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It’s Time to Understand the “I”

October 26th is Intersex Awareness Day – marking the 20th anniversary of intersex protests outside the annual American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conference in Boston.  That protest is considered the beginning of intersex activism in the U.S. and the beginning of a movement.

interact-buzzfeed

Several intersex activists participated in a Buzzfeed video to raise awareness about intersex issues.

Intersex – the “I” in LGBTQIA – is an umbrella term for people born with a biological sex characteristics that are not strictly ‘male’ or ‘female’. As common as red hair, nearly two percent of the population is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or a chromosomal pattern that does not seem to fit the typical male/female binary notion of sex.

For example an intersex person could be born with XY, or typically “male” sex chromosomes, internal testes, and no uterus but have typically female genitals and secondary sex characteristics.   A trait referred to as “androgen insensitivity”. Or a person may have typically “female” XX chromosomes and internal reproductive organs but have external genitals that are perceived to be atypical such as an enlarged clitoris. Intersex people are not really that rare; they have just been mostly invisible due to stigma and shame imposed on them by society and specifically some in the medical community.

Many have not even heard of intersex traits because until recently it has not been widely discussed.  Doctors have attempted to surgically erase variations of sex anatomy attempting to make intersex bodies “normal”. Since the 1950s, intersex children have been routinely subjected to irreversible, harmful, and unnecessary surgeries and other medical interventions in an attempt to ‘normalize’ or ‘fix’ their bodies.  But intersex bodies aren’t broken.  In fact, in the overwhelming majority of cases there is no medically necessity associated with these irreversible and unconsented “treatments”.

These so-called “normalization” surgeries are simply cosmetic, and can result in loss of genital sensation and sexual function, sterility, scarring, ongoing pain, incontinence, loss of reproductive capacity, depression, and PTSD. Families are often told to keep these experiences a secret, sometimes even from the children themselves. Sometimes doctors did not fully inform the parents or the children about the procedures that they performed.

Since the 1990s, intersex people around the world have been stepping forward to speak out against the medical treatment they received in childhood. Many have disclosed that the secrecy surrounding their experiences led to traumatizing feelings of shame and stigma and had a profound negative impact on their lives. Leaders of the intersex community started calling for an end to unnecessary surgeries, and for children with intersex traits to have a voice in in the treatment of their own bodies!

Today, interACT, a national organization based in the Greater Boston area, is the only organization fighting to promote legal and human rights of intersex youth, as well as working to raise awareness of intersex issues in the media and empowering intersex youth advocates.  Some of interACT Youth’s recent projects include a viral Buzzfeed Video entitled, “What it’s like to be intersex,” as well as consulting with MTV to create the first intersex main character on the popular teen show Faking it! interACT also uses innovative advocacy strategies on the state, federal and international levels to impact law and policy in favor of intersex rights.

interact-log-with-taglineThe LGBTQA community and the intersex movement are fighting some of the same societal constraints associated with not fitting into narrow understandings about bodies and identities. Most intersex people share the common experiences of discrimination, stigma and shame based on non-binary notions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation.  Although intersex is not a sexual orientation, it can be an important identity that some have reclaimed and celebrated in the face of medical providers who’ve felt intersex is shameful and should be kept hidden.

This intersex awareness day, please consider sharing this information with a friend who many not yet understand what the “I” in the alphabet soup stands for.  For more information, go to www.interACTadvovates.org.


Kimberly Zieselman, JD, is an intersex activist and Executive Director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and lives in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

weareorlandoI’m sorry this is going to be rambling. Two years ago tomorrow I came out widely and publicly as bisexual, at work, online, and in other sectors of my life where I had been partially closeted for more than 20 years. As she has always been, Mary Benard was by my side through that process and the decisions leading up to it. I’ve been one of the lucky ones: I’ve received love and support from family and friends. I’ve become active with groups like the Bisexual Resource Center and, especially, SpeakOUT Boston. I’ve deepened my sense of connection to the larger LGBTQIA community. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made it my life; I’m only sorry I waited so long, but fear is a powerful, powerful thing.

This weekend, I celebrated my 47th birthday and Boston Pride on the same day, spending it with Mary and a dear friend and spending some time at the SpeakOUT booth at the festival. We’d marched in the parade each of the last two years so this was our year to be spectators and get a larger sense of it; I’m glad we did. Over the course of the long day, we went to four different queer-friendly establishments. We laughed, danced, hugged, waved our flags, and came together with the diverse greater Boston queer community. It was wonderful.

And then we awoke Sunday to the news about the shooting at a queer nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando. Like every other decent human being, we were sickened at the loss of life, outraged once again at living in a country where the laws and culture around guns and gun control make such things so common, and dismayed to once again learn about the radicalization of someone into something so broken, so inhuman, as to be able to distort Islam and commit atrocities in its name.

And, of course, there was also the cold sweat realization: that could have been us. The night before. Any number of nights.

Please understand this: queer-friendly spaces are sanctuaries. If you’ve never been called faggot or dyke or queer-as-a-slur or any number of other insults because of who you are, I’m genuinely happy for you. If you’ve never been physically threatened because of your identity or how you present it in public, great. But many of us have, and those scars run deep. Safe spaces like Pulse in Orlando are where we can go and be ourselves in the expectation of reasonable safety. This killing spree was as much about striking at that idea as it was about taking individual lives.

I’ve never been to Orlando, so I’ve never been to Pulse. But I know who was in there Saturday night. Gay men, lesbians, bisexual men and women, transgender people, gender-queer or gender-fluid folks, people of many different ethnicities, and lots of others with lots of other labels of choice. I’m sure that many straight friends and allies were there as well, as is often wonderfully and increasingly the case in such spaces. Some people were there with their partners, whether married or not, whether monogamous or not. Some were single and alone. Some were there with friends. Some were there to talk, to flirt, to dance, to make friends, to hook up, to celebrate something, to drink, to eat, to simply be, like people at bars and nightclubs of all kinds are, everywhere. Some were out. Some were closeted in other parts of their lives.

All of them, the dead, the wounded, the survivors, were beautiful, flawed, wonderful, imperfect, full-of-potential human beings. Yes, this is a human tragedy. And, YES, it matters that this act of violence was aimed at the queer community, in particular, queer people of color. If I can borrow a style from Lin Manuel Miranda’s wonderful Tony acceptance sonnet: it matters it matters it matters it matters it matters it matters.

I don’t know how we move on from this as a queer community, or as a country. I do know that Pride will never feel the same. And neither will safe spaces. Just….love each other. It’s ultimately all we can do.

panorama trinity

Hundreds gathered at Trinity Church in Boston on eve of June 12th after the Orlando massacre.


George Grattan, SpeakOUT’s board president,  has lived in the Boston area for more than 20 years and helps run a “Bi Guys Social Night” through the Bisexual Resource Center. He’s been active with SpeakOUT since 2014. In his spare time he works in higher education marketing and communications, goes kayaking, and sits on his back porch.

Kick Off Pride Season on SpeakOUT Day – June 3

Temporary tattoos are a must at the SpeakOUT Pride booth!

Temporary tattoos are a must at the SpeakOUT Pride booth!

By Ellyn Ruthstrom

It’s that time of year again to break out the rainbow regalia, sprinkle the glitter, and get your marching or dancing shoes on—whichever suits you best! Pride season has begun and it’s exciting to attend flag raisings, LGBTQ community forums, pride marches, history events, block parties, inter-faith services, and so much more! We come out to celebrate, we come out to raise awareness, and we come out to COME OUT!

This year, we are kicking off Pride month by celebrating SpeakOUT Day on Friday, June 3. All day long we’ll be sharing information on our social media channels about SpeakOUT: our mission, our speakers, our clients and our impact in the community. And yes, we will be encouraging our supporters to make a donation on SpeakOUT Day to keep our work expanding and touching as many lives as possible!

We hope you can jump in and share your experiences and insights about our work, too. If you don’t already follow us on Facebook and Twitter, do so and include #SpeakOUTDay in your posts. Some of us will be celebrating SpeakOUT Day at Fenway Park’s Pride Night that evening so look out for fun selfies from us.

Most years I’m usually helping to set up a table or marshaling a parade contingent into position on my Pride mornings. And this year will be no different as I head to Government Center for Boston Pride on June 11 to hang up the SpeakOUT banner, spread out the table displays, and get ready to schmooze all day with the fascinating array of people who stop by the table.

I am passionate about the work that SpeakOUT does in the community, so I get jazzed when I get a chance to talk to others about that work. By the end of the day I often realize that I have talked to folks from the ages of 13-80, from city dwellers to suburban and rural folks, first-timers as well as those chalking up their 40+ Pride year. I love meeting students who tell us how glad they are we came to their school, and meeting others who haven’t heard of us before but tell us how much they need us to come to theirs. I meet community members who get excited about our mission and decide to sign up for our next training so that they, too, can share their stories. It’s exhausting and exhilarating and not to be missed.

On Pride Day, there is much to celebrate about our rich history of resistance and pure fabulousness. (Snap!) And there is also much more to continue working on together as a community! Celebrating Pride is a way for me, personally, to recharge and recommit to doing the work we need to do all year long. After the glitter gets washed away, it’s back to work. Happy Pride, everyone!


ParadeboaEllyn Ruthstrom is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT Boston. Last year, Ellyn was one of Boston Pride’s marshals, honoring her many years of work with the Bisexual Resource Center and the LGBTQ community. She was able to cross off her bucket list “riding in a convertible with a pink boa.”

Being Myself Without Fear of Judgment

By River Olsen

When SpeakOUT’s Executive Director, Ellyn, asked me if I was ready to tell my story for the Walnut Hill School for the Arts engagement, my heart both skipped a beat and started racing off into the hills. I was thrilled and excited to finally have a chance to step up and speak out – to tell my story for the first time as a SpeakOUT speaker. But that enthusiasm came hand-in-hand with anxiety, stress, worry, fear, nerves. I ruminated like this for days: “Am I ready for this? I have only shadowed once, and I don’t feel like my story is interesting enough. I’m really soft-spoken. What if I can’t answer a question correctly? What if I freeze up? What if, what if, what if?!”

River Ellyn Marcy Feb 11 2016

River (at left) will Ellyn and Marcy on stage at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts assembly.

Despite all my worries, I agreed to take on the engagement and spent hours working on my story – writing drafts, outlining, and trying to fold interesting hooks into its telling. When the day finally came, Ellyn and I drove out to Natick to meet our fellow co-speaker Marcy and the student leadership of the Walnut Hill School GSA (cleverly re-monikered as the Gender & Sexuality Alliance). We were greeted with lots of smiling, laughing, and warmth – my tenseness lessened a bit.

At last we were all led into the auditorium where three chairs awaited us on a stage. While we were sitting on the stage as some 200 teenagers streamed into the room, I was sharply aware of a sense of ecstatic anticipation – a jumbled mix of nerves and elation. It was finally happening! Music began to play from the loudspeakers, and as I looked out into the audience, I saw several students jump to their feet and start dancing amid the rows of seats. Immediately, I grinned at the expressiveness and genuineness of these students, and my nervousness fell away.

The students themselves were amazing! I could feel that they were truly listening to our stories, and they all asked such interesting questions. One question that stood out in particular was around how we handle traveling in countries and cultures that are less-than-friendly for LGBTQIA folks. I deeply admired the way my co-speakers worked together to answer the question from their own experiences, especially when I wasn’t able to think of anything to say.

Another set of questions from students and faculty asked Marcy and me about genderqueer and genderfluid identities. It was a rare gem to have such an engaging and nuanced conversation around non-binary gender identity in a setting like that. It really gave me a lot of hope to see wonderful questions like these coming from folks who genuinely want to learn from experiences different from their own.

When I first started to speak, I stuck pretty closely to the story I had prepared in advance. But once I spoke, I discovered – with some surprise, I might add – that I was truly moved by finally hearing my own story spoken aloud. It was liberating and validating and affirming and unburdening. And as I continued to tell my story and answer questions, I noticed that I was now speaking from my heart – an authenticity that was finally becoming transparent. That was the reason my nerves had disappeared – I was just being myself without fear of judgment.


River Olsen is a queer trans woman who lives in East Boston with her wife, Katie, and daughter, Lisbeth. She is currently in the second year of her MDiv program at Harvard Divinity School, and has been interning with SpeakOUT Boston for the last six months.

 

 

Speaking OUT and Proud at Gordon College

 

Bill rainbow

By Bill Barnert

Gordon College has gotten a lot of negative press in recent years on LGBTQ issues. The college’s behavioral standards specifically includes a ban on “homosexual practice,” and Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay co-signed a letter to President Obama asking for a religious exemption from Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (That action resulted in Salem’s mayor prohibiting Gordon from using city facilities.)

So when SpeakOUT was invited to speak there in December by a group of LGBTQ students and their allies, One Gordon, we jumped at the chance. After discussions with the Student Activities office, we agreed to share the stage with a Christian group called “Lead Them Home.” Looking at LTH’s website, we found phrases like “Share the Gospel within reach of LGBTQI Communities” and “Assist those in our churches seeking help with gender and sexual brokenness,” so we knew our perspectives were coming from very different places.

I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Lead Them Home speakers. The evening started with a private dinner between the SpeakOUT speakers and board members, LTH, the Vice President of Student Activities, and members of the LGBTQ group. This set the tone for a mutually respectful sharing once we took the stage in the campus auditorium.

Both of the LTH speakers were men who acknowledged that they were attracted to men, but did not believe they could act on this because of their views on what it meant to be Christian. In other words, very similar to any straight person who felt that they needed to refrain from pre-marital sex based on their religious beliefs. This definitely resonated with some of Gordon’s students and they came up afterwards to discuss their feelings with LTH. The big difference of course, is that a straight person is just putting off sex for now, and the men in LTH are essentially putting off same-sex expression forever. There was absolutely no “gay bashing” by their speakers and, in fact, one of LTH’s goals is to get Christians to accept gay people as people, while preaching abstinence.

The two speakers from SpeakOUT were very well received. Kara, a bisexual woman, and Paul, a gay man, shared their life experiences, and talked about their husbands and their experiences within their own Christian churches. Paul shared how important it was for him to marry his husband in his local church and Kara talked about how elements of intolerance in her denomination inspired her to do more work within her local congregation. The questions from the students were thoughtful and respectful, and Kara and Paul’s answers were insightful. For many of the students in the audience, it was a refreshing change to hear people talk comfortably about their sexuality and their religion in the same breath, with no seeming contradiction. Quite a few came up afterwards and thanked the speakers for their participation.

The Gordon College students were very appreciative to have us there, and to have a chance to hear a pro-LGBTQ pro-Christian message. It’s hard to measure how much effect we had, but both the students and the administration have asked that we return in the future. Here’s hoping that little steps grow to larger strides of understanding.


Bill Barnert has been with SpeakOUT since 1980, and co-hosted SpeakOUT TV and PrideTime. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” He sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group.

Meet SpeakOUT’s 2016 Board of Directors

SpeakOUT is proud to introduce the Board of Directors for 2016. We welcome four new board members who have joined us over the last six months and will be helping to guide our work in the coming year. If you are interested in learning more about SpeakOUT and how you can become involved with the organization, please email Executive Director Ellyn Ruthstrom at ellyn@speakoutboston.org.

Brian Balduzzi photo croppedBrian Balduzzi is a new Board Member and Treasurer for SpeakOUT, and he is ecstatic to promote and support its mission. Brian is a former teacher, certified in English Grades 7-12, who followed his passion for advocacy to Boston University School of Law where he earned his JD and Tax LLM. There, he was active in both OutLaw, serving as Treasurer, and the Public Interest Project, serving as Co-President, among other LGBTQ advocacy and public interest organizations. Now, he works as a Tax and Estate Planning Attorney at a mid-sized law firm in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and serves as a Board Member for the Mass. LGBTQ Bar Association and Weston Friendly Society, the second oldest community theatre in the country.  In addition to directing and producing LGBTQ theatre, Brian is a reviewer with the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) and American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), and Managing Editor for ArtsImpulse, a Greater Boston theatre reviewing site.  In his spare time, he enjoys taking walks with his partner and King Charles Cavalier-Poodle, belting showtunes, and singing with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.

Bill Barnert headshot

Bill Barnert is the most tenured member of the Board of Directors, having been speaking for SpeakOUT since 1980. He was a co-host of SpeakOUT TV (the weekly cable show produced by the organization from 1993-2007) and PrideTime for Boston cable. Bill is proud of the organizations he has helped to co-found, including the AIDS Action Committee, Brown University TBGALA, and the Cambridge Men’s Group. Bill has sung with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, danced with the ReneGAYdes, drummed with the Freedom Trail Marching Band, and has volunteered at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s GSA, “Project-10 East.” Currently, he sits on the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, and he helps run the Cambridge Men’s Group. Professionally, Bill is a User Experience Designer, and is active in BostonCHI. In what’s left of his spare time, he is an amateur actor, comedian, and playwright.

Michael Bookman headshotMichael Bookman’s attendance at SpeakOUT’s Speaker Training in 2012 inspired him to learn more about the organization and he has been volunteering and speaking for SpeakOUT ever since, joining the Board of Directors in 2014. Michael has served on the Volunteer Recognition Committee and as a disaster services instructor for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts, and as the co-chair of Boston Pride’s Human Rights and Education Committee. Currently in graduate school at Emmanuel College, Michael holds a bachelor’s degree of science in psychology. He is a human resources professional and belongs to the Society of Human Resources Management. For over six years, Michael has been a proud member and executive club committee member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organization that helps its members develop their public speaking and leadership skills.

Michele C-C headshotMichele Canero-Conklin has been on the SpeakOUT board since 2012. Her passion is community service, and she is especially dedicated to life preservation and meeting and connecting with people one-on-one, wherever they may be on this journey we call life. Michele is a seasoned, dedicated, compassionate, and service-oriented campus law enforcement/communications professional with a true passion for mentoring youth to become successful leaders and mentors. She’s also a mother of two adult children, coaches little league softball, and teaches self-defense and CPR/first aid classes.

Jenna ConnollyJenna Connolly is a Certified Nonprofit Professional with a strong background in volunteer management and a proud new member of the SpeakOUT board as of 2015. She has been an employee with Planned Parenthood since 2014 and is committed to reproductive & sexual justice and education in addition to LGBTQ rights. She considers herself an intersectional feminist and will receive a graduate certificate in Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy from UMass Boston in May 2016, which she hopes to use to break into the advocacy and policy sector. She is an amateur musician and writer in her spare time and currently resides in Brighton with her feline roommate, Peebee.

Jess FickJessica Fick joined the SpeakOut board in September 2015. Jessica has served in a variety of talent/organizational development focused roles throughout her career in the nonprofit sector.  She is passionate about helping organizations run well and become better places to work/volunteer, so that they can make even more of an impact. Her day job involves leading the talent function at an education consulting firm, for which she has recently taken on the role of integrating diversity and inclusion efforts into the overall recruitment and employee engagement efforts. She joined SpeakOut to learn and extend her impact beyond work. As an LGBTQ ally, Jessica is a true believer in building stronger and more inclusive communities and cultures through listening and understanding the unique perspectives and experiences of others. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys spending time outdoors (walking, hiking, biking) with her husband and dog.

George Grattan headshotGeorge Grattan’s career track and volunteer history has wound through the woods of academia, non-profits, marketing, writing, acting, public speaking, board service, environmental activism, and general “doing of stuff.” George joined the board of SpeakOUT in the fall of 2014, and prior to that was a board member of Living Routes, an environmental study-abroad program. His day gig focuses on marketing academic and social media content for Bentley University in Waltham, where he resides with his wife Mary. He has worked in the past for Earthwatch, the Urban Ecology Institute, Boston College, and the College of the Holy Cross. He has co-authored and co-edited both editions of Writing Places, a place-based composition reader for first-year college courses, and can be found every third Tuesday of the month at a “Bi Guys Bowling Night.” George is now serving as SpeakOUT’s Board Chair and is also one of our active speakers.

Jenn Guneratne joined SpeakOUT’s board in July 2014, having initially signed on as a volunteer in late 2013 to assist with the organization’s social media presence. Since then, she has watched the board grow with a number of highly talented and enthusiastic members. Jenn is excited to be involved with the Board during this time of growth and she is serving in the role of Board Clerk. Professionally, Jenn has worked in both arts organizations and educational institutions, and is currently working for the Undergraduate Affairs department at Boston University College of Communication. Jenn’s background and interests span the gamut of drama, music and musicology, photography, deaf studies, involvement with the LGBTQ community and commuting around the city on her trusty bike.

alley photo

Alley Stoughton became an LGBTQ activist in Kansas during the fight against a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution restricting marriage to one man and one woman. The amendment passed, but the process of fighting it had beneficial effects for many participants, both personal and professional. In Alley’s case, it gave her the courage to transition genders, restarting a process that had been stalled for decades; it also led to her becoming a social and political activist, taking on leadership roles in a new LGBTQ rights organization as well as in an established peace and justice organization. Alley and her wife moved to Boston in 2010. In her professional life, she’s a research computer scientist, and currently works mostly remotely for a research institute located in Madrid. She trained as a SpeakOUT speaker in the fall of 2014, and joined the SpeakOUT board in the summer of 2015. She’s also a member of WMBR, MIT’s community radio station, where she hosts a modern classical music program.

SpeakOUT “Back-to-school” Season Begins

“Back-to-school” season is a great time for SpeakOUT. We get excited to be returning to classrooms and assemblies across the state as we speak about LGBTQ lives. And we value our connections with students and faculty who are working to improve the supportive climate in their school systems for all students.

Jennifer Wolfrum, Assistant Coordinator of Physical Education and Wellness in the Lexington Public Schools, shares with us below why the high school has invited SpeakOUT into their classes for many years.


Lexington HS front

The entrance to Lexington High School.

For over 20 years, SpeakOUT speakers have come into our junior health classes at Lexington High School to discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The speakers have provided valuable perspectives, insights and life experiences that have enabled our students to better understand the issues that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face.

When asked on a course survey, 95% of all juniors recommended that SpeakOUT come back for future health classes. Here are some of their comments:

     “They were very informative. It is always good to hear first-hand accounts. They provide a story that no one else could, which made it very important.”

     “These were great speakers and they helped a lot in understanding some of the struggles homosexuals/bis go through in their everyday lives. It puts perspective on your own life and says that you need to treat everyone equally, everyone is human, and their sexual identity doesn’t make that much difference.”

     “I myself am straight so I didn’t really know how it felt to be gay/bi/lesbian in a non-accepting community so it helped me understand that.”

     “They were very helpful because people could ask questions that would be uncomfortable to ask in real-world situations, but that are important to know and understand.”


See a sample of an engagement that was filmed at Lexington High School in 2014. SpeakOUT is booking engagements now for fall months. To find out more about how to bring speakers to your school, college or other venue, call 877-223-9390. Or visit our website and email us with your request.

Question, Persuade, Refer

“You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain.  I am worried about you.  Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

National Suicide Prevention LIfeline

If you need to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Can you picture yourself saying those exact words to a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or maybe a student? Does the thought make you squirm, just a little? Be honest. Asking someone if they are thinking of killing themselves might be the difference between life and death, and until attending Socializing for Justice’s workshop I was uncomfortable asking the question.

Recently, SoJust held a professional development workshop, led by Robbie Samuels, on the theme of “QPR Suicide Prevention Training for Community Leaders.” QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer and, much like CPR, it offers a potentially life-saving process with which to engage a person who is considering suicide. Samuels recommended we all have it in our toolbox of ways to respond to those needing emergency care. This is especially important information for those of us who work with LGBTQ youth. As a speaker with SpeakOUT, I am regularly talking to young people and their teachers. Being able to share this information and these tools will be helpful in particular because, as the Trevor Project reports, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24 and LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

We don’t talk much about suicide, as if uttering the word could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort, might invite the villain to visit us. Our silence is effectively reinforcing a taboo that has the destructive consequence of limiting access to support systems and stigmatizing those who would benefit from them. In reality, speaking the question out loud, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is like turning the valve on a pressure tank and releasing just a bit of air, providing a little more room to breathe. We learned that directly asking someone often allows the person to talk about their suicidal thoughts and to feel that release.

Identifying suicidal warning signs is the first step to helping someone. Direct statements like “I’ve decided to kill myself” or “I wish I were dead” are obvious warning signs that should be taken seriously, but indirect clues such as behavioral changes, giving away prized possessions, or stockpiling pills might also point to suicidal thoughts.*

We also received a packet of materials that included local and national resources that might be useful to helping people through a suicidal episode or other mental health crisis. For more detailed information on how to help, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or visit this listing of suicide hotlines for immediate support resources.

Saving a life begins with one question. So say it with me, out loud, “You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain. I am worried about you. Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

*as listed in the training booklet “Question, Persuade, Refer” by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.

 


Kara Ammon

Kara Ammon

Kara Ammon has been a SpeakOUT member and volunteer since the fall of 2014. She is active in the Boston bisexual community. Kara works with Reconciling Ministry Networks promoting the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in faith communities.

The World was Different on June 26th

John Sheehy and dads

John Sheehy with his dad and step-dad on their 22nd anniversary, when they signed their marriage license.

The only marriage license I’ve ever signed is the one between my dad and step-dad. Signing it was a given, almost to the point that it felt meaningless. What is a squiggle of ink on a leaf of flattened pulp? For that matter, what is the word “marriage” compared to the fact that they have been together since before I can remember, loving and caring for me the whole time? Their “marriage license signing dinner party” was one of the best, but it didn’t change my world.

On June 26th, the world was different.

When I sent my dad a selfie I took exiting the Supreme Court on the day they heard oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges (April 28th), he told me how proud he was of me. I was appropriately chuffed, but I texted back that I’m just standing on shoulders. I wasn’t pandering cliché, either; I was distinctly remembering smaller times when I would actually sit on his shoulders, holding onto his hair and learning about the world, literally, from his point of view.

With a profundity that is ringing especially loudly in the ear these days, my dad taught me the absolute importance of being true to yourself. He taught me about belief and conviction. I had to figure out for myself that he was so keen on these lessons because they were the hardest lessons he had to learn for himself. I would have been angry and sad, but by then he had already shown me what it means to live with dignity. Instead I grew, however indirectly, to know the dull heartache that haunts anyone who feels alone in their beliefs.

state house crowd

An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Massachusetts State House on June 26th to celebrate the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

The Supreme Court’s marriage decision on June 26th was so, so much bigger than more squiggles and leafs of pulp. I daresay it’s even bigger than love. That victory is for anyone who has ever felt alone. For anyone who has ever fought and sacrificed for change they didn’t even expect to see for themselves. That decision shows what faith and conviction can earn.

Thank you, from the depths of my being, to everyone who added their voice to this chorus, to everyone who refused to let anyone suffer this alone. Thank you for being an example, for being brave, for being loud. Thank you for what you’ve given my dad and my step-dad and all their friends and everyone’s families.

But let me be selfish and thank you most for validating everything my dad taught me. Some day there will be a tiny Sheehy on my shoulders, tangled in my hair, and whatever I’m teaching her will be built on the lessons of conviction that come down from her grandfathers. I’ll tell her she can change the world, even if it takes her whole life, if she just stays true to herself.

And when she asks, “Really?” I’ll be able to answer, nostalgically, “Really.”


John Sheehy was raised bi-coastally between his mom in Boston and dad and step-dad in Seattle. After studying linguistics at Brown University, wandering the world, and freelancing in Brooklyn, he attended Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he started writing Queerspawn!, a book gathering stories of individuals who grew up in homes all across the LGBTQ spectrum. Chapter and essay drafts for Queerspawn! are available at https://www.beaconreader.com/john-sheehy, and John would like all agents to note his distinct lack of representation.

Celebrating the Inclusive Spirit of Pride

June is not just any month to the LGBTQ community. It is our high holiday season. We honor the history and heroism of those who came before us, we recognize the current struggles that we are still facing, and we celebrate the beauty and fierceness of our diverse community. Being an activist, I love the politics. Being queer, I love the glitter and the boom-boom beat of the dance floats. And being bisexual, I don’t have to choose which one I like more. 😉

Ellyn&WoodyThis year, Pride is particularly meaningful to me because I have the honor of being one of the pride marshals to ride at the head of Boston’s 45th Pride Parade. I was nominated for my work as president of the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) for ten years and the efforts I’ve put into raising awareness of bisexuality in both the LGBTQ and straight communities. I will be riding in a car alongside Woody Glenn, one of the co-founders of the BRC, so we are the bookends of the 30-year history of the organization.

This is historic as it will be the first time that out bisexual leaders have been elected as pride marshals in Boston. Within the bi community this is a huge occasion as it is very rare for bi people to be chosen to represent the LGBTQ community at this level. One recent example comes to mind from just last year when New York City’s Pride organizers very publicly patted themselves on the back for being so inclusive by having a gay, a lesbian, and a transgender marshal—somehow forgetting to include a bisexual marshal.

Brenda-HowardI feel honored to be representing the bisexual community as a Pride Marshal, and to be joining other bi activists from Pride history such as Brenda Howard (photo at left), who helped to organize the first commemorative march in New York. Often nicknamed “Mother of Pride,” Howard planned the Christopher Street Liberation Day March a month after the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969. On the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, Howard again helped organize a march that would be considered the first Pride march of its kind in 1970.

My personal pride is certainly partly due to my work in the bi community, but it is and always has been tied to feeling connected to the larger LGBTQ family as well. The work of SpeakOUT, for example, is enhanced by having individuals from various identities and intersections speak in the schools, colleges, religious classes, and corporate settings to tell the truths of their lives. We strive to have people from every letter in our community’s acronym to feel empowered to tell their stories and to help open minds and change attitudes in the spaces in which we speak.

On Pride Day in Boston, a few hundred thousand people will be out on the streets keeping this tradition of activism and celebration alive. As one of the oldest LGBTQ organizations in Boston, SpeakOUT will again be there to be a part of the festivities and to spread our mission of creating a world free of homo-bi-transphobia. Having been the Executive Director of SpeakOUT for a year now, I feel so lucky to be working with a team of such talented and committed volunteers. Stop by our booth and meet our team to find out more about what’s kept us going for 43 years and counting. We hope to see you there! Happy Pride!

Ellyn Ruthstrom, Executive Director