On the Collective Mourning of the World (or lack thereof).

I’ve repeatedly tried to summarize my feelings on the international response to the horrific events in Paris. It’s been a struggle to find the words to encompass the emotions that have surrounded the past few days, but this is my best attempt.

I shouldn’t have to explain how I feel about the attack itself. I cried with all of you. When gunmen invade a city and violently take the lives of innocent human beings, we all know it’s a tragedy—at least when it happens in a place where we can envision ourselves. My tears for Beirut felt far more lonely. Suddenly, an article about the brutal attacks on a university in Garissa, Kenya, is being shared en masse. That happened in April, and while it’s not any less tragic now that many months have passed—while the pain is undoubtedly still fresh for those left behind—I can’t help but ruminate: are we so used to violence that we can no longer differentiate between attacks when they happen in the places we “expect” them too? Or is it that the majority just didn’t care, until they were reminded that the west is just as vulnerable?

My heart sank as my newsfeed filled with a red, white, and blue photo filter yesterday. People died all over the world this week. Last week. There was no immediate activation of Facebook’s Safety Check feature to let me know my friends in Beirut were safe. Their cries largely fell on deaf ears, until a tragedy in a place where bombs aren’t supposed to detonate forced us to turn off our selective hearing.

Iraqis have Facebook. So do the Palestinians, the Lebanese, and the Syrians. I don’t take issue with showing support for Paris. I just don’t understand why I don’t have the option to offer support to the other nations, and people, who are also bleeding. Who decides which atrocity deserves the collective mourning of the world?

As the memes and hashtags spread, so have the verbal attacks on refugees. Thousands of angry voices shouting that we must keep out the “others;” that we must shun the world’s most vulnerable—their cries of condemnation accompanied by a freshly filtered profile picture.

Yesterday, monuments worldwide were lit up for France. The message to a country just starting to pick up the pieces was, “we cry with you and we stand beside you.” And it’s true, we do. I do. France will overcome. The lives lost will be remembered, their names etched into the side of the memorial that is sure to be erected. There will be yearly remembrances, and the city of love will once again fill with joy and music as life continues.

But what of the Syrians? The Iraqis? They’ll feel the sting of this attack far into the future. Aside from a brief time in recent memory when the perfectly posed corpse of a toddler resonated with the world, their plight has been largely ignored. Their homes are gone, their loved ones tortured and disappeared. Syrian passports, once representative of the ability to move freely throughout the world, now trap them in the in-between of life and death. As the countries of the world unite to show support to France, they will slam their doors in the faces of Daesh’s biggest victims. And it’s impossible to fit a whole country’s worth of names onto a single memorial.

I’ve heard the argument that to make this point now is too self-righteous. That we should allow the people of the world to mourn however they choose. I won’t change my photo filter, because I won’t be complicit in the idea that only white, western lives matter. This is how I choose to mourn; and while it may be equally as insignificant as a #prayforparis hashtag, it’s the only way I know how to fight against a system that repeatedly bases the value of human life on location, religion, and skin color.

Reflections on Birmingham

On September 15, 1963, a bomb planted by white supremacist terrorists detonated at the predominantly black 16th Street Baptist Church–injuring 22 people and killing four young girls. By 1965, the FBI has confirmed the identities of the perpetrators but as was often the case, justice was not sought. The investigation was reopened in 1977, resulting in the first conviction. Two of the other terrorists were convicted in 2001 and 2002. The fourth had passed away in 1994.

While reflecting on the anniversary of this horrific, pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement, the amount of time it took for the system to seek justice, and the implications of the privilege I was born into, I can’t help but remember MLK’s words to his fellow clergy in the infamous letter from Birmingham jail:

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

These words are just as relevant now amidst repeated, failed attempts to indict police officers for unjustified killings throughout the United States. Rest in Power Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Denise McNair. May we remember their names and be reminded that waiting isn’t an option for those who are being killed.

AP_brimingham_bombing_girls_03_jef_130913_16x9_992Photo source: http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/AP_brimingham_bombing_girls_03_jef_130913_16x9_992.jpg

On Coming Out

People say that “coming out” doesn’t need to be a big deal. That “straight people don’t have to come out, so why should gay people?”

That’s not my mindset.

Coming out IS a big deal, however you choose to do it. It doesn’t have to be a public declaration, but choosing to take control of your own journey and to live your life authentically isn’t easy—gay or straight. Choosing to invite people in when you know not all of them will accept you is arduous. It’s a decision that feels crippling at times. Today I felt ready to invite you all in. For me, this felt necessary.

I’m gay.

I’ve always been gay, but I can’t say I’ve always KNOWN. I wish I were one of those people who just KNEW from a young age. In the grand context of my life, it would’ve allowed me to make sense of who I was sooner. Instead, I spent 29 years subconsciously repressing my own reality. When my crushes were girls in elementary school, I forced myself to talk about boys at sleepovers. When I just wasn’t capable of enjoying intimacy, I told my college friends about hookups that never happened. When I didn’t seem to have the ability to fall in love, I told myself it was because I didn’t deserve to BE loved.

My sexuality never came into play until recently when I quite literally had an epiphany overnight. Once the thought entered my mind I couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it. It was terrifying, but it just made SO. MUCH. SENSE. When I finally emailed a close friend and told him—just to see how it felt—the resulting relief confirmed what I already knew deep down. This is my truth, and accepting it is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I’m gay. But I’m still Brittany. My one hesitation in posting this stems from my fear that the people in my life will see me differently. Or that people who don’t know me yet will ONLY see me as gay. I’m Brittany. I’m a writer. I’m passionate about human rights and social justice. I spend far too much time reading about genocide. I love makeup and fashion. The only sport I can bear to watch is gymnastics. I’m a runner sometimes. I’m a mom all the time. My sexuality is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t change who I am—it’s who I’ve always been. It’s just another part of me that I’ve chosen to share with the world.

When I emailed that first friend, a part of his response really resonated with me. He said, “you’ve done what so many people go their entire lives never doing.” Coming out is hard. It’s nerve-wracking not knowing how people will respond, and accepting myself has been more difficult than I can put into words. My self-acceptance is still a work in progress, but I love myself more now than I ever have in the past.

To those of you who are struggling with your sexuality and the decision to come out: I’m here, and I’m listening. Having friends and family give me the space to speak has been the most empowering part of this whole journey. I hope you find the ability to accept yourselves and to share your own truths because your life and your happiness is worth it. Your freedom is worth it.

We’ve had a lot of progress in LGBTQ rights in this country recently, but the fight isn’t over. There are politicians who want to strip us of our rights, and governments around the world that us imprisoned. Or executed. What I want most is for my daughter to grow up in a world where her mother is fully accepted, and where SHE is fully accepted for having a gay mom. A world where we’re all free to love who we love. It’s getting better, but we still have further to go.

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Thank you for reading. And to those in my life who I’ve invited in one-by-one over the past few weeks, thank you. You made this easier than I ever could’ve imagined, and I’m so grateful for that.

Until next time.

On Refugees (2011)

Note: I wrote this on World Refugee Day in 2011, but I’m posting it here now for the sake of having my work consolidated. And by work I mean the only post I ever wrote on my other blog. Carry on.

“…and then they raped me. With their bodies, with their guns, with sticks. Over and over until I was no longer human.” She looks down at her hands, ashamed, and repeats the last part, “I’m no longer human…” She begins to cry and I offer her my hand, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, she finds the nerve to look me in the eye and apologize for the horrors she has just unloaded on me. In her arms, she holds a tiny bundle, the product of a nightmare. A human life that never should have existed, a living testament to the horrors she endured, and now – the only thing giving her a reason to live.

I want to tell her that everything will be all right. I want to give her hope and comfort. I want to empty my wallet in order to help her create some semblance of a stable life. I want to scream. Instead, I press on with the interview, somewhat grateful that my shaking hands are hidden behind the screen of my Macbook. God forbid I should appear weak in the face of atrocity.

I finish the interview, assure her that her resettlement case will be written up and submitted to the UNHCR for review, knowing full well it will be months before they look at it and another few months before they return with an answer, most likely denying her the opportunity to move to a place where she can be free from persecution, from fear.

She stands up to leave, to shake my hand and thank me for taking the time to listen. With her hand in mine, I look her in the eyes, searching for the right words, desperate to say the right thing. The words will never seem right, but I can try. “You are human. I see you sitting in front of me, exuding strength. You are human. I see how you love your child. You are human, and none of this is your fault.” She manages a thin smile, stroking her baby’s face with the pad of her thumb, unsure of how to respond. After a few moments of silence she says, “thank you, I know there is not much you can do for me. I just needed to tell my story.”

She leaves, and I lock myself in the office bathroom, crumble to the floor, and cry. After a few minutes there is a knock on the door:

“Brittany, your next client is here.”

Today is World Refugee Day. One day a year set aside for the world to honor and advocate for those who have been displaced by war and persecution. Mothers who have seen their children die at the hands of hatred, husbands who have watched their wives raped repeatedly as a tactic of war. Men and women who have endured torture for their political views, only to escape to a country where they will be persecuted again – for the color of their skin, for their inability to speak the language, for pursuing their human right to live, and to live free.

Today is World Refugee Day, and in cities across the globe, people are preparing for the celebrations. Community centers are throwing international themed parties, museums are showing special exhibits, the UNHCR is posting excessively on Facebook. Today is World Refugee Day, but what about tomorrow?

Tomorrow, the war against illegal immigrants will rage on in the United States. In England. Italy will intercept a boatload of Libyans fleeing war and send them back to their deaths. Americans living near the U.S./Mexico border will take up arms to protect themselves from those who are brave enough to leave the only life they have ever known in search of hope. The Egyptian military will exercise its state-sponsored right to shoot and kill anyone seen attempting to cross the Egypt/Israel border illegally. Hundreds will die in North Korean labor camps, and dozens will be sentenced to death in China for daring to send out a potentially political tweet. Another child will be tortured and killed in Syria, a homosexual will be murdered in Uganda, and the main story on CNN will be about the latest sex scandal in Washington D.C.

I’m thankful that there is an entire day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of refugees, and to honoring those who have survived unimaginable atrocity. All I’m asking, is that tomorrow, we don’t forget them. That we will continue to tell their stories. We are all human, and we all deserve to be acknowledged – to have our rights acknowledged – EVERY DAY.

On Political Candidates and Public Prayer

Today we have a guest post from a dear friend of mine, Ali. This past weekend at a sporting event in our Sarasota hometown, she encountered the jumbled mess that is political prayer (for lack of a better term). Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder is running for governor of Florida, and on her campaign page, she states that she is running on a platform aimed at returning God and strong family values to our state. A platform which terrifies me, but seems to go largely unnoticed by almost everybody else. Does Cuevas-Neunder stand a chance? I hope not, but her voice is still being heard and supported. Let’s add some more secular-oriented voices to the mix:

“I am a runner. It’s normal, pre-race, to listen to announcements and then stand at attention as the National Anthem is preformed. Sometimes, if the weekend is particularly important, the announcer will call for a moment of silence. All this is pretty normal for a race.

My husband races paddleboards. Like any athletic competition, it’s normal for there to be announcements read at the beginning of the event. This weekend, as we settled onto Siesta Key beach for a 6-mile paddle race, the announcements were finished by an introduction of Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, a local politician running for governor.

Cuevas-Neunder proceeded to ask everyone to hold hands so she could pray.

Now, let me pause here for a moment. For the first twenty years of my life, I identified as either an Atheist or Agnostic Jew. I’m pretty used to feeling singled out when some coordinator of a secular public event decides to pray. This isn’t a new thing for me. Apparently there’s some belief that as long as the prayer is non-denominational, then no one can get offended, even when non-denominational almost always refers to non-denom Christianity.

But here’s the rub: Cuevas-Neunder is running for political office. And here she is, praying over men and women who want to get out onto the gulf and work up a sweat. Here she is directly crossing the line that separates church and state.

A quick Google search provides a little insight into Cuevas-Neunder. Bold as brass on the front page, we see “GOD-STATE-FAMILY”. I could go on about how anyone who puts their family last on their list is a pretty messed up person, but let’s stay on topic here. What place does God have at all on her political website? I couldn’t care less if she posted GOD LOVES YOU and JESUS SAVES all over her personal Facebook page, but this kind of religious preening doesn’t belong on a politician’s page.

The problem here isn’t that the prayer was awkwardly spoken – it was; if she plans to stand a chance on her political campaign, she really needs to practice her off-the-cuff public speaking – it’s that it was completely out of place and inappropriate.

I told my husband (loudly), “I had no idea this was a religious race.” My ire was immediately up. I was offended. Deeply.

If she felt moved to pray after her initial greeting, Cuevas-Neunder could have avoided alienating a huge percentage of her audience simply by inviting people to come pray if they would have liked to, putting the microphone aside – oh yes, this prayer was broadcast all over the beach, by the way – and then praying with only those who were moved to do so. I’m not about stepping on others’ rights to their religion. Have at it. But leave me out of it.

The day ended up being beautiful and fun, but the start left a bad taste in my mouth. Here’s a helpful note to political-hopefuls and other public speakers: prayer and religion are extremely personal. Stop airing yours in public. It’s indecent, and when it comes to mixing prayer and politics, it’s downright inappropriate.”

 

It’s important to reiterate that this was a public prayer that was broadcast throughout the ENTIRE north end of the beach. Cuevas-Neunder clearly didn’t think of the implications of her actions, but they shouldn’t be ignored. Once again, a dangerous precedent has been set by a political candidate. In this case, a political candidate who truly believes that we should be living in a God-oriented state. So comment, share, and speak out. Don’t let this be an accepted norm.

But What Does Acceptance Really Mean?

My social media accounts have exploded with outrage over HGTV and SunTrust’s parting with the Benham brothers. One post in particular got to me. It said, “To be accepting of all people means even those with conservative views.” By “conservative views,” I’m assuming the poster meant those who are anti-gay marriage, since that’s what the Benham brothers actively stand for.

I have many friends who fall under the conservative spectrum of politics. And the vast majority of them support gay marriage. Because gay marriage isn’t a conservative or liberal issue, nor should it be a Christian issue, although the Christian right sure do love to use their Lord to rally against it.

Marriage equality is a human rights issue. It is about HUMAN BEINGS with a certain sexual orientation being discriminated against and having their rights denied. The same rights that every single straight adult in America has access to.

This isn’t something we should have to accept for the sake of acceptance. This IS something we should be uniting over and fighting against—liberals, conservatives, believers and atheists alike. It’s not known whether SunTrust’s disassociation with Benham brothers was due to their anti-gay rhetoric, but HGTV’s was largely because of the mass outcry of viewers. And I support it.

I won’t accept a person being denied the right to marry the one they love. I won’t accept someone saying “but I love gays” in the same breath as “but marriage is between a man and a woman.” I won’t accept mass outrage because a football player kissed his boyfriend on national TV. I won’t accept hate, and none of us should have to. The Benham brothers are not being discriminated against. They are preaching discrimination, and suffering the consequences for doing so.

For those out there who don’t support gay marriage, I have one question:

How, exactly, does it have a negative impact on your life?

 

On making The Choice (and why everyone should be able to).

When I unexpectedly found myself pregnant a year and a half ago, I was in a country where abortions weren’t easily obtainable. A country where you have to have the money and the connections to get a SAFE abortion. A country where thousands of women die each year because of botched abortions. A country where a tiny ball of cells is worth more than a woman’s life.

I didn’t want to keep that tiny ball of cells at first, so I immediately began exploring my options. The first doctor I saw told me that this was God’s plan and she couldn’t help me. The second doctor I saw told me I couldn’t have an abortion at 26 years old because that was the perfect age to have a child and God would not forgive me. I contacted Marie Stopes, where they could help me but would be unable to sedate me during the procedure. Ultimately, we found a doctor who was willing to help me terminate the pregnancy (a decision I was already wavering on) but I had to have an ultrasound first. The second I saw MY tiny ball of cells and its heartbeat on the screen, I became a mother. The fetus became my baby, and my decision had been made.

THIS IS NOT THE CASE FOR EVERYONE.

Which is one of the reasons why I’m so against the laws that force ultrasounds on women before they are allowed to have the procedure done.

I can’t put into words how I felt when I saw that little fetus. It was like I was being torn in two. Like the choice had just been ripped out of my hands. I wasn’t ready to be a mother, but I knew I was capable of it. Not everyone is, and they shouldn’t make the decision as a snap judgment because they were forced to see their unborn fetus. As the technician described everything she was seeing on the screen, I cried because I no longer had a choice.

Life beginning at conception is all semantics for me. Obviously, something existed that wasn’t there before. Even though it cannot feel, has not developed into something completely viable, etc. A seven-week-old fetus can mean EVERYTHING to one woman, and nothing to another—and that is okay.

 

The anti-choice lawmakers don’t deserve to be called pro-life. Taking away safe and affordable abortion isn’t pro-life. Allowing women to die because of botched back-alley abortions isn’t pro-life. Requiring a woman to carry a fetus with a terminal (and potentially very painful) diagnosis isn’t pro-life. Forcing a woman to carry the product of rape because she can’t “prove” her rape isn’t pro-life.

It can’t be argued that it’s the Christian right that is responsible for the fact that 23 states now have mandates that regulate the provision of ultrasounds by abortion providers

I have plenty of Christian friends and family members who are pro-choice. It’s not my goal to generalize an entire population but unfortunately the negative voices are often much louder than the positive ones. Politicians are playing dirty with women’s bodies to further their anti-choice, pro-Christian agenda.

Religion shouldn’t dictate what women do with their bodies in a secular nation. I wish that was something we could all unite against.

Cheers,

Brittany