|Posted by email@example.com on November 23, 2017 at 2:55 PM|
As today is Thanksgiving, it is appropriate to take time to reflect on the good things that have happened throughout the year and in our past, and to prepare for the coming struggles that lie ahead. Our organization has grown tremendously in six short years, and considerable change has come not just to the LGBTQ community but to our nation, and in turn, our world. Thus, I leave these remarks for all to consider.
I would like to take this opportunity to share some personal reflections about my own life and how they apply to the Pennsylvania Equality Project. First, I admit with no great fanfare, that I am happy in my life as a gay man, and I am equally happy to be married to a woman who has been by my side for the last 28 years. She is incredible simply for putting up with all the work I have done over the years. Much of the Pennsylvania Equality Project's success comes from her ideas, and understanding of the LGBTQ community. However, because I am married to a woman, I find myself with incredible privilege, that I freely accept. I am a white, middle aged male, who by most standards is quite fortunate. For all these things I am grateful. My privilege makes my need to give back to the LGBTQ community all the greater.
Apart from founding the Pennsylvania Equality Project (formerly Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania), I have stood on the front lines in the fight to win equal marriage rights from 2011 through 2014. I have written letters, emailed, and spoken in person with legislators from across Pennsylvania. I have marched in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Erie, and Pittsburgh as part of the fight for marriage rights. I have written and delivered petitions to the Governor seeking an end to conversion therapy, for the Fairness Act, and soon will deliver a petition seeking a change to hate crimes law seeking to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
More recently, I stood before the school board of the district in which I teach and sought official recognition of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club, which as of November 9 is now functioning in the Conneaut School District. I am the co-adviser, and we have already held our first meeting. We have a subsequent meeting scheduled for after Thanksgiving, and we will be advocating for change. My students could not be happier with the progress, and they realize that finally their school has a welcoming place for them.
Since July 2016, I am an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church. We recognize the need for each individual to follow one's own truth toward life's end. Thus, we recognize that all people have inherent value, worth, and are deserving of dignity and respect. We have two simple tenets in our belief system: 1. Do that which is right by others, and 2. Defend other people's right to freedom of religion. As a personal aside, I am an atheist. I don't believe in a higher power. That said, I don't condemn or defame those who do. I admire their search for the truth, and their acceptance of a belief system that encourages them to do good for other people.
It is my belief system, not a belief in deities, that has led me to reach out to many in need. First, I have been working with some people living in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan who are seeking asylum out of their respective countries. It is not easy work, and it frequently leaves me feeling disappointed that I cannot do more, and at a faster pace, to help them. They are gay men who live under constant threat of being persecuted, tortured, or killed just because they are gay men. In one particular case, my contact in Libya was dismissed from his college studies and told not to return to the University because he is gay. Despite my efforts and numerous emails to government officials, I have not yet been able to get these men to Europe.
My privilege demands that I fight toward and end to injustice. It demands that I work to ban conversion therapy, that I remember and advocate for the plight of transgender people, especially those of color. My privilege demands that I fight for the safety and protection of our LGBTQ youth from bullying and harm so that they can lead fulfilling and productive lives. Pennsylvania Equality Project holds Meet and Greet opportunities to provide safe space for like-minded people to gather to share in friendship and to build our community. I am obligated to make that happen, not just for the organization, but for the people who are the organization. It is not enough for me simply to walk away from the less fortunate; rather, it is my duty to be grateful for what I have and give what I can to those who need.
What more can you do? How can you express your gratitude for the good things you have, while giving back to the broader community? How can you open safe spaces for the vulnerable in your neighborhood who need extra support and kindness? Come back to this blog from time to time, as I share what our organization is doing to improve Pennsylvania and our community. Be thankful, and enjoy the holiday.