LGBT Youth and Hate Crimes: The Experts Weigh In

We hosted a live chat on Facebook this week addressing the larger issues the film Two Spirits brings up for people. Hate crimes and bullying against LGBT youth has been much in the public mind of late, and issues surrounding transgender youth and parenting gender non-conforming children are appearing more frequently in the news.
You can replay the chat here, or read the transcript that follows (without the video).

We brought together an impressive panel of experts to discuss these topics on June 13.  On our panel:

Richard La Fortune (aka Anguksuar) is an artist, writer, speaker and activist of the Yupik tribe, living in Minneapolis.
Cathy Renna is the managing partner at Renna Communications and formerly of GLAAD; she is a media relations expert and leader in the LGBT community.
Shannon Minter is the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where he recently served as lead counsel in the same-sex marriage case against Proposition 8. Shannon serves on the boards of Equality California, Faith in America, and the Transgender Law & Policy Institute.
Candace Gingrich-Jones is the associate director for the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth and Campus Outreach program. Her involvement in the movement for queer equality began when her brother, Rep. Newt Gingrich, was elected House speaker.


TRANSCRIPT
Live Chat on Gender Identity and Violence
Monday June 13, 2011
Steve Goldbloom:
Hi there! I’m the Marketing & Communications Manager for ITVS in San Francisco and am delighted to welcome all of you to today’s live chat on Gender Identity and Violence.
Today we have built up a panel of leaders in the LGBT community with a goal of demystifying some common misconceptions around issues of transgender and self-identification.

The chat will also preview tomorrow night’s season finale of Independent Lens, which presents the documentary Two Spirits by filmmaker Lydia Nibley on Tuesday, June 14. The film explores the life of Fred Martinez who became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of a boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender.

We’re happy be partnering with KQED for today’s live chat and for those in the Bay Area we have some cool events to let you know about. As part of LGBT Pride Month, KQED will host a free double feature screening at the historic Castro Theatre on Tuesday, June 28 at 7PM. Set on the anniversary of the dramatic event that launched a worldwide rights movement, Stonewall Uprising: American will explore the police raid of New York’s Stonewall Inn in 1969. The award-winning film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria which aired as part of KQED’s independent film series Truly CA, follows. It tells the lesser-known story of the local act of assertion at San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria – three years before the Stonewall riots. For those interested in owning a copy of the documentary Two Spirits you can purchase the film on iTunes here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/two-spirits/id440145232

Moderating today’s discussion is Brooke Shelby Biggs, Managing Editor of Independent Lens. Brooke, take it away…
Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Thank you, Steve! And welcome to everyone joining us today. I’d like to start by introducing our esteemed panelists today. Featured in the film Two Spirits, Richard La Fortune (aka Anguksuar) is an artist, writer, speaker and activist of the Yupik tribe, living in Minneapolis. Welcome Richard!

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
Quyana! (Thanks everyone)

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Also featured in the film, Cathy Renna is the managing partner at Renna Communications and formerly of GLAAD; she is a media relations expert and leader in the LGBT community. Welcome Cathy!

Cathy Renna:
Great to be here and thank you so much for all your support of this film.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Shannon Minter is the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, where he recently served as lead counsel in the same-sex marriage case against Proposition 8. Shannon serves on the boards of Equality California, Faith in America, and the Transgender Law & Policy Institute. Welcome Shannon.

Shannon Price Minter:
Welcome everyone!

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Candace Gingrich-Jones is the associate director for the Human Rights Campaign’s Youth and Campus Outreach program. Her involvement in the movement for queer equality began when her brother, Rep. Newt Gingrich, was elected House speaker. Welcome Candace!
Candace Gingrich-Jones:
Happy to take part in this- hello all!
Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Richard, let’s begin with a clarification that I think is the biggest hurdle to understanding the story of Fred Martinez. It can be hard even for open-minded people in our mainstream society to wrap their heads around this idea that Fred was both a boy and a girl. What does the term “Two Spirit” mean exactly?
Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
In 1991 at the 3rd International LGBT Native Gathering in Winnipeg we were visited by a traditional spiritual teacher from Canada.

That year we began using the teaching that was shared – Niizh Manitoag, in Algonquin dialect literally translates to Two Spirits, meaning that an androgynous person has both a masculine and feminine identity or spirit.

Cathy Renna:
This was an eye-opening moment for the LGBT community too — everyone wanted to label Fred “gay” or “transgender” — and we had to push back and educate everyone about this. I had very little knowledge of the depth of the Two-Spirit tradition

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
The anglo corollary of “transgendered” is not exactly the same as “two-spirit.” But for people confused about what it means to be transgendered, how would you best describe that concept? Could you weigh in on that Cathy?

Cathy Renna:
Transgender is considered an umbrella term for many people, from those who transition to those who consider themselves genderqueer. the beauty of the TS tradition is that it allows fluidity and diversity that is beyond the binary notions of “male” and “female.”

Shannon Price Minter:
In clinical western discourse, transgender means someone whose internal sense of their own gender is different than their biological sex at birth. But that is probably too simple and clinical to capture the complexity and diversity of transgender identities.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Thanks for your questions, audience. Here’s a cogent one …

Comment From Deirdre
More of a comment here – I often wonder, as an M-F transsexual, what life would have been like in a society that was more accepting – that accepted more gender-fluidity, and not the black-white system we have today. Seeing what happened to Fred, knowing what has happened to so many people I know – it makes me nostalgic for something I’ve never known.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

For Richard – I know the Native community is wary about associating the two spirit movement with the broader LGBT movement, Why is that?

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
I don’t know if I think about it in a wary sense, but it is culturally distinct from western perceptions – we have actually been very close to the LGBT liberation movement for almost 30 years, as part of broader peace and social justice organizing.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
For Candace – Could you give us a general idea of what life is like for young people you work with who are openly gay and/or transgendered? It seems as though there is more openness, more gay-straight alliances in schools, more visibility in the mainstream media. Does this translate to any improvement in terms of discrimination, bullying, or violence against these kids?

Candace Gingrich-Jones:
Things have changed for LGBT Americans- the number of folks living out and open lives has made a tremendous impact. Unfortunately that isn’t a universal experience for everyone. We have been critically aware of the harm that bullying wreaks on LGBT youth and others. There has been an increase in folks being aware of LGB issues/people but the experiences of gender-nonconforming youth show there is still a long way to go. I would add that there are also some great programs out there for parents of trans or gender-nonconforming children. They are still too few and far between but Trans Family Youth & others are making a big difference.

Cathy Renna:
I would add organizations like the Family Acceptance Project and Gender Spectrum, there is a growing body of research and resources for youth

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Shannon, along these same lines … Proposition 8 brought the issue of same-sex marriage to the national stage. Do you think that visibility has overall helped in terms of acceptance, or is there evidence of any backlash?

Shannon Price Minter:
Yes the visibility has brought greater acceptance and support, but also greater vulnerability. Especially for young people, who still face tremendously high levels of rejection from their families and in school.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
We have a comment from an audience member to Candace’s remarks …

Comment From Lakeesha
@ Candace do you find that is more true for more marginalized folks of color.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:
We do know that it is actually true- there was a study done very recently, but I am blanking on the details. Cathy- do you recall this study and its results?

Cathy Renna:
a recent report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called the National Transgender Discrimination survey proved just that point – transgender people of color at are higher risk for more discrimination and are more marginalized. as Richard and I say in the film, Fred’s circumstances stacked the deck for him .

Shannon Price Minter:

We have also seen that family solidarity and support is a very deeply held value in many communities of color, and parents of color are extremely receptive to public education messages that focus on the importance of loving and accepting LGBT children.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Let’s talk specifically about the issue of transgendered and “gender-nonconforming” youth. There was a big uproar recently when J. Crew showed a mother painting her little boy’s toes pink. Why do many people get so uncomfortable when boys do “girl things” and girls do “boy things”?

Shannon Price Minter:
It is a sad sign that our culture is so rigid about gender that something as simple as boy with pink toenails would cause such consternation.

And that so many adults feel free to encourage ridicule and harassment of children who are gender non-conforming.

Cathy Renna:
The gender binary is SO entrenched in our culture- Shannon is absolutely right. But I will also say, as a parent, that many times parental concern is about fear that their children will be treated differently or badly. Once you explain it to parents that loving and accepting their child is the best thing they can do to protect them the impact is huge.

Shannon Price Minter:
There is a direct connection between adults tacitly or openly encouraging teasing and harassment of gender non-conforming youth and violence against those young people.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:
We live in a very gender- strict society, I think it is part of a thought line that things must either be liquid or solid – anything in-between is suspect. Children are who they are and they will be who they will be – its a matter of will their families and society allow them that growth.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

Viewer Martha has a question on how cultural and religious backgrounds affect the acceptance of LGBT kids ….

Comment From Martha Sosa:

Hello. Regarding the attitudes of bullying and inability to accept, would you feel these negative attitudes are largely a result of say, maybe religion, or social? Or a combination of both? In other words, if, socially, we are making strides in understanding and acceptance, yet we are still experiencing the hate, is it because we need acceptance to be shown also through our religious and cultural circles?

Shannon Price Minter:
We should let people know about the groundbreaking research being done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan at the Family Acceptance Project in the Bay Area. She has studies the impact of family rejection and acceptance on LGBT youth and found a dramatic correlation between rejection and very serious negative health outcomes.
Martha, that is a great question about the impact of culture and religion. On the one hand, religious families tend to be more rejecting of their LGBT children. On the other hand, religious communities can provide a lot of support for young people, and there is a lot of promise there for working with religous families to increase understanding and support.

Cathy Renna:
Thank you Shannon – the research has shown that religion it most often the basis for negative reaction to LGBT people. however, i am very hopeful when I see the growing visibility of LGBT people of faith and our allies….there is no “gay vs. god” argument anymore, as we see more LGBT people, allies and families reclaim their faith traditions

Shannon Price Minter:

Yes, more and more people who are part of faith communities are recognizing that religious teachings have been misused to condemn LGBT people, and that the impact of those messages has been devastating

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Richard, how is gender a spiritual thing? We have a comment …

Comment From Marjorie Beaucage
Two-Spirit in the traditional sense is not just a sexual orientation, it is a spiritual path…

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
The Two Spirit identity, as Marjorie points out, is more of a spiritual path, in the traditional cultural sense, than it is simply a gender identity or orientation. In hundreds and thousands of our tribes and cultures for thousands of years, our acceptance (not mere tolerance) was based on our reflection of the Creator. So the religious/spiritual piece is intrinsic to our standing in our societies. Same sex marriage was here for centuries and thousands of years before European contact 500+ years ago.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Well said. And true. We tend to view culture through our own limited lens.
For Cathy – Gays and lesbians are appearing more and more in mainstream media (see the Tonys last night!), and issues about sexuality are being discussed there. Do you think the media “gets it” yet overall?

Cathy Renna:

Only to a point – the huge gap in my mind is an on-going lack of diversity in images, that is changing slowly but until people see and understand LGBT people as being part of every aspect of our culture – whether that means age, race, socio-economic status, gender, religion etc – they will not relate to us as people with commonalities, we will be seen as the “other.”

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

We have a viewer from Manitoba. He has a perspective that could be illuminating …

Comment From Vincent Harris
Hello from Brandon Manitoba Canada, Dakota Gay man here.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Welcome Brandon. Please weigh in!

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
Nice to see a couple of Native relatives in the chat :)

Comment From Amy

Hello. As an Assistant Librarian and volunteer for LGBTQ youth, I am working on building a library. Could you suggest a couple titles specifically on Two-Spirits? Articles?

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
Brant, Beth, 1984/1988/1991 A Gathering of Spirit: Writing and Art by
North American Indian women, 2d ed. Rockland, Md.: Sinister
Wisdom; Ithaca, NY. Firebrand Books
Chrystos, Not Vanishing, Vancouver, BC: Press Gang, 1988
Dream on, Vancouver, BC: press Gang, 1991
In her I am, Vancouver, BC: press Gang, 1993
Gould, Janice, Beneath my heart, Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1990
Jacobs, Sue-Ellen & Thomas, Wesley, ed, Two Spirits: Native American Spirituality, Sexuality and Gender, University of Illinois Press, 1997
Kenny, Maurice, Dead letters sent and other poems, New York: Troubadour Press, 1958
Lang, Sabine, Maenner als Frauen-Frauen als Maenner: Geshlechtsrollenwechsel bei den Indianern Nordamerikas, Hamburg: Wayasbah-Verlag, 1990
Roscoe, Will, ed. Living the Spirit, 1988, St. Martin’s Press (Native glbt writing anthology)
Roscoe, Will, The Zuni Man-Woman, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991
Roscoe, Will, Changing Ones, University of New Mexico Press, 1997
Williams, Walter, The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual diversity in American Indian culture, Boston: Beacon Press, 1986

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

What role does the tone of political or other public commentary play in creating a permissive atmosphere for violence? Candace, you were sort of forced into the spotlight when your half-brother Newt became House Speaker. He’s no less vocal about “gay and secular fascism” now he was then.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:

Young people are impacted from all sides by messages that are too often less than positive. It has been said that no child is born hating — they learn it somewhere. For some it is hearing elected officials (or those hoping to be elected!) using the LGBT community to score points with a particular voting bloc. Some young people parrot what they hear at home — from parents or other relatives. This makes the work that happens in school– supportive faculty, administrators, parents who work to make the school climate as supportive as possible. The old saying about sticks and stones doesn’t really wash out for those who are bullied for being different.

Cathy Renna:

The negative messages we get creates an atmosphere where it is ok to think of some people as “less then” — as candace says, children are taught that differences are something to be afraid of — if they are not, they enjoy and celebrate diversity. I see that in my daughter and her friends, which makes me hopeful for the future.

Comment From Deirdre
An Irish proverb: Three things at which a man laughs: That which is good, that which is bad, and that which he does not understand. I think that transgendered people are mocked because people don’t wish to understand. And they fear that which they do not understand. Ridicule distances us from that which we fear.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:
Fear and ignorance are the breeding grounds of hate – the work to educate and enlighten about LGBT people and our lives is critical.

Comment From Danny Meshicano

I’m so glad this conversation is happening!

Shannon Price Minter:

Danny, it is wonderful to have you participating!

Comment From Marjorie Beaucage
As far as world views and religions go, you may have noticed that Indigenous Spiritual Paths are seldom included in the list, or on forms, questionaires etc… We are still considered savages and pagans…

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
We have heard that the high school Fred attended now has a gender-neutral dress code. How hard is it to integrate gender-neutral dress codes and bathrooms in schools?

Shannon Price Minter:
Many schools across the country are adding gender-neutral bathrooms. It is such a simple thing to do, and yet it helps so many kids feel more comfortable and safe. It is amazing how even a small step toward accepting gender non-conforming kids can change the atmosphere in a school.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
What about the stories we hear about raising “gender-free” kids. Is there a point where you’re just confusing kids?

Shannon Price Minter:
With all the messages bombarding kids to conform to gender stereotypes, anything parents can do to give their children more flexibility will be tremendously positive for a child.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:

One of the challenging things for a parent is your expectations for who your child will be — but allowing them to grow to be who they are — whatever that is — is a precious gift.

Shannon Price Minter:

We actually know from many studies that people who are rigid about gender stereotypes and gender roles are more prone to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. As with most things in life, a little flexibility is good for the soul — and for your health!

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):

In traditional Native cultures, historically, children were often the ones who had the freedom- at the age of reason- to choose who they would be. Sometimes they might be raised in an opposite gender identity, or it might later as a mature adult that they have a vision or simply make a decision to change identities.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

What about parents who (often rightfully) fear that their kids’ gender expression could make them a target of bullies?

Cathy Renna:
Shannon is right – the key is allowing the child to express themselves and support them in those decisions – this is the biggest lesson for parents. As a pretty non-gender conforming woman with a very girly 5 1/2 year old, it is not easy! But she has taught me more than anyone what it means to be true to yourself and generous in spirit to others. Which means I play Princess with her but get to be the Prince ;-)

Shannon Price Minter:
Children are who they are. Parents being accepting does not “make” a child gender non-conforming, it simply allows the child to be himself or herself.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:
I recall a story from when Chaz (Bono) first came out to Cher (as a lesbian) and his Mom acknowledged it took her a while to come to terms with it “I realized that we don’t raise our children to be who we want them to be, but we must allow them to be who they are.” She may have said that again with Chaz’s second coming out (as transgendered).

Shannon Price Minter:
Family love and support are the most important protections for a child who is being harassed at school. It is children who are isolated both at home and at school who are so terribly at risk.

Cathy Renna:

A parent who explains to their child that they may get negative reactions to something but also reassure that that 1) that is not ok and 2) they will be supported and protected, has given their child a great gift. We have done that with our daughter as it relates to her having two moms, and it works.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
They say when a child comes out of the closet, sometimes the parents go in. What can parents do to get support and information so that they don’t have to work from a place of sheer confusion and fear? Seems to be plenty for parents of LGB kids, but not as much for the T kids.

Shannon Price Minter:
We need more support for parents of T kids, but there are some great groups such as Gender Spectrum and the Family Acceptance Project, led by the amazing Dr. Caitlin Ryan. There are also more pediatricians who understand transgender issues for children.

Candace Gingrich-Jones:

Trans Youth Family Allies, as well. http://www.imatyfa.org/ Here is the HRC info page for parents of gender non-conforming children: http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender/9200.htmI is not exhaustive but some good resources and starting points, including reading list for kids 3-9yrs old.

Shannon Price Minter:

Even as an adult transgender man, having support from my family is incredibly important. Richard, I am very interested in your response to that last question.

Cathy Renna:
Gender Spectrum www.genderspectrum.org
Family Acceptance Project http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Richard – what is the atmosphere like for Native LGBT kids since the filming of Two Spirits? Has anything changed in terms of them being targeted?

Shannon Price Minter:
I know that a recent study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that Native American transgender people faced the highest rates of workplace discrimination. I have not seen statistics specifically about transgender youth in Native cultures.

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
Brooke, one of the things we know, on both the US and Canada sides of the border for Native LGBTs, is that there are stratospherically high levels of suicide, domestic violence, as well as homicides that are coming to light across the continent. We are tracking some two dozen homicides and unsolved homicides in 6-8 cities in the past few years. Canadian gov’t surveys have led to a conclusion that perhaps 70 percent of Native youth suicides are LGBT, so it is quite grave and there is an immense amount of work to do.

Shannon Price Minter:

Those are terrifying figures, Richard.

Comment From Anne Smith
What is your advice to LGBT youth who are from a conservative family background and when they “come out” are led to the church for cleansing and to take “the gay out”?

Shannon Price Minter:

It is incredibly important for youth in conservative families to protect themselves and reach out for help and support before coming out to their families, becuase they are at very high risk for rejection and even more abusive treatment. Youth in that situation should reach out to a local or national organization for help.

Cathy Renna:

Try and have resources and a support system so that can be there for you no matter the reaction and to make sure you are safe

Shannon Price Minter:

And remember that they are not alone. But as a society, we must do much more to educate and support conservative families. We have to tell both the kids and the parents in those communities, being LGBT does not prevent anyone from having a wonderful, productive, moral life.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

Shannon, what is the status of Prop 8 now? If there is a decision finally that codifies it either as either legalizing or outlawing gay marriage, do you think there will be another wave of backlash?

Shannon Price Minter:
We are waiting for a ruling by the Ninth Circuit, which then may or may not be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If Prop 8 is struck down, as it should be, I think it will help the public become much more accepting of LGBT people.

Brooke Shelby Biggs:

People ask us what they can do to help combat violence and discrimination to prevent another tragedy like Fred’s. What would each of you say to those who want to get involved? And each of you, let us know what you’re working on or any links or resources you think our viewers may find useful.

Cathy Renna:

I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the gift that Fred and his family, in particular his mother, Paula Mitchell have given us in their willingness to have their story open our hearts and minds – and hopefully others’. For anyone looking for resources related to LGBT issues the people on this chat are a great start. I am very proud to work with LGBTA (“A” for allies) organizations and can be found at http://www.rennacommunications.com

Shannon Price Minter:
I hope that everyone on this chat will do more to reach out to parents and family members — especially those who are in conservative and/or religious communities. We have neglected families for far too long and simply assumed that most families will continue to reject their LGBT children. That is not true, and we must work so much harder to give families the information they need to love and support their LGBT children.

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
If people want to direct their energy toward prevention, it can be important to reach out and identify yourself as an ally — and that includes reporting violence to DOJ, lawmakers at the local, state, federal and int’l levels. Small communities and organizations frequently have few internal resources, esp in these terrible economic times…
These are a few useful Native LGBT/Two Spirit groups or sites
http://www.baaits.org/
http://www.nativeout.com/
http://www.2spirits.com/
http://www.healingourspirit.org/
http://home.earthlink.net/~lafor002/index.html

Shannon Price Minter:
I also encourage everyone to support Richard’s amazing work!

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):

thanks Shannon :)

Candace Gingrich-Jones:

We must find the strength ourselves to take action and speak out when we see or hear bullying, discrimination and harassment. I have the fortune to speak w/hundreds of high school students each summer and my message to them is “If you see something, say something.” Start a Gay-Straight Alliance. Call your best friend out when she says “that’s so gay”. Be visible as an ally – you never know who will hear you or the impact you have made but the message to your LGBT peers is the same – you matter and someone cares. That’s a lifeline.

Thank you all for this opportunity – and for the work each of you (readers, too) are doing to educate about these issues.

Cathy Renna:

I am participating in a screening at the Long Island LGBT Center this evening, as a young person growing up here, a gay center would have been unimaginable. And my family is coming to support me!

Brooke Shelby Biggs:
Great conversation, thank all of you for your generosity of time and spirit! Please tune in tomorrow for the premiere of Two Spirits on PBS: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/two-spirits/(check your listings here: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/two-spirits/broadcast.html). Thank you again panelists and thanks to our great, thoughtful audience!

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
We’re all so excited in the Native community that Fred’s life will be shared with so many people around the country and around the world.

Shannon Price Minter:
Tell everyone about this wonderful film about Fred’s life. Spread the word!

Candace Gingrich-Jones:

Ditto to Shannon. Thanks, all!

Cathy Renna:
thank you all so much!

Shannon Price Minter:
Goodbye everyone. Great conversation.

Anguksuar (Richard LaFortune):
Piurra! Tangrrciqamken (see you later!) :)

Steve Goldbloom:
Thanks to all for joining us in today’s live chat. In addition to the PBS broadcast you can also find Two Spirits on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/two-spirits/id440145232

Steve Goldbloom:
Public media enthusiasts keep up with us on http://beyondthebox.org/ and feel free to subscribe!
Thanks again AND more soon….

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