United Voice - Spring 2016

I was flying home from a business trip, sitting in the Providence airport at the crack of dawn, when I got the text… “you know that kid who had fag written on the side of his car, well he killed himself last night!” I felt like someone had just slugged me in the gut with a baseball bat. I couldn’t catch my breath and tears started rolling down my face. An elderly couple walking by me asked if I was ok, I couldn’t find words… I just nodded my head and buried my face in my hands.

This was the second young gay man, I’m aware of, who had decided in the last 30 days that death was a better option than life. How can this happen? What are we going to do about it? Is anything going to change? Is this an epidemic in WY? How can I help? Would a Facebook message to this young man have made a difference???? These are the things that were racing through my mind and taking my breath away!

In Wyoming we love talking about our great and vast natural resources. Oil, natural gas, coal, wildlife, and so many more. What about our youth? Why are we not focused on our greatest natural resource and why aren’t we taking steps to protect our young people?

Yes, that’s a personal challenge to all who read this article. Hug your young neighbors. Let them know that they are seen, that they are valued, and that we love them and want them here!

What can we do? Well for starters let’s pass more non-discrimination ordinances around this state. Let’s make more headlines and get more news articles about our elected officials doing the right thing. We know equality and non-discrimination protections are important to our young people. When they see a headline or read a news article about a community coming together and standing for equality while sending a message that they are open for business and don’t discriminate against anyone; that headline has the potential to be a bigger voice than the bully at school or the bully at home!

The young man who took his life in Gillette was Trevor O’Brien. Not only had Trevor had his car vandalized with the word “fag,” he had also been beaten over his sexual orientation. According to his family, he was harassed and bullied on a very regular basis. Trevor’s death is hitting the community of Gillette and this state very hard! Many of us have committed to making sure Trevor’s death will not be in vain. Please join me and Wyoming Equality and commit to helping make this state a better place for our youth.

This week Wyoming Equality launched an inaugural scholarship fund in Trevor’s name. We’ve put up a link for online donations: wyomingequality.org/trevor We also held a special karaoke fundraiser for folks to come and share their stories, sing songs, and remember Trevor’s life. Trevor loved music and he loved to sing. We wanted to have an event that he would have enjoyed attending if he were still alive. So far we’ve raise a little more than $1,600. It’s not too late to make a contribution to the fund. Copy and paste the link above and you can help us make a difference in the lives of our young people.

I can talk marriage and non-discrimination all day, every day! But this bullying thing is a bit of a learning curve for me. Join me and together let’s grow! Let’s educate ourselves about bullying. Let’s all start a conversation with other parents, other students, teachers and administrators and let’s see what’s currently being done and focus on improvement opportunities.

Together we can say ENOUGH! Together we can make sure Trevor’s life is never forgotten! Together we can make this state better, and together we can make meaningful change!

Jeran

“All I can tell you is this. Some hearts break from grief some from joy. Some even break from love. But hearts break because they are too small to contain the gifts life gives us. Your task will be to let your heart grow large enough not to break.” – Catherine M. Wilsonsonsays

This past month has been a continuing lesson on how my heart will continue to break- from joy and from grief. Most of you know we lost a good young man, Trevor O’Brien from Gillette. We know that he was kind and loved by his family, his friends and every­one who ever heard him sing, We also know that he was the victim of vicious hate crimes that he did not want reported to the police. We are all left asking our­selves after this tragedy, “How could we do better?” It is such a complicated question because even if we were to know all of the particulars, no life is the same, no death is the same. We might do damage to the in­dividual if we tried to swallow their story up into a universal story, tried to tell ourselves that there in only one story about being gay in Wyoming, and it ends in tragedy.

Of course we know that many of us are living in Wy­oming because it is our home and we couldn’t choose any other. Our families and our roots are here. I hope every LGBTQ person feels safe and respected in Wy­oming but that hope is just that, a hope. In politics our lives sometimes get condensed down into easy talking points, either: Being LGBTQ in Wyoming is a Hardship or; Being LGBTQ in Wyoming is Bliss, There is No Problem Here. But neither of those head­lines speak to me. I imagine they don’t speak to most of you. WEB Dubois said that the history of marginal­ized people in America is, “everything that is absent or distorted.” And sadly. If we don’t raise our voices and make ourselves heard, other people will write our his­tory, and they won’t be kind.

The story that I know about Wyoming is complicated. It says that the people of Gillette cared deeply about Trevor and continue to do the hard work of making their community become safe for LGBTQ youth. It says that sometimes those efforts fall short and some­times no amount of effort could bridge the weight of systemic homophobia and personal demons. The sto­ry I know says that LGBTQ people have always been in Wyoming, We shaped and created this state from the very beginning but it is only recently that we have claimed our right to full citizenship and protection under the law. And finally the story that I know tells me that our state knows how to do hard things, we are not coddled by easy weather or the convenience that living in metropolitan areas bring. And fighting for our rights and asking for our friends and neighbors to speak up for these rights can be a very hard thing. But it is so necessary. Our culture needs to change- we need to send a message from our pulpits, our legisla­tive halls and our precincts: we expect full rights in Wyoming.

So let’s commit together to doing the hard work in 2016. Every high school and college in the state should have a Gay Straight Alliance Club, a place where our youth can be affirmed and feel safe. Every town should have a non discrimination ordinance that makes clear that we will not tolerate firing someone or kicking them out of their home for their sexuality or gender expression. We believe in fairness and equality, those are Wyoming values. I hope you will join me in be­coming a monthly donor to Wyoming Equality and lending your support to achieving those goals. The time is now and the person to make it happen is you. And you won’t be alone.

Warmly,
Sara Burlingame
Education and Outreach Coordinator
Wyoming Equality

Extragenital STD Screening

The Communicable Disease Unit has made access to extragenital gonorrhea and Chlamydia testing a priority. Mounting evidence shows that limiting screenings to vaginal and urethral sites fails to detect infections a person may have and their potential to spread undetected infections to others. Limited testing options does a particular disservice to Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). According to the CDC, “more than half (53%) of C. trachomatis and 64% of N. gonorrhoeae infections were at non-urethral sites and would have been missed if the traditional approach to screening of men by testing only urethral specimens had been used.” While extragenital NAAT testing has not been approved by the FDA, most labs, including the Wyoming Public Health Lab, have undergone extensive internal validations in order to run these tests. Rectal swabs can be self-collected just like vaginal and urine samples. Pharyngeal samples are staff collected and as easy as a rapid strep collection. Free or low-cost testing is available at over 40 sites in Wyoming. Visit Knowyo.org to find a participating clinic and get a voucher for HIV/STD/hepatitis testing. Oral and rectal STD screenings have additional implications for prevention activities. Rectal infections are a simple marker to identify individuals at highest risk for HIV infection. Anyone with a rectal gonorrhea or Chlamydia infection is a prime candidate for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) use. More info on PrEP coming next month! For more information on extragenital screening please contact Molly Adami, Field Epidemiologist at the Wyoming Department of Health, at (307) 777-8939 or molly.adami@wyo.gov.

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