Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Nothing has Changed, but My Entire Life" by Rich Dweck

          As we passed through Rosh Hashana (The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur ( The Day of Atonement), I took the time to reflect on the past and think about my purpose on this earth. Upon reflection of the past 35 years of my life, I thought about how "coming out" as gay and growing up Orthodox affected me personally. I came out in the year 2000, it had been after experiencing the hope and pain of two years of X-Gay therapy (Conversion Therapy) with an Orthodox Jewish therapist that promised me I could become straight.

          For so many, Conversion Therapy is something that is forced onto an individual by his/her family or clergyman. After this experience, I gave up on Judaism because I felt emotionally abused and not welcome within the Orthodox Jewish Community. It was a very painful period for me and those closest to me. Since my "coming out" process, many resources have been created to help people in understanding and accepting who they are. The "Millennials" ("Y") generation has it much easier than the "Gen Xers" ("X"). I am in no way discounting those "Millennials" that are going through this painful process, but I am saying that resources are currently and readily available for those that search for it.

          When I was struggling with my sexuality and religion, I went to Orthodox Rabbinical leaders that I respected and thought they would have the answer. I would like to say that I knew what I wanted them to say, but I did not. I was in such turmoil that I wanted someone to alleviate my pain. I cannot say exactly what I was expecting from them, but it was definitely not pray the gay away.

          I felt extremely rejected by Judaism and saw no way to reconcile both very salient identities at the time. Being Gay was something that I just could not put aside. Every wedding I marched in or attended, people would always be trying to match me up with someone. It was flattering, but I felt like someone was strangling me. It felt as though I was suffocating and just could not get air into my lungs. Some reading this might think that I am exaggerating, but those that have been through it will understand.

          Trying to follow through on what was expected of me, I dated a wonderful girl and really believed that I would marry her. Unfortunately, this secret and struggle was killing me internally. Could I marry this wonderful young woman that expects me to love her with all of my heart, that expects me to be faithful to her in my heart and mind, that expects me to be able to fulfill her sexually? I kept thinking yes I would get what I want, but I would be robbing her of the love she deserved. I know some Gay men marry a woman and have secret affairs with men on the side, but is that the life I want to lead? What if I married her and was faithful, but could not fulfill her wants and needs? A friend of mine, Eli Winkler wrote an article called "That Girl", which really explains it in a very lucid way.

        So many friends and family members wanted only the best for me. The issue was that none of them knew the inner turmoil I was going through. I remember going to Israel with my dad about 13 years ago or so. It was a wonderful trip, but one of the hardest times struggling on how to approach this topic of being gay with him. I would tell him things along the lines of if you only knew certain things about me you would hate me and so on. I did not have the heart to tell him what was going on with me. I just wanted it all to end as quickly as possible, but the pain would not go away. I prayed, I went through "conversion therapy," I consulted rabbis and did everything I knew to possibly do, but in the end it was still there and tearing me up inside.

         Eventually, I was able to find a therapist that was willing to help me deal with being Gay and helped me to "come out." I still had no clue of how to reconcile all that was going on with me. I was angry, repressed and depressed. Working with my new therapist, I was able to see things in a different light. I also had a few friends that were amazing and just wanted me to be happy. They did not believe in "conversion therapy" and wanted me to be who I truly was.

          To leave out the drugs and alcohol would be doing a disservice. I was in so much pain before and after "coming out." I had so much internalized homophobia which took years to work out. I had "come out" but still could not accept that I would not be able to have the promises that were made to me. All my dreams were crushed and I was forced to create a new identity, new friends and a life of true acceptance.

         After a few years of destroying my life, I went to rehab and recovered from my addictions. This was no easy task, but with an intervention by family and a community organization called "Safe" I was able to see that I was loved and cared about. The unconditional love that I experienced during that time showed me that I was indeed special and not this damaged and discarded human being. It was time for me to build a life that mattered and find my purpose in this world.


"State bans gay-repair therapy for minors" San Francisco Chronicle 9/29/12

California has become the first state in the country to ban controversial therapy practices that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to outlaw them Saturday.
The bill, SB1172 by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance (Los Angeles County), bars mental health practitioners from performing so-called reparative therapy, which professional psychological organizations have said may cause harm. Gay rights groups have labeled them dangerous and abusive.
"This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery," Brown said in a statement to The Chronicle.
Brown approved the ban after the public release of two other lists of bills signed and vetoed earlier Saturday. Lieu's bill is expected to appear on a new list to be released Sunday.
The signing came as Brown nears his Sunday night deadline to consider legislation on his desk. Among the bills vetoed was one that would have barred public transit agencies like BART from shutting off cell phone service in its stations without a court order.

Fierce lobbying

National gay rights organizations had been lobbying the governor intensely to sign the therapy ban. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization, sent Brown a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures urging him to approve the measure.
"LGBT youth will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being. We commend Gov. Brown for putting children first, and call on all states to take California's lead on this issue," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Penalty for therapists

Under the new law, which will take effect Jan. 1, no mental health provider will be able to provide therapy that seeks "to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex."
Mental health professionals who violate the law, which applies to therapy for patients younger than 18, will be subject to discipline by whatever group licenses them.
The therapy often starts from the premise that a person's childhood and parental upbringing has somehow left that person deficient and thus has led him or her to same-sex attractions. Practitioners often are religious, and gay rights groups have derisively characterized the therapy as an attempt to "pray away the gay."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Op-ed: Islam and LGBT are Not Mutually Exclusive Urooj Arshad, a queer Pakistani-born woman, tells us why she devotes her life to helping LGBT Muslim

     I grew up in Pakistan, a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Unlike most Pakistani women, I had access to a great education, and loving and supportive parents who treated me and my brothers equally. However, as I grew up I was troubled by the way women were treated in Pakistan.
     Much of my worry was fueled by growing up during one of the harshest military regimes in Pakistan, that of general Zia-Ul-Haq. In his push to “Islamisize” the country, he eliminated many of women’s rights in the name of Islam. His infamous Hudood Ordinances amplified violence against women, and the general degradation and humiliation of women in society. I was constantly afraid, and the oppression started to seep into my soul. Fortunately, when I was 16 my parents immigrated to the U.S. with the help of my uncle’s sponsorship.
I came to the U.S. broken and disillusioned.  I thought that I would start a new and happier life away from Pakistan and away from Islam.
     But of course it was not that easy. I was just so different from my fellow suburban white teens.  Yet trying to forget who I was and where I was from didn’t bring me happiness either. By the time I got to the University of Illinois, away from home and family for the first time, I had become very isolated. Even when I came out and entered the LGBT community, I realized that as a queer-Muslim-person of color, the issues I faced were vastly different from my white LGBT peers.
     In 1999, I met Faisal Alam, the founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, an organization dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and to their allies and families. He changed my life forever. To sit in a room full of queer youth and to know that there is another Pakistani Muslim queer person out there, started to fill a hole I did not even know existed and I stopped believing that I would never be able to reconcile my sexuality with my religion and culture.
     I began organizing and getting more involved with work specific to LGBT Muslim communities, and this has been my mission for the last decade and more.  As a community, we have provided countless workshops on the intersection of islamophobia and homophobia/transphobia, marched in pride parades to show our visibility, helped folks get asylum, provided spiritual counseling, and developed and advocated for scholarship that looks at Islam in the context of LGBT issues. 
     We have built retreat spaces that bring together LGBT Muslims to discuss spiritual life, religious texts, anti-oppression; and yes, we even had a speed dating event this year, because nothing is hotter than some Muslim on Muslim love.

Religion Shouldn’t Be an Excuse to Hate- Written by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

       I usually write about spirituality as it applies to LBGT people and their allies. But today, the story of the US diplomats being attacked and killed in Libya this week is on my mind. Actually, I may not be straying from my usual message.
        If I remember the details correctly (and admittedly, I’m not a journalist), the US military aided the Libyan revolution against long-time dictator Gadhafi and as a result, the leader was toppled. It seemed in the aftermath that the liberated Libyan nation was mostly grateful to the United States. In fact, polls even showed that the majority of Libyan citizens had positive feelings for the leadership of the United States. So, the world understandably responded with shock and dismay when US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy staff members were murdered in Benghazi. What happened?!
        Sociologists and political scientists can analyze the power vacuum that may have been created when an old regime fell. And, certainly politics and relationships in the Middle East can seem complex even to news junkies, and even more so to those who may not be keeping up that much.
        Reportedly, the murders took place as part of a protest over a US made film that insulted Islam.
From my sideline view, it seems that an anti-Muslim extremist infuriated Muslim fundamentalists who responded by attacking people who were not responsible for the questionable film. What a mess!                
      But see, here is where we get back to the matters I usually write about. I was relieved to see faithful Muslim Libyans holding signs saying that they deplore the violence inflicted on the US diplomats. Some will always use religion negatively to insult other religions, to demonize same-gender loving people, to justify sexism or xenophobia or child abuse. Some people will always blaspheme their religion, whether it is Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Christianity, by insisting that religion causes them to hate, demean, attack, or exclude “the other.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Iran: Gay Rights Are A Jewish Plot" (The Daily Beast)

From the nation whose leader denies the Holocaust, a stunning example of homophobic anti-Semitism.
Mashregh News, an outlet affiliated with radical Islamists in Qom, wrote that the US and the UK are using money from Jews to spread homosexuality throughout the world. The article blasted Israel for promoting demonstrations for gay rights and specifically decried Tel Aviv as the gay paradise on earth. It also ridiculed Conservative Judaism for accepting gay rabbis, and urged Western governments to stop people from engaging in gay – and therefore immoral – actions, and provide medical treatment for homosexuals in order to stop their conduct.
Writing on Monday on the gay website GGG, Chris Karnak said the Mashregh item “reads like an article from the Nazi agitation paper Der Stürmer.”
Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, an expert on minority groups in Iran, told TheJerusalem Post on Tuesday that the article is “against gays, against the West and anti-Semitic.” He added that “the text legitimizes the execution of gays in Iran; they made a text not only to ridicule the West but to provide a reason why Iran executes gays.”
The Iranian report also attacked Hollywood for depicting gays in positive terms on the silver screen. Moreover, according to the article, schools in California include homosexuality in their education plans because of a recommendation of a Jewish university.

National LGBT Museum in Washington, D.C- Velvet Foundation

Museum dedicated to sharing the heritage of LGBT people, a story that unites millions of women and men but is rarely represented in mainstream museums.
Check out the website below...

Suicide rates high for Orthodox homosexual youths- Jerusalem Post

Research shows 20% of LGBT sample attempted suicide, compared to 3.5% rate for general youth population.

Suicide rates among Orthodox homosexual youth are dramatically higher than that of their heterosexual peers, research published last week showed.
The research on suicide among all Israeli youth, conducted by Hannah Bar-Yosef, a member of the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Suicide that operates under the auspices of the Health Ministry, reported that 20 percent of gays and lesbians who participated in the survey had attempted suicide.
But even higher rates were recorded among religious gays and lesbians, with Bar-Yosef saying they faced even greater familial problems than those from the secular community.The rate for the general youth population stood at 3.5 percent.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Register: Nehirim:Queer Shabbaton DC October 26th-28th

October 26-28, 2012-Washington, DCRegistration is now open: click here to register. The Queer Shabbaton DC is a weekend-long “urban retreat” of community, culture, and spirituality for LGBT Jews, partners, & allies. Fun, stimulating and inspiring, the Queer Shabbaton returns to DC for a second time in the fall of 2012, co-presented with GLOE: The Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement at the Washington DCJCC, and Congregation Bet Mishpachah.                                                              Queer Shabbaton weekends generally attract 100-150 LGBT Jews (plus straight allies and non-Jewish partners) from across the religious-ideological spectrum, ranging in age from 18-70(usually, most are in their 20s-40s), and with a wide variety of gender and sexual orientation identities.  Transgender nice Jewish boys, avowed atheists, couples and singles, men, women, and the rest of us—there are people like you at Nehirim! At this year’s QSDC, special programming for students as well —we’d love to again have a large turnout of students at the Shabbaton.
When: 5pm on Friday, October 26 through 1pm on Sunday, October 28, 2012., Where: DCJCC,16th & Q Streets, Washington, DC, How much: Sliding scale from $95-195. Financial aid available. Please click a link to learn more: Tachlis (Logistics): Cost, Transportation, Housing, etc.Financial AidSample ScheduleHalachic informationPresenters and EducatorsOur Partners and Sponsors

Tachlis (Logistics): Cost, Housing, Transportation, etc.

Pricing ( meals and program cost.Housing is on your own),Early Bird Extra Discount Rate (until September 15):$95, Student/Financial Need Rate:$120,Standard Rate: $160, Supporter Rate: $195 Click here to register. Housing & Location: The Queer Shabbaton will be held at the DCJCC at 1529 16th Street NW (at Q), Washington DC, 20036.  We will not be providing housing or transportation to the retreat. Need a place to stay? Check out our Ride & Housing Boards by clicking here. Coming from NYC?  Check the ride-board for carpools, and buy your Megabus/BoltBus tickets now for $1 each way!                                                                                                                                                                                                Financial Assistance-To apply for financial aidplease click here.  Although the price of the Shabbaton is already heavily subsidized, we are pleased to have scholarship money available thanks to the generosity of individual Nehirimniks who want to make this experience available to others. Financial aid is available through a simple application process which takes five minutes to complete. If you would like to apply for a scholarship, please apply here.  Note, you do not need to apply for the “student/financial need rate” — an application is only required if you are unable to pay that amount. The first batch of financial aid will be given out right after Labor Day.  After that, if there is aid remaining, it will be given out on a rolling basis.  Please note, all participants will be asked to pay what they are able to pay. If you are able to support financial aid, please donate here and indicate that your donation is for QSDC financial aid.  Donations are fully tax-deductible and go 100% to financial aid for retreat participants.  We give out what we receive.

"Israel: High rates of suicide among country’s LGBT youth"

The organisation for Religious Homosexuals (HOD) has been working for several years to decrease suicide attempts among gay religious Israelis
New research published this week in Israel has examined suicide rates among LGBT youth in the country. Kipa reports that for the first time, the suicide rates among different segments of Israeli youth have been analysed in detail.

According to a study of 1,134 teens, 20% of gay youngsters surveyed had undertaken suicide attempts – 112 times the rate of the general population. However, the rate is even higher for religious LGBT youngsters.
Dr Chana Bar Yosef, the study’s director said: “This is a sector that does not get enough notice, and it is a hotbed for suicides that you later hear about after the fact. “The suicide rate among religious homosexuals is the highest because they experience more distress when confronting their families.”
The organisation for Religious Homosexuals (HOD) has been working for several years to decrease the suicide attempts of religious gays in the country. It aims to increase awareness of the issue in Israeli society and is led by the Orthodox Rabbi Ron Yosef.
In April 2009, he became the first Israeli orthodox Rabbi to come out as gay.
According to Stonewall’s School Report of 2012, 16% of gay and bisexual boys have attempted suicide and 57% have thought about taking their own life in the UK.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Mark Craddock, Christian Sect Doctor, Banned For Prescribing 'Gay Cure' Drug Used For Castration"- Huffington Post

An Australian doctor and member of a conservative Christian sect has been banned from practicing medicine after he prescribed a teenager a chemical castration drug to be used as a "gay cure."

Dr. Mark Craddock of Sydney, who is also a member of the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship sect, prescribed an 18-year-old man who was also part of the sectwith the drug after he came out as gay, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
In a letter to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, the unnamed man, who is now 24, said that when he came out as gay, a church leader told him ''there's medication you can go on." He continued, ''He recommended that I speak to Dr Craddock on the matter with a view to my being placed on medication to help me with my 'problem','' the New Zealand resident said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The teen went to visit the 75-year-old doctor who then prescribed him with a "gay cure": the anti-androgen therapy cyproterone acetate, sold under the brand name Cyprostat, along with five repeats, according to ninemsn. He said the doctor did not refer him to a psychologist or discuss the drug's side effects.
Cyprostat is a form of hormone therapy used to treat prostate cancer. The drug will "work by stopping testosterone from reaching the cancer cells. Without testosterone the prostate cancer cells are not able to grow," according to the UK's Prostate Cancer Charity. Hormone suppressants have been used to "chemically castrate" sex offenders, the Guardian notes.
A hearing by the Medical Council of the Australian State of New South Wales determined, "Dr Craddock failed to adequately assess the patient and failed to provide appropriate medical management of the patients therapeutic needs," in anexcerpt obtained by Gay Star News. The committee found that Craddock was guilty of "unsatisfactory processional conduct. He was severely reprimanded and practice restrictions were placed on his registration."
There are more than 40,000 Exclusive Brethren around the world, according to the sect's official website. They "believe strongly in the traditional family unit. Marriage is held in the greatest [honor], as one of God's original thoughts of blessing for the human race."
Some doctors, like Craddock, have taken somewhat dangerous steps in an attempt to "cure" homosexuality. In 2010, Dr. Maria New of New York City's Mount Sinai was reportedly experimenting with injecting fetuses with steroids to potentially make girls "more feminine" and reduce odds they turn out gay, the Oregonian reported at the time.
The American Psychiatric Association has condemned the "treatment" of homosexuality, according to GLAAD, saying, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
Activists have championed against "gay cures" in the United Kingdom, which includes Conversion Therapy. Last year, Apple pulled Exodus International's "Gay Cure" appfrom its collection.

"Turkey: Gay teenager allegedly murdered by father and uncle"

According to the Hurriyet Daily News, the killing took place in the south eastern province of Diyarbakir last month.
Both the father and uncle have been arrested in connection with the incident.
The boy, who has only been named as RA, is understood to be 17.
It is claimed that his sexuality had become known to his family.
Diyarbakir is one of the largest cities in Turkey and is on the bank of the River Tigris.
RA had been living with a friend’s family because he had allegedly been exposed to violence by his own family, due to his sexuality, the publication states.
It is also alleged the family tried to “cover up” the crime, according to a member of the local LGBT community.
The Hurriyet Daily News reports a source saying: “The family wanted to cover up the murder which happened one month ago because they were a rich and powerful tribal family.
“They wanted the police to hide the incident,” the source added. “We are subjected to violence, but there is no place where we can make a complaint or search for our rights. Police insult and swear at us, doctors make fun of us.”
According to Amnesty International, the rights of LGBT people remain unsecured in Turkish law.
Gay men and lesbians are prohibited from openly serving in the country’s military
Minimal progress has also been made when it comes to preventing violence against women

GLSEN National School Climate Survey 2011 Reveals LGBT Students' Experiences In U.S. Schools

Six out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens say they feel unsafe at school. Eighty-two percent of that same group say they've been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, while 71 percent say they've heard homophobic remarks like "dyke" or "faggot" used with some frequency at school.
These are just three of the more disturbing statistics revealed by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) 2011 National School Climate Survey. According to GLSEN researchers, the annual poll -- which comprised 8,584 student respondents from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia -- aims to "consistently examine the experiences of LGBT students in America’s schools."
However, it wasn't all gloom and doom. As GLSEN officials are quick to point out, the 2011 survey found a continued overall decline in anti-LGBT language, as in previous years. This year, they add, the survey shows a significant decrease in victimization based on sexual orientation for the very first time.
While acknowledging that the 2011 survey "marks a possible turning point in the school experiences of LGBT youth,” Dr. Joseph Kosciw, GLSEN’s Senior Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives, added, “An alarming number of LGBT youth still face barriers that inhibit their ability to receive an education. And although we have seen an increase in school supports that can improve school climate for these youth, many of these young people reported being unable to access these supports in their schools.”
The GLSEN survey comes on the heels of a new University of Michigan study, which found that the phrase "that's so gay" could have deep consequences for LGBT youth. The resulting data found that LGBT students who heard the phrase frequently were more likely to feel isolated and experience headaches, poor appetite or eating problems than those who didn't.
GLSEN officials also point out that the Democratic National Convention Platformincluded "explicit language affirming the need for anti-LGBT bullying prevention efforts," while the Obama administration "hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention."

"US medical body changes advice on circumcision"

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has changed its policy on the procedure and is no longer opposed to the routine circumcision of male new born babies.
In a statement the academy said: “The benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for those families who choose it”.
According to the Independent, the recommendation follows research showing circumcision reduces the chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
However, circumcision is a thorny issue – not least for those of religious faith and members of the medical profession.
With around 1.2 million people living in the US with HIV – and 61% of gay and bisexual men accounting for all new infections – the procedure is seen by some as having a role to play in tackling the epidemic.
However, Cary James, head of programmes at Britain’s largest sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust said: “Evidence that cutting foreskins leads to cutting HIV rates is inconclusive, especially because there are so many contributing factors to HIV transmission other than if a man is circumcised or not.
“As an HIV prevention strategy, male circumcision is really only suitable for the developing world, where healthcare is under-developed and access to condoms poor.
“In the UK, condoms are easily available, and they are a lot more effective against HIV.”
Earlier this summer, a German regional court in Cologne declared that circumcision amounted to bodily harm.
The decision was met with subsequent protests from Jewish and Muslim leaders across Europe.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association currently has no policy on the issue because of the “absence of unambiguously clear and consistent medical data on the implications of the intervention.”
However, the BMA says UK doctors are under no obligation to comply with a parents’ request to circumcise a child.
Several NHS Trusts only carry out the surgery on medical grounds and not because of cultural preference.
It’s estimated around 30,000 boys are circumcised annually in the UK, and figures show nearly half a-million new born American males undergo the procedure each year – although this is on the decline.
Circumcision involves removing the tip of the penis and aims to reduce germs which grow underneath the foreskin.

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