The Sophia Report (January 6, 2015)

Happy New Year! I hope you had merry holidays and were able to reconnect with the things of value in your life. For me, with the help of a new friend, the month began by reconnecting with myself, progressed through reconnecting with my spouse and the LGBT community, and finally making connections with the community of Midvale. This month has gone from respite to celebration to tragedy, with valuable lessons and commitments to take forward into the new year.

10410870_10205086186301633_274153014711179288_n.jpg A Painting Lesson

Never before had I been to a Ladies Night Out Paint Lesson. Apparently they hold them every week in Salt Lake City, and I don't consider myself much of a painter. To get my mind off of politics and advocacy (which is no mean feat), Janet Rose took me out as a Christmas present to the Spaghetti Warehouse at Trolley Station after work in early December. I will be the first to admit that the only painting that I have done prior has been paint-by-number with oils, and that not very frequently or very recent. I tried sketching when I was younger, and I did okay with inanimate objects, but living things just refused to be captured by me when I set to put them on paper.

So this was an opportunity that took me outside of my comfort zone, and it was with acrylics around women who do this for a hobby. I followed the step-by-step instructions for creating the flower, which looked so real on the board, while chatting about things going on in our lives, which helped me to push down some of the anxiety. When I finally started getting comfortable, and seeing other people diverge on their creative path, I decided to make my slight detour and do my petals in purple instead of orange. Yes, it wound up looking a bit like a Van Gogh when I was done, but I have since learned that it's best to work with the expression that winds up being reflected than trying to force it into your original vision.

A New City Council Member for Midvale

On December 16, the Midvale City Council voted to fill a vacancy. My congratulations go out to Quinn Sperry, who was just voted onto the council to replace Council Member Robert Hale, who left his seat to go on mission.

I did some research into CDBG, which is a grant that is allocated by the federal government to sustain development in low income areas. Because Midvale's population is under 50,000, we are unable to receive our share directly. At approximately half that size, we have to work from a general pool given to the county. Meanwhile, we are only able to fund 25% of the road maintenance with the current gasoline tax. Midvale joined a consortium of cities to ask the legislature to revise the way that roads are funded throughout the state. Sidewalks, curbs, and gutters are only expected to survive 50 years, and on some of the streets they are 75 years old--and it shows.

A local developer has applied for and gotten a tax credit that will allow him to build a beautiful low-income, senior living center in the Bingham Junction area. The 93 apartments will go a long way toward fulfilling the waiting list of about 100 senior citizens. The question we need to ask is since the project must exist for 99 years, how can the city encourage the property owners to maintain the property by refurbishing periodically.

1969169_10205175428892642_6615505353222359621_n.jpgCelebrating Marriage

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted an offer to join Restore Our Humanity's Advisory Committee.

As we approached the anniversary of the 17-day window in which approximately 1300 couples, including my wife and I, were married in Utah in 2013, the events started lining up. Restore Our Humanity had a Shelby Awards nomination get together on the 19th, Equality Utah hosted a marriage celebration on the 20th, I helped instigate a marriage celebration at South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society on the 23rd, and of course our own anniversary was on the 30th.

So many take-aways from weekend of the 19th and 20th celebration of marriage equality here in Utah. I received an endorsement from Sim Gil, many wonderful people were nominated for the Shelby awards (including myself), and I received an invitation to join Restore Our Humanity's Advisory Committee. I also received an offer to come on to one the local radio stations in a few months, and an offer of a popular space to do a fundraiser. Plus, I can now leave contact info more easily with members of my community so that they can easily contact me in order for me to advocate for them on issues they feel the city needs to address. To that end, I ordered waterproof business cards that I have started handing out while walking the neighborhood. I was also approached for the first time to ask if I was running for Mayor of Midvale. It seems to be a repeating inquiry.

A Tragedy In Our Community

On December 28, Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl committed suicide in Ohio by jumping in front of a train. You can read her suicide note here.

There are two messages that I need to leave here. The first is that transitioning is not hopeless, no matter at what age you begin the journey. Once you open the doors to being the person you were meant to be and don't let other people stand in your way, the more doors open to you. None of us can project decades into the future, so don't think life is hopeless because you haven't completely figured things out yet. Leelah would have been a beautiful woman grown, but the people in her life failed to see her as she really was. Now, we have lost another angel.

If you are feeling frustrated, feel like life and society have it in for you, and you feel like the best message that you can leave is to take your own life, or do something drastic, please seek out support. The transgender community has built a number of support groups from people who have struggled with many similar, if not the same issues. You have big brothers and sisters who are willing to help, who will at least be there to listen.

Like Samantha in Bewitched, I sometimes find myself caught between two worlds. I had to leave my wife's birthday party early to attend a vigil at South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society for Leah Alcorn on Sunday evening, in which I got the opportunity to say some things on my heart that needed to be said. Then I returned home to have a quick moment with my wife before she headed out on an all-night assignment. I want to also thank Deborah Dean and Candice Metzler for speaking out at the service. My thanks also go to Emily Smith and the teenagers at South Valley who felt the need to host a vigil and talked Patty Willis into doing it, who made me feel that I should be there.

In a nutshell, I am angry that Leah took her own life. I, too, grew up in a religion that believed that "God did not make mistakes." I have been trying to help people regain the will and hope to stay alive for about 7 years and most of the time that someone says that they will make a difference in this world by taking their own life, it ends up causing more suffering. Leelah felt that she had no hope, but all she had to do was be resilient for 1 more year. The potential that was lost was tremendous. If she could have just hung on...she was beautiful.

I truly believe that her mother loved her as him and was convinced that she could help Leelah. One of the things the Baptists do well is teach deep abiding faith and hope, something that has helped me to survive. But the Southern Baptist Convention would have that faith put in the interpretations of scripture by people who have not really studied the entirety of that scripture, who are taught not to interpret what they read based on their own experiences, but instead based on strict male authoritarianism. My father mentioned one time how his minister father taught him to interpret the Bible based on his own experiences and that truth has stuck with me since.

I believe that blame should be laid at the feet of uncompassionate institutions and their determination to deny people their identity, while making war on it. That is not spirituality and these institutions have lost their way. Reparative therapy is harmful, and in the hands of religious institutions, even more so. If you want to do something for Leelah, get angry that any person feels compelled to take their own life, and write your legislators and demand that reparative therapy be made illegal.

Some very sad news to share.

Yesterday, a 17-year old committed suicide by jumping in front of a semi on I-71 near the South Lebanon exit.

It has come to light that this person likely committed suicide because she was transgender.  

While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years....the truth is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.

We have to do better.

By reading her letter, Leelah makes it clear she wants her death to, in some way, help \

New Year's Vows

As we begin 2015, it is the time that many of us make plans for the upcoming year aka resolutions. 2014 was a phenomenal year in history and I have been more active than ever before. This year, I plan to crank it up another notch with the following goals:

1. First and foremost, to represent the community of Midvale to the City of Midvale. As the newly appointed community council member from Midvale District 10 (Precinct Mid002), I plan to walk as much of the district as I can, knocking on doors and getting to know the members of the community, what they feel the city needs to do for them, and make sure they can contact me. I will continue to attend all Midvale City Council Meetings in addition to all the Community Council Meetings.

Did I mention how much I love going door-to-door? This is the best time to get to know your neighbors and to see a smile light their face when they know they can contact you about any issues, or to be invited in to hear someone tell their stories or listen to their complaints. I'm tellin' ya. Grass roots is where it's at.

2. My job takes second priority. I am openly looking for opportunities to work for humanitarian companies and will be working toward becoming a registered consultant for NationBuilder so I can help local municipalities and nonprofit organizations build better presence on the web and social media, and as a result have more flexible work hours.

3. My activity in outreach organizations will be increasing over last year. Already, I'll be working with Restore Our Humanity, the Utah Stonewall Democrats, Equality Utah, and TEA of Utah. I will be continuing to speak out on behalf of human rights, and working with policy makers at the state and local levels to bring positive and needed change.

4. Squeeze some dance lessons in there somewhere.

Here's to a great new year.

In service to our communities,