Today was a very busy day on the advocacy front for the GLBT community in Alabama:
I began working with Ellen Sims, Pastor of Open Table: A Community of Faith in Mobile to establish a support group for GLBTQ youth similar to our weekly group here in Huntsville. (Please visit their facebook page.) We need to begin these groups all across our region. I am thankful I have experience doing this and that I can encourage and help other people with their plans to help our community.
I had two meetings today at Temple B'nai Sholom. The first was a private meeting with Rabbi Bahar regarding the recent visit of Louis Farrakhan to Huntsville. We also had a lengthy discussion about the agency and our need for funding. I have been blessed to make friends and build bridges among diverse communities in our city and Rabbi Bahar is a great source of encouragement for me. I sit at many meetings to represent our community in order to make sure that our needs and concerns are not ignored. I would not be at many of these meetings if I had not been able to make these wonderful friends who are willing to ensure we are invited to the table.
The second meeting was a group meeting with leaders from various local churches and non-profit organizations. The purpose of this meeting was to plan a planel discussion, a public community forum following Louis Farrakhan's visit. Many of us realize that we must speak openly and honestly about problems in our city. We acknowledge that we must say things that people have avoided saying. We must have conversations that have been neglected in order build bridges and improve our community. This forum is planned for April 24th @ 4:00pm at Alabama A&M University. We still have to get the final arrangements made to set the date and place. I am once again honored to be included in the forum. It is vital that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community understand how significant this in Huntsville. It would not be happening if I had not worked diligently to make friends by sharing an open and honest message about my life as a gay man. This is all part of the process of creating a safer and healthier community for everyone.
After this meeting I had a phone conversation with a local TV station. They are already planning to cover the event. Over the past 2 years my work has attracted a great deal of attention from local TV stations with 18 news stories as well as several articles in the Huntsville Times. Once again, it is vital that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community understand how significant this in Huntsville. Now it is not uncommon for me to receive calls from reporters when they need people for various stories and thankfully I have always been able to help them.
The last public thing I did before coming home was to attend the monthly meeting of Huntsville's PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). If you have never attended one of these meetings I encourage you to visit. I am honored that this group gives me a membership in this national organization as part of their community service. The Chairman of the board of the organization I founded, GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Elizabeth Crankshaw was the guest speaker. I am excited that as of the yearly membership meeting last night I am serving on the board of directors of Huntsville's PFLAG organization. We have worked together as much as possible since I founded GLBTAYS and I am honored that I was asked to serve with this great organization.
When I came home after this 11 hour day I posted a note that I have delayed writing for a long time. It was an extremely difficult thing for me to do. This note is called "The bottom line...I am unemployed, have no money, & I work more than full-time for you...I am struggling and need help." and this is what it says:
"This letter only gives a glimpse into all that I do on a daily basis and how much I struggle to get it done...all the dreams and things we could do...and the pain I feel knowing that the next young man or woman, the next teenager who is hurting may not be able to look me in the eyes and say, "Thank you! I can't believe you are doing this..." I just don't know what to do except beg for help because I don't have a staff to raise money. I never anticipated when I began an agency serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in a region of our country where this had never happened that I would not be able to get this same community to support all the amazing things we are doing. The bottom line from an adult who has to be responsible for himself is ... if I am not able to raise money soon to receive a salary for my work with GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services I will be forced to stop most of it in order to support myself. I NEED HELP!!! I cannot continue this way. I can no longer carry this burden alone. If you do not understand the circumstances I am talking about and you have the ability to help PLEASE ASK me. I will explain it to you. Please don't read this and think someone else will step-up. I've learned in most cases this does not happen. If you have the ability I need you to step-up. At least tell someone else. I will have to stop my work with our Host Home Program, our anti-bullying campaign, my public speaking to create a safe, healthier, better educated community, my participation as a community leader in various meetings where decisions are made that affect all of us, I will have to stop being available to news media when I share positive messages about our community, I will have to stop finding ways to find young people who are struggling and suffering, I will have to stop referring people to resources when they call, I will have to end our support groups, our community events, my work to plan our PRIDE events, the list goes on and on...I am not being paid to do these things and even though I would like to live in a dream world and think I can continue to give more and more services to you I cannot. I simply cannot. It will break my heart but I can't continue this way. My work is not based upon the reality of an agency that has significant income...It is based solely upon my passion and my dreams. Unfortunately, I have not been able to turn my passion and my dreams into a sustainable situation. This is what happens to so many good things in our community and it is very sad. I have hung on for 2 1/2 years this way. I will continue to be the person God has made me to be but I must be honest and say I can't keep on this way. I am up against a wall and see no where to turn. I will have to tell my board of directors the same thing when we meet later this month. So, if you know someone willing to employ someone with my history, an extremely public GAY man, someone with great work experience, someone who has been very public and honest with his story of addiction and arrests, someone who is now accustomed to being a voice for a community, someone who speaks openly and stands up for himself and others, please let me know. I am technically homeless and unemployed just like so many of the people I try and help. I have no idea where I will find an opportunity but I realize that something has to change."
I cried a lot and I woke up this Friday morning of the 13th of April 2012 and cried more. I am going out to face this day determined that I will do all I can to beg and plead for the financial support I need to continue all the great things we are doing, to continue to make all the progressive changes in our community, to continue supporting our youth...if I fail it will not be because I was too proud to beg and plead...
I just received this message from a local high school student...if you have any doubt you should donate to our organization so we can continue here is another example of why you need to help. "Hey James. I had a problem with one of my teachers yesterday. Well, I had mentioned that I wanted to move to SF back in Cali cause of the big gay community and he got offended. He started going off about how gay is wrong. I had told him "you have your opinions and I have mine, there's no way we're going to see eye to eye so we should just drop it" and he kept going. He brought god into the conversation, the whole Adam and Eve thing, he mentioned how it's a sin. He didn't just stop there. He had offended me and 2 other students. I pretty much walked out. Is there anything my mom and I could do, besides going to the Principal? She's calling the school today to set up a meeting." What more can I say friends...???