Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

A Prayer For the 2012 International AIDS Conference: A Special Comment

Washington, D.C. – As the International AIDS Conference convenes today amidst shocking statistics of the pandemic and hopeful advances toward a cure for this ravaging disease, the Unfinished Lives Project Team offers a Prayer for all who seek to overcome the death, horror and fear associated with HIV/AIDS. May the 20,000 top scientists, activists, policy makers, and everyday people who attend be challenged and inspired by this Franciscan Prayer as we have been [With thanks to Joe Stabile, Nathan Russell of Brite Divinity School, and Jennifer Jacobson who helped transmit the prayer to us].

“St. Francis ‘Neath the Bitter Tree,” by Fr. William McNichols

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do
what others claim cannot be done.

Amen.

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Brite Divinity School, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS prevention, International AIDS Conference, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, transphobia, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why We Fight”: Fallen Gay Activist’s Fierce AIDS Speech Remembered on His Birthday

Vito Russo delivering his powerful AIDS activist speech, “Why We Fight,” as part of the ACT-UP protest against callous government neglect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Vito Russo (1946-1990) would have been 66 today, had the AIDS pandemic not robbed us of him. As a gay activist and groundbreaking film historian, Russo is best remembered for authoring the 1981 book, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the MoviesBut Russo’s impact on LGBTQ equality and American culture and politics reached farther.  He was a participant in virtually every landmark gay and lesbian rights effort since the Stonewall Rebellion in the streets of New York City in 1969–where he was actually present, protesting in the crowd who fought back against police oppression in what has come to be known as the birth date of the gay rights movement. He became a leader in the Gay Activists Alliance in the aftermath of Stonewall, and a co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) because of his concern about how gay people were portrayed by the media. In the 1980s, Russo became involved in ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) out of deepening frustration over federal and state governmental refusal to take the HIV/AIDS epidemic seriously.  In 1990, he died of complications from the disease, but his legacy became secure after HBO aired a documentary film version of The Celluloid Closet narrated by comedy great, Lilly Tomlin. Russo’s family authorized a biography in 2011 published by the University of Wisconsin Press, Michael Shiavi’s Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo. On July 23, HBO will premier a new documentary film, Vito

On the anniversary of his birthday, July 11, we at the Unfinished Lives Project join Jeffrey Schwarz, the Producer/Director of Vito, to recall Russo’s powerful AIDS activism, and to remember the multitudes of women, men, and youth cut down so senselessly by a pandemic the U.S. government would not acknowledge until it began to affect the heterosexual population of this country. As Schwarz says in the Huffington Post: “During the AIDS epidemic Vito watched the world he loved crumble beneath his feet. By the time Vito received his AIDS diagnosis in 1985, the epidemic was well into its first decade, and thousands had already died. Vito had long been involved in empowering his community, so he found a way to channel his rage and grief into effective and history-making activism. ‘Why We Fight,’  Schwarz goes on to say, “was a fiery 1988 speech given before a tumultuous crowd of angry ACT UP demonstrators at the New York State Capitol in Albany.” The Queer Rhetoric Project records that the speech was delivered first in Albany as a part of the “9 Days of Protest” demonstration, and then later in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Why We Fight,” in its entirety, can be found here.  Toward the climax of his fierce indictment of a medical and political regime in the U.S. marked by footdragging and homophobia, Russo said, almost prophetically:

“Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes, when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this Earth, gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free. So I’m proud to be with my friends today and the people I love, because I think you’re all heroes, and I’m glad to be part of this fight. But, to borrow a phrase from Michael Callen’s song, ‘all we have is love right now. What we don’t have is time.’”

The wrack and ruin of the AIDS pandemic is still with us, and the disease as dangerous as ever.  The Unfinished Lives Team asks you to join us in honoring Vito Russo on the anniversary of his birth by advocating for increased research funding, effective education, and regular testing until this horrible disease is finally defeated.  For now, like Russo, we must continue the struggle–remember the fallen–and do the work of hope.  Happy Birthday, Vito!

July 11, 2012 Posted by | ACT-UP, gay men, GLAAD, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS prevention, LGBTQ, New York, Protests and Demonstrations, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Vito Russo, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Susan Sarandon is Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award Winner

Susan Sarandon, The Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award honoree [New York Daily News photo].

New York, New York – Oscar winning actress, Susan Sarandon will be honored by The Trevor Project as their 2012 Hero Award Winner.  Stanley Tucci, President of MTV, will be presenting the award Monday, June 25th, at “Trevor Live,” the LGBTQ teen suicide prevention group’s high profile benefit event.

Sarandon, famed for her artistry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show ["Dammit, Janet!"], The Hunger, and Thelma & Louise, is being honored for her forthright advocacy for marriage equality, publicly opposing homophobia in the media, speaking out to save the lives of LGBTQ teens from bullying and suicide, and her gifts to HIV/AIDS research and treatment. Speaking for the Trevor Project, Abbe Land, Trevor’s Executive Director and CEO, said: “The Trevor Project is proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award. As a straight ally, Ms. Sarandon has a long history of working to raise awareness of the importance of treating everyone fairly and ensuring same basic civil and human rights for all.” Ms. Land continued, “Our honorees know through their work with The Trevor Project that it only takes one resource – one friend, one ally, one parent – to help save a life. We are proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award.”

Responding to the news she was Trevor’s 2012 Hero honoree, Ms. Sarandon said: “It is truly an honor to be recognized by The Trevor Project as a Trevor Hero. All people deserve respect, and young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender deserve to know that there are people who care for them and who are fighting to make this world a better and more accepting place for them.”  When she accepts the award, Ms. Sarandon will join the company of other celebrity advocates such as Daniel Radcliffe, Lady Gaga, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Every day, the Trevor Project saves the lives of young LGBTQ people struggling to reconcile their authentic selves with a world that is often hostile and rejecting.  The Trevor Helpline is the premier 24/7 online and phone counseling service dedicated to saving the lives of youth from suicide. An innovator in suicide prevention, The Trevor Project has been recognized by President Obama as a Champion of Change. For more information, go to the Trevor Project’s website, accessible here.

June 23, 2012 Posted by | GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Marriage Equality, Media Issues, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Company Rattles Spears, But HIV Discrimination Story Stands, Corroborated by News Reports

Detroit, MI – HIV discrimination charges against Great Expressions Dental Center of Detroit have drawn national attention.  They have also drawn the ire of the dental center’s corporate lawyers, who threatened the petitioner on Change.org with legal action to make him take down his original petition.  In response, the petitioner has done so, and another is launched in its place, citing corroboration by reporter Todd Heywood of POZ Magazine in a story dated December 8, 2011, of the charges concerning the firing of HIV-positive James White by Great Expressions Dental Centers.  The company denies any wrongdoing, and in a missive widely sent to bloggers who carried the discrimination story, claims to be gay friendly and a staunch supporter of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  While the ultimate truth will probably only come out in court, the story of White’s outing as HIV positive, subsequent harassment by employees with Lysol disinfectant, questionable “unexcused absence” charges, and his firing by the company are corroborated by the POZ article.

POZ also cites the Detroit Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s letter to White, advising him and his attorneys of their ruling of reasonable cause to conclude that Great Expressions had indeed discriminated against White in violation of the ADA.  An excerpt of the EEOC letter reads: “Based upon the above and the record as a whole, there is reasonable cause to believe that the Charging Party [James White] was disciplined, denied reasonable accommodation, and discharged due to his disability, in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.” 

As the company’s denial and threats indicate, this case will be battled out for some time to come.  White and his attorneys are apparently undaunted, and are proceeding with their suit against Great Expressions for compensatory and punitive damages.  In the meantime, if the allegations prove to be true against Great Expressions, a big dental company with deep pockets, then White’s case will serve as a warning to any other company that discriminates against employees because of their disabilities.  Workplace discrimination is inexcusable. It is also inexcusable not to know how the HIV virus is spread, or to prey upon ignorance and fear that often accompany news of the disease.  This blog will continue to monitor events related to this remarkable story.  That is what freedom of information and responsible use of it dictate, and it is also what social justice advocacy is all about.  Those wishing to see the new petition on Change.org can access it here.  Over 1500 have signed as of early December 22.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment, HIV/AIDS, Michigan, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HIV+ Employee Sprayed with Lysol, Ordered Not to Touch Doorknobs, Then Fired

Photo via Passport Magazine

Detroit, Michigan – In the worst case of job-related discrimination his lawyers have ever seen, James White got fired for revealing he was HIV+.  An office assistant for the Great Expressions Dental Center of Detroit, White revealed his positive status to his supervisor after his diagnosis, with the clear understanding she would keep the information confidential, according to Passport Magazine.   His superiors then leaked word of his HIV status to coworkers who harassed him for seven months, spraying him with Lysol disinfectant, wiping down any furniture or office equipment he used, and banning him from touching doorknobs.  Management subjected White to sudden scheduling changes, and then wrote him up for tardiness and “unexcused absences” until they believed they had enough to fire him.  Dogged by harassment and exhausted by the abuse, White was hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder.  While he was in the hospital, Great Expressions called to inform him not to return to work.

White appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which tried to mediate between White and Great Expressions.  The Detroit chapter of the EEOC ruled in White’s favor earlier this year, finding that there was “reasonable cause” to believe White was discriminated against because of his HIV+ status. The dental firm refused any settlement with White, and the EEOC cleared him to sue his former employer for gross discrimination and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  The Body, an HIV-related blog, writes: “In 2011, particularly in an urban environment, absolutely no one has any excuse for being unaware of the ways in which HIV is transmitted. Anyone that has ever had even rudimentary sexual health education knows that HIV is not spread by casual contact, including touch. And an employer has a moral and LEGAL obligation to protect its employees from discrimination, particularly vulnerable populations.” 

White’s lawyers have filed a lawsuit demanding compensatory and punitive damages of $140,000 and $45,000, respectively, and requiring the company to post notice of the agreement as well as providing training on HIV/AIDS and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Change.org has posted a petition protesting the action of Great Expressions and demanding their apology to White, which is accessible here. There are over 25,500 signatures as of December 20. Great Expressions operates clinics in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts.

December 20, 2011 Posted by | Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Employment discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment, HIV/AIDS, Michigan, Protests and Demonstrations, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallasite Michael Parish Honored Nationally for Fighting HIV/AIDS

Michael Parish, Outreach Coordinator for the Resource Center of Dallas

Dallas, Texas – Michael Parish, 24, has been recognized by the widely-read LGBTQ blog Queerty for his advocacy in combatting HIV and AIDS.  The post, “Born into the Epidemic: Five People Under 30 Who are Fighting HIV/AIDS,” honors Parish for his work in North Texas as Outreach Co-Ordinator for the Resource Center of Dallas, one of the nation’s largest full-service centers for LGBTQ people.  A native of Waco, Parish served as a volunteer for four years at the Center until he was hired in 2010 to educate on HIV prevention and safer sex practices, as well as offer STD screenings on the weekends.

Parish says that the greatest obstacle LGBTQ people have to face in the struggle with AIDS is giving up.  He said to Queerty, “LGBT people . . . ‘throw in the towel’ when it comes to fighting HIV. They’ve been made to believe that they specifically are ‘destined’ to contract HIV. But if you remove ‘LGBT’ and insert another category of people and say the same thing, you would see the sheer ludicrousness of such a belief. [Fighting that sense of inevitability] is the biggest challenge.”

Commending the choice of Parish for this select honor, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “Michael is a sign of hope among all LGBTQ people, and for 20-somethings in particular. The struggle against this unrelenting disease needs renewed support at this time, when members of the LGBTQ community seem to believe they are either immune to HIV/AIDS, or falsely assume that if they contract the virus, drugs will simply take care of its effects. Michael and the rest of the staff of the Resource Center of Dallas know there is only one way to effectively fight back, and that is through education, early testing, and safer sex.  Well done, Queerty and Michael Parish!”

The other four commendatoris are: Jaszi Johnathan Alejandro, 25, Community Health Specialist from New York, NY; Greg Zhovreboff, 28, Community Organizer from San Francisco, CA; Julian Dormitzer, 23, Clinical Research Nurse hailing from Boston, MA; and Brant Miller, 25, HIV Program Associate in Washington, DC.  On this World AIDS Day and every day, the Unfinished Lives Project Team congratulates them all, and the many other unsung heroes in the fight against HIV/AIDS they represent.

November 30, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, gay men, GLBTQ, HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ, Queerty.com, Resource Center of Dallas, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, World AIDS Day | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Gay Cowboy Stoned To Death in Apparent Revenge Killing

Jason "Cowboy" Huggins, from his Facebook page

San Diego, California – On June 22, a wounded 31-year-old gay man struggled out of a gorge near the 1300 block of Washington Street, San Diego, and flagged down a passing motorist. He managed to tell the driver that he had been attacked with blows to his head from a rock before he fell unconscious from his injuries.  Police and paramedics responded, and Jason “Cowboy” Huggins was rushed to the Mercy Hospital trauma center where his condition deteriorated rapidly.  Huggins, a well-liked member of the San Diego LGBTQ community, fell into a coma, and two weeks later, on July 6, died from massive injuries to his head and brain from blunt force trauma.  He had been literally stoned to death. 10News.com reported that police arrested Joshua James Larson, 37, two days after the stoning, and charged him with the Huggins attack and a second assault charge in another case.  He is being held on $1 million for the crimes, and could serve from 33 years to life in prison if found guilty of the charges. Investigative reporting uncovered that Huggins had testified against Larson two years prior to the attack, alleging that Larson was guilty of drug possession and grand larceny. Though police have not issued a motive in the killing, and have not labeled the case a hate crime, revenge is suspected to be the motive.  Was the murderous attack motivated by anti-LGBTQ phobia?  The facts seem unclear about whether and to what extent that may have been a contributing factor. The nature of the attack, however, a prehistoric homicide with biblical overtones, caught the attention of the press. Even though sexual orientation has not been identified by the police as an aggravating factor in the murder of “Cowboy” Huggins, the San Diego LGBTQ community has rallied to his memory, and have raised money to help his relatives come to his funeral all the way from his native home in Clarksville, Tennessee, according to the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. Huggins, who was easy to spot in the LGBTQ scene, was over 6 feet tall, and wore a cowboy hat, jeans, western shirt, boots, and a large, rodeo-style belt buckle.  In his Google Profile, he wrote, “I am a true cowboy from TN now living in sunny San Diego, CA. I am gay and have HIV too. Came out of the closet to all my redneck friends back in TN and was accepted because I am still a great friend that never overstepped my boundries.”  The New Civil Rights Movement notes that friends and family in his hometown of Clarksville knew about his sexual orientation and loved him very much. “We remember him being a kid with no aggressiveness in him at all,” Jennifer Sanders, Huggins’ aunt, said. “He was a fun-​loving, joking-​type of person, a very good kid. I call him a ‘kid’ because he was like my third child. We still can’t believe that it happened. It’s still a shock. He was only 31 years old. He’s going to be well missed by all of his friends out there in San Diego and his family.”  Faithful friends stood vigil for Cowboy Huggins from June 22 until his funeral day. So, Jason Baron Huggins was committed to his eternal rest on July 11 at Hillcrest in San Diego, attended by his family, friends, and a loyal LGBTQ community who loved him.  As one commenter on the Facebook event page wrote for all the world to see, “Rest in peace, Cowboy.”

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, California, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Tennessee, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

President Obama Officially Proclaims June 2011 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2011

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH, 2011

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

The story of America’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is the story of our fathers and sons, our mothers and daughters, and our friends and neighbors who continue the task of making our country a more perfect Union. It is a story about the struggle to realize the great American promise that all people can live with dignity and fairness under the law.  Each June, we commemorate the courageous individuals who have fought to achieve this promise for LGBT Americans, and we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since taking office, my Administration has made significant progress towards achieving equality for LGBT Americans.  Last December, I was proud to sign the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  With this repeal, gay and lesbian Americans will be able to serve openly in our Armed Forces for the first time in our Nation’s history.  Our national security will be strengthened and the heroic contributions these Americans make to our military, and have made throughout our history, will be fully recognized.

My Administration has also taken steps to eliminate discrimination against LGBT Americans in Federal housing programs and to give LGBT Americans the right to visit their loved ones in the hospital.  We have made clear through executive branch nondiscrimination policies that discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the Federal workplace will not be tolerated. I have continued to nominate and appoint highly qualified, openly LGBT individuals to executive branch and judicial positions.  Because we recognize that LGBT rights are human rights, my Administration stands with advocates of equality around the world in leading the fight against pernicious laws targeting LGBT persons and malicious attempts to exclude LGBT organizations from full participation in the international system.  We led a global campaign to ensure “sexual orientation” was included in the United Nations resolution on extrajudicial execution — the only United Nations resolution that specifically mentions LGBT people — to send the unequivocal message that no matter where it occurs, state-sanctioned killing of gays and lesbians is indefensible.  No one should be harmed because of who they are or who they love, and my Administration has mobilized unprecedented public commitments from countries around the world to join in the fight against hate and homophobia.

At home, we are working to address and eliminate violence against LGBT individuals through our enforcement and implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  We are also working to reduce the threat of bullying against young people, including LGBT youth. My Administration is actively engaged with educators and community leaders across America to reduce violence and discrimination in schools.  To help dispel the myth that bullying is a harmless or inevitable part of growing up, the First Lady and I hosted the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March. Many senior Administration officials have also joined me in reaching out to LGBT youth who have been bullied by recording “It Gets Better” video messages to assure them they are not alone.

This month also marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has had a profound impact on the LGBT community.  Though we have made strides in combating this devastating disease, more work remains to be done, and I am committed to expanding access to HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Last year, I announced the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States.  This strategy focuses on combinations of evidence-based approaches to decrease new HIV infections in high risk communities, improve care for people living with HIV/AIDS, and reduce health disparities. My Administration also increased domestic HIV/AIDS funding to support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and HIV prevention, and to invest in HIV/AIDS-related research.  However, government cannot take on this disease alone.  This landmark anniversary is an opportunity for the LGBT community and allies to recommit to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and continuing the fight against this deadly pandemic.

Every generation of Americans has brought our Nation closer to fulfilling its promise of equality.  While progress has taken time, our achievements in advancing the rights of LGBT Americans remind us that history is on our side, and that the American people will never stop striving toward liberty and justice for all.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.  I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

BARACK OBAMA

June 1, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Asian Americans, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, Gay Pride Month, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, hate crimes prevention, HIV/AIDS, Housing Discrimination, It Gets Better Project (IGBP), Latino and Latina Americans, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, Native Americans, President Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation, Repeal of DADT, transgender persons, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,781 other followers

%d bloggers like this: