Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Hot Tea and Ice 15

Roll With Being A Role Model!

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins  

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Trusting you are well and staying cool this summer. I’m currently giving thanks every day for air conditioning, cool beverages, and lightweight clothing.  Although I’m a Southerner by birth, this heat is something else!

     Despite the high temperatures, I spent this past Fourth of July outside surrounded by my extended family. I considered it a blessing to be in the company of five generations ranging from my great aunt–who recently celebrated her 93rd birthday–to my twin third-cousins from Virginia who was spending the summer with their grandmother.  I ate too much, sipped on something…and had a chance to bask in the stories of days gone by.

     One thing I realized between bites was that I have so many role models within my family. My great-uncle, who has spent over fifty years being the only black barber in Brunswick County, North Carolina, sat beside his nephew, a U.S. Army veteran, retired fire captain and the father of two exceptional daughters. Across from them sat my younger cousin who, in her forty plus years, has lived several lifetimes:  she’s been a college student and ferry boat worker, and currently earns her pay as a nuclear power plant worker. She’s a devoted wife, exceptional big sister–and knows how to stunt on a motorcycle like nobody’s business!

     Too often, we look to celebrities and big names to be role models. We sometimes forget just being the people we are–lovers, friends, and family members–we are setting examples for others to follow. Celebrate that by doing what you do and doing it well:  this inspires others to step their game up. Roll with being a role model.

     I would venture that if you sit down and really think about all that you have done in life, you’d realize that you have accomplished at least three things no one expected to do. Because of that, you have the potential to encourage someone to push him/herself to be better.

     Two of my biggest role models are young men who live vastly different lives in two different states, but they each inspire me to do better. Calvin was a high school football stand-out who had potential to make it big. Instead, he decided to be a family man who nurtures and shapes the lives of his daughter and sons.  His social media pages are filled with pictures of his children, his wife and his family.   

     Calvin is a devoted family man who works hard to provide when so many of his former teammates are living it up. Despite having a frame that made an opposing player drop the ball rather than be tackled during a high school game, he is so gentle and affectionate with his children that it leaves me in awe.

     Leslie spent the first thirteen years of his life as a young Black boy in a small coastal town where he was the only Black student in his pre-K program.  He  spent his early education years being one of a few–if not the only–student of color in his advanced classes. Now he’s a globe-trotting, MBA-having, Eagle-Scout who “handles his bizness” for a Fortune 100 company.  And, he still keeps me cracking up with well-timed texts and social media posts.

     And then there’s Laura. Of Caribbean heritage, her family immigrated to America from Canada when she was eight. She worked hard, and earned her Master’s in community agency counseling in two years in a hostile educational environment. Laura works with children with mental health issues, takes splendid care of her friends and pets–and is the only person I know for sure who has read everything I have written in the past four years.

     We are all somebody’s role models. Own it and hold your head high because your actions help prove to someone else that whatever you want is possible. No setback is permanent, and we should see obstacles as opportunities.

     Walk in the reality that you are someone’s role model…and stay cool.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!” 


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya  earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C.  The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, latoyahankins.com ; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com;
Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins;
and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 14

Parents Are People, Too!

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers! I send a virtual shower of confetti and a round of kudos for the college graduates and their family members partaking of this month’s literary offering.  Regardless how long the journey took, you made it to the end and you should be celebrated.

     Along with college graduations, May meant Mother’s Day. Based on the cascade of profile pictures which blanketed social media, a lot of you have pretty fly mothers who know how to accessorize and strut. I also realize that for every picture of Momma and Mini-Me, there are those whose posts about that second Sunday reflected mothers who didn’t have the time, inclination or ability to be there for their offspring. Many people are estranged from their mothers due to old hurts, and the fresh pain of rejection.

     For many of us, that distance is necessary for our mental–and sometimes physical–safety.  But for others, it’s because they are clinching too tightly to things that happened in childhood.

     For many years, I was in the latter category. But this spring day, my advice to you is that sometimes, we have to let some of that stuff go.  If possible, we need to see our parents as persons now that we are adults–and stop seeing them with the eyes of a child.

Parents

     This is not to diminish the hurt, or disregard the damage done. But in order to heal, we have to really see and then try to understand the choices our parents have made.    Being adults ourselves, you know that adults make mistakes all the time; and if possible, we need to extend understanding and grace to our parents so that we can move beyond the past. 

     When I was six months old, my mother and I parted ways.  She sent me to my grandmother and great-grandmother to be raised in my hometown while she worked and attended school in the District of Columbia.  My mom wasn’t there when I lost my first tooth–or second or third, for that matter. She didn’t teach me how to ride a bike.  Nor did she stand by my side when I got my first library card.

     She was there when I had major surgery when I was five–but only for a brief period before she headed back to D.C. We didn’t reconnect until I was eight.  That was when my grandmother died and she came back home to live with my great-grandmother and me.

     My mom and I didn’t live together on our own until I was eleven.  Unfortunately, her reaction to something that occurred just added to my feeling of disconnection from her.  It was an incident with a neighborhood boy who simply didn’t understand that “no meant no.”

     You see, I loved my mom; however, I just didn’t like her that much. After all, you really can’t like someone whom you don’t know.

     So many times, we have trouble understanding the motivation behind our parents’ actions because we can’t see them as people.  We give more credit to people who cross our paths than to the woman who gave us life. Depending on the circumstances, I would like to suggest they deserve better.

     Getting to know the woman she was before she became your mother sometimes helps clear up misunderstandings, and helps form a bridge that will allow you to move closer together.

     Because so much of my early years was not spent with my mother, I never fully appreciated her and the sacrifices she made until I was well into my adult years. My mother–like so many others–sacrificed her time, talent and treasures in order to make a better place in the world for herself and myself.

     So last year, we began talking about who she was before, during, and after I made my appearance into the world. We addressed misgivings and hurt feelings and began building a stronger relationship.

     It is not going to be an easy fix, but I feel it’s worth the effort to start understanding the woman that is my mother. I encourage others who are ready to entertain the thought to reach out.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality 3

The Things We Do,” Part One

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes 

     “I’m so drained, Evan,” Derrick mumbled to me through his meaty palms. “I’m so fucking drained with no semblance of an end in sight.”

     I sat across Derrick at a seemingly swanky restaurant (until they brought out the oxymoronic monstrosity of gummy, stale pasta) as he spilled his frustrations onto the table like a tall glass of the finest southern tea. His puppy dog expression, complete with a full luggage set under his eyes and the weariness of a two-term president, matched his woeful words perfectly. This pained me. I’m used to gazing hours on end into his brown eyes, and wishing like hell that I could stare into them on an ironclad intimate level. Preferably in one of our bedrooms.

     Instead, the person who sat across from me was a black void in human form. A man who has ran the marathon of life so roughly to only get towards the next level and have the finish line lunge out of his grasp. Again, I’m not used to this version of Derrick Kent. The Derrick Kent I know (of admittedly a short period of time) was more jovial, yet comically twisted, and all around inspiring. Exuberating a nice balance of sheer intelligence and criminally sexiness, Derrick was pretty much sex personified and left men and women weeping in his path, both sexes yearning for more of his intellectual prowess.

     “Man, what are you doing to combat your fatigue?” I asked, taking a sip of my rum and coke. “This is the worst time to let the doldrums of life interfere with your winning streak of achievements. I mean you killed it tonight during your acceptance speech. The crowd loved you. Will always love you, actually.”

     The crowd in question was the throngs of people who came to congratulate Derrick on being published by a major publishing house with a six-figure deal for his first novel through the company right out of the stables. The novel, “Timeless Paramour,” wasn’t Derrick’s first novel by far, but it was the one that managed to snatch the attention of a well-renowned editor and manager for Macmillan Books. His writing stood on the boundaries between classic thriller and modern satire, with a twinge of irony thrown in for good taste. His unique blend of those top genres garnered a lot of support over the years, even before I knew of his existence. His fan base continues to grow weekly, if not daily, and some of the people who were in the audience tonight had traveled as far as New York City, Florida, and even London to see Derrick in his moment before he became a national best selling author.

     Derrick shook his head wearily. “No, that’s not what I mean. There’s a lot on my mind and it’s sucking the life out of me. Plus, work isn’t exactly being a grand help either. I just need space and a break.”

     “But you have this promotional tour coming up…”

     “That could serve as the break that I need.”

     “A break from what? Derrick, you’re on top of the world now. There’s a six-figure writing contract for a book that’s going to eventually become and international bestseller and a movie within the next two years, you have a bulldog of a manager, a twenty-city tour across America to promote said book… Your future is bright, Dee, so… Excuse me for drawing blanks on why you are not doing the backhand bounce while drinking from a bottle of the finest champagne on the planet?”

     “It’s my job, man. It’s killing me. This tour will be heaven on a bus. No nagging ass calls about collections. No shity ass lunch breaks. No triple necked bosses monitoring what I’m doing and when I take a shit. For two whole months, it can just be me and my brain and a whole host of crazy mothafuckers waiting for their time to shine in the pages of my upcoming books.”

     I nod in agreement, despite not believing one word he was saying.

     “You don’t believe a word that I’m saying, do you?” Derrick always managed to read me like a skilled, literary professor.

     “No, I don’t,” I replied, not blinking an eye. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there is some heavier mojo at work besides daily tiffs with the corporate establishment. But I’m not going to force whatever it is that’s ailing you until you give me the green light to do so. I’m sure this isn’t the night that you want to go into detail over something dark. In fact, it’s neither the night nor the time for any detractions from your happiness and the good luck bestowed upon you. So let’s just focus on the positives now. The dreg of “the work force” can be dealt with on another day. Preferably in a later novel, perhaps?”

     Derrick chuckled after my lame speech. He knew it came from the heart. I could tell. It was the first time he had smiled genuinely since we sat down to talk in the restaurant. Knowing that I had managed to conjure that heart-stopping smile, which only he could pull off with an up tuck at the corner of his lips, sent my soul on a satisfying victory lap throughout every inch of my body.

     “You’re so good to me,” Derrick said, his eyes piercing into mine. “Do you know I’ve always wanted to tell you that? You have the sheer knack for knowing how to talk a man off a proverbial ledge. So many nights I doubted myself in every avenue possible and you have always been there to slay the Procrastinator, the Doubter, and any other Writing Demons that prowl my mind. I truly appreciate you, Evan. And everything that you do.”

     On the surface I only blushed a little and smiled graciously in return. But on the inside… My mind had the biggest orgasm it had ever experienced since learning the existence of the excess check while in college. It took strong will power to not lean over the table; casually, but tenderly, grab Derrick’s face; and gently kiss those pink luscious lips of his. Instead, I silently cursed every force in nature keeping us from becoming one big happy gay existence. Or rather why he never saw me in the same light as I saw him…

     “Thanks, Derrick,” I managed to sputter out. “That means a lot. Really.”

     Derrick nodded. “And I want you to know that the green light is yours.”

     “The green light to do what?” asked a syrupy voice that sliced clean through my calm demeanor and sliver of happiness.

     Severing our connection to acknowledge the happy-go-lucky intruder into our conversation, Derrick smiled as a stacked female doused in white Chanel-everything (possibly panties as well) with long black hair teased to the salon gods stepped into our sights. “Hey, babe,” Derrick greeted, standing to kiss the woman lovingly. I nearly barfed all over the table.

     Meet Asia Wainright. AKA Derrick’s fiancée. AKA one of those forces I silently cursed only moments earlier.

     “I thought you were sleep,” Derrick cooed to Asia. “I didn’t want to wake you up, so I called up Evan and we decided to grab a bite to eat.”

     “I was asleep, but the guests in the room next to us decided to rehash an argument from ten years ago. I know the date because they continued to refer to it ad nauseam to the point that I woke up, tried to figure out what exactly what I was doing on May 23rd, 2005, and eventually gave up. I called your phone. Did you not get my messages?”

     Derrick patted his pants for his phone and pulled it out to check it. “Must have forgotten to take it off silence. Yep, I see two missed calls and one voicemail. I’m sorry, babe.” He kissed her again for emphasis on his regretful lapse of judgment on not checking his phone. I continue to sit and look like a doofus while playing with the rubbery pasta in front of me.

     “It’s fine, Derrick. I figured you were down here eating, anyway. If you weren’t, then I would have had an APB put out immediately. No officer in Memphis was going to rest tonight until you were safe in bed with me.” She paused and turned to me as like I was a bothersome afterthought. “Oh, hey, Evan.”

     “Hello,” I replied.

     “So, what was this green light you were talking about?” Asia asked Derrick. “Hopefully it’s green light to something special you’re cooking up for me…”

     Not missing a beat, Derrick took the chance and followed through with his prepared lie. “Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. You’ll just have to find out. In fact, I was actually just bouncing ideas off of Evan over some bad pasta and drinks.”

     “Oh, Derrick, you didn’t have to bother Evan for that,” she chuckled. “I’m sure he has something to do other than sit here and listen to you babble all night like a human springboard.”

     Um, wrong. I was enjoying myself quite immensely being Derrick’s “human springboard.”

     Hell, in fact, if I could I would morph into an actual cork board for Derrick to place his ideas on, because it would have been the only sort of way for his fingers to brush against my body. But I remained calm and collected as Asia continued to dismiss my existence and purr into Derrick’s ear like an alley cat in heat.

     “Well, he didn’t seem to mind. Did you, Evan?”

     I was about to concur when Asia pulled Derrick a bit closer to her, reached into his pocket and pulled out a few twenty-dollar bills and laid them on the table.

     “Well, whether if he didn’t mind or not, I’m releasing him to go live his life on this beautiful Friday night while it’s still young. Maybe you can snag you a boyfriend, Evan?” 

     “He already has one, Asia,” Derrick reminded her. “Remember you met him? His name is Juan?”

     Asia blinked before casually placing her hand on her forehead in a fake ass “Duh!” expression. “Right! I totally forgot about him since I never see him with you, Evan. Is he really busy or something?”

     Bitch.

     “Actually, he’s not into big crowds,” I stated as calmly as my reserve would let me. But even then my reserve was way past ‘empty.’ The gall of this bitch…

     Sensing the tension forming, Derrick pulled out another twenty-dollar bill and placed it on the table. “Well, I guess we could mosey on upstairs. I have to start work on the next chapter of Massive Heat anyway.”

     “Can’t wait to read it,” I chimed in, thankful for the interference.

     “Not before I finish the book in its entirety,” Asia interjected as she sauntered off, not even offering a half-assed wave.

     Derrick stood watching her for a moment before he broke his gaze long enough to look at me and say, “Sorry about that, Evan. The green light still stands. I’ll call you.”

     Then he stalked off to catch up with Asia.

     I continued to sit at the table and sip on my Long Island Iced Tea, replaying what just transpired over in my head a couple of times. It was apparent that Asia knew how I felt about Derrick. That was as abundantly crystal clear as the numerous work she’s had done to her face.

     She sniffed that fact out ages ago, like a true bitch guarding her territory would. That’s not what was playing through my head though. At least not the full culprit. I was pondering about Derrick’s gaze before he offered an apology for Asia’s behavior. He was pissed. And I don’t mean ‘pissed’ in an “I can’t believe you embarrassed me” pissed, but in a “Bitch, I can’t fucking stand you” pissed.

     Trouble in paradise? Possibly. Despite her confidence in putting together a fashionable outfit to go along with her sadistic (and unnecessary) penchant for reading people for filth, Asia seemed to also carry the characteristic of those people on Instagram who constantly post pics and quotes showcasing their sickeningly sweet love affair and reminding the unfortunate bystanders that they’re simply pressed to not have a “bae” in their lives. But in reality, those very people are fighting tooth and nail to retain said ‘blissful relationship,’ because it’s simply ‘pathetic’ in this day and age to not have someone cuffed to your side at all times.

     Although, I’m sure Asia could effortlessly pull someone else if she and Derrick were to take a one-way trip to Splitsville without blinking any of her carefully applied eyelashes.  I would also wager that her Venus flytrap type of personality has a reputation that transcends her sexual partners. Her caramel piece of ass may be considered the Louis Vuitton of Asses in the Mid-South, but the price to even sample her snatch had to be too rich for any sane man’s blood. Which brings me to the puzzling query of exactly what the hell did Derrick see in that woman? Class? Beauty? Great head? Whatever magic Asia possessed between her legs, it obviously wasn’t hitting enough home runs to clear the funk that was haunting Derrick as of late. So what gives?

     One thing was for certain: twice tonight I’d seen two new facets of Derrick Kent that I never knew existed, and they both intrigued me to no end. As if he wasn’t already intriguing enough…

     I had downed my last glass of Long Island Iced Tea (fourth in all) and was prepping my mind for the ride home when my cell phone began singing the chorus to Kid Cudi’s “Heart of a Lion” — Derrick’s assigned ring tone.

     “Hello?” I answered, wondering how he’d manage to wrestle Asia off his neck.

     “Hey, Evan. Are you still up for that green light?”

     Slowly, a goofy ass grin spread across my face…

     Of course I was.

To Be Continued….


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Hot Tea and Ice 13

Spring Cleaning the Negativity Out of Your Life

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  We are now officially in the middle of spring; and depending on your faith, past the pastel parade that is Easter Sunday when it seems that everyone has to break out the suits in shades of sherbets.  For the most part, the weather is better and people are making plans to get together for weekend cookouts, family road trips, and just being out and about. Good things abound and while the living may not be totally easy, the only ice to be found is in glasses.

     Warmer temperatures tend to put people in a better frame of mind. It’s just something about the sun shining that seems to make things seem not so overwhelming.  However, even when it’s warm enough to break out the open toe shoes and short sleeves, some people seem fixated on holding onto people who and situations that have nothing good to offer.  The reasons for this are numerous.  They include, for example, that we’re comfortable, complacent or confused about something better being possible.  And unfortunately, the results are the same.

     Too many of us are tied to negative thinking, to the point that it clouds our vision to what good there is within and around us.  I’ve been guilty of being down hearted about things I couldn’t change, while totally ignoring the opportunity to celebrate the thing turning out right.

     Let this be the year when we leave negativity behind like those corduroy pants we bought that were too tight when we left the store. We just have to be prepared to do some spring cleaning and shake the dust off our feet, and “keep it moving” when it comes to negativity.

     Just as flowers are beginning to break through the dirt to emerge, we have to push through all the dirt that will hold us down and embrace the possibility of positive thinking.

     Now like all things worth doing, a spring cleaning of the negativity in your life will not be easy. Negative thinking is hard to break.  And sometimes, the most negative person in your life has been there the longest.

     The key is to step back and evaluate the matters at hand. Does focusing on what went wrong really solve the problem? Is it really worth spending time listening to your friend complaining?  You have to stop and realize that while negativity seems like a comfortable blanket that wraps around you so neatly and tightly, there’s no need for it when you can avail yourself of so much warmth outside.

     Challenge yourself to get rid of attitudes and people that no longer work. Put on mothballs that self-doubt and that one friend who never has anything good to say about anybody.

     Just as when we do spring cleaning, we start with one room at a time, ridding yourself of the negativity.  Start in one area of your life at a time.  Slowly cease  hanging out altogether with that person who seems to have a perpetual grey cloud hanging over his/her head, or who possesses a mouth that utters a complaint instead of a compliment.  Instead of doubting your ability, find something to do that brings you happiness.

     It will take time to change your social circle and your outlook, but it’s well worth the effort.  It will be like having clean windows: everything will be clearer, and you will be able to make better choices.  

     Hopefully, having a lighter outlook will attract more positive things into your life.   As well, that perspective should attract people to fill the space left vacant when you cut loose of those that weigh you down. 

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Hot Tea and Ice 12

Who Do You Think You Arr?

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

    Greetings, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for spring to officially arrive. I love the opportunity to bundle up with thick sweaters and strut my stuff in cute boots, but I’d much rather leave the house wearing a light jacket or long sleeves rather than worry about a bulky coat. But seasons come and seasons go. All we can do is carry on and look good in the process.

     For those who keep up with such things, March is recognized as Women’s History Month.  For 31 days, we aim to recognize those women who have made strides in so many different arenas, ranging from politics to business.  For example, you have Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.     

     Then there’s Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education, who at the age of 17 became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.  Ms. Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against the suppression of children and young people, and her battle to help guarantee the right of education for all children.

     We honor Katherine Johnson, who helped send a man into space.  There’s Shonda Rhimes, who keeps us glued to our devices every Thursday. We celebrate our foremothers, our sister superstars and those who are up and coming. We pay tribute to those women who know who they are and what they are “working with”–and don’t shy away from letting others know who they are, what they have done, and can do.

     During Women’s History Month, we recognize those women who know the value of their achievements and didn’t shy away from being proud of their talents. As a woman who is not ashamed of admitting I Goggle myself to remind myself of all that I’ve achieved, I fully support being proud of the things that set you apart.

     As the saying goes, it’s not bragging if it’s true. If you have something to be proud of, celebrate it to the fullest!  Don’t hide your talent under a bush. Let your  little light shine.

    There’s no worth in doubting your value. Be vocal about all that makes you special and trumpet your talents. You are exceptional.   And while you may not have snatched up trophies on a national stage, you have conquered something.  Don’t  shy away from being proud of that achievement.

     My mother likes to tell the story of how she graduated top of her class in nursing school, but never really talked about it that much because she didn’t want to be seen as a show-off.  If I were able to work a full-time job, carry a full course load and still have time to catch Parliament Funkadelic shows whenever they came through D.C., I’d have no problem letting everyone know.

     If you don’t celebrate yourself, not one else will. Be proud and promote yourself.   I’m not endorsing purchasing a roadside billboard or a full page newspaper ad, but nothing is wrong with letting people know how and where your skill sets “soar.”

     If you know something about a topic, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your experience. Get involved in projects where your experience can be an asset. Trust that your achievements are worthy of being known, and that you’re the best person to make sure everyone knows how much of a superstar you are.

     For so long, the notion of being proud and sharing your achievements was looked down upon as being unseemly. Put But now more than ever, it’s important to let others know how you manage to excel because it serves as example that it can be done.   Put your pluses out there, and prove that success is possible.

     While March is Women’s History Month, seize the remaining days to celebrate and share your own points of pride. Who knows:  maybe your accomplishments will earn you a spot during an upcoming history month run-down!

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality 2

“The Greatest Love Affair of All”

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes     

       Picture, if you will, a young, Black man on a personal journey during the chaos known as New Orleans at Mardi Gras. He ends up in an establishment on Bourbon Street where the music is just as lively as the gyrating bodies keeping up with its heavy bass and melodic beats. In the middle of this vivacious crowd stands two older Black men, gay and deeply in love, dancing with each other passionately.

     The young Black man was mesmerized by this striking scene.  He realized that not only were these two lovers thoroughly enjoying themselves–apparently without a care in the world–but that also, the crowd around them seemed to feel the same way.

      There weren’t any stares of disgust. No forms of childish finger-pointing or giggling. Just harmonizing love.

      Peaceful, harmonizing love.

     And they did not care.  THEY did nocare

     This wrecking ball of a revelation crashed into something deeply personal for that young Black man.  That wrecking ball was always aimed at the fortress surrounding his mind and soul, but was never successful of breaking through—regardless of the person or literature delivering the message.

     “They” did not care.  Nobody cares, Mark.

      As the young Black man watched this beautiful Black couple enjoy their life– their unconditional love serving as a beacon of hope–one of the lovers spotted him, possibly feeling the young Black man’s intense gaze upon him and his mate. The older Black gentleman matched his younger counterpart’s gaze of interest and awe; but instead of annoyance, there was an instant connection between the two.

     Maybe it was the sense of wonder emanating from the young Black man who encouraged the older gentleman to hold his gaze with this arresting person. Or maybe it was the freshly purchased rainbow pride flag clutched proudly in the younger man’s hand, its bright and bold colors reflecting the revelatory awakening spirit generating their connection at that very moment. Whatever the case, that moment was purely magical on so many levels; tear-inducing, almost.

      The older gentleman, still dancing seductively with his lover, gradually made his way to the young Black man holding the rainbow pride flag; surprisingly, their gaze never faltered! As the couple made their way off the dance floor, the older gentleman walked towards the young Black man with whom he’d just shared a temporary connection.  Then, he pounded fists with his new comrade, a knowing smile enveloping his face.

     The mutual gesture might seem menial to most people; but at that very instant, that fist pound served as the final strike against the blockage within that young man’s mind. Life began to seep through the cracks of his steely resolve until it couldn’t withstand the restless pressure, finally giving in to the weight of a long-awaited breath that was impossible to hold any longer.

     The young Black man became fluid in his surroundings.  The fear that had haunted him for most of his 30 years of existence evaporated into the hazy smoke and sultry environment of that New Orleans club’s atmosphere.  

     And at that moment, the young Black man – excuse me, I – started to really LIVE!

     That fist pound was like an electrical charge, a skeleton key, an inheritance of sorts to a life worth living!  It released me.  It demanded me to live in the moment– and to live for myself. 

     Yes, that message was drilled into my head since before college, but it was always a mirage of sorts when it came time for me to put the sound advice into play.

     I never believed it.  Not until that night!  That’s when I really felt it. The brick to the face divulgence felt supernatural, as if that specific fixed moment in time was supposed to happen. As if that mesmerizing beautiful couple were Angels manifested to properly deliver the message that was constantly getting returned to Sender. My God!  I’d never felt so emotionally free before in my entire life–and actually believed it.

     It’s incredible how something so small and innocent can change someone’s life around in one given, random moment. I hope that I will do the same for someone else one day; but until then, I will continue loving me.  I will continue building me. I will continue being me.

    Falling in love with yourself is the greatest love affair of all.  Everything else just comes naturally afterwards.


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Teens & IPV/A

     Recently, I was contacted by Ms. Katie Fitzpatrick, features editor of the  Torch, the official site of the Glenbrook North High School student-run newspaper, located in Northbrook, Illinois.  Ms. Fitzpatrick had read my Advocate Op-Ed entitled, “Making a Great Escape from an Abusive Relationship,” and wanted to interview me for an article she was co-writing on teens in abusive relationships.  (To read that Advocate Op-Ed, visit: wyattevans.com/making-a-great-escape-from-an-abusive-relationship/)  I was most happy to oblige.

     Sadly, Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse (IPV/A) and Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) are on the rise in both the LGBTQ and heterosexual communities.  According to Fatima Smith, assistant director of sexual and intimate partner violence, stalking and advocacy services at Virginia Commonwealth University (whom Fitzpatrick also interviewed), “relationship abuse is ‘abusive and controlling behaviors that one person uses against another in order to gain or maintain power and control in the relationship’.”

     And Jeff Temple, director of behavioral health and research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (also interviewed), stated, “’Relationship abuse affects both adults and teenagers.  About 10 percent of high school kids nationwide experience physical (relationship) violence with many more victimized by psychological abuse’.”

     Temple added, “’Because teens may have less experience with relationships, they can have difficulty recognizing relationship abuse, especially psychological or emotional abuse’.”

     To read the complete Torch article, visit:  http://torch.glenbrook225.org/in-the-middle/2017/02/03/recognizing-relationship-abuse/

Black & Blue (Is That You?)

     Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, or IPV/A, is no joke.  Known as domestic violence and abuse within the LGBTQ community, IPV/A is a demoralizing, stigmatizing and potentially life-threatening cycle of behavior. 

     And IPV/A is more prevalent than once was believed: one in four LGBTQ relationships/partnerships is abusive in some way.  A recently-released study bears this out.  Soon, I’ll discuss the disturbing results of this landmark research.  

     As a journalist, I’ve made Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse my signature issue, and conduct national IPV/A seminars and workshops.  Just recently, I shared my own experience in a column I penned for The Advocate.  Visit:  wyattevans.com/making-a-great-escape-from-an-abusive-relationship/

     Before we go further, let’s examine exactly what Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse is…and means.  According to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, it is “a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving and dependent relationship.”  

      Each year, between 50,000-100,000 lesbians (or more) and as many as 500,000 (or more) gay/SGL men are battered.  Again, IPV/A is no joke.

     According to psychologists and authors Jeanne Segal and Melinda Smith, “Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only:  to gain and maintain total control over you.  Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her ‘thumb.’  Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.  The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable.  You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.”

     Stigma is largely responsible for keeping this destructive behavior “swept under the rug,” which leads to it being dramatically underreported. Therefore, figuratively, this keeps us (locked) in the closet.  Stigma is the albatross around your neck, choking the hell outta ya. 

     Now, to the study.  Entitled “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2015,” and released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), it examines the experiences of 1,976 IPV/A survivors in 14 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Vermont).  This new report is the 2016 release edition.  NCAVP “works to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), and HIV-affected communities.”

     According to the organization, the study “looks at the unique ways that LGBTQ and HIV-affected people experience IPV, as well as the barriers they experience when attempting to access care and support.”   The following is the report overview:

  • People of color (POC) comprised 77% of the reports of LGBTQ and HIV-affected IPV homicides, and 54% of the total number of survivors who reported to NCAVP members in 2015.
  • Transgender women were three times more likely to report experiencing sexual and financial violence.
  • LGBTQ survivors with disabilities were two times more likely to be isolated by their abusive partner and four times more likely to experience financial violence.
  • There was an increase in the percentage of undocumented survivors from 4% in 2014 to 9% in 2015.
  • Forty-four percent of survivors attempting to access emergency shelter were denied and 71% reported being denied because of their gender identity.
  • Out of the total number of survivors who interacted with law enforcement, 25% said that the police were either indifferent or hostile, and31% of LGBTQ survivors who interacted with police said they experienced misarrest.

     These findings demonstrate that it is critical to consider the multiple identities and experiences of LGBTQ victims and survivors because they substantially impact their incidences of IPV/A.  “The bias and discrimination that these communities experience everywhere, from workplaces to shelters, both makes them more vulnerable to IPV and creates unique barriers to accessing services,” the report states.  “For example, we know that LGBTQ and HIV-affected people often experience workplace discrimination, making them less financially secure. Abusive partners often take advantage of financial insecurity to control their partners, as seen in the high number of survivors experiencing financial violence.”

     The new report includes survivor stories that illustrate some of the complicated, nuanced and intersectional ways LGBTQ individuals experience IPV/A.  “’We must start listening to the experiences of LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ undocumented people, LGBTQ people with disabilities, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to learn more about what these communities need to feel safe’,” stated Tre’Andre Valentine from The Network/La Red.  Some time ago, I featured this organization (located in Boston, MA) in the Huffington Post Queer Voices. 

     “’We must protect, uplift, and center those within LGBTQ communities who have been traditionally isolated and shamed for their identities and experiences’,” added Valentine.  “’It’s only with their voices at the center that we can truly begin the work of ending intimate partner violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people across the country’.”

     Now, major highlights from the report:

  • LGBTQ People Experience IPV/A in Different Ways. “This year’s report found that transgender women were three times more likely to report experiencing sexual violence and financial violence compared to survivors who were not transgender women within IPV.  Additionally, the report found that LGBTQ survivors with disabilities were two times more likely to be isolated by their abusive partner and four times more likely to experience financial violence when compared to LGBTQ survivors without disabilities.  This year there was an increase in the percentage of undocumented survivors from 4% in 2014 to 9% in 2015.  ’It’s vital that we understand the unique vulnerabilities to IPV and the unique barriers to accessing services for LGBTQ communities, particular LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ people who are undocumented, transgender and gender nonconforming people, and LGBTQ people with disabilities’, said Julia Berberan from SafeSpace at Pride Center Vermont. ‘We need to make sure we’re reaching all survivors and supporting their specific needs in a survivor-centered way’.”
  • LGBTQ survivors often experience discrimination when trying to access IPV services. “NCAVP’s 2015 report found that about 27% of LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors attempted to access emergency shelters.  Of those survivors who attempted to access emergency shelter, 44% were denied, with 71% reporting being denied for reasons relating to gender identity, highlighting the negative consequences of sex-segregated emergency shelter options for LGBTQ survivors. ‘Shelter access issues most often impact transgender survivors—particularly transgender women—and cisgender men, who are often denied shelter at historically sex-segregated shelters that only serve cisgender women’, said Lynne Sprague from Survivors Organizing for Liberation in Colorado.  ‘Survivor-centered and identity-affirming housing options must be made available to all survivors’.”
  • LGBTQ IPV survivors experience violence and criminalization from the police. “Similar to previous NCAVP reports on IPV, LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors reported experiencing misarrest, verbal harassment, and other hostile behaviors when interacting with law enforcement.  Out of the total number of survivors who interacted with law enforcement, 25% said that the police were either indifferent or hostile.  In 2015, 31% of LGBTQ survivors who interacted with police said they experienced misarrest, meaning the survivor was arrested rather than the abusive partner, up from 17% in 2014.  ’Negative and violent experiences with law enforcement where survivors are revictimized are exacerbated with LGBTQ survivors of color, LGBTQ survivors with disabilities, undocumented survivors and other communities that hold multiple marginalized identities which are frequently subjected to violence by police’, said Aaron Eckhardt from BRAVO in Ohio.  ‘Police must be trained to recognize signs of IPV in LGBTQ relationships.  Moreover, we must also seek and create alternatives to the criminal legal system, especially for the safety of those whose identities are already criminalized in our society’.”
  • IPV can be deadly for LGBTQ people. NCAVP documented 13 IPV homicides in 2015.  “’We know that this number does not accurately represent the total number of IPV related homicides of LGBTQ people in the U.S.’, said Beverly Tilery from the New York City Anti-Violence Project.  ‘The lack of awareness and visibility in the media of LGBTQ victims of IPV contributes to this issue being ignored as a national problem.  Transgender victims are frequently misgendered and misnamed in media reports, and the intimate partner relationships of same gender couples are often reduced to friendships in media accounts of these homicides.  This needs to change’.” 

     There is a bright spot, however.   The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides protections for LGBTQ survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse.  The new report highlights the fact that currently, there are available resources for LGBTQ survivors of IPV/A.  “In 2013, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) created the first federal legislation to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  ‘VAWA-funded services like emergency shelter, crisis counseling, and attorneys are essential to helping survivors of IPV regain security’, said Justin Shaw from the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, in Missouri.”

     As I state in my national seminars and workshops, the most potent and deadliest weapon the abuser has in his/her arsenal is silence.  To make your Great Escape, you must snatch that weapon away from your abuser—and then shatter it into a million pieces!  Let the reverberating sound liberate you.

 

     To download the full NCAVP report, visit:  http://avp.org/about-avp/national-coalition-of-anti-violence-programs.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, visit my special section complete with resources and more:  http://wyattevans.com/lgbtq-domestic-violenceabuse-making-your-great-escape/  And, call: the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901).

Hot Tea and Ice 11

Who Do You Think You Are?

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

     Greetings and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  I send well wishes, and hope that 2017 has been filled with good things. We are not going to talk about what happened in D.C. on the third Friday of this month. It is enough to say we should not focus on being discouraged. Instead, we need to commit ourselves to being active, and refuse to let anyone ignore or minimize our value and contributions to this country.

     Within this climate of wanting to minimize the diversity that strengthens our community, I want to step forward and represent myself fully. I am a Black-Southern-Virgo-East Carolina University graduate-only child-pet owner-lesbian. That’s just for starters! With enough time I could list even more hyphenated identified groups of which I’m proud to belong.

     Depending on the setting, one hyphen might take center stage more than the others. For those who follow social media, J16 saw a lot of doves flying, and blue and white profiling in recognition of my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, Inc., celebrating its ninety-seventh Founders’ Day. There wereabundances of graphics incorporating our national symbol–the white dove–soaring around.   

     If you read my books, you know I own being born and reared in the land of sweet tea and “Bless Her Hearts,” known as the South.  I’m proud of all the facets of my identity. While I may not celebrate them all the time, I have no problems claiming them.

     Our distinctive hyphens make us exceptional. We should never diminish our shine in order to make someone else feels comfortable. You should claim all your methods of belonging and identifying because it celebrates that you accept all that you are, and never just one thing. Those of us with hyphenated identities are mosaic masterpieces. The sum of the pieces makes a one-of-a-kind work of art.

     Far be it for me to make the process of walking boldly when others want you to fragment your identity seem easy, for it is not. For a lot of us, it’s easier to not claim our space as a woman, person of color, same-gender-loving individual, and immigrant in order to assimilate. However, when you remove a piece of your puzzle or try to rework your edges, it feels unnatural and ends up being unnecessary.

     Now more than ever, it is important that we wear our hyphens boldly. We cannot fade away or leave a piece of us behind on the nightstand or in the car when we venture into the world. Representing to the fullest is a mandate we need to follow through on every chance we get. Others are watching, and when they see us showing up in all our fullest, they have two choices. Get with the program and allow our brilliance to flourish, or get back.

     Maybe your hyphens are immigrant-Muslim-historically Black university graduate-single mother-Pisces or same-gender-loving-Trinidadian-bearded-Floridian-divorced-veteran. So many combinations contribute to the achievement that is us. We all have different hyphens; and depending on the situation, the order changes. The key is to never be ashamed of any of them.

     Claiming your hyphens and brightly beaming all the facets of your personality like a diamond are powerful. We need to claim that, and walk boldly and dare someone not to salute our greatness.

     So, as we move forward into a new year with new leadership (which may not be your choice), realize that within all parts of your identity is the tool to endure and inspire. Draw upon those hyphens, and force those who want to doubt your validity to see that you are too fabulous and fulfilled to be denied. While some may see hyphens as strikes, they instead can be seen as building blocks to help you soar and get over the hurdle.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.  Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science. 

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities. 

You may reach LaToya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

Mark’s Surreality

“The Divine Power of Surreality”

 Guest Writer: Mark O. Estes

      Per Webster’s Dictionary, the word surreal means “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; unbelievable; fantastic.” The latest election; the virulent spread of false information in the form of memes, fake news sites, and sheer stupidity; and personal demons have all coalesced into a hazy blanket of what seems like a dream and an irrational reality.  My view of the world has changed, and I would be lying if I said it was for the better.

     But as I learned while I was in the early years of college (actually when I was a kid writing “The Goonies” fan fiction before it became a “thing” fifteen to twenty years later…), writing, for me, is therapeutic. It not only helps me make sense of the world, but it also helps me deal and live within it as well. And as I enter this next leg of my journey into uncharted, yet familiar territory with the “Orange Man” rising to power, my love of and sheer dependence on writing will be the  walking stick/guide through this surreal landscape known to me as my “surreality.”

     So what is “Mark’s Surreality?” This column will feature my journey through the surreal oddities, the trying tribulations, and the awarding triumphs of my life sprinkled with enough fiction to keep the reader guessing what’s real and what’s a simple, yet complex creation of my mind. I look at the set up as a casual view of the world through my eyes: noir tinted and constantly wondering whether I’m awake, “woke,” still dreaming, alive, or in a later stage of death. In other words, little to nothing will be as it seems here.

     Will I always be cryptic? Nope. Complex? I don’t know. Depends on my  mood–which tends to change with the tide. I’m spontaneous, and that keeps not only my audience on their toes, but me as well. One week I may hit you with a piece of biting commentary on the latest chapter of my or the world’s never ending saga, and the next week I may just simply give you some experimental fiction that may or may not be entrenched in some form of my reality.

     Just know it’s going to be some odd shit, regardless.

     Before we go there, some background information. I’m a thirty-three-year old Black gay male residing in a small country town who despises my being. I work as a librarian, am the middle child of my family, and strive to be a successful author. I am a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; class of 2008. I do love to travel, and I am a contributor/editor with both The Big Boy Project and Male Media Mind.

     I’m not your “average” black gay male. Nor do I strive to be. My musical tastes are as eclectically loud as Joseph’s magic colored coats. My views, while not radical, are unorthodox in nature. I can view things from a bubble like most red-blooded humans; but sometimes bubbles must burst from time to time. I am a pop culture junky, but I love the complex literature of Bret Easton Ellis, Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, and more. I also have a love/hate relationship with people.

     I am a social butterfly loner. I value my darkness just as much as the lighter side of my being. I say all this to warn you of what’s to come. And I don’t mean the Orange Man’s upcoming reign of terror, because my surreality isn’t for the faint of heart, nor the impatient, or the close-minded.

     Before I go, I would like to thank Wyatt O’Brian Evans for this opportunity and platform. I pray I uphold his well-established brand to the best of my ability, while trying to build and secure my own voice and brand recognition.


Mark O. Estes is a writer, editor, columnist and librarian, who earned his Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  Mr. Estes is a writer and editor for both The Big Boy Project and The Male Media Mind, dynamic and cutting edge infotainment sites that are specifically designed for larger men—and those who have an affinity for them.  Also, Mark is penning his debut novel.  You may reach Mark at buildingmysteries.wordpress.com; Twitter, @theanticritic; Instagram, markoestes.

Hot Tea and Ice 10

Looking Back to Move Forward

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins

 

    Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Can you believe it has been an entire twelve months since we were introduced? My, doesn’t time fly! For those whose 2016 has been filled with all kinds of shiny and new things, I send thoughts of congratulations and celebrations.

    For others, this has been a year filled with losses and setbacks. For you, I offer a virtual hug and hope things are looking better and brighter.

    We only have to look at the in-memoriam ticker running on our TV news programs to realize that a lot of our great talents and loved ones shed this earthly coil and became the dearly departed.  Also, depending on how your voter’s registration card looked, the election results may not have been your preferred outcome.

    But in a few weeks, an electronic apple, peach, acorn, or whatever your municipalities use to mark the transition will drop, and 2016 will be in the record books–and a new year will be on deck.

    2017 is a blank slate right now. It awaits our actions to define how it will be remembered. Will this be the year our greatest hopes will be realized?  Or will this year be filled with disappointments so profound that it makes the heart heavy? Who knows?

    The new year is ripe with potential to inspire, impress, and improve our lives in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. But with all this looking forward, let’s not forget how we got here.

    There is a saying about what happens when you don’t remember past mistakes. It implies that forgetting incorrect actions results in those actions being repeated. No matter what happened during the past 365 days–be it good, bad, or indifferent–we should not let the lessons learned to stay in the past. We need to bring them forth, and be prepared to put them to good use.

    For me, 2016 provided so many opportunities! I began writing this column, reconnected with three friends through social media who saw me through the best and worst of times, and pursued an opportunity to enlarge my family unit.

    The year also resulted in me losing a member of my family who helped influence my view of what a true man should be–lover of family and friends, faithful to his church and community, and not afraid to get his hands dirty when the time called for it.  That family member was my great-uncle, who after serving in the Korean War, was both a gardener and garbage man.   

    I also bade a final farewell to one of the LGBTQ Pride organizers I had worked with for the past seven years. She was an inspiration and influence to so many dominant lesbian women in the Durham community.

    As well, she was someone I considered a friend. Her influence was so strong that my fiancee asked her thoughts about proposing to me—along with asking my mother for my hand in marriage.

    And through the evolution of two of the organizations I work with, I also came to realize that my leadership styles needed to be tweaked in order to be successful and faithful to the causes I supported.

    In short, 2016 gave me the opportunities to learn so many lessons. The challenge for me, for you, for us all is to take those lessons and move forward with them. Sometimes, unlike Lot’s wife, you have to look back to appreciate where you are going.

    We have to realize that while the erroneous steps we took in the past can’t be wiped out, we can still move forward in a better direction if we apply the lessons our mistakes provide us. 

    There is no shame in admitting that our actions weren’t always the best and that the outcomes weren’t always good. While dwelling in the past never saved anyone, seeing where you went wrong and avoiding doing the same thing again is a solution that doesn’t cost. Your experience is proof of bill paid.

    Time should allow us to see more clearly what went wrong, and that a new year is the opportunity to take that insight and move forward. Reflect on the situations, retain the lessons you learn–and realize you can move forward.

    Many of us begin the New Year with a list filled with things we are going to do differently. That’s great!  But accept that one of the best ways to be successful is to acknowledge the times you failed, so that you can take that knowledge to strengthen your resolve to get it right this time.

    I hope to learn from my past to let people know when I appreciate what and how they do things, instead of assuming they know how I feel. I also want to be more diligent about being open to other people’s ideas instead of operating in the following way:  that just because director/president goes behind my name, it  doesn’t mean I can’t be challenged and open to different methods of doing things. 

    My motto for 2017 is this:  as long as I can open my eyes on a new day, there is a chance to improve on my mistakes and avoid making new ones. Part of that plan is to think about what I have experienced so I can appreciate and handle what is coming for and to me.  I encourage us all to reflect and be open to using that knowledge to shape what lies ahead.

Until next time:  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

LGBTQ, holidays!

Ditch Those Holiday Blues!

     Oh, “Gawd!”  You’re an LGBTQ guy or gal simply dreading THAT time of year—the holidays! 

      Why might you be in a major funk?  Well, maybe you feel you can’t be your authentic self around family:  you’re still closeted.  Or, you might be alone, feeling isolated.  All of this can throw you into a nasty tailspin.  And where do you crash land?  Into one “helluva” depression!

santa-bro-2

     Research bears out that the rates of depression and stress definitely increase during the holidays.  To counteract that, here are ten tools to help you vanquish those holiday blues–courtesy of Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a multi-award winning psychotherapist:

  • Keep your expectations balanced. “You won’t get everything you want, things will go wrong, and you won’t fell like Bing Crosby singing ‘White Christmas’.  Remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and don’t worry about things that are out of your control.”
  • Don’t try to do too much. “Fatigue, over scheduling, and taking on too many tasks can dampen your spirits.  Learn to say no, delegate as much as possible and manage your time wisely.  If you choose to do less you will have more energy to enjoy the most important part of the season–friends and family.”
  • Don’t isolate. “If you’re feeling left out, then get out of the house and find some way to join in.   There are hundreds of places you can go to hear music, enjoy the sights or help those less fortunate.”
  • Don’t overspend. “Create a reasonable budget and stick to it.  Remember it’s not about the presents.  It’s about the presence.”
  • It’s appropriate to mourn if you’re separated from or have lost loved ones. “If you can’t be with those you love make plans to celebrate again when you can all be together.”
  • Many people suffer depression due to a lack of sunlight because of shorter days and bad weather. “Using a full spectrum lamp for twenty minutes a day can lessen this type of depression called SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder).”
  • Watch your diet and remember to exercise. “It’s normal to eat more during the holidays, but be aware of how certain foods effect your mood.  If you eat fats and sweets, you will have less energy, which can make you feel more stressed and run down.” 
  • Be aware of the Post-Holiday Syndrome. “When all the hustle and bustle suddenly stops and you have to get back to the daily grind, it can be a real letdown.  Ease out of all the fun by planning a rest day toward the end of the season.”
  • Learn forgiveness and acceptance. “If some of your relatives have always acted out or made you feel bad, chances are that won’t change.   If you know what you’re getting into, it will be easier to not let them push your buttons.  If things get uncomfortable, go to a movie or for a drive and adjust your attitude.”

Hot Tea and Ice 9

Family Matters:  Not the TV Show

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

     Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  The holiday time is upon us with all the trappings that come with it. Travels plans will be made. Diets will be broken. And of course, the holidays are also the time that the concept of how much family matters is held up as a standard.

     For many of us, family is a mother who complains either you put on too much weight, or it looks like you aren’t eating enough. It is that cousin who needs to borrow money and promises to pay you back when she gets her income tax check. Don’t forget about that one aunt who never misses a chance to ask when you are going to find a good woman and settle down, totally ignoring the fact that you have brought Darryl as your plus-one for ten years to every family gathering.

     The coming together of those who share your last name and some of your facial features takes place throughout the year–but really starts being a constant factor during the latter half of the year. We gather around Thanksgiving tables, Christmas trees, Kwanzaa mkekas, and plates of pork and greens to mark the New Year. The families we are born into share laughs about old memories, shed tears for those no longer with us, and swap differing viewpoints about issues.

     For every one of us who looks forward to spending time with our assigned families, there are those who shiver at the thoughts of spending one hour, minute, or second with our relatives. Those families shame, shun, and silence those who don’t meet their expectations.  As the saying goes, no one can hurt you more than your family.  And for so many, this is especially true during the holidays.

LaToya Hankins

     This year will mark the fourth holiday I will spend with my partner and my forty-fourth one with my mom. This year, however, will be my first one with a trio of young people I hope will become part of my larger family unit.

     My partner and I recently went through foster parent treatment, and are looking to open our hearts and homes to a set of extended relatives seeking a safe place to grow and thrive.  We are in the process of starting our own version of family.

     We all have created families that go beyond the ones we are born into. For some, family is the neighbor who looked out for your place when you traveled out of town; and in return, you blessed that neighbor with the outpouring of your kitchen. For others, it is your work buddy, her wife, their kids and the baby daddy who makes the bomb mac and cheese–so they let him come around during the holidays. Still, for some, it’s your “boys” who have been with you through one wife, two boyfriends, three jobs, and more nights spent at the club that either of you will ever want to admit.  However family shows up, the point is that it’s a family that we create.

     I encourage us all to be open to redefining our views of family, and challenge us to keep that definition fluid as life changes. Accept what life hands you, and shape it to ensure that you always have someone around you that supports and nurtures you.

     In creating a new family structure, embrace the fact that you don’t have to spend extraordinary amounts of time with folks who don’t love you for who you are at this stage in your life. There are too many ride-sharing programs and public transportation options to spend a minute more with someone who doesn’t celebrate you. Family obligations are burdens that sometime have to be carried, but guard your spirit as much as you can to avoid it breaking you.  While Uncle Skinny is going on about whatever his liquor is telling him to talk about, turn your mind toward the gathering you are going to have with the family that loves you.

     The key to the family is not if you all look alike or even think alike. The value of creating your own version of family is that you understand each other and want the best things possible. I challenge us to respect the family we have created, and flourish from the strength it gives to accept ourselves.

      So this year, when I grasp hands to say the traditional Thanksgiving recitations of things for which I am grateful, there will be three extra names and experiences I will list.  And, I will do this surrounded by someone who shares my last name, someone who shares my home, and someone who shares my hope for a future filled with great things.

Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 8

“Grown Folks’ Friendships”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!  Sending wishes, and hope fall is doing right by you. For many of us, it is time to move away from shorts and open-toe shoes to sweaters and sturdy footwear. Nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping and before you know it, store aisles will be decorated for the winter holidays.

For those keeping score from my last column, I am now five years from fifty. My partner threw a phenomenal surprise birthday party for me. In attendance were co-workers, fellow writers, and folks I consider friends. Those in attendance have seen me through a few ups and downs. The get-together was a great experience not only because of the presents received, but also for the faces in the place.

Looking around at the diverse group that makes up my circle, I realized the power of grown folks’ friendships is often underrated. Many of us had ‘best friends’ when we were younger.  Mine were named Charlotte, Vicki, and Jodi. Those friends were the ones we swapped lunches with at schools, took turns spending time at each other’s homes, and got into trouble when we ”acted like we were grown.”

 For a lot of us, friendships formed through neighborhood or educational settings helped us pass a class, get that special someone’s phone number, or exposed us to worlds unlike our own. My friendships introduced me to different religions, family structures, and racial differences.

Friendships formed before the age of consent are fine. I celebrate those who have childhood friends they still hold dear. But I would venture, it is friendships formed once reaching adulthood that really help us become better people.

I consider myself lucky to have been blessed with the friendship of several people who helped me rise to a higher level of being an adult. Those friendships sparked me to start and end relationships by pointing out things I willfully ignored. My friends supported my visions when I was reluctant to stretch out. 

My adult friends are risk takers and empire builders. They have traveled the world, started empowerment projects for women from scratch, and refused to let their assigned gender keep them from expressing themselves as God intended.

We have taught each other so much by living our lives and allowing each other to be a part of the journey.

LaToya Hankins

Having the opportunity to see how other “grown folks” handle their business gives us the push to be on our game.  Adult friendships are the fuel that keeps the best of us moving forward. However, so many of us don’t take care with our adult friendships. We fail to realize once friendships are formed, they also need to be cultivated and nurtured in order to be successful.

We schedule dental appointments and get our hair/nails/feet done, but how often do we schedule time to support our friends?

Adult friendships allow us to not be “Daddy,” “Miss Hankins” or “Juror 91871.” We can be ourselves and share our ambitions and hurts in an environment that provides the support to get up when the world knocks you down.

Adult friends are invaluable resources, and you should ensure that they stay strong. I admit I have taken some of my adult friendships for granted. I didn’t take the time to make the calls just to check in or return that email in a timely fashion.  Friends I considered quite close soon faded away; and as they became “chance glimpses” on social media, I read the postings of their accomplishments.

In a life filled with little regret, my failure to maintain some of my adult friendships is one I carry.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one who shares that thought.

Unlike friendships when we were younger, adult friendship take work to maintain. People have schedules, family, and ten thousands things that need to be done. Still, the rewards are worth it.

The media is filled with portrayal of adult friendships. From The Best Man to Noah’s Arc toWaiting to Exhale. Challenge yourself to incorporate those portrayals into your own life.

My birthday wish for my readers is to reach out to those in your friendship circle to make sure that ties that bind stay strong. Make time to connect over coffee, cocktails, or whatever is legal in the state you reside in. No judgment: part of the fun of being an adult. My hope is that the payoff will be great, and it helps the rest of your adult life go a little bit better.

Until next time:  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler!”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 7

“Age Is Just a Number”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

     Greeting and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers. I hope this month finds you all in good spirits–and staying cool. As for me, I’m coping with the heat by drinking plenty of cool beverages–some of them adult–and trying not to exert myself too much. I believe that a true lady shouldn’t appear slick from sweat by simply walking from her car to the door; but sometimes, temperatures in the upper 90’s cause strange things to happen!

     My body’s reaction to the heat is just one of the many ways I feel that my numerical age is starting to creep up on me. When I was younger growing up in my small North Carolina hometown, I could spend hours riding my bicycle or playing with my cousins without any regard to the summer heat blazing down. Now if I’m outside for any length of time, I feel “mugged” by the heat.  It seems that my tolerance has decreased for those bright sunny days.

     Still, I can’t use my advancing years as a crutch to shy away from being involved and active in life. I urge my readers sporting a few graying hairs to resist the urge to shirk opportunities to try new things. I’ve always felt that one shouldn’t be held back by the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated.You are never too old to reach out and grasp your heart’s desire and your mind’s potential.

     A little over a month from now–provided the creeks don’t rise–I’ll celebrate my forty-fifth year on God’s green footstool, or what we call Earth. A lot has transpired from the time I drew breath that early Saturday morning. I graduated from college, explored at least five different career paths, buried loved ones, found love, and accomplished at least three goals on my life’s To-Do List.

     Still, I don’t plan to rest on my laurels; I plan to continue to strive forward by embracing opportunities.  I realize that until I close my eyes for that last time, there is always more to do. I shouldn’t let the fact it may take me a little while longer to get back up when I “drop it like it’s hot,” to keep me from getting my groove on, to getting things done.

     We can’t let the fact that we’re getting older keep us from branching out and stretching toward our full potential. Our life’s experiences are the best tools to conquer the unknown. Every disappointment allows us to develop the sharper vision to see and achieve the goals we want to scratch off our To-Do List.

LaToya Hankins

     Those of us who have been there, done that, and have the scars or stories to prove it have the tools to conquer new adventures or create opportunities to stretch ourselves in different ways. Getting older is a blessing to those of us lucky enough to experience it–and should embrace it fully. Step out of your comfort zone and explore different horizons.

     The longer we live on this earth, the more we realize that it doesn’t hurt to try something different at least once. If we don’t like it, then we don’t have to do it again. If we do like it, then we have found something which brings even more joy to our lives.

     Since 2016 began, there has been so much sadness, and things no one ever expected we would live long enough to see. We have followed the hashtags, seen the social media posts, and participated in the town halls, marches, and vigils to know that so many of us will not be able to enjoy their next birthdays. We owe it to those snatched away by violent circumstances to challenge ourselves by dipping our proverbial toes in different ponds. 

     Just like many of us have moved away from having the birthday cake with the candles we feel pressure to blow out with one breath, we have to think about how we approach the process of getting older. We can no longer view it as an excuse for slowing down! This is when we need to rev up and move forward.

     Now, I’m not saying that you have to explore bungee jumping or running with the bulls, if extreme sports aren’t your thing. I’m suggesting that you be open to new things if they come your way, and not staying stuck in how things used to be.

     I have changed in so many wonderful ways, and I’m looking forward to changing so more. I wish the same for all those looking to add to their list of enriching encounters when they find themselves trying something they never expected.

     It could be walking into the role of activist, serving as a parental figure to a younger person in need, or simply switching that hairstyle you have worn since LL Cool J and Queen Latifah were known for simply being good rappers.

     So, I leave this birthday wish for you all:  Let this upcoming year be filled with great adventures and tremendous and unique experiences! As for me, I plan to enter this next stage of life with high hopes and big plans to challenge myself.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Conversations With The Duchess 3

“PRIDE: A Celebration of Liberation” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     President Barack Obama has just designated the area around the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the nation’s first national monument to LGBTQ rights.  As you know, The Stonewall Uprising is largely regarded as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ movement for civil rights.  And our PRIDE celebrations grew out of that movement. 

     During the 1960’s, very few establishments welcomed openly LGBTQ individuals.  Therefore, there weren’t many places for us to socialize.       

     Then, at 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, eight police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, located on the famous Christopher Street in the city’s Greenwich Village.  In 1969, police raids on gay bars occurred regularly.  It was illegal to serve LGBTQ persons alcohol, or for them to dance with one another.  During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, customers were lined up and their identifications checked.  Those without ID or who dressed in full drag were arrested.  Oftentimes, patrons would be roughed up.  And, those arrested had their names printed in the newspaper, which resulted in some losing their jobs.   

     It was simply another risk of being gay. 

 

     During that early morning, approximately 200 people were in the Stonewall.  The raid that early morning was the bar’s third during that week; and as always, the police entered with search warrants.  

     However, this time, those 200 patrons did not cooperate.  They resisted and fought back. They were people of color, including Puerto Rican drag queens, Black hustlers, bartenders and some “butch lesbians” (who are not always mentioned in the narrative of what transpired.)

     While others were lingering outside the bar, the police were escorting patrons into the paddy wagon. Suddenly, a fight broke out and the crowd started throwing cobblestones, bottles and garbage at officers, who retreated back into the bar as the crowd grew massive.  As the rioting crowd spilled into the streets and alleyways, the police was forced to call for reinforcements.  The uprising continued for two more nights.

     It was the birth of a liberation movement.

     The Stonewall Rebellion didn’t have “identifiable leaders.”  However, it had  community stakeholders who took a stance against oppression–resisting their oppressors.  It was collective action.  Stonewall became a model, a touchstone for gay liberation groups.  A revolution had begun across the nation.  

CARLTON SMITH  the one

     Now, having said all that, I have some pertinent questions:  shouldn’t the Black Queer Lives Matter Movement be as revered and respected as the Stonewall Uprising?  Shouldn’t it matter just as much?   Where’s the love for people of color who are constantly traumatized by oppression and hate?

     Moreover, Black and Latino trans individuals often face bigotry and violence as they try to live their lives like the rest of us, while too many of us take being exempt from it for granted.  

     On Sunday, June 12th, a gunman entered Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub and killed 49 people. This tragedy has claimed more lives than any other mass shooting in modern day American history–namely the lives of Black and Latino LGBTQ people.  However, mainstream media, politicians and others routinely continue to ignore the implications of race, citizenship and class in narratives about the Orlando tragedy. 

     Actually, the “whitewashing” is nothing new.  Storytelling about Stonewall and other acts of LGBTQ resistance has routinely been told without acknowledging the central roles of brown and Black queer folk–especially transgender women of color.

     Although this is rather disconcerting, together we must combat ignorance and hatred in our daily lives—even after the media spotlight dwindles, and then moves on.  I have to keep in mind to love my enemies according to the Scriptures. However, know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not retreating back inside any closets, for that would be a spiritual and emotional death.  

     Remember:  love is our greatest victory–and I’m in it for LOVE! 

His Royal Highness,

Duchess

 


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Hot Tea and Ice 6

“The Power Of Pride”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

 

     Greetings Hot Tea and Ice Sippers!   Hope you are staying cool in this summer heat. Although I consider myself a proud daughter of the South, even I sometimes find the rising temperature a little bit too much to take. Days of ninety plus weather leaves me praising the person who invented air conditioning—and mastering the art of sweet tea.

     For many in the LGBTQ community, June is the month we fly our Pride flag freely. We attend festivals where we eat, drink, dance, march, flirt, and triumph in the sheer bliss of being out and about.   But unfortunately, on June 12, forty-nine members of our community enjoying the freedom of being themselves were taken from this world by an atrocious act of a misguided and angry soul.

     That Sunday morning, hearing the news of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history rendered me speechless. My heart and mind battled to reconcile the reality of what had taken place in Orlando.  I joined the millions around the world wavering between anger and grief. Viewing pictures of vigils and hearing the voices of survivors, family, and friends almost made me exit social media. In order to guard my heart, I retreated from my ritual of listening to the news.

     But then, I remembered:  June is LGBTQ Pride month!  By definition, pride is “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.”

     For thirty days, the LGBTQ community celebrates the power we possess that allows us to thrive when others want to diminish us. That power comes from acknowledging and living authentically as the person you were meant to be–instead of what society expects. The Power of Pride empowers hundreds of men, women, and those who reject labels to walk in their truth–be it in sensible shoes or stilettos.

     While some point to the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 as when the Pride movement started in full effect, the reality is that the Power of Pride has always existed. It is the force that allowed members of the community to rise above the rejection of family and friends. Pride is what kept us going and moving past tragedy.  

     Now, more than ever, we have to seize the Power of Pride in ourselves and those who have gone before us to shake the dust off our feet–and keep pushing forward.

     The LGBTQ community, and by extension anyone who has been discounted for being who they are, have endured far worse and risen. We have survived and thrived! No one is strong enough to snatch away the many victories we have worked so hard to achieve.

     The massacre in Orlando should encourage us to dig deep and harness the Power of Pride so that we can continue to hold our heads up, reach out to others to help strengthen them, and continue on the path of being the individuals we are meant to be.

     Claiming the power that lies within isn’t always easy. Sometimes barriers such as shame, sexism, racism, and just sheer lack of self-acceptance block our power from coming through at full force.  But know that we are powerful when we embody our Pride.

LaToya Hankins

     While June is LGBTQ Pride month, the achievements which earned us the right to hold our heads high are something we should celebrate year-round.

     Unfortunately though, being powerful in our Pride won’t prevent obstacles.  Dark forces gather when communities seen as powerless try to assert their natural power.  We saw it in Charleston, S. C. last year when a killer gunned down nine church members during a mid-week service. We saw it in Los Angeles during the riots of the 1980’s when decades of mistreatment boiled over in majority-minority communities. We saw it across the South in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement when men, women, and children were arrested and killed simply for exercising their rights.

     The powerful cannot back down. We have to harness our Pride to push back the forces that want to diminish our shine. We can’t concede and allow those misguided, ill-informed and just plain wrong individuals to define and defile us.

     It is good and necessary to grieve for those who have been snatched away by and through hate.  But we have to lift our heads and walk strong with our Power of Pride.

     So I know it may be difficult, but I encourage everyone to unleash their Power of Pride this summer. Don’t limit yourself to the calendar. Go beyond the thirty days and use the Power of Pride for good. If we all unleash our power, perhaps it will defeat or weaken those who seek to derail our accomplishments.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.

During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Sex In Prison, Part Two

Welcome back! In “Sex In Prison, Part One,” I presented the recent study entitled “Incarcerated Black Men Report Sex in Prison, Posing Challenges for HIV Prevention and Treatment” that gave this sobering conclusion: Black men, who are vastly over represented within our prison system, comprise a high percentage of HIV-positive inmates. And according to that study–conducted by the Columbia University School of Nursing–these males pose an infection risk not only to other inmates, but to members of their communities once they are released.

“While sex is prohibited in U.S. prisons, sexual encounters are commonplace and few inmates express concern about getting or spreading HIV,” stated one of the authors, Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo, PhD, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Science at the Columbia University School of Nursing.

Now in “Sex In Prison, Part Two,” I’m spotlighting just how prevalent sexual activity (both consensual and forced) is behind bars—vis-à-vis the experiences of male prisoners.

Helping Me Helping You…So to Speak.

Daniel Genis spent ten years incarcerated. In his 2014 memoir, “A Gentleman’s Guide To Sex In Prison,” Genis shares his observations of consensual sex in lockdown:

“I can only speak for myself, but in my own time in the New York State system, I rarely saw or even heard about non-consensual sex between men. Perhaps I was just very lucky. Maybe I’d been incarcerated only in the ‘softer’ corners of the penal system. Rape does happen, and all over any prison there are signs with a number to call to anonymously report it, which I always thought was less a matter of sodomy than of legal liability.”

He continues.

“But more common, from what I could see, was an older prisoner taking a young and inexperienced kid under his wing. Most often, this kid has no money and likes to get high; there are many such people in prison, and they tend to burn their bridges early and totally. And so the older man, who has usually already served major time, feeds the kid, and gets him a little something to smoke or snort. Now the kid has become a ‘fish’. They start working out together, then showering together, then there is a massage, and finally, the kid is asked to ‘help’ the older guy out. He’s ‘no homo,’ but he has needs…”

Genis emphasizes:

“Consensual sex between incarcerated men happens all the time. There are rules against it, as it is considered an ‘unhygienic act’, and you can go to the Special Housing Unit (aka the Box) for it. Which is ironic, because then you will be locked in a room with another man for 24 hours a day, with barely any supervision. Solitary, at least in New York State, is not solitary at all, but a deux (for or involving two people)–as it is cheaper to house men this way. If ever there was a venue for either forcible or consensual sex between men, it is therein provided.”

The author adds,

“Openly gay men are not as oppressed as one might fear. The feminine ones are often desired, and there is quite a bit of prostitution going on. I once saw oral sex performed in exchange for two cigarettes and a honey bun…”

The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the United Kingdom (UK). Established in 1866, it is named after John Howard, one of the first prison reformers.

The organization’s recent report, “Sex In Prison: Experiences Of Former Prisoners,” also details consensual sex within the cellblock. According to the report:

“Gay and bisexual interviewees, and other interviewees who became aware of sexual activity in men’s prisons, stated that sexual partners were mostly other gay and bisexual prisoners. Sometimes, however, sexual partners were men who self-identified as heterosexual, some of whom were described as being, in their manner and topic of conversation, ‘macho’ and ‘anti-gay’. Some were known to be sustaining a relationship, through social visits, telephone calls, and letters, with a wife or girlfriend.

“These men would typically request oral sex, or would anally penetrate the gay prisoner. Gay interviewees reported that these partners—men they described as ‘prison gays’, ‘jail gays’, or ‘gay on the inside’, never acknowledged the homosexual nature of what had occurred between them, and would subsequently ignore them on the wing. They were neither surprised nor offended by straight sexual partners, as this interview excerpt illustrates:

Craig: ‘Oh my god, it was like I’d died and gone to heaven! As a gay man, prison was a fabulous sexual experience! I’ve never had so much sex. I was very popular, and I loved it!

‘He’d come in, not say a word, pull his cock out, I’d suck him off, and that was it; out the door again. Never said a word!’

Interviewer: ‘And how did you feel about that?’

Craig: ‘What do you mean?’

Interviewer: ‘Well, did you feel, for example, you had been used sexually?’

Craig: ‘No, not at all! We both got what we wanted’.”

Then there’s Sean, who stated to the interviewer: “’For men, sex is a physical need, a need for sexual release. An erect penis must be attended to. You can deal with it yourself, of course, but if there’s the chance of sex…so much the better’!”

Between a Rock (Actually, a Boulder) and a Hard Place.

PRISON 7

The Wyatt O’Brian Evans Show, my eponymous internet radio program, tackled the issue of sexual assault/rape of incarcerated LGBTQ individuals (with the focus on males) last year. (The Wyatt O’Brian Evans Show returns in a new format later this year. Look for it.) My special guest was the Reverend Jason M. Lydon, community minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church in Boston. A victim of sexual assault while imprisoned, he’s the founding director of Black and Pink, an organization that supports incarcerated LGBTQ persons.

But before I detail Rev. Lydon’s story–as well as the experiences of other imprisoned individuals–allow me to share some facts from Just Detention International (JDI), a health and human rights organization seeking to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. JDI maintains the belief that “rape is not part of the penalty.”

According to JDI, “Sexual abuse behind bars is a systemic, nationwide human rights crisis. It is estimated that roughly 200,000 people were sexually abused in a single year. About half of the prisoners reporting abuse were victimized by staff—the very people whose job it is to keep them safe.”

And get this: “People who are LGBTQ face staggering levels of sexual assault in detention; LGBTQ prisoners were abused by other inmates at a rate more than ten times higher than straight prisoners. On average, each prisoner rape survivor is assaulted three to five times a year.”

And there’s more. “Prisoner rape survivors rarely get confidential rape crisis counseling, even though such counseling is known to reduce the effects of trauma. Incarcerated survivors who speak out are often mocked, ignored, or retaliated against by inmates or staff. Inmates who report abuse were as likely to be punished themselves as to get to talk to an investigator or see their abuser held accountable.”

Lastly, “With limited or no access to medical care and counseling, prisoner rape survivors often develop long-term health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and drug addiction. Moreover, the high rates of HIV and other STDs in detention facilities put survivors at risk for infection. Once released, many survivors turn to self-destructive behaviors that keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty, crime and re-incarceration.”

By providing survivor testimonies, JDI provides a window into the horrors of sexual assault and rape behind bars:

  • Andrew, from Florida. A corrections officer sexually abused him in a Florida prison. When Andrew reported the abuse, the officer retaliated, and the abuse grew worse.
  • Micah, from California. Micah was raped and tortured by law enforcement officers in a police lock-up. He faced many challenges trying to report the abuse, and was denied follow-up services, such as counseling and medical care. Micah has since been released from jail and is struggling to rebuild his life while facing the emotional scars of the abuse.
  • Rodney, from Louisiana. Rodney is an openly gay man who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by inmates in two Louisiana jails while serving time for check fraud. He was sold into sexual slavery from one prisoner to another, and was forced to abandon his male identity as his only way to survive.
  • Rodney, from Texas. At 17, Rodney committed suicide after being continuously raped and abused in Texas prisons.

Rev. Lydon is a survivor of prison sexual assault, who stated that he was strip searched a total of 24 times. During one of those strip searches, according to the reverend, a prison guard used verbal threats to force him to masturbate in front of him. “He then grabbed my testicles, squeezed them, and verbally abused me,” according to Rev. Lydon. “I was fortunate that there was not penetrative violence, etc.”

Did the reverend report the abuse to authorities? “Who would I tell? I didn’t know who to tell. Then, I was placed in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day.” He stated that anecdotal evidence shows that less than 50 percent of victims report sexual assault/rape.

So, just how did he cope? How did he heal? “I compartmentalized it all,” Rev. Lydon responded. Becoming involved with Just Detention International, building Black and Pink, and helping other survivors enabled him to heal.

During that interview with the reverend, I asked if there were a culture of prison sexual assault/rape. Unequivocally he responded, “Yes. Sexual violence is the key to the ongoing functioning of the prison system. Sexual violence is part of the tool box to maintain the control of the bodies of those locked up.”

Is There a “Great Escape?”

Interior views of traditional prison

Interior views of traditional prison

So, are inmates totally “between a rock (actually, a boulder) and a hard place? Are they totally without resources to keep them safe?

Maybe not. There is PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Unanimously passed by Congress in 2003, PREA is the nation’s first federal civil law that addresses sexual violence behind bars. JDI was instrumental in its passage.

This legislation’s signature achievement was the development of national standards to prevent and respond to rape of those incarcerated. And in 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its PREA standards, which include: improved protections for LGBTQ individuals; quality crisis services for survivors; and prisoner education on the right to be safe behind bars.

JDI states that these are encouraging trends. But according to the organization, “we still have plenty of work to do before the standards will result in the dramatic culture shift needed to end prisoner rape. Sexual abuse remains rampant in prisons and jails nationwide. Too many people in detention have not yet seen PREA make a difference in their daily lives.”

However, JDI added, “But prisoners and jails that take the PREA standards seriously are beginning to see results, among prisoners and staff alike. As one prisoner—a former PREA peer educator in California—said of changes on the yard, ‘People used to joke about sexual abuse. They don’t do that anymore’.” JDI collaborates directly with prison officials, assisting them in adopting the PREA provisions.

Rev. Lydon had this advice for those facing sexual violence in prison: “Each individual must weigh which is the best choice or route for him, and then make a decision. Be it reaching out to a guard, reporting the abuse, reaching out to the outside world (Black and Pink, for instance), or fighting back/defending themselves against those sexually assaulting him.

“We all make individual choices to survive. Survival is the goal. Therefore, don’t be ashamed of what you do—and need to do—in order to survive.”

Conversations With The Duchess 2

“I Am a Survivor!” 

Guest Writer:  Carlton R. Smith 

     For my second column, I was trying to think of a theme that would be of compelling interest to my new readership.  

     Then, I had an epiphany:  how about sharing my story, my journey of being a longtime HIV survivor.

     As of March of this year, I quietly celebrate 30 years of living with HIV.   God and His amazing grace has made this milestone possible. 

     And simply put, I’ve always wanted to be an instrument of change.  It’s been my strongest desire that my testimony would be as a shining light to help others who are living with the disease. 

     My personal journey began during the mid-80’s, as part of the disco scene of Studio 54, Better Days and the Garage. These were the glamorous New York City nightclubs during the height of the disco era where many people endeavored to escape the reality of the real world.   

     Like scores of other folk, I wanted to a part of the nightlife and the sexual freedom of that decade.  I’d arrive around close to midnight and hear my favorite DJ beat those melodic sounds that linger in your memories as though it was yesterday.  I’d groove to Grace Jones, Donna Summer, First Choice and Gloria Gaynor, among others. 

     Remember the songs “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Hot Stuff” and “I Will Survive?”   I certainly do!  And, I can vividly recall sweating up a storm, sucking on my favorite cocktails–and meeting hot dates that gave you “service” in the bathroom stalls!   It all reminds me of that “Basic Instinct”movie scene, the one in which Sharon Stone and her girlfriend Roxy ushers the Michael Douglas character into the men’s room stall to “carry on” inside the club.

      Yes, those are some of my memories of the mid and late 80’s.  And, who would’ve thought that a little four-letter word (AIDS) would be an epidemic that would take the lives of millions of people across the globe?

     Therefore, my life’s journey starts the day I found out my HIV status.  I was a twenty-three-year-old Same-gender-loving (SGL) man with the expectation of entering the Air Force. I’d visited the local recruiting station, and signed up for what I’d hoped was going to be a great opportunity to expand my educational background after finishing college.

      However, I received a letter from the military recruiting station’s medical office requiring me to immediately come in for a follow up.  It never dawned on me that my test results would be at issue.

      I remember that chilly morning in March.  At the medical office, I learned that I had acquired AIDS, and had that my life expectancy was only between five months to five years.   And, I was truly devastated by the comments from the doctor who said that my “promiscuous lifestyle” and prior sexually-transmitted diseases were responsible for the infection.

     Like many other men during that time, I didn’t have any information about HIV/AIDS.  Feeling angry, confused and suicidal, I asked myself, “What kind of future will I have?”  I felt as if I’d fallen into a deep abyss, without a parachute.  I didn’t know what would become of my life. 

     Fortunately, because of my strong spiritual background, I realized that suicide just wasn’t an option.  The only thing for certain was that the Universe (God) had my back.  My unshakeable faith in God and prayer got me through this dilemma, along with the positive support I received from many people who themselves were infected/affected by the epidemic.

     Moreover, I just couldn’t get over the hypocrisy the so-called Black churches were spouting to tithe-offering individuals who love God as much as other fellow Christians.  This judgmental attack is why churches are behind the curve on HIV/AIDS prevention.  This promotes ignorance and stigma.  Once again, I had to bounce back and know for myself that God is Love. 

CARLTON SMITH  the one
     Even though I saw death all around me, I didn’t succumb to the illnesses that plagued many of my associates and friends. I had the will and the power to survive!!   This was the result of many years of process and sharing my stories about living with HIV to many groups. 

     And, having a HERO (Health Education Resource Organization) buddy give me support enabled me to soldier on.  The information and resources I obtained through the support of others empowered me to become an advocate and a leader.   I found strength in discussing my status as “Heaven In View” (HIV)–and encouraging others to do the same.  Meeting esteemed individuals including A. Cornelius Baker (National Association of People with AIDS, NAPWA), Bishop Cheeks (Inner Life Ministries) and Marlon Riggs (director of the film “Tongues Untied”) also was empowering.  

     All of this assisted me in bolstering my self-identity and self-esteem to later establish a purpose of survival in a culture where Black men and women were being accosted by media outlets for the high incidences of HIV/AIDS. This “scarlet letter” of affliction had penetrated the inner circle of the Black community.

     Through advocacy groups, Black SGL men and some Black women made a declaration to fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities.  As a result, these minority leader activists created a purpose for community-based organizations whose main purpose was to disseminate information about prevention and treatment during the third wave of the epidemic. These national and local organizations (National Minority AIDS Council, NAPWA, etc.) created the groundwork for many to raise their voices.

     Not being called a victim of the epidemic became the cornerstone of empowering many individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  The death of Ryan White  was the impetus for Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Legislation, the largest Federal program focused exclusively on providing HIV care and treatment services to people living with HIV.  White was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984.  He later died from the disease.

     Today, I have become that advocate, policy maker and community leader/ stakeholder for many individuals across the country.  As an activist, a champion, and a fighter, I’m one who dared to care for the community and give himself to that community. 

     Being stigmatized gradually guided me to my passion to keep myself healthy. It is the love of God that has sustained me and allows me to serve humanity with divine purpose.                                                

His Royal Highness,

Duchess


     Carlton R. Smith has advocated on LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS issues for many years, placing emphasis on the African American LGBTQ community– specifically men who have sex with men (MSM).  Mr. Smith has served on various committees providing leadership and outreach, and continues to represent the needs of LGBTQ individuals at the local, state and federal levels.

     Carlton’s resume is both substantive and stellar:  currently, he is the Executive Director and one of the founding members of The Center for Black Equity-Baltimore (formerly Baltimore Black Pride, Inc.), now in its 14th year of operation.  Also, he is a member of the JHU CFAR community participatory advisory board at the John Hopkins University Center for AIDS Research. 

     As well, Carlton serves as community co-chair of the GBISGLRT Response Team (convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and is one of the co-founders of “Sankofa” Community Conversations on Black Same-Gender Loving Men, established in 2014.

     Carlton also is a former member of Maryland Moving Forward Network,  National Minority AIDS Council, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (membership chair/member of its executive committee), and was Vice-Chairman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Planning Council

     And, Mr. Smith is an ordained deacon with Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore.  You can connect with and follow Carlton on Facebook at Carltonraysmith; on Twitter: @BmoreBlackpride, @Duchess_WitTea; on Instagram and Vine, Baltimore Black Pride.

Hot Tea and Ice 5

“No Confetti Required”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

     Greetings and salutations, Hot Tea and Ice Sippers! Happy belated Mother’s Day and early Father’s Day to those who fall in those categories. Also, we observe a moment of silence and loads of respect for those who served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice. We honor you all on Memorial Day.

      Along with honoring parents and veterans, this is also graduation season. This is the time of the year everyone pulls out their good suits and hats to see the next generation leave behind an academic institution, and become part of the real world. Be it high school, college, or for those special graduates leaving behind the wonders of kindergarten, everyone it seems dons solid-color polyester robes to line up and march in step. Some will sit under the spring sunshine listening to some celebrity try to inspire and impress. Others will be shoulder to shoulder with classmates in auditoriums or gyms.

      Regardless of the setting, the feeling of accomplishment is universal. It doesn’t matter if the graduate walks with honors or through the grace of Most High, graduations are good times. It brings together family members who otherwise wouldn’t speak to each other unless under court order, and usually ends with a meal where everyone laughs and loves.

     Yes, graduation ceremonies with the handing out of diplomas, requests to hold applause until the end of the ceremony, and cards with money inside are wonderful things. Graduations are formalized ways of celebrating the achievement of accomplishing a goal, which in some cases, may have taken four, fourteen or even forty years.

     However, even if you are the Class of 19- rather than 2016, you have something to celebrate during this graduation session as well. We may not wear mortar boards or have someone say our full name in front of strangers and classmates who never knew your middle name is MyCole, but we are graduates of the hardest school there ever existed–life.

      Some of us graduated when we decided to no longer define our worth through someone else’s lenses. We turned our tassels when we left behind situations that weren’t beneficial to us.

LaToya Hankins

     We may not have heard Pomp and Circumstance played when we walked into that job,  but we graduated. There was no need to put on a robe or walk across a stage to confirm we made it through whatever tried to keep us back. We have our confirmation when we look in the mirror and like the person looking back.

     Take time to celebrate your individual graduation situations. When we honor the journey, the destination becomes even more valuable.

     It is easy to get (Set) Adrift on Memory Bliss,” shouts out the musical group P.M. Dawn (for my ‘90’s ‘peoples’, Y’all), when we see the pictures on social media of friends, family, and friends of family. I admit, my mind went back to the summer of 1989 when I was a young woman getting that high school paper or that day in May when I officially left behind Emerald City (Greenville, N.C.) after four years to start my bachelorette with a bachelor’s life.

     Then I remembered I didn’t need Wake County Schools or the North Carolina Board of Governors to confirm my graduation from being a shy school girl to a self-assured woman. My graduation took place when I realized I had the power to create my own better life.

     We all have graduation stories we need to remember and draw upon when we face challenges. Just like when we walked into those classrooms those first day, nervous and unsure, only to emerge years later strutting and serving it up for those in the back rows.  You see, we graduated to something better. Celebrate your achievement and realize you don’t have to hold the applause until the end. Take pride in your triumph.

     So get loud and throw your hands, hats, and heels in the air because you have graduated to the next part in your life’s journey. Have a graduation dinner and invite all those family and friends who adore you and hopefully don’t think you are too big for a gift card—or card with cash inside.

     Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

“The Comeback Kid”: How Your Abuser Wins You Back

     So finally, you’ve managed to make your “Great Escape” from your abuser.  (Great Escape is the term I’ve coined for my LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse workshops and seminars.)  And after he/she fully absorbs that you’ve indeed found or reclaimed your backbone and guts, the counteroffensive begins in earnest with “plastic” pleas that include, “I really didn’t mean it,” “I was just so stressed out,” and/or “I promise it will not happen again ‘cause I love you to death!”  (“Love you to death?”  Trust and believe:  that’s something you really don’t want.)      

       You see, he/she is trying to reel you back in, to slither right back into your life.  And if you let that happen—at the very least without him/her taking full responsibility for their actions and getting individual counseling–it can be disastrous to you emotionally, mentally, and physically.  And potentially life-threatening.

     Before I detail how the abuser stages a return to win you back, let’s understand exactly what Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, or IPV/A, is–and it’s cycle of abuse.  Simply put, this horrendous conduct is referred to as domestic violence and abuse within the LGBTQ community.  According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, it is the “pattern of behavior used to establish power and control through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence, when one person believes that they are entitled to control another.”  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs defines it as “a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving and dependent relationship.”  

      Statistics show that this form of abuse occurs with similar frequency as in heterosexual relationships.    Additionally, new research suggests that a greater percentage of LGBTQ individuals are living in fear of an abusive partner than previously thought.  And each year, between 50,000-100,000 lesbians (or more) and as many as 500,000 (or more) gay men are battered, and about one in four LGBTQ relationships/partnerships are abusive in some way. 

      According to psychologists and authors Jeanne Segal and Melinda Smith, “Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only:  to gain and maintain total control over you.  An abuser doesn’t ‘play fair.’  Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her ‘thumb.’  Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.”

     The Network/La Red, whom I’ve interviewed for the Huffington Post Queer Voices, weighs in.  Located in Boston, it is a survivor-led, social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in the LGBTQ community.  “Abuse is not about violence; it’s about control,” according to the organization.  “You can be just as controlling of someone if you are small—as if you’re large.  It’s about using violence or any other means of gaining and maintaining control.”

Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse 6

     Segal and Smith add, “The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult.  You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.”

     So, what is the complete cycle of IPV/A?  According to the psychologists, this behavior falls into a common pattern, which begins with abuse and ends with the set-up:

  • Abuse. Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior.  The abuse is a power play intended to “keep you in line, and show you who’s boss.”
  • Guilt. After abusing you, your partner feels guilt—but not over what he/she’s done.  The abuser is more concerned about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for the abusive behavior.
  • Excuses. Your abuser rationalizes what he/she has done, devising a string of excuses or blaming you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
  • “Normal” Behavior. The abuser does everything to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship.  Your abuser may act as if nothing has occurred, or he/she may pour on the charm.  The abuser’s apologies and loving overtures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult for you to leave.  Your abuser may make you believe that you are the only person who can help, that things will be different, and that he/she truly loves you.  However, the dangers of staying are very real.
  • Fantasy and Planning. Your abuser starts to fantasize about abusing you again, spending a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how he/she’ll make you pay.  Next, the abuser devises a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.   (Here’s Part A of an example:  he/she tells you to go to the store, but doesn’t tell you that you have a certain amount of time to return.  When you’re a few minutes late because you were held up in traffic, for example, your abuser assaults you.)
  • Set-Up. Your abuser sets you up and puts his/her plan into motion, creating a situation where he/she can justify abusing you.   (Part B of the preceding example:  when you’re a few minutes late, your partner feels totally justified in attacking you because, according to him/her,  “you’re having an affair with the store clerk or manager.”)      

     Now, onto how the abuser attempts to slither, worm his/her way back into your life after you’ve made your glorious Great Escape.  The LaSalle Parish, Louisiana sheriff’s office lists these classic “Take Me Back Tactics:”

  • The Honeymoon Syndrome. Also referred to as “Hearts and Flowers,” this is any bribe to get you to return—and the sooner the better.  “The abuser will turn on the charm and promise to change.  He/she will promise to get therapy, promise not to hurt you again, and tell you how wonderful you are, saying things like, ‘I know I don’t deserve you, but if you’ll take me back’…”
  • The Revival Syndrome. “’I have been going to church since you left.  I have accepted religion into my life’.”  But, has the violence ended?  Well, don’t be duped and taken in.  “Just because he/she says he goes to church does not mean that the abuse and violence can’t be right around the corner.  Many ‘God-fearing’ people abuse, rape, beat and murder their partners!”
  • The Sobriety Syndrome. It’s a fact that abusers have a higher incidence of substance dependence.  Even when they deny it, abusers are aware that they have a problem or aware that YOU believe they have a problem.  “When faced with losing their partners, they suddenly ‘see the light’ and swear they will never touch it again.  You want to hear it and believe it and you will support his effort.  You should!  Encourage him/her to see a doctor, join a support group and seek therapy.  Don’t fall for the promise unless and until you see him/her actively participating in sobriety with OUTSIDE HELP.  Counseling can also address problems and issues to help the abuser substitute healthier behaviors for destructive coping mechanisms.”
  • Counseling Syndrome. Abusers utilize this tactic to (1) get you to stay, and (2) maintain control and intimidation. “Abusers cannot just stop their behaviors without assistance to overcome issues and replace destructive behaviors with healthy ones.  Appropriate counseling cannot be done WITH the victim present.  The victim is not free to say what they think without fear of repercussion.  Batters must take full responsibility for their actions, must understand and admit that THEY have the problem and must be dedicated to make positive long-term changes.  Couples counseling can come later, when the abuser begins to show positive changes in behavior.” 

       If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, call: the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233), Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901), or  The Network/La Red’s Hotline (1-617-742-4911).

     And always remember:  It ain’t (just) the way that he/she loves you.

Hot Tea and Ice 4

“It’s Not How You Got Them, It’s How You Keep Them”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins    

 

        Greetings and salutations, Hot Tea Sippers. Hopefully, temperatures are warming up in your neck of the woods, and you are getting ready for short sleeves, shorts, and sundresses. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s just something about shedding layers that leads people to consider adding a “plus one” to their lives. Perhaps it’s the increases in wedding invites, pop-up BBQs that lead to hook-ups, or you finally realizing that the cutie who has been sitting across from you on public transportation all winter long actually has a pretty smile–when it is not hidden by a wool scarf!

      And then there are those of us who have spent the past several seasons in relationships. We are usually the ones buying yet another present for friends who decided to jump the broom.  We are the perpetual hosts for the BBQs because we have the houses/condos/apartments. 

      The mystery of knowing what each other looks like with or without the scarves is long gone because we probably purchased the items–or “borrowed” yours. Spring time is indeed for lovers; but sometimes, long-term partners don’t feel the enthusiasm.

      It’s easy to take each other for granted when you see each other day in, day out.  I know. After three years, I have to admit my partner and I began acting more like simply friends than lovers.  We spent our nights doing the same old dinner in front of the television thing, rehashed the same conversations about work/family/friends, and went to bed at a “decent” hour where we fell fast asleep.

      Don’t get me wrong:  it is good to find a comfortable existence with the one who feeds your spirit. Relationships don’t have to be a go-go party every night to be authentic. Still, you have to challenge yourself with the thought:  if we didn’t do this when we dated, why are we doing it now? The two of you are the same people who talked long into the night about complex topics, traded favorite movie lines, and got down with the get-down every chance you got.

      Why is it too easy now to pass as few words as possible when you do pass each other, fuss back and forth about what to watch on TV, and can’t remember the last time you got “funkdafied?”

      Too often, we can find time for everyone else, but sometimes our partners find themselves slipping farther down on our priority list. So many of us have our days scheduled on our smart phones to the “Gawds,” but can’t find an extra moment for our special one. For those who have someone special, reflect back on when it was new and exciting. You didn’t get her or him by talking about what your irritating co-worker did to vex your spirit once again. So, why do you think that will keep him/her?

      Being in a relationship allows the best of you to come forward and connect with someone to make a fantastic whole.  It takes work to form a suitable and sustainable bond. Once the hard work is done, keep it going may seem to be a task– but it’s worth it.

LaToya Hankins

      When you reconnect with your significant other, you are also reconnecting with yourself.  That fun, engaging, enticing self whose milkshake or frozen yogurt brought the boy or girl to the yard is still there. Dig deep and unleash that person back into the world. In the process, you have the potential to stoke the relationship fire and get your own flame burning brighter.

      So, first things first:  use those time management skills you have mastered through juggling work, friends, and community involvements to schedule time for you and yours.  And no social media allowed!  Don’t worry, it will be there when you get back.

      Focus on something totally fun and freeing. No bills, no nagging, no picking the same fight you have had for the past season. It you need to switch up the scenery to get it going, go for it! The key is for the focus to be on each other.

      For me and my spouse, we decided to break out and get back to what brought us together.  We started telling each other fantastic stories about ostriches with gambling skills, fictionalized titles from memories, and how our hips were too dangerous to be insured. Those creative bursts helped bring us together and hopefully will keep us together. We instituted date night where we attempted to pick each other up using our best lines. Sometimes it worked, sometime it didn’t. But it was always fun!  

      We decided to treat each other to a week without cooking. When it’s my week, I cook for the house and when it’s hers, she cooks for me.  Nothing is better than coming home to a home-cooked meal or at least a meal ordered from home.

      So as spring causes all those singles around you to get sprung, I challenge all my paired people to focus on keeping love going and value the other person who shares your space. The payoff will be priceless. 

      Until next time,  Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Reginald A. Flemming:  Inventive and Compelling Filmmaker on the Rise, Part Two

     Meet Reginald A. Flemming!  He’s the emerging writer, director and producer of gay-themed short feature films.  His current and popular series, A First Time For Everything (AFTFE), is a provocative and thought-provoking work.

     I’ve had an extended sit-down with Mr. Flemming, exclusively for the Huffington Post Queer Voices.  In Part Two of this series, Reginald discusses what drives him, the continuing lack of visibility of LGBTQ individuals of color in the media…and much more. 

     For Part Two, visit:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wyatt-obrian-evans/reginald-a-flemming-inven_1_b_9770992.html

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The Myths of IPV/A

     As a journalist and public/motivational speaker, one of my signature issues is Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse (IPV/A)–the term used for domestic violence and abuse within the LGBTQ community.  Sadly and too often, this demoralizing, heinous and horrific behavior is “swept under the rug”–particularly when it involves gay/SGL (same-gender loving) men. 

     The misguided belief that “Oh, you know…boys will be boys!” continues to permeate, and disgustingly so.  Therefore, the crime of IPV/A tends to be grossly underreported.  

     And without a shadow of a doubt, it is a criminal offense.

     In this article, I’m focusing on the Ten Myths associated with Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse.  But before I do that, allow me to present my “IPV/A Primer.” 

     So, exactly what is this potentially life-threatening pattern of behavior?    What’s it all about?  What are its ramifications?

     IPV/A is, according to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, the “pattern of behavior used to establish power and control through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence, when one person believes that they are entitled to control another.”  Meanwhile, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs defines IPV/A as “a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving and dependent relationship.”  

      Statistics show that this form of abuse occurs with similar frequency as in heterosexual relationships.    Additionally, new research suggests that a greater percentage of LGBTQ individuals are living in fear of an abusive partner than previously thought.  And each year, between 50,000-100,000 lesbians (or more) and as many as 500,000 (or more) gay men are battered, and about one in four LGBTQ relationships/partnerships are abusive in some way. 

     According to psychologists and authors Jeanne Segal and Melinda Smith, “Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only:  to gain and maintain total control over you.  An abuser doesn’t ‘play fair.’  Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her ‘thumb.’  Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.”

     Segal and Smith add, “The bottom line is that abusive behavior is never acceptable, whether it’s coming from a man, a woman, a teenager, or an older adult.  You deserve to feel valued, respected, and safe.”

     Now, let’s explore those myths.  Courtesy of the Haven Women’s Center in Stanislaus County, California, you’ll see that they’re real humdingers and whoppers.  In no particular order, they are:

 

  • Domestic Violence is more common in straight relationships than it is in lesbian or gay relationships. But here’s the truth:  “Do not assume that gay men and lesbians are less violent than heterosexual men and women.  Best estimates of same-sex domestic violence according to research and statistics gathered from the lesbian and gay community is that domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships is approximately 25-32 percent (basically the same percentage as in the heterosexual community).”
  • It isn’t really violence when a same-sex couple fights. It is just a “lover’s quarrel” between equals.  But here’s the truth:   “There is nothing equal or fair about domestic violence.  Being thrown against a wall or enduring endless criticism from an angry lover does not entail fairness.  Further, dismissing domestic violence as ‘just a lover’s quarrel’ trivializes the violence and gives tacit consent for it to continue.  Just because the two people are the same gender does not make it a fight between ‘equals.’  Many battered gays and lesbians fight back to defend themselves—it is a myth that same-sex battering is ‘mutual’.  There is almost always a primary aggressor.”
  • The batterer will always be butch, bigger, stronger. The victim will always be femme, smaller, weaker.  But here’s the truth:   “This is simply not true.  Size, weight, butch, femme, or any other physical attribute or role is not an indicator of whether or not a person will be a victim or a batterer.  A person who is 5’2”, prone to violence and very angry can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger and non-violent.”
  • People who are abusive and under the influence of drugs or alcohol are not responsible for their actions. But here’s the truth:  “Violence is a choice, and there are better choices.  Every person is responsible for every action taken.  Drugs and alcohol are excuses for battering.  There is evidence to show that batterers who abuse drugs and alcohol are equally likely to batter while sober.  If a person who batters is on drugs or alcohol, that person has two serious and very separate problems.  Using drugs or alcohol does NOT relieve a person of responsibility for his/her own conduct.
  • The law does not and will not protect victims of lesbian and gay men’s domestic violence. But here’s the truth:  “It depends somewhat on where you live, but in the United States, heterosexuality is not a criterion for protection under the law.  LGBTQ victims can get restraining orders.  Domestic violence is against the law for LGBTQ people, too!”
  • Lesbian and gay domestic violence is sexual behavior—a version of S&M. The victims actually like it.  But here’s the truth:  “Domestic violence is not sexual behavior.  In S&M relationships, there is some contract or agreement about the limits or boundaries or the behavior, even when pain is involved.  Domestic violence entails no such contract. Domestic violence is abuse, manipulation and control that is unwanted by the victim.  Domestic violence cannot be dismissed as sexual behavior.  There is no similarity whatsoever.”
  • Domestic violence occurs primarily among gay men and lesbians who hang out at bars, are poor, or people of color.But here’s the truth:  “Domestic violence is a non-discriminatory phenomenon.  Batterers come from all walks of life, all racial/ethnic groups, all socioeconomic strata, and all educational levels.  The LGBTQ community includes members of every other minority and majority group (ethnic, religious, racial, socioeconomic, immigration status, etc.).  Domestic violence occurs proportionally across all groupings and categories of people.  No group is exempt.
  • Victims often provoke the violence done to them. They’re getting what they “deserve.”  But here’s the truth:  “That is absolutely untrue.  Violent behavior is solely the responsibility of the violent person.  Batters choose violence; victims do not ‘provoke’ it.  This myth is common among both batterers and victims of domestic violence, and is probably a strong force that keeps the victims in abusive relationships.
  • It is easier for lesbian or gay victims of domestic violence to leave abusive relationships than it is for heterosexual counterparts who are married. If it were really that bad, they would just leave.  But here’s the truth:  “Lesbian and gay couples are as intertwined and involved in each other’s lives as are heterosexual couples.  Due to the lack of societal support, many lesbians and gay men are more ‘protective’ of the relationship and less likely to leave despite the abuse. Leaving is often the hardest thing for a victim to accomplish—harder, for instance, than staying.  Batterers threaten their victims with more violence (including threats of murder) if they leave.  Threatening to leave may put the victim in more danger.  Leaving also requires strength, self-confidence, self-reliance, and a healthy self-esteem.  Those qualities have been eroded by the abuse.  Leaving a violent partner also means leaving one’s home, friends, children and community. A lesbian or gay man may be extremely isolated.”
  • Lesbian and gay domestic violence is the same as domestic violence between a man and a woman. But here’s the truth:  “The dynamics of same-gender relationships are not the same as in heterosexual relationships.  The stresses of being without full legal protections and the lack of societal support for their relationships are added stresses for the lesbian or gay relationship.  Therefore, lesbians and gay men will not respond to stress in their relationship the same way as heterosexual individuals do.  Lesbian relationships and gay men’s relationships will not look like nor respond to stress and abuse within the relationship the same way as heterosexual relationships.”

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     At times, when I conduct talks and seminars on Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, I have to dispel some or all of these myths.  You see, in order for us to help put a stop to this demoralizing, heinous and horrific behavior, we have to change our way of thinking.  Because, make no mistake:  lives are at risk

     And always remember:   It ain’t (just) the way that he/she loves you.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing IPV/A, call: the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project Hotline (1-800-832-1901).

Hot Tea and Ice 3

“It’s All About March-amorphosis”

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

    Greetings and Salutations, Hot Tea and Ice sippers near and far!  I hope your spring sprung in the best way possible; and, if you plan to partake in Easter festivities, your basket will overflow with good things.

    This month marks a transition into a new season. Time to put away the coats and boots in order to embrace short sleeves, light fabrics and open-toe shoes (provided proper prior pedicure protocols have been followed).  It is also a perfect opportunity to metamorphose into a person prepared to embrace new opportunities, and rise to the challenge of being better versions of ourselves.

    Every day, we are presented with situations to expand our horizons; but too often, we don’t step forward and claim them. We get stuck in our ways and find comfort in the status quo.  

    Now, there is nothing wrong with sticking with the “tried and true.”  Finding something that works is wonderful, and I commend those who have found their lane and maximize its potential.

    But there is also something to be said for taking things to the next level and embracing the beauty of metamorphosis, or coming out and into your own.

    Stepping into your potential is a scary prospect. For a period of time, I was afraid of stepping out and changing how I did things. I was comfortable just going to work, coming home to my Gaston County (N.C.) apartment, and spending time with my fiancé. I was afraid to challenge myself to do something beyond what was expected of me–get a job, get engaged to my college boyfriend, and get ready to spend the rest of my life doing what was expected of so many southern African American women.

    Then I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life not stepping out of my comfort zone and allowing the true me to come out. I had to break out of the cocoon of conformity, and spread my wings to soar.

LaToya Hankins

    So, I placed an ad to have a one-night stand before I got married. Sure, there were other things I could have tried to expand my horizons. Truly, I didn’t expect a response to the ad. I just wanted to do something unexpected to break up the monotony of what my life had become.

    Spring with its longer days and warmer weather is the perfect time to become that person open to trying new things and discovering talents that lie dormant. Flowers shouldn’t be the only things that should bloom. March should be a time to metamorphose into a better version of the person who started the New Year.

    Metamorphosis could be something as simple as getting a haircut, being the person that speaks up at meetings with a suggestion that could make things better, or finally deciding to make that move to a better place. The key is to find that thing or things that allow you to flourish.

    To be sure, change is never easy. The first step toward metamorphosis is usually the hardest, and the one that is going to be the most uncomfortable. There is the uncertainty about whether or not you are making the right move, the unease of being outside your comfort zone, and the off-chance the time isn’t right.

     Then, there is the chance your challenging the status quo will leave some people hurt or left behind.  My choice resulted in a broken engagement, coming out as a lesbian, and some tense holiday dinners since it took my mom a few years to accept my sexuality.

    However, my decision also led me on the path toward co-founding a black Gay Pride organization, becoming a published author, and being comfortable in my own skin. By treating my worries about going into different directions like some many sweaters–things to be packed away–I metamorphosed into someone following a path I believe will take me to a much better place and state of mind.

    Just like pulling out last year’s spring tops only to find that they “shrunk” while they were packed away, metamorphosis is going to require getting rid of some things in order to make room for the new. The key is to be push through and move forward.

    How will you know how well your process is coming along?   That depends. The measure could be an increase in your paycheck, the number of hours you can sleep, or the number of times you smile during the day because you have metamorphosed into someone who is committed to being a better version of her or himself.

    Until next time, adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Hot Tea and Ice 2

“Missing The Ones That Didn’t Get Away” 

 Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

     Happy February!  It’s also known as the shortest month, with the most reasons to break your diet.  I hope your Mardi Gras was filled with “flava,” your Valentine’s Day was full of love, and you have recovered from Beyonce’s “Formation” domination of the world’s conversation. While this Carolina girl wasn’t happy about the outcome of the Super Bowl, I appreciate the effort both teams gave–and the spread my partner made for us to enjoy while we watched the game.

     For those who read my January introduction, you know that this year I am focused on the art and craft of being grateful. One of the things topping my list is the woman I call my “Canadian ChapStick.”   My sweetie took her first breath in a Canadian hospital, and moved to America when she was eight years old.

     We met during a Lesbian book club meeting held at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, and it was my beloved second occasion as the facilitator. Actually, she was the co-facilitator. I assumed the other woman leading the meeting was her partner.

     So when I asked where they were from, she quickly corrected me that she was from Delaware. She left the other person to fill in her own “blank.”  She was single, and I was in the midst of shucking off a bad relationship.

     The next occasion we crossed paths, we were both single ladies. That time it was during a Shades of Pride brunch.  Shades of Pride is the LGBT pride organization I co-founded in North Carolina’s Triangle area–and to which I still devote my talent, time and treasure to when I’m not “dazzling the world with my written words” and working for the State of North Carolina.  I was the hostess and she was a guest.

     The third time was the charm to convince us we were meant to be together. While I was in Charlotte and she was in Durham, we conversed via text messages during the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) basketball weekend. We had our first face-to-face date the first Monday in March, and the mythology of us began.

     With her, I think I have found my forever.  I know:  the whole thing is so sweet, you feel like you need to brush afterwards!  (Smile.) 

     One of the ways that I know she is the right one is because I have had my share of bad ones. I’m not talking about “it’s not you, it’s me” type of bad.  I’m talking, “Oh my Gosh, what was I thinking?”

     Stop me if some of these scenarios sound familiar: (1) the “cutie” that couldn’t keep a job–it was always “the man” trying to hold a “conscious” person down.  (By conscious, I mean they claim they’re all about being “positive” and  “righteous,” but knock anyone that doesn’t adhere to the same natural-fiber wearing, natural-hair-sporting, last-poet-quoting line they follow.)  (2) the “boo-thing” who felt the butterscotch candy between her thighs was too good to limit it to just one person; (3) the person who got jealous if someone had more than a five-minute conversation with you about something other than the weather. 

     Sometimes when my mind drifts back to those females (and males), one of the lines from my favorite songs comes to mind, “I wish you were the one who got away.(Hey—I, too, had a “straight” phase!)

     Then, I realize that if they were the ones who got away, I may not have fully gained the ability to appreciate the good person I have in my life right now. Going along with the theme of being grateful this year, I am grateful for bad relationships because they helped me appreciate the beauty of the good one I am currently experiencing.

     Bad relationships allow us to challenge our standards, prompt us to reevaluate our value, and rise to the occasion of seeking someone who deserves us—that is, if we are in the market to expand our horizons to include someone romantically. 

LaToya Hankins

     Don’t get me wrong:  many bad duets involve two people singing off-key In order to move forward, you have to challenge the part you played. But while you are doing that, embrace the memories of that special someone who always asked to let them “hold something until payday.”  If handled properly, it can create a path toward greater appreciation of that person who always has their own–and has something for you, too.

     Remember that ex you couldn’t bear to bring around your friends because someway, somehow, that person and one of your “friends” always ended up in a secluded corner–“just talking about you?”  Consider that when weighing the value of something so trustworthy even your 86-year-old grandmother would let them hold her purse while she went to the bathroom.  (Also–you may need to check your circle of friends.)

     Remember that insecure individual who had to have your attention placed only on them? That relationship can serve as the measuring stick to see how far you have come with that new person by your side.

     If you are single and looking, your exes can serve as an excellent checklist to assess if the effort to get to know someone is worth your time, talent, and treasures. The people we have dated are great tools to see how we have progressed in our appreciation for what truly is important in relationships.

     Don’t wallow in your bad relationship choices. Learn from them and move forward when considering dipping your toe and other body parts in the dating pool. Appreciate those who let you down, so that you can value the ones who lift you up. 

    Until next time, Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”


   LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

The Top Qualities of LGBTQ Super- Couples

     Tomorrow is “V-Day”—Valentine’s Day! 

     In recognition of this special day of L-U-V, I decided to answer the following question:  “Is there a particular recipe for nurturing and preserving a successful, lasting LGBTQ relationship?”    

     To find out, I consulted an expert:  certified personal love coach Brian Rzepczynski, columnist for The Gay Love Coach.  His answer?  “No.”  Then he explains, “One of the beauties of being gay is that we can create our own definitions of what constitutes an ideal relationship for ourselves as we are not hampered down by restrictive gender roles and norms like our heterosexual counterparts.  Each couple develops their own unique partnership that works for them.”   

     The Gay Love Coach emphasizes, “That being said, there are some universal qualities that can promote a more solid and functional relationship over the long haul for partners seeking long-term connection and happiness.”  

     Rzepczynski gives his top qualities of LGBTQ “Super-Couples.” Are you ready to learn just what they are?  Well, let’s do it to it!

 

  • They share compatible interests and philosophies of life. “It’s important that partners have similar interests and hobbies to share in common to build experiences with together, but it’s also essential to have some differences as well to complement each other.  This helps to keep the mystery and intrigue alive in the relationship that exists with contrast.”
  • They openly communicate with each other and stay engaged in each other’s lives. “This involves direct and honest dialogue about the mundane aspects of life to the serious thoughts and feelings that get triggered as a part of relationship dynamics.  The partners create a climate in their home where each feels safe and comfortable sharing vulnerable aspects of themselves with each other and are attuned to each other’s needs.”
  • They manage conflict productively. “Healthy gay couples recognize that conflict is an inevitable and normal part of a relationship, seeing these ‘rough spots’ as opportunities for growth and positive change in their partnership.  They deal with   their anger in constructive ways.  They are open to compromise and sacrifice and always keep a teamwork stance in negotiating their differences.”
  • They have a balanced lifestyle comprised of both individual and couple identities. “In relationships it’s important to have time devoted to nourishing the relationship and also to focus on individual interests and pursuits.  Too much ‘couple identity’ causes both partners to feel suffocated.   Too much ‘individual identity’ creates a feeling of being disconnected and living as roommates.” 

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  • They have fun with life and try not to take things so seriously. “Successful couples are those that are playful with each other, enjoy a humorous banter between the two of them, and feel energized by such things as tickling, cracking jokes, pulling pranks on each other, and being perverted with each other.”
  • They enjoy a sensual and sexual camaraderie that helps them to meet their erotic potential.“The happiest couples tend to report enjoying nonsexual affection in their daily lives through spontaneous touch, verbal strokes, holding hands, cuddling, and massage.  They also understand the importance of keeping their erotic lives energetic and enjoyable.”
  • They have a supportive network of family and friends who honor their relationship. “Having the backing and encouragement of loved ones can be a great impetus for reinforcing as gay couple’s commitment.”
  • They are comfortable with their sexuality and not afraid to show it. “Confident and successful gay couples are comfortable being in a relationship with each other no matter the setting or public domain.”
  • They possess the following in their partnership: trust, commitment, honesty, openness, flexibility, loyalty, dedication and devotion, quality time, sensitivity, nonjudgmental attitudes, loving and unafraid to express their feelings and passionate side, etc.  “Gay men in particular are vulnerable to power struggles, competition, and issues surrounding intimacy and closeness due to male socialization in their man-to-man relationships.  Successful couples are aware of these pitfalls and work hard to embrace a holistic masculinity that counters the stereotypes they’ve been ingrained with.”
  • They place a high premium on their lives together and are focused on not taking each other for granted. “Successful gay couples realize that the busyness of life can very easily put their relationship on the back shelf, but they don’t let it!  They ensure that they devote quality time together, schedule special ‘date nights’ with each other, and are attentive to each other’s needs.”

     So, here are all the critical and essential ingredients to make this designated Day of Love—and every day of love, for that matter—extra special!

     To Note:  The striking image above this article’s headline is courtesy of the Reverend Derek Terry, who has appeared on “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” the popular program that airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

Hot Tea and Ice

“It’s About That G-Thang”

Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins 

Happy 2016!  I’m trusting all is well in your world.

Please allow me the opportunity to introduce “my selves” to you.  I may be an only child raised by an only child, but I feel I have a not-so secret identity I want to share with you.

By day, I am LaToya Hankins, a 44-year-old polite woman who works for the State of North Carolina. LaToya drives a compact car, has a dog named Neo, and shares her home and birthday with a “Canadian professional listener” (a mental health therapist), and two feline divas named Percy and Patches.      

However, once the sun sets, LaToya takes off her badge, “lets loose” her locs (dreadlocks) and becomes…Toya!  She’s the author of books, short stories and clever social media updates who creates worlds where LGBTQ persons of color who call the South their home thrive.  Toya loves potatoes, pasta, and the percolator (that popular 1980’s dance where you rapidly gyrate your legs in time with the music and “pop” your booty)–which she does furiously in her mind when she listens to the Pandora house music station.

LaToya Hankins

Over the next few months, I hope to share more about LaToya and Toya with you, and I hope to learn more about you as well. However, with this being a New Year, let us start with what probably passed through most of our lips on January 1st (besides collards and black eyed peas): New Year’s resolutions.

Like many of you, I resolve to lose weight, cut back on my television watching and save money. All of which is cute.  But what I really want to work on is being more grateful for what I have, in order to allow more great things to come into my life.

Many of us know the power of gratitude, but we have been reluctant to claim it as part of our lives.  Maybe we don’t know how to start, what we should be grateful for, or how to show it.

There is no wrong way to be grateful and it’s quite easy to do once you put your mind to it. The first step is to be grateful for simply being you. Many people didn’t make it to 2016, so celebrate the simple fact that you are still among the number. 

Next, take a look in the mirror. When looking at yourself, be grateful for the achievements which followed you across the threshold of the New Year.  Last year, many of us gave ourselves peace of mind by shedding failed relationships. Others gave ourselves the power to believe in our own abilities by starting new businesses, going back to school, or accepting the fact that we are better than our circumstances. We have to be grateful for the opportunities provided and created by us to step outside the lines to be better people in 2016.

Along with being grateful for the achievements we have manifested, we need to be grateful for those who have been in our corner celebrating and commiserating with us. It could be your mother, your best friend, your beloved, or that neighbor you have had a crush on forever. We all have someone in our lives whose laughter chase away the storm clouds, knows just the right time to call to shake us out of our foul mood, or comes through with a home-cooked meal (depending on the situation) to feed our souls and stomach. Be grateful for the simple treasures of that person who has your back, stands in front of you to shield you from trouble, and stands in the gap for you when you can’t stand alone. 

     Many of us have memorized “The Color Purple,” but one of the lines that stands out for me is the notion that walking by the color purple in a field pissed God off. In this New Year, we have to be grateful for the simple acts of beauty and kindness we see all around us. Express gratitude by taking the time to listen to raindrops hitting the windows when you are inside with no particular place to go, and then acknowledging that perfect symphony of sound.  Show gratitude by standing still and finding calmness in the sight of twilight when the sun exits the celestial stage, allowing the chorus of stars to be showcased. Display gratitude for the touch of a loved one by expressing thanks through your words and deeds for their contributions to your life.

     Showing gratitude allows us to feel better and opens us up to receiving more good things. Happiness attracts happiness.  And no matter what resolutions we set forth, the main objective is to be happy. Gratitude doesn’t require gym fees, special fees, or new clothes. It’s free and feels good. So indulge!

This is my first column, and I am grateful that you have read it. I hope it sparks you to think about what you have to be grateful for so far in 2016, and I hope it inspires you to add to the lists of gratitudes with each passing day. 

Adios, au revoir, and I “holler.”    


   LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism.  An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya   earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.  During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N. C. graduate chapter. As well, she is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride (SOP), a LGBTQ organization that hosts a yearly event in the Triangle area. SOP’s mission is to create opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  You may reach La Toya at her on line home, www.latoyahankins.com; email, latoya.hankins@yahoo.com; Facebook, www.facebook.com/latoyahankins; and on Twitter, @hankinslatoya.

 

Welcome Ms. La Toya Hankins:  Author, Activist and Journalist

     Since more than NINETY (90) Nations (Thus Far!) are making WYATTEVANS.COM the Go-To-It Destination for News, Features and Entertainment for the LGBTQ Community and its Allies, I’ve “cranked UP the heat!”   Hey:  it’s only fitting!

     To that end, I’m excited and proud to introduce yet another Guest Columnist to the WYATTEVANS.COM Family!  She’s MS. LA TOYA HANKINS—an author, activist and journalist.

     Ms. Hankins has penned the popular novels, “SBF Seeking” and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood.”  La Toya also is a co-founder and currently serves as the chair of Shades of Pride, a LGBTQ organization with the mission of creating opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of North Carolina’s LGBTQ communities.  The author, activist and journalist will enable my on line home to expand its reach–and touch even more of you in substantive, informative and entertaining ways!    

     So, on this Friday, January 29, share in La Toya’s specially blended “Hot Ice & Tea” at the Guest Writers section of WYATTEVANS.COMIt’s gonna be a rather thought-provoking, enticing and satisfying experience!

La Toya #1

The HawtSexyCoolness of Mr. R L NORMAN Returns!

     Since more than Eighty (80) Nations (Thus Far!) are making WYATTEVANS.COM the Go-To-It Destination for News, Features and Entertainment for the LGBTQ Community and its Allies, I’ve had to “crank up the heat!”   Hey:  it’s only fitting!

     Therefore, on this Saturday, August 22, Mr. R. L. Norman returns as Special Guest Columnist at WYATTEVANS.COMwith his “Honey, Let Me Tell You Something!”  An accomplished, thought-provoking and soulful novelist, R. L. pens the popular “Honey Let Me Tell You” series of novels.  The latest installment in that series will drop in a “hot minnit,” so stay tuned!  And, he performs his nationwide, one-man show entitled, “Norman’s One Night Stand.”  Details are forthcoming.

     R. L.’s prose permeates the mind and tickles the soul! And as you’ll discover,  Mr. Norman is like a fresh, soothing summer breeze wafting through the many corridors of WYATTEVANS.COM.

     And without a doubt:  WYATTEVANS.COM is the Go-To-It Destination for News, Features and Entertainment for the LGBTQ Community and its Allies!    

     For now, visit:  wyattevans.com/honey-let-me-tell-you-something/   

Peeling Back the Curtain on Prison Rape

     The WYATT O’BRIAN EVANS Show–on the progressive PapichuloRADIO.com—makes its Triumphant Return Sunday, August 16 @ 9 PM ET/6 PM PT!  I’ll be tackling a very serious issue:  the sexual assault of incarcerated LGBTQ individuals—or prison rape.   

     According to the human rights organization Just Detention International, “Sexual abuse behind bars is a systemic, nationwide human rights crisis.   It is estimated that roughly 200,000 people were sexually abused in a single year.   About half of the prisoners reporting abuse were victimized by staff—the very people whose job it is to keep them safe.  People who are LGBTQ face staggering levels of sexual assault in detention; LGBTQ prisoners were abused by other inmates at a rate more than ten times higher than straight prisoners.  On average, each prisoner rape survivor is assaulted three to five times a year.” 

     So on Sunday’s The WYATT O’BRIAN EVANS Show, I’ll conduct a candid and eye-opening conversation about this pressing issue.  And, my very special guest is a survivor of sexual assault in prison.

     He’s the Rev. Jason M. Lydon, the Founding Director of Black and Pink, an organization that supports LGBTQ individuals in prison.  Rev. Lydon’s personal story will inform and inspire us.  This is installment of The WYATT O’BRIAN EVANS Show is one you simply cannot afford to miss!    

The WYATT O’BRIAN EVANS Show!   #THEWOESHOW   

Fierce, Fascinating and Fearless TALK—with Feeling!

World map

WYATTEVANS.COM Has Gone International!

      I’m quite proud and excited to announce that WYATTEVANS.COM truly has become The On-Line Destination for LGBTQ News, Features and Entertainment ALL OVER THE WORLD!  My On-Line Home is  INTERNATIONAL—with Visitors from more than 80 countries!  And Growing.

     Of course, the “good ole U. S. of A.” is the #1 Visitor.  And get this:  BRAZIL, RUSSIA, THE UNITED KINGDOM and CANADA fill out the rest of the TOP FIVE!  In other words, WYATTEVANS.COM has quite the diverse audience.  And, it’s become a solid resource.  I’m humbled.

     This Summer, I’ve got a LOT of Exciting, Provocative and Thought-Provoking features planned for WYATTEVANS.COMnot to mention updates on “FRENZY!”,   the upcoming installment in my popular “NOTHING CAN TEAR US APART”series of novels!

     And, before I forget:  I’m writing an exclusive, three-part series for the Huffington Post.  The first installment entitled,“Raw and Exposed:  Deep Inside A Porn Model, Part One,”  has become my most popular article to date onWYATTEVANS.COM–having garnered more than 1,200 New Reads!  Phenomenal.   Visit the BLOG Section. 

     I have more AB-SO-LUTE-LY Amazin’ “Thangs” planned!  So, don’t miss a beat.

Depression in the LBTQ Community

Depression’s Peculiar Grip on Black LGBTQs, Part Three

     The third and final part of the exclusive series of articles I’ve penned for the HUFFINGTON POST has just been published!  The series, entitled “Depression’s Peculiar Grip on Black LGBTQs, Part Three,”explores how depression can have a disproportionate impact on, and different ramifications for Black LGBTQ individuals.

     In this installment, I focus on depression’s particular stranglehold on Black LGBTQs.  As well, I give an account of my very first depressive episode—which nearly overwhelmed me. 

      Visit—Huffington Post Article

Super Couples

THE TOP 10 QUALITIES 4 LGBTQ SUPER COUPLES, PART 1

     Is there a particular recipe for nurturing and sustaining a successful, lasting relationship? 

     I answer that question in the latest The W.O.E. Report, my exclusive column in the May edition of Baltimore Gay Life.

     Here’s a link to the online version of the magazine.  My article is on page 17, so you have to go to page 17 after going here.

Depression - picture of a depressed or worried black male

Depression’s Peculiar Grip on Black LGBTQs, Part Two

     The second part of the exclusive series I’ve crafted for the Huffington Post has just been published!  The series, entitled“Depression’s Peculiar Grip on Black LGBTQs, Part Two,” explores how depression can have a disproportionate impact on, and different ramifications for Black LGBTQ individuals. 

     In this installment, I discuss in detail exactly how and why depression is so stigmatized in the black community as a whole.  And, it serves as the jumping off point into my first major bout with the disease.   

     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wyatt-obrian-evans/depressions-peculiar-grip-on-black-lgbtqs-part-two_b_7118068.html

Baltimore Gay Life Logo

“The WOE Report” Debuts in the October Baltimore Gay Life!

I’m penning an exclusive Column for this esteemed, monthly publication, which is distributed throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Founded in September 1977, it has a firm pulse on, and deep roots in the Maryland LGBTQ Community.

BGL offers insightful and engaging coverage on local events, as well as national and international news. It regularly tackles important and relevant topics affecting and impacting the LGBTQ Community.

I will continue to uphold and further that tradition with my Column, which will engage and impact, and provoke your thoughts. I’ll address the serious (Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse, depression, HIV/AIDS), and deal with lighter fare (romance, profiles of emerging LGBTQ artists). So, “git ready fo’ the ride!”

For the inaugural The WOE Report, visit the BLOG section.)

Center for Black Equity (CBE)

Congrats, Center for Black Equity (CBE)!!!

In 2014, the Center for Black Equity (CBE)–formerly the International Federation of Black Prides—celebrates fifteen years of remarkable and inspired service. CBE’s mission “is to promote a multinational LGBT network dedicated to improving health and wellness opportunities, economic empowerment, and equal rights while promoting individual and collective work, responsibility, and self-determination.”

You can help CBE continue its crucial mission by becoming a part of its $15.14 Fundraising Campaign. Every dollar helps, which in turn helps make a significant impact in the LGBTQ Community. Visit: centerforblackequity.org/1514campaign/