An open letter to the LGBT community:

We’ve been in the news a lot lately, especially regarding DieselTec and business owner Brian Klawiter. Now, I’m not necessarily inclined to believe the ‘death threats’ and graffiti weren’t self-organized in an attempt to keep their name in the news and to keep the publicity rolling in.

But, that is irrelevant. What is relevant is our further actions with him and any other businesses that engage in this extreme form of discrimination.

I implore you, as members of the LGBT community in West Michigan, to stop engaging this business, this man, in any and all forms of communication. Clearly nothing we say or do will change his mind into supporting us and our fight for equality. He is a lost cause. And frankly, he offers a very specialized service that most of us will never use.

As I said, I don’t believe the death threats are real, and I’m seriously inclined to believe the graffiti was self-inflicted. However, if it wasn’t, and if the death threats are real, and did indeed come from our community – please, stop. Stooping to his level and destroying property does nothing more than provide fuel for these people to further spew their hatred. Acting in this way not only gives us a bad reputation, but can make it harder to get city officials and members of the community to back us and give us the equal rights we deserve.

We can’t bully people into accepting us. I understand the frustration and anger that fills you when someone says such hate-filled things. Trust me, I understand that desire to lash out and show these people that we will not run in fear, and that we will not back down. But reacting with threats and vandalism isn’t the way to do this.

I understand the want to react in kind when someone calls us evil, or says we’re sinning, or says we’re below them. Stand up for yourselves, stand up for our community, but don’t drop to the level of behavior of our detractors. That is not the path to equality.

Let this story die. Let this man flounder his way in his hate-filled life. His business is either going to go away or it’s going to continue forward. But don’t let him define our progress or our actions.

If you want to fight back, get involved in the community at large. Volunteer, announce your pride and show the community we are not unlike them and we are claiming our space in the world. Get involved in local politics – show up at city hall meetings, talk to the lawmakers in your community. Protesting outside of a business will not get us equal rights. Laws and city ordinances will. Make our voices heard in the most productive way.

And remember the more space we give this man and others like him, the less space we have for ourselves.

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Not My Normal Post

So I talk about changing the meaning of ‘manning up’ from being this misogynistic machismo thing to a concept of men taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. I’m working on manning up myself, because I want to be the best man I can possibly be. And I’ve got some really awesome role models to help me fill those shoes. 

Turns out, I’ve got a new guy to add to that list. 

We all struggle with life at times. And, it’s gotta be some kind of Murphy’s Law that kicks you when you’re already down. 

But I know a guy, in spite of all the stuff he’s got on his plate, is manning up in one of the best ways possible. He’s manning up to be a father. He’s fighting for his son. 

My co-worker, my friend, is fighting for full custody of his son.

I wish you could see him talk about his son. His face completely lights up and you can literally see him filling up with pride. But it’s not the sort of unattainable adoration that every son acheives to invoke in his father. This is real. This is a father’s love for his son. I dare you to talk to him about his kid and not find yourself feeling proud right alongside with him.  

But here’s the thing. In order to get full custody, it costs money. Filing fees, attorney fees – my friend and his fiancee have a lawyer ready to go, but they don’t have the money. Now, normally I don’t do this, because I don’t always feel comfortable asking for money. This is different. This guy, this man – he wants to do the right thing, he wants to be the father to his son and give him a life of love and happiness and teach him what being a man is all about. 

My friend has some medical needs, both him and his fiancee, that need taking care of. He’s paying for those out of pocket, so when it comes to money for a lawyer, he’s lacking the necessary funds for the ongoing process of a custody fight.

This is where I’m turning to you, friends. He’s started a GoFundMe to try and raise the money for lawyer’s fees. Any and all donations help.  

He’s working on fixing mistakes from his past, so let’s not punish his son for past ghosts (God knows we all have some). My friend also said any money left over from the process would go to the travelling hockey team his son plays for – to help other families that are struggling give their kids a little something extra.

I really want to see this dad get custody of his son. So how about helping out? I did. You should too. I wouldn’t advocate for this guy if I didn’t believe in what he is doing.

The Measure of an Activist

The internet has been abuzz as of late about Indiana’s RFRA, specifically, about a little pizzeria called Memories Pizza. (By the way, the business didn’t bother to purchase their domain name.)

They closed shortly after coming out on the news talking about their opposition to serving the LGBT community, specifically stating they wouldn’t cater a same-sex wedding. The owners claimed they received death threats and because of this, felt they needed to close their business for their safety.

Yet none of these alleged threats have been discovered. None of the articles posted go into any sort of detail regarding the threats. To me, a threat of death is far more serious than a threat to boycott a restaurant.

This post, however, isn’t about the validity of the threats, or why RFRA is wrong, or how obvious it’s been that Memories Pizza was chosen to be a martyr for the “Gays are Evil” movement. This post is about activism and advocacy, and how important these things are.

I comment on a post about exactly that, how these people are martyrs for the cause. Someone responded with a comment that didn’t set well with me. They said that yes, the LGBT community and their allies had shut the business down, but that we didn’t change the minds of the business owners, so essentially, nothing had changed.

I beg to differ. Shutting down a business because they have bigoted, discriminatory views does change things. Recently Mira received the honor of being a member of the Trans100 2015. One of the keynote speakers, Tiq Milan, talked about his mother teaching him about taking up space, and how he has a right to take up space, and a responsibility to take up space.

By shutting this business down, the LGBT community has shown them that we deserve to be here, and we will take up our rightful space, whether others feel we deserve that space or not. And it’s our responsibility to continue to take up our rightful space, no matter what the opposition says or does.

How do we gauge the success of our efforts? If it’s solely by the number of minds changed, then are any other efforts moot? The Woolworth sit-ins in Greensboro most likely didn’t change the minds of the shop owner or many of the other white people sitting in the diner. Because they didn’t change the minds of those people, does that discount the fact those four students sparked an interest that ultimately resulted in 1000 people protesting the segregation? Certainly not.

Those four students had enough. They took up their rightful space at that counter. And the LGBT community needs to do the same. We need to continue to take up space and show our opposers that we are not backing down. Of course I’d love to change minds in the process, but that obviously isn’t always going to happen.

To poo-poo the efforts of the LGBT community and their allies to get businesses to close their doors because of discrimination is hurtful and extremely dangerous. If enough people felt the way this commenter did, the likelihood of any kind of movement for social change wouldn’t occur, because ‘we couldn’t change their minds’.

Change doesn’t occur overnight, either. Stonewall was the catalyst for the LGBT movement. But their efforts didn’t change the hearts and minds of all people. Clearly that fight still continues. The results of their actions, however, gave others the inspiration to no longer sit back and be trampled on.

Yes. We came out in force against this business. Yes, we may have helped in shutting the business down. And yes, we didn’t change the way they feel about the LGBT community. But things have changed. And they continue to change.

We may not change everyone’s minds. But it is our job to continue to fight, to take each step forward as a victory, as fuel to continue down the path to equality. As Tiq Milan said, success is measured in the space we occupy. It’s measured in the quantity of people out fighting for a cause. It’s measured by the quality of life those fighting for rights have. Each victory, no matter how small, counts.

This is a victory. It shows other businesses that we will not back down. It shows others within the LGBT community that we do matter, and that we can make a difference.

SIDENOTE: I understand that the owners of the pizzeria became puppets of the religious right. I also understand that they were most likely approached and told if they closed their doors, they would be repaid for it. I understand they became martyrs and targeted to be martyrs. This however, to me, is still a victory. Our voices were heard.