New Status-Quo

Last week the question was asked, “What does it mean to be an American today?”  So I’ve spent some time contemplating this simple yet complex question.  Some could answer that it means that we are the police of the world… attempting to set things “right” where we view things as going wrong.  It could be that we are the embodiment of freedom and democracy and try to spread that message around the world.  And that we are a nation of God and Christianity above all others.  In a casual way, we could be describing a new form of imperialism.  This isn’t like the imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries where we lay claim to other parts of the world… but more like imperialism of ideas and beliefs… based more upon spreading our own principles and beliefs as being the only way to do things.

We, as Americans, sometimes seem to be a bit arrogant when it comes to the rest of the world.  We think we are better than everyone else because of what we stand for even though we have been proven time and time again that we are no better than any other one nation.  In some cases, we are even below par.  Our education system is an overall joke, yet most would think that our children are doing just fine and are keeping up with the rest of the world… despite the numbers showing to the contrary.  And we are getting further behind because we just keeping dumbing everything down so those at the bottom don’t feel as though they are dumb instead of making them start picking it up.  The more we dumb things down, the worse it’s going to be.  The tendency to see ourselves better than we really are is something that has become a trait of American society more and more as time has moved on… and it is beginning to give us a super-huge ego in its wake.

We are a nation of contrary beliefs, and they don’t always coexist nicely either.  Even in the political sphere, we have the inability to see commonalities and middle ground.  As we move through today’s times, compromise has become a dirty word and partisanship runs rampant.  Our policies by either major political party even reflect a major change.  In the mid and latter half of the 20th century, we worked to set the standard.  If we started talking about cleaning up the environment, then we would start making headway to do it.  We would start trying to fill the void in manufacturing the parts and new companies would start to spring up.  Today, rather than take the lead, we sit back and say we will if China and India start taking an active role in cleaning up their environments since they are the biggest polluters.  When exactly did we start playing the “we will only if they will” game?  And why doesn’t that apply for when going to war?  Then, it’s all hands on deck.  You are either with “us” or against “us.”

We now seem to have the “us” vs “them” mentality more these days.  We could say that this stems from the September 11 terrorist attacks, but if you look back through our own history, it goes back even farther.  We’ve always made someone within our own borders feel as though they weren’t good enough to be a part of the pack.  We’ve done it to the Native Americans, to the African Americans, to the Irish, to other immigrants, to Catholics, and several others.  And today is no different.  The mentality now spreads over the LGBT community and to the Muslim community.  All of these different communities have been on the outside looking in at some point.  And yet once inside, we aren’t afraid to turn our backs on someone else.  But don’t go thinking that our ethics are completely in the toilet.  Just because we set people apart and place them as second-class citizens doesn’t mean we are the worst offenders.  We aren’t stoning women to death for adultry.  And we aren’t systematically wiping out a portion of the population that disagrees with us politically or religiously.  We have managed to rise above the bottom of the heap (where an even greater number of nations are… most of which are third-world nations), but we still have some distance before we reach the summit of the mountain in which all our citizens of any and every group are able to be overwhelmed with pride in being an American.

We can talk up a good talk about spreading freedom and democracy, but overall, I think that we need to learn what those things mean to us first.  We hold other nations up to a higher standard of things and try telling them what they can and can’t do within their own borders, but yet we get an attitude when any of those nations try to criticize us.  All one has to do is look up to the start of the second Iraq war.  We kept trying to sell the lie about weapons of mass destruction and the French and German governments didnt’ quite fall for it and called us out.  And we all got so far bent out of shape about it that we started renaming food to take the term “French” out of it.  Boy was our face red when they were proven right.  Oops… our bad on that one.  We quickly will point out when someone makes a mistake but won’t own up when we make our own.   The standards we attempt to hold other nations to, we seem to fail at here at home.

But we are a nation full of diverse people that have somehow found a way to live in a mostly peaceful society.  Sure there is random violence here and there (and by latest statistics, more than in most civilized nations), but you don’t hear of mass genocide taking place.  We’ve got leaders that we technically can vote out of office if we actually grew a pair of balls to do so… and if we had some good choices to replace them with.  I think as we go farther into this 21st century, we need to really give it some thought as to what it means to be an American and how that spreads around the planet.  Is it ok to stand for freedom and democracy?  Is it ok to make sure that all people have a voice and that minority groups aren’t being wiped out?  Yes it is.  But we must always live up to the standards that we expect other nations to live by.

In an earlier blog entry (click here), I used the term cross-culturalism.  And yes, there is more of that now than at any time before in history.  But we must find a way to bring out the good and not all the negative stereotypes.  When it comes to our own nation, we need to live up to the motto of freedom… and that all people (even all the minorities) have all the same rights as everyone else… no exceptions.  We must start taking the reigns of how we are viewed.  The “go it alone” tactics or the “us vs. them” mentality won’t work anymore as it once did.  Today, a new form of humanity and society is emerging… one more connected than ever before.  And we must be willing to change along with it.  No more are oceans separating us from each other.  The past must start being left there as we march our way forward.

Whenever a natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, it’s the people of the US who jump up and rush to help.  We are the first to open our wallets without even having to be asked.  This is the image and message that we need to send out into the world.  It is one of humanity and shows that we do acknowledge our common bond with each other.  We must take pride not just in our own nation and who we are, but in who all people are all over the world.  It’s not a one-size fits all scenario.  Even with our religious beliefs, there is variety and room to grow.  Yes, we might be mostly a Christian nation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t coexist with those that don’t celebrate our views.  There is much we can all learn from each other, if we were just willing to bypass all mental blockage that we put in place and actually conversed with each other and learned.  Being of an open mind should be something that we can claim as an American.  New ideas, new thoughts, new ways of doing things should never be the exception to the rule of normalcy.  They should be the norm.  We, as Americans, must reform ourselves to the higher standard.  We can achieve so much more… and we can do so much more.  We want to bring about a good meaning when the question is asked about what it means to be an American, then it’s time that we start improving our overall society and our mentality.  And then cross-culturalism can take that around the world.  Imperialism today might be different than it was a century ago.  We no longer need to conform to one way of thought.  It has come time to open our minds to the world around us and take off the blindfold.  It’s not just the American way anymore.  It now has to be our way.

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