Last week a 13-year-old boy in Trussville took his own life after battling with depression and anxiety. Jay Griffin, a seventh grader at Trussville Middle School, was transgender.
Jay’s mother, Erin Georgia, said she began realizing her son was born in the wrong body half way through the sixth grade. “There was a transition from long hair, and he started dressing differently,” she told AL.com in an interview.
Jay was an advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community and volunteered at the Magic City Acceptance Center in Birmingham, a group dedicated to providing “a safe, supportive and affirming space for LBGTQ youth, young adults and their allies.” In lieu of sending flowers, Jay’s parents asked family and friends to donate to the Magic City Acceptance Center in his honor.
As Jay was struggling to express his own gender identity, he was unable to find the support he needed in his hometown of Trussville. “He didn’t feel validated or accepted in our community,” his mother Erin said.
“You really need a safe space of allies and advocates and people that are like you. That’s where they hear their true voices. There are no local community safe spaces that I know of, and we’ve looked. That was part of Jay’s struggle.”
A 2,200 word final feature story for my journalism class.
There’s a painting outside of the Montgomery County Executive’s office in Rockville, Maryland of a beloved local landmark. The average visitor to the county seat would pass it by without giving it a second glance. But a closer look reveals a glimpse into the heart and soul of Montgomery County.
“This painting is a symbol of how Montgomery County should be,” Isiah “Ike” Leggett said as he proudly pointed to the artwork he had commissioned. The painting depicts a band playing outside of the Strathmore in Bethesda. An Asian woman plays the flute; a black man plays the trombone; a white man plays the violin.
“The players come from diverse backgrounds and play different instruments, each with different abilities, all contributing in some way,” Leggett continued. “They come together to play a single song.”
Montgomery County has garnered a reputation as one of the most diverse counties in the nation. Here, in this county located just outside of central Maryland, residents see diversity as a source of local pride. Neighborhoods line their yards with signs welcoming immigrants and refugees in multiple languages. Houses of worship fly rainbow-colored flags and banners with ‘Black Lives Matter.’
Yet, Jewish communities in the county have become the target of religiously motivated hate crimes. Just two days after the election, on November 11, swastikas were found spray-painted in the boys’ bathroom at Westland Middle School in Bethesda. An anti-semitic note was left for a Jewish family in Rockville after they hung a ‘Black Lives Matter’ banner on their property in January. Bomb threats were reported at two Jewish community centers in Rockville. The anti-semitic incidents continue with no end in sight with messages and drawings found across Montgomery County, from Gaithersburg to Bethesda.
Fifty-two years ago today civil rights activists, led by John Lewis, marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demand the right to vote, only to be dragged to the ground and brutally beaten by white Alabama state troopers. The blood that flowed is how the day became known as Bloody Sunday.
The Selma to Montgomery marches of March 1965 were in part sparked by the tragic death of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson the month before. Jackson was fatally shot by a white Alabama state trooper after participating in a demonstration calling for the release of James Orange who had been arrested for enlisting minors to participate in voter registration drives in Alabama.
At the time of the Selma campaign, less than one percent of eligible black voters in Montgomery County were registered to vote. Black voters seeking to gain access to the ballot box were blocked by discriminatory literacy tests and poll taxes. Those who sought to organize were intimidated by white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Council.
“Get your heart in Alabama, or get out,” demands Amanda Walker in a recent op-ed.
I gave my heart to Alabama, but she didn’t love me back, and so I left for the North.
Last summer after graduating from Faulkner State Community College, I moved to Washington, D.C. to transfer to Georgetown University. I hope to one day become a public interest lawyer and defend the poor and other communities marginalized by society.
Although D.C. is my home now, Alabama still crosses my mind. She’s like an old lover you never truly get over, one that you would be with if things had turned out differently.
In November I had the opportunity to deliver the thank you remarks for Vanita Gupta at an event hosted by Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center. Ms. Gupta is the Assistant Attorney General of the United States and the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and she came to speak to Georgetown students about her work advancing the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
After I gave my remarks, Ms. Gupta gave me a hug and told me how moved she was by what I said. Ms. Gupta is one of my legal heroes so it was an honor to have a chance to meet her and thank her personally for how she’s inspired me to become a civil rights lawyer and work for the federal government. A special thanks to Julian Haas, the Assistant Director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center, for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Thank you, Ms. Gupta, for your hopeful remarks. As soon as I saw the OUTober flyer advertising your visit to campus, I quickly ran to the LGBTQ Center to tell Julian how much I admire your work and how excited I was to have the opportunity to hear you speak.
My dream is to become a constitutional and civil rights lawyer, and your work with the Department of Justice has been a source of inspiration to me. I look toward your public service as a model of how the government can be a force for social change.
I grew up in a small town in Mobile County, Alabama. I began questioning my sexual orientation as young as seven. My first crush was a boy in kindergarten, but I soon developed crushes on girls in my neighborhood. Before I even learned the words “bisexual” or “lesbian,” I had internalized the stigma associated with being LGBTQ. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, but I knew I was supposed to feel abnormal, inappropriate and morally wrong. My journey going from a confused, questioning young girl to a confident bisexual woman has been a long and difficult one, one I’m sure that many people here can relate to.
Our stories are not identical. You are a woman of color, born the daughter of Indian immigrants; I’m a white bisexual woman who grew up in rural Alabama. You have had to overcome obstacles that are far different than the ones I have had to overcome. But despite our differences, your strength and resilience to become the head of the Civil Rights Division has shown me that I have a path as a civil rights lawyer too.
Last week French police cited a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab on a beach in Nice, France, and ordered her to remove her headscarf, marking the latest incident in a clash over religious freedom, women’s rights, and national security in France.
As reported by the French news agency Agence France-Presse, Siam (who only gave her first name) was confronted for failing to wear “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism.” The thirty-four-year-old mother of two explained that she was merely sitting on the beach with her family. “I was wearing a classic headscarf. I had no intention of swimming.”