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Tough Decisions! Major Setbacks!

Experiences in life can be as dramatic as losing a dream job, not getting your first-choice for college…
Or
As traumatic as a healthcare scare, a near death situation, losing a love one, a family breakup or a relapse…

Or it could be both… the greatest life lessons come when you least expect them.
But
“Breakdowns can create breakthroughs. Things fall apart so things can fall together.” Unknown.

There are those painful experiences that brings us to rethink every decision that we have ever made; doubt ourselves or think about giving up.
Or
In an ironic way, they may encourage us to take some time to relax, reevaluate and keep on moving.
One of the most important lessons that I have learnt in life is to ‘always have a plan B’ or even a plan C if you have to.

It may seem redundant when everything is going in the right direction but life is sadly unpredictable.

Having a plan B implies that we set our goals and expectations not only where we ‘think’ we can reach them but also where we ‘know’ we can actually reach them.

It’s like having an escape plan from a dramatic/traumatic experience… think of it as,
we may never have to face those sleepless nights,
being frustrated,
overeating,
isolating ourselves,
or harming ourselves.

It’s an opportunity to continue from where we left off.

I know that some of us may be in the process of making some very challenging decisions or setting some very important goals for the future… you may want to check out this article:
“Common Life Mistakes Young People Make: ‘There are many path to that mysterious Y… don’t assume that you know what they are” http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2015/06/common-life-mistakes-young-people-make/

Also, feel free to share other advice and thoughts; here are some inspiring thoughts from some young adults who may have had to make tough decisions themselves:

Gaycation!

As a ‘must see’, I would recommend a new docuseries by Ellen Page and her best friend, Ian Daniel, called Gaycation which explores LGBT culture around the world. I’ve been watching some of these videos over the last few days and at times it has been heartbreaking but at other times uplifting.

So far she has been to Jamaica, Brazil and Japan… these videos can be found on YouTube/VICELAND.

From the dancehall scene in Jamaica, the carnival parades in Brazil to a son coming out to his mother in Japan, it’s really eye opening and humbling.
Ellen Page came out in 2014, in a very inspiring speech at HRCF’s Time to Strive Conference…

And it’s always inspiring to see a childhood star, who has been through similar struggles, come out and stand up in a bold way for something that matters a lot to you.

Gaycation is just one among the great projects that she has been doing… she was in Jamaica last year for the country’s very first gay pride – something I’m still at awe about.
It was a very small celebration but it sends a very strong message to the people in a very homophobic country, that we are still alive and proud. Some of the scenes from that pride event are shown in the documentary she did in Jamaica.

She also spoke with a very homophobic politician and a serial killer in Brazil, who of course, refused to show his face. His unquestionable hate for gay people is really sad!

Please check out this series and share your thoughts!

Gay Sports Stars – You Can Play!

The Coming out story of Dalton Maldonado, the high school basketball player from Kentucky was a reminder that sports may not always be the place for gay athletes. First, he was harassed by a rival high school team and then his picture was left out of his high school basket page last year. That must have been devastating!

But the coming out of Derrick Gordon when he was playing basketball for UMASS (University of Massachusetts) in 2013 kind of changed the view that many people had about gay athletes.

He shifted the conversation, pretty much, from, ‘Is he going to be another distraction?’ to ‘how far can he actually go?’ Today he is the first openly gay athlete to be playing in the NCAA tournament.

At first, I was a little worried for him… Michael Sam had only come out a few weeks before; he was then drafted for the NFL as the first openly gay player but just a few months down the road, before he was even able to play his first game, he was cut by two teams.

That wasn’t good news for any openly gay player who felt inspired by Sam’s coming out story and I felt the frustration too, because I like many people were rooting for him to do well.

Nonetheless, he got booted from the NFL… he tried to make up for his career in Canada when he joined the CFL but just a few weeks later he announced that he was ‘quitting professional football’. His justification at the end of the day was that the NFL didn’t take him because he was gay.
Those were dim days for gay athletes and gay sports fans. At one point, I was convinced that gay male players, especially black players were not welcome in sports.

When I started high school, I did tracks and I eventually quit, and one of the reasons was because I never really felt that it was the place to be. I was a little fearful maybe.

But I have watched athletes likes Jason Collins, Brittney Griner, Darren Young, Abby Wambach, Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy make history and you never want to see another gay player be treated like an outcast in the real world. There aren’t many gay athletes, but the few that exist, automatically become role models and life savers, whose stories speaks to an entire community.

Gay players help to set standard for how some people see the gay community. Things are probably changing before our eyes… it’s hard to ignore the strength and weakness of gay players… the traumatic experience of coming out to the people who have always been in your life: your family, your coach, your teammates… the anxiety?!

At the same time, there is much to celebrate when any gay player simply gets ‘to play’. Regardless of how Gordon performs in the NCAA this week, he has already made history; he has paved the way for athletes like Dalton Maldonado and he has done what many probably had not imagined before or at least not this soon.

Straight Parents, Gay Children

March is LGBT Health Month and since lately I have been talking to a number of people about mental health and physical health, especially among LGBT folks.
An interesting topic that came up is not so much about the struggles we face due to sexual/gender identity but the struggle our parents face.

Some of us may be aware of the frustration of being gay; of coming out to parents, but many might not have thought deeply about how parents cope or not cope.
Sometimes religious teachings make it hard for them; sometimes societal pressure makes it hard for them but what thought process do you think they go through when coming to terms with the reality that one of their child may be gay or transgender?

Why should they have to deal with something, of which they have no first-hand experience? This is a legitimate question where were are not necessarily dismissing the pain of being ‘rejected’ but actually acknowledging the remorse from ‘rejecting’…

To some extent, we could match the first few years of coming out ‘to ourselves’, to those first years of coming out ‘to our parents’… what was it like for us? What was it like for them?

For instance, I may not be able to fully grasp the mental process of a parent that sees his/her child come out in a deeply homophobic society.
Sometimes parents share their own insecurities, at other times they just don’t want to deal with it…

Their inability to cope may play out in anger or rejection… but how do we know when they are being protective and actually do care or just willfully destructive?

There are some parents who cannot cope with the idea that his/her child may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; who may not know how to respond and who should be able to get help. PFLAG is a national organization that offers peer support for families and friends of LGBTQ individuals with regional chapter meetings in Norwalk and Hartford.

Myths that Religion Taught Us

Too often LGBT youth are reminded that the church or whatever it may be is not the place for us to be who we are.
For some of us, our stories with religion end with rejection, abuse, trauma, just to name a few.
And I can understand the frustration and anger because quite frankly, a lot of us feel betrayed by society and our religious intuitions.

Just Monday another case was brought before the Supreme Court in New Jersey by conservative Christians to challenge the ban on conversion therapy in the state. Luckily the Supreme Court rejected this case which of course is a big win for the LGBTQ youth who may not have a voice when faced with gay conversion therapy.

Growing up, going to church seems ever so normal until we begin to realize that popular theological interpretations of religious doctrines do not view us as moral people.

At some point, I stopped believing… wasn’t sure if I was an atheist or not… but I was very angry, not only at Christianity but at all religions that perpetuate societal violence against LGBT people.

Somehow, I had absorbed a lot of damaging lies. For a few years I had no intention to renew my faith because the message I received and the people who embraced it didn’t make much sense.

I was forced to accept that being gay was a choice and conversion therapy was effective. In my perspective, back then, there was just no logics, no rationale for the lies that I was told.

Among the lies:

You can’t be christian and gay

The idea that the Bible, as it is, condemns homosexuality is an old age rhetoric that was never true.
“You are a reprobate and you are going to hell!”
Leviticus 20:13 and 18;22 are all too familiar like the beating stick that was meant to make us straight. Religious fanatics who are only as religious to the extent that they hate gay people, based on their standards, stoning a man to death can divinely resolve one’s sexuality. Needless to say, it was taught that gay people are not welcome in the faith.
What the pastors failed to tell us was that the Bible does not address the subject of homosexual acts between committed gay couples, because the ‘concept’ of a person being homosexual did not even exist at the time the Bible was written.

God hates the sin but loves the sinner

First and foremost, according to many theologians, this saying is not found in the Bible in so many words.
Many religious conservatives believe in a magical spell that could remove the sexual orientation from the person.

The implication here is that the ‘gayness’ and the beholder are two different things.
Not True!

“All Religions condemn homosexuality”

Notwithstanding that Christianity does not explicitly reflect the bigotry of many of its followers, and bearing in mind that both reform and conservative Jews are usually accepting, there are still many other religious groups that are affirming or accepting of gay people… such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, among some of the most popular.

Altogether, we all have different faith and we are entitled to our beliefs but it’s ungodly to use God in the name of bigotry. It’s senseless to believe that the intention of a loving God, for this world was to punish humans for things beyond their control.
Not true!

Conversion Therapy Does Not Work!

In December 2014, I remember coming across a story on Facebook about a 17 year old transgender girl from Ohio, Leelah Alcorn, who committed suicide.

Before she died she posted a suicide note on her Instagram blog, revealing her struggles and requesting for change within society.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YbNFXsW-uo

She was one in the line of many more who suffered similar fates before her. She was raised in a conservative Christian environment and came out to her parents at 14 years old but they refused to accept her female gender identity. When she made a request to them to have her undergo female conversion therapy, they send her into a Christian-based conversion therapy instead.

Leelah lived with the fears that things will never get better… that she will never be fully accepted, especially by her parents – who should have been there to love and care for her.

But in spite of Leelah’s plea for a changed world including a ban on conversion therapy, nothing much has really changed since her death.

There are still people who we come across now and then, who think that one can ‘become straight’ or who deny the fact that there are actually people who identify with another gender.

In Christian therapy Leelah met some of these people who constantly reminded her that she was not the girl she thought she was and sadly, her parents approved this message.

I may never understand much of the struggle Leelah endure while going through conversion therapy but I do know the emotional and psychological trauma you experience when someone tells you that you have to be something that you are not and what you are is disgusting.

Back in 2014 there was an Ex-gay ministry traveling the world, especially to third world countries, in places such as Africa and the Caribbean, convincing the local populace and governments to reject the LGBT movement, calling it the ‘Gay Agenda’.

When I was in Jamaica, one of the board members, Dennis Jernigan, came on national television to share his story of ‘becoming straight’ and falling in love with a woman with whom he produced nine children.

At that time it didn’t occur to me that he was spreading the wrong message. I had the mentality that sexuality was alterable and his story was living proof. In fact, I was still actively involved in my local church and I worked tirelessly to find the secret formula to ‘becoming straight’.
I went to his site and messaged him my story, expressing my desire to become straight… how silly? I left my contact information hoping he would respond. I checked back for days into weeks but I never heard back from him. It was extremely frustrating but today I thank God he didn’t.

A few months later Exodus International released a new policy statement on the criminalization of homosexuality and Dennis Jernigan offered an apology for the work he carried out in Jamaica, which in his statement violated the principles of Exodus. The organization was ultimately dissolved in 2013.

It’s really heartbreaking to witness different organizations and the people who support them, focused on destroying thousands of lives in the name of ignorance.
Leelah would probably still be here today had it not been for the hateful dogma that some religious groups teaches.

Much more work needs to be done but fingers crossed, we will get there. “It Gets Better”.

If there was a cure for depression

a figure with a head that is shaded out
For months I struggled with depression hardly knowing what I was going through…

For the most part I knew that I was often anxious and I had this empty feeling that I just wanted to go away.

I am a very pessimistic person, which means that I still am… I worry about the simplest things – sometimes within my subconscious.
Maybe I have always been this way. I remember being in high school… I couldn’t go through a weekend having not looked over what I had done in class all week without feeling worried that something could go wrong. For one, I cared deeply about my school work but I was a little on the extreme. I studied, it may not have always been the best approach but I had a weird attachment to books. It was very natural for me to run though my notebook or I would just end up starting another week feeling some struggle or disappointment. Too bad, I’m now in my adult years and I’m beginning to realize that it’s not just the books; I really have an overbearing fear of failure which gives way to occasional panic attacks.

It’s that feeling you get when you think that you have not done enough or there has got to be something else to do… that restless feeling.
Every day I have been in the habit of reading a chapter or so from a book, running through a Spanish lesson or doing some form of workout. If I have something planned, I immediately get to it but if I procrastinate, I begin to develop anxiety.

But there are those days when I feel so down that I can’t get to anything and quite frankly, it makes matters worse.

I develop a feeling of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness. I have difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with major depression. It was really hard for me to sleep at nights – it still is. If you knock at my door at 3am in the morning I’ll probably answer it immediately. I started medication and for some time it helped but the true antidote were the things that I do when I am feeling down or when I begin to have negative thoughts. I write poems, I paint and I take photographs.

But that doesn’t mean that life eventually became perfect and my depression went away. These things don’t really cure ‘losing my family’, ‘being jobless’ or ‘homophobia’ so the only thing that has really changed is that I have developed better coping skills. I don’t have as many suicidal thoughts as before and I feel a bit more interested in my hobbies and life altogether.

Now and then I have a rough day and I sleep it out; I try not to get into the negative thinking. But I have to admit, it can be hard at times… if that doesn’t work I turn to my music, if that doesn’t work, I take a walk… I just keep trying.

Check out these uplifting stories:
http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/personal-stories/all-stories/7

The ‘Other’ Aspect of Black History Month

February is special for many reasons, besides the fact that it’s my birth month, it’s Black History Month in the US and other countries and LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom.

Growing up and going back to as far as first grade, Black history Month for me was all about reciting poetry by black poets and playing parts in skits.
Back then celebrations didn’t really go beyond school but through the celebrations I did learn a lot about black history.

Today much of that has changed. Though many of us still engage in Black History celebrations and want to bring awareness to the challenges African Americans still face in society, some people really question its modern significance.

I have to admit that it was a long hard fight for the freedom we have today, from slavery and civil rights to the first black president, and the people who championed change are deserving of honor.

But we can’t ignore the debates and the questions that are being raised, such as:

Is Black History Month and all entities alike, defeating or serving their primary purpose?
Are we engaging in segregation rather than creating a united society?

Going back in history, the primary purpose of Black History Month in America was to emphasize the need for having ‘black history’ taught in schools.
Black History month was also meant to honor the works of president, Abraham Lincoln and Abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, both of whom have Birthdays in the second week of February.

With that in mind, many believe that as society evolves, it’s time for Black History to emerge into the mainstream.
Actor and director, Morgan Freeman has been vocal against the idea of Black History Month… he stated, “I don’t want a Black History Month, black history is American history.”

While I still celebrate Black History, I’ve always found it interesting to contrast the way people react to this period in a society that is not majority black versus one that is. Of course, in predominantly black societies, such as Jamaica, going against the idea of Black History Month is virtually absent.
Black History Month in ‘black’ societies is technically celebrating history. But here in America- in a plural society- one just can’t ignore the social and political connotations.

Another aspect of Black History Month that has always fascinated me is the fact that LGBT Black icons, that have helped to forge a way for us, are almost never mentioned in our history lessons.

This includes the likes of Bayard Rustin, who taught Martin Luther King the strategies of non-violence and organized the 1963 March on Washington. As well as, James Baldwin who was a pioneer in black literature. It shouldn’t be that Black History month is a celebration of some, it should be a celebration of all.

While there is still a worthwhile cause for reflecting on the history of the black race, it is also important that we fight segregation of all forms.

I Am an Immigrant, but I Am Not…

This is my version:
I love hamburgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese
I love Rhythm and Blues and Hip Hop
I love basketball and soccer
I love jeans, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein
I admire American history and politics
I feel no more an immigrant than I feel American.
‘I just fit in’.
But day after day I battle questions like ‘Why am I here?’ And ‘Do I belong?’
I have to answer these questions to myself in order to establish my purpose here and to understand how I can contribute to American society…
…And at the same time, I have to sought a way to connect and relate to Americans in such a way that they understand that I am hardly any different.
Having grown up and lived in Jamaica, I know what it’s like to live within an oppressive culture – one that deprived me of the opportunity to be who I am.

…American culture is good and progressive and I adopt easily because I can be myself.
At some point I realized that culture- from the language I speak to the food I eat- is irrelevant if I want to go on living.
Because of that it has become easy for me to make the shift towards the American culture.

Quite frankly, I identify Jamaican culture with my struggle. The ‘way of life’ that is being embraced within Jamaican society is not compatible with my definition of an ideal life; it does not embrace others differences.

Still it’s easy for me to be reminded of my past… say I pull up a YouTube video or someone asks me about Jamaica…
…And at times, it can be frightening because I cannot see myself living an openly gay life in Jamaica.
‘I just don’t fit in’
…I don’t see myself going to LGBT support groups
…or hanging out with college friends
…or having a good career
It’s almost unimaginable.

I am an immigrant nonetheless… I understand the socioeconomic trends that are at play in American society when immigration is being discussed but regardless, I am also an immigrant who is willing to study and work as hard as other Americans who continue to make this a great country.

I also believe in the words of George Washington, who is a true inspiration:
“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”

How do you deal with rejection?

I have been looking at some of the statistics of homeless LGBT youth in the United States and I must admit that I find them astonishing.
Of the 1.6 million homeless youth in America, 40% identify as LGBT. LGBT homeless youth commit suicide at 62% compared to heterosexual homeless youth at 29%.
Not everyone who has been rejected by their family may eventually become homeless however, some of us may be lucky enough to find a friend or family member who we can trust and who is willing to accept us.
But the reality of leaving home without a place to stay is still a hard one.
For me, that’s how I started out…
One of the toughest questions, I have had to ask myself is, ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight?’
First there is the shame, then the guilt, then depression, then confusion, then loneliness and then the suicidal thoughts kick in.
Dealing with family rejection can be really frustrating and the thought of starting over can be overwhelming.
Nonetheless, I think that everyone deals with rejection in a different way.
Like I deal with every other problem, I write about it.
I write about the distance that has been created between me and my mother
… And the things I may never be able to do with my brother again.
But I also encourage myself. I choose to think that things will eventually change and I will be able to confront my fears and acknowledge that it is not my fault.
Often times however, many people will not be able to easily adopt my coping skills… situations vary; and one may opt for options like doing drugs or even committing suicide.
There are my times in my past when I thought ‘enough is enough’ and I just want do the things that will make it better but without a second thought I would probably not be here today.
Sometimes it requires that we forgive the people who hurt us and develop the ambition needed to make our lives better. That way we can prove to the people who rejected us, that despite it all, our lives have value and that way, we can also help to reduce the number of homeless youth and not be a statistic.

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not.
Make it your strength, for then it can never be your weakness.
Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Introduction: Being Black, Being Gay and Being an Immigrant

Starting out, I want to clarify the underlying meaning of this topic, and so going forward we can have a good understanding of what to expect.
First of all, I go by the name Kevin. I am from Jamaica. Last December marked the very first year since I have been residing here in the US.
So basically, I have experienced two winters so far and it has been amazing. I have indeed gotten used to the cold, which is a bit surprising, considering that in Jamaica it is sunny all year round and the island is still yet to experience a negative temperature reading. And with the current trends in climate change, who knows?
Nevertheless, my experience here has been for the most part, eye opening and incredible.
But what does it mean to be gay in the context of being an immigrant and being black?
In 9th grade one of my closest friends said to me, “When you are older, you are going to be gay.” Since then I hadn’t spoken with him.
Today, I am thinking, it was probably a good thing that, at the time, he didn’t know that I was already gay.
As I grew older and more cognizant of my sexuality, my life became one of secrecy and I eventually had to migrate.
While living in Jamaica, I had no concept of pride, as simply being who you are and proud. Jamaica isn’t very accepting of LGBT people.
Much of that has changed for me. But while I may be on my way to overcoming the perils of being gay, I now live in a society where I may be viewed as different in many other spheres.
I am an Immigrant.
This is something I rarely think about, particularly because despite my differences I have somehow managed to fit in – it’s as though I have been living here my whole life.
I socially connect much better with the people here than I did in Jamaica. In perspective, I was very introvert but here, I am a different person – my true self and I think that’s what matters.
It feels great being authentic!
I am also Black.
On one hand, being gay in the black community doesn’t promise acceptance and freedom. The African American community still has a way to go in terms of tolerance towards LGBT people and without being political, a lot of it may have to do with the struggles from our past and not knowing how to dispose of our anger. Additionally, it could also be due to a lack of education on the subject.
Of course, the issue of homophobia in the black community is not specific to America, it is also present elsewhere, such as in Jamaica for example.
On the other hand, due to discrimination, being black exposes one to a number of racial and social constraints.
As a result, being both black and gay can make one very conscious about oneself and one’s surroundings… about things that probably shouldn’t matter.

But despite how I may have to define myself in society going forward, I think that I was lucky enough to break many barriers that held me back for years.
I was lucky enough to join in the Gay Marriage celebrations of last June, considering that a few years before, being gay and out was almost unimaginable.
With that being said, in the weeks to come, I want to explore the fundamental questions of being a ‘black, gay, immigrant’ and the problems that are still existent in our society towards ALL LGBT youth and finally, I want to look at the day to day challenges we face from dealing with depression to living in a hetero-normative society.