“Melanie Nathan, executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition, tells me, “The only way to change this is to correct lies and myths that have been perpetuated by religious and political leaders. Finding ways to teach that homosexuals are not pedophiles, nor promoters of homosexuality.”
Innovative efforts on the ground do exist, but it takes time for them to have enough influence to make a measurable impact. Nathan recently attended the United Methodist Western Regional “Rise Up” conference in Portland, Oregon, where religious leaders organized around various human rights issues, from mass incarceration to human rights abroad. Nathan noted that “various church groups are starting to reach out for consultation in their efforts to try and mitigate homophobia on the continent through approaching leadership and bishops to influence change—the idea being to focus on love and acceptance rather than the aspect of sin.””
The board that oversees San Francisco Pride elected new leaders this week.
Michelle Meow, who has deep experience with SF Pride due to her board work and co-hosting the television broadcast of the parade, was chosen by her fellow directors to be the next president.
Also at the October 6 meeting of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board, new directors Melanie Nathan, Joey “Cupcake” Stevenson, and John Weber were formally seated, as were re-elected board members Jesse Oliver Sanford and Justin Taylor.
In other officer elections, Joey Cain and Gary Virginia both accepted the nomination for vice president. Virginia had served the last two years as board president.
“In the last two years I established new relationships for Pride,” Virginia said right before the vote. “We have a good relationship with City Hall.” He also said he wanted to pass those relationships along to Meow.
Cain said he wanted to see the board achieve economic success. He also recalled divisive Pride boards in the past.
“I want to see us getting back to working in consensus,” he said. “I feel I can reach out to people outside my own community.”
The board, voting by secret ballot, chose Cain for vice president.
Nathan and Larry Crickenberger were the sole nominees for secretary and treasurer, respectively, and therefore took those positions after the ballots were cast.
“I enjoy serving,” Nathan said. “I have a very strong legal background and writing experience.”
“Thank you for your trust in me,” said Crickenberger. “This board has tremendous potential.”
Crickenberger added that he hopes to open discussions on how to fund the organization.
Meow, also known as Michelle Sinhbandith, acknowledged former board member Marsha Levine as her mentor. She also expressed her commitment to a woman’s right to choose and to stopping the violence against transgender women.
“We can come together and love one another,” Meow said.
Levine and departing board member John Caldera were thanked for their service and given certificates of appreciation. A bottle of champagne was also given to each. Virginia was given a gavel as a parting gift for his two terms as president, which he accepted amid much laughter.
Virginia remains a member of the Pride board, while Levine will continue in her contracted position as Pride parade manager.
“I’d like to thank the outgoing officers,” said Nathan, as she took her seat on the board for the first time. “They’re a tough act to follow. Pride means an awful lot to me.”
Other new board members were also pleased to take their seats.
“I’m really excited to be here,” said Stevenson. “Thank you for trusting me on this board.”
Nathan and Stevenson were the top vote getters at the Pride board elections last month, taking in 104 and 86 votes, respectively.
Weber stressed the importance of civil discourse as he was seated.
“Even though we may not agree on everything, we should attack the issue and not the person,” he said, also adding his commitment to give a platform to minority voices.
The board then voted to move its monthly meetings from the first Tuesday to the first Wednesday, beginning in November.
Two remaining open board seats will be appointed at a future meeting.
‘A Lot Of People Are In Panic Mode’
But winning asylum in the United States is no easy feat. Granted, the U.S. has recognized LGBT status as grounds for asylum since 1994, but the government keeps no records on how many claims it grants.
“It’s an unconscionably hard process to seek asylum in the United States of America,” says Melanie Nathan, a California-based lawyer who works on behalf of LGBT asylum seekers. She says it’s virtually impossible for someone to knock on the door of a U.S. embassy abroad and ask for and receive asylum.
“So what happens is, they come to America on other types of visas. They come to America on workshop conference visas, on visitor’s visas,” she says. “And once they are here, people have a year to apply for asylum. The average person — especially younger people in Uganda, for example — will never get that initial visa and don’t have money even to fly here.”
Still, based on her social media contacts in Uganda, Nathan estimates anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 gay Ugandans will seek asylum in the U.S. or other countries.
Nathan says she has what she calls her “Schindler’s List” — “people that have been trying to escape.” Since the signing of the new law in Uganda, “my phone has been going crazy, my messages have been crazy,” she says. “A lot of people are in panic mode right now.”
For its part, the Obama administration calls the new Ugandan law “more than an affront and a danger to the gay community” there. And in a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry has called for a repeal of the law.”
The top-read stories of 2012 on SDLGN may surprise you
“Bullied gay teen’s suicide note: Insight on EricJames Borges’ tragic death at age 19 — In an exclusive story on SDGLN, Contributor Melanie Nathan of San Francisco wrote about the tragic suicide of bullied gay teenager EricJames Borges, who worked for The Trevor Project and advocated against bullying of LGBT youth. Nathan attended one of the teen’s funerals, met his family and obtained a copy of one of his suicide letters. SDGLN Editor in Chief Ken Williams and Nathan discussed at length the merits of sharing Borges’ final thoughts, and came to the conclusion that his message needed to be shared for its insight and as a way to publish suicide-prevention tools for vulnerable teenagers. More than 21,000 people read the story, 384 people liked the story on Facebook, 34 people tweeted, another 37 shared on other Social Media, and dozens of people commented via Facebook. The story was picked up by countless LGBT and mainstream media sources.”
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