Thanksgiving: A Time To Reflect And Think Positive

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Time To Reflect And Think Positive

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

We hope your Thanksgiving turned out the way you wanted it to turn out. Ours did, a nice cozy dinner followed by an evening for reflecting on things we are thankful for. We have much to be thankful for and concentrate on that, because it won’t do to dwell on disappointments. Outside the weather is nippy and wet, inside it is warm and dry and it is a reflective holiday. This is not the day for thinking of things that didn’t work out and work that still must be done. We’ll do that again starting Monday.

Successes On An National And State Level

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history and we hope will be used as an example of a dumb policy. Six states, the District of Columbia, and two Indian tribes allow same sex marriages. In a number of states the issue is up for a referendum vote and LGBT rights are sure to have a prominent place in the 2012 elections. Some of our friends fear that the outcomes will set us back, but we are delighted that the relentless pushing and shoving got us on ballots and in the courts. The immediate outcome may not be as we wish, but there is no doubt about the eventual result. The tide is turning in our favor as polls show a steady increase in Americans’ realization that something is amiss when so many of their countrymen still have to struggle to be included in America’s promise of “everybody is equal and has inalienable rights.”

Successes On An Individual Level

The battles on the federal and state level and their successful outcomes are necessary for without them we have no footing. But laws and rules and regulations do not change hardcore, antagonistic minds. That work requires hard work at the root. The results of what API Family Pride does are seen and felt at a personal level. When a son or daughter calls us and asks for help and intervention we know that our community has found us and that we are here to help. And when the help and intervention have positive outcomes, the satisfaction that comes from knowing we played a part energizes us to continue. The best moments come, though, when in the course of a workshop or talking to visitors to our Wall of Pride exhibit we can see an insight sparking in the eyes of parents. Then we know we have reached another parent and maybe the family stays together and maybe he or she will tell another parent.

We are grateful for having the opportunity to help, to be part of a struggle that will see our son and his friends and his whole community and all API LGBT people and all LGBT people be treated as persons.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

 

California’s Supreme Court Decrees That Anti-Gay Marriage Groups Can Continue To Make Fools Of Themselves

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

November 18, 2011

California’s Supreme Court Decrees That Anti-Gay Marriage Groups Can Continue To Make Fools Of Themselves

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

California’s Supreme Court unanimously decreed that the official proponents of Proposition 8 are entitled to defend their measure in court. Reaction to the ruling from the major organizations on both sides was swift and predictable. The Courage Campaign called it “an outrageous, irresponsible decision that has no basis in the California Constitution.” The Protect Marriage people thought the ruling signaled the demise of the lawsuit. Both sides are merely pandering to public opinion.

We Like This Ruling

We believe that the ruling is beneficial for the cause of same sex marriage. In its decision, the Court emphasized that the ruling resolved a procedural issue about the integrity of California’s initiative process and had nothing to do with gay marriage. We believe everybody knew that and now that the matter is resolved the real issue can return to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have no doubt about its favorable outcome: banning same sex marriage is unconstitutional. A federal judge previously said so and in earlier hearings the 9th Circuit Court seemed to lean in that direction as well. Regardless of what happens next, this case will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling thus moves forward a process that was taken out of the state’s domain and will ultimately ensure that marriage equality is the law of the land, a process that was halted on an unrelated issue. Think of it, all the arguments, pro and con, will be publicized, analyzed, and commented upon. The party that loses will sharpen its arguments for the next round. We’ll get to hear it all and it will all be written down. The absolute ridiculousness of the reasons for denying equal rights to a group of people will be a record for future generations to laugh at.

There is one fly in the ointment. Had the California Supreme Court ruled the other way, that is, had they ruled that private groups had no standing to defend in court the measure they sponsored, then there may not have been a case (the ruling is not binding on the 9th Circuit Court), and Proposition 8 would be unconstitutional. Many of our LGBT friends could get married almost right away. The process we champion is a long one and our friends now must wait. That we regret.

Once Marriage Equality Is Legally Established, It Must Become Socially Acceptable

Legally establishing a right is a necessary but insufficient step. Once it is legally established that same sex couple may marry, the hard work that has been going on for some time attains a sharper focus. We are speaking, of course, about convincing people that marriage, a union blessed by the state and endowed with over a thousands rights, is not just a legal right but a human right as well. Once the legal precedent is established, social acceptance becomes the next obstacle to overcome. We believe it crucial, because if marriage is a voluntary commitment between two people in love to share their lives, then two people in love ought to be allowed to share their lives.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

When Children Come Out Of The Closet, Parents Go In.

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The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

November 11, 2011

When Children Come Out Of The Closet, Parents Go In.

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Un Uncomfortable Quote

We came across this quote:

Sometimes it bothers me, when I see that [my parents are] trying to conceal [my homosexuality] when friends ask them if I have a girlfriend or even a future wife to be [sic]. It’s then when I force the truth on them and “remind” them while notifying their unknowing friends, that I’m as gay as one can possibly be. Whoever can’t understand that, is free to go, I always pointed this out.

We particularly don’t like the phrase: “It’s then when I force the truth on them . . . ,“ but the whole paragraph appears selfish and inconsiderate. This is a young man who came out to his parents after college graduation and after he felt established enough to run the risk. His parents struggled with the reality of having a gay son and remain uncomfortable with it. Apparently, from the paragraph above, they don’t want it broadcast about; they want to stay in the closet themselves until they are comfortable with it. We believe that should be honored.

Coming Out Is A Personal Matter

From the many testimonies we have heard over the years, we know how difficult it is for an LGBT person to come out. We hear stories that not coming out is easier than coming out until a serious relationship develops, then it becomes difficult to be unable to bring him or her home. Some people have reasons not to come out. A South Asian lesbian does not want to come out to her dad because “. . . he is older and I don’t know how long I’ll still have him.” That, which she leaves unsaid speaks volumes. Others must come out: “I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to come out, because without it I couldn’t be a whole person.” We learned that the decision finally to do come out is personal because the reasons for the apprehension are personal. And we also learned that nobody comes out on behalf of an LGBT person; you don’t out anybody.

When Children Come Out Of The Closet, Parents Go In

Coming out is not just a one-way street. Parents also have a coming out process. While we can only infer from testimony how difficult it sometimes is for LGBT children to come out, we have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is for parents. When our son told us he was gay, we had an immediate sense of failure, we are bad parents, we failed. And right after that: what would our family say, our friends, our colleagues? They would all think we were bad parents. When we first told John’s mother that she had a gay grandson, her admonition was to love him regardless, but not to tell anybody. John has a lesbian sister and a gay uncle, but their sexual preference is the elephant in any conversation or gathering. We were, and most parents are, creatures of a culture, of a value system that is totally clueless about homosexuality and when it comes home, all is confusion. There is the shame of having a gay son, the fear of losing friends, the trepidation of family judgments.

Parents Need Time To Stay In That Closet: To Learn, To Understand, To Accept

Just as LGBT children want to decide by themselves when and whom to tell about their sexual preferences, so parents want to decide when to tell family and friends of a child who does not fit one of the more cherished societal norms. And just as there are LGBT children who will never come out, so are there parents who will never tell. But neither side of this equation should one side decide for the other to tell.

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Is “I Still Love You But I Won’t Accept You Being LGBT” A Contradiction?

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The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

November 4, 2011

Is “I Still Love You But I Won’t Accept You Being LGBT” A Contradiction?

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Contradiction Must Be Resolved

There is no such thing as a contradiction. Contradictions are in the eye of the beholder. When you think there is a contradiction and it bothers you enough, investigate and it will resolve itself and you will have learned something. It isn’t always easy, but the thought process is worth the effort. We thought of this while reading a “Coming Out” story on Gay Blog: Dark Q. A boy thinks he is gay, becomes certain that he is, comes out to friends while in high school, but only to his parents once he graduates from college and is independent of them. Here is the line that caught our eye: “My parents told me they’d love me the same, regardless of my sexual orientation, but they couldn’t agree with it.” This, to us, is an apparent contradiction that needs to be resolved.

One Way To Resolve This Contradiction

We have come across this before. In a seven minute film from Basic Rights Oregon titled: “Our Families: Featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Families” a Korean mother who accepts her gay son and loves him regardless says about her son being gay: “I really don’t want to accept this,” and a little later: “I still do not want to accept this now.” How is it possible to accept and love your child but not agreeing with who he or she is? The answer is in that last part of our question: they do not know, have not understood, that having an LGBT child is part of his or her identity. They believe it is something you choose. In the same film a Philippina mother asks her lesbian daughter why she would choose such a difficult life.

If our explanation is correct and resolves the contradiction, then the path to understanding is clear: find a way to make parents (and everybody else) understand that to be LGBT is not a choice, but a part of being.

There May Be Another Explanation

      There is another explanation. It could be that the power of the cultural value APIs invest in family is so strong, that even though parents do not accept the LGBT part of their child’s identity, the family value prevents them from rejecting their child. The Philippina lesbian of “Our Families: Featuring Asian and Pacific Islander Families” believes that her mother’s strong belief in family eventually made her come to terms with who she was. And now that she herself is older and looks back from a more mature perspective, she believes that the strong value of family trumps all other cultural values.

The Korean mother said it best when she said that she truly believes that family is the most important value and that: . . . “you must accept your children. If you don’t do that, these kids have no place to go. They cannot live.”

Regardless Of Explanations, There is Time To Teach

Coming out is difficult not just for the LGBT child who is coming out, but also for parents. Belinda famously said that when children come out, parents go into the closet. If parents initially do not accept “the lifestyle” but still accept their child, then there is time to teach, to make them understand what it means to be an LGBT son or daughter. It is what API Family Pride does, but it is also what the LGBT child must do. It is all about preserving and restoring family bonds. Teach your parents.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

Is The “T” In LGBT More Difficult To Understand Than The “LGB?”

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The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

October 28, 2011

Is The “T” In LGBT More Difficult To Understand Than The “LGB?”

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

A Blog For Transgender Persons Written By A Professional Ally

      A friend of ours pointed us to Darlene Tando’s Gender Blog. She writes about transgender persons. Tando is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in San Diego. Her blog is full of information that furthers our understanding of the fabulous diverse community of which we are a part.

Our son is gay and it took us awhile to wrap our minds around the reality that he is a man who is attracted to other men, but still, he remains a man. We can only imagine how much more difficult it must be for a parent to come to grips fully with a child whose gender identity is different from what they thought it was from birth. The child does not feel like and does not want to be the gender assigned at birth based on observed genetalia.

Meet and Greet and Read To Learn And Understand

We mentioned this before: to understand the new world that opened up when first we learned that our son is gay is difficult. Totally alien concepts are dressed in totally foreign words. Yet, vocabulary must be mastered first before the layers of meaning subsumed in words can be understood. What does it mean to be gay? What is transgender? Bisexual? Questioning? Sometimes we ask ourselves whether it is necessary to learn all those terms and their layered meanings, after all, our son is just gay. But learning all is necessary if ever we want to see discrimination and prejudice based on sexual diversity disappear.

Tando’s September 10 blog has this wonderful explanation:

[An] expectant couple had the ultrasound technician find out the sex of the baby, write it on a card, and the couple didn’t peek at it. . . They gave the card to a bakery, and a special cake was made based on what the card read. At the “Gender Revealing” party, when they cut it open, a pink or a blue cake was discovered, thereby revealing the “gender” of the baby to be. My response? “I went to a party like that! Except they called it a ‘Sex Party’, which is what it was… they were revealing the sex of the baby, not the gender. The true gender won’t be revealed until the baby is much older.”

To those of us for whom the words sex and gender are interchangeable without loss of meaning, this is revealing and a prompt to learn more.

First Comes The Understanding Then The Sharing

A personal appreciation (we are avoiding the word understanding) only goes so far, it is necessary that everybody begin to recognize and appreciate and accept all the diversity that exists around us. We hear and read about the extra difficulties transgender persons have. For example, health insurance plans have an exclusion list for procedures that are not covered. Transgender persons’ needs are usually on those lists. Or, while transitioning, what bathroom at work will they be allowed to use? What about this case: if a biological male whose gender identification is female commits a crime, what prison does he go to? Or should that be: she goes to? According to our friends at the Transgender Law Center, it is usually not even a question: the person goes to a prison that matches his or hers biological sex and all the consequences that that has for the transgender person.

We need to understand first and then we must make others understand. It is the only way to attain equality.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

How Do We Make Non-Traditional Families Part Of Everyday Life?

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

October 21, 2011

How Do We Make Non-Traditional Families Part Of Everyday Life?

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

By Making A Film

The Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) is making a film about API lesbians raising children, either as couples or single parents. It is going to be called Family Blessings. This is the second film in a projected series of four about families headed by lesbians. The first, The Gift of Family, is complete and making the rounds. It is about black lesbians raising children. The third will feature lesbian Latinas and the fourth Native American lesbians.

The objective of the films is to show that non-traditional families exist in our midst and are as normal as traditional families. They are regular households with familiar problems and worries. When we met with QWOCMAP, a recurring conversation point was that the films were QWOCMAP’s answer to “what we learned from Proposition 8.”

By Deeply Learning The Lessons Of Past Campaigns

What we learned from Proposition 8 is that our opposition used the “otherness” of non-traditional families to wage a successful campaign aimed at emotional levers. When Proposition 8 passed, one of our collaborating organizations forwarded a thought provoking Op-Ed by Matt Foreman on why we lost that battle. Foreman, a former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund when he wrote the piece, writes about the “ick factor.” The “ick factor” is the reality that many people, even those who are pro-equal rights and generally support LGBT issues, remain “deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and marriage goes right to the heart of their discomfort, given that sex is central to marriage.” The “ick factor” is the reason that there really wasn’t a “movable middle,” those people in the middle of the two extremes who could be persuaded to vote no on proposition 8. Foreman argues that overcoming the “ick factor” cannot be done in the short time span of a campaign, it takes years of

. . . putting our lives, stories, and faces front and center over and over again . . . Most of us [LGBT persons] have seen how taking our lives up close and personal to people around us does, in fact, create change. Moreover, having these direct, real conversations is the only way we’re ever going to squelch the ick and inoculate voters from attacks that exploit it.

By Telling Stories And Showing Pictures

And so we tell stories and QWOCMAP makes films. The four films in the current project all touch on family life, religion, school, community support, Proposition 8 and marriage. The films will be shown around the country in film festivals and become focal points for workshops and panel discussions.

The completed Family Blessings film shows one of the women saying that Proposition 8 and all that that entails is not foremost in her mind. What is foremost in her mind is: Did I put the stuff away in the refrigerator? What did I put in my child’s lunchbox and did she finish it? How terribly mundane and, look at this, they live next door.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

When Coming Out: Know Yourself, Know Your Parents.

6Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

October 6, 2011

When Coming Out: Know Yourself, Know Your Parents.

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

An important feature of the workshops we conduct for LGBT people is a question for the participants: “In coming out to your parents what kind of support do you think you need, or, if you are already out, what kind of support did you use?” Over time the answers we collected aren’t all that different from workshop to workshop. But a participant at one workshop surprised us by asking why come out at all? That brought on a lively discussion, and we learned of reasons not to come out. The anticipation of rejection born out by too many actual cases is a real fear. Other reasons were voiced: reluctance to disappoint parents, desire to protect parents from shame, unwillingness to add to parents’ burden providing a future for their children, and “my parents don’t speak English well and I don’t speak [insert an Asian language here].”

Our workshops are based on an LGBT person’s desire to come out. Being closeted is a difficult existence and when a partner enters into the situation, it becomes more difficult still. Testimonies we collected here point toward a desire “to be a whole person and share all of my life.” We began to ask: “If you are out to your parents, why did you decide to come out and what support did you use? If you are not out to your parents, do you think you eventually would want to and what support do you think you’ll need?” Guess what? Over time the answers to either question began to merge. The obstacles for not wanting to come out are by and large the same as the obstacles to coming out. In retrospect, we slapped our foreheads because it should have been obvious, but we learned one important lesson: the decision to come out is personal. We can collect all the testimony we want, distill strategies and variations on those strategies and fill up several forests worth of paper, but in the end the decision to tell parents is personal, intensely so. “My parents are very religious and they are not in good health; I don’t want to lose them now,” is a good reason for a barrier to remain a barrier.

We also conduct workshops for parents of LGBT children. Of course, these are parents who want to understand their new reality; these are not parents who outright reject their LGBT child. One lesson we learned in those workshops is that parents want, and in some cases need, to accept their child. They have a responsibility that they cannot and don’t want to escape. “What happens to my child when I reject him? A child needs his family, otherwise they’d be alone.” The API tenet of the centrality of family in life is an asset. We remember the passionate plea to LGBT children of one parent who had come a ways in the difficult journey: “Give your parents credit for what they can do and are willing to do!” We also learned that parents need time.

When LGBT children want to come out and plan a strategy for doing so, there are many things we can advise and one of them is: know yourself and trust yourself, but equally important, know you parents and give them time.

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Another Sad Story With Another Positive Result

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 30, 2011

Another Sad Story With Another Positive Result

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Mary Lou Wallner And Her Daughter Anna

We want to reach back and return to a resource we used before, namely the film for the BIBLE tells me so. There is another sad story there; a sad story that produced a positive result, also something we have done before. This time the cause of sadness is the bible and the positive result is also the bible. The story is about Mary Lou Wallner and her lesbian daughter Anna. Anna committed suicide at age 29. It is also the story how her mother blamed herself for her daughter’s death and began a slow transformation from enemy of LGBT people to ally.

Mary Lou begins her story by telling the camera that she was raised in a strict, fundamental Christian home. She was in church often and twice on Sunday. Her church took the bible literally and, she said: “There were rules everywhere.” What emerges from her story is the portrait of a woman for whom faith and church are an integral part of life. She is steeped in her conservative Christian belief and never questions it.

A Normal Story That Becomes A Different Story

She married and had two daughters. She taught her daughters what she was taught. When Anna was two weeks old, Mary Lou began taking her to the conservative, literalist bible church she attended. At ten months, Anna could hum the melody of “Jesus Loves Me,” she couldn’t talk yet, but she could hum. Mary Lou tells of a normal child who loved to sing and seemed to fit the life her mother had laid out for her. But when she was a freshman in college, Anna came out to her mother in a letter. Mary Lou’s reaction was to become physically ill—“going to the bathroom ill”—and to keep quiet and not tell a soul. The letter she wrote back contained sentiments that were not those of a loving mother. She wrote that: “I will continue to love you, but will always hate [the gay thing in you].” Mary Lou could not accept her daughter’s lesbianism because it was spiritually and morally wrong. Her church taught that not only was homosexuality a sin, it was a sin above all sins. She believed homosexuality a choice and demanded for Anna to get her act together. Looking straight into the camera, Mary Lou says that over the years she had harsh words for her daughter and cited the six or seven biblical passages Christians usually cite as proof that homosexuality is a sin.

A Devastating End

In early 1996, their relationship, already strained, deteriorated even further as Anna became depressed. There was not even a card for Mother’s Day. Mary Lou wrote to ask why and Anna replied that she wanted nothing further to do with her mother because of “the colossal damage your shaming words have done to my soul.” Eight months later Anna committed suicide by wrapping the chain part of a dog leash around her neck, the leather part around a bar in her closet, stepping on a chair and then kicking the chair away. She hung there for 15 hours before she was found.

A Positive Consequence From A Devastating End

After Anna’s suicide, Mary Lou spent two years independently and exhaustively studying the bible to find out what it actually has to say about the homosexuality. She refers to this period as a spiritual crisis, but in the end concluded that the lessons she was taught over a lifetime were wrong. The bible has nothing to say about homosexuality. She and her husband Bob founded the TEACH Ministries (To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia). They travel the country to advocate for the church’s full inclusion of LGBT people.

This is what we find so remarkable: at no time did Mary Lou forsake her bible indeed, she kept it as her guide to live life. She discovered that the bible does not “say” anything. The bible has words that must read and meaning must be wrested from those words written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different context and shaped into meaning for the here and now. Things change.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility

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The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 23, 2011

The FAIR Education Act Is Actually About Visibility

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

The FAIR Education Act Is A Different Bill

The bill that Governor Brown signed into law, SB 48, is called the FAIR Education Act. We wrote of this law last week and mentioned the difficulty it would face in getting implemented. FAIR stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful and is applicable to the law’s stated intent, namely, to include the contribution of LGBT persons to the development of California and America.

It is a different kind of law. It carves out a specific domain. There is no age limit; classes from kindergarten to 12th grade must highlight LGBT contributions in American history. Religion is muzzled: “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law” is prohibited. It is mandatory for all students: parents cannot opt out, that is, they cannot request their child being excused from classes that highlight LGBT people’s role in history. Still, for all its specific do’s and don’ts, questions come up how it should actually be made to work.

Some Groups Normally Pro-LGBT Issues Hesitate Supporting SB 48

Unlike marriage equality, which is straight forward, you are either for or against, the FAIR Education Act has many normally sympathetic to LGBT issues hesitating to give their support.

Organized religion, of course, is against it for ideological and economic reasons. Ideological because they believe that being homosexual is a sin and economical because of the cost of buying new textbooks and providing the necessary teacher training. We understand their ideological reason and the economic reason is thrown in to support the ideological one. But in an April editorial, while the bill was still being debated in our legislature, the Los Angeles Times voiced objection to SB 48 on grounds that education should not be politicized. Writing that the task of writing history is not the province of politicians and should be left to historians, it goes on to say that the requirements for California’s school textbooks has been burdened over the years by a raft of requirements to proportionally represent minorities, the elderly, and those who are disabled while at the same time prohibiting mentioning anything derogatory about these groups. This is tantamount to sanitizing history and not conducive to a balanced education.

Others wonder how to approach the historical contribution of LGBT people. People, they argue deserve recognition for what they have done, not for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Is Walt Whitman one of America’s greatest poets because he was gay? Did his being gay inform his poetry? Or will there be a footnote in the text that explains that Walt Whitman was gay? Then there is the whole issue of age-appropriate teaching. When is something appropriate for what age? Even for straight sex-education, this is an issue endlessly debated.

Is It About Education Or Recognition?

Supporters argue that the bill is necessary to counter discrimination and bullying of LGBT students by faculty, staff and other students. Mark Leno, author of the bill, told the New York Times: “People oppose and fear the unfamiliar. When grade-school students understand the arc of the LGBT movement over 40 years, that otherness begins to dissipate. That’s desperately needed right now.” The bill is thus not about education per sé, but about visibility. Senator Leno intents to liberate California education from what Christopher Isherwood called heterosexual dictatorship, the writing of history from a heterosexual, white male perspective.

It is always instructive to read the intent of a specific piece of legislation, its congressional debates, and then the comments, both pro and con. We will continue to read, for it seems to us that SB 48 is a paradigm shift.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www. apifamilypride.org

 

The FAIR Education Act, SB 48: The Latest Battleground

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The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

September 16, 2011

The FAIR Education Act, SB 48: The Latest Battleground

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

SB 48 Is The Law

We have been watching the FAIR Education Act ever since Governor Brown signed it into law on July 14 this year. It is a game changer and conservative groups have started a STOP SB 48 campaign. Yet the big guns of the Catholic and Mormon churches who were at the front of the Prop 8 war aren’t there to help campaign for a ballot initiative to repeal this one. Did they use up all they had with Prop 8, or are they saving their energy and treasure for another round of the marriage equality fight?

If you liked Prop 8, you’re going to hate SB 48. Sponsored by Senator Mark Leno, the FAIR Education Act requires that school districts teach all their students, from kindergarten up, about the role and contribution to society of LGBT American historical figures. It also forbids school districts from using materials that adversely reflect on LGBT persons. Parents cannot “opt-out” and it fires a warning shot across the bows of private and charter schools by having them “take notice of the provisions of this bill.” Needless to say that among those opposed to human rights, this bill is a dagger aimed at their heart.

Between A Law’s Intent And Its Implementation, There Falls The Shadow

Even though laws are preceded by people agitating for change, it is only laws that can anchor every large social change. But once a law is passed, more work, and perhaps the more difficult part of the work, has to happen. The people who oppose the change from the start aren’t going to go away; their objections must be continuously addressed. We have experience with this trying to implement AB 537, the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, in our local school district. We were opposed every step of the way by conservative groups who saw the law as advancing the “homosexual agenda.” And six years after the law was passed, a survey by the California Safe School Coalition found that 60% of schools were not in compliance with the law.

What Will Happen To The FAIR Education Act?

SB 48 will fare no better. From the comments on websites it is clear that the same arguments heard against AB 537 and Prop 8 will be used here: unwarranted intrusion of parental rights, need to protect our children from an evil lifestyle, liberal democrats need to be voted out of office. These are direct attacks against an existing law. Then there are the many obstacles erected on the path toward implementation. Local school districts determine what is studied and how it is taught. There are 1130 independent school districts in California that each must write their own implementing programs. Programs to implement contentious issues, and SB 48 is one, are commented on by parents in open meetings. There are about six and a half million students and they have parents. The religions will raise their concerns (“homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God”). Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called SB 48 an attack on parental rights. Thirty-one percent of Californians are Catholic. The extra expense will be used as an obstacle. The California Department of Education found that the state’s financial crisis precludes buying new textbooks for several years.

The issue is not confined to California. Publishers of textbooks try to publish the same textbooks for as many states as possible. They look toward the big states like California for templates. Some states may end up buying textbooks that include California’s new requirements. They’ll weigh in.

We still need to mention the opposition’s favorite obstacle: implementation must be age-appropriate.

What Should We Do?

For each school district, organize a local group that is willing to fight for the implementation of SB 48. How about, for the majority of districts? Organize a database listing resources to help those activists. Make those resources available. If you have any ideas, we would like to know them. SB 48 is that important.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Two Dysfunctional Boys Or A Nazi Killer and His Gay Victim

Two Dysfunctional Boys Or A Nazi Killer and His Gay Victim

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

A Crime Is Committed. . .

A boy walks into a computer class at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, California, on February 12, 2008, at 8:15 AM. He sits down, pulls a 22-caliber handgun from his backpack and shoots the boy in front of him in the head. Two times. He throws the gun on the floor, walks out of the room. A few blocks from school police arrest him. The boy he shot dies the following day. The boy who shot is fourteen, the boy who is shot fifteen.

Now the matter moves from the real world to the legal world. The legal world is where we go for justice, that difficult concept associated with our sense of what is fair, where we go to balance moral scales. The trial starts on July 5, 2011, and ends in a mistrial on September 1, 2011.

. . . But What Crime?

The Ventura County prosecutor tries the 14-year old (17-year old when the trial begins) as an adult and charges him with premeditated murder and adds two enhancements: one for discharge of a firearm, another for a hate crime. Later the judge rules that the jury can also deliberate for voluntary manslaughter. The jury deadlocks: seven support voluntary manslaughter, five support premeditated murder. One juror says that the seven couldn’t get their mind around the notion that a 14-year old is as responsible for his acts, no matter how heinous, as an adult.

      You know this case. The boy who pulled the trigger is Brandon McInerny, the victim is Larry King. The hate crime enhancement was added because they found Nazi paraphernalia where Brandon lived and Larry was openly gay.

How Is Justice Found?

We wonder what justice or fairness looks or feels like in this case. Brandon grew up in a totally dysfunctional family; an alcoholic father with apparently Nazi sympathies and a mother with a criminal record in drug rehab. Some of the Nazi paraphernalia found was his for a school term paper on tolerance, some belonged to his brother. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries?

Larry’s father abandoned his family and at age two Larry was adopted by the King family, because his drug addicted mother could not properly care for him. At age fourteen and with a juvenile record he was placed in a group home. From whom and from where could this boy learn about boundaries? He came out when he was ten and took to wearing high heels and women’s accessories to school. He taunted Brandon, sent him valentines and told him, “Baby, I love you.”

Brandon’s lawyers used the “gay-panic” defense, a despicable tactic that should be banned. They painted Larry as a sexual predator and that Brandon eventually snapped under Larry’s repeated and unwanted sexual advances.

Some believe that the prosecutor overcharged Brandon. Had he been tried as a juvenile, he would have been found guilty, but then he would have been released at twenty-five.

Is This Case Straight Forward Or Should We Be Looking For Bigger Issues?

A young boy is dead, and there is no doubt that another boy not old enough to shave killed him. But a jury couldn’t decide what crime was committed. So, where is justice? Can it be found by just looking at the facts as the prosecutor suggested when she said to leave feelings at the door? Or is there another reason for the blindfold the lady trying to balance those scales is wearing? Many asked if this case caused so much attention because Larry is gay. Really? Is it otherwise normal when children kill? How do we teach that taunting is offensive, but that ultimate violence is not the way to respond to a taunt? But beyond those questions, how do we tackle the challenge to teach children that it is all right to be different?

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

 

Bullying: The Constant Companion Of LGBTQ Students

 

Bullying: The Constant Companion Of LGBTQ Students

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

School has started. Children walk past our house shouldering serious backpacks. Early in the morning, streams of pre-teens and teenagers make their way to our town’s 40-odd schools. We wish that whatever school students go to, when they enter it will be a safe place to learn. But we know differently. Bullying was, is, and will remain a problem for American schools; especially for LGBTQ youth and for LGBTQ teachers and staff as well.

What Exactly Is Bullying?

Bullying is the underappreciated, constant companion of LGBTQ youth. Underappreciated, that is, by the people who bully, teachers, and parents. Children are bullied when they experience, repeatedly and over time, aggressively negative actions from one or more bullies against which they cannot defend themselves. Its impact is devastating: depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and suicidal thoughts. The impact is for life. People in their fifties relate that the consequences of bullying they received while in school is with them still. In their 2009 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) reported:

Nine out of ten LGBT students reported experiencing harassment during the school year. Nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation and over three quarters of students were harassed because of their gender identity. Almost a third of LGBT students were so worried about their safety they skipped at least one day of school each month.

National statistics are informative, but they hide more than reveal and they certainly don’t convey the pain and despair.

The Fremont Unified School District Safe School Survey

Back in the late 90s and to the middle 00s we founded and led the Coalition to Assure Respect in Schools (CARS), a local organization to make Fremont schools safe places to learn. After several years of arguing and making presentations, we were finally successful in convincing Fremont’s Board of Education to do a system wide survey. Called the “Safe-School Survey” it was administered to all district senior and junior high school students in May 2001. We had a 55% response rate and the results mirror those of the national 2009 GLSEN survey. A mild surprise was that when it came to bullying “Physical Size or Shape” was a close second to “Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Orientation.” Students call each other hurtful names all the time, but the survey also revealed that nearly ten percent of students heard teachers use homophobic slurs. Far more instructive for us were the interviews we did with students in preparation for the survey. Tearful histories of bullying for all kinds of reasons; emotional scars still present in people who graduated years ago.

The Survey Was Useful? Was It Successful?

What was the result of the survey? New policies, diversity training, open meetings with parents. Was the end goal achieved? No, though CARS has not been active for four years, we still hear of bullying and LGBTQ youth is still at risk. Our experience suggests that to eliminate bullying requires time, perhaps generations, and: an awareness that bullying exists and can leave lifetime scars, a system wide policy, procedures to implement the policy, training for teachers and students, enforcement, and a safe avenue to register policy violations, follow-up and resolve. But most of all what is needed are good people relentlessly dedicated to the idea that all students have the right to a safe place to prepare for life.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org

It Is June! It Is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Let’s Celebrate!

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

June 2, 2011

It Is June! It Is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Let’s Celebrate!

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

This is our first blog for the month of June, the month that celebrates gay pride. That is official. Back in June 2000, then President Clinton declared June “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” Even better, in June 2009, President Barack Obama proclaimed June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.” June was chosen to commemorate the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots generally taken to be the birth of the LGBT movement. The word “pride” was chosen because it is the opposite of shame; the shame of LGBT people felt about themselves that allowed their suppression. President Obama also issued proclamations in 2010 and 2011 and in the 2011 one he stated, “LGBT rights are human rights.” Imagine that, 42 years after the LGBT community started a movement, a president declares LGBT rights to be human rights. As political movements go, this is almost warp speed.

Do You Feel Guilty Because You’re Different?

Our friend Mark Molina posted a message on our Facebook page about Pink Dot 2011. The post contained a video with little vignettes about people who are not yet proud, people who are still ashamed. There is a particular scene with a clergy apparently marrying a lesbian couple, then the camera moves to a close-up of his face, elderly and compassionate, and he says:

“If only gay people could stop feeling guilty for being different.”

We know that the video was shot in Malaysia for a Malaysian audience and what the clergy meant, but we still want to examine the utterance closely. Notice that he said gays are different; different from what? When you see a man do you know if he is gay? You observe his mannerism, his dress and come to a conclusion, but often you would be wrong. In fact, we hear complaints from high school students who are bullied because the bullies think they are gay even when they are not. When you see two women in a passionate embrace, what do you see? You see two people in love. Love is universal, so what is different here? The object of love you say? Only opposite sex people can be in love you say? Nobody believes that anymore, but they do want to reserve the legal expression of that love to opposite sexes. They are wrong, just as wrong when, not too long ago, you couldn’t be in love and marry a person from another race.

Change What You Can, Accept What You Cannot

What about feeling guilty? Why should anyone feel guilty because he or she is born with different attributes? Is their anything you can do about it? Can we change being Asian? Should we feel guilty about being Asian? Of course not, you cannot change what you are born with and yet we hear and read about LGBT people who hate themselves for being LGBT. We have a true story we like to tell. A young woman was the victim of a shooting and became paralyzed from the waist down. She fought to regain the ability to walk, all kinds of conventional and experimental treatments. None of them worked and she became depressed, dropped out of college, couldn’t hold a job, moved back in with her parents. Then one day, she re-enrolled into college, graduated, got a job, bought a house and remodeled it to accommodate her wheelchair. She explained that she slowly realized that she would be in that wheelchair for the rest of her life. That acceptance liberated her and she could get on with her life.

This Is June! Celebrate The Difference

We know what the Malaysian clergy is saying. You feel different because you are told that you are. You feel guilty because you are told you shouldn’t be different. Whoever is telling you that is wrong. Being an LGBT person is just one of the many attributes that collectively make you who you are. This is June, everybody gives you a pass to get on with you being you.

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride; www. apifamilypride.org

 

Religion Splitting Families Apart

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

December 17, 2010

Religion Splitting Families Apart

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

The September issue of Harper’s contains an article by Jeff Sharlet called Straight Man’s Burden. It starts by mentioning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. If you would like to see homophobia taken to its fearsome extreme, read this bill. You’ll read hate like this: If you know a homosexual and don’t report him or her, that’s three years in jail. If you ‘”promote” homosexuality—Sharlet does not explain what that is, we think he means fighting for equal rights—that’ll be seven years. Get caught doing a single homosexual act and go to jail for life. And it is the death penalty for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” for example, gay sex while HIV positive, gay sex with a disabled person, or being a “repeat offender.”

Though not yet law, the bill already has had dire consequences: ministers outing their LGBT members from pulpits, violent persecution of LGBTs, and lesbian “corrective” rapes. Sad though the violence, sadder is the bill’s connection to religion. Sharlet writes that one David Bhatia introduced the bill and that this Bhatia is a member of the Ugandan branch of an American evangelical movement called the Fellowship. Uganda’s homophobic bill has roots in America.

The Fellowship is an American religious and political organization begun in 1935 and perhaps best known for its annual National Prayer breakfast. It promotes Christian leadership and decision making informed by the bible. And it is implacably homophobic. Their homophobia is scary because they are politically well connected; their membership includes elected legislators, ranking government officials, and top business leaders, not only in America, but all over the world.

Here it is again, Christians against LGBTs and opposing equal rights initiatives with such vigor that the only conclusion we can draw is that they hate. How can this be? How is it that the loving and compassionate God our mothers read to us about when we were small from the mouth of others becomes hateful and vengeful? We have an unscientific hypothesis. God is about love and compassion, that’s it, that’s the sum total of His teachings. But then people got involved. There were meetings, conclaves, discussion groups: “This is what He said!” “No, that is what He said!” “Actually, this is what He meant!” Of course, rules were made. Gradually there came into being a church and the bright light of love and compassion dimmed because of the confusion and conditions heaped upon it. We sometimes think the light is extinguished.

We have stories in our archives of LGBTs expelled from individual churches, of families expelled because one of theirs is LGBT, and organized church’s checkered reputation on human rights is well known. This is a church valiantly trying to be come irrelevant. It wouldn’t be the first time: the practice of medicine was thought to interfere with God’s will; sacraments and a Christian burial were denied to those who charged interest on loans; slavery had a biblical justification; witches were burned, and Galileo was excommunicated for thinking thoughts against doctrine. It is a wonder that for so many the church is not only still relevant but necessary.

We would be remiss not reporting that some churches get it right. California has close to 700 churches that embrace the LGBT members of their congregation and even welcome more. This is the way it should be. There will come a time when all churches recognize that the rock that anchors any church is love.

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

December 31, 2010

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

There are an estimated 4,200 homeless people under 25 in Los Angeles County and a disproportionate number of them are LGBT. So writes Alexandra Zavis of the Los Angeles Times in a December 12, 2010, article posted on the web. (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-gay-homeless-20101212,0,4425366.story). She and a photographer spent a few weeks with LGBT homeless youth and wrote about their experience. The electronically posted article contains few things we did not already know, but the comments, 511 last we looked, were instructive.

A consistent type of comment, one that also appeared during the wave of LGBT suicides back in August and September, runs something like this:

“There are many homeless people. Why does the Times make it look as if society’s rejection of LGBTs is the cause for homelessness? LGBTs are homeless because they make bad choices, have other issues, and are addicts. There are plenty of LGBTs who are not homeless.”

Our response to those who write such comments points to the term “disproportionate.” For us that term is always a flag to look deeper. There are numerous reasons for being homeless, but the group that is disproportionately represented, LGBTs here, has at least one additional and unique reason. This technique works everywhere. There are plenty of reasons to be sentenced to jail, but the group that is disproportionately represented, young black men, has at least one additional and unique reason. There are plenty of reasons for not getting that promotion, but the group that is disproportionate not selected, women and people of color, has at least one additional and unique reason. You can fill in your own examples.

While working for LGBT equal rights, we often hear the accusation that LGBTs are working an agenda. Of course we are and the agenda is equal rights, but that is not what the accusers mean. They usually mean that our agenda is undermining American or Christian values and lifestyles. A comment to the Times article, however, took the agenda accusation to its extreme. One of the young gay man related that at age nine two men raped him. The comment was that this is how homosexuals convert heterosexuals to become homosexuals. Makes you sit up, rub your eyes, and ask yourself: “Am I reading this right?”

Then there are the comments based on the belief that LGBT is a freely chosen lifestyle. It will forever remain a mystery to us why anybody would choose a lifestyle that brings constant and universal disapproval, so much rejection, so much misery. We should perhaps write a blog to conversion therapy, but then again, why? It is so ridiculous.

The comments germane to the article repeat common themes, ones we have seen often over the years. The question becomes: In the face of such persistent hate and ignorance, what can we do to prevent the rejection of LGBTs by their families so that families stay together? We don’t have the answer other than to keep doing what we’re doing, try new approaches, new methods and amplify those that have success. It helps that we are seemingly gaining in the big issues: marriage equality, don’t ask don’t tell, and tolerance education in schools. Looking at the big issues is for us who work at the family level a good indicator of progress. And there is no mistaking this: we are making progress.

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

December 10, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Dear Senator McCain:

What happened to you?

We knew you as a man much admired. We read of your courage and integrity when the North Vietnamese held you captive for six years. We heard of your reputation when you were a newly elected legislator. You were a maverick then, bucking the wishes of your party, proud of that even.

So what happened during last week’s DADT hearings? Are you really worried that allowing openly gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors to serve their country endangers the readiness of combat units? Do you really believe that allowing patriotic LGBTs to be honest sinks morale and makes straight people leave the force? And were you stalling for time when you said the study concluding that 70% of respondents urged the repeal of DADT was flawed? Senator, experts wrote that that study meets the criteria of good social research, that its 28% response rate is in line with previous military surveys and its 1% error is better than most surveys. Ah, but you are concerned that combat units voiced a greater resistance to repeal than non-combat units. Did you know that countries culturally closest to us, Great Britain and Canada, implemented programs allowing out LGBTs to serve despite opposition greater than the 58% opposition of our own combat units and those programs are implementing smoothly.

Of course, there will be opposition. You of all people should know that. Your father, a four-star admiral, was present during the racial integration of our armed forces. Many a famous war commander was against it, even Eisenhower. They were wrong. You yourself witnessed the role of women grow so that now women serve in 92% of all military occupational specialties. Of course, those monumental changes were opposed; of course, they caused perturbations. There is a lot of stereotyping out there, but today the U. S. Armed Forces are the most integrated fighting force in the world and the best.

Did you look behind you and see that your fellow Republicans shamefully opposed repeal? Is your own objection just to curry favor with them? Why don’t you look in front of you and see that the House of Representatives already voted to repeal DADT, that the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and the Counsel for the Pentagon all urged repeal? Look a little farther: the courts will repeal it, they already have.

Senator, you have nothing to lose but your reputation. Do the right thing; be a statesman. American LGBTs are Americans. They have an American’s right to go where they want to go, to do what they want to do and not have to lie about themselves. To make the silly arguments you are making puts LGBTs into a separate group, one less equal than the other group, the one doesn’t have to lie about itself.

In closing, we offer you belated congratulations on your son’s graduation from the Naval Academy. You must be proud, a fourth generation following in the footsteps. We saw young McCain’s tweet: “To be honest there is no better feeling than serving your country. The navy is my family and I’m proud to be here. Fly, fight, win.” He seems totally happy. Wouldn’t it be nice if every soldier and sailor could be as happy?

 

Sincerely,

 

Belinda and John

 

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

 

The Start of Our Journey

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

December 3, 2010

The Start of Our Journey

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

Hello everyone. Welcome to our blog. We are Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta, parents of three children, one of whom is gay. We are allies writing under the API Family Pride banner. In this, our first blog, we would like to share with you how we came to find out that one of our two sons is gay.

It is April 1993. Lance is at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Belinda has been trying to get him on the phone for the last few days so he can help fill out financial aid paperwork for the next school year. Each time she calls, someone picks up the phone, says Lance is not there, promises to give him the message and have him call back. No, they don’t know where he is, or so they say. After three days of this, Belinda becomes apprehensive, why is he not returning calls? Is everything all right? Finally, on a Monday, Lance calls back.

Belinda: “Lance! I’ve been calling. You’re not answering! Where have you been?”

Lance: “I have been to Washington DC.”

Belinda: “What’s in DC?”

Lance: “I walked in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation March.”

Belinda: “Does that mean you’re gay?”

Lance: “Yes!”

Belinda says that after that fateful “Yes,” she went into shock. The conversation lasted for about another fifteen minutes, but she can’t remember any of it, she was in a fog. She remembers that she did not know what “gay” really meant, she had no context for that word other than the one she remembers from childhood: to be gay is bad. Lance remembers the conversation differently. After he answered “Yes” to Belinda’s question, their conversation continued and for awhile Lance thought how cool it was that his being gay didn’t upset Mom. But then, about ten minutes later, Belinda repeated:

“Lance, are you gay?” To which Lance replied:

“Yes. I already said that ten minutes ago,” but now he knew something was wrong, Mom was not tracking their conversation.

Belinda called John at work and without preamble said:

“Lance is a homosexual.” John remembers his immediate reaction: annoyance. Lance is probably getting bad grades and he is setting this an excuse; he can’t concentrate on schoolwork, he is dealing with this personal issue. It’s a phase; he’ll get over it. When John came home that Monday though, Belinda was crying and over the next two years Belinda spontaneously broke into tears for no apparent reason. Having dinner at a restaurant, tears; dancing at New Year’s, tears; working in the garden, tears. But when finally the tears stopped, the action began. Belinda co-founded: PFLAG East Bay/Fremont, Committee To Assure Respect in Schools, and the Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride, she is the director of the latter. She lectures, goes on radio, talks in front of television cameras, leads workshops and puts up exhibits in high schools and colleges. John was slower in understanding what it means to have a son who is gay, but when he retired, he went to work for Belinda.

That is how it began. Seventeen years hence and our journey isn’t over by any means. There is much to learn and much to do. And in future blogs we will share with you our milestones. We have learned that for many APIs it is difficult to come out to parents, but we know how difficult it is for parents to first accept and then respect their child’s sexuality when different from theirs. Belinda has coined the phrase: “When children come out of the closet, the parents go in.”

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

 

 

Are Literary Agents And Publishers Homophobic?

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

October 14, 2010

Are Literary Agents And Publishers Homophobic?

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

One of the more pleasurable benefits of our work is that we are always learning new things. Sometimes new avenues for learning are pointed out to us, sometimes new avenues appear serendipitously. NPR’s October 7 On the Media segment included an interview with an author who had a manuscript rejected because she refused to make a gay character disappear. The interview drew on an article written by the author in Publishers Weekly that we hunted down and read. And so here we are: a whole new set of questions to ask and research.

Authors Are Told To Make Gay Character Straight

The person interviewed was author Rachel Manija Brown who together with Sherwood Smith wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult (YA) novel, Stranger. The novel has five principal characters, one of whom is gay and has a boyfriend; the most they do in the novel is kiss. The authors went in search of an agent and were surprised. Their Publishers Weekly article relates:

An agent from a major agency, one which [sic] represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

The authors turned the agent down because this is a moral issue for them. They work with teenagers “. . . and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that is not right.”

Are Young Adult Books Keeping LGBT People A Secret?

The article drew a ton of comments. It seems that many other authors experienced similar requests from publishers and agents to eliminate an LGBT character. One author even related that her gay character was taken out without her knowledge. She found out while reading the first pass pages of the manuscript, fought it, and with support of her agent was able to restore the character.

But this exposure to homophobia where we would least expect it, after all, these are books we’re talking about, led us on a search. The YA market is generally defined as people between twelve and twenty years old. The YA fantasy and science fiction market is even more specialized. Are the gatekeepers of this genre preserving the Caucasian, middle-class, vanilla stereotypes? We don’t know, but we will be looking at this hard. Does this homophobia extend to other creative fields? We don’t now that for sure either, but initial readings point toward a yes. One post we read responded to the Publishers Weekly article by stating:

Any gay person working in media or entertainment might wonder what all the fuss is about — the fact that People With Money don’t think they can sell Our Gay Art is simply a fundamental truth of the creative industries we work in.

Malinda Low, a YA novelist, did an analysis and found that for the past ten years LGBT YA novels occupy less than one percent of the total YA market. Yet we found a list of 56 YA novels with LGBT persons as principal characters. Is 56 a large number? How many YA novels are published? How large is the market? How many LGBT young adults are in that market? Are agents and publishers homophobic or are their decisions market driven? Does that make a difference?

Why Are Fictional LGBT Characters Important?

      In the first place, homophobia anywhere is bad. But the ages from twelve to twenty are particularly sensitive, because that is the period when LGBT young people need models the most and need to read that they belong. Rachel Manija Brown said it best: “When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.”

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org