Tyler Oakley tells TCU audience how YouTube brought hate but also inspired him to fight it

Tyler Oakley poses with attendees at the TCU Southwestern LGBT Leadership conference after his speech Saturday, March 3.

FORT WORTH — California YouTube sensation Tyler Oakley shared his story of how video stardom led to his first experience of anti-gay hatred — and how he used the hatred to encourage others, on Saturday at the TCU Southwestern LGBT Leadership Conference.

Oakley created a YouTube channel in 2008 as a way to keep in touch with friends after heading to Michigan State University. After his mother asked him if he was gay when he was 14 and he simply said ‘yes,’ Oakley explained that the support from her and his stepfather was overwhelmingly positive.

“But when I told my mom I upload videos, she freaked out and was like, ‘Do you where clothes in these videos?’” he said.

Although he told his mother that the videos were decent and a way to communicate with friends about random things, the idea of uploading personal videos still struck his family as odd.

“I couldn’t be more blessed when it came to them being accepting of me as a gay man, so I lucked out on the important one,” he said, laughing.

While his campus at Michigan State had gay students and supportive professors, and the Gay-Straight Alliance was viewed as “the cool thing,” comments on his videos about his sexuality began to become offensive and even threatening.

The comments were “an eye-opening experience,” he said, because his family and college had been so accepting.

“At first it was overwhelming because I’d never been judged for who I was,” he said. “It was comments like that that encouraged me to do something bigger.”

—  Dallasvoice

TCU’s LGBT Leadership Conference aims to become ‘the big gay conference in our region’

TCU students at the 2011 conference

After last year’s well-received LGBT Leadership Conference on the TCU campus in Fort Worth that focused on empowering LGBT youth after several suicides in the fall of 2010, this year’s conference will continue the inspiring message of the “It Gets Better” campaign.

But instead of inviting only Texas schools like SMU and UTA, this year will have a regional focus with the Southwestern Association of Gay-Straight Alliances, an organization that grew out of the success of last year’s conference, said Jamal King, treasurer and historian of the TCU gay-straight alliance.

Schools like Kansas State and Arizona State universities will join local schools, and the turnout is expected to be similar to last year’s event, which brought in 75 students from about nine colleges, King said. After the word about a large conference in Texas spread, he said other schools wanted to participate, leading to the creation of the regional organization.

King was the mastermind behind the first conference and served as co-director for the event this year, which will once again bring several LGBT organizations like PFLAG, Q Cinema and the AIDS Outreach Center together to discuss issues affecting the community.

Last year’s highlight was a presentation from the Trevor Project, but this year the keynote address will come from Shane Windmeyer, founder of Campus Pride, a nonprofit that helps students establish safe campuses for students.

Windmeyer was an obvious choice for the conference, King said, because his organization portrays acceptance on campuses nationwide, something that became a focus this year with the regional college attendance.

“We were looking for someone who had a lot of experience with the issue of LGBT suicide on a larger scale and working with Campus Pride is a much larger scale on a national level,” King said. “We’re going bigger and so is our scope.”

—  Dallasvoice

Ready for the fight

Baldwin says she doesn’t believe anti-gay attacks against her in her U.S. Senate bid would work with Wisconsin voters

 

Baldwin.Polis
Openly gay members of Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin, center, and Rep. Jared Polis, right, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco in December 2009. Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has announced she is seeking the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herbert Kohl. If she wins the election, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person in the U.S. Senate. (Russel A. Daniels/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin said last week that her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin “will not be about me,” but she’s “prepared to respond to any number of likely attacks in this political age,” including ones based on her sexual orientation.

Baldwin, one of only four openly gay members of the U.S. House, announced Sept. 6 that she will seek the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat who announced in May that he would not seek re-election in 2012.

Although Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for a U.S. Senate seat, her campaign has ignited considerable enthusiasm in the LGBT political community.

Chuck Wolfe, head of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates for elective office, said in a telephone conference call with LGBT media Sept. 7 that the Victory Fund “believes this will be an important race for our community.”
He predicted the community would “rally around” Baldwin, whom he called a “stellar” representative of the community.

Baldwin, who participated in that call and took questions from the media, said she expects the campaign to be “hotly, hotly contested,” as are all Senate races in recent years.

The partisan balance has been closely divided for years. Democrats currently have 51 seats plus 2 Independents who caucus with them; Republicans have 47.

It takes a majority of 60 to break a filibuster staged by a minority party, and the Republican Party has made the filibuster an almost routine maneuver since 2008, in hopes of thwarting a second term for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Following Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats and Independents held 60 seats.

Baldwin said her first challenge will be to introduce herself to parts of Wisconsin outside her district of Madison, the state capital.

She said current polling suggests between 52 percent and 55 percent of voters in the state recognize her name. And given the potential for a hotly contested Senate race to include an anti-gay attack, said Baldwin, she’s eager to introduce herself to voters around the state before an attacker does.

Baldwin doesn’t necessarily believe an anti-gay attack will be particularly effective in Wisconsin. She noted that the western part of the state has also elected an openly gay member of Congress before: U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson.

Gunderson ran for re-election twice after he was outed in 1991.

Baldwin noted that she has been openly gay “all my adult life” and she thinks the voters of Wisconsin “appreciate values of honesty and integrity.

“And I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,” said Baldwin.

But “this campaign,” Baldwin added, “will not be about me. It will be about the middle class, the threats they’re facing, and which candidate is the best fighter for them.”

Meanwhile, two state representatives in Wisconsin announced Sept. 7 that they will seek the Democratic nomination to run for Baldwin’s seat.

One is openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan, who filled in Baldwin’s state assembly seat when she was elected to Congress.

The other is State Rep. Kelda Roys, the youngest member of the Wisconsin assembly and former head of the Wisconsin chapter of NARAL.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

TCU hosts LGBT leadership conference

Students from other area schools will gather for workshops and speakers on Fort Worth campus

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

This weekend, Texas Christian University is hosting an LGBT leadership conference that started out as a response to bullying and bullying-related suicides, organizer Jamal King said.

Last fall, as news spread about the large number of gay teens who took their own lives in a short period of time, the TCU gay-straight alliance held a candlelight vigil on campus.

But King said they felt it wasn’t enough. “[We felt] there must be something more we could do,” he said.

In November, the GSA invited a speaker from the Trevor Project to come to campus in the spring. That speaking engagement quickly evolved into an all-day conference.
King said there was an overwhelming response, not only from his own campus but also from Texas Wesleyan University and University of Texas at Arlington. Students from campuses around the state and Oklahoma have registered.

In addition to the speaker from the Trevor Project, representatives from Youth First Texas, the AIDS Outreach Center, QCinema, PFLAG, GLSEN, Dallas Voice and Pride in the Truth, a religious group founded by members of LGBT-friendly Crossroads Community Church, will participate. “We had a surprising amount of support from the faculty and staff,” King said.

He was also happy with the corporate support the project received. Pepsico and Wells Fargo are the event’s main sponsors. Z’s Café, located at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center and formed in partnership with Samaritan House, will provide lunch.

Eric Russell is a junior at TCU and vice president of the GSA. He is coordinating committees from check-in to food, entertainment and programming. “It surprised me how quickly we did this,” Russell said.

Russell said he knew they were on the right track when he heard from a psych professor that she was letting all of her students know about the conference. He said the diversity and acceptance on the TCU campus has surprised him.

Amanda Moten is president of her GSA at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, and she said she is “expecting to learn a lot” at the day-long conference.

She said that she’s been encouraging people from her campus and others in the area to attend. She said she’s been a member of a GSA since she was in high school and has opened her school’s group up as a safe space for high school students who don’t have a place in their own school. “People can come and talk,” she said. “No matter what other people have told you that you are, you’re accepted here.”

Moten said she is helping sponsor high school students who cannot afford to attend the conference. She also commented on the relationship her group has developed with TCU’s. “I love that our GSAs are becoming BFFs,” she said.

King said that it was important for TCU’s GSA to become more visible on campus. He said he hopes that students just coming to terms with coming out would be helped by just knowing the LGBT leadership conference was taking place on campus and that they are not alone.

The conference begins with a kick-off party on Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m. The $20 registration fee for the Saturday conference includes lunch. The party and conference will be held in TCU’s Brown Lupton University Union.

To register or for more information, contact gsa.tcu@gmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gramick: Equality is a Catholic value

Nun began working toward acceptance of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church in 1971

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo
SOCIAL JUSTICE | Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo spoke to a group of Metroplex Catholics at Resource Center Dallas on Aug. 11. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

In 1971, Sister Jeannine Gramick became friendly with a gay man while she was working on her doctorate in mathematics education.

“Sister, what is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” he asked her.

She realized the answer was, “Very little.”

That’s when Gramick began working on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church and has since dedicated her career to helping gays and lesbians.

In 1977, Gramick co-founded New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for the reconciliation of lesbian and gay people and the church. She founded several local Dignity groups and has served on the board of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“I do this because I believe this is what God is calling me to do,” said Gramick, who was in Dallas this week for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

DeBernardo said he came of age after Vatican 2 in the social justice tradition of the church. He said what’s more important isn’t someone’s sexual orientation but that people are not being treated equally.

New Ways helps parishes that want to become more gay friendly and helps them develop strategies to do that.

Gramick said that since she began her work, a number of bishops in the United States have supported her. But more and more conservative members of the clergy have been appointed to higher positions since she first took her vows.

In 1999, the Vatican prohibited her from doing pastoral work with gays and lesbians and the next year she was ordered to stop speaking about homosexuality and about Rome’s investigation into her work.

She refused to be muzzled and continued working tirelessly.

The head of her order was worried that Gramick faced excommunication. She suggested they travel to the tomb of the founder of their order in Munich, Germany, to pray for divine intervention.

They flew from Baltimore to Rome where they changed planes for Munich. On the plane from Rome, she sat next to a man she thought might have been a priest.

That’s where the divine intervention happened.

She interrupted him to introduce herself.

“I’m a nun,” she said and asked if he was with the church.

The man introduced himself as Cardinal Ratzinger. When she told him her name, he joked that he had known her for 20 years,meaning they had a thick file on her and had been investigating her for that long.

Before they landed, the head of her order told the cardinal her concern that Sister Jeannine would be excommunicated.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Gramick said the future Pope Benedict told her. “It’s not that level of doctrine.”

Gramick said that the work of New Ways Ministry is not considered an excommunicatable matter. She noted that despite the Vatican’s position on LGBT issues, no one has been excommunicated for working on gay and lesbian social justice issues.

Although Gramick disagrees with the pope’s position on a number of issues and believes the Vatican still doesn’t understand the impact pedophile priests have had on so many lives, she is gracious in describing him.

She recalls him as a friendly, spiritual, holy man.

“He was praying when I interrupted him,” she said. “He has a good sense of humor.”

She said that meeting him put a human face on the institution.

DeBernardo explained the work of New Ways Ministry. Helping parishes become more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics is a major focus of the organization. He suggested a number of ways parishes can become more supportive.

“The oppression runs the gamut from silence to violence,” said DeBernardo. “Just breaking the silence is a good way.”

He suggests starting support groups in churches. Some churches have integrated gays and lesbians into their education programs.

“If you’re having a discussion on sexuality, you have to mention homosexuality,” he said. “You can’t ignore it anymore. It’s an important part of the current discussion on sexuality.”

Recognizing the gifts gay and lesbian members bring is another important step. One parish, he said, recognizes a lesbian mom or the mother of a lesbian every Mother’s Day.

He said his approach is not “one size fits all.” What works in one area of the country won’t work elsewhere. What works in one church won’t work in a neighboring parish.

In Maryland, New Ways is experimenting with a new program targeting legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters.

DeBernardo said support of gay and lesbian issues is strong among the grassroots and among middle managers in the church.

“But bishops get the media,” he said.

The project, that they will bring to other states debating same-sex marriage legislation or other equality laws, helps educate legislators that they will not lose Catholic votes by voting in favor of social justice.

Gramick said that there is a disconnect between the church hierarchy and Catholics in the pews.

She spoke at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 11, to a group of Catholics from around the Metroplex interested in her work.
A teacher who attended said she was afraid she would lose her job if she helped gay students who came out to her.

Gramick suggested the teacher help her students by teaching the full range of Catholic theologies. While the hierarchy teaches one thing, a vast majority of Catholic writers and theologians teach something else, Gramick said.

A parent of a gay son wanted to know how to help others in her parish and in other parishes around the diocese.

“Baby steps,” DeBernardo suggested.

He said the church puts a strong emphasis on family.

“Catholics are so much about keeping families together and when you have large families, you’ll have gays and lesbians in your family,” he said.

“Church leaders think a lot about sex,” he said. “For people in the pews, while sex is important, they don’t think of it as the primary way of interpreting the world. People know that sex is only one part of their lives.”

Gramick estimated that as many as half of all priests are gay. She said that the Catholics in the pews, however, separate the pedophile priests scandal from homosexuality.

Gramick said that when the scandal first erupted, there was a lot of confusion between sexual abuse and gay priests.

She said that people came to church because they liked their priest and didn’t care about his sexual orientation.

Congregations are showing their independence on the issue, Gramick and DeBernardo said.

One church in Greenwich Village has marched in the New York gay Pride parade for years. This year, New York’s new archbishop told them they could not carry their church’s banner in the parade.

Instead they all wore T-shirts with their church’s logo and carried a blank banner.

“They were on CNN. That was great publicity for the church that was being gay friendly,” Gramick said. “Not so good for the archbishop.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas