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Posted on Aug 20, 2014

Christian rock star, Vicky Beeching, courageously comes out to conservative audience

Vicky Beeching, the popular British Christian rock star and religious commentator made a courageous move by publicly coming out as gay to her conservative audience in an Independent article.

Pro-LGBT equality commentators are voicing the huge significance for someone so popular among the American Evangelical community to come out. According to Autostraddle, "[Beeching's] Christian rock albums have reached gold status, and her songs are among the “25 Most Sung” in North American churches. She is a regular guest on TV and radio shows, and she’s a regular contributor to Radio 4?s Today program and the Chris Evans breakfast show. She was nominated for a 2014 Sanford St. Martin Award for her radio work." Evangelicals are already showing a shift in views towards acceptance of LGBT people, and The Guardian, among other outlets, predicts that Beeching's coming out will help make that shift faster and quicker.

The Independent article where Beeching first came out goes through the long, powerful interview where Beeching described her life story of struggling to accept who she was in a well-meaning but hostile Christian community. Beeching, who comes from a family who was devoutly Christian – at first Pentecostal and then evangelical Church of England – recalled the great shame she felt when she began to realize her attraction to other girls when she was 12 years old. She said,

I increasingly began to feel like I was living behind an invisible wall. The inner secrecy of holding that inside was divorcing me from reality – I was living in my own head. Anybody I was in a friendship with, or anything I was doing in the church, was accompanied by an internal mantra: 'What if they knew?' It felt like all of my relationships were built on this ice that would break if I stepped out on to it.

One night along in her bedroom, when she was still only 13, "the schism between feelings and beliefs overcame her":

I felt like it was ripping me in half. I knew I couldn't carry on. I was trying to align the loving God I knew and believed in with this horrendous reality of what was going on inside me," she says. "I remember kneeling down and absolutely sobbing into the carpet. I said to God, 'You have to either take my life or take this attraction away because I cannot do both.'

It wasn't until almost two decades later that Beeching was able to let go of this enormous self-shame and learn to love herself for who she is, and it was certainly a long struggle to get to that point. Beeching described how she had hoped by confessing her "sin" to her priest at 13, she could be "healed," but afterwards the priest's blessings did nothing it affect her feelings, it only increased her sense of disgrace. She said, "I felt there was something really wrong with me, that maybe I was so sinful and awful I couldn't be healed."

Later, at 16, Beeching underwent a humiliating, traumatic exorcism at a Christian summer camp. The Independent reported,

Beeching stood with her arms outstretched as the leaders brought in extra people to perform the deliverance. "I remember lots of people placing their hands on my shoulders and back and front, praying in tongues really loudly and then shouting things: 'We command Satan to let you go! Cast these devils out of you! We speak to you demon of homosexuality: let her go!' People around me were wailing and screaming. It was really frightening. I was already feeling so vulnerable, it was horrible to think, 'Am I controlled by demons?'"

How did it feel? "Degrading," she says. "Very humiliating – it made me so embarrassed."

This too did not change her sexual orientation, and her feelings only got worse as she got older until her shame was literally beginning to kill her: At 30, Beeching was diagnosed with linear scleroderma morphea, a degenerative tissue disease that, if left uncontrolled, can kill. Doctors told her in their experience the disease was always triggered by stress, some kind of deep trauma, and then Beeching knew it was from the stress of hiding her sexual orientation. It was during Beeching's 16 months of chemotherapy that she vowed to accept herself and come out.

Despite Beeching's traumatic experience with the church, she still finds strength through her faith and is determined to make change from within. She told Autostraddle, "What Jesus taught was a radical message of welcome and inclusion and love. I feel certain God loves me just the way I am, and I have a huge sense of calling to communicate that to young people…rather than abandon it and say it’s broken, I want to be part of the change."

Beeching has already faced much criticism from her conservative audience. However, she has courageously stood her ground for LGBT equality. In a heated debate on Channel 4, Beeching challenged anti-LGBT pastor Scott Lively – who has claimed credit for Russia’s controversial ‘gay propaganda’ law – when he said Beeching has "given into a lie."

Beeching is following in the footsteps of other LGBT and ally Christian singers, such as openly gay grammy-award winning songwriter, Jennifer Knapp, and the frontman of the Christian band, Jars of Clay, who voiced his support for marriage equality.

August 20, 2014
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Posted on Aug 20, 2014

VIDEO: Dept of Labor extends discrimination protection to trans federal employees

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a guidance protecting transgender employees of federal contractors from discrimination. The guidance, which was announced in a blog post, evolved from President Obama's amended Executive Order earlier this summer extending discrimination protections to LGBT federal employees .The Department of Labor's new guidance officially clarifies that the department's existing discrimination protections in place on the basis of sex also include discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The guidance comes two years after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made a ground breaking ruling in favor of Mia Macy, a transgender woman who filed a complaint in April of 2012 when she was denied employment with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) for transitioning. The ruling's reasoning that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity inspired the reasoning behind this new guidance. Rather than just acting as a strong precedent, however, the new guidance officially puts this protection on paper.

Macy's case in 2012, though, was doubtless an enormous influence on the new guidance. According to ThinkProgress, Macy has received several personal messages from people who have filed complaints and got to keep their job because of the precedent her case said. Regarding the new guidance, Macy said that "she received a call today congratulating her on the guidance and telling her, '21 percent of the American workforce are now protected and it’s because of you. You did that.' 'To actually hear it, to get that call,' she said, 'I was just blown away.'"

Macy expressed the magnitude of how important this discrimination protection is. ThinkProgress reported,

“Somebody’s not going to cut their wrist tonight. Someone’s going to be able to pay their rent. Someone’s got a job,” Macy explained. For trans people, having a job to support themselves “literally is life and death for us.”

Watch Macy talk about her experience with anti-trans employment discrimination below:

Read the full story at ThinkProgress.

August 20, 2014
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Posted on Aug 19, 2014

Uganda signs law criminalizing HIV transmission

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed a bill into law criminalizing HIV transmission, ignoring the warnings of public health activists who say the law will make will only further spread the severe epidemic, Buzzfeed reports.

The law will result in imprisoning HIV-positive people, an outcome that is very concerning to public health advocates. For offenders of the "intentional transmission of HIV," the legislation imposes a fine and ten years in prison,  while the "attempted transmission of HIV" is punished with five years.

Also troubling to public health advocates, the legislation imposes compulsory testing in certain cases, such as when a person is pregnant. The law also allows courts to order the release of a person's HIV status without consent.

The new law follows closely after the Ugandan Constitutional Court's striking down of the country's infamous anti-LGBT law, which had punished LGBT with life imprisonment and was invalidated based on an improper quorum requirement in its passing. According to public health advocates, the anti-LGBT law, which had also punished LGBTQ supporters, greatly hurt the struggle against HIV. In Uganda, being LGBT is incorrectly directly associated with having HIV/AIDS, so the anti-LGBT law was a great health danger for HIV positive people who were afraid to go to health clinics.

Public health advocates warn that, like the anti-LGBTQ law, this new law will further stigmatize HIV and further hurt the struggle it. Buzzfeed reports,

...the US Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx, had called for the legislation to be rejected just after Parliament passed the law in May.

“Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed time and again how stigma, discrimination, and fear – and the misguided policies that stem from them – further fuel the epidemic by deterring those most in need from accessing lifesaving HIV prevention, treatment, and care services,” Birx said. “I join with the many health practitioners, HIV/AIDS and human rights activists, multilateral institutions, and individuals everywhere – in Uganda and around the world – in calling for the people and the Government of Uganda to reject this regressive bill.”

The provisions criminalizing HIV transmission resemble some provisions that are on the books in some U.S. states, but there has been a move in recent years to repeal them. Worldwide, said Asia Russell, an advocate with the U.S. organization Health Gap who is based in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, we’ve seen that “criminalization of HIV doesn’t work. It drives people away from services and fuels discrimination and fear.”

Kikonyongo Kivumbi of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association said in a phone interview, “It seems that Uganda is not committed to scaling down this pandemic — Uganda has chosen to moralize.” Uganda is one of the only countries in the world that gets a large amount of HIV funding but continues to have a spreading HIV epidemic, he said, in part because ideological approaches have trumped evidence-based approaches including access to condoms.

“Uganda’s performance is incredibly disturbing,” Kivumbi said. “How can you pass such an act which is a danger to public health?”

August 19, 2014
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