Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gay-Bashing American Family Association Thick With Crazies

by Mark Potok for the SPLC:

We used to think the $20 million-a-year American Family Association (AFA) acted as crazy as it does mainly because it allowed mostly free rein to its best-known spokesman, the truly nutty Bryan Fischer. Fischer, after all, spends his days raving about how gay people were behind the Holocaust, how black people on welfare “rut like animals,” how the cure for promiscuity is to kill the promiscuous, even the idea, completely contradicted by science, that the HIV virus doesn’t cause AIDS.

Sure, there was wacky old Don Wildmon, who founded the Tupelo, Miss.-based group back in 1977 and was given to an occasional anti-Semitic diatribe about how Jews control the media and hate Christians. But that was mostly forgotten years ago, and Wildmon and his son generally sound a little calmer these days.

But the extremist bench at the AFA turns out to be deeper than that.

Meet Buster Wilson, general manager of the AFA’s radio network and host of the program “AFA Today.” Buster’s got some real competition — Fischer, who has a show on the same network, is given to statements like “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi War machine and six million dead Jews” — but he’s a determined man.

Earlier this month, Wilson, reacting to reports that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had been buying large quantities of ammunition, suggested that the DHS was apparently considering some kind of war against American civilians. He then went on to make the claim, which ultimately originated on the farthest fringes of the conspiracy-minded radical right, that President Obama’s reauthorization and updating of an executive order for dealing with national emergencies, was actually authorizing “the president’s version of the Brownshirts,” which he described as “Hitler’s own personal, private civilian army.” The executive order, he continued, gives Obama and his administration the power “to take over businesses, take over communities, take over law enforcement, apparently, the way this is written, anything they want. Go read it, and then tell me how crazy I am.”

Very crazy, as it turns out. Even Fox News, which jumps at every chance to sully the president, quoted numerous legal experts saying the act did no such thing. It was merely an update of earlier orders, and gives the secretary of DHS authority to give other department heads guidance in setting up groups of experts who could join the federal government in executive positions in the event of a national emergency.

But now Buster’s back, as first pointed out by Right Wing Watch, claiming that a story detailing how DHS is replenishing its supply of riot gear in advance of the presidential conventions gives credence to his earlier nutty claims. “It’s so nice,” he chortles, after a long rant about Right Wing Watch, “to be proven right.”

But the AFA is fundamentally an anti-gay organization, and so bashing LGBT people is, in the end, more important to it than divining massive conspiracies against the American people by our first black president. And Buster Wilson, even though faced with hot competition from the voluble Bryan Fischer, does not disappoint.

Enraged over criticism of Chick-fil-A, whose president recently attacked same-sex marriage, Wilson could hardly contain himself, writing of his “shock and disgust that ANYONE would find fault with ChickFilA [sic], especially the vile, foul mouthed, gay activists who prance around in their bikini underwear.” These are people, he wrote, who “are trying to morph America into an idyllic homosexual utopia,” “dark hearted activists.” The restaurant, Wilson concludes, is “completely UNWORTHY of the vicious, spitting, raving craziness of Big Gay.”

Which is something that Wilson clearly knows all about.

While America Moves Into The Light, The American Family Association of Pennsylvania Keeps Venango County In The Dark

Gay Marriage, The Issue That Lost Its Bite

by Ruth Marcus for the Washington Post:

Sometimes in politics, you have to listen for what’s not being said to understand how things really stand. In the 2012 presidential campaign, the telling — and comforting — silence involves same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Think about it: In 1992, Pat Buchanan, speaking at the Republican convention in Houston, warned that Bill Clinton wanted to impose a “homosexual rights” agenda on America.

In 2004, Republicans engineered ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage in 11 states, hoping to bolster George W. Bush’s reelection chances by spurring conservatives to go to the polls.

It may not have worked — former Bush adviser Matthew Dowd has written that the initiatives “had no discernable effect on turnout among conservatives” — but those ballot initiatives didn’t turn up by accident.

Flash-forward to 2012. President Obama pushed to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military, undoing the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy put in place by the last Democratic president. He instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), also signed into law by President Clinton. Obama completed his slow evolution on same-sex marriage and came out in support.

The platform approved at the Democratic convention in Charlotte included a plank supporting same-sex marriage. Last week, Obama urged voters to back initiatives in Maryland, Maine and Washington state to allow gay couples to marry; he had previously urged Minnesotans to vote against a marriage prohibition.

If this is exacting a political price, it’s hard to discern. Republicans and their nominee, Mitt Romney, have not raised the subject — not at their convention, not on the campaign trail, not during the debates.

“It just shows how different the politics are, and how profoundly the center of gravity on the freedom to marry has shifted,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. Gay rights and the right to marry, he noted, “used to be something Republicans campaigned on, and Democrats wanted to be on the right side but didn’t want to talk about it. Now it’s the exact opposite because a majority of the country favors it and a majority of independents favor it.”

The difference is striking. I remember questioning a parade of Democratic presidential contenders about same-sex marriage during the 2004 campaign. They would stammer and talk about hospital visits, maybe civil unions. Their aides would glare at me for broaching this unwelcome topic.

The Republican Party hasn’t transformed itself — far from it. The party platform calls for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Romney has signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage to back the amendment and support DOMA.

Still, said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, “this is the first time we have seen a major national election in which one party has not overtly attacked LGBT people and opposed their equal rights in order to gain votes and motivate a base.”

The most interesting test involves the marriage initiatives on the ballot in four states (Maine, Maryland and Washington, where voters are being asked to affirmatively support same-sex marriage, and Minnesota, where opponents of marriage equality have an initiative to prohibit it).

In 32 out of 32 previous ballot initiatives — including an attempt in Maine just three years ago — voters have rejected same-sex marriage. Now, that string of intolerance may be broken; polls are tight in all four states.

But the message of those opposing same-sex marriage has shifted — to emphasize tolerance but draw the line at marriage. One spot against the Washington state measure opens with a rainbow flag, and assures voters, “Gays and lesbians already have the same legal rights as married couples. . . . You can oppose same-sex marriage and not be anti-gay.”

Polling explains this soft sell. A new report from the centrist Democratic group Third Way shows that most of the increase in support for marriage equality comes not from the changing demographics of younger voters, who are more open-minded, but from older voters reconsidering. “Americans in every demographic, political and religious group across the country are changing their minds on this issue,” the report found.

In 2004, 16 percent of Republicans backed same-sex marriage; by 2011, 26 percent did. In 2004, 33 percent of self-described moderates supported marriage equality, by 2011, 54 percent were in favor. And although the Catholic Church is a major financial backer of groups opposing same-sex marriage, support among Catholics has grown from 35 percent to 52 percent.

From ultimate wedge issue to relative nonissue — a stunning transformation.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Kinsey Institute Welcomes Dean Hamer Archives

The Kinsey Institute welcomes the addition of the Dean Hamer collection to the Kinsey Institute Library at Indiana University. Best known as the discoverer of the “gay gene,” Hamer’s papers, correspondence, news clips and videos provide fascinating insights into the excitement and controversy that surrounded one of the most important periods in the scientific study of human sexuality.

Hamer, like Alfred Kinsey, began his career as a research biologist. He obtained his BA at Trinity College, CT, his Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, and was an independent researcher at the National Institutes of Health for 35 years, where he directed the Gene Structure and Regulation Section at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. He invented the first method for introducing new genes into animal cells using viral vectors, which allowed the production of numerous biomedical products, and elucidated one of the first animal gene regulation circuits to be understood at the molecular level.

As the techniques of molecular genetics became increasingly powerful in the 1990s, Hamer turned his attention to the roles of genes in human behavior. He focused on sexual orientation because it was one of the most fundamental aspects of human biology, yet one of the least studied from a molecular perspective – a situation he believed was due to a conservative political climate that stigmatized the objective study of human sexuality.

Combining classical family studies with the newly developed technology of gene mapping by DNA linkage analysis, Hamer's group produced the first molecular evidence for the existence of genes that influence homosexuality in males, and showed that one of these genes is associated with the Xq28 marker on the X chromosome. This finding was replicated in two studies in the United States but not in a third in Canada; meta-analysis indicated Xq28 has a significant but not exclusive effect. Subsequently, several additional linked regions on other chromosomes have been described. The maternal transmission pattern was also confirmed in studies showing a possible evolutionary advantage at the level of female fecundity.

Hamer’s findings, first published in Science in 1993, ignited an international media firestorm that quickly spread across newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the internet. The research was the topic of front page stories across the world, major articles in Time and Newsweek, news and talk shows including Nightline and Oprah, and even became the subject of a Broadway play.Reactions varied from cautious support from the scientific community to passionate disavowals from religious conservatives. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals felt the results would increase understanding and acceptance, while others feared that they might medicalize or even eliminate non-heterosexual orientations. Hamer described his work, and the range of reactions to it, in his 1994 book The Science of Desire, a New York Times Book of the Year.

The Hamer Collection includes a wide range of scientific materials including the original research protocols, sample questionnaires and participant responses, detailed statistical analyses of the data, and drafts of the research papers. His correspondence with other scientists and laypeople reveals the diverse reactions that the research evoked. Popular materials include extensive press coverage in both mainstream and LGBT periodicals. Of special interest are the materials relating to Hamer's appearance in the Colorado Supreme Court Amendment 2 trial, in which the role of biology in sexual orientation received high level judicial scrutiny.

In more recent years Hamer's research focused on related topics in human behavioral genetics, including the discovery of the “Prozac gene,” and new biomedical forms of HIV prevention. He also became a director and producer of documentary films, including the Emmy Award-winning PBS film OUT IN THE SILENCE, which examines the reactions to his marriage to his partner Joe Wilson in a small conservative town in rural Pennsylvania.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Will Venango County Be On The Right Side Of History?

Back in August, during a Springfield, Mo. City Council hearing on amending the city's nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections, Rev. Phil Snider of the Brentwood Christian Church lashed out at the council for "inviting the judgement of God upon our land" by making "special rights for gays and lesbians."

He goes on to invoke the bible and morality and the end of days a few more times before suddenly appearing to lose his train of thought.

And then something pretty amazing happens.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

As Partners, Mormons and Scouts Turn Boys Into Men

from the New York Times:

CEDAR HILLS, Utah — In this hilltop suburb of Salt Lake City, where a vista of white spires signals a concentration of Mormons and their churches, it is a given that every boy will become a Cub Scout at 8 and then a Boy Scout at 11.

With mutual exaltation of God and country and a shared aim of nurturing “morally straight” men with leadership skills and a service ethic, the Mormons and the Boy Scouts seem made for each other, as entwined as a square knot. And in an unusual partnership dating to 1913, the Mormon Church has embraced scouting wholesale, giving it a central role in preparing male youths for their two-year missionary stints and adulthood as lay priests.

Virtually every Mormon church, or ward, has a scout troop. Every Mormon boy is automatically enrolled, and the vast majority participate. An exceptional share — three out of four at Troop 1194, here in Cedar Hills — attain the top rank, Eagle.

“Scouting fits in nicely with our spiritual goals,” said David L. Beck, president of the church’s Young Men organization, in an interview at the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We want our young men to be upstanding citizens and good husbands and fathers.”

The all-in support of the Mormons has, in turn, been a boon for the scouts as they have struggled against a 20 percent decline in membership over the last dozen years and, most recently, faced criticism for failing in the past to prevent the sexual abuse of children.

In 2011, Mormon-sponsored packs and troops accounted for more than one-third of the country’s scout units, and the 421,000 boys they enrolled, from ages 8 to 18, made up 15 percent of the country’s 2.7 million registered scouts. (Because every ward has its own unit, many Mormon-sponsored troops are smaller than average.) They have provided comparable shares of the $51 million in dues the Boy Scouts of America collects each year, although the Boy Scouts, with revenues of $269 million in 2010, also receive large corporate donations and make tens of millions of dollars selling scout supplies.

But now, as the Boy Scouts face growing calls to reverse their policy of excluding openly gay leaders and members, the predominance of Mormon and other religious sponsors is a complicating factor. Roman Catholic churches, which like the Mormons condemn homosexual behavior, account for an additional 10 percent of members, and over all, more than two-thirds of the country’s scout units are chartered by religious groups.

In July, as they reaffirmed their restrictive policy toward openly gay members, setting off petition drives in protest, the Boy Scouts refused to explain their reasoning except to say that “it remains in the best interest of scouting.”

What church leaders may have told the scouts in private has not been revealed, but for the Boy Scouts, the threat was implicit that a liberal shift on homosexuality could drive away the Mormons, Catholics and other church partners, decimating the organization.

In 2000, when a challenge to the exclusionary policy was argued, unsuccessfully, before the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Mormons said that if the Boy Scouts were forced to accept openly gay members, the church would leave. In an interview this month, Mr. Beck said he could not speculate about a hypothetical situation, but he added, “We want to continue relations with the B.S.A. far into the future.”

The Mormon Church has sometimes faced lawsuits, along with the Boy Scouts, for past failures to stop sex offenders. Both the church and the scouts say they now have exemplary protection programs.

The civic and outdoor activities of scouting and the church’s more purely spiritual training are seamlessly combined: boys are divided into the same age groups in both settings, and their bishop-appointed scoutmaster on Wednesday night is also the man who guides them on Sunday through the stages of the Aaronic priesthood, in which boys 12 to 18 years old take on growing sacred duties.

The result is an enveloping world that promotes the Mormon version of achievement and traditional values.

“It’s tremendously cohesive, a system that works wonderfully — unless you don’t fit in exactly,” said Chase Barlet, 23, who grew up Mormon in the Denver area and quit scouting just before attaining Eagle in a silent protest against scouting’s ban on gay members. He is now an openly gay corporate lawyer in Canada and has left the Mormon Church.

Mr. Beck, who oversees both scouting and spiritual training of boys for the church, is not apologetic. “We hope we are strengthening the boys against what we see is a lot of social pressure, pulling them in different directions,” he said.

A group of feminist Mormon women has questioned whether girls are getting equal opportunities, part of a broader debate about gender roles in a church where men are family heads and priests.

These women say that the girls’ counterpart to scouting, the Young Women’s program, sometimes receives less money and support than the Boy Scouts and that “the girls tend to do more homemaker things, as opposed to rafting and survival skills,” said Mary Ellen Robertson, interim executive director of Sunstone, an independent magazine on Mormon issues in Salt Lake City.

Like most Mormon men, Mitt Romney was a Boy Scout, although, perhaps uncharacteristically for him, he did not rise to Eagle. But the youngest three of his five sons are Eagle scouts. At a town hall meeting in April, Mr. Romney said that he and his wife had initially not realized how important it was for both parents to help sons advance in scouting and carry out the service projects required for an Eagle badge.

“But we learned after the first two and got it right for the next three,” he said.

At the regular Wednesday night meeting of the church’s youth groups in Cedar Hills, boys and girls gathered for a prayer, a hymn and a brief homily. Then they split up by sex and age.

Ryan Bybee, 36, a real estate developer, the appointed scoutmaster and Sunday-school spiritual mentor for the 12- and 13-year-olds, helped the boys pursue requirements for the communications merit badge.

Presiding over this smaller meeting was the bishop-appointed patrol leader, Shawn Mills, who at 13 has already earned an impressive 27 merit badges and now must complete a service project to become an Eagle. He called on other boys to present the colors in a flag ceremony and to lead the reciting of the Scout Oath. Shawn is also the appointed leader of the priesthood “quorum” on Sundays.

Shawn said he and fellow patrol members had been thrilled to play a role in the 85th birthday celebrations of Thomas S. Monson, the venerated church president (and a vocal promoter of scouting).

The patrol members were flag bearers and got to sing along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, he said. “It was really cool.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Christian" Hate Group Finds Gay Agenda in an Anti-Bullying Day

from the New York Times

On Mix It Up at Lunch Day, schoolchildren around the country are encouraged to hang out with someone they normally might not speak to.

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”

The swirl around Mix It Up at Lunch Day reflects a deeper battle between the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group founded 41 years ago in Montgomery, Ala., and the American Family Association, a Bible-based cultural watchdog organization in Tupelo, Miss. The association says its mission is to fight what it calls the “increasing ungodliness” in America.

The law center recently added the group to its national list of active hate groups, which also includes neo-Nazis, black separatists and Holocaust deniers. (At right, Diane Gramley, head of the Venango County-based American Family Association of Pennsylvania.)

Association leaders, in return, have gone on the offensive, calling the law center a hate group for oppressing Christian students and claiming its aim is to shut down groups that oppose homosexuality.

“The reality is we are not a hate group. We are a truth group,” said Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the association. “We tell the truth about homosexual behavior.”

Although the suggested activities for Mix It Up at Lunch Day do not expressly address gay and lesbian students, the law center itself promotes equal treatment for gays and lesbians and that philosophy then informs the school program, he said.

“Anti-bullying legislation is exactly the same,” Mr. Fischer said. “It’s just another thinly veiled attempt to promote the homosexual agenda. No one is in favor of anyone getting bullied for any reason, but these anti-bullying policies become a mechanism for punishing Christian students who believe that homosexual behavior is not something that should be normalized.”

The program is not about sexual orientation but rather about breaking up social cliques, which are especially evident in a school cafeteria, Ms. Costello said.

In some schools, cliques are socioeconomic. In others they are ethnic or religious or based on sexual orientation. By giving students a way to mix with other students, self-imposed social barriers can be broken down and bullying can be curbed, she said.

“Many of the targets of bullying are kids who are either gay or are perceived as gay,” she said.

But the idea that the program is intended as homosexual indoctrination is simply wrong, Ms. Costello added.

“We’ve become used to the idea of lunatic fringe attacks,” she said, “but this one was complete misrepresentation.”

Parents who are on the American Family Association e-mail list were encouraged to keep their children home on that day and to call school administrators to tell them why.

By Friday, about 200 schools had canceled, Ms. Costello said. But exactly why was unclear. Of 20 schools that had canceled and were contacted by The New York Times, only one chose to comment.

The Chattahoochee County Education Center in Cusseta, Ga., canceled because teachers were too busy trying to meet basic state teaching requirements, said Tabatha Walton, the principal.

“The decision had nothing to do with taking a position on gay rights,” she said. “We support diversity.”

Although parents did complain to Kevin Brady, the head of the Avon Grove Charter School in rural Pennsylvania, the school is still planning to hold Mix it Up at Lunch Day for its 1,600 students.

Students will each be assigned a number and then paired up by school officials. The school has a large population of special-needs students who can feel isolated and thus benefit greatly from the program, Mr. Brady said.

The school started it a few years ago, inspired, in part, by the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and examples of bully-related violence that surfaced in schools around the country.

He said the e-mail sent by the association described a program that had “absolutely no resemblance to what we do.” Once parents understood how the program worked, they decided not keep their children home that day, he said.

“I think they feel they have been taken for a bit of a ride,” he said.

Gay Bashing by Churches Is Why a New Pew Poll Shows America Losing Its Religion

by Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out:

A new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that a record number of Americans (19.3 percent) have abandoned faith and now consider themselves unaffiliated with any particular religion. According to USA Today:

"This group, called "Nones," is now the nation's second-largest category only to Catholics, and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. The shift is a significant cultural, religious and even political change.


Today ... the Nones have leapt from 15.3% of U.S. adults in 2007, according to Pew studies.

One in three (32%) are under age 30 and unlikely to age into claiming a religion, says Pew Forum senior researcher Greg Smith. The new study points out that today's Millennials are more unaffiliated than any young generation ever has been when they were younger."

If you want to understand the reasons behind this trend, take a moment to read a disturbing letter that Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt sent to the mother of a gay son. In it, the holy man told the mother that her "eternal salvation" might depend on whether or not she embraced the anti-gay teachings of the Catholic Church, thus rejecting her own child. Talk about family values!

Such a callous admonition might have worked in the past, when people had little education. It might have resonated in bygone eras, when gays and lesbians were invisible and easy to demonize as the "other." It might have held sway had the Catholic Church's credibility not been left in tatters after the church spent more than $2.5 billion to clean up the wreckage wrought by pedophile priests and their enablers.

While Nienstedt's arrogance and cruelty stands out as particularly odious, it isn't just Catholicism that is in decline. In a world that is increasingly more complicated, with infinite possibilities and pitfalls, as well as seemingly unlimited access to information, the idea that one faith owns absolute truth is a notion that is slowly becoming obsolete.

I, for one, believe that the 19.3-percent figure for Nones is too low. A substantial number of people identify themselves in surveys as belonging to a particular faith for one of three reasons:

Habit: People over 30 were brought up in a world where everyone was presumed to have a religious affiliation as both a mark of faith and cultural identity. So, when asked whether they belong to a faith group, they reflexively check the box, with little thought to their own belief system or actual adherence to the religious convictions they claim. As the "Nones" make themselves more visible, it gives these folks a new box to check -- and many of them will.

Fear: For centuries it was dangerous for people to acknowledge their genuine beliefs. "Today, there's no shame in saying you're an unbeliever," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler complained in USA Today. With people like Mohler losing their ability to ostracize nonbelievers and impose social consequences on them, millions of people finally have the ability to "come out" and exercise their freedom from religion.

Politics: Even today, if an ambitious person wants a successful career in politics, it is easier to fake having faith than to acknowledge being a nonbeliever. The result is that politicians appear significantly more devout than the general population. Once this taboo falls, which is likely to occur in the next decade, it will open the door to a more honest dialogue about the role of religion in public life. Of course, this can't happen soon enough, with the religious right arduously working to demolish the separation of church and state.

Religious extremists have long claimed that the acceptance of homosexuality would bring down the fundamentalist church -- and they have been proven correct, albeit not for the reasons they proffered. The downfall occurred not because gay people stopped heterosexuals from reproducing or recruited their children. It din't happen because LGBT individuals hate families, which they have always been part of. And it didn't happen because homosexuals despised faith; the abundance of deeply religious gay people proves that this is not true.

The fundamentalists undermined their legitimacy by worshipping anti-gay bigotry long after it had been exposed as a false God. In this unholy obsession the sacrifices left bleeding at the altar were truth and justice. When people see their own sons and daughters and friends and co-workers coming out, it creates a crisis of credibility for religious institutions. It leads to countless situations where mean-spirited men like Nienstedt demand blind, irrational obedience and say "take it or leave it" -- and more people are now following their consciences and walking away.

I'll conclude with this: The political coalition of the future is non-dogmatic, mainstream people of faith and the Nones. In the coming decade these two groups will forge bonds and create a dynamic force that rivals the holy-book literalists who presently hold power disproportionate to their numbers. This will be a much-needed correction to the outmoded ideas and celebration of ignorance that is holding back our nation's promise and progress.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism 2012

And The Winners Are ...
by Joe Wilson & Dean Hamer, Out In The Silence Campaign, Haleiwa, HI

Three years ago, as stories about the alarming rates of anti-gay bullying and youth suicide were beginning to receive national attention, we started traveling to communities across the country with Out In The Silence, our Venango County-based PBS documentary about the brutal bullying of a gay teen and his family's courageous call for accountability, to raise awareness about the issues and help people develop solutions.

While the campaign revealed that tremendous challenges remain for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in towns large and small alike, it also introduced us to the vibrant new, youth-led movement that was emerging to push for justice and equality for all.

Inspired by these bold efforts, we launched a new national Award for Youth Activism to encourage, highlight and honor creative and courageous young people and their work to call attention to bullying, harassment, bigotry and discrimination and to promote safe schools and inclusive communities for all.

The program has exceeded all expectations, with nominations for inspiring individuals and organizations pouring in from across the country.

Today, National Coming Out Day 2012, we're excited and honored to announce the Winners of the Second Annual:

Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism

Justin Kamimoto - Fresno, CA
At 18 years old, Justin epitomizes what it means to be a community activist. When he came out at his high school two years ago, Justin founded the Clovis North Gay Straight Alliance, an effort to help create a safe environment for LGBT students and their allies and to bring an end to the homophobia and transphobia that made learning so difficult for so many, not a small feat in the very conservative San Joaquin Valley of Central California.

Shortly after, Justin joined the board of Reel Pride, Fresno's annual LGBT film festival, then became director of student outreach, building a new audience for and pumping energy and excitement into one of the country's most important and visible media events.

Now a sophomore, and Bulldog Pride Fund Scholar, at California State University at Fresno, Justin is not sitting on the laurels of his early accomplishments. In order to address the gaps in family acceptance, support and services for LGBT youth in the Central Valley, he founded MyLGBT+, a unique community resource that raises public awareness about the needs of LGBT youth and provides forums for discussion, advice, support and encouragement. Justin is organizing for change by helping to identify and meet immediate needs while providing a training ground for future activists!

Ollin Montes - Longmont, CO
Last April, a right-wing talk radio jock in Colorado whipped up a firestorm of controversy about the first-ever Diversity Day at Longmont's Niwot High School, a full day of workshops aimed at encouraging students to be understanding and respectful of cultural and other differences. In the midst of all the negative attention, aimed primarily at workshops addressing LGBT issues, and efforts to shut it down, 17 year-old student Ollin Montes held his ground. As a member of the high school's Gay-Straight Alliance and the City of Longmont's Youth Council, Ollin had helped organize the event and inspired many in the community by his insistence that it go forward as planned. In fact, he understood an important organizing maxim, that in crisis comes opportunity. Diversity Day was a huge success and helped open long-needed dialogue, and build bridges, on many issues in the community!

As president of his own high school's GSA, Ollin went on to found and lead the St. Vrain Valley United Gay Straight Alliance Network, and is working with statewide advocacy organization One Colorado, to make his and other schools and communities in the region more inclusive and accepting of all.

Isaac Gomez - San Diego, CA
Five years ago, when Isaac Gomez, at twelve years-old, came out as female-to-male transgender, he was asked to share his story with a college class of more than 100 medical and psychology students. While not yet fully confident of his own identity, but with the unyielding support of his amazing family, Isaac accepted the opportunity, was open to each and every one of the questions posed by his curious audience, and discovered his passion, and talent, for public speaking and community education.

Now a 17 year-old freshman at Standford University, Isaac has years' of experience raising public awareness about what it means to be transgender, or as he says, normal. His courage and willingness to be visible has put him in the hot-seat and he and his family have become a powerful symbol for love and acceptance for all, from participating in a successful effort to enact new rules to prevent bullying and harassment in the San Diego Unified School District to speaking at the International Conference of Families for Sexual Diversity in Chile, to appearing on CNN. When asked to talk about what it's like to be Latino and LGBT Isaac says: "My family and I don't think of ourselves as Latino or LGBT activists. We're activists for human rights."

Tanner Uttecht - Shawano, WI
This past January, 14 year-old Tanner Uttecht arrived home with the Shawano High School Hawk Post in his hand and told his dad that they needed to talk. The paper had published an opinion piece in which the author condemned gay adoption and parenting, quoting scripture to say that "homosexuality is a sin punishable by death." Tanner said he thought to himself: "This can't be serious. I'm being raised by gay parents and there is nothing wrong with me." He was angry, but determined not to let the situation get the best of him.

Tanner and his dad took their concerns to the school superintendent who issued a public apology, but an anti-gay hate group known as Liberty Counsel helped whip the story into a national controversy. Instead of backing down or being silenced by bullies, Tanner saw it as an opportunity to educate his peers and adults in the community alike. He began wearing rainbow pins to school and a button that read: "I vow to help end bullying against LGBT people. My father is gay. I am a straight ally."

When Tanner met resistance from teachers, he formed a gay-straight alliance to help the school and residents of their small community understand that it is OK to be gay. A nearby PFLAG group called Tanner an angelic troublemaker, a title that seems to fit him quite well.

BreakOUT! Fighting the Criminalization of LGBT Youth - New Orleans, LA
Across the U.S., the brutal and dysfunctional juvenile justice system sends queer youth, especially queer youth of color, to prison in disproportionate numbers, fails to protect them from violence and discrimination, and to this day often condones attempts to 'turn them straight.' In post-Katrina New Orleans, the notoriously troubled police department compounded such problems by profiling and targeting LGBTQ youth of color for harassment and discrimination in jails and on the streets.

BreakOUT! was created by advocates at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana who knew something had to be done. They formed BreakOUT! to help organize LGBTQ youth most affected by the criminal justice system, empower them to protect themselves and heal their communities, and to put an end to the criminalization of youth in New Orleans.

This year, BreakOUT! helped achieve an unprecedented victory through its "We Deserve Better" campaign. Its young members not only got seats on an Advisory Committee to recommend changes within the New Orleans Police Department, they courageously shared their stories with the U.S. Department of Justice during a federal investigation of the corrupt and scandal-ridden police force. As a result, a groundbreaking Consent Decree announced in July named discrimination toward the LGBT community as a top concern and established concrete measures to address profiling and discrimination against LGBT youth.

The road to full justice and accountability is still a long one ahead, but BreakOUT! will be there to let the world know that We Deserve Better!

Each honoree will receive $1,000 and year-long outreach and promotional support for their important work from the Out In The Silence Campaign.


In addition to these extraordinary award winners, several nominees deserve an Honorable Mention:

Calen Valencia - Tulare, CA
Brittany Hartmire - Newhall, CA
Maverick Couch - Waynesville, OH
Matthew Loscialo - Bernardsville, NJ
Dallastown Gay-Straight Alliance - Dallastown, PA
OUTreach Resource Center - Ogden, UT
Teens With A Purpose - Chesapeake, VA
Southeast Asian Queers United for Empowerment & Leadership - Providence, RI
Shades of Yellow - St. Paul, MN
Trans Youth Support Network - Minneapolis, MN

Thank you all and stay tuned for announcements about how to support and participate in the 2013 Out In The Silence Award for Youth Activism.

Special Thanks to Oil City native Mark Porterfield (below right) and his group of Guardian Angels from Laguna Beach, CA for their generous support for this year's Award for Youth Activism!