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Today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day where you can celebrate your life and offer your support for the fight for LGBTQ equality. The Human Rights Campaign, which organized the annual event, advocates for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. To coincide with the Day, HRC have developed an app on facebook where you can donate your status to voice your pride and support for social equality.
The pursuit of equality between those who identify as LGBTQ and those who identify as heterosexual is a progressive journey that is fueled by a sincere conviction for respecting the rights of all persons and overcoming the social, political, economic and legal injustices that have disrupted the lives of millions worldwide.
According a 2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, "nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns."
While the data from the report is staggering, in relation to the global context, it is less surprising than you'd imagine. An article from The Economist illuminates barriers to a quality of life for LGBT populations in nations across the globe which consistently fails to respect their personhood, right to life, and freedom of expression,
"In many former colonies, denouncing homosexuality as an 'unAfrican' Western import has become an easy way for politicians to boost both their popularity and their nationalist credentials. But Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay-rights campaigner, says the real import into Africa is not homosexuality but politicized homophobia."
It is an interesting point. And it coincides with the reasoning behind the National Coming Out Day goal of promoting a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly, "Whether you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or a straight ally, be proud of who you are and your support for LGBT equality this Coming Out Day!"
Recent victories-- the legalization of gay marriage for New Yorkers, the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell military policy, and the widespread empowerment sparked by the It Gets Better Project-- have spoken volumes about how our society and how the legal structures imposed within it are progressing. However, it is also important to recognize the challenges that prevent a just and equitable quality of life for all people worldwide.
Nearly 80 countries criminalize LGBT expression and several seek to impose outrageous sentences- life imprisonment, torture, fines and the death penalty. These illegitimate attacks, curtailment of rights, unjust use of force provide reasons to rise up and speak out against politicized misconceptions.
Harvey Milk sought to encourage those identified as LGBT to speak up about their sexuality and combat mistaken judgements, assumptions and perceptions with their lives. These interactions, he hoped, would invigorate a sustainable change in the way they relate to those around them.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
Today, celebrate that dignity and embolden those around you to recognize the power of their voice, their life, and their sense of self. I encourage you to express who you are in whichever ways you are compelled, any day of the year. Recognize today as an opportunity to take a step into our collective journey toward realizing a more just society for all people, and be invigorated to be a part of it.
What do Milanese youth, the Editor-at-Large for Vogue Japan, and Kanye West have in common? With a distinctively stylish aesthetic, they all happen to catch the eye of esteemed fashion photographer Scott Schuman, author of the popular style blog, The Sartorialist. The site, alongside a myriad of similar digital style hives, offers viewers a glance into the collective fashion conscious of cities across the world, forever altering the relationship between people, place, and self expression.
In decades past, culture addicts, fashion aficionados, and sartorial insiders were typically the first to interact with the designer worlds of high fashion and global trend setting- and the first to solicit their fragmented conceptual analysis (and dilution) of runway, resort, and seasonal collections. What the lay person encountered was a fringe distillation of the inspiration and brilliance of international talent, offered at the whim of a handful of venerable publications, media celebrities, and the inventory at local clothing stores. Not to mention the more rural, isolated communities of distant nations were kept distant-- unless one traveled abroad, no immediate cultural exchanges pertaining to fashion, self expression or utility were had en masse.
Today, in the same browser window, individuals can watch live streams of Fashion Week on youtube, scope out what's trending in London at Facehunter, and act as personal stylists using real models and current designer (or otherwise modern) pieces on Looklet. The proliferation of recent trends in expression, merchandising, and identity is astonishing.
Technology has removed the iron curtain of fashion. Although Schuman was initially excited by the opportunity of facilitating a "two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life," many of his contemporaries have developed concepts that range from featured street wear stemming from the pride of place, as seen through Stockholm Street Style, to the borderline-megalomanic-invite-only-international-blog Lookbook.
This instant access to global community through the simple communication venues that blogs and websites create and inspire have caused similar recent revolutionary responses in music, politics, and ideology. Chillwave, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street are excellent examples of how the collective consciousness of our digital age has also thrived by supporting movements, immediate calls for action and exchanges of information.
Self expression is no longer restricted to place, limited production lines, or the dictates of the fashion industry per se-- instead, it is guided and unleashed by you, me, and our extended global network. By taking cues from one another (and the runway, of course), we may not only inspire boldness, creativity, and open-minded dialogue, but we are also able to uncover new ways of understanding the relationship between ourselves and the world around us.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced Sunday that women will have the right to vote beginning in 2015 and the right to stand as candidates in local council elections across the kingdom in the next election cycle. As early as next year, women will be allowed to be appointed to the 150-member national advisory council, Majlis Al- Shura, currently restricted to only male participation and appointment.
According to an interview with Hatoon Al-Fassi, an organizer and professor of history at Saudi University, the news comes as a "blessed surprise. We were actually expecting something on the driving front, not the political front."
Al-Fassi is referring to just one of many restrictions and curtailments of rights women face in the Saudi Arabia today. Women are currently unable to obtain identification cards (although the law passed in 2001 granting such rights, they have yet to be enacted), unable to travel abroad without male permission, and religious rulings prevent their right to drive—to name a just a few.
Although the inclusive extension of rights is a step in a progressive direction, women will not be able to participate in upcoming municipal elections across the kingdom on Thursday where a startling 5,000+ men are competing. The local elections, the second-ever in Saudi Arabian history, are the nation's only public poll. Half of the seats in 285 municipal courts are up grabs (the other half are appointed by government officials).
"[The changes are] a response to a long time demand by Saudi women. Having the king taking this position gives us hope that we are complete citizens. Citizenship wasn't complete for Saudi women- we were not represented in any public sphere," said Al-Fassi.
New York Times journalist Neil MacFarquhar examined the fight for women's rights in his article, "Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote," where he considered the implications of the recent news:
"Some analysts described the king’s choice as the path of least resistance. Many Saudis have been loudly demanding that all 150 members of the Shura be elected, not appointed. By suddenly putting women in the mix, activists feared, the government might use the excuse of integration to delay introducing a nationally elected council.
Political participation for women is also a less contentious issue than granting them the right to drive, an idea fiercely opposed by some of the most powerful clerics and princes. Even as the king made the political announcement, activists said that one prominent opponent of the ban, Najla al-Hariri, was being questioned Sunday for continuing her stealth campaign of driving."
The fight for women's rights in Saudi Arabia is not over, but it certainly is progressing. Voting rights and the right to candidacy, election, and appointment in seats across the kingdom may be construed by some as modest changes, but they speak volumes to the millions of voices previously unrepresented in the nation's government.
Written by Genna Watson and Will Canine
"Food connects everybody. If you have an issue with someone’s gender, someone’s sexual orientation, someone’s religion – it doesn’t matter – y’all eat."
- Cristina Orbe
Eating. We love it. And when great, healthy, and sustainable food meets great young people? Wowza. That's why when we heard about FEEST (the Food Education Empowerment and Sustainability Team), we hopped on the first bus around (our own, of course) and raced over to get a taste. This latest installment of our ongoing youth-focused series Who Do You Love? looks at the epically delicious foods, youth empowerment, and community development that FEEST cooks up on a weekly basis.
FEEST is a youth-run organization/collection of culinary geniuses housed in the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center that builds community by gathering once a week to prepare and devour a delicious meal made with ingredients from their own organic garden. The group also trains youth to educate their communities about making healthy and sustainable food choices.
Mariana and FEEST's fearsome collection of chickens
First, the Bus toured the FEEST garden and talked to superstar gardening intern Mariana Morales, who showed us some freshly planted onions and beans. “I think that more people should have their own organic gardens instead of buying other things,” Mariana says. “It’s hard to have a garden, but there are just so many benefits.” She often takes home the skills that she learns at FEEST. “At home, I tell my mom, “Here’s this new recipe I learned, you should try it out!” Mariana has also started a garden at her own school clueing her fellow students in to the world of sustainable agriculture. She hopes it will someday become a part of the school’s biology curriculum.
After the garden tour, we sat down with Cristina Orbe to discuss FEEST and the ways its programs put food, education, and empowerment around one communal table.
What is FEEST?
“Here, [youth] learn not only to cook food, but to be in the community and have a positive environment where their voice is really important, where their ideas are really important, and where they can see the power of their ideas turn from “I really want to cook some potatoes” into this amazing dish that satisfies a group of people.”
“The other element [of our program] is a youth leadership team where we hire eight interns in four different areas – journalism, event-planning, gardening, and kitchen. Those youth go through a training program where we build them into young leaders that do stuff like advocate for different issues that they think are important in the community... They promote FEEST to their friends through outreach, they plan a summit, they do projects like taking what they’ve learned and sharing it with a pocket of the community they think could use the information.”
How else do you interact with the larger community?
“In this past year our youth were asked by the Delridge District Council to come ask questions of the Mayor at the Town Hall. We brought them together and just started talking about what issues are facing the community and what it looked like the Mayor had on the table… They asked the Mayor questions and he was so impressed that he invited them to his office for further discussion. In that discussion they tackled school food, and they had him explain more in depth what his levy was, and also said “You need youth on a panel for oversight and creation of those levies. Because we’re the ones experiencing it, and we need to be heard!””
FEESTers cooking up a storm
How does food relate to empowerment and sustainability?
“Food connects everybody. If you have an issue with someone’s gender, someone’s sexual orientation, someone’s religion – it doesn’t matter – y’all eat. So it's incredible how food can be a binding thing, how people so different from each other can connect over food… I believe that food should be a part of all movements that you want to last, because it's the one thing that will keep people together – breaking bread together. Tribes are built on that idea, cultures are built on that idea. The Bus can steal that idea!” [laughter]
“Empowerment is key for people to be able to recognize the places that power is pushing on them, so they can go, “Who am I in this, and who else do I want to be?” It's about being able to look at each other and walk with people hand in hand toward what you want the future to look like. And it could look like more of the same, but you have to protect that. Or it could look like the next level of what they want to achieve.”
“I think that building strong communities is key to sustainability. One of the ways that we try to do that here is we grow food in the garden, we cook that same food, we compost that food, and then we use that compost. We have a circle here. I think true sustainability is not looking at each other in competitive ways and instead looking at the ways we can have mutually beneficial relationships with each other.”
What movements do you consider FEEST a part of?
“I think we’re a part of the healthy food movement. I think we’re also past of the urban farming movement, and the youth empowerment movement... Though not overtly, I feel like we’re also an anti-racist and social justice kind of group… We don't appear at protests, but we have Muslim and LGBTQ and Jehovah’s Witness kids all in one room, all getting along with each other.
What are you working on right now?
“This year we’re working with YMI, Southwest Youth and Family Services, and Highpoint Community Center, collaborating to form a youth summit. The youth summit is totally planned by youth... The whole point of us having this workshop is to get youth to feel empowered to critically think about what’s occurring on in their community, and come up with creative solutions in a community environment, and to look at policies – to begin to get a youth voice together, and to put a spotlight on the type of youth engagement we do in this community… Adults are facilitators, but youth are the minds and the hands.”
For more info and how to get involved with FEEST, contact Cristina Orbe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That right there was our third installment of our new series, Who do you love? (find the first two here and here) A lay-o'-the-land of sorts of some of the most active, innovative, and inspiring young people in the state. This is a chance to highlight amazing work, give credit where credit is due, and begin to evaluate the state of youth-engagement in Washington and where it can go in the years to come. Know a great group that deserves a spotlight? Send ideas to alex [at] washingtonbus [dot] org.