9 Things You Need To Know About International LGBTI Rights

My list of nine basic things that everyone should know about international LGBTI rights on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Originally published on The Advocates Post.

The Advocates Post

Why we fight

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

International DayThis year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on mental health and well-being, with an emphasis on depathologizing LGBT people and bringing an end to “conversion” and other therapies claiming to change sexual orientation and gender identities.

In honor of IDAHOT 2016, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.

1.
Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI
(standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.

While many understand the meaning of the terms lesbian, gay and…

View original post 1,851 more words

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News You May Have Missed (17-23 January)

A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed
A student at the Hamar Jajab School in Mogadishu holds a peace-themed comic book for children produced by UNSOM during the commemoration of Somalia’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 January 2015. UN Photo/Ilyas Ahmed

There was some good news about human rights around the world this week.  

SOMALIA has become the 195th state party to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A ceremony was held to mark the ratification at a local school in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.  In agreeing to be bound by the treaty, the government of Somalia is obligating itself to take steps to improve the lives of its youngest citizens.   The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence.  Once Somalia’s ratification is officially deposited with the UN, the United States and South Sudan will be the only countries in the world that have not yet ratified the CRC.  (The US has signed but not ratified the CRC and South Sudan – the world’s newest country, established in 2011 – has taken no action on the CRC yet.  If you are wondering why the US hasn’t ratified the CRC, you can read more here.)

In SAUDI ARABIA, the public flogging of blogger Raif Badawi has been postponed for a second consecutive week.  As I previously reported, Raif Badawi, founder of Free Saudi Liberals blog, was brought to a public square in Jeddahon on January 9 and flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators – the first of 20 weeks of punishment with 50 lashes.  Protests and vigils have been held in public places and outside Saudi embassies across the world, keeping up the momentum after a medical committee said last week that he should not undergo a second round of 50 lashes on health grounds.  There is widespread belief that the postponements are not based solely on medical assessments, but also reflect increasing pressure on the Saudi government from the international community.  

In GUATEMALA,  a former police chief has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the 1980 deadly raid on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City. A group of indigenous rights activists had occupied the embassy to draw attention to government repression during Guatemala’s civil war. (According to United Nations estimates, almost a quarter of a million people, mostly indigenous and rural, were killed or forcibly disappeared during the 36-year-long conflict.) Thirty-seven people burned to death in a fire triggered by the police when they stormed the embassy; Vicente Menchu, the father of indigenous rights activist and Noble Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, was one of those killed in the fire.  Pedro Garcia Arredondo was found guilty this week of ordering officers to keep anyone from leaving the building as it burned. Indigenous rights activists and relatives of the victims, who have been waiting more than 3 decades for justice, celebrated a sentencing.

Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS
Indigenous activists and relatives of the victims welcomed the sentence. Photo (c) REUTERS

U.N. peacekeepers in the CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC have arrested Rodrigue Ngaibona, (known as Andilo), a senior leader of the anti-balaka militia, wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.  In 2013,  the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian CAR.  Their brief rule spawned a backlash from the Christian and animist anti-balaka militia.  The U.N. has documented that the anti-balaka used ethnic cleansing in their attacks on the Muslim minority, and reported that “Andilo is currently the most enigmatic, feared and powerful military commander of the anti-balaka.”  Andilo could potentially be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating the violence in Central African Republic.

One piece of negative human rights news that has not received much mainstream media attention:  BAHRAIN sentenced Nabeel Rajab, one of the highest-profile democracy campaigners in the Arab world, to six months in jail on Tuesday over remarks critical of the government.  The founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab took a leading role in Shi’ite-led demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011 that demanded reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab Kingdom.  

I noted a couple of items of good news on LGBT rights this week:

  1. In CHILE, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.  The bill passed by a wide margin with 86-23 vote with two abstentions. The Chilean Senate last October advanced the measure, known by the Spanish acronym AVP that roughly translates into “life partner agreement” in English. –President Michelle Bachelet has said she will sign the civil unions bill into law.
  2. In the UNITED STATES, President Obama made history by using the terms “lesbian”, “transgender” and “bisexual” for the first time in a State of the Union address. President Obama was the second US president to use the word “gay” (somewhat generically) in the 2010 State of the Union address; President Clinton was the first.

Finally, I read an inspiring story this week about teens in BANGLADESH called “Golden Girls” who are volunteering their time to ensure that Bangladeshi women have access to maternal health care.  Bangladesh has been working to reduce maternal mortality by training government female health workers as highly skilled birth attendants, but only 27 percent of pregnant women have access to these birth attendants. To fill the gap, the Community Health Foundation, a nonprofit based in Dhaka, educates nearly 300 girls in grades 9 to 12 about pregnancy and childbirth and then links them to pregnant women in their community through the government birth attendants.  

The Golden Girl Project volunteers help increase awareness among pregnant women and facilitate access to skilled birth attendants, bringing down maternal mortality risks.  Their efforts are proving critical in a country where 7,000 women die of pregnancy-related causes every year. For example, when a woman in her village went into labor in the middle of the night her panicked family turned to 14-year-old Khatun, a grade 10 student who lived nearby and was able to arrange for the community’s skilled birth attendant to come in time, saving the lives of the mother and newborn. In addition to their training in reproductive and sexual health, the Golden Girls themselves also commit to completing high school and campaigning to end early marriage and delaying motherhood. Volunteers’ parents consent to the training and affirm their daughters will not be married before graduation. This contributes to reducing dropouts as well as early marriage. You can read more about the Golden Girls here

I’ll close with a powerful advertisement from AUSTRALIA called “The Invisible Discriminator” which reminds us that subtle or ‘casual’ racism can be just as harmful as more overt forms. #StopThinkRespect encourages everyone in Australia to check their behaviour.

Love Is The Law: The DOMA Decision and Binational Same-Sex Marriage

20130626-152500.jpgLike so many, I was excited to hear of the decision by the United States Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act this morning. This decision in United States v. Windsor, along with the end result of the Prop 8 decision, was what I had definitely hoped for, mostly expected but slightly feared would not happen. Historical and far-reaching as these decisions are, however, the first thing I thought of was the tremendous impact it will have on the lives of tens of thousands of LGBT Americans who are married to non-US citizens. Today’s ruling that Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited the federal government from conferring benefits to married same-sex couples, is unconstitutional sets the stage for a major change in family-based immigration – the cornerstone of US immigration policy. Today, the Supreme Court opened the door for US citizens to be able for the first time to apply for permanent resident visas for their same-sex spouses.

When I heard the decision this morning, what flashed through my head were the faces of all of the LGBT persons in binational same-sex relationships who have consulted with me over the years about their legal options – for staying together and avoiding separation by deportation. When I first started practicing back in 1996, I had to tell them that their options were limited. I remember helping “George” seek and obtain asylum based on his LGBT status. “George” had fled his country in Central Africa. He met blond-haired, blue-eyed “Larry” when they were both doing volunteer work at a community center. Larry encouraged George to seek legal assistance. Asylum was the only  option, but I knew they deserved more.  Larry came to every interview with George, holding his hand as George talked about the persecution that he had experienced in his home country due to his refusal to hide his sexuality. Tears in his own eyes as he listened silently to George’s account of violence and stigmatization, Larry would hand George tissues, make him take calming deep breaths or take a drink of water. Help him go on with saying what had to be told. George was granted asylum, allowing him to stay permanently in the US. By that time, he had a job and he and Larry had moved in together. It has been more than 10 years since I last saw George and Larry, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they had tied the knot.

But same-sex marriage wasn’t an option in the US back in 1996. Or 2001, for that matter, when “Hans” and his husband “Rick” asked for advice. Hans was Dutch and Rick was from the Caribbean (Jamaica, I think). They met while working in the US and married in Amsterdam after the Dutch government legalized same-sex marriage. But Rick’s US work authorization ended and he could no longer stay legally with Hans in the US, even though they were legally married and Hans still had authorization to be here . In the end, Hans chose to transfer to a job back to The Netherlands so that Rick could legally immigrate and they could be together.

When Massachusetts and other US states started legalizing same-sex marriage, I heard from others frustrated by the lack of equality between the way same-sex and traditional marriages are treated in US immigration policy. “Dan” told me that he and his partner “Ernesto”, a professor and a Mexican national, had been commuting between Mexico City and Minneapolis for years but now hoped that they could marry and live together permanently. Unfortunately, I had to tell them that the federal government would not recognize their marriage for immigration purposes.”We love each other, we are committed to each other, we want to get married. Why won’t my country allow us to be together?” Dan fumed.

In practice, the Obama administration has for the past two years refrained from carrying out deportations of immigrants in same-sex marriages, but without providing a legal status that is comparable to the permanent resident (“green card”) status that US citizens in traditional marriages are eligible to apply for for their spouses.

The Supreme Court’s decision today changes everything for people like Dan and Ernesto, Hans and Rick, George and Larry, and all of the other LGBTQ Americans who love nationals of other countries.  I truly, truly rejoice for them and for our country. While some procedural changes will have to take place before the implementation in practice of today’s decision, June 26 should be a day remembered and celebrated by all of us who believes in the right of EVERY family to be together.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.” ~ Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

For more information about the process for applying for permanent resident status for same-sex spouses, see Immigration Equality’s FAQ and The Doma Project’s FAQ.

UPDATED:  On July 29, 2013 – just two days after the US Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA –  gay couple in Florida received the first approval of a same-sex marriage-based permanent resident petition.  Wow, that was fast!  Congratulations to Julian Marsh and Traian Popov! And kudos to the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement Service for implementing the  decision so quickly.

Marriage Equality, Through the Eyes of a 10-Year-Old

20130328-160336.jpg

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments in two cases related to same-sex marriage, much has been written – and said and thought – this week about marriage equality in the United States. No matter how these particular nine justices rule (and there is speculation that, unlike the Warren Court which in 1967 issued a sweeping ruling on the unconstitutionality of state bans on interracial marriage, this court might actually punt), I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is a recognized as a right in this country.

This week, I re-read Hockey Moms, a post I wrote last summer about my 10-year-old son and his discussions with his hockey team about marriage equality. It was a lesson to me at the time about the importance of engaging people in the conversation about same-sex marriage. In re-reading it, however, I am struck by how much forward movement there has been in just the past six months. Not only was the proposed amendment (which would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the Minnesota state constitution) that Simon was lobbying against defeated last November, but it was defeated handily. In fact, it went down in flames. Even my 98 year-old grandmother voted NO! In a huge reversal, this year there is a real chance that our Minnesota state legislature will pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. The number of states with same-sex marriage jumped on election day in November when three states – Maryland, Maine and Washington – legalized same-sex marriage through popular vote. Recently, it seems like politicians have been “coming out” in favor of marriage equality on a daily basis.

The momentum in favor of same-sex marriage appears to be increasingly rapidly and there are signs that the trend will not be reversed. I asked my 13-year-old what he thought about the recent ABC/Washington Post poll that found that 81% of Americans aged 18-29 supported legal same-sex marriage, he said, “Well ,that makes sense. Although I am disappointed in the 20%. At my school, there are only two kids who oppose same-sex marriage.” They didn’t poll Americans under the age of 18, but anecdotally at least, support for marriage equality may be even higher among his peer group.

My kids are part of a generation which, although it doesn’t have an official name yet, is already saying, “Of course same-sex marriage should be legal. Why was this even an issue?” They have grown up with favorite teachers, beloved camp counselors, trusted neighbors, friends and classmates who are openly LGBT. They go to school and church with kids from families with parents who are in same-sex relationships, some but not all legally sanctioned by state law. Men kissing men, men kissing women, women kissing women – my kids don’t care. Frankly, it is disgusting to them when ANY adults kiss!

I’m sharing an excerpt from Hockey Moms to illustrate my kids’ perspective on marriage equality, a peek into the future.

***

My 10-year-old son comes out of the ice arena, swaggering despite the heavy hockey bag that he carries like a giant backpack. His hockey stick and water bottle he wields before him like a rod and staff. I’m sitting on a picnic table in the sun and, yes, I am facebooking on my iPhone. His cheeks are flushed, his bright ginger hair is damp-dark with sweat. He has an announcement to make.

“I’ve got everyone but one kid on my team to be in favor of same-sex marriage.

AND two of the coaches.”

He beams at me. I can feel my jaw as it drops.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible hockey mom. I hate almost everything about the sport. I’ve got two sons who play, so I did put a decent amount of effort into learning the basic rules and terminology. My biggest problem is that I grew up in the Deep South, so my natural impulse when winter strikes is to hibernate. The whole concept of driving (in the cold) to sit (in the cold) to watch a sport played (on ice, in the cold) boggles my mind.

Going inside to watch hockey on a cold winter day is one thing. Going inside to watch hockey on a beautiful summer day is completely inconceivable to me. But here in Minnesota, hockey is a year round sport. Serious players play AAA from March to September and, unlike the regular season, players are not required to play where they live. There are kids on my 10-year-old’s team from throughout the Twin Cities Metro and even some kids who travel here for the weekend practices and tournaments from as far away as Florida and Texas.

But my two sons are way, way into hockey. They LOVE this sport! I respect that, so I suck it up and wash their stinky gear and drive them to the rink.

Until last winter, I went into the locker room when I took my boys to hockey – even though I have been banned from years from tying their skates because I (quote, unquote) “don’t do it right.” When my oldest son moved up to PeeWees, however, there was an unfortunate incident. I burst into the locker room, my 6-year-old daughter (wearing a pink jacket and sparkle ballet flats) in tow, only to find a gaggle of 12 year-olds in their underwear listening to loud music and talking trash. “Mom!” my son hissed. “I’m good.”

Given my locker room banishment, I was completely floored to hear that the hockey team was having a discussion about same-sex marriage while putting on their pads and breezers. Here is the story, from the perspective of my 10 year old: “One kid brought it up. He said it was gross, a man with a man or a woman with a woman.” So I said,

“ARE YOU CRAZY? That’s their choice who they love. It doesn’t affect you. Why does it matter to you? No one can tell you who to love.”

That launched the discussion which later led to the purported locker room conversions. It is a timely discussion in Minnesota, where there is a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Minnesota?” VOTE NO signs have sprouted throughout our neighborhood; they line the roads on the way to the hockey rink.

Simon had been late getting to practice (my fault – more evidence for the Worst Hockey Mom title). A coach came in to hurry along the stragglers and Simon asked, “You’re voting NO on the marriage amendment, right?” “I don’t know yet,” he admitted. Simon laid out his arguments again, to which the coach responded, “You make a good point. I think I probably will vote No. Now get out on the ice.”

My son can be like a dog with a bone, so he brought it up again at the next practice. This time he was on time, so when he brought it up in the locker room, everyone on the team was there. One kid, a player who Simon describes as a “tough guy” got really upset when the other kid described same-sex marriage as “gross”. He stood up, half his gear on, and said,

“That’s my family you are talking about! I have two moms and they are married. It hurts my feelings when you say that my family is gross!”

Well, that sure got the team’s attention. According to Simon, he was too emotional to say much more but Simon was able to pick up where he left off.

See? He’s got two moms. So what? Why should his family be treated any differently than yours?

***

The US Supreme Court justices, who appear to be gnashing their teeth about the appropriate timing of a ruling on marriage equality, could benefit from the point of view of my 10 year-old.

People are just people; we are all equal. People love each other and benefit from loving, committed relationships.

We should all be able to marry who we love. Families should all be treated the same.

Marriage equality, through the eyes of a 10-year-old, is just not complicated.

Love

As the United States Supreme Court considers cases related marriage equality, you can read more – including the Top 100 Marriage Equality Blogs – here.

Forward Movement: LGBT Rights in Cameroon

Motorcycle taxis speed toward Douala, Cameroon's major port and commercial center
Motorcycle taxis speed toward Douala, Cameroon’s major port and commercial center

In response to this week’s Photo Challenge: Forward, I thought I would simply post this photo, taken two weeks ago today, of motorcycle taxis speeding towards Douala, Cameroon.  But there is another kind of movement going on right now in Douala, one that is attempting to move the country forward towards acceptance of the rights of LGBT persons.  These courageous activists, who are risking their lives to end discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Cameroon, deserve more than a photo.  They deserve to have their stories told.

In Cameroon, people who are LGBT face pervasive societal stigma, discrimination,and  harassment.  They also face the possibility of imprisonment – Article 347 of the Cameroonian penal code criminalizes “sexual relations with a person of the same sex”.  At least 28 people have been prosecuted under the law since 2010. One of them is Roger Jean-Claude Mbede, who was arrested and convicted of homosexuality in March 2011 after sending another man a text message reading, “I’ve fallen in love with you.”  In December 2012, the Cameroonian court of appeals upheld the conviction and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people have a high risk of HIV/AIDS infection.  They are often rejected by their families, who force them out of the home.  When targeted by law enforcement, they have more difficulty in obtaining legal protection.Due to the social stigma and intense climate of fear, most LGBT people are forced to live out their lives in secrecy.  Yet there are several impressive non-governmental organizations  – Alternatives-Cameroun, the Association for the Defense of Gay and Lesbian Rights (ADEFHO), Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), and Evolve, to name a fewwhich are working hard to raise awareness about and provide services to the LGBT community.

When I was in Douala, I was able to visit Alternatives-Cameroun.  Security is, understandably, a big concern.  There is no sign that marks their center on boulevard de la Liberté, and when you arrive, you have to sign in and show your ID.  Alternatives-Cameroun has one doctor at the center who provides HIV/AIDS treatment and medical services to approximately 75 patients.  In addition, Alternatives-Cameroun provides a small community pharmacy, as well as safe, confidential and free HIV testing.  In 2012, they provided 720 HIV tests.

Staff at Alternatives-Cameroun centre in Douala
Staff at Alternatives-Cameroun centre in Douala

Equally important are the services provided by a psychologist and two social workers.  Alternatives-Cameroun also provides public education and outreach, both at the center and through peer educators.  On the day I visited, all of the peer educators were at work out “in the field” in Douala.

What touched me most, though, was the real sense of community that is provided by Alternatives-Cameroun.  I saw a small group of young people sitting on plastic chairs around a table in “William’s Hall” (named after one of the organization’s founders, who died in the Kenya Air plane crash).  I could feel that they were providing each other with comfort and support, a feeling so strong that I could see the connection between them almost as clearly as I could see the young man holding the hand of the woman beside him.

As a way to join the community and to connect with the neighbors around them, Alternatives-Cameroun started a small restaurant that serves a very inexpensive daily lunch. This anti-discriminatory gambit has paid off; the neighbors now come to the restaurant to eat and talk together with the staff and patients.  Often the patients are very poor, so the restaurant means they can offer them a meal or two a day.  The restaurant also provides meals for LGBT detainees in prison.  Prison conditions in Cameroon are notoriously bad, with severe overcrowding and inadequate food.  Most detainees rely on family members to bring them meals.  As LGBT detainees have often been rejected by their families, they have no other access to food.

Restaurant

Activists working on LGBT issues in Cameroon told me that one of their main needs is for more lawyers. One of the very few Cameroonian lawyers who is willing to take on these “homosexuality” cases is Alice Nkom.  The first black woman admitted to the Cameroonian bar, Alice has been courageously fighting for the rights of LGBT Cameroonians for many years.  In spite of serious death threats, Alice Nkom continues her work.  “Threats like these show us that the fight must continue,” said Nkom.

with alice in douala

Cameroon has been receiving a lot of criticism recently from the international community, particularly the European Union. The issues of LGBT rights will certainly come up again at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon this spring.  On January 31, Cameroonian President Paul Biya told reporters that attitudes are changing in his country about the criminalisation of homosexuality.  “Now I can say that discussions are under way. People are talking, minds can change one way or another but currently it’s a crime.”  

The government of Cameroon must do more than discuss.  The government must protect the rights of all Cameroonians, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. And when things do change, as they will one day, the credit will go to the brave men and women who have put their heart and souls – not to mention their lives – into moving their country forward on LGBT rights.

To read more about LGBT rights in Cameroon:

Human Rights Watch, Criminalizing Identities (2010)

Joint Stakeholder Submission on LGBT Rights for the Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon (2012)

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Cameroon

Hockey Moms

My 10 year old son comes out of the ice arena, swaggering despite the heavy hockey bag that he carries like a giant backpack. His hockey stick and waterbottle he wields before him like a rod and staff.  I’m sitting on a picnic table in the sun and, yes, I am facebooking on my iPhone. His cheeks are flushed, his bright ginger hair is damp-dark with sweat.  He has an announcement to make.

“I’ve got everyone but one kid on my team to be in favor of same-sex marriage.  AND two of the coaches.”

He beams at me. I can feel my jaw as it drops.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible hockey mom.  I hate almost everything about the sport.  I’ve got two sons who play, so I did put a decent amount of effort into learning the basic rules and terminology.  I know what a “hat trick” is; I understand what it means when the refs call “icing” (and even the circumstances under which you would want to ice the puck).  But hockey is like an onion – and not just because the pungent smell of the hockey gear makes your eyes water. As you peel back the layers of hockey, you find kids shunted into the penalty box for obscure rules and quotes from Herb Brooks’  Miracle on Ice speech.

My biggest problem is that I grew up in the Deep South, so my natural impulse when winter strikes is to hibernate.  The whole concept of driving – in the cold – to sit – in the cold – to watch a sport played – on ice, in the cold – boggles my mind.  People always talk about the crazy ice times, but that has not been our experience so far. Checking is not allowed yet, and fighting is against the rules. Besides the expense, though, my biggest annoyance has been the hockey moms.

Let me be clear – I LIKE the hockey moms on my sons’ teams.  They are all urban Minneapolis moms like me who yell “Good job!” and “Nice try!” and “Better luck next time!”  My only problem with them is that they look more stylish than me in their cold weather attire, as I tend to focus more on function over style when it comes to winter.  It is the other teams’ hockey moms that bug me when, dressed from head to toe in team gear, they are yelling things like “Take him out!” and “Kill him!” or  applauding a player who sneaks in an illegal check. I see them almost always wrapped in team logo polarfleece blankets with one or more little shivering siblings clinging to them, each with their own garishly custom spray-painted cap that says “I don’t have a life! My brother plays hockey.”

Going inside to watch hockey on a cold winter day is one thing.  Going inside to watch hockey on a beautiful summer day is completely inconceivable to me.  But here in Minnesota, hockey is a year round sport.  Serious players play AAA from April to September and, unlike the regular season, players are not required to play where they live.  There are kids on my 10 year old’s team from throughout the Twin Cities Metro and  (more of the onion that is hockey culture) some kids who travel here for the weekend practices and games from Wisconsin (which isn’t so crazy) and Florida and Texas (which is absolutely nuts!)

But my two sons are way, way into hockey.  They LOVE this sport!  I respect that, so I suck it up and wash their stinky gear and drive them to the rink.

From Mini-Mites up until last winter, I went into the locker room when I took my boys to hockey – even though I have been banned from years from tying their skates because I “don’t do it right.”  I stopped when my oldest son moved up to PeeWees  – after the unfortunate incident when I burst into the locker room, my 6 year old daughter (with her pink jacket and sparkle ballet flats) in tow, only to find a gaggle of 12 year-olds in their underwear listening to loud music and talking trash.   “Mom!” my son hissed, “I’m good.”

I accidentally wandered into the locker room once this summer.  I was only there a moment, but I heard at least 6 of the 10 year old Squirts claim credit for the same goal.  Who needs that level of testosterone in their lives?

Given my locker room abdication, I was completely floored to hear that the hockey team was having a discussion about same-sex marriage. Here is the story, from the perspective of my 10 year old:  “One kid brought it up. He said it was gross, a man with a man or a woman with a woman.”  I said,

 “ARE YOU CRAZY?  That’s their choice who they love. It doesn’t affect you. Why does it matter to you? No one can tell you who to love.”

That launched the discussion which later led to the purported locker room conversions.  It is a timely discussion in Minnesota, where there is a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot:  “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in Minnesota?”   VOTE NO signs have sprouted throughout our neighborhood; they line the roads on the way to the hockey rink.

To be clear, there is already a Minnesota state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  Most of the lesbian and gay couples that we know have to go down to Iowa or another state that recognizes same-sex marriage if they want to get married.  But a law can be changed, hence the purported necessity of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Simon had been late getting to practice (my fault – more evidence for the Worst Hockey Mom title). A coach came in to hurry along the stragglers and Simon asked, “You’re voting no on the marriage amendment, right?”  “I don’t know yet,” he admitted.  Simon laid out his arguments again, to which the coach said, “You make a good point.  I think I probably will vote No.  Now get out on the ice.”

My son can be like a dog with a bone, so he brought it up again at the next practice.  This time he was on time and so when he brought it up in the locker room when everyone was there.  One kid, a player who Simon describes as a “tough guy” got really upset when the other kid described same-sex marriage as “gross”.  He stood up, half his gear on, and said,
“That’s my family you are talking about! I have two moms and they are married.  It hurts my feelings when you say that my family is gross!”
Well, that sure got the team’s attention. According to Simon, he was too emotional to say much more but Simon was able to pick up where he left off.
See?  He’s got two moms.  So what? Why should his family be treated any differently than yours?

Turns out that my 10 year old son is way smarter than I am.  It is all about having the conversation.  According to Minnesotans United for Families, sixty-seven percent of people with gay and lesbian friends VOTE NO if we talk to them about marriage.

This means that the single most important action you can take to defeat this hurtful amendment is to start conversations about the freedom to marry with your friends, family, and the people you see every day.

So maybe it is time that I reassess my thinking on hockey.  Maybe I should admit that I don’t know a thing about those other hockey moms. Maybe I should spend a little less time blogging during hockey practice

or running laps before hockey games while the other moms sit around and talk.

Maybe it is time that I dispense with my arrogance, overcome my disdain.  Maybe I need to step outside of my comfort zone and start engaging other parents in conversation.

I know there are at least a couple of hockey moms in the ice arena who would probably appreciate it if their marriage were legally recognized in the state of Minnesota.