Category Archives: social justice


I never realized how crucial awkwardness was to being a true LGBTQ+ ally. Recently, the pronoun they changed my mind. They has evolved beyond plural, into a singular pronoun for an individual with a non-binary gender identity. For some folks, they works well, while she or he doesn’t. But the word they, used in this way, seems to cause discomfort. I’ve heard many complaints and (in my admittedly limited experience) these are the most common.

The grammar is wrong.

Let’s weigh this issue on the scales of social justice. On one side, let’s place the weight of the traditional Rules of Grammar. On the other side, let’s place a language evolving to match a deeper understanding of the gender identity spectrum. C’mon — although life often presents us with close calls, this isn’t one of them.

I can’t get used to it.

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who likes classic movies while you prefer sports events, and you get used to it? Have you ever been diagnosed with an allergy, and you can no longer eat your favorite foods, and you get used to it? How about having kids — that’s an average of an adjustment every 10 minutes, for 18 years, and you get used to it. And now you’re saying you can’t get used to a new definition of a pronoun. Really.

It’s not proper English.

Language is continuously evolving. Language — like life — is a dynamic process, not a static state of immobility. And yeah, that even applies to pronouns.

It’s awkward.

I agree, I feel awkward, and I’m still learning how to use they as a singular pronoun in a sentence. But this isn’t about my awkwardness. Actually, this isn’t about me at all. It’s about expanding language, stretching words to match a spectrum of gender identity that wasn’t fully articulated until now. Healthy growing and healthy stretching are often awkward, so maybe feeling awkward is a sign that we’re on a healthy track.

When I’m comfortable, it’s easy to be an ally. However, when I feel awkward, I’ve found that I can turn to the LGBTQ+ community for help. Without fail, 100% of the time, my LGBTQ+ friends have answered my questions with respect. They’ve supported my need to learn, never once disparaging the gaps in my knowledge. If I’ve said I’m uncomfortable but want to grow comfortable, they’ve reached out.

I’ve never formally studied linguistics, but They has shown me how a word can serve as a catalyst, expanding language to promote values of equality. They has also enriched my personal growth, adding another dimension to my definition of myself as an ally. Now, I think LGBTQ+  ally support includes a willingness to stand awkward. Feeling awkward no longer seems negative. Actually, I’m growing more comfortable every day, as I embrace my own awkwardness.

Thank you, They.


Amy’s Novels:
Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying at school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming LGBTQ+ allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man. This book tracks 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.


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Filed under LGBT, non-binary, social justice, They, Them, Their, Uncategorized

Fight, Resistance and Basics

I was in tenth grade, relaxing with friends in my high school quad, when two rival gang members hurtled toward us. Of course I had seen school yard brawls, but this was different. These two were muscular, raging, violent, and they knew how to hurt each other. Fear has an odd influence on memory, and I carry the next few minutes as disjointed still life photography. I remember their haircuts. I remember the crowd screaming. I remember that both wore jeans. I remember the thud of pounding meat, each time a fist connected. I remember when the winning hit smashed his opponent’s face, and the explosion of bright crimson. I remember my surprise because the “winner” was the smaller of the two.

More than a decade later, I enrolled in a women’s self-defense class called “Basics.” Most of us had never thrown a punch, and we didn’t have a clue how to fight. Our two teachers worked together, coaching us. During every “assault,” one stood by our side shouting instructions, while the other “attacked” us, dressed head-to-toe in protective gear so we could fight without sending him to the emergency room.

Until that point, whenever I had watched a fight — TV, movies, plays — I saw only chaos. Flying fists, flailing kicks, careening bodies. To my complete surprise, by the second self-defense class, I could break down the maelstrom into structured pieces. I could spot openings, moments when I could step in to protect myself. Every class, our teachers repeated the basics: when you find an opening, commit 100%.  Don’t give up, ever. It’s okay to be scared. Even if you’re fighting by yourself, you’re not alone.

Now, more than 25 years later, I find myself entering a different kind of battle, facing an unprecedented situation in my homeland. I look around and see my fellow citizens under assault, and I will not be a passive bystander. As a woman, I too am under assault. But I know self-defense and even in this unfamiliar arena, stepping forward with non-violent resistance, those “basic” teachings are more relevant than ever.

Wait for your opening.  When you step in, commit 100%. Different people choose different ways to fight, but you’re still on the same team. Yes, you might get hurt in the struggle but no, that doesn’t mean the fight is over. If you’re knocked down, you can fight with equal strength from the ground. You can fight through pain. A fight, especially a prolonged fight, is emotionally and physically exhausting, so don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s okay to be scared. You’re not alone. Don’t give up, ever.

And from that gang fight in high school so long ago: the smaller fighter, in the end, can still triumph.


Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.


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Filed under #ShePersists, ACLU, California Rural Legal Assistance, great teachers, Planned Parenthood, resistance, self-defense, social justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, Uncategorized

Nazi Resistance Tour

Recently a friend visited Germany with her grown son, and they joined a “Nazi Resistance Tour” of Munich. Vicki was struck by the guide’s repeatedly stating that Hitler was Austrian, not German. I’ve always admired Vicki for her courage in speaking up when faced with social injustice, and this was no exception. The tour guide answered that many Germans disagreed with the Nazi regime, but were afraid to take a stand. Finally, the guide admitted that even today, decades later, German citizens remain uncomfortable fully owning their country’s role in the holocaust.

I grew up with a father who enlisted in the United States Marines, during World War II. As a commanding officer, he pulled men out of the brig, who were “caught” with another man. He fought against Hitler, and he fought for “Gay Rights” before the term existed. Many years after the war, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, my father fought Joseph McCarthy and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Of course, this meant putting a target on his own back, and The Committee tried to blacklist him. Through sheer luck, their efforts failed. They accused him of having a communist father, which meant Dad was a Red Menace. It turned out my supposed paternal grandfather was African American. Since Dad was blond, blue-eyed, and so fair-skinned that he could get a sunburn in a thunderstorm, The Committee dropped the charges. My father went on to “front” for Dalton Trumbo, at great personal risk, because Mr. Trumbo wasn’t so lucky and had been blacklisted.

I like to think I would have fought the Nazi Regime and Joe McCarthy. But I grew up in the post-Blacklist era of Hollywood, and I know that good intentions aren’t enough. Some people supported the Nazi Regime or supported Joe McCarthy, because they were immoral people. But not all. It takes a certain kind of courage, a rare and strange type of bravery, to fight when your life and livelihood are at risk. My father had that odd brand of courage, and so does my friend Vicki.

I’ve thought about this many times – how to bring forward our best selves in times of danger. I think we need to admit that until we’re actually in that situation, we really don’t know how we’ll handle it. Admitting that I don’t know allows me to prepare to be scared, and choose how to handle my fear. I know that if that moment ever arrives, my first response will be the only-human impulse to survive, the self-protective instinct hard-wired into my core.

Then I’ll think of my father and my friend Vicki – and even if I’m frightened and shaking, even if I have a running series of arguments in my head telling me to retreat, I hope I’ll step forward and do the right thing.

*This post was inspired by Vicki Clewes. Thank you, Vicki, for giving me permission to write this essay.


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 witnessing gay students bullied in high school.


Caroline Black, 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 therapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

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Filed under Hollywood Blacklist, Hollywood History, Nazi Resistance, social justice