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Sharing the Stories of LGBTQ Youth: Zeam, 17, From Minneappolis

We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project and book chronicling the individual stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and “as told to” interviews in the participants’ own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness among the LGBTQ youth population.

Below is the story of Zeam.

* * * * *

By Zeam, as told to Diana Scholl

2015-03-12-1426172202-8072359-Zeam.jpgLife’s kind of bittersweet right now. I feel like this has been a year of survival. To feel better, sometimes I allow myself to be angry at myself. Sometimes I’ll just walk into my school counselor’s office and cry. Oftentimes I’ll listen to music or have a straight-up conversation with myself. What makes me feel beautiful is looking at past pictures of me and my friends, or when my friend draws on my scars.

Going to Creating Change has helped. I felt like I was in heaven. I got to meet a lot of queer black trans people that I had idolized on Tumblr. I had to pinch myself that I wasn’t dreaming. I’d never been in a space where I could look around and everyone is trans or a person of color. Even the way I walked was different. When I’m in school I’m either puffing out my chest or breathing in. I get bumped a lot in the hallway, especially by the white cis boys. Because of that I’m always tense. Now I walk strong but don’t puff up my chest like I have something to prove. It helps my health physically.

Last year I was dealing with my depression and my eating stuff. I used to cut every day and had an addiction from cutting. One day I had lost a lot of blood the night before, and having to remember what bathroom to go to was so overwhelming I just broke down and cried. I went to a teacher that identifies as genderqueer and said, “I’m just so tired.”

Ever since I was a baby I would ask other people, “Don’t you forget you have a chest?” or, “Don’t you forget what bathroom to go to?” I wanted to know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Then my teacher gave me the language for it. I didn’t realize not everyone had to remember the gender they were forced to identify with at birth.

I started identifying first as genderqueer and now as a trans man. I had come out as bisexual when I was 12. My dad said at the time, “At least you’re not a trans man.” And we laughed about it. I tried to pray the gay away with Christianity, and it wasn’t working, so I wanted to convert to Islam. I got over that in eighth grade. But then I had to come out all over again.

This is my first year changing my name on school records and changing my pronouns. I wasn’t worried about being outed, since everyone already knew me, but I wanted to be called by the right name. I went into the school office with all this confidence. I saw some white man on the couch on the computer, and I was like, “I need my name changed.” He’s like, “Why?” I said, “I’m changing it to Zeam because I am trans and my pronouns are ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘he.'” I was just super-sassy. And he’s like, “OK.”

I see him in the hallway now, and he says, “Hey, Zeam. How are you?” I was like, “That’s the guy that changes names, I guess.” But it turns out he was the new headmaster. But now he respects me because I didn’t kiss up to him.

For my family I will still answer to my birth name, because they have to get over their own hurt. My birth name was a combination of my mother and father’s name. I used to take refuge in knowing my parents were with me through my name.

Even if my parents don’t agree with what I’m doing, they’d rather hear about it. I told my dad that after college I want to start my own erotic film company that’s run by trans people of color. At first he was like, “That’s a bad idea.” But after I explained it, my dad said he didn’t realize how passionate about it I was and that I should complete my dreams.

Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Denver, 2015
Gay Voices – The Huffington Post

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Unconditional Love: A Missing Link for Homeless LGBTQ Youth

When I was growing up, my family was a bit unorthodox, on multiple levels. At the same time it was the best of what a family can be.

The love was unconditional.

I have been thinking about that word a lot this year. As I delve deep into the issues of homeless LGBTQ youth, I often hear the youth say that what they are most missing are consistent adults in their lives, ones who can provide a safety net — and unconditional support.

When I returned from college at age 21, I moved back home while I looked for a job. Many of my friends did this in 1984, and a large percentage of the population still does this in 2014.

My parents — my mom, my stepdad and my bio dad — always showed me unconditional love and support. When I came out as lesbian at age 17, I had their support (though my mom struggled, mainly because she didn’t want me to suffer). My mom is the one who told me about a job opening at GayLife newspaper in 1984. When I co-founded Windy City Times in 1985, they were supportive. And when I started my own papers (Outlines, BLACKlines, etc.), they pushed me to do my best. They even gave me a $ 1,000 loan, 20 years before a bank would.

What I see in this next generation of LGBTQ youth is that, for many of them, their hierarchy of needs has been so neglected that they have no trust that anyone will catch them when they fall. And most young adults do fall at some point.

There are thousands of good people and dozens of agencies trying to help on the issue of homeless youth in Chicago. But it is clearly not enough. We must, as a community, do better.

As a result of the Windy City Times youth summit in May, and the subsequent 70-page report, we have been trying to fill in the gaps where youth asked for support. This includes a storage task force being headed by Lara Brooks and funded by the Pierce Family Foundation and the Polk Bros Foundation; the 750 Club Apartment Adoption Project I am spearheading with fiscal sponsor AIDS Foundation of Chicago; a task force on transit costs we are working on with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; a job fair we co-hosted with local agencies, including Chicago House, Center on Halsted, Affinity and TransTech; an upcoming entrepreneurial training with StartOut, MB Financial Bank and the Center; a laundry project we hope to launch in 2015; and prevention efforts, foster-care outreach, a push to have colleges better serve their homeless populations, and much more.

The Apartment Adoption Project is what I am most focused on right now. The city and other groups are trying for a “housing first” model of support, since people can’t hold down jobs, go to school, care for their own children, or lead physically and mentally healthy lives without consistent shelter. The apartments will all be managed by existing housing agencies, not individuals. Team captains commit to getting their friends together to raise enough for one apartment for two years. I am hoping this leads to mentorships and other longer-term relationships with youth, ones that can create stability and connection for long-term success. How about each major corporation’s LGBT employee group, and each welcoming religious institution, sponsors its own apartment? Or our sports organizations, political groups and social clubs? (See this link for how this works.)

I am not naive, though I am optimistic. The problem of youth homelessness is large, but Chicago is a city of big shoulders and big solutions.

However, it is going to take many more people, companies, foundations, churches, schools, politicians and nonprofits stepping up to the plate to solve the complex issues that lead to homelessness, including poverty, racism, educational and criminal-justice inequities. LGBTQ issues are really just part of the puzzle.

People often help out once a year around the holidays, putting in volunteer time, donating toys and coats, and giving good cheer. But these youth need to eat 365 days a year, they need a bed 365 nights a year, and they need consistent, unconditional support, 365 days a year.

Tracy Baim is publisher of Windy City Times. This editorial is in the Christmas issue of the weekly LGBTQ newspaper (see here). See more details on the homeless youth summit and subsequent projects at this link.
Gay Voices – The Huffington Post

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