In Which There’s More Work to do But I Still Need to Dance

Photo: MO 2015

“Excuse me, do you know what this line is for?” I asked the last person standing in a line outside the Supreme Court on Friday.

“Oh, I think it’s just to get into the Supreme Court to walk around as a visitor,” he responded.

“Today’s a good day for that!” I smiled as I joined him in line.

We made small talk and noticed the guy behind us wearing a cool shirt with a rainbow akin to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. We lamented that we both weren’t wearing clothes more celebratory, having just come from work. He handed us rainbow bead necklaces and put on a sparkly green hat. We became friends, walked inside, and started decorating statues of old men with our beads, taking pictures every time, having only gotten yelled at by a security guard once. We took pictures in front of the Supreme Court sign and selfies on the steps outside, thrilled just to be here.

Photo: MO 2015

The energy was electrifying. We walked through the crowds of people who were celebrating- and a few warning angrily of God’s wrath- and began listening to people’s stories. There was the woman who let us pose with her peace statue, a staple she’s carried to the first and second Gulf War protests, HIV/AIDS marches and here to the Supreme Court two years ago to the date to celebrate the end of DOMA. There was the woman next to her who showed us three signs she made. “This one was going to be for if they voted against marriage equality,” she showed us, pointing to a sign that read, “Unite the States of America” in big rainbow colored letters. “This one for if they decided to keep it to the states,” she explained, referencing the sign that read, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” “But instead, I get to hold this!” She exclaimed, bearing a sign that read, “Not just gay, ecstatic!”

There was a man wearing all black with red bike lights tied around his waist, shouting that men who have sex with feces are going to hell, and so are men who have sex with men. “Come on, let’s hug it out!” A guy implored. “This is not a time for hugging,” The man replied back flatly, going back to calling out his warnings against “homosexual acts.”  “I’ll give you a hug!” I called out the imploring hugger and we embraced tightly, while enthusiastic passengers in cars continued to drive past waving, cheering, honking in conviviality.

Tears warmed my eyes thinking about how far we’ve come since 2004, when Massachusetts lead the way by becoming the first state to recognize same sex marriage. My own journey in becoming an ally to the LGBTQAI community began with actual action in 2012, after a dear one shared that growing up they considered committing suicide because of the bitter retaliation they received simply for their sexual orientation. I’d always wanted to become a better ally, and this person’s experience reminded me just how urgently all of our voices are needed for equality. I joined a church with a focus on LGBTQ inclusion, led by a pastor who was a married lesbian. I got involved with Believers for Marriage Equality, a series of videos from people in the faith based community voicing support for marriage equality as we neared election time, in which we Marylanders would vote on marriage equality since protesters garnered twice the amount of signatures needed to place a referendum on the ballot.  On March 1, 2012, same sex marriage was passed by Maryland’s General Assembly, and now on election day, ran the risk of being taken away through Question 6.  I wrote blog posts supporting Question 6 and advocated for it on social media. I went to the Marylanders for Marriage Equality election night watch party and celebrated with newfound friends as Maryland became the first of three states that night to vote in equality. My friendships became more diverse. I went to lectures on marriage equality from a public health perspective (Access to health insurance? Right to visit a sick loved one? Yes, this is why I love public health). I brushed up on the history of marriage equality, got pissed off, and joined organizations that were moving equality forward. I say all this not to call attention to myself, but to hopefully paint a picture of why I will forever remember June 26, 2015, honoring the blood, sweat, and tears of activists who’ve done much more than me to collectively bring us here.

This is a victory.
We made history.
And I am celebrating.

But it didn’t take long for me to see all sorts of social media posts about other injustices going on in our world. Violence in Burundi. Burnings of multiple predominately black Churches. Terrorism in Tunisia. Human trafficking. More details on the Emmanuel AME Shooting. Baltimore County officers shoot and kill unarmed man. The intersectionality of all of these issues- and the actual lives affected by such broad sweeping experiences- demands more action, voices, and public outrage. Even the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t mean everything will be ALL rainbows, as we consider that people who identify as LGBTQ still experience higher rates of poverty, worse health outcomes, bullying and job discrimination compared to those who identify as straight or heterosexual.Societal attitudes also aren’t different overnight just because of the SCOTUS ruling, but as we consider the changing public opinion of gay marriage, going up in public approval rating from 67% to 73% in just this past year alone, I am hopeful that we are indeed “bending toward justice,” to quote Dr. King.

We still have a ways to go in achieving social justice in gender equality, immigration, racial unity, ending war and violence and so many more areas.

But just for right now, I am taking a sabbath to rejuvenate my soul by relishing in what can happen when we collectively organize ourselves into activism. I am listening to others’ stories of what this ruling means to them. I am taking full advantage of every free hug I can get. I am pausing to witness every single rainbow flag I have seen lining the streets of my home city. I am smiling at the increase I’ve seen in the number of hands held by people of the same gender—just in one weekend alone— perhaps because some people who once may have felt unsafe are just beginning to feel as though they can truly be themselves and be respected. I am feeding off this energy I feel as I see people talking to one another, feeling less like strangers and more like the brothers and sisters we truly are. I see an influx of connecting, as perhaps we can ever so slightly stop having to fight for equal marriage and simply get on with the loving and enjoy our cake while we’re at it, too.

I know that even after a wedding, there are still challenges that come, conflicts that arise, differing opinions about important and not-so-important things that must be worked through with grace. And we, too, as a society will have to come back down from the apex high of Friday’s decision. But I know I will be able to return to the peaceful fight for justice with more tenacity, vigor, and passion if you can just let me soak in this sabbath in which I am still celebrating. I may need to take a longer sabbath than some, and some may need more time than me. But come together again we will with just a little more space to tackle these other social justice issues as I slowly loosen my grip from the battle for marriage equality, more room in my hands for activism, strength, a patient heart that understands we are daily writing our histories and though some pages are long and others thin, together, I believe, we are still writing something beautiful.

Now, please, pass the funfetti.

Photo: MO 2015

Advertisements

The Night Gunshots Interrupted the Birds’ Song

 

MO 2015

MO 2015

It’s my favorite space in the house- the top story bathroom which has a small, rectangular window perfect for catching evening sunsets or for smiling at the moon while brushing your teeth. During the fall, I’ve spent hours taking sunset pictures, all the while my soul coming closer and closer to the present moment until I am in an entranced, gentle place filled with color, wonder, and no words.

Tonight I was having one of those yearnings as I looked outside the window. I opened it wide, feeling slightly warm March air press lightly against my face. I scanned the trees to find the birds, whose brown feathers matched the still bare trees, blending in, yet standing out because of that infectious song. Their lively chatters echoed my souls’ celebrations of this last week of winter, knowing not just by the dates on the calendar, but by their choirs that spring is indeed coming.

I grabbed my camera and began snapping some sunset shots. There were two birds singing shoulder to shoulder, true love birds perhaps. I wanted them to move just one branch over to get that perfect shot of the birds’ silhouettes against the backdrop of a cascading orange and red sky. Just move over. I begged internally. Come on, move a little to the left. Slightly annoyed at a missed opportunity for a “perfect” shot, a still small voice whispered in. “Just watch. Just enjoy this as it is. Stop trying to make everything so perfect. Embrace this as it is, not how you wish it would be.” With that I closed my eyes, to solely focus on the delight of the birds’ song. I lingered in this space for a good 20 minutes before wandering back to my room that connects to this bathroom. I left the window open to keep enjoying the birds while I worked out. The night darkness came over, chirps turning from a mellifluous sonnet to an evening lullaby.

And then I heard three loud bangs, a pause, and a few more bangs. Could that have been…? No. It wasn’t, I reasoned. I lived in an under-resourced area of Baltimore for a year, in which there were a couple shootings around the block that I was fortunate enough not to have been home for. All the bangs I did hear in that neighborhood ended up being kids playing with firecrackers, something that’s fun to do, apparently, even when it’s not July 4th. But there are few kids in my current neighborhood, and the ones I have seen are toddlers, plus the seldom one or two six-year-olds.

A swarm of police and an online crime alert confirmed my fear. Helicopters circled overhead. My roommates and I looked out the window to find several police cars a block and half up the street, in clear view from this top story window. We gave each other tight hugs, talked about our own privilege, talked about longings for peace and justice, talked about the neighborhood in which we live, met with its quirks and joys, marked by outsiders and many insiders as “up and coming,” a seemingly trite phrase that has some grain of truth if one considers “coming” to mean gentrification.

Within the next hour, the police cars became fewer in number. I can still hear the “bang, bang, bang,” noise sharply in my head. I look out the window one last time, wondering at what point the birds had stopped singing. I supposed they could have gone to sleep before the gun shots could disrupt their song. But even now as I type this, I can still hear an insomniac bird making noise, as if to have some company in his or her sleeplessness.

All of this feels so disparate. How did the view from the window go from lingering in the beauty to facing the reality of violence? It’s so hard to acknowledge that this same experience happened in one night. They seem so incongruous, the latter incident being one of disbelief- did all of that really just happen?

Yes, it did. We live in a world in which it is possible to hear the song of birds and cacophony of gun shots in a single night. We live in a world with incredible shades of red and pink and purple nearly every evening. And we live in a world in which damaging floods and hurricanes can come from that same sky. I live in a body with hands that long to hold another’s, limbs that long to wrap themselves around someone, a smile with an upper lip that shows a lot of gumline. And I live in a body that yelled, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to a driver yesterday who got too close to me while I was biking. A body with a brain that thought demeaning, judgmental thoughts towards someone today. A body that once accidentally drove through a red light and hit another human being, the “How could you!?” narrative reverberating not from outside sources, but internally.

So much darkness.
So much light.
So much life.
And so much of this life is that space between the darkness and light. Finding hope in despair, beauty in the presence of pain, something sacred in the midst of the banality. So much of life is seeing it and feeling it all, and still gazing your head upwards, feeling love for your Maker in the midst of walking away from a particular way of practicing this love. 

Tonight as I lay my head, I’m grateful for this Maker that I’ve come to know as God. Grateful for the light, room in my hands to accept both of these incongruous experiences. Grateful that there is something beyond the darkness, a story whose ending pages read of love over hate, joy beyond suffering, of discovering there is room for all of us in this story, that no one is or will be left out or left behind.

And for now, I’m in that space between. The one that has the synonyms and antonyms in the same sentences, and tonight, even the same breaths, encouraged to “just hold on to the way it is tonight and learn to love through the darkness and the light.”

And Then I Remember. (Thoughts on Racing at Burnout’s Edge)

Late afternoon sunlight refracts off Lake Arrowhead, mountains hugging the park’s edges. I put my goggles on for a pre-race practice swim open to all athletes competing in tomorrow’s Olympic distance triathlon. My feet meet the squishy moss of the lake as … Continue reading

Why We Must Stop Being A Voice For the Voiceless: Thoughts on Privilege and The Single Story

Throughout my past eight years of engaging in social justice, I’ve been drawn to people who have uncanny ideas. Ideas that peace and unity can exist. Dreams that Heaven can indeed be experienced on this planet. People who are unafraid to raise hell and create peace in every single breath.

But often times, in these circles, a buzz phrase kept coming up: “Being a voice for the voiceless.” This phrase is used in many circles, from large Christian NGOs to CNN. It likely means something different to each person. When it comes from voices in the faith community, it’s often rooted in the words of  the prophet Isaiah: “Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over” -Proverbs 3:18.

While I never believed in being a voice for the voiceless, I’ve had my fair share of ethnocentrism. As I boarded a plane for South Africa in 2007 on a service learning trip, I asked the white woman sitting in front of me what she’d be doing in Africa, as though everyone on the plane was going for a visit like me. “I live there,” she replied, flatly. “Oh.” I nodded, suddenly aware that I was projecting my view of Africa as a place where black people lived, forgetting entirely the ugly history of colonialism and apartheid. Because I had what writer Chimamanda Adichie would call a “single story” view of Africa, with a dash of do-goodism naivete.

But behind our do-goodism and voice-for-the-voiceless-ism is a something much harder: checking the place of privilege we’ve come from to be in a position that we can speak for issues without having to experience these issues firsthand perhaps because of where we live, the education we’ve had, the safety we experience, the family we come from, the healthcare we receive.

When we accept speaking for people as a solution to complicated issues like poverty, health, and human rights, we avoid having to ask ourselves hard questions: “If some people’s voices aren’t being heard, WHY aren’t they being heard?” “I am being heard. WHY am I being heard while others are not?” These questions can lead us to uncomfortable things like understanding our power or privilege.

Everytime we label an entire demographic as voiceless, we strip such individuals of their dignity, robbing them of the privilege of being heard. We re-iterate a message of powerlessness, as though to say, “You are voiceless. No one can hear you. No one is listening to you. They might listen to me though. Let me talk instead.” We accept our tongue as an acceptable transaction. We accept our voice, intonation, and inflection as a more suitable microphone while viewing others’ voices as taken away, incapable of talking, much like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, not by poverty, but by power.

Power, as defined by Chimamanda Adichie, is “the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

She continues, “That is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes: There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo and depressing ones, such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them. I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Instead of speaking for people, using our own words and interpretations of people’s struggles and joys, we can do something so much more beautiful. We can create platforms for more people to tell their stories. Or better yet, we can simply listen. Because sometimes we’ve done so much talking that it’s difficult to decipher what information has truly come from the people affected, or if we’re hearing someone else’s interpretation of others’ experiences.  We can share the stories we’ve been given permission to share- not our story of someone else’s story that you may or may not have received permission to re-tell. We can share people’s photos- not our photos of “poor people” in branded catalogs with captions like “voiceless” and “poor.” Photos that some of us aren’t as familiar with—like the stories of forgiveness in Rwanda. We can offer people new ways to see themselves: not as poor, not as voiceless, not as victims, but as strong and tenacious, as victors, as having a voice. And with that voice we can teach each other how to use it for speaking up about love and equality and for building each other up until our hands meet the hands of all our brothers and sisters and know, deep in our core, that each person is being seen as a unique, loved individual, no more, but certainly no less.

 

voice for voiceless jewelry

Photo: Christy Robinson Jewelry

To Fellows, With Love

(Preface: I’ve spent the past two weeks at the Global Health Corps Training Institute with 128 fellows from 22 counties between the ages of 22-30 who are spending one year in a global health fellowship in one of six placement countries. If you are interested in learning more about this program, please get in touch or check it out at: http://ghcorps.org/. I made this post public in case it might move you to shake and shape and create the world in which you wish to live).

This year…

ghc whole crew

Photo Credit: GHC 2014

…This year will be transformational.
I know, it’s a buzz-word that I was skeptical of in the beginning,
but now I have no other word for it.

This year will look like heart and passion.

This year will look like finally living the life I always wanted to live. 
This is the year for trying.
Of doing it scared.
Of taking chances and seeking out opportunity-
and where opportunity doesn’t exist, creating it. 

This year I will look at life experiences, social justice, and stories
from many perspectives other than my own.
Because my worldview has vastly expanded-
I’m not sure where the end-line boundaries are anymore on this life map that I’ve thrown to the wind. Because this new space feels big and real and way more rich in love and wonder and exploration than ever before. 

This is the year for asking questions. Lots of them.
Questions about people’s life experiences,
the things I don’t understand, the things that move my heart,
the deep questions that unfurl streams of inexplicable beauty.

This is the year to say what I really want to say,
no matter how vulnerable it feels,

and even if doing so might elicit tears… perhaps even more so.

MO 2014

MO 2014

Because I’ve tasted life in authentic community.

Because I’ve seen how much more enjoyable it is when
we collaborate instead of compete.

Because people I’ve known for just a couple weeks have generously and bravely shared parts of themselves with me… and I won’t take these conversations lightly as I hug these truths, these stories, these gems close in my heart.

Because I’ve been inspired.

As I lay here alone in my room tonight, it’s tempting to start to settle back into some of my old ways, but I come back to the realization that even if this fellowship year were to suddenly end tomorrow, it will have been nothing short of transformational.

But it’s not going to suddenly end. In fact, with just two weeks in,
it really, really is just beginning.

And when those final weeks close in, I know we’ll say, “Hellooooo fellows,”
gather ’round the table one last time in solidarity
and exchange stories we can only dream about now.
It will be amazing.
But until then, we have work to do.
And I’m so grateful to do it alongside folks amazing as you.
See you in Rwanda…
with a soccer ball.

IMG_2752 (1024x563)

MO 2014

The ABCs of Gender, Sexual, and Racial Equality

Photo credit: Leanna B. Powell

One of Baltimore’s cafes that promotes equality right on down to bathrooms. Love Red Emma’s! Photo credit: Leanna Powell

I’ve been having some of the most mind-opening conversations of my life recently as I’ve been interviewing women and men about gender and listening to podcasts covering privilege, gender, and sexuality. In discussing and listening, I’ve come across terms that I was unfamiliar with (such as “cis-gendered”). This piqued my curiosity to learn more about gender, sexual, and racial equality. Below are some terms that may be helpful in educating ourselves and others about gender, sexual, and racial equality. This list is by no means comprehensive, but just a smattering to get your feet wet. Whether you’re well-versed in your equality vocabulary, or just beginning advocacy efforts, you are needed. No matter where you are in the journey, let’s ask each other questions, have a posture of a learner, ask how we can help one another as allies, and change the world. Comment below with your experiences in allyship, advocacy, or questions about these words/topics.

Asexual: one who does not experience sexual attraction
Ally: (in context of equality) one who unites with other causes, organizations, or people to promote the global concept of equality promotion (ex: a gender ally, an LGBTQIA ally)

Binary supremacy: the belief that genders fall into two (and only two) separate and distinct categories and that a male or female identity is superior to other identities
Butch: A woman who adopts what would typically be considered masculine characteristics. Note: This is not a derogatory word when used for self-identification. Just like “gay,” or “retarded,” the word is not inherently disrespectful; it’s only disrespectful when used inappropriately.

Cis-: as in, cis-gendered: identifying with your biological sex.
Cis-privilege: The benefits and privileges that go along with identifying with one’s biological sex.

Dyke: Lesbian. Note: this is not a derogatory word if someone self-identifies as a “dyke.” Some women do not like the word “dyke” because of its oppressive roots, while others have reclaimed the word and found identity as a “dyke.”

Egalitarian: Having equal rights, regardless of social, economic, or other distinctions such as income, race, or religious or political beliefs; as in egalitarian marriage (vs. complimentarian marriage),  for example.
Equity (vs equality)In simple terms, equity is equipping everyone what they need to be

equity

Photo credit: Everyday Feminism

successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Consider the image below- if everyone was equal, they’d have the same view, right? But what about the children? They need a boost to be able to enjoy the same view. Policies like affirmative action are temporarily necessary to give equity to educational and career opportunities until people of less privileged backgrounds who’ve had long histories of exclusion can experience equality.

Femmephobia: The devaluation, fear, and hatred of the feminine and anything commonly related to femininity (the color pink, high heels, etc.) that denotes femininity as inherently inferior.

Gay masculine of center: One example of many forms of self-identification, this identity is used by some women who tilt toward a masculine side of gender identity
Gender binary:
Classification of sex and gender as two separate and distinct identities: feminine and masculine

Hapa: A term that originated in Hawaii to describe one who identifies with mixed racial heritage, with partial roots in Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry.
Heteronormativity: The social and cultural constructs that assume heterosexuality is the norm.
Homosexuality: A word some find hurtful, as it links to days when homosexuality was a clinical disorder (some instead advocate using “a person who is gay/lesbian”); a term that The New York Times dropped from usage in 1987, while Fox News continues to lag behind.

Intersectionality: The concept that cultural oppressions (i.e. gender, race, class, and sexual orientation) are all intertwined and that we can be oppressed through multiple identities (ex: a gay African American can be discriminated against for being BOTH gay AND African American)
Intersex:
A condition experienced by approximately 4% of the population in which there are genetic, hormonal or physical differences thought to be typically male AND female. Some choose to self-identify as intersex, while others find this identity troubling. One thing we can agree on: Don’t use the word ‘hermaphrodite!’

Jail: The place 97% of rapists don’t enter; the place where a gay Ugandan can go by law simply for being gay through the 2014 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act (rooted in laws from British colonization); the place where interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to for interracial marriage in 1958.

Kinsey scale: A rating scale developed in 1948 in order to account for research findings that showed many people did not fit into neat and exclusive heterosexual or homosexual categories.

Late onset adrenal hyperplasia: One example of an intersex presentation affecting 1 in 66 individuals.
LGBTQIA: Acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Ally

Microaggressions: small, everyday examples of negative statements about a non-dominant group or marginalized identities; may be implicit or explicit.  
Monosexism: Belief that a person can only be attracted to ONE (and only one) gender.

Non-binary: Umbrella term for anything that doesn’t fit in the stratified gender binary model; one can self-identify as non-binary.  

Outing: When someone reveals another gender identity or orientation often without the person’s consent or approval.

Pixie manic dream girl: A female trope known to be carefree and playful and whose primary role in a film, book, or television show is to awaken the heart of a man. What does this have to do with equality? Equality is a byproduct of acknowledging the unequal or oppressive messages we encounter in everyday life, including media and advertising.
Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people. In simpler terms, “a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.’

Queer: Umbrella term for one who identifies outside of the societal norms in regards to gender and sexuality; once was considered a derogatory term but has now been reclaimed by many LGBTQIA as a desired form of self-identification.
Queer femme: One of many forms of self-identification; typically someone who identifies as a lesbian who exhibits typically feminine traits.

Racialized sexism: When women of color are discriminated against in both race and sex, often stemming from issues of privilege

Sexual entitlement: Belief that another “owes” you sexual encounters that can take the form of sexual harassment, ogling strangers, and demanding sexual favors. While any gender can act sexually entitled, women disproportionately experience male sexual entitlement as expressed in many media, language, and cultural norms or attitudes
Sexual fluidity: Term used to describe that one’s sexual identity and attractions can shift throughout the lifespan; there is a tendency for sexual minority women to experience higher levels of sexual fluidity than men.

Third wave feminism: Current wave of feminism (though some advocate we’re in the fourth) that began in the 1990s focusing on changing cultural constructs of language, embracing intersectionality and allyship (in regards to sexual orientation/identity, race, and class), securing equal opportunities for women, and celebrating the accomplishments of women past and present.

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

UN Millennium Development Goal 3: One of the 8 goals established in 2000 by the UN to “promote gender equality and empower women” internationally

Vagina Monologues: Play written by Eve Ensler depicting womens’ experiences with masturbation, rape, sex, orgasm, female genital mutilation, menstruation, love, and birth.
V-Day: Global activist campaign started by Ensler to end violence against women and girls. V stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.

Women only space: A place committed to empowering women in safe spaces; historically the women’s movement failed to include trans women but is now changing to promote inclusion. Opinions vary about women-only spaces. I personally have benefited from women-only spaces and also felt torn about them- a post for another time.
Woke: (Often “Stay woke”) A phrase used to encourage critical thinking about social injustice, often used in relation to racial injustice. The term can be traced back to singer Erika Badu in 2008 but became popularized during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or of anything that is unknown or “foreign”.

You:  A person needed to address equity and privilege while engaging others in the discussion.

Ze and zir: Gender neutral pronouns that can be used the same way “he” or “her” are used. Ze is singular, as in “he” or “she-” “Ze laughed.” Zir is a possessive pronoun, as in “it:” “I called zir.”


 

 

 

Resources/Education
-Developing your awareness of cissexism
-8 Ways to Stop Street Harrassment
-Identifying problematic language
-Identifying gender neutral language
-Strategies to move past “privilege guilt” 

Share your own! Comment below!

 

 

Gender Equality: Not Just The Promotion Of Women

“In order to do this,
we must see men as our allies,

our partners through thick and thin.”
-Ana Ake, Tonga, Africa

Photo credit: UN

Photo credit: UN

With the 2015 target deadline fast approaching, many NGOs are evaluating how far we’ve come in reaching the Millennium Development Goal benchmarks. These are 8 goals officially established on September 8, 2000 at the UN Headquarters to set an action plan in place for international development. Of the 8 goals, the goal that I feel most passionate about is Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3: Promote gender equality and empower women.

This goal has come a priority for me to carry out in my personal life. I’m still sorting out what it looks like—- and what it doesn’t look like.

For most of my life, I’ve viewed gender equality as focusing on changing the stereotypes of women and ensuring women equal opportunities outside of the home. However, as public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter points out in her “Can We Have it All?” TED talk,

“I still think we should do everything we possibly can to empower women, but that’s only half of real equality. I now think we’re never going to get there unless we recognize the other half…”

To share a personal example of how I see this in my professional life, let me share some of my thought processes in working with men and women living with HIV and substance abuse. In this particular grant project, I am assigned to both male and female patients for a six month behavioral intervention focusing on empowerment to achieve health and social goals, including HIV care and substance abuse. When I would be assigned to partner with a woman, I’d get really excited at the prospect of seeing a woman empowered to live out personal, economic, and health-related successes. When I was assigned to work with a male, I would feel an initial sense of disappointment because I thought that somehow I wasn’t living out my passion for women’s empowerment. But to stick with this mindset is a narrow-view of gender equality. As USAID notes, “Gender equality means that males and females have equal opportunities to realize their full human rights and contribute to and benefit from economic, social, cultural, and political development.” In my work context, I now see how healthier men, free of substance use, who become elevated to greater personal, health-related, and economic prosperity turn into allies in the journey towards gender equality. When men can be healthy, whole, expressive people without mountains of societal expectations placed on their shoulders, women can also be healthy, whole, expressive people without having to see “work OR family,” but instead, the both/and: “work AND family.” I learned to change my perspective and now, whether working with a man or a woman, I realize that I am contributing towards gender equality when I view the larger picture of the societal impact of healthier women and men. For some, this is a no-brainer, but for me, it took some time to connect the dots between male and female empowerment.

Though I still feel convicted that more energy, capital, and social will need to be given towards advancing the promotion of women and girls, as partners and allies, we also need to see that part of gender equity is highlighting non-traditional roles of males in the media and in our lives. When men are portrayed as fathers, caregivers, educators, and participators in home and family life, we alleviate the burden of women being pigeon-holed into these roles. We offer women and girls a larger perspective of parenting- that not all of the responsibilities of parenting will inadvertently fall on one parent simply because of their gender. Girls and boys see that men and women truly can become and do anything. 100 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where women could vote. 50 years ago, it was hard for some to imagine a world where interracial marriage was legal, let alone socially acceptable. 10 years ago, it was hard for some to believe that any more states would come alongside Massachusetts to instate marriage equality. And today, thought it might be hard for some to see men as care providers and other “non-traditional” roles, history has shown us time and time again that,

“the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
(Martin Luther King, 1965)

Men At Work

Photo credit: UNFPA

40 Days of Sustainability: An Environmental Justice Lenten Practice

Yesterday I wrote about my love for Lent, but not of murder on a cross. I believe these 40 days of spiritual reflection can greatly draw us closer to our Maker.

IMG_1458For the past three years, I’ve especially found meaning in this spiritual season by choosing to take IMG_1468up a practice. Last year, I found myself in tears and laughter commuting by bicycle, taking cold showers, and putting coins in the “Suck it up or Shut up” jar each time I caught myself complaining. I kept up with the cycling, take cooler (but not cold) showers, and occasionally throw some coins in the jar, hoping to build up my wellspring of “sucking it up.” The year before that, I got in the habit of taking Sabbath walks. And in 2011, I went vegetarian for forty days. While I didn’t sustain the practice that particular year, I began doing so in 2014, grateful for the connection I feel to the Earth and creatures living in it.

This year, I hope to experience this same kind of Heaven-on-Earth connection and invite you to join me or take up your own spiritual practice. I chose the theme of sustainable living because, as Jack Kerouac once said,

“The closer you get to real matter, rock, air, fire, and wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is.”

Copyright: MO 2013

Copyright: MO 2013
Boulder, CO

I’m breaking up the next 40 days into sets of ten. The first set are ten things to do just once over the next 40 days:

Do once:
1) Stop credit card offers by going to www.optoutprescreen.com
2) Buy a house plant. Indoor air is commonly 2-5 times more polluted than outside air. Plants help alleviate this by manufacturing fresh oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.*
3) Recycle old plastic cards that I no longer need (used gift cards, expired health insurance cards, etc.)
4) Call facilities when I see a leaky faucet at work. (Being that I work in an old building, it’s bound to happen at least once over the next 40 days).
5) Recycle my old pairs of eye glasses.
6) Compost components of feminine hygiene products when that “time of the month comes.” (Ok, TMI, I know, but it’s interesting to see how much waste can come from this bodily function). Don’t worry; it’s just going in my backyard.
7) Buy a reuseable mesh bag for produce, as to not need to use the produce plastic bags at the store.
8) Get off mailing and telemarketing lists by registering online at www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html and www.donotcall.gov
9) Conduct a free step-by-step personalized Go Green plan.
10) Save foam I come across and take it to recycling at 2840 Sisson St.

The remainder are things to do once per day, three times through, for a total of 30 practices:

Do three times through:
1) Turn off modem at night. Only turn back on when I need it.
2). Go to the farmer’s market to get all my produce for the week instead of buying copious amounts of frozen fruits and veggies, which albeit last a while, causing me to take less trips to the grocery store, but are packaged in materials that will produce waste.
3) Pick up a piece of litter I encounter. BONUS for taking home any recyclable litter.
4) Call a company/non-profit that I don’t patronize and ask to be taken off their mailing list. ESPECIALLY GEICO! I will never fall for your snarky gecko, no matter how much mail you send!
5) Turn my office overhead light off on sunny afternoons. BONUS for going the whole day with natural light from my window.
6) Read a chapter of one of the many books I have on sustainable living, beginning with: The Zero Waste Lifestyle by Amy Korst and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
7) Take a navy shower to use water for 2 minutes or less while bathing.
8) Unplug anything in my room outlets before leaving the house in the morning.
9) Make a list of every chemical I come across in my food as well as hygiene and cleaning products for that particular day. Use this to drive home a conviction to choose natural cleaning and hygiene products as well as eat whole, fresh foods.
10) When I drive, make sure to drive 55 MPH on the highway instead of 65 to improve gas mileage between 10-15% and don’t speed on residential roads.

Looking forward to sharing this Lenten season with you.

Portland, OR Copyright: MO 2013

Portland, OR
Copyright: MO 2013

COMMENT BELOW:
Do you choose to observe Lent? Why/why not?
How will you observe this Lenten season if you decide to do so?

*Renee Loux, Easy Green Living, pg. 71

Why We Must Support the Anti- Gay Bill, And So Much More.

Dear Arizona legislators,

Photo Credit: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo Credit: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

I am writing to disagree with you about the recent proposal for anti-gay legislation– not because I don’t agree with you (it’s about damn time someone made sure that we only have to talk to people of heterosexual orientations), but because you haven’t taken the measure far enough in order to preserve our precious religious liberties.
We need to pass legislation to ensure that our business owners do not have to serve alcoholics. After all, why should we serve them, when the Bible clearly states that we “shouldn’t get drunk on wine, but instead, be filled with the Spirit?”
Similarly, we must also not be forced to serve overweight people. The Bible offers several verses against gluttony and we must take a stand against this perverse health condition.
We must also pass legislation to give business owners the religious freedom to not serve immigrants. God invented nation-states in Genesis 11, and we must not to violate that. Remember, the saying is “God Bless America,” not “God Bless Mexico.” Along with that, we should not be forced to serve people of different races— After all, God put the races on different continents for a reason.
Furthermore, we must not force business owners to serve women. Next thing you know, women will think they can be autonomous just like men. No. Women must stay at the home. If we let them patron restaurants without the presence of their husbands, they surely must be slacking on their homefront duties.
We also must not be forced to serve those on welfare. The Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves.” Um, hold on a minute while I find that verse. I can’t seem to find it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there!
Moreover, we cannot be forced to serve those who have been divorced. We all know the Bible doesn’t support divorce, and we cannot be forced to interact with divorcees who might think that our interactions condone their marital departures.
It goes without saying that we cannot be forced to serve democrats, either, of course.

So there you have it. I believe the only people that are left are white, straight, males born in the Good Ol’ US of A. I hope that we can get enough patrons to support our businesses, but we must trust God on that one, brothers.

Sincerely,

Your white, straight, Republican, married-to-a-woman male Christian brother in Christ who thinks, looks, behaves, and believes just like you.

In case you haven’t picked up on this, this piece is purely satirical. I hope it can bring a laugh, but more importantly, draw attention for reflection upon privlege, equality, and respect for diversity. Please consider signing petitions or using your sphere of influence as a platform for justice, mercy, and love.

Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1lm7idH

Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1lm7idH

Who are the People In Your Neighborhood? You get to decide.

A common question on Sesame Street is often asked through song. “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” jovially asks everyone from Telly to Ben Stiller, Ralph Nadir to the blue faced grocer, named, well, The Grocer.  It’s a song I ponder while riding to work each day, a morning commute that I can’t believe I waited so long to get back into.

I cycle up my street, feel the rush of the morning wind as I zoom downhill, and listen to the gurgling sound of the Jones Falls. Birds sing happily as I inch closer to downtown. You can feel the sound of a new day unfold right before your eyes, an invigorating hum of motivity. Construction workers in orange vests begin to create from the hard work of their own hands and tools. I see a runner getting in a morning workout, and we both nod heads at each other. “Good morning!” I call out, as he gives me a peace sign. I instantly smile at the connection, one that wouldn’t have happened had I commuted by car this morning.

I head into the heart of the city and hear the clanging engines of the MARC train, filled with government workers, students, lawyers, businessmen and businesswomen, some folks still half asleep drooling over their morning coffee, and some news junkies catching clips of NPR on their iPods.

I pass by local coffee shops with owners who probably dreamed about brewing java and greeting customers by name several years ago, and probably still feel a twinge of nostalgia as they remember the journey of opening their store.

I pass by an elementary school that’s relatively quiet and wonder who those kids might become one day.

I pass by the city jail, but my biking path is blocked by a city truck with a dumpster attached behind it. That’s unusual, I think to myself, and that’s when I discover news crews surrounding the 83 encampment. Turns out, the city had posted fliers surrounding the encampment stating, “No sleeping, camping or storage of belongings is permitted in this area. Any property remaining in this area will be removed or discarded at 8:00 A.M. March 8, 2013.”

It was 8:35 A.M. on March 8th. That dumpster blocking the bike path contained the discarded belongings of the homeless people living under Camp 83.  And I was witnessing the aftermath.

In mid-February, Baltimore City gave homeless men and women living in tents under the 83 expressway an eviction edict. Since then, activists and advocates from all walks of life have been speaking out.  I thought back to an article I read just yesterday in which readers were asked what should be done about this situation. Many comments about “they just need to find a job” and “stop using drugs” were thrown in, amidst comments such as “provide affordable housing.” But those comments seem too simplistic, and don’t take into account the stories of women and men who have been sexually molested at homeless shelters or those who have had bed bugs from sleeping in shelter beds.

Tears rush to my eyes as I watch advocates holding brightly colored placards stating things such as, “housing is a human right.” These tears have become a familiar part of my bike commute, as just last week, I was touched by people standing outside the city jail protesting the death penalty.

Who are the people in our neighborhood?

We are activists.

We are dreamers.

We are peacemakers.

We are people who believe in justice for ALL, not just some.

We have stories- the woman under the bridge, the man in jail, the biker you wave to, the mail carrier, the coffee shop owner, each of us.

We are a city of people with stories.

We are a city of people with voices.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

You get to decide.

You get to decide how you will use your voice in this neighborhood. If you will speak up, or if you will turn a blind eye while our brothers and sisters struggle to find a place to lay their head tonight.

You get to decide, shape, impact, and meld our city.

Let’s be neighbors.

Come.

Let’s join hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tgzBZnI-xLw