Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking back at LGBT gains and ahead at challenges

As the year ends and along with it Democratic dominance, now is a good time to take stock of progress made by the Obama administration and 111th Congress on behalf of LGBT civil rights, spurred by queer activists, advocacy groups, bloggers and allies.

In the foreseeable future, with the Republican and Tea Parties at the reins of Congress and all politicians eyeing the 2012 elections, no federal legislation or initiative that promotes equality for queer people can be expected.

In October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was enacted. The bill expanded the existing federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

A week ago, President Obama signed into law the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the odious Clinton-era policy that barred lesbians and gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

In between these two landmark civil rights legislation, the 22-year HIV/AIDs immigration ban was lifted; the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program was extended; the Family and Medical Leave Act was expanded to include gay employees taking unpaid leave to care for their children; domestic violence protections was redefined to include LGBT victims; benefits were extended to same-sex partners of federal employees; diplomatic passports and other benefits were issued to the partners of gay foreign service employees; job discrimination based on gender identity was banned throughout the federal government; and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development were instructed to allow LGBT visitation rights and counter LGBT housing discrimination respectively.

The Obama administration also reversed a Bush-era policy, signing a United Nations declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Last week, the U.S. government worked to reinstate a reference to sexual orientation in a U.N. resolution that condemned extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions (the General Assembly’s human rights committee had removed the reference from last month). U.N. Ambassador Rice also successfully advocated for the accreditation of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Since taking office, President Obama has appointed more openly LGBT officials – about 150 agency heads, commission members, policy officials and senior staffers – than any previous administration. He is the first president to release LGBT Pride proclamations and host an LGBT Pride Month celebration in the White House. He bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King, the same honorific bestowed on Rosa Parks.

No matter what one thinks of Mr. Obama, his administration and his party, it cannot be denied that progress has been had. Nonetheless, many of us are justified in protesting that often our fierce advocate seemed absent and when a few of us bravely held his feet to the fire – as he had requested – had the audacity to scold.

Most of all, while some lesbians and gays benefit from the administration’s initiatives, most of us do not. Certainly not those at the margins – transgenders, queers of color and low-income LGBTs. Policies and promises that will truly make a difference in our lives remain unfulfilled: a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act; and immigration reform which includes LGBT families.

Now is a good time to look back and acknowledge some gains but we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It doesn't take much

John and I have reached that point in our lives when we really don't ask for anything for Christmas. This is not to say that we do not welcome or appreciate presents, we just don't want for much and are as grateful for a heartfelt greeting.

We did get a swell gift this year though. My brother-in-law and his wife gave us a cookbook. Beautiful as it is, it is the inscription inside that made us smile and be grateful.

Our families have come around on this "gay thing" for the most part though it was not too long ago that they'd sooner not discuss "it." We know you're gay and we know you're together but let's just not talk about it.

So we cherish what was written in the inside cover:
To John & Erwin,

Please come home for some good cooking.

Frank Stitt
We don't know Frank Stitt and have not been to his restaurant in Birmigham, Alabama, but my brother-in-law has. And the thought that Scott went up to the chef and asked him to dedicate the book to John AND Erwin, well, that certainly keeps us coming home to North Carolina and family.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ask, Tell and Dream

Last Saturday was bittersweet for gay immigrants. The Senate voted to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” – the Clinton-era policy which barred gay troops from serving openly – while dashing any hope of passing the DREAM Act, which would have paved a way to citizenship for millions of foreign-born youth who are no less American than their native-born cousins.

Progress in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights should nonetheless be celebrated, not only by the LGBT community and its allies but by immigrant communities too. Certainly those among us who straddle both groups have some reason to cheer.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” discriminated against lesbians and gays, some of whom are foreign-born or second generation immigrants. Its demise offers an opportunity for immigrant communities to see and take pride in their gay daughters and sons who defend their country with honor, honesty and integrity. The work and collaboration required to finally repeal the policy show how minority communities partner for shared goals.

The Immigration Policy Center reports that about 115,000 foreign‐born women and men serve in the U.S. armed forces – eight percent of the 1.4 million military personnel on active duty. The Migration Policy Institute adds that among these immigrant troops, 23 percent are Filipino; 10 percent are Mexican; 5 percent are Jamaican; 3 percent are Korean; and 2.5 percent are Dominican.

Under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” women and minorities were disproportionately affected. Among the 619 troops discharged in 2008, 209 were women and 279 were minorities.

Lt. Dan Choi is perhaps one of the most outspoken advocates against the discriminatory policy and an exemplar for gays and immigrants alike. The son of Korean immigrants, he served in Iraq as an Arabic translator and jeopardized his military career for principles imbued by his family and the military.

Choi and other out service members of color have challenged notions immigrants might have about gay people. They have also inspired many Americans, newcomers and native-born, young and old. Now more lesbian and gay soldiers will be able to set examples and change hearts and minds within their own ethnic communities.

Along with many other members of the LGBT community, Choi also advocates for immigrant rights. Indeed, major LGBT groups have rallied alongside immigrant rights groups and vice-versa. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has ended because of the hard work and support of allies of the LGBT community.

Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates supports passing the DREAM Act, for “military readiness,” just as he encouraged the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Full equality for LGBTs and immigrants has a way to go, but together progress can and will happen by being open to each other and marching forward shoulder-to-shoulder.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, an immigration news website featuring the work of immigrant journalists from across the U.S.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Why L, G & Bs should care about Ts

Amanda Simpson, one of President Obama's 150 or so LGBT appointees, reminds lesbians, gays and bisexuals why they should care about transgender issues.

She was a panelist at the woman's roundtable in this year's International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference, during which she decried the missing outrage over the persecution and decimation of a segment of the community. She asked how many of those present in the ballroom - elected officials, organizational leaders and activists - knew of the staggering murder rate of transgenders.

Transgender Europe reports that from 2008 to 2009, 121 trans women and men were reported murdered worldwide. One reported murder every three days. Human Rights Campaign estimates that in the United States, at least 15 transgender people are killed each year in hate-based attacks. Both groups stress that their numbers most likely underestimate the reality, based on trans people's common fear of going to the police and widespread misreporting.

Simpson points out that transgender oppression is lesbian, gay and bisexual oppression as well. She reasons that discrimination against us is not due to gender orientation - being gay or bisexual - but on gender expression. After all, she says, "we don't wear orientation on our sleeves." Others identify us as queers because we don't look, act or speak "straight."

People, queer and straight, are targeted because they are gender non-conforming. We are picked out and upon because of our gender expression which often does not conform with what society expects of our assigned gender. Girls who are deemed butch and boys who are judged effeminate are bullied by their peers.

Simpson also reminds us that gender non-conforming people have always been the ones who storm the gates of exclusion. The Compton Cafeteria riot of 1966 and the Stonewall riot of 1969 were led by transgender people who had enough. She quoted earlier speakers who attribute the burgeoning LGBT movement in India to hijras who courageously express their gender and fight for their proper place in society.

Personally, this brings to mind Filipino baklas and tibos who are at the forefront of the movement in the predominantly Roman Catholic Southeast Asian nation. Earlier this year, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled against the country's Commission on Elections which had disqualified Ang Ladlad, an LGBT-rights group, as an official political party.

Simpson is right in spotlighting the lack of concern among most of us for our transgender sisters and brothers. We need to realize that we have much in common and at stake with those among us who bravely choose to be themselves and not conform.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

If it looks like a Carlos ...

Woodley Park, Washington, D.C. is an affluent neighborhood of predominantly white, highly educated, liberal Washingtonians. Single family homes start at about $800,000 and can run into the millions, while a renovated one bedroom apartment can be had by four interns sharing the rent.

I appreciate, for the most part, residing in this part the District. I take the Metro to work alongside well-scrubbed and clearly smart folk who keep the government running, ruminate at think tanks and serve at nonprofits. I like coming home to tree-lined streets with squealing toddlers chasing after squirrels under the watchful eyes of brown-skinned nannies on smart phones.

There are times however when I am reminded that just like everybody else, my progressive worldly neighbors have their own set of racial blinders. I am judged, in spite of my education, profession and surrender to the Washingtonian navy blazer and khakis drag, according to the color of my skin and facial features. Since I look Latino then I must be Latino. Never mind the fact that I am not.

During my first year at the "luxury" apartment where I live, the head of the tenants' association summarily assumed without looking me in the eye that I was one of the building's custodians. "You're coming up later to fix my cable, right?"

Just last week, a middle-aged woman admitted that though we have met multiple times, she can't seem to remember my name and wants to call me Carlos. "I don't know why I think your name is Carlos ... you just don't look like an Erwin."

The funny thing is, she pretty much solved her puzzle - I don't look like an Erwin to her. In her mind, I look more like a Carlos or a Mario. Admitting that however would be owning up to her deeply ingrained racial stereotypes. And we all know that well-off and educated liberals are post-racial.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Broader Understanding of Marriage

My husband John, from a Christian minister's perspective, offers a broader view of marriage during our interview with a local radio show.
John: There is a passage in scripture, Jesus is talking about marriage, not as an end in itself, but as something that points to a greater love. The marriage doesn't just exist for those two people. It's meant as something that overflows in love and generosity and happiness and joy.

Interviewer: And John says, as more gay and lesbian people marry...

John: I think all the more that excitement and that happiness does overflow and hopefully that can change hearts and minds.
He is picking up from a sermon he preached last Sunday.
Marriage is for those of “this age,” Jesus says—those who need to provide for a family or provide for the wellbeing of others. The typical marriage in First Century Palestine, like much of the first millennium, was more about property and possessions than it was about love and sharing.

But whenever Jesus talks about marriage, he talks about it as something that always points beyond itself. Marriage doesn’t exists as an end in itself. It doesn’t exist simply for the two partners, or even the nuclear family. Marriage is a preparation for something to come, a training ground for love, a hint of something even more incredible to follow, something that will be even better than the closes of human relationships, at the resurrection.
One need not be a Christian or a believer to see that this generous view of marriage is more beneficial to society than the prevalent notion which greatly limits the relationship and institution.

From a purely secular and humanistic perspective, extending the freedom and right to marry to all can only strengthen the community and improve everyone's well-being.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Minority Hierarchies

It is important for most of us to belong to the right group - one that privileges us over others in real and perceived ways. And within any group, there will be jockeying for the better position, even among those who belong to a marginalized sector of society.

In the book Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender writer and activist, writes that those of us who belong to the LGBT community observe "a hierarchical order of who is acceptable and who is not."
Let me break it down this way: some lesbians and gays feel that their issues are more important than transgender issues, because transgender people are freaks. Some transgender people - often, but not only, transsexuals - view transsexual issues as more important than the issues of say, cross-dressers. Some among the more genderqueer portions of our community look down upon those who opt to live in a more "normatively gendered" space. There are even groups that cross-dressers feel superior to: sissies, drag kings and queens, "little girls," and so on.
The same distinctions and divisions can be seen within communities of color - among races and ethnicities, between native- and foreign-born, and among haves and have-nots.

Smith assumes that this "is some sort of human failing that makes us always need to shun someone who we perceive as 'more different than thou.'" But she acknowledges that "this does not help move us further along in the world at large."
We can argue about who is this and who is that, we can argue about who does or doesn't belong. We can talk about how much more legitimate one or another of us is. In the end, we are all somebody's freak - and basic human dignity is not a privilege of the lucky superior few, but a right of all or none.
As progress of civil rights is stalled by the nation's current toxic and polarized political reality, it is crucial that those of us who are relegated to America's social, political and economic margins - queers, immigrants, communities of color - fight the urge to divide ourselves and remain conquered.

There is after all strength in numbers and power in unity.

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What are you voting for?

On Tuesday, the United States will hold elections that will determine its political, economic and social trajectory. Over the weekend, Brazil had its citizens decide their collective future.

What strikes me is the difference in what Americans and Brazilians are going to the polls for.

Brazilians are electing the successor of their current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and it looks like his chosen heir, Dilma Roussef, will win. This confirms the desire of most Brazilians to continue in the path Lula (as he is popularly known) has taken his country - a socialist, big government experiment that has brought 20 million Brazilians out of poverty and addressed social inequity at little cost to the government and no impact on the nation's economic growth. It is a model some Latin American countries are emulating to improve their lot.

Americans on the other hand, will be voting into office members of the 112th Congress, and it seems inevitable that the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. It reflects how many Americans feel about the direction President Obama has steered the nation - one with an expanded role of federal government, a response in part to a devastating recession and an attempt to fix a broken health care system. Enough people feel overwhelmed and frightened by what they perceive as too much change too soon that they are stepping on the brakes.

During any election, the question is what are citizens voting for? For Brazilians, it is to lift up those at the bottom of society and bridge social and economic gaps.

What will you be voting for?

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Story Telling

Legislative progress for LGBT and immigrant rights after the midterm elections will proceed at a snail's pace at best or screech to a grinding halt at worst. I tend to think the latter, considering the current political climate and lack of leadership in Congress and the White House on civil rights and immigration reform.

As such, I think it is crucial that we all go back to the basics and continue chipping away at the ground level by changing hearts and minds one at a time. An effective way to achieve this is by sharing our stories as queer folk, as immigrants, or as both. This puts forth faces that challenge stereotypes thereby encouraging some fair-minded individuals to change their positions and take on seemingly intractable issues.

So when the Michael Eric Dyson Radio Show invited me to tell my story as both a gay man and an immigrant, I jumped at the opportunity. I was able to shed light on the unique challenges faced by same-sex binational couples like my husband and me, as well as point out the many problems that beset America's immigration system. My interview begins at the 13:30 minute mark.

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Husband, partner, does it matter?

You call John your husband? A colleague asked.

I was recounting a recent event I attended, which had me surrounded by card-carrying, gun-toting, anti-Washington conservatives. It was a business dinner and I was the guest, so I talked mostly about work. Until the conversation turned to families and children.

A woman across the table looked at me, pointed at her diamond encrusted ring finger and said, “I noticed your wedding band; tell us about your wife.”

Funny she should ask. Immediately after John and I got married last April, I enthusiastically embraced the term “husband,” after all, that was now a legal and lived fact. But lately, I have noticed myself weighing between using “partner” or “husband” when referring to my spouse. Often, my mouth would start to form a huh … but end up with a capitulated puh…rtner.

I would rationalize to myself that I was generously accommodating other people’s sensitivities. As my colleague points out, “husband” carries a lot of baggage especially when used by gay men like me.

Yet a clear small voice challenges – is that really all it is? Or do I carry the same baggage most in society still do? We’re just getting used to “partner” for heaven’s sake … can you gays please give us more time?

So when I was asked about my wife, I put down my fork, smiled and said, “husband.”

Surprisingly, the conversation didn’t turn awkward and I actually got to tell my dinner companions about my family just as they have been for the past hour. At the end of the evening the women hugged me and the men shook my hand. “This has been enlightening Erwin,” one man confessed.

“Husband” does carry some baggage but I believe that if it is used more often by married gay men, then the load would lessen.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Principles I can live by

An article about a rift among American humanists led me to the website of the newly formed Institute for Science and Human Values.

The group's mission statement easily resonates with me.
We are committed to scientific inquiry and the enhancement of human values. This combines both reason and compassion in realizing ethical wisdom. It focuses on the principles of personal integrity: individual freedom and responsibility. It includes a commitment to social justice, planetary ethics, and developing shared values for the human family.
They argue that in a rapidly changing global community with conflicting religious, ideological and nationalist value systems, we need to discover values and principles, which can be shared by all people and which transcend dogmas and ideologies of the past.

I strongly agree with the institute's principles for personal integrity. These principles truly transcend religious belief systems and political ideologies which tend to divide us and at worse contribute to prejudice, oppression, inequity and injustice.
1. The equal dignity and value of each person.

2. The right of each person to pursue one's own rights consonant with the social good.

3. The right of privacy concerning a person’s own beliefs and values.

4. Each person should be treated as an end and not as a means.

5. Each person is responsible for her/his own life and career.

6. Society should provide wherever feasible the right to education and health care, safety and protection, and the satisfaction of the basic needs.

7. Each individual should have equal opportunity where feasible to fulfill her/his own unique talents and potentialities.

8. Cultivate reason, moral and aesthetic values, to raise her/his level of taste and appreciation, to expand her/his horizons for growth, to achieve creativity.

9. The right to live with a partner or partners of her/his choice in equality, in a family and to raise children

10. It is important that every effort be made to cultivate empathic and compassion attitude towards others, and altruistic concern.

11. Every person shall have the right to participate democratically in society.

12. To develop the common moral decencies and the excellences of the good life.

13. To be concerned with an enlightened self interest and also the common good.

14. Hopefully she/he will express good will toward others and develop an optimistic outlook in life in which happiness and exuberance will be realized.

15. All individuals live in a common habitat, the planet earth, hence every individual has a responsibility to be concerned with environmental integrity and to avoid the pollution of natural resources.
Perhaps if we tried to live by these principles, we'd all be in a better place.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walking with Integrity: Why People of Faith Should Welcome Immigrants

Originally posted on Integrity USA's blog.

At the March for America rally in DC, earlier this year, members of the LGBT and religious communities joined immigrant and minority groups calling for immigration reform. I stood alongside other LGBT activists who support an overhaul of the immigration system and demand that LGBT families be included in any reform effort.

It was a defiant, electric and hopeful moment but I was dismayed to hear a gay man emphasize – without being prompted – “I’m not here to support these illegals, I’m here for my husband.” His husband is a foreign national whom he cannot sponsor for legal permanent residency because the federal government does not recognize lesbian and gay unions.

Aside from the fact that most immigrants are NOT undocumented, the man does not realize that he should protest not only for his husband and for the inclusion of binational couples in immigration reform legislation but for all immigrants.

I would argue that one does not even have to have a foreign-born spouse or partner to support an inclusive and truly comprehensive immigration legislation.

Strategically, it is makes sense for minority groups such as LGBTs and immigrants to support each other - strength in numbers. By showing up for other minorities, they will also show up for us. And it is an effective way to gain visibility and challenge prejudice within ethnic communities.

But I believe that there are more profound reasons to welcome strangers.

As Americans, we need to remember that this nation was founded by immigrants and continues to thrive because of newcomers who only want to better their families’ lives. We should recall our core principles of equality, freedom and justice not for a select few but for all.

As people of faith, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and that we are all called to love one another. Let us not forget our mandate to welcome the stranger – LGBT, of color, immigrant.

I urge my fellow Episcopalians – gay, straight, native-born, foreign-born – to live up to our ideals as citizens and as Christians. Please support comprehensive immigration reform which includes LGBT families.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon .

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Asian Americans should care about Immigration Reform

Bill Ong Hing, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco writes an essay arguing for the support of progressive immigration reform by Asian American Pacific Islanders. The abstract of the article which can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network website reads:
Asian Americans have a lot to gain from progressive immigration reform. Today, our relatives abroad make up the bulk of those who are on a waiting list that can last almost two decades in some categories. Many young men and women from our communities face deportation even though they have grown up in the United States. Some are subjected to harsh Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and detention policies. Of the estimated twelve million undocumented immigrants in the country, demographers tell us that more than 10 percent are from Asian or Pacific countries. Many undocumented Asian Americans are college or college-bound students who have been praying for the passage of the DREAM Act so that they can get legalized and contribute more fully to U.S. society.

Perhaps most importantly, Asian Americans should care about immigration policies because even the most cursory review of Asian American history informs us that immigration laws and enforcement have shaped and reshaped our communities since the 1800s. Today, every Asian American subgroup, with the exception of Japanese Americans, remains predominately foreign-born. And when anti-immigrant restrictionists wage attacks on newcomers, it should not take much to realize that the targets could be us, because in fact, the target is us.

In this essay, I first review a handful of policies that relate directly to issues affecting Asian immigration. Then I turn to other big immigration policy questions that all Americans, including Asian Americans, should contemplate. Addressing those questions directly and without delay is an important step in resolving the tension over immigration that affects all communities of color in the United States.
You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image from LIFE.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mr. Ratzinger, this is what a secular society is all about

Evan Harris, a former UK member of parliament, shared his secularist manifesto on the Guardian, a response to the pope's warning against "aggressive" secularism. It is an excellent rejoinder of what a secular society is.
Secularism is unfairly characterised and attacked by religious leaders as a way of seeking to protect their privileges.

Secularism is not atheism (lack of belief in God) and nor is it humanism (a nonreligious belief system). It is a political movement seeking specific policy end-points. Many secularists are religious and many religious people – recognising the value of keeping government and religion separate – are secular.

Secularism seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, seeks to maximise freedom of religious and other expression and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others. This is essentially a summary of article 9 of the European convention on human rights. In addition secularism aims to end religious privileges or persecutions and to fully separate the state from religion which is a necessary means to that end.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image by Inez Templeton.

Religious leader responds to Post article

In response to the Washington Post's September 13 front-page article "Gay couples seeking immigration rights", Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, wrote the editors:
While I appreciate The Post's coverage of the need to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] immigrant families, it was disappointing that this story did not include more supportive voices from the faith community. The article failed to represent the people of various faiths -- including my own -- who believe that all families must be included in any reform if it is truly to be called comprehensive.

United Methodist, Episcopalian, Jewish, Unitarian and other denominations have wholeheartedly embraced reform that leaves no family behind. Our belief that we must "love thy neighbor as thyself" compels us to speak out for our LGBT neighbors.

This echoes my last post.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What was missing in today's Post

On the cover of today's Washington Post is an article about the immigration challenge faced by thousands of binational same-sex couples. My husband and I were interviewed for the piece and I find it for the most part balanced and matter of fact. However, there are a few things I need to address.

First, too much weight is placed on the opposition and power of Roman Catholic bishops and Evangelical leaders. Fact of the matter is, there are many other faith leaders who have spoken out in support of the inclusion of gay families in any immigration reform effort.

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which seeks to eliminate discrimination in immigration laws by allowing lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their loved ones for legal permanent residency, has been endorsed by numerous faith organizations, including African American Ministers in Action; Call to Action; Catholics for Equality; Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program; Clergy United; The Episcopal Church; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Standing on the Side of Love; the United Methodist Church; and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

Secondly, there are Roman Catholics who oppose their bishops' stance.

Catholics for Equality was founded by Fr. Joseph Palacios, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, to empower pro-equality Catholics to put their faith into political action on behalf of the LGBT community and their families.

An article in Religion Dispatches quotes Palacios pointing out that “Catholics as a religious body are the most progressive in terms of LGBT issues and we want to be the contrary voice to the official church and to help these Catholics see their social justice tradition and family life as [being] as important as anything coming from the bishops."

In the same piece, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the national coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns, didn't mince words.
I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous ... I am proud to be a Catholic ... I’m a lifelong Catholic. I spend my life hopefully working for justice so that people can look and see there are Catholic people who at least try to be just and try to follow the Gospel. But frankly the US bishops continually embarrass me. They are an embarrassment to the Catholic Church at this point, particularly with the stand they are taking.
Palacios and Gramick appear to have a better sense of the laity's pulse than the bishops. A recent poll the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that a "solid majority of Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants (in California) say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Moreover, the next generation of Evangelicals are far more welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people than their elders. According to a recent report, young white evangelicals under the age of 35 are more likely than older evangelicals to be more supportive of legal recognitions for gay and lesbian couples.

Finally, I can not reiterate and stress enough that this issue has nothing to do with religious beliefs and everything to do with equality and civil rights.

In order for any immigration reform effort to be truly comprehensive, no one group, no matter how small, can be left out. In order for this country and its citizens to live up to its core values of freedom, equality and justice, LGBT Americans and their families should not be thrown under the bus. Again.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Place for Islam, Muslims & Queer Muslims in America

Anti-Muslim rhetoric is reaching fever pitch as we mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Irrationality, raw emotion and political opportunism have taken over discourse on the place of Islam and Muslims in American life.

I can understand why many are swayed by those who would purport to take us back to prelapsarian days which never were. As a gay man, I share the discomfort with a religion – any religion – that treats women as inferior to men and LGBT people as pariah scorned and worthy of death. The facts are however that Islam, like its sibling faiths Christianity and Judaism, is not monolithic, that Muslim Americans come in all stripes, and that there are queer Muslims.

Prof. David Rayside of the University of Toronto presented a paper which highlight these themes at last week’s annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C.

He points out that there is a “wide range of Muslim religious practice, including not only a large number of African American Muslims, but also significant numbers of Sufis and Ismailis” that suffuses various Muslim communities in the United States. These groups speak many languages and represent various ethnicities and countries of origin – African Americans, South and South East Asians, Middle Easterners and Africans. Most of these communities do not mix much socially, religiously or culturally.

He argues that Muslim Americans “are comparatively well integrated into the social and political mainstream, and hold to moderate or progressive beliefs on a wide range of policy issues” but does admit that on questions of sexual diversity, “they are significantly more conservative than the average American,” holding views akin to evangelical Protestants.

There are a handful of courageous and forward-looking Muslim Americans though who strive for sexual diversity, respect and equality, and who are educating and advocating within their communities.

Muslims for Progressive Values for example, upholds ten principles “rooted in Islam, including social equality, separation of religion and state, freedom of speech, women's rights, gay rights, and critical analysis and interpretation.”

Prof. Rayside also notes a crucial trend, the intergenerational shift among Muslim Americans. He believes that “a longer history in North America means that more Muslims will recognize that there are family members, work associates, fellow students who are queer Muslims, and over time this will bring their views on homosexuality into closer alignment with other social views.”

He adds that “queer visibility within broader Muslim communities will eventually come from the growing numbers of queer Muslim networks, as well as from increased social and political restiveness among sexual minorities in South Asian, Southeast Asian, North African and Middle Eastern countries of origin.”

Al-Fatiha is one such network. It is a safe space for queer Muslims and their families, friends and allies which began as an internet listserv and now has 14 chapters in the United States and offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey and Africa. Al-Fatiha promotes “the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice” and envisions “a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their families, faith and communities.”

I suspect most of us share Al-Fatiha’s dream of a more equitable, tolerant and welcoming society. We can start working towards this vision by challenging our own prejudices and preconceived notions about Islam and Muslim Americans. We can reach out to fellow citizens who practice a different faith. We can support queer Muslims who sacrifice much by choosing to live openly and with integrity.

As we mark a devastating moment in American history, let us remember that e pluribus unum – out of many, one.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image from Change.org.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Being trans in Europe

Last Wednesday, the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights and the Greens/European Free Alliance co-hosted a conference on transgender* rights in the European Union. The Greens/European Free Alliance is a European parliamentary group made up of members of the European Green Party and representatives of stateless nations and disadvantaged minorities.

Transgender Europeans are a particularly vulnerable group. Seventy nine percent have reported negative comments, verbal, physical or sexual abuse or threatening behavior in public. Thirty three trans women and men have been murdered in Europe in the last 30 months.

European transgenders face extreme prejudice and disadvantage much like anywhere else. They face direct discrimination through hate crimes and lack of access to goods and services, the labor market, and resources such as vocational training and education.

They also suffer indirect and institutionalized discrimination through the absence of laws in European member states recognizing gender identity. Trans individuals are unable to formally change their name and gender due to unreasonable conditions imposed by most member states such as sterilization, permanent infertility and sex reassignment surgery.

These draconian conditions violate basic human rights of transgender Europeans – the rights to freedom of movement, physical integrity and choice of medical interventions.

Participants of the conference started a much needed conversation about the state of transgender people in Europe. They acknowledged the necessity of mandating the recognition of gender identity and protection of transgender citizens in all member states. This conversation should be had everywhere.

*A transgender or trans person is someone whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender with which he or she was born. This includes transsexual, transgender, gender variant and genderqueer people, transvestites, crossdressers and no gender people.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Can Mehlman ever redeem himself?

Ken Mehlman’s coming out last week elicited a ho-hum from the mainstream press but from the LGBT community, his long overdue admission resulted in a fierce and bitter backlash.

This is understandable. As campaign manager for President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, Mehlman was instrumental in exploiting same-sex marriage as a wedge issue. As head of the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007, he advocated the Bush administration’s push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

His actions caused immense suffering for many of us. As Wayne Besen, Founder of Truth Wins Out wrote:
Mehlman cannot deny that his abhorrent actions negatively affected the paths of so many other people. His odious work led to broken families, gay teenagers commuting suicide, LGBT couples who were not able to marry, broken people joining silly "ex-gay" programs and individuals who lost their jobs or were hate crime victims.
Mehlman is trying to redeem himself by raising funds for American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization responsible for the federal lawsuit challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage. He boasts that he has helped raise $750,000 to date. But is this enough?

Many lesbian and gay couples will undoubtedly benefit from the legalization of same-sex marriages but what about those among us who are more concerned about finding good jobs and keeping the ones we do have? What about those among us who are immigrants or have partners and spouses who are non-citizens? What about queer individuals our own community marginalizes?

Will Ken Mehlman use the connections and power he amassed in exchange for our rights to raise money and fight for all LGBTs and other groups who are not as privileged?

Now that he himself is a minority, will Mehlman have empathy and compassion for other minorities?

I do not know the man personally and only time will tell. I do hope however now that he has unburdened himself by coming out at nary a cost but much gain and has secured for himself a very comfortable place in society, that he would start thinking about other people.

If he does use his gain for the benefit of those among us who are not as lucky and clever, then there might be redemption yet. Otherwise, it will confirm what some of us are thinking that it has been all about Ken.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A shared future?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

As a gay man, I no longer worry as much about the place and future of lesbians and gays in American society.

As more people get to know us — their sisters, brothers, parents, neighbors and coworkers — and learn that we are not that different, I am confident that it will be a matter of years, not generations, before we gain rights and protections other citizens take for granted.

As an immigrant and person of color, however, I am not as optimistic. There is such raw animus and unabashed prejudice against newcomers and their American families simply because they don’t look, sound, dress, act or worship like most of us.

Laws and policies that institutionalize racial profiling have become the de facto solution to the complex problem of immigration. Amending the Constitution has also been embraced as a palliative, now palatable to those who would otherwise have held the document as static and sacrosanct.

The idea of a community center a couple of blocks away from the former World Trade Center is causing such a furor. The president’s defense of our fundamental right to practice religion has led a White House spokeperson to say:

“…the president is obviously a — is Christian. He prays every day. He communicates with his religious advisor every single day. There’s a group of pastors that he takes counsel from on a regular basis. And his faith is very important to him.”

The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen. The income disparity between the wealthiest people and the rest of us has more than tripled during the last three decades. American women overall earn less than men, but African American women and Latinas make far less. More African Americans and Latinos are unemployed than White Americans. One in every four black Americans is underemployed.

As a queer person of color, I am anxious about the place and future of minority LGBT people. I worry about those of us do not look, sound, dress, act or live like everybody else. These are members of our community who do not have the resources, voice or power some of us enjoy due to the accident of birth and circumstance. These are Americans who remain in the margins.

It will be up to those of us who are joining the mainstream and are looking forward to better days not to forget those who are left behind.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mr. President, stop spinning, stand firm

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

The Republican Party and their Tea Party confederates have seized upon a perfect wedge issue for the upcoming midterm elections: the proposed Islamic Center a couple of blocks away from the former World Trade Center site.

More precisely, though, the issue is Islam and the place of Muslim Americans in our society. Unwittingly, the president provided kindling to the fire and rather than address the issue head-on, he has chosen to “qualify” his stance.

On Friday, President Obama addressed a group of Muslim American leaders to mark the holy month of Ramadan. He was quoted as saying, “I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country … [and this] includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

The stance is clear enough. Twenty four hours later, however, after conservatives eagerly pounced on the red meat tossed their way, the president “quickly recalibrated his remarks” as the New York Times put it.

During his family’s visit to the Gulf of Mexico, Obama clarified that he was not in any way endorsing a mosque so close to Ground Zero, but simply pointing out that everybody should be treated equally regardless of religion.

“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” he said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

Politicians “spin” issues all the time and the president is no exception. Our elected officials tell us what they think most of us would like to hear — or at least what those they fear most would like to hear. In this situation, the White House and the Democrats are worried about the growing anger and dissatisfaction of the general public and the seats they will lose in November. Interestingly, they seem unconcerned about their base’s disenchantment.

At some point, though, political doublespeak becomes untenable and our leaders need to take a firm stance — a principled stand.

Earlier last week, the administration was in a similar quandary. When White House spokesman Ben Labolt was asked about the administration’s reaction to Judge Vaughn Walker’s Proposition 8 ruling, he said that the president has always been against the same-sex marriage ban “because it is divisive and discriminatory” and that Obama “will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans.”

An anonymous White House aide then reminded everyone that the president has publicly opposed same-sex marriage and he has not changed his position: “He supports civil unions, doesn’t personally support gay marriage though he supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and has opposed divisive and discriminatory initiatives like Prop 8 in other states.”

So which is it, Mr. President? Do you believe in equality for LGBT Americans or not? If you do — which you articulated 14 years ago while running for a seat in the Illinois State Senate — then why not come out in full support of same-sex marriage?

If you believe in the right of all Americans to practice their chosen religion, then why disavow your support for a community center which is not in Ground Zero in the first place?

Candidate Obama inspired many of us with his message of hope, which promised equality for all. President Obama repeats the same words, but now they ring hollow. He needs to stand tall again and firmly by his ideals.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Where do we go from here?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

The Proposition 8 ruling is a major victory but the war for equality is far from over.

The ruling has been appealed by proponents of the ballot initiative and everyone expects the case to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Considering the conservative makeup of the country’s highest court and conventional wisdom that it does not move ahead of the general population, it is highly unlikely that the majority of justices will rule in our favor should the case come up anytime soon.

We do have some time, however, to continue the work we have started in coaxing more of our fellow citizens to our side. Gallup reports that close to 60 percent of Americans believe that “gay and lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal.” The percentage of people who support same-sex marriage is steadily rising. Five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire — and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. California and New Jersey have instituted civil unions. A growing number of states and jurisdictions are providing protections for same-sex couples, albeit often in limited forms.

Still, close to half of all Americans do not approve of us and our families.

Immediately after Proposition 8 passed in November 2008, the blame game started and many fingers were pointed at the African American community. In time, social scientists have established that race or ethnicity had little to do with how a person voted that day. Religiosity, fear and misinformation have been identified as the main impetus behind an individual’s decision to support the anti-equality measure. Age, ideology and other characteristics also prompted a person to support Prop 8.

So now what? How can we counter misinformation, fear and other people’s biases? An article about a married gay couple provides a suggestion. For years, Bryn and James were tormented with verbal abuse by their conservative neighbor — so much so that they got a restraining order against him. When the neighbor’s house went up in flames, though, the men did not hesitate to run to their antagonizer’s rescue.

We do not know if this act of heroism and compassion will be reciprocated. But such acts of humanity and kindness can certainly go a long way in swaying those who remain on the fence. We can show folks that while they may disagree with our “chosen lifestyle,” we are actually good neighbors who deserve equal treatment under the law.

There will always be a small fringe who will never be convinced. But I believe that most people can and will change their minds about us.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Are you Filipino?

Yesterday, while lining up for Thai papaya salad at the Asian Festival in Virginia, a middle-aged Filipino man approached me and posed the same question he had asked each person in the queue. "Are you Filipino?"

My husband and I made the trip to the festival since its organizers were highlighting the Philippines this year. I wanted to see what this gathering was about, to taste some authentic Asian food, and to be around "my people" - Filipinos and other Asians.

Indeed, there was comfort had in being around folks who looked like my mom, lola, titas, titos, cousins and pamangkins. It was fun seeing women in baro't saya and men in barong tagalog. It was heartening to see Filipino-American youth sporting t-shirts emblazoned with the Philippine flag and other symbols of ethnic pride. It was good to be among my kababayans.

But being surrounded by my kind also made me realize how different I am. I hold individualism sacred and personal space dear. I wanted to buy a parasol not to block the sun but to keep people at arm's length. I was grateful not to have to deal with three generations in the swarm that overtook the small patch of park allotted to us.

I also noticed the elitism and sense of privilege from another place and time bubble up. "We are in America now, we are all equal," a voice in my head gently admonished. "No me toques," responded another.

Often have I bristled at people assuming outright that I am Latino. Although I understand why many would think so, since I look more Hispanic than Asian and have a Spanish last name, I want to be seen and acknowledged for who I am: an Asian and a Filipino.

But when it came to answer the odd little man's question - are you Filipino? - I shook my head and said, "No, I'm Mexican." I didn't want him in my space and I didn't want to engage. But my lie did not dissuade him from starting a discourse on the shared history and culture of Mexico and the Philippines, thanks to the Galleon Trade. Or from telling me that I should move to California where there are a lot of Mexicans.

Gratefully, the line inched on and I along with it. In the sweltering heat and humidity, overwhelmed by all the people - my people - I just wanted my papaya salad. The all too familiar accent of the man soon petered out.

"Next time, I'll get my Asian from the Freer-Sackler," I said half-jokingly as we drove back into the city.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do Asian Americans hate gay marriage?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

Korean Americans Hate Gay Marriage Most, Poll Reveals.The headline reeled me in, but it was the blogger’s assertion that “it’s been known for some time that Asian Americans are the ethnic group most opposed to gay marriage in California” which got me going.

First of all, Asian American is not an ethnic group. Rather, it is a catch-all for Americans who can trace their roots to East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. Secondly, the Field Poll report that the writer cites only discusses three Asian American subgroups: Chinese Americans, Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Finally, the article that he links to his generalization quotes a couple of experts, a political consultant and an executive director of a Chinese American nonprofit, who were sharing their opinions on what happened in November 2008, when Barack Obama and Proposition 8 prevailed in California.

The results of an exit poll conducted Nov. 4 that year revealed that 64 percent of Asian American voters in Los Angeles voted against Proposition 8. Likewise, a survey by professors Patrick Egan and Kenneth Sherrill showed that 52 percent of Asian Americans in California voted against the ballot initiative. Moreover, their report concluded that a voter’s party identification, ideology, religious affiliation and age had a much bigger impact on the decision to vote for or against Proposition 8. The academics explained much of the difference among racial and ethnic groups to varying levels of religiosity. It has little to do with race and more to do with how often a voter worships.

Cuc Vu, a Vietnamese-American who works closely with immigrant communities, disagrees with the contention that all Asian Americans oppose same-sex marriage. She is not surprised, however, by the Field Poll findings about Korean and Vietnamese Americans.

“Koreans are the most conservative among Asians on marriage equality because of the Baptist tradition that large segments of Koreans follow. For Vietnamese, the Catholic Church is very influential.” She points out, however, that “that younger Koreans and Vietnamese have different views than their more traditional and religious immigrant parents or grandparents.”

Although one cannot say that all Asian Americans hate gay marriage, the reality is many do because of their faith traditions, age and political and social ideologies. They form a sizable bloc of voters we need to convince of our fundamental right to fair and equal treatment under the law. So how can we change the minds and hearts of more conservative Asian Americans?

I think the onus is on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asian American people and organizations who need to reach out to their communities. Vu points out that “one of the reasons why I think you saw a majority of Asian voters in California voting against Prop 8 is because of Asian Pacific Islander LGBT leaders in California making themselves visible in key spaces — like marching in the annual Chinese New Year Parade. That would be the equivalent of black LGBTs having a strong presence at the annual Black Family Reunion.”

“API LGBT leaders also housed API Equality, which has been working on marriage equality for years, in the offices of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a respected local civil rights organization in the Bay Area. Integrating LGBT issues in a community-based civil rights organization recast LGBT issues as part of the Chinese community’s civil rights issues.”

“Both of these strategies are about engaging straight allies,” Vu emphasizes. “And stepping out of our LGBT bubble and into spaces where we might face rejection. But API LGBT leaders in California have put themselves out there consistently, year after year, and that’s why I think you saw API voters behaving differently than black and Latino voters.”

Filipino-American Hyacinth Alvaran, co-chair of Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters, agrees.

“I think being visibly present, supporting API community activities is important. This is where API LGBT groups can come in, to help speak on behalf of API LGBT people and build the trust with other API organizations, especially those that serve the immigrant community. Whether it be helping organize, participating in, or humbly but proudly serving at citizenship workshops, cultural events, events where critical community services are being provided, etc., we can interact with members of the community in a way that shows that we are out and that we are proud to be both LGBT and API. We alone as API LGBT people can’t change the attitudes of our larger API communities, but if we build trust with key community leaders and organizations who can help us do that, it’s a start.”

It is a start, not only for queer Asian Americans, but for all of us.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A continuing plight

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

Last week, U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Mike Honda, Jerrold Nadler, Jared Polis and Mike Quigley came out in support of an LGBT-inclusive immigration reform at a press event in the Rayburn House Building.

“The underlying part of any comprehensive immigration bill is family unity and I am here today because I think we need to speak more clearly, more articulately, and more frequently that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and same-sex couples and their binational relationships, are part of families,” Rep. Gutierrez said.

He emphasized the difficulty that thousands of lesbian and gay bi-national couples face.

“Right now, too many same-sex, bi-national couples face an impossible choice: to live apart or to break the law to be with their partners, families, and children. That’s not good for them and it is not good for the rest of us, either. That’s why I think the provisions of [the Uniting American Families Act] must be part of any comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

I was invited to share my own story as the foreign-born half of a bi-national couple. After the event, John Henrehan, a reporter for Fox 5 WTTG interviewed me. Over the weekend, his segment on immigration reform and same-sex couples was published online and played during local news broadcasts.

A few friends have seen the clip and have been very supportive. Many were unaware of the predicament my husband and I face. Although we have been together 12 years, registered domestic partners in New York City for six years, and now a married couple in the District, he is unable to sponsor me for permanent legal residence simply because we happen to be gay. Immigration is a federal matter and our union is not recognized by current U.S. immigration laws. If we were an opposite-sex couple, getting a green card would not be such a hurdle.

I have lived in the United States for two decades and this is home for me. This is home for both of us. Unfortunately, once I complete my doctorate and my student visa expires sometime during the next couple of years, we may need to leave the country — unless immigration reform which includes LGBT families is passed.

“I thought they did a great job with the story! Hopefully y’all won’t have to move!” posted a friend on my Facebook page.

“Excellent interview. I hope and pray that the laws will change,” wrote another.

Conversations about immigration and the plight of same-sex, bi-national couples are important. I appreciate the concern and well-wishes, but I also challenge my friends and allies to act.

Now that you are aware of this issue, talk to everyone about it: your neighbor, your colleagues, your friends and family, and especially your representatives and senators. Tell them you’d like immigration reform to be LGBT-inclusive and that you’d like immigration reform to happen this year in this Congress.

“You are not going anywhere. We are fighting for our full rights until the end,” vowed a gay friend.

I’m counting on that.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Same-sex binational couples in the news

Last Thursday, Immigration Equality organized a press event at the Rayburn House Office Building during which Representatives Luis Gutierrez, Mike Honda, Jerrold Nadler and Mike Quigley advocated for the inclusion of same-sex binational couples in immigration reform legislation. I was invited to tell my story as the foreign-born half of a binational couple which led to an interview by a local reporter.

Although the story had been preempted by a power outage at Reagan National Airport then by the very minor earthquake in the D.C. area, the piece was finally aired during local news broadcasts over the weekend. Here's the video clip:



This has started some conversations which I hope will lead to action on behalf of LGBT binational families and immigrants in general.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gays in 2050

Originally posted on the Washington Blade.

The Smithsonian magazine is marking its 40th anniversary with a special issue that tells us 40 things we need to know about the next 40 years.

The issue covers the environment, population issues, medicine and science, arts and culture, and technology. Scientists, experts and thinkers predict that by 2050, jellyfish will have taken over our oceans, electric cars will be given away for free, World War III will be fought in space, and medical innovations will enable us to regrow severed limbs. President Obama, who penned a short article, remains “full of hope about what the future holds.”

But what about us? Where will we be 40 years from now?

Like the president, I am rather optimistic about the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. By mid-century, Americans and citizens of other developed nations will be scratching their heads wondering what the big deal was about granting a minority group the same rights, privileges and standing as anyone else. We will be in the military and our families will be recognized. We will not be anxious about getting fired because we happen to be queer. We will not fear getting raped, beaten or killed because of how we look, speak or act. We will be full citizens.

Part of my hopefulness rests in changing demographics. A couple of decades from now, the generation that is most uncomfortable with non-heterosexuals will be gone, as will their antiquated notions, undue influence (especially in government and policy), and resistance. They will be replaced by people of my generation who tend to be more comfortable with difference and who have lived, worked and loved openly gay and transgender women and men.

By 2050, the United States will be home to at least 400 million people and will be far more diverse. We will have learned to live with plurality. More than 50 percent of the population will be of color: about 29 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 9 percent Asian and 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants will account for most U.S. population growth. Countries like Mexico, China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan will lose citizens migrating to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

This flow of people results in a flow of ideas. Those receiving immigrants will be exposed to different cultures just as those sending émigrés will also have their traditions challenged by expatriates remitting much needed dollars and Euros. Women who leave children, husbands and families to find work in another land will become empowered and expect more respect and autonomy. Queer individuals who come out and succeed away from confining and repressive families and societies will refuse to stand in the shadows and remain silent.

Ideas and culture will also spread through technology, particularly through the web and mobile devices. People in less developed and more oppressed nations will learn about equality, freedom and opportunity. The younger generation will realize that their lives are not predetermined by caste and religion. Women will demand parity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will aspire for the freedom enjoyed by their counterparts in the West.

We are already seeing this happen, slowly but surely. Unless a major catastrophe or total economic meltdown occurs, when fear will again rule rather than reason, I think that life can only get better for all of us. Until then, we continue the struggle. We come out, we reach out, we change hearts and minds. We create the future we deserve.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image by Sucheta Das/Associated Press.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Familial Choices

I love my family. I look forward to our big, drama-infused Filipino-American parties and the smaller visits around them. Yet I confess to anticipating stress and feeling a little dread.

As with any other family, we tend to fall back into our places and roles which can be very different from the person we have become. Among many Asian families, lesbian and gay family members who are not outrightly shunned are present but they often remain in the shadows, expected not to talk about their realities and loves.

Growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, I always noticed the unmarried auntie or uncle of other clans who took care of ailing elders, children and the shared household. Needless to say, not all were necessarily gay but as a boy who had yet to understand and embrace his difference, I did get the message that queer family members stay in the margins. I understood that the price for keeping a seat at the very far end of the table is silence and the unquestioned support of those who do not bring shame and produce progeny.

No one present at our matriarch’s 90th birthday celebration over the weekend would think for a second that I have become one of those subservient uncles shuffling in the background. In the obligatory slide montage presented during the formal reception, a picture of me and my husband was flashed along with family photos of other cousins. My better half, an Episcopal priest, was wrangled by my conservative Catholic aunts into saying a blessing before the dinner. We both hammed it up on the dance floor with other grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I am very fortunate to have a family that allows me to be who I am. But I first made the choice to come out and be proud of my difference. Then it took many years for most everyone to come to terms with who I am. Although my husband has been woven into our familial fabric, there are those who still have not mentioned much less congratulated us on our recent marriage. While I do not doubt their affection for us, I know that some would readily vote against equality, thanks to their unquestioned adherence to Catholicism. I am aware that some would rather we don’t flaunt our gay “lifestyle” much as they do their heterosexual one.

The thing is, I refuse to fall into the traditional place and role relegated to queer family members. As I wrote my mom years ago, I knew that she knew I was gay but if she’d rather not talk about it, then I would respect her choice. However, she should realize that while our exchanges would be polite, they would be superficial. She would miss a major part of my life. Thankfully, she chose to take me for who I am. So have my surviving grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why I go to church

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

Among those of us who attend religious services, finding a faith community that is truly welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all queer people is crucial.

We’ve been hurt emotionally, psychologically and, at times, physically because of the beliefs of religious leaders and their followers. Religious beliefs that breed fear, ignorance, delusion and hubris. How many of us have been separated from our families and communities — by choice or otherwise — because of man-made dogma?

Some of us decide to sever ties with the faith tradition we grew up with and become followers of another religion, such as Christians who are now Buddhists. Others stay with the same tradition but shift allegiance to a denomination that embraces LGBT people, such as Roman Catholics who become Episcopalians. A few cling to what they know with the hope that they will change the system, even though their tradition deems queer folk abominations and is not likely to abandon its discriminatory practices anytime soon.

I grew up Roman Catholic but am now an Episcopalian. The transition was easy. The worship and trappings are similar — except that the Episcopal Church truly welcomes me and “my kind.” We can actually serve as priests and be elevated as bishops, not just read the lessons or assist male priests. Women can head the entire church. The leader of the Episcopal Church is a mother and a scientist. Best of all, I don’t need to leave my brains at the door. We are encouraged to seek the divine in scripture, tradition and reason.

At the end of the day, though, the main reason I go to my church, the stone building near the National Zoo, is the sense of belonging and community that I and other members feel. It is a diverse community that includes straight, gay, bi and trans people; blacks, Latinos and Asians; birth and adopted families; and pretty much anyone who chooses to become part of the family.

This family was well represented at last weekend’s Capital Pride celebration where straight parishioners proudly marched during the parade and staffed our booth, where parents brought their children, and where twenty-somethings stood by retirees.

I can never know with certainty what God thinks, how she wants the world to be, or even if she exists. But I know firsthand of the love, joy and fellowship of a bunch of diverse and very human believers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon