Category Archives: Ally Support

Bridges and LGBTQ+

“Over our 22 years of service to this campus we have been privileged to work with community leaders, alumni, administrators, students of all sorts and, with some regularity, parents who appreciate the way in which we try to build bridges in a world where walls are still too common.”                                                                                                                          Doug Bauder, Director                                                                                                              LGBTQ+ Culture Center, Indiana University, Bloomington

My LGBTQ+ friends are scared and I’m angry. If you’re going to target my friends, you go through me. I’m under no delusions of my own grandeur — 5’4”, small boned, late 50s, gray hair, not the person you dread meeting in a dark alley. But my laptop is my sword and I’m committed.

It’s been a terrible few months, filled with betrayal, and my friends are afraid. They’re afraid that laws will pronounce them lesser. They feel unsafe doing something as simple as holding hands. They’re frightened that “equality” will no longer apply. They’re afraid to be themselves.

Hatred, rage and fear are reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. It’s a dangerous combination, fire and oil, flaring out of control. The beast is unleashed.

With hostility running rampant, I decided to donate 50% of my April book sale profits to an organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community. I needed to choose among several worthy organizations, and I thought long and hard. At first, I had no idea how to begin my search. Then I realized I needed to begin at the beginning: hatred, rage and fear.

As hatred, rage and fear skyrocket on college campuses, during this crucial developmental stage when values solidify, I decided to focus on that age group. I then narrowed my choices to state universities, because those institutions are accessible to more students than private institutions. I wanted to find an LGBTQ+ center that modeled decency and acceptance towards everyone, all of us. I was looking for a safe environment, empowering people to become their full selves. I wanted a place that stands tall to protect people from the worst of human nature, pack mentality,  the primitive urge to exert power by hurting others.  I wanted a place where people can relax and simply be. I also wanted an environment inclusive to the larger community, inviting people of all demographics to form a team against violence, bigotry, marginalization. Finally, I wanted a place committed not only to ongoing teaching, but also to ongoing learning.

I chose Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center (Bloomington campus).

With Doug Bauder (Director) at the helm, The LGBTQ+ Culture Center offers a banquet of exemplary support — personal, community, artistic, medical, educational, emotional. They’ve built a culture (and yes, I love their name) where people feel safe questioning, admitting they don’t understand, searching. They welcome allies, including those who want to be allies but need guidance. Their community, within the larger university community, exemplifies educational ideals — an emotionally Safe Space, with a commitment to the No Safe Spaces perspective vital to the free exchange of ideas.

As I said, I’m angry — which distinguishes me not in the slightest. But the next step matters; now I have to choose how to handle my anger. I can pitch a fit, lash out, throw an Olympic caliber tantrum. But then I’d be feeding the culture of hatred, rage and fear. So I’m choosing a different culture. Instead, I’m going to look to Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center as my role model. When I feel weary, discouraged, consumed with anger, I’ll remember Doug Bauder’s words: “We try to build bridges in a world where walls are still too common.”

Then I’ll regroup, focus, and write with heart and fire.                                                             ___

To learn more about IU LGBTQ+ Culture Center, click on the link.  http://glbt.indiana.edu/home.php.

Amy’s Novels:                                                                                                                       Hollywood HIgh: Achieve The Honorable  and Tightwire both have been on Amazon’s best sellers list for LGBT fiction and literature. Each novel costs only $2.99. They’re available as ebooks and can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any device (iPad, iPhone, laptop, desktop, etc.) using Amazon’s Free Reading Apps. Throughout April 2017, I’ll donate 50% of my book profits to Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable                                                                             Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her wealthy prep school for the local public high school, which opens her world. At Hollywood High, she finds gangs, over 40 native languages, and terrible violence targeting the gay students. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and follows one girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. This novel was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school.

Tightwire                                                                                                                                    Caroline Black, 10 years later, navigates her first year of clinical training as a psychologist. Chapters in her treatment of a talented but stormy young man are interspersed with chapters of her own personal history. The story includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other key characters are a lesbian couple (raising two children) who become role model parents to the main character. This is a story of the importance of becoming your full self.

Amy’s Author Page — read reviews, check out recent blog posts, purchase a book. https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Ally Support, Indiana University, Bloomington, LGBTQ+ Culture Center, LGBT, resistance

GLSEN Ally Week — Let’s Open The Conversation

At a dinner party, an elderly woman found her path to becoming an LGBTQ ally.

I was seated next to “Erica” – 91-years-old, college educated, Catholic, a “homemaker,” 3 grown children, 5 grandchildren. She asked about my work, and I told her I was an author. She wanted to know what inspired me to write my first novel. I explained that when I was 15 years old, I was extremely upset seeing gay students bullied in my high school. Decades ago, in 10th grade, I knew I’d write about it some day. Erica looked down at her plate, then met my eyes and spoke quietly.

“I’m not comfortable with gay people.”

We had barely sampled our appetizers, and I wondered how in the name of Harvey Milk I was going to get through this meal. But there was something in the way Erica looked at me that made me think twice. She was trying to open a conversation, not close one. So I asked what made her uncomfortable about gay people.

“It’s just,” Erica shifted, painfully embarrassed, “whenever I find out someone is gay, I can’t stop thinking about them having sex, and it makes me kind of sick. Then I don’t want to be around them.”

Erica looked at me expectantly. Was she waiting for me to to agree that gay sex is “kind of sick”? Was I supposed to reassure her that it was okay that she was a bigot? She was 91, and cultural mores would demand that I respond politely, accept her as set in her ways. But apparently I’m not very good at politely accepting homophobia.

“Seems to me, if you can’t look at a gay couple without imagining them in bed, having sex — I can see why that would make you uncomfortable. I mean, if I looked at you and ‘Cameron’ (her 92-year-old husband sitting across the table), and all I could think of was the two of you naked, rocking it out in the sack, then I don’t think I’d want to be around you either.”

Erica stared. I felt myself turning icy, harnessing my anger, ready to turn my back on her for the rest of the evening. Then her lips twitched, and she began to laugh. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised.

A productive series of communications followed over the next several weeks. She asked me to recommend one of my blog posts, to help her “understand being gay.” She read it, and asked for more. Several posts later, she emailed: “I think I get it. It’s not just about being gay. It’s about the whole person.”

A few months later, we ran into each other. Erica told me about meeting a gay couple at a fundraiser for a museum. She started to imagine them in bed, then caught herself. Instead, she asked what they did for a living. It turned out one was in the same field as Cameron (biology professor), and the other had completed a doctoral dissertation on Erica’s favorite author. By the time the evening ended, she had stopped thinking of them as gay and just enjoyed their company.

When many people hear gay, they’re bombarded by sexual images, obliterating the whole person standing in front of them. Many have no interest in challenging themselves to evolve into a new way of thinking. But Erica did. Even though she was embarrassed, she admitted her own homophobia. Next, she allowed the two of us to open the conversation. Then she followed through, asking for more information, trying to learn. Finally, she pushed herself to interact differently with a gay couple, who validated her new perspective.

Many people are unwilling to give up their stereotypes – but not all. Erica now calls herself an LGBT Ally. Sure, for every productive conversation there are many that send me into a fury. I still haven’t figured out how to handle my anger when people cling to their view of LGBT+ as a perversion, their aggressive allegiance to ignorance, their primitive urge to target someone simply for being LGBTQ. But Erica reminded me to give people a chance. If someone is ready to rethink homophobia, then I’m ready to offer support.

Let’s open the conversation.

*All names and identifying information in this post have been changed.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, and follows a family’s journey after the daughter comes out. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight, as well as a lesbian couple (raising a son and daughter) who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. To learn more about Amy, visit her website and find links to her blog and to her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

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I Wish He Had Told Me

Greg was the boy I’d been waiting to find – bright, funny, and he didn’t think I was weird because I read a ton and liked Latin. He had thick, black curls and best of all, a hint of facial hair. We were both sixteen.

We sat in my family’s living room, sipping Ginger Ale, and I told him about my public high school with over forty native languages. He told me about his Catholic school, affiliated with his church. I told him how upset I was by the violence targeting gay boys. He said his school had no gay students. I stated that was impossible, that maybe the environment didn’t allow students to feel okay coming out. He looked down, then faced me and said quietly, “It would be okay with me”.

I talked about growing up in the film industry with a screenwriter dad – how my parents’ actor friends, haute couture mavens, were alarmed because I refused to wear make-up. He talked about his family, observant in a way I’d never experienced — with his grandfather jetting around the world, helping priests interpret tricky passages of the Bible. He grinned, describing his parents’ horror when he snuck into a community theatre audition and scored the lead in Hair — which included several references to sex and singing the word “ass”.

I wondered if I had found my first boyfriend. I was such a good girl – excellent grades, never smoked pot, always polite. I would have loved to date a guy who belted out “ASS” for a packed auditorium, and still thought it was cool that I took Latin. He confessed that our friendship would be seen as a form of “rebellion”. I smiled, liking the idea of being his rebellion.

But even as we connected, I could sense that Greg held back. We said goodnight, and as I prepared to experience my first “real” kiss, he put out his hand to shake. I closed the door and 15 seconds later, he knocked. He kissed me, and asked if he could take me to dinner the following night.

The next day, he called to say he “had to tell me something” when we met that evening, but he didn’t want to say it over the phone. An hour later, he called to cancel. I never saw him again.

Years later, I learned Greg was gay. I’ll never know for sure what the “something” was he wanted to tell me, but I can guess. Growing up in his home, at his school, coming out was not a safe option. The irony is that if he had visited my home that night, he would have met my parents’ two dinner guests: a gay couple.

When I became pregnant with my first child, my thoughts turned to Greg. I promised myself that my husband and I would build a home where our children and their friends could be their full selves. The first time a boy from their high school came out to me, I felt honored by his trust. Recently, a high school senior, questioning her sexuality, called my home “safe”, and I found myself thinking of Greg again. I wish I could thank him for his guidance, helping me create a home of acceptance. I wonder if he found a safe person as a teen, or if he had to carry an important part of himself as a secret. I hope he found someone he could trust. I gladly would have given up being his girlfriend, in exchange for being his someone.

I wish he had told me.

All names and identifying information in this piece have been changed.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s website to find links to her blog and her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, coming out, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, Teen

Huge Mistake

The “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was signed by Governor Mike Pence. If you are behind the counter in a coffee shop in Indiana, you can refuse to sell a double macchiato and a cup of decaf to two men, because…well, just because. Two women who were looking forward to sitting at the corner table, reading the New York Times with a latte and a croissant…well, they can take their New York Times elsewhere.

I hope that at some point, Governor Pence will realize that he has made a mistake. A huge mistake. I hope that over time, he’ll think back to the day he put his signature on that paper, and feel painfully embarrassed. Sadly, I doubt it.

The title of this bill bothers me. Including the word “religious” is an insult to any belief system promoting values of decency. I live in The South, with the majority worshipping some form of Christianity. I’m Jewish. Whether you believe Jesus was a man or a God, he was a good guy, with exemplary values of acceptance, decent to the bone. To attach the word “religious” to this bill is shockingly disrespectful to the teachings of Jesus.

As for “freedom”, I just don’t get it. I’m reading the lines, between the lines, above and below the lines. I’m searching for “freedom”, even a hint. I’m certain that over time, this bill will be viewed with the same contempt as the efforts to fight Women Suffragists. Mike Pence will be grouped with the people who tripped and shoved the women marching for the right to vote. The governor of Indiana and his bill are nowhere close to “freedom”.

And “restoration” – often that word has a positive connotation, like preserving historical artifacts. But in this case, the word just means that Governor Pence and his followers are moving backwards.

Yes, I’m angry. But I’m also hopeful and determined. When I was in high school, my U.S. History class studied Magellan and Columbus. The unit was called “Great Explorers”; now, my children study those same men in a unit called “Pirates”. I learned nothing in school about Lucy Stone or Julia Ward Howe (women suffragists), but my children know their names well. My children and I both studied the Civil Rights Movement, although I hope my children’s children will never see the Confederate Flags that still fly in The South.

Progressive change is inevitable, as are those who fight for oppression in the name of “religious freedom”. But as I said, for every pound of anger I carry, I hold equal amounts of hope and determination. I believe that if my children have children, when they study U.S. history, there will be a section on the Gay Rights Movement. The unit will include the Stonewall Riots and Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco who legalized Same Sex Marriage in 2004. Teachers will guide their students to understand the roles of Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer, speaking their names with the same respect as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Every step toward LGBTQ+ rights will be taught as progress toward “freedom”.

We’ll get there.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between a gay man and a straight man, as well as two women, a couple raising 2 children, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s website to find links to her blog and her novels on Amazon.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

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Filed under Ally Support, LGBT, Mike Pence

Spectrum Of Normal

LGBTQIA.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (Queer), Intersexual, Asexual (Ally). Pansexual, as well. More words will follow, and I’m ready to learn them all. Each letter, each word, is important, deserving respect, opening our minds to the full spectrum of sex and sexuality.

Yet, it’s not the “full” spectrum. When people talk about sexuality, Straight seems to have its own separate “spectrum” – more accurately, its own separate throne. There are The Heterosexuals and there are The Others.

My perspective is different. I was raised by a straight mother and father (born in 1922 and 1917) who were absolutely comfortable with gay men and lesbian women. My earliest memories include my parents’ closest friends, couples comprised of a woman and a man, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. This was a part of my life from the cradle. This was, is, and always will be my Spectrum of Normal.

I was eight years old when I learned there were separate words for “straight”, “gay” and “lesbian” couples. I also learned that none of the gay and lesbian couples I knew were married, because they weren’t allowed. I knew the ban on same-sex marriage was just plain wrong, but my reaction to the separate words was mixed. I was comfortable with the words as descriptive language, but extremely uncomfortable with the words as a divisive force. Couples were couples, love was love, people were people. I didn’t have a gay/straight litmus test, and I still don’t.

I hope to see the day when there’s just one sexual spectrum, which will include “S” for “Straight”. This new spectrum will give each letter and each word equal emphasis, equal respect, equal everything. This will be a spectrum of acceptance of the many shades of normal. I don’t categorize Straight Sexuality as separate from Other Sexuality. All of us are individuals on the Spectrum of Normal.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight — as well as a same-sex couple (two women), raising a daughter and a son, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire

Dear Readers,

I’ve received emails from members of book clubs who are reading my novels. Some asked for a reading guide, so I created one for each novel.

When I give talks, my favorite part is opening the floor to questions. Your ideas always kick-start new ways of thinking within me – and I’m grateful. If you want to respond to the reading guides, feel free to contact me through my website. I love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message. http://amykaufmanburk.com

For those of you who are including my novel in your book club, in your classroom, on your  personal list of books to read – thank you so much.

Best,

Amy

READING GUIDES

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

1. As the book opens, Caroline has just transferred from a private school to her local public high school and she is terrified.  But from the start, she shows signs of being much more than scared and intimidated. What are the first signs that Caroline has hidden strengths? Have you ever felt strong inside in ways nobody could see?

2. This novel has lesbian and gay characters, as well as straight characters. Each character adds a vital piece to the story. Yet, unlike many books in the “Gay And Lesbian Literary Fiction” category, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable does not offer explicit details of sex. In writing the story, this was a careful choice I made. What do you think of this decision?

3. A theme of my novel is defying stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes in the story are racial, sexual and gender based. Some are about other kinds of assumptions. For instance, what does it say about a person if he/she is a prostitute, the leader of a gang, a cheerleader, extremely academic? Have you ever felt that others stereotyped you?

4. I wrote my book in reaction to the bullying of gay boys that I witnessed in high school. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever acted as a bully? Have you ever seen another bullied? How did you handle it? Will you handle it differently next time?

5. A subplot in the book is based on growing up in the film industry. Have you ever been in an environment that was a mismatch for your true self? How did you navigate the situation?

6. From the first chapter, Caroline begins to find friends in her new high school. She builds a friendship group that is racially, sexually and economically diverse. Is that sort of diversity important to you?

7. Several high school characters have secrets – Caroline, The Duke, Valerie. Have you ever held a secret inside, that you were afraid to speak out loud? How does it feel to have a secret?

8. Sexual assault should happen to nobody, but it can happen to anybody. This is a subplot in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Have you ever been assaulted? Have you known someone who has been assaulted? Do you have the support you need to heal? (If not, please contact a rape crisis center near you, or talk to a therapist.)

9. When I speak to gay/straight alliances, I often hear stories of adolescents coming out to their families, and getting unsupportive, hurtful responses. I decided to include in my novel one family’s journey to support and acceptance. Have you ever felt unsupported by your family when you most needed support?

I wrote the following blog posts to help families stay supportive and bonded.

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”     https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

10. Homophobia can show itself in many forms. It can be subtle, damaging, hurtful, deadly. Through different characters, I decided to demonstrate different kinds of homophobia, and model different paths to support and acceptance. Have you ever seen someone move from homophobia to support and acceptance? Have you taken that journey to becoming an ally?

11. Readers often tell me they have picked a favorite character in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Do you have a favorite character from the book? What draws you to that character?

12. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://hollywoodhighbook.com/?page_id=70

Tightwire

1. Tightwire tracks Caroline Black through her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient, Collier. As the book opens, Collier feels hopeless. As the book progresses, he discovers his capacity to heal. Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you found a way to heal? (If you need help, please reach out to the resources in your community.)

2. People have all sorts of ideas about therapy and therapists, and their ideas sometimes include a stigma. I hope this novel shows how helpful a “talking therapy” can be, and helps to diminish the stigma. Did the story make the idea of therapy less “strange,” possibly more comfortable?

3. Sexuality can feel confusing, even terrifying. At one point in the story, Collier (the patient) questions his sexuality. Have you ever questioned your sexuality or your sexual identity? How did you resolve your questions? Are your questions still ongoing? (If you need support, please contact an LGBTQIA center near your home. The Trevor Project is also an excellent organization to offer support. http://www.thetrevorproject.org)

4. Two important characters in Tightwire are Jeanne and Tracy, a lesbian couple with two children, who become role-model-parents for Collier. Have you met a same-sex couple with children? Are you comfortable with that family constellation? Why or why not? (If you’re open to growing more comfortable, maybe Jeanne and Tracy can help!)

5. One theme of this book is that if you’re motivated, it’s never too late to change. Do you have parts of yourself that you’d like to change?

6. Sexual assault can happen in many forms. People can feel a wide range of emotions including violated, betrayed, contaminated, frightened…also guilty, confused, depressed, doubting the validity of their own experience. Sexual assault is a part of this novel, and the survivor’s healing is a central theme. Have you ever had a sexual experience which left you feeling assaulted? Were you able to trust the validity of your experience, even if the assault fell outside the legal definition of “rape”? Have you ever felt safe enough to tell another person? (If you need help healing, please reach out to a rape crisis center or a therapist.)

7. In one session with Collier, Caroline (the therapist) has no idea how to handle the situation, and she makes several mistakes. She is certain that she has torpedoed both the treatment and her career. She expects her supervisor to kick her out of her psych internship, and her patient to quit. But to her surprise, her supervisor is supportive and helpful, and her patient comes back to continue working. What does Caroline do that earns the respect of her supervisor, and allows Collier to return to his treatment? Have you ever made a big mistake, and then been given a second chance?

8. Tightwire is structured with chapters that alternate between Caroline’s sessions with Collier, and Caroline’s life as she grows up. Did you find the structure engaging? Why or why not?

9. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://amykaufmanburk.com

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to the bullying of gay students I witnessed in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

http://amykaufmanburk.com

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, bullying, LGBT, Marriage Equality, NoMore, psychological, Stereotypes, therapy, writing