Friday, May 27, 2011

Ok, seriously... WHAT is going on?!

Lately, it seems as if horrible news stories have been following me around to the point where I should consider a restraining order. Everywhere I turn, I hear stories or read articles about some hateful person doing or saying something awful to someone else.

Ordinarily, I would string these events together in chronological order and add specially-selected words and phrases to make things flow smoothly, but honestly, I'm too angry to even attempt it. Let me just tell you what has happened lately.

First, Tennessee passed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, prohibiting teachers and guidance counselors from ever having a conversation with a student (from kindergarten - eighth grade) that included any reference to homosexuality. Ridiculous.

To top it off, the state of Tennessee also passed a law that, in a nut shell, makes it impossible for local governments to have non-discrimination policies unless the state has the same one. This was done in an effort to reverse the NDO recently passed in Nashville that added sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the list of things someone could NOT be fired for.

The state is being mocked internationally, and really, with all this ignorance, who's surprised?

I read an article online that said a sheriff's department employee in Georgia had a lesbian prisoner sent to gay conversion therapy instead of drug rehab against her will, AND he paid for it with government money. I have no proof this actually happened - if the woman is on drugs, there's no telling whether or not she's lying. Still, there is the possibility that it's true, which is sickening.

Psychology Today let one of their people write and post to their website an article with sketchy research that said black women are much less attractive than other women.

Apple is being sued because one of their employees told two African-American men they weren't welcome in the store because of their race.

You may remember hearing about Laura and Carol Ann Stutte, a same-sex couple from Monroe County, Tennessee, in the news late last year after their home was burned down in a blatant hate crime while they were out of town. They are being sued by the American National Property and Casualty Company. These people claim Laura and Carol Ann set fire to their own home - even though they were out of town when this happened and an anti-gay slur was spray-painted on their garage. If this had been a straight couple and their home was burned down - well, let's just say they wouldn't be getting treated this way.

A security camera caught a manager at McDonald's brutally beating an employee early last year, and the young man he beat up is STILL being treated for his injuries. Recently, a judge granted the former manager judicial diversion because dude has a college scholarship and wants to go to dental school. I'm sorry, but why does wanting to fix cavities one day give you the right to beat someone almost to death? If this situation had been reversed and a black manager beat up a white employee, he'd probably go to jail for X number of years, without the judge ever once asking about his college plans.

I don't know what in hell is going on with all this ish, but it has bypassed ridiculous, pathetic, and stupid. Instead, we have landed in a large, ugly place called WTF?!

Aren't we, in 2011, supposed to be smarter than this? I'm asking that question literally. What has happened to us that's causing us to suddenly take a thousand steps backward?

This is so psycho that I cannot wrap my mind around it all. It makes me want to scream and throw the type of fit that only children who are never disciplined throw - all because I just don't understand.

I mean, really, HOW do we let this ish happen?!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The magical 3 year plan

Nearly three years ago when Mike Heisley announced that he had a three year plan to get the Memphis Grizzlies into the playoffs, most people, including myself, thought he was crazy. But here we are three years later, and the Grizzlies are in the playoffs. Better still - they're winning in the post-season. Tonight I watched them win their third post-season game against the team ranked number one in the Western Conference.

Some are classifying their success as a miracle. I think it's a combination of hard work, smart decision making, and unwavering support. The franchise began this journey by building itself up slowly with better players who worked well together. In turn, the support of fans grew and grew. The players took the support offered to them and worked for small victories. Eventually, those victories got bigger and harder to achieve, but they kept pushing forward. And here we are tonight - the Grizzlies lead the Spurs 3-1 in this round one playoff series.

After Saturday's game and again after tonight's game (both sell-outs), the forum was overflowing with pride. Both nights as the crowds were leaving, everyone was chanting and yelling for their beloved Grizzlies. I, of course, was right in the middle of it. But I kept having these moments of clarity where I felt like I was really deep into the scene, observing everything and taking it all in.

It occurred to me that we - the fans - had played a very small role in their success. After all, we believed in them. Then I realized what these playoff victories meant for the city of Memphis. This basketball team had begun to unite our city in a way I had never seen before. Everyone was coming together, and for once, we all wanted the same thing.

After spending a few minutes thinking about all of that, my thoughts got deeper. What if someone who really cared about this city and knew what they were doing made a three year plan for Memphis? What if we brought in people that REALLY had some skills and allowed them to change up our city's game a little? What if we all got behind them, volunteered in our communities, and created positive changes in our city's game ourselves? What kinds of wonderful things would happen if we had our own three year plan?

Then my mind posed another question - what if we were to quit waiting for some specially-trained superhero to come save our city and just start doing it ourselves?

Everyone points out where we fall short, but only a few courageous people ever step up and take a shot at changing things.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The reality of drunk driving - Meet Jacqui Saburido

Every year on the 19th of September, Jacqui Saburido celebrates a different kind of birthday. She isn’t celebrating the day she was born on – it’s the anniversary of the car accident that changed her life.

In August of 1999, Jacqueline Saburido moved from her home in Venezuela to Austin, Texas. She came to the United States to take English classes. She had it all – beauty, brains, and a future overflowing with opportunities.

Three weeks later on September 19, 1999, Jacqui went to a friend’s birthday party. According to several publications, Jacqui has said that the party reminded her of home because the birthday boy was also Venezuelan. At the party, she did not drink alcohol and neither did Natalia Chyptchak Bennett – the person Jacqui chose to get a ride home from.

Reggie Stephey, an 18 year old high school student, had been drinking with some friends and made the decision to drive himself home. He drove his SUV into the Oldsmobile Jacqui and her friends were riding in. Natalia and Jacqui’s friend, Laura, were killed on impact.

Two paramedics who had just left the scene of an emergency call drove up on the accident. They saw flames coming from Natalia’s Oldsmobile. One of them ran to the car with a fire extinguisher and put it out, emptying the extinguisher completely. Soon, though, the fire was back. The paramedics were able to get Johan and Johanna, two more of Jacqui’s friends, out of the backseat. Jacqui’s door couldn’t be pried open, and she was trapped – her legs were pinned between the seat and the dashboard. The flames grew, and the paramedics witnessed the horrifying scene of Jacqui’s body catching on fire. They said she burned for a solid forty-five seconds. She screamed and wailed.

When the fire was finally put out, the paramedics believed Jacqui was dead, but they soon discovered that she was still alive – somehow. She was airlifted to Breckenridge Hospital in Austin and then transferred to the Blocker Burn Unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Jacqui had third degree burns (the worst kind) on over 60% of her body. The paramedics later said that when the fire was finally put out with a hose from a fire truck, Jacqui’s body steamed.

Doctors, nurses, burn experts – no one knew if she would live through so much trauma. Jacqui Saburido was born a fighter, and her survival is proof of that. She underwent over 40 surgical procedures within two years of the accident. She has had more since then. Her body is severely disfigured, her injuries innumerable. There are scars on almost every part of her except her feet, and her feet are the only parts of her body that still have full sensation. Most of her fingers were amputated. She has none on her right hand (although doctors were able to make her a thumb), and the ones on her left hand are short nubs. Jacqui didn’t even have those for a while – they had sort of healed or grown together while she was in the hospital, but one of her doctors was able to separate them. She was blind for quite some time, but she had cornea transplants, along with countless other procedures on her eyes. Jacqui can see out of both her eyes now – although her vision is blurry at times and therefore not dependable eyesight. She lost the ability to grow hair. After being in the hospital for so long, all of the muscle she had left had deteriorated on her, and she had to gain it back gradually. Because of her burns, her skin can no longer hold in heat or cold. During her stay in the hospital, her lips, ears, and nose fell off. Jacqui’s face was damaged beyond recognition.

Jacqui’s parents, Amadeo and Rosalia, rushed to Texas from Venezuela the day after her accident. They had been divorced previously, and eventually her mother went back home. Jacqui depends on her father for the simplest of things – showering, buttoning her clothes, etc. She has said she feels like a toddler because she is very dependent on Amadeo.

Three hours after the accident, police officers placed Reggie Stephey in the back of a squad car when his blood alcohol level reading came back at 0.13 (the legal limit being 0.08). This was THREE HOURS later. No one knows exactly how intoxicated he was when he caused the car accident. He was later fined $20,000 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, with the possibility of parole. He killed two people and permanently disfigured Jacqui. During the court proceedings, Jacqui met him and publicly forgave him, displaying a level of courage most people can only dream about.

Jacqui lent her story to anti-drunk driving campaigns in Texas. She has been featured on posters and in commercials. One of the most popular posters shows before and after pictures of Jacqui with the statement, “Not everyone who gets hit by a drunk driver dies.” A video was made with the purpose of discouraging drunk driving that featured Jacqui and Reggie Stephey. Students have said they are much less likely to drive impaired after hearing Jacqui’s story.

Jacqui has been through so much more than I could ever explain to you. The treatments, masks, creams, drops, surgeries, bodysuits… they are all too much for me to keep track of. But she has come SO far. She and her father are confident that she will continue to progress.

The major accomplishments Jacqui has had? She can see, she has driven a little, and she even finished her studies in English. Jacqui shares her story publicly in speeches at high schools across the country when she has time.

I would like for everyone to take away three things from this:

This is the time of year when most schools have their proms. It’s also the time of year when you go to parties, barbeques at your friends’ houses, etc. When you’re out having fun, PLEASE don’t drive if you are impaired! It is absolutely NOT worth the risk!

You are blessed beyond belief. Writing this has been extremely humbling for me, and I am thankful for yet another reminder of what all I have to be grateful for.

If you have children or spend a lot of time around children, please teach them that it is okay for people to look differently than they do. Jacqui is stared, pointed, and laughed at far too often. People are sometimes afraid of her. Don’t be and don’t teach your children to be that way – she is a human being with feelings. People who look differently need to be shown love too!

Jacqui’s medical bills are continually piling up. (Can you even imagine?) If you would like to help her family financially, I’m sure they would greatly appreciate even the smallest donation. All donations can be made securely through a paypal account set up for Jacqui. Click here to donate.

While she isn’t able to respond to every message (writing and typing are still challenging for her), Jacqui loves to receive both snail mail and email from people who have heard her story. I hope all of you send her at least a short note with some words of encouragement!
Jacqui Saburido
P.O. Box 27667
Austin, Texas, USA 78755

*Please share this with all of your friends!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another post concerning white privilege

Monday night a tree in a yard down the street from my house uprooted and fell across the road. It took out everything in its path, including dozens of power lines and a pickup truck that was driving down the street when it fell (don’t worry – the driver is fine). Our power was out for about a day - not much, I suppose, because quite a few people lost power before us and are still without it right now. They’ve been working on getting the tree out of the road ever since then. Between the guys cutting up the tree and the half a dozen MGLW trucks (this tree meant business), it was even crazier yesterday than today. The road has been blocked on both sides from the beginning. I've been sitting outside a lot watching the workers some of the time, but mainly watching people as they drove up to the traffic cones that are spread across the street.

Since the street I live on intersects with a large highway right by my house, a lot of people drive down it to avoid traffic jams, etc. It’s also a great shortcut to get to another major street in the area.

All those cars were having to turn around because of the blocked road – well, they were supposed to anyway. It pissed me off to see so many people run right over the traffic cones or even drive up onto the SIDEWALK to get around them. It has gotten THAT ridiculous.

After two days of watching this happen over and over, I realized something – not ONCE had a non-white individual tried to get over or around the traffic cones. Every single one of them was white. It made me recognize yet another area that white people (certainly not every individual, but as a whole) expect exceptions to be made for them. If a non-white individual had done it, the MPD officer present at the scene would have probably at the very least pulled them over. It goes along with white privilege and continually stems from the governing societal norm that says it is perfectly okay for someone to disobey laws and do whatever they want so long as they are white.

This ish makes me angrier than just about anything on the planet. Technically I’m white, but I’ve never really felt "white," and I honestly don’t understand the twisted world we live in that allows exceptions to be made for “people of no color” (testing out possible new terminology) so much that when one isn’t made for them, they flip out. (If you’ve never been told “no,” hearing it for the first time when you’re 40 years old would shock anyone.)

I long for a day when we will truly be an equal society. I want to live in an America that fulfills the promises it made to me as a child when I first learned about the Constitution and learned words to the Pledge of Allegiance. "...[W]ith liberty and justice for all" still does not exist, and I’m sick of living in America that lied to me.

I don’t know how to get us to a place of equality, but it’d be one hell of a start if white people would start recognizing and admitting to the existence of white privilege.

*Rude comments/messages will be deleted and reported. My blog is one place neither free speech OR white privilege exist.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tina Stewart did not die in vain

On March 2, Tina Stewart was found fatally stabbed in her apartment at Middle Tennessee State University. Tina was so full of life, and she would have had an incredible future. She played basketball and excelled academically. She loved her family, her God, and her friends.

I was never especially close to Tina. I went to school with Tina for a little while, and we always spoke to each other in passing. That means I also went to school with the woman who has been charged with her murder, and I knew her on about the same level. Because of this, the situation hit very close to home for me - a little too close. I have realized that this could have happened to me or to any one of my friends. It could have happened to ANYONE.

Tina's death has recently reminded me just how short life is, and it has shown me that I need to live mine a little differently.

Life is extremely precious, and it should be treasured. I am blessed with the opportunity to be creating positive change right now. I've made the decision to get more involved in my community, and I have taken the beginning steps to make that happen.

Some people are blessed with a hundred years on this earth. Others are gone before they cry for the first time. I've come to see that the length of your life is not important. It's what you do with it that counts - the impact you have on the people around you.

Everyone leaves something behind, and Tina is a wonderful example of how to leave something beautiful. She might be gone from this world, but she is still impacting the lives of others.

I hope knowing Tina will always be remembered, loved, and appreciated for the way she lived her life will be of some comfort to her family. God bless them all.

The Stewart family is traveling back and forth quite a bit for all of the court hearings, and, as I'm sure you can imagine, doing so is not cheap. No one can take away the pain of losing a child or sister, but we can help ease the financial burden for this family. Please consider making a donation to a fund set up for them at Regions Bank. Go to any Regions Bank location and let them know you'd like to donate to the "In Loving Memory of Tina Stewart" fund.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Criminalization of Islam in America: What's Really Happening

On September 11, 2010, I had the opportunity to be present at a local mosque during the time of praying that marks the Eid al-Fitr holiday. (Yes, I most certainly went to a mosque on 09/11.) Afterward, leaders in the Muslim community answered any questions non-Muslims wanted to ask them. It probably took a lot of faith to invite non-Muslims into their mosque on such an important Islamic holiday, not knowing what could potentially happen. Let me just tell you - it was SO beautiful. I saw passion and dedication. I saw a group of people who just wanted to clear the air and be absolutely sure there was correct information getting out into the public about their religion. With so much hatred being directed at those who practice Islam, I can see why it must have been important for them to do it.

The push to criminalize Islam in America is an important issue to me partly for the same reason it should be to everyone - it goes against the First Amendment of the Constitution.

First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The Supreme Court (SC) decided this was a good enough reason to protect the right to protest at military funerals (ie: half of the "good work" members at Westboro Baptist Church do). Protesting at funerals is, more than likely, disturbing the peace - not peacefully assembling. The First Amendment does not directly lay down instructions for this, so the SC had to interpret the law.

The FA does, however, lay down specific instruction about religion. It's all in that tiny bit that talks about Congress making no law against an establishment of religion or making a law against practicing any religion. So then how is it feasible to ban Islam?

It's not a stretch to say the legislation currently being pushed is led by the religious right, which only consists of people masquerading as Christians. They get away with it by portraying themselves as holy and everyone else as less-than.

Earlier I said the new bills that are intended to ban Islam bothered me partly because of their inability to gel with the Constitution. The other reason? There are Muslims whom I love dearly. It's just not right to demonize them for what a small group of people masquerading as Muslims did over 10 years ago. (Wait, wait! Did anyone else notice I mentioned TWO groups of people masquerading as members of a religion?)

I'm tired of fake people (see "religious right") ruining our country to make themselves look better. Talk about the Devil being alive and thriving!

American Muslims did nothing to you. Stop the demonization of innocent people!

Rant over.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My MGLCC Story

During the past 2.5 years, I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of the most wonderful people I have ever encountered in my life. Most (certainly not all) of them are friends I made through some type of connection to the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

The first day I went to MGLCC, I was a nervous 16 year old who had no idea what my sexuality was. All I knew was I felt like I needed to seek out people who had positive feelings toward LGBT people. (Since then, I've come into my sexuality, and I'm VERY proud to be a straight ally. Nowadays, I have so many gay friends that I sometimes forget that I'm straight.)

It was a cloudy mid-September day. The moment I walked into the building, I felt this weird sense, and it occurred to me that even though I had never been to this place before, I felt so at home there. I met three people I will always love - Will "Ouiser" Batts, Autumn "Mama"/"Audy" Falconer, and THE Rohbi. I don't remember much else about that day, other than leaving with a smile on my face and a lot of relief. I knew from that moment there were people who would always care, regardless of whatever I ended up discovering about myself. I felt comfortable to continue growing into myself as a person.

I dove into things head first that year - youth nights, rallies, encouraging people to vote for equality, vigils for those killed in hate crimes, etc. I just started meeting all of these incredible people. I had friends coming out of my ears - wonderful, fabulous friends.

Along the way from that first day until now, I've slowly picked up an entire chosen family. The ones I didn't meet at MGLCC/through MGLCC/through someone I knew from MGLCC I most likely only met because of the influence MGLCC had on my life.

Looking back on the creation of this family makes me a little emotional, because I never could have imagined having this whole family of crazy, loving, dramatic, supportive, sweet, beautiful people in my life when I was walking up the steps at MGLCC the first time. Now I can't imagine my life without every single one of them in it.

Life is challenging, and I've been going through a lot during the past several months. However, I haven't forgotten how blessed I am to have this amazing group of friends. They've been with me through the best of times and the worst of times.

MGLCC saves lives every day. I'm still convinced they saved mine. Without them, I'd most likely be so deep into a depression that nothing could ever pull me out. I hope everyone will consider donating to MGLCC - every time you donate, you're saving a life. Go to to donate or find out more information about Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

Feel free to post a link to this anywhere you'd like, if you would like to share it with friends.

If anyone homophobic is reading this, let me make a few things CRYSTAL clear...

1) I don't care what hateful comments you have - keep that shxt to yourself.
2) Before you even TRY to start some mess - no one at MGLCC ever told me what to think. I formed my own opinions.
3) You mess with my friends, you mess with me. DON'T test me.