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You know how you sit around a Thanksgiving table and someone inevitably forces you to say what you’re thankful for? I hate that. The moment the thankfulness begins, I feel my stomach start to reject all the food I just stuffed into it. It’s always the same thing as you go around the table: family, jobs, shelter… Not that these aren’t things to be thankful for, but I think we say what we believe we should be saying. If I were honest, I would have said: Cadbury Chocolate (the real stuff from England, not that fake stuff from Hershey’s), whoopie pies, pants with elastic waistbands, and my iPad mini!
But this Thanksgiving is different. This year has brought many changes into my life. Some are welcomed changes that should have happened long ago, some – well, some were not so welcomed. When Susan got sick in August, everything changed. It’s not like she got sick and then got better – she’s sick every single day. It’s a daily process, a daily understanding of how precious life really is. Every day is a gift. We don’t take it for granted, we’re grateful for every moment. It’s taught me not to look back, but rather to live in the here and now. We’re not promised more than that, so… we choose to be happy with what we have. Right here, right now. Of course, we haven’t given up the whole going back to Paris thing, so there’s always that…
Tomorrow when Susan and I carve up our turkey, and she inevitably asks what I’m thankful for I will honestly say to her the following: I’m thankful for you, for the doctors who saved your life and continue to keep you alive. For family, for my friends (who are also my family and surround me with love, acceptance and laughter). For love, for time, for the courage to let go of people who only brought negative things into my life. For sunrises and sunsets. For the birds who bring me such joy on our patio.  For Tawn Battiste’s whoopie pies in my freezer, for pants with elastic waistbands, and yes, for my iPad mini!
Happy Thanksgiving.

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So, what happens after the winner is determined in this preposterous presidential election? Where do we all fit into the scope of what is now The United States of America? We’re certainly not united, nor are we even on the road to inclusion. I’m not sure there’s even a path…

Will all the meme’s and words that brought us to the point of unfollowing, blocking, restricting, and unfriending our “friends” on Facebook suddenly disappear? Will we simply just click the buttons and return to the way it was before this election brought out the worst of human nature?

For me; the answer to these questions and many more, are a real struggle.  There is family involved – family who have stopped speaking to me. Family who lectured me on doing what was best for the country, but when I made my choice, stopped speaking to me. No more discussion, no more anything…   How do you come back from that? How do you start the discussion? More to the point – is it a discussion worth having?

The thing is: A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against everything I believe is right and just in America.  He’s against basic human rights – gays, blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Muslims, women – he’s against God-given human rights for those of us who fall into any of these categories. So, if you vote for him, you’re voting against these human beings – You’re voting against me, and millions of people like me – we aren’t just phantom people in a tweet or a stump speech. It’s personal.

Misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, racism – you must believe in these things to vote for Donald Trump. You can try and spin it any way you want, but the truth is, if you can vote for him, then you have these feelings in your heart, and this I will never be accepting of. It’s not my vision of what I want America to be.

If you’re thinking: “I just can’t vote for Hillary” – that’s your choice.  Just don’t be naïve about who and what you’re voting for.  Own it, that’s all I’m asking.

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Lately, there have been lots of words written and spoken about being an American. What makes you an American, what your responsibility is as an American, how to act like an American.  You’ve heard the remarks; you’ve seen the headlines.

Not putting your hand over your heart when the star spangled banner is played, not standing and facing the American flag when said song is played, and folks getting all upset because these people aren’t acting like the “real” Americans want them to act.  These “real” Americans write all sorts of vile comments telling the non-flag wavers, non-star spangled banner singers to leave the Country. Like they have any right to tell them anything.

The thing is – being an American is having the freedom to do all of those things.  Just as these “real” patriots have the right to spew their beliefs, those folks not standing or singing or taking off their hats or putting their hand over their heart – they have the freedom to do so – it’s their right under the Constitution. You may not like it, but this is what America is.

Being an American isn’t just about waving a flag and singing a song.  Being an American is about respecting everyone’s right to not wave the flag or not sing a song.  It doesn’t make them any less of an American, it just means they aren’t what you expect an American to be. And therein lies the rub.

It’s not about who they are – it’s about who you are. We love to tote the Freedoms:  Religion, Speech, Expression, Guns. And we love to love to speak of our rights: to vote, to protest, to own homes and watch whatever we choose on television, to wear whatever clothes make us comfortable, to listen to whatever music soothes our souls, and on and on and on.

But, as soon as someone does something we would never think of doing – then they aren’t an American, and they need to leave the United States.  Do you not see how ridiculous that is? Everyone born in the United States of America has the same right and freedoms, everyone.  Sadly, not everyone has the same opportunities, but they do have their Creator-given, unalienable rights. (Read the preamble to the Declaration of Independence)

Let’s stop worrying about the things that don’t matter.  Just because someone might not wave a flag doesn’t mean they don’t love their country. And just because they don’t sing a song doesn’t mean they aren’t a patriot.  It may simply mean that they aren’t happy with the way things are in their country at this point in time.  It may simply mean that we are all supposed to have the same rights under that flag, and it’s obvious that to them we all don’t, and this not standing or singing or whatever – is their form of protest. It’s not about you – the world does not revolve around you and your beliefs. The United States of America is filled with all genders, all religions, all political parties, all matter of people from sea to shining sea. The one thing we all share is our individual freedom.  It’s the most important thing – this freedom.

Not waving a flag or singing a song is the least of the problems we face as Americans at this point in time. Donald Trump has unleashed the – build the wall – lock her up – ship them out – hatred that we now must deal with.  These gun-toting, flag waving, hate-mongering fools who want to “Make American Great Again” who have forgotten that America is not just about the white men-folk.

As is their right to voice their “make America great again” opinion, it is my right, No, it is my duty, to voice my “America is already pretty great” opinion in opposition to their nationalistic point of view.  America is an inclusive nation, not a nation of wall builders. Do things need to be changed and tweaked and started anew?  Of course, but ostracizing millions of people is most certainly not the answer.

It all starts with me and with you. I may not like someone turning their back on the flag, but I stop myself and think that I don’t know their story. I don’t know from where they came and why they feel so apart from everyone. Perhaps if I knew, I’d understand – so I don’t judge, and I certainly don’t tell them to leave.

I’m a white woman raised in a small rural town in the 1950’s that didn’t allow blacks into town after a certain hour – How can I possibly understand the life’s journey of a black woman born and raised outside of those town limits?  I can’t – so I don’t even pretend that I do. It’s not for me to judge, it’s for me to understand that her version of freedom may be different than mine, and to understand that she may not have the same affection or respect for our nation’s history as I might.

I’m also a lesbian, so I do know a little of how it feels to be judged and set apart from the rest of society. I’ve not been served in restaurants, I’ve been ostracized from family, I’ve been called every derogatory name one can think of; And still, I believe in the goodness of America.

It’s about respect and understanding. It’s about inclusion not exclusion. It’s about freedom – for everyone.  It’s about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and ALL its Amendments representing every single American citizen. You can’t pick and choose who gets what – every citizen is entitled to every single right, every single amendment, every single Freedom.

Waving the flag doesn’t make you an American – respecting the right of someone to not wave the flag – now that – that makes you an American.

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On July 16th I will celebrate my 14th San Diego Pride Parade. I remember my first Pride Parade in 2002 like it was yesterday.

I was 49 years old, still mostly in the big gay closet, but trying really hard to make myself understand it was okay to swing that closet door open. I had made a mess of my life, and I was finally on the way to making it not quite so messy.

I was with the woman I was meant to be with, but… One foot was still firmly ensconced in that closet.  That closet of wondering how many members of my family will walk away, how many friends will I lose, how do I possibly tell my parents, how do I live my life without having to lie? 

This Parade was like nothing I had ever seen, and as it was coming to an end, my sweet Susan told me I needed to go get under the big gay flag. As it came around the corner I went out onto the street and I grabbed on to that big gay flag, and my emotions just overtook me. I cried tears I didn’t even know I had. It was the turning point in my life. I’ve never looked back; and I’ve never again questioned who I am or wondered if my life had any meaning.

I go out onto the street when I see that big gay flag coming around the corner and I reach up and grab on to it every year. I cry tears of relief and happiness and joy that I had this Pride Parade to show me that my life had meaning – that I mattered – that there were people just like me who suffered and agonized with all the same fears and feelings I had.

For those of you who may wonder if Gay Pride still matters, I can tell you from personal experience – Yes, it most certainly matters.

It matters because we, as a people, ­­­matter.

It matters because there will always be those who are trying to swing that closet door open and find a safe, accepting world to step out in to.

It matters because a Father won’t claim his dead sons body from the worst mass shooting in the United States because his son is gay.

It matters because laws are made specifically to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans.

It matters because politicians still spew hate-filled rhetoric against us to garner votes.

It matters because LGBTQ kids are homeless and alone and need to know their lives matter.

It matters because some religions preach a gospel of hate and loathing.

It matters because – well because every life matters.   Period.

If you are lucky enough to go to a Pride Parade and they have that big gay flag at the end – embrace it.  Let it float over you and surround you with love and peace and joy in who you are and know that your life matters. 

If there is no Pride Parade where you are, know in your heart of hearts that you are surrounded by a big gay flag. Know you are loved. Know that your life matters.

Every life matters.

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Susan and I went to a funeral yesterday. It’s not something one looks forward to, but a sweet friend had lost her Father, and we wanted to be there to lend our support and love for our friend and her family.

Our friends father (Bill) was a very sweet man. We didn’t’ meet him until the rages of Alzheimer’s had taken over his body and his mind; and yet his sweetness shown through.

I had an inkling this funeral was going to be different when we arrived at the church and there were white chairs set up outside. They were placed on a hillside with beautiful green grass surrounded by trees and flowers with a view of the San Diego Bay that was simply breath-taking. I’d never been to an outside funeral, but after today, I can’t imagine any other way of honoring a loved one.

From those who spoke, I soon understood this was a man who was loving and was loved his entire life. His wife, his children, his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Love, love, love. He loved being outside, loved camping, loved sunsets, loved ice cream and coffee, and loved being the family “tickle monster.”

One of his daughters started to speak about his courage and how he emphasized to her the importance of being still, and it was in that moment I found my mind began to wonder.

I began to think of the death of my parents. My dad in 2010 and Mother in 2012.  I thought of the lessons they had taught me, and what it is I still miss about them.  Some days the image of them is so clear I swear they are walking right beside me. Other days, I don’t feel them at all.  It’s those moments when I am “being still” that I feel them most of all. When I have my tea in the afternoon, sitting quietly on my patio watching the birds, sitting by the San Diego Bay knowing how much my parents loved to sit in the same spot some 30 years ago.  Dad’s ashes are scattered in this Bay so that every US Navy ship that goes in and out of San Diego has to pass over him.

The thing is, I never understood my parents – ever. I thought of this today as Bill’s children and grandchildren were speaking of him so lovingly.  I never understood some of my parent’s decisions, their beliefs, their grudges, their never wanting to talk of anything.  So many things were left unsaid, unsettled, unknown. I love them, I just wish…

I left this funeral with the understanding that life is most certainly meant to be lived. It’s meant to be shared with those who love you unconditionally. You’re meant to be still, to be tickled. You’re meant to watch the sunset, and eat ice cream and drink coffee. You’re meant to laugh and love and share your thoughts and dreams and desires .You’re meant to make memories that will carry on long after you’ve gone. This is what your life is supposed to be.

We walked away from the service on that beautiful hill to the Reception Hall where an ice cream social in honor of Bill awaited us.  Ice Cream, every topping you could think of, whipped cream, cherries, nuts, cookies and coffee. For the first time ever, I left a funeral feeling upbeat and hopeful.

As a side note – the pastor who spoke at the funeral had a voice that simply drew me in. She was kind and compassionate, and spoke in a way that wasn’t condescending or judgmental.  As the pastor was speaking, I leaned over to Susan and said: “If anyone could get me back to church, I think it might be her,”  And it’s been many years since I’ve spent any amount of time in a church.

Bill must have been smiling knowing that I had been still and was listening.

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With marriage equality now supported by the highest court in our land; I’ve been asked that since we’ve won this one – will I finally just stop talking – will I finally stop shoving my “agenda” down the throat of the conservative evangelicals who tend to not appreciate my point of view?

First of all – it’s not an agenda, it’s my life – and second – My answer to your question would be:  No – I don’t believe I will ever stop talking, nor will I ever stop asking questions to those religious leaders who love to preach about the sin of homosexuality.

And mostly – I will never stop talking as long as there are LGBTQ brothers and sisters who suffer – mostly in silence – as their families walk away from them – their friends turn their backs and they find themselves alone, questioning the benefits of “coming out.”

I remember those days – those days of thinking that living the lie would be how I would spend my life. Those days of living a life that most certainly wasn’t mine – those days of believing that I had to have the acceptance of my family more than I needed to live my life.

I lived that life until I was 50 – I knew who I was, I just didn’t have the courage or live in an environment that encouraged individuality. I spent way too many years trying to make everyone happy and in the process I pushed who I was to the back of my closet.

And that’s where I stayed – in the back of my closet – until I saw that 300ft rainbow flag at the end of my first Pride Parade in 2002.

There is nothing more welcoming than a Pride Parade. There is nowhere safer, more accepting, more loving than being surrounded with your people. With people who have been where you are and will gently guide you to step out of your safe little closet.

There is nothing that will make you feel more proud of who you are than placing your hand on that 300t flag and just letting the tears come.

It’s not about your Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, children or grandchildren – it’s about you. It’s not about your church, your friends or even your government. It’s about you, who you are and the life you were meant to live.

At this time in our Country’s history – Pride matters more now than ever

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For years now I’ve been writing about tolerance and kindness and how we just need to love one another. I’ve tried to stay focused on the end result which is love and justice and the freedom to simply be whoever we are and live a life of truth as we travel along our journey.

But – I have to tell you – I’m tired.

As tired as Franklin Graham is of … “the tide of moral decay that is being crammed down our throats” – that’s how tired I am of his religious balderdash that’s being crammed down my throat. I’m tired of the Christian religion showing up in my government and my schools and anywhere else they deem it necessary to save humanity. It irritates me that some Christians believe that their religion should dictate the laws of the land that include millions of people who do not follow their religion.

I have nothing against religion – nothing at all. However – We live in a Country that was built on the Freedom of Religion. You know – a Country where we all have the choice to go to a church or synagogue or mosque or meeting hall or a building in a strip mall and worship as we choose.

We also have the choice to not go to any church and not read a Bible or a Koran or any book and simply live our lives doing the best we can trying desperately to do no harm to anyone or anything as we go along.

I’m a lesbian – and the Franklin Grahams, Jerry Farwell’s of this world have decided that my life of “moral decay” is not worthy of their sort of inclusion – unless, of course, I change my ways and do as they say…

Allegedly, Franklin’s Mother instilled in him that he follow the teachings of Jesus, but as far as I know – Jesus never spoke about homosexuals. So – does he follow the teachings of Jesus or does he follow the Bible? And if he follows the Bible – does he believe and follow every word or does he simply pick the parts that suit his gay-bashing agenda?

It’s this sort of evangelical, religious craziness that I have grown tired of. I’m a human being – not some sex-crazed, porn-watching, marriage bashing, end of the human race, lesbian.

My life with Susan has absolutely nothing to do with the high divorce rate in the United States. We had nothing to do with it – really.

My life with Susan has nothing to do earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, tornadoes – and my favorite – September 11.  (Jerry Falwell pointed his finger and his Bible in my face and said the gays and lesbians ‘helped this happen.’)

I understand that people need religion. I understand the need to feel inclusion and acceptance and a purpose to this life that at times feels out-of-control. What I don’t understand is when a religion turns into bashing.

You don’t need a religion to love one another. You don’t need a religion to be kind and thoughtful and polite and gentle. But – if you have a religion and it doesn’t include any of the above – then what is the purpose of said religion?

Religion or no religion – go out into the world and be kind.  That’s it – Just. Be. Kind.

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