Friday, October 30, 2009

Feature: Out of the 'Ash'

Despite improved acceptance, not all gay young adults are ready for the ball just yet...

by Ronnie Cohen

The fantasy world of Fairfax author Malinda Lo's recently published novel, Ash, unfolds long ago, in a time of kings, witches and fairies. But the tale's nonchalant acceptance of homosexual love propels the lesbian retelling of Cinderella into the future.

The turnout at an event earlier this month in the Fairfax Library illustrates just how far off a world free of homophobia, like the one in Ash, might be. Although a Fairfax librarian contacted leaders of gay-pride clubs at local high schools, only one student showed up to hear Lo speak about the book she wrote for young adults.

Two teachers who lead Redwood High School's Pride Plus Club did attend the library reading. They say some of the club's 10 or so members might have shied away from the event for fear it would lead to their parents learning about their homosexuality.

Since they attended high school, the teachers say, the climate for gay and lesbian teens has improved markedly. Kate Lorch, who teaches English at Redwood, graduated from high school in 1994. "I was so relieved and happy to find these high school students were so much more accepting and open as the culture had evolved," she says.

Still, Lorch and Greg Stevens, a Spanish teacher and co-leader of Redwood's Pride Plus, say students hesitate to announce to their families and their communities that they're gay. When they do, their parents sometimes counsel them against making public pronouncements about their sexual preferences for fear of persecution. That fear can translate into being unable to come out and hear a lesbian author talk about her work.

Casey Halcro runs youth groups for gays and lesbians through Spectrum LGBT Center in Novato. "Still, in 2009, the kids don't feel like it's really all that safe, even in Marin County, to be open and honest about their sexuality," she says. "It's been 11 years since Matthew Shepard was shot and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. But it's only been two years since Lawrence King, a 15-year-old boy, was shot point-blank because kids thought he dressed too femininely here in California."

A 14-year-old boy allegedly killed Lawrence King in an Oxnard classroom in February 2008, a few weeks after he stated publicly he was gay. In contrast, women who love women face no threat of persecution in the world Lo creates for her well-received first book. When the main character, Ash, chooses a huntress over a prince, she does not grapple with a label or the need to come out as a lesbian.

"In Ash's world, there are no lesbians, technically," Lo says. "The fairytale is that she can fall in love with whoever she wants. There's no homophobia in this fantasy world. No one blinks an eye. So it's not a coming-out story. The fairytale is really about her falling in love, and it doesn't matter who it's with."

• • • •

ABOUT A YEAR ago, Lo, 35, moved within walking distance of the Fairfax Library to live with her partner, Amy Lovell, and their black lab mix, Spy Girl. On a recent sunny afternoon, Lo took a break from work on her second book, a young adult quest novel, to talk about how she came to be a writer, marriage, being what she calls "queer" and Ash.

Sitting at her kitchen table with Spy Girl at her side, Lo, who was born in China and moved to the U.S. when she was 3, wears jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. Her shiny black hair falls straight to her chin. In the first draft Lo wrote of Ash about eight years ago, the main character, a young girl, falls in love with a fairy godfather. After reading the draft, one of Lo's friends suggested that Ash had more chemistry with the huntress than the male fairy.

"It was a surprise to me," Lo says, still sounding surprised. "I hadn't intended to write this same-sex romance. I was worried that it would sound gimmicky to write a lesbian Cinderella. But it seemed clear that that's what I wanted to do—subconsciously, at least."

In Ash, there is no glass slipper, the prince has money and power but not necessarily charm, and he does not roam the countryside searching for a beauty with one shoe. Like Cinderella, though, Ash's parents die and leave her to serve an evil stepmother and two stepsisters. Also like Cinderella, because Lo loves parties, Ash attends balls.

In Ash, men tend to marry women, and humans tend to favor humans. But the spectrum of normal sexuality widens so that it's also normal when the fairy godfather falls for Ash and when Ash falls for the huntress.

Lo says she always loved to write, but after graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in economics and Chinese studies, she tried unsuccessfully to become a banker and then went to graduate school, first at Harvard for East Asian studies and then at Stanford, studying Hollywood as a cultural anthropologist.

Unhappy as an academic, Lo quit her Stanford doctorate program and went to work first as a writer and then as an editor at , a Web site for lesbians and bisexual women in entertainment.

From, Lo learned that lesbian women were tired of being marginalized or killed off in mass media. "It was very clear to me that these women want stories where the lesbians have a happy ending," she says.

• • • •

ASH INCORPORATES DETAILS about rituals and customs Lo studied in graduate school. And, like all good fairytales, it has a happy ending.

As an anthropologist, Lo examined marriage. Over the summer, she says, she and Lovell wed, though the state does not legally recognize their marriage. The couple missed the slim window of opportunity—from June through November 2008, before voters passed the gay-marriage ban—for same-sex couples to wed legally in California.

Lo and Lovell had only known each other for about a year when they had the chance to legally marry. They contemplated rushing their wedding last year but decided against it. "It would have felt a little like a shotgun wedding," Lo says. "It didn't seem right to push it.

"I would love to get married legally. It's too bad. Hopefully things are going to change."

Things have changed more than Lo ever imagined when she was in college and first found herself attracted to women. In the 1990s, for example, she says she never could have imagined talk of same-sex marriage.

"Marriage is really important," she says. "As an anthropologist, I've spent so much time studying marriage, family and kinship, and to have gay people enter that institution is a major step. I'm waiting to do it. I'd love to do it."

For more information on Spectrum LGBT Center's youth groups, go to

This story was published in the Pacific Sun on 10/23/09

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hate Crimes Bill Passes

Historic First Federal Protections of Transgender People

(October 22, 2009, Washington, DC) In an historic move, the United States Senate, by a vote of 68 to 29, joined the House of Representatives in passing The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will be the first federal law to include gender identity and transgender people. Once signed by the President, this law will add sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability to the categories included in existing federal hate crimes law and will allow local governments who are unable or unwilling to address hate crimes to receive assistance from the federal government. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill into law.

"Transgender people have been waiting so many years for assistance from the federal government in addressing the rampant and disproportional violence that we face," noted Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Today we move one step closer to our goal of ending violence motivated by hatred. Everyone in America deserves to live free of fear and of violence. We know that the dedicated leadership and hard work of Senator Kennedy and Representative Conyers and many other legislators made the passage of this bill possible. Words can't really express our gratitude for their commitment to equality for all people."

In the past, federal law has only mentioned gender identity in a negative context, such as explicitly excluding transgender people from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The passage of the hate crimes bill marks a significant turning point from the days in which the federal government contributed to the oppression of transgender people to today when federal law takes action to protect our lives.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will have a number of positive impacts. First, it will help educate law enforcement about the frequent hate violence against transgender people and the need to prevent and appropriately address it. Second, it will help provide federal expertise and resources when it is needed to overcome a lack of resources or the willful inaction on the part of local and/or state law enforcement. Third, it will help educate the public that violence against anyone is unacceptable and illegal.

Transgender people continue to be disproportionately targeted for bias motivated violence. Thirteen states and Washington, DC have laws which include transgender people in state hate crimes laws.

About NCTE

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people. By empowering transgender people and our allies to educate and influence policymakers and others, NCTE facilitates a strong and clear voice for transgender equality in our nation's capital and around the country. The National Center for Transgender Equality is a 501(c)3 organization.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Defend Marriage Equality in Maine!

The results of the most recent poll on Maine’s Proposition 1 battle were released: 51.8 percent of people who plan to vote in November say they will likely vote no on Prop 1, to protect LGBT couples’ freedom to marry. It also shows that 42.9 percent plan to vote against marriage equality. Five percent remain undecided.

While the numbers are encouraging, we know that this will be a tight, razor-thin election. The numbers are too close, and there is just too much at risk for us to be complacent. We’ve seen in our battle against California’s Proposition 8 how opponents of marriage equality pull their most desperate tricks in the final hours. And we know that they’re using the very same campaign of lies in Maine. In fact, they’re even using the same TV ads!

We can’t let them win. We can’t let them continue to deny us the precious right to marry who we love. That’s why we need to continue to work every day to secure every vote we can until November.

Please sign up for a virtual phone bank. All you need is a phone, a couple of hours, and a computer to secure critical votes for marriage equality. Every phone call counts!

No on 1/Protect Maine Equality also needs to have all the resources it needs in the final days to November 3. Please donate now! Every contribution is vital.

Please forward this to everyone you know who supports equality. Let them know that we must act now to make sure that we win this important battle for marriage and for our families.

Most importantly, if you live in Maine, get out and vote no on Prop 1. Send in your absentee ballot or vote in person on November 3. Your vote is a vote for equality.

In Solidarity,

Kate Kendell, Esq.
Executive Director
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Friday, October 16, 2009

Equality California Calls for Strengthening Ongoing Boycott against Anti-Gay Reggae Singer Buju Banton

October 16, 2009

Equality California Calls for Strengthening Ongoing Boycott against Anti-Gay Reggae Singer Buju Banton

San Francisco – Equality California is calling for strengthening the ongoing boycott against Buju Banton, a reggae artist whose music promotes the violent murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. At least 16 concerts in Banton’s U.S. tour have already been cancelled, and despite a recent meeting with LGBT community advocates in San Francisco—who called on Banton to take meaningful steps to build bridges with LGBT community members—he refused and has fired off a new round of attacks.

In response, EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors issued the following statement:

“Because Buju Banton remains unrepentant and unapologetic for glorifying the murder of LGBT people through his music, we must redouble our efforts and strengthen our boycott against him. His most notorious song, ‘Boom, Bye Bye,’ promotes hatred against LGBT people and a toxic environment that encourages violence. Equality California urges its coalition partners and those who stand for equality to join the boycott against Banton, just as we call on those clubs who have booked him to cancel their concerts.”

For more information on the boycott, visit To get the facts about Banton’s anti-gay record, visit:

Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender-rights advocacy organization in California. In the past decade, EQCA has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for LGBT individuals to a state with some of the most comprehensive civil-rights protections in the nation. EQCA has passed over 60 pieces of legislation and continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, public education and community empowerment.

LGBT community calls for quality, affordable healthcare during national healthcare reform debate

Community Town-Hall Meeting Held to Discuss Reform Proposals and Encourage community engagement

Get Informed. Share Your Thoughts. Take Action.

Monday October 19th
6:00pm - 8:00pm
San Francisco LGBT Community Center
Free Childcare Provided (Childcare RSVP)

The San Francisco LGBT Community Center is proud to team up with the California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender (LGBT) Health and Human Services Network - a project of Equality California Institute and Our Family Coalition, to host a town-hall forum to discuss the LGBT community's need for health care reform.

The forum will feature a panel of community leaders who are working on LGBT policy and health issues. Dianne Sabin, Executive Director of the Lesbian Health and Research Center at UCSF and Lance Toma, Executive Director of Asian &Pacific Islander Wellness Center will open the forum with an overview of the current state of LGBT health.

The town hall will be moderated by Rebecca Rolfe, Executive Director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Linda Leu, Regional Organizer in Northern California for Health Access, will provide an update about the status of current healthcare reform proposals. Judy Appel, Executive Director of Our Family Coalition, will focus on the needs of LGBTQ families in healthcare reform.

Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, will speak on the impact of healthcare reform for transgender people. Kyriell Noon, Executive Director of STOP AIDS Project, will address HIV/AIDS concerns as part of the national healthcare reform process. A question and answer session will follow the presentations, and presenters will discuss opportunities to take action on the healthcare reform issue.

"We are very excited to host this gathering which will be an opportunity to learn about the various proposals being considered in Washington, D.C" said Rebecca Rolfe, Executive Director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. "It is important that the LGBT community be aware of what is being proposed and have opportunities to voice our opinions and ensure that our needs are included in a national agenda."