Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Say SEX in church!

It goes like this:
Step 1: Visit the main page for the national AIDS organization of a major US mainline denomination.
Step 2: Search 'safer sex', since you're looking for potential funding for your congregation's new safer sex kits.
Step 3: Be puzzled that not a single hit came up in the search. (3a: forge onward.)
Step 4: On a sneaking hunch, search 'sex.'

Sorry, no results where found for this search term: "sex"

Step 5: Whap head on desk. (Repeat this step several times.)

Come on, friends. Get it together. And it's not that this makes this particular coalition a bad one or that is lessens their desire to truly achieve a reality of no new diagnoses within this generation. And shoot, I may have been misunderstanding the search function on their website. But the fact remains that it is unacceptable for a major national denomination to run a HIV coalition and not talk about sex!

So you valiant (few) who read this, your charge is this: next time you're in church or any other setting in which we may be hesitant to speak fully about what fighting HIV means, do something that sets that stage. You do not have to talk about your own life or the sex that you are or are not having. (In fact, if you're the pastor or a Sunday school teacher that would probably be supremely inappropriate! Avoid being inappropriate.) These can be words of resurrection, but we have to say them first.

And meanwhile, if you find an organization that wants to fund a couple thousand condoms and lube packets for my church, please do let me know. (The church ladies are ready and waiting to set up the safer sex kit assembly line.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I went to an all-day meeting this weekend. To put it quite bluntly, there were some seriously problematic age and gender dynamics going on in the room throughout the day. As we drove home, my housemate and I were talking about it and I realized that I have never been so aware of being young and female - and the power differential that implies - than I was during that meeting. It sucked and I'm still sort of processing my feelings about that. But the words "welcome to our world" certainly come to mind. How often in my almost-24 years of life have I really felt that on a personal level? Not that many. It's humbling to realize that I may have a concept of oppression, but it is still a relatively strange taste in my own mouth.

If that is true, then what does authentic solidarity look like for me?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Threads of separation and supportive networks

Families. Families are really important. Families are especially important to young people. Housing becomes home (or doesn't) based on the support and love created by a family.

Yesterday I was privileged to spend the morning at the White House Conference on LGBT Housing and Homelessness at Wayne State University (here in Detroit). As I sat and listened to the panels - first, a panel made up of four high-level members of the Obama Administration (HUD and HHS in particular) and the SE Michigan US Attorney; then the directors of three programs whose work focuses on providing housing and wrap-around services to homeless LGBT youth - I was struck by just how important it is that we meet not only the immediate needs for shelter among (in particular) young people, but also the emotional needs.

Queer youth make up about 7% of youth, nationally, yet a full 40% of homeless youth are LGBT-identified. At least half of those are homeless because they have been directly rejected by the very support network that is supposed to play a positive role in human development - family. Often, queer youth are further victimized within the systems that are set up to serve them, pushed into the adult shelter system at 18 or 21, frequently lacking, as the director of the Ali Forney Center attested, some of the developmental skills that a lot of us get more-or-less by osmosis. The trauma of rejection is compounded by having to navigate systems just to have needs met. I don't begin to know what this is like. Every family has internal dynamics, of course, but I never had to fill out paperwork to get face time with my folks or have an ID to be granted entry to my house at night. Nor have I ever been told that 40F isn't actually too cold to sleep outside, as is the case in many cities without cold weather laws.

And to be clear - for some youth, leaving home is life saving, preventing either further abuse or contemplation of suicide. But that lack of a supportive home space with people who love them (whether it starts at the point of leaving or long before) has long-lasting impact.

Fast forward to last night and the Grace in Action monthly immigration movie night. We watched Under the Same Moon (trailer), a movie that follows a mother and son who have been separated for four years, because the mom lives and works in LA and the son, Carlitos, lives in Mexico. They, too, are separated, albeit for different reasons than many LGBT youth are separated from their families. After the film, we had a small discussion of the situations presented. During the conversation, a woman I've spoken with a few times at other events spoke up: "Yo me identifico mucho con la mamá en la pelicula - tengo nueve años de no ver a mis tres hijos mayores." (I really identify with the mom in the movie - I haven't seen my three oldest children in nine years.) A ton of bricks doesn't begin to describe. And none of her kids is even my age - the oldest is just younger than Ella.

In talking with her and her husband afterward, I learned that they are from just a couple hours away from Suchitoto. We were talking, laughing, sharing memories and stories and she asked if, whenever I'm there next, I would visit her children. Another ton of bricks. I hope to be able to do this, but it made me once again SO aware of the privilege I have as a citizen of the US. I can come and go as I please, but she cannot nor can her husband. And so they are separated. And their older kids have three siblings here whom they have never met. Separation.

In the film, one of the older characters reminds Carlitos, in a moment of deep despair, that nobody chooses to live this way - everyone has a reason. Usually that reason is a child or a parent.

We have to start and keep having conversations about the situations that push people to make unbearable decisions and live in unbearable situations of separation. We have a role to play in remaking our immigration and housing systems. At the intersections of policy, faith, and community education, we need to plant ourselves and invite others into conversation about how deeply separation hurts individuals, families, and society.

La Misma Luna and the White House Conference did not, at the surface, seem to have a lot in common. Yet there was a common thread throughout the day of the damage done by rejection and family separation, and the important of building loving networks of support around those who, for whatever reason, have been separated from family. Let us continue to be about this as the seasons turn.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly

Minneapolis-area Lutherans on Friday went on record against changing the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman....

Actually, my understanding is that we went on record as having already been on record against changing the Constitution, but that's a small detail. (This resolution reaffirmed a 2004 resolution to the same effect, from last time these shenanigans were happening.)

Needless to say, I'm excited.

The last couple weeks have been mostly good, but have included a couple of rough patches - the loss of a high school friend to colon cancer (at age 25 - I still can't wrap my head around that one) and the volunteers in one of the other programs in town had to transfer all the way to Florida. Given their work environment, the transfer was probably best for their own emotional health, but it is going to be tough getting used to their absence.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being in Detroit

Krista Tippet's show, On Being, featured Grace Lee Boggs and Detroit this morning. Dr. Boggs is my neighbor - she lives and runs the Boggs Center just a short block from our house here on the East Side of the city.

You can see the episode entry on the show's blog and listen to the podcast if your interest is piqued. I think two of my coworkers collaborated on the pocket park pictured at the bottom of the page. (That is, they worked with five others on a pocket park and I think it's the one pictured. In my searching to confirm this, I also found this great article that mentions both Kate and Lindsey: http://michigancitizen.com/artists-take-local-food-message-to-the-streets-p10724-1.htm.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Looking out

Forget this business of Detroiters not watching out for each other.

My life was just saved from getting squashed by a bus by not one but to of my neighbors a block down. I was running and nearing the end of the block when two people - not together - both yelled for me not to cross the street. I figured it was because one of them had a dog that was clearly a bit interested in what I was doing. But as I got within 10 feet of the intersection, I saw that a bus was hurtling down the way. (A bus that I have waited an hour for to no avail, by the way.)

They had no idea that I was planning on stopping and turning around at that very point to end my run. They thought I was about to die and they both hollered for me to stop. I count that as two lives saved.

Let's multiply this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wherein Korla uses profanity

Fuck this noise: Tucson schools ban books by Chicano and Native American authors

Read all sorts of books, y'all. Read 'em! And raise hell when anyone tries to ban them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I just spent an hour with a man who has been kicked out of or attacked in most of the shelters in town. He will sleep outside tonight. January 17. It's been an unseasonably warm winter, yes, but it has been cold and rainy all day. And incredibly windy. He needs to get to a different state, where he has a job lined up and family. But he can't get there and no one has funding for transportation vouchers.

I called around and got kind people, but didn't end up with anything. In the end, he ate a bowl of chili and went to check out the church across the street. And I couldn't do a damn thing to change the situation. It isn't a shock - I have a lot of privilege, but no magic. But I felt so helpless. I, who could at any point look down and see the keys to my home, felt helpless. I, who who have been neither raped nor beaten during a period of homelessness as this man had, felt helpless. I, who would easily have a place to stay in this new city of mine or would be whisked home by my parents if the need arose, felt helpless.

What business do I have feeling helpless? I am home now. The heat just kicked on in the living room as I type this. My clothes stay in a dresser, not a garbage bag - which is not an ergonomic way of carrying things, let me tell you.

Why am I writing this? Processing? Yes. "Awareness-raising"? Maybe. I'm not really sure. But I spent an hour feeling useless. This guy spent yet one more, of what I'm sure have been many, hour hearing from others that he was. Fuck. I don't know. But something has to change.

Funes apologizes for El Mozote massacre

As I mentioned in December, several weeks ago marked the 30th anniversary of the massacre at El Mozote. Yesterday, President Mauricio Funes, in the name of the Salvadoran state, apologized and asked forgiveness for the massacre.

This video is only a clip of a longer speech, but in includes the parts translated for the article above. It is long past time that the Salvadoran government acknowledge and apologize for its role in this killing. But I hate that it has been Funes, the first president with no ties to the death squads and military, who has done all of the apologizing thus far. Thursday marks 20 years since the Peace Accords were signed ending ("ending?") the civil war. And yet it wasn't until 2009 that Salvadorans had a president who was not connected to the state violence of the war. Seventeen years worth of presidents never saw fit to do this (for good and self-preserving reasons, from their POV). It shows a great deal of character that he is doing this - for Mozote, Romero, the Jesuits - he has apologized and asked forgiveness for all of them. He is not a perfect president. But he has done more atoning in his first thirty months than previous presidents did in almost seven times that long.

We as a society have gotten really good at the nonapology - the "I'm sorry IF anyone was offended by that, it was not my intent..." (We seem especially good at this when it comes to race and gender privilege.) Funes is becoming an expert in the opposite - apologizing for horrors that he was not involved in, but for which he now bears the responsibility of atonement because of his position. This is probably one of those times when the only adequate response is 'puchica.'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wherein Korla makes her Lutheran parents thoroughly uncomfortable

This story has been making the rounds of late. If you haven't read it, it is worth a look:

"Dear Customer who stuck up for his little brother"

This story could have been about me. Sort of. I am not especially like either of those boys - I have no brothers and no interest in video games; I'm queer, but my gender performance is pretty much in line with what society says it ought to be, based on my chromosomes. But we hammer gender into kids from an extraordinarily young age, so all of this, for me, is a matter of luck. I also have a major thing that these boys don't have (yet - I hope): I was raised by feminist parents.

While I was growing up, my dad always told me his favorite colors were pink and purple. In hindsight, I have no idea if this is simple truth or an intentional fib, but I sure as hell relayed that information to my peers on several occasions when boys were picked on for liking "girl colors." Both of my folks cooked a lot; my dad kept us in clean clothes growing up; my mom, having learned from her carpenter father, built the deck in the back yard (with Ella and my help). They played to their strengths and joys, and didn't get too caught up in the who-does-what that often pervades conversations about gender conformity AND non-conformity. (And I was in middle school before I knew that Rabbit, Big Bird, Elmo, Roo, and several other childhood favorites were actually supposed to be boys. :)

The kids in this story have to do that for each other at this point. From this tiny glimpse, it looks like they just might be strong enough to keep at it. But this, as I said, could have been my situation, but for some luck along the way. My hope for this family is that they can grow together. That they can be mutually positive influences. This dad isn't necessarily a villain. He probably has a lot of powerful things to teach his kids. They clearly have things to teach him. I am lucky to have the parents I have; this dad is lucky to have the sons that he does. And the little brother is lucky to have an awesome video game controller.