About a week ago I remember opening up my computer in the morning, logging on to Facebook, as usual. Somebody had posted a story about a gay young man who had committed suicide. I skimmed over the article, took a deep sigh, and went on with my day. I was saddened, but honestly not surprised. I mean come on, can people honestly say that they are going to preach hate from the pulpit, deny us basic rights and protections, treat us like second class citizens, harass our youth on a daily basis and then act shocked when things like this happen? And these are only the reported deaths.

 Another story was posted. Then another. Five in total. I didn’t know any of these boys. I have never met them; now I will never have the chance, but this is personal to me. And judging from the reaction of the community, it’s personal to them too. You would be hard pressed to find an individual who identifies as LGBT who at one time (or multiple times) did not consider death as the easier option. We’ve all been in that place where the light at the end of the tunnel is so dim, we lose faith that it even exists. We all struggle with finding a place in a society that makes no room for us. Over time, I have mostly accepted that this is the way things are. Come Out Orlando is doing its part to change that, but it’s an uphill battle.

 I think that is what has disturbed me most about this whole situation. The intolerance and homophobia in this country is so high that it drives our youth to suicide, but in my mind, it isn’t the least bit surprising. That is just the way things are and have been for some time.

 This is unacceptable. Things shouldn’t have to get better. Teens shouldn’t have to “get through” being gay in high school. Things need to be better. We owe it to LGBT youth to make things better for them than they were for us, not just tell them to suck it up and stick it out. I’m sorry, but that just isn’t good enough. People need to be educated. Hearts and minds need to change. The kids responsible, who bullied and harassed  and pushed until they broke someone, didn’t hatch the idea themselves. Clearly they were getting signals from all around them that this was a perfectly acceptable course of action.

 These types of situations are garnering more media attention as of late, but they aren’t new, and they will persist even after CNN has moved on. Please, if you take anything away from this, take the initiative to do something about it. Call out that person who says “that’s so gay”. Let someone know that no matter what their religious beliefs, making someone feel like less of a human being is not okay.

 My heart goes out to the friends and family of those boys, and of all the LGBT people who felt that death was the only way out. I remember what it was like to feel like there was no hope that things could ever get better. It’s a dark, lonely place to be stuck in. Having the acceptance from even one person can make all the difference. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please seek help. The Trevor Project offers a 24-hour hotline: 866 488 7386. There are people who care about you, and there are people who will accept you.  We at Come Out Orlando are deeply committed to  “educating and facilitating positive change” and are one of many organizations working toward equality within the law and in society. It is our hope that one day, things will in fact, be better.

     The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a nonprofit organization created to “protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.” They are on a nationwide tour, encouraging people to “rally behind marriage” (exclusively heterosexual marriage), and making a stop in Central Florida on August 8th. They believe marriage needs to be protected from us. According to N.O.M., marriage is “about bringing together men and women so children can have fathers and mothers.” Marriage creates families. Families they believe we are destroying. They believe that if it is acceptable to have gay marriage, soon their way of life will lose all meaning.

 Below are some of their key talking points: 

  MYTH:  If gay marriage is legal, people lose the right to define marriage as the union of husband and wife 

  MYTH: “If courts rule that same-sex marriage is a civil right, then, people like you and me who believe children need moms and dads will be treated like bigots and racists.” 

  MYTH: “Religious groups like Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army may lose their tax exemptions, or be denied the use of parks and other public facilities, unless they endorse gay marriage." 

  MYTH: “Public schools will teach young children that two men being intimate are just the same as a husband and wife, even when it comes to raising kids.” 

  MYTH: “When the idea that children need moms and dads get legally stigmatized as bigotry, the job of parents and faith communities trying to transmit a marriage culture to their kids is going to get a lot harder.” 

  MYTH: “Love is a great thing. But marriage isn’t just any kind of love; it’s the special love of husband and wife for each other and their children.”       

Here is my response to each talking point:

     Legalizing same-sex marriage is not, nor has it ever been about taking away rights. Everyone has a personal right to define marriage and family however they would like. The people of any state do NOT have a right to deny marriage to any legal consenting adults. Everyone also deserves respect, regardless of differing views. When gay marriage becomes law, I would imagine that the least of our concerns will be those who opposed it. That being said, I do not condone mud-slinging or name-calling of any sort. The personal cruel words of individuals to individuals are not of any legal concern, nor should the fear of such hatred be the reason to keep the rest of us good citizens away from our rights as Americans. Before worrying about whether one will be called a bigot, I would urge opponents of same-sex marriage to think about how many times we have had “faggot” shouted at us, and exactly who and what creates a society where that is acceptable. 

     As far as families are concerned, I can publicly announce my feelings towards children and the family, however since procreation is not a legal requirement for marriage, this argument has no basis in reality, regardless of your personal views.      

     Groups which utilize public parks or facilities (whether they are religious in nature or not) do not reserve the right to deny access to anyone. Public parks and facilities are just that, PUBLIC. The United States Constitution does grant us the separation of church and state, after all. This means, that you will still have free use to your public facilities, and non-profit organizations, private churches can turn us away, just as they have been doing.      

     Back in 1978, there was proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative. It sought to weed out “homosexual” teachers in California. People were afraid that gay teachers would make their students gay. That seems a ridiculous prospect now, and yet the same sentiments that drove the campaign to pass proposition 6 still exist. How anyone wants to raise their children has nothing to do with how other people choose to raise their children. Your family is yours, and my family is mine. The argument that schools will teach anything about marriage is invalid. School are not there to judge anyone’s personal life. School authorities may of course step in, if children are being harassed, and we would expect that from them if the child was being bullied about having only a mother. However some say it isn’t there place to say anything at all to someone being harassed for being gay, or having gay parents. 

     We do not live in a gay-friendly society.  N.O.M. says that it is against violence targeted at homosexuals, but they fear for gay marriage being legalized because children will be taught “two men being intimate are just the same as a husband and wife”   To say that you are against violence, but do not wish to teach tolerance for other cultures to your children, is a contradiction. It is tolerance, mutual respect for each other that makes us civilized. It is the very difference between saying “that’s too bad, that gay kid got killed” and saying “that isn’t right, he didn’t do anything wrong, a child has been murdered!”    

     Marriage in this country can be entered into by strangers, who have no intentions of having children, who have no “special love” for each other or religious affiliation whatsoever. I have yet to hear of an organization crusading to ensure that only couples who are in love or intend to have children are getting married. Love between same-sex couples is just as “special” as between any heterosexual couple.    

     We respect everyone’s personal beliefs for what a family means to them. All we ask is that this respect be reciprocated. Fear of change is what guides N.O.M. to do what they do. They like life just the way it is, and they do not see that they are hurting people. Marriage is about love, commitment, and making someone a part of your family. Everyone who enters a courthouse should have the same rights regardless of race, gender, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation. 

     We will be outside the winter park church on Sunday August 8th. We will spread our message of love for everyone. This will be a peaceful protest. We are not protesting the individuals, we are protesting the National Organization for Marriage and the anti-gay message they are spreading.
      As you may be aware Florida made the news in 2007 when a woman was denied access to her partner in Jackson Memorial Hospital in South Florida during her partner’s final moments. The Hospital finally changed its non-discrimination policy recently to include the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual community, although they have yet to apologize to this woman’s family, and their mistake is something that cannot be reversed.                 

     This outraged many, including President Obama who has since issued the executive order that any hospital receiving Medicare and Medicaid must allow same sex couples the same visiting rights as heterosexual couples.While this case has nothing to do with Gender Identity, it has affected those in our community and got us thinking about our often forgotten transgender brothers and sisters. If this state treats gay and lesbian citizens so poorly in hospitals because of ignorance and hate, how must they treat the transgender person in the hospital? Our LGBT community members are seen as second-class citizens, even down to the hospital visits.                 

     This is more than upsetting to us, this is unacceptable.  We decided change is needed, and it is needed now.  Come Out Orlando is coming out for transgender persons in our community.  Currently there are a few hospitals in Florida that have added sexual orientation to their anti-discrimination policies but not a single one has protections based on gender identity. Because of this we are working with the community and the three major hospital systems (Health Central, Florida Hospital, and Orlando Health) to see that our needs are met.                                    


 •           Gender identity added to the patient bill of rights and/or hospital patient non-discrimination policies. 
•         Diversity/sensitivity trainings given to all hospital staff, informing them of transgender-specific issues, which will be provided free of charge.
•         All patient forms to include a space for “gender identity” for individuals to be able to let hospital staff know their needs.
•         Medical Professionals at local hospitals become educated as to the unique medical needs of transgender patients.  

Steps We Take Towards Equality             

     We believe that ignorance is not bliss and the only cure is education. That is exactly where we began. First we educate ourselves, then the public and private entities of Florida. This work started by doing research on what leading world class hospital systems have implemented to make their hospitals more gender identity friendly. Then by informing the public about what other hospitals have done for our community, what our hospital system are not doing, and what they can do to help. We are spreading the word across town, asking people to call and ask the hospitals with their questions regarding transgender patients.             

     We have received responses from all three hospital systems. Recently representatives from our group have met with Louis Preston, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Florida Hospital. At this meeting we were given the opportunity to provide him with information about who we are, why we were there, and why gender identity is so important to us.            
     He was cordial towards us, informed us that he would speak with his superiors, and react according to their instructions. He continually reminded us that Florida hospital “cares” and would say something that sounded scripted, and unofficial.  When I personally asked whom should be present at future meetings, or whom I should speak with in case his superiors turned down our requests and offers, I was given the response “you will only speak to Louis Preston, and no one else.” I was personally offended when he told me I needed to show more compassion, in a random statement.           

     I then asked “compassion for whom sir? For you, or the individuals lying in your hospital beds?"He often looked down while he spoke, spoke slowly and calmly and even referred to himself as a father figure, showing me he did not respect us as a group of individuals, and personally disregarded me based on my youthful appearance.       

     Currently we are waiting to hear back from Susan Grusvka, the administrator of clinical support at Health Central. We have a scheduled appointment with Tom Yoesle - CEO of Patient Financial Services of Orlando Health set up to discuss changes they can implement in their hospital systems.                

     Actions speak louder than words. We do not simply educate people, then sit back and wait for our rights. We take the initiative towards equality. We do not just educate the hospitals and ask that gender identity rights be granted. They need resources, and we find them. We show them how their hospitals can become more LGBT friendly.  Some representatives have given us the impression that they agree with us that NO ONE should be discriminated against, especially in a hospital situation, and that they will work with us to ensure ALL patients feel safe and understood. In working together I’m optimistic that we can create change in our community: one person, one small organization, one hospital at a time. 
     It seems the underground railroad to freedom has stopped at racial minority, and women’s rights. We as LGBT citizens are equally upset. We as LGBT citizens have been hurt. We are Americans, yet treated as if we are outsiders. We are told we aren’t good enough to legally vow our lives to the person we love, we can’t raise a child, or serve our country to fight for the freedoms we don’t even have. The railroad to freedom has been left on the tracks and forgotten, just as we are forgotten. We are so blinded by our apathy, so fearful we can’t change anything, we don’t even try anymore. We have surrendered not only our freedoms, but the freedoms of others around us, and those who have yet to face this world.      
     There are many who have stood up, and paid the ultimate price, and how do we honor them? With a candle, once maybe twice a year. We go to the dollar store to pick out wax with a wick, and a Dixie cup candle, and somehow that is helping someone? It’s Not Enough! I’m outraged at how busy we have become! Too busy working, working for a job that could and probably would fire you just because you are Homosexual, or Transgender! Too busy rejecting the people we love, because “my parents are not ready to hear it.”      
     There is no time like the present to tell your family and friends what America is doing to you, to US. It only takes 15 minutes for hate to spread and lives to be lost. It only takes 15 minutes to take action, and get the railroad to freedom back on track. What sacrifices are you willing to make to ensure your equality?
Come Out Orlando is fully committed to equality not only for lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens, but also the often-overlooked T that punctuates the acronym: transgender. Healthcare is an important issue for most Americans these days, but especially so for trans-people. Due both to the unique challenges that they face, and the lack of education as to exactly what those challenges are. Transition from one sex to another is a long, arduous process. That means a lot of time spent somewhere in between. This can make for some awkward situations if, say, a transgender man complete with baritone voice and facial hair must check female on his intake form and hope that the correct pronouns are observed.

Or when he has to explain to his doctors why he is wearing a chest binder, and hope they can be sensitive to his need to keep it on. If his name hasn't yet been legally changed, one would hope that the employees he interacts with regularly would be respectful of his desire to be called by his preferred name. Even in the case of someone who has completely transitioned with all documents changed, but may not be completely passable in their true gender, would any of these hospitals go out of their way to see that a transgender patient is treated with the same level of respect and dignity as any other? You wouldn't know it by their policies...

Across the board in our major hospitals here in Orlando, our transgender community is not represented. Florida Hospital's Patient Bill of Rights states: "A patient has the right to impartial access to medical treatment or accommodations, regardless of race, national origin, religion, handicap, or source of payment."  ( available online here:   http://www.fhwat.org/PatientsAndVisitors/PatientBillofRights.aspx). Notice that gender identity (and also sexual orientation) are conspicuously missing. Health Central and Orlando Health follow suit.
The transgender community of Orlando deserves better than what its hospitals are offering them. Help us to help our trans friends! Come Out Orlando is working to educate the public about these issues. We will be at Lake Eola 12PM Sunday, June 27th to spread the word. Join us!