The plight of LGBT teens

Moderated by Rick Badie

The number of homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens is growing here and nationwide. An Atlanta filmmaker has written and directed a fictional short film that he hopes generates meaningful discussion about the issue, especially in the South, where religion tends to play a substantial role in family dynamics. In the companion essay, an activist writes about his experience at a recent “Stop the Violence” rally. The third column outlines the city of Decatur’s concerns about maintaining a diverse community.

Film shows plight of homeless LGBT youth

By Rick Badie

The opening scene of “Unconditional,” a short film written, produced and directed by a local city official, introduces a juxtaposition that’s painful to watch. Bradley, an LGBT teen, looks in the mirror as he dons red lipstick, a complement to his polished nails.

A sticky note on the mirror says, “God loves me as a I am.” Bradley kisses his cross necklace.

Suddenly, the scene switches to Bradley’s parents, with pained faces, talking to their minister. Mom expresses a desire to embrace her son unconditionally. God, religion — and the family minister — get in the way.What a conundrum — a family chasm some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth experience trying to find their way. And that’s what Kent Igleheart, a Roswell city councilman, strove to capture in a haunting 26-minute movie.

Two years ago, Igleheart says he became aware of homeless teens, particularly LGBT youth, when he heard an NPR story on the topic. The report said 40 percent of New York City’s homeless youth identified as LGBT. He questioned the percentage.

“Turns out, not only is it true, but it’s over 50 percent in the South,” said Igleheart, a 1981 Clarkston High grad and son of a retired Southern Baptist minister. “I thought that this was a story that had to be told. I also had a long-standing desire to tackle the whole issue of LGBT and religion. There are so many conflicts and contradictions in the overall subject that it is a great subject matter for film.”

For research on teen LGBT homelessness, Igleheart talked to staff, counselors and teens at Lost and Found Youth, an Atlanta nonprofit that serves the city’s homeless LGBT population. Though area actors and actresses were hired to film about town, the script draws from actual experiences of young people.

Consider: Daniel Ashley Pierce, a gay Kennesaw teen who nearly a year ago secretly recorded a family intervention that got him kicked out of his home. Pierce appears in one movie scene, though with no speaking part. Likewise, Bradley, the main character played by Richard Hatcher, doesn’t speak in the movie save for one line.

“That was the most challenging part of the film,” said Hatcher, 19, a Tri-Cities High grad who studies acting at Chicago’s Roosevelt University. “Kent and I talked about it and tried to make sure every scene was believable and showed (Bradley’s) true emotions.”

Igleheart has helped produce smaller projects, done some camera work, written scripts and plays, and acted in theater, film and TV. You can catch him in “The Last Punch,” a locally filmed movie that tells the story of a promoter for Muhammad Ali’s last fight. “Unconditional,” meanwhile, is his first turn at directing.

“A director friend recently asked me what was my favorite part,” Igleheart, 52, told me. “I said, ‘All of it.’ I want to create films that make people feel strong emotions and think deeply. People often think of LGBT-religion issues as ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ The only way to humanize things is to show real people involved.”

A screening of “Unconditional” takes place 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Plaza Theatre. Details: http://www.unconditionalfilm.com.

Lesson learned: Respect in the streets

By Kit Cummings

A week ago I was invited into a world that few from my neighborhood will ever see. I am a white man who grew up in the middle-class suburbs of a large Southern city. I go where I am invited and that one conviction has changed my life.

For example, five years ago I was invited into Georgia’s most violent and dangerous maximum security prison and my perspective began to change. What I expected to find, I didn’t find. Who I expected to meet weren’t necessarily there. Yes, there were dangerous men; there were gang members and criminals; there were those who do not need to be in the free world or in our communities. But there were also fathers, sons, brothers and grandfathers. I met real people. Since then I have been in hundreds of prisons and met thousands convicts and I continue to be surprised by who I find in there.

So when I was invited down to Bankhead last weekend, I accepted the invitation. A guy whom I knew in a prison had arranged my invitation and the folks who were organizing this event were expecting me. This was literally a “Gangster Party.” About 100 people had gathered for a “Stop the Violence” rally and subsequent march. There were tents set up outside of a barber shop with loud rap music playing. The smell of hot dogs filled the air and a message on Islam was being blasted through the speakers into the neighborhood.

As I made my way to the street corner where people were gathering, I was looking for a large man whom they call “Big A.” He was one of the organizers along with another gentleman that I was also supposed to meet.The event was sponsored by Gangster Disciples, Crips, Bloods, Moors and Nation of Islam. These groups don’t exactly get along, but today they were coming together to march against police brutality and violence between cops and communities. There were several colors represented and different sects of Muslims present.

If I had believed everything I read in the media, heard on the radio, or watched on TV and movies, I would have expected fights, profanity, racism and even violence to erupt between these rival groups. But once again, I did not find what I expected.

As I identified leaders I would walk up and extend my hand and introduce myself. I would tell them who I was looking for and who had sent me. They already had an idea of who I was, as I’m sure I stood out: the only white man who was wearing a black t-shirt with a large peace sign on it. When they heard my name their demeanor and expression changed immediately: big smiles, a convict hug, and then I would be introduced to someone else in charge. You see I had been “vouched for” and quickly accepted in this neighborhood that many who come from where I come from would be afraid to go. That’s how the streets work: credibility and respect.

After a brief message and rallying of the troops, they set out to march. I was purely an observer. I went with no agenda other than to learn and I watched with enthusiasm and passionate curiosity. And I learned so much. These weren’t dangerous, violent people. At least they weren’t with me. They were an angry and wounded community. They’re tired and fed up. They want change and they want it now. I didn’t take a side and I won’t take one today; I just went to see for myself, treated these people with utmost respect, walked with them and listened. What if both sides on this national issue would sincerely do the same? I wonder where we could all go together.

Kit Cummings, founder and president of the Power of Peace Project, Inc., is the author of “Peace Behind the Wire: A Nonviolent Resolution.”

Debating Decatur’s Future

By Casie Yoder

When I was preparing to move back to the metro area in 2013, I spoke to anyone who would listen about how affordable Atlanta was compared to Washington, D.C. I went on and on about the spacious two-bedroom garden apartment with a deck and its own driveway that I used to rent in the bottom of a Decatur ranch house, just blocks away from the Avondale MARTA station. I paid $720 a month for it, less than half of what my portion of the rent was to share a mostly windowless, low-ceiling basement in D.C.

I had a job lined up with the city of Decatur. It will be easy to find somewhere cheap to live, I thought, the memory of the $720 a month two-bedroom from just six years earlier vivid in my mind. I’d changed a lot in those six years and as my apartment hunt grew more desperate, I realized Decatur had, too. (I did eventually find a place, but for considerably more than $720). Once back here, it seemed that all anyone could talk about were the rapid changes in Decatur and the loss of diversity and how expensive real estate was getting. No one seemed to have hard facts, just stories like mine. The more I heard and saw, the more curious I became: What did the data say?

The city hired a graduate student from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies to spend a summer compiling and analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Together, he and I produced a report called, “Findings on the state of diversity in the City of Decatur.” The city is divided into four areas by the Census Bureau and this made it easy to compare changes in age, race, household composition, education and income levels and home values among the city’s four quadrants.The data show Decatur is indeed changing, becoming less racially diverse and older overall as well as better educated, wealthier and a place of rising home values. This matters. During strategic planning processes of 2000 and 2010, Decatur residents expressed a diverse community as something they value and want to maintain. One of the 2010 strategic plan’s guiding principles is to “Encourage a diverse and engaged community.” So in the face of this data, what can a city government do?

First, Decatur can continue to listen to the community. Second, it can partner with organizations like Welcoming America that work to ensure cities are welcoming to all. And, finally, Decatur can provide a safe space for everyone who lives, works and plays in the community to come together and talk about how we are different and share ideas on how to not just accommodate our differences but embrace them.

On Aug. 29, Decatur will provide the first of many safe spaces for the community to engage as part of the Better Together initiative. I invite everyone who lives and works in Decatur to join us, especially those skeptical of the process. We need all voices to contribute.

The goal of Better Together is to produce a community action plan for the city commission to review and approve. This isn’t going to be an easy process. It’s going to take work. It will inevitably be messy. And sometimes, it may even hurt, as individuals in our community won’t always see eye to eye. But it is critical that we push through so that we can all have a say in what kind of city Decatur will be in the future.

Learn more at http://www.decaturnext.com.

Casie Yoder, public information officer for Decatur, is a participant in the Anti-Defamation League’s 2015-2016 Glass Leadership Institute.

 

 


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