Pride Post II. Why We Fight

My people are the gay people. I am half Latino and half black-they are my people also. I want my people to know that we can live above the mess in our communities and be who we are.
—Kiya Morton

I’m astonished at how each of them has managed, while most of them are just out of their teens (and one of them still is a teen), to face down troubles and challenges and out-and-out evil that would kill a battalion of lesser folk. I am humbled by their inner strength. When I feel depressed about things, I think of them — and suddenly my life and what I thought were “problems” is snapped abruptly back into perspective.Phoenix Woman, via Firedoglake, “These People Are Much Braver Than I Am,” on the four young winners of the 2007 Colin Higgins Youth Courage Awards:

Born and raised in rural Illinois, the son of Muslim, Lebanese parents, experienced anti-Arab harassment throughout his childhood, which intensified after 9/11. When Ali came out his senior year, he was rejected by his friends and came under the scrutiny of his parents. He quickly forgave all for hurting him, even his parents, knowing their backgrounds of having suffered prejudice first hand. Ali now works to put himself through DePaul University, where he is involved in Students for Justice in Palestine, in coalition with Students of Islam, Feminists in Action and the campus LGBT organization. His goal is to increase acceptance of LGBTQ youth of color and Middle Eastern descent in the mainstream community, as well as carry a gay liberation movement to the Middle East, so that all communities “are accepting of racial and gender diversity.”

Ryan grew up on a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation in South Dakota and was raised by his grandfather. At age nine, Ryan came out to his sisters and to his homophobic community at age twelve. His grandfather shunned him and put him into counseling “to make him straight.” At the age of 15, Ryan began being shuttled between foster and group homes. Determined to preserve, he graduated a year and a half early from high school and moved to Rapid City where he obtained a nursing certificate. But even at the nursing home at which he works, he still experiences homophobia, mainly because of his appearance. He volunteers at the local LGBTQ center and conducts outreach to Native American reservations and schools in an effort to educate youth about the traditional cultural ways, which accepted and honored “Two Spirit” people. His goal is to become a Registered Nurse and return to his reservation to help do HIV prevention and counseling, hoping this program will be replicated in reservations across the country.

KIYA (Mack) MORTON, 20
Born a biological male child to teenage parents in urban Philadelphia, was beaten and emotionally abused by older relatives throughout her childhood. Her mother found out she was gay and sent Kiya to a mental institution, which drugged her to make her straight. After several attempts to escape, she ran away for good and at the age of 15 began life as a sex worker, while transitioning to become a girl. Arrested for prostitution, she was placed in a series of group homes, forced back to being a boy, and finally sent to a juvenile detention center, where she was physically and sexually assaulted by the prison staff. She finally escaped the system by claiming she was suicidal. Once out, she protested to the state’s Commissioner of Juvenile Justice about the treatment of transgenders in the state foster care and prisons. Due in part to her efforts, that specific juvenile detention center was shut down and the state incorporated new guidelines for the treatment of all LGBT in state care. Kiya continues to be a tireless advocate for these rights and hopes through study to become a professional photographer.

Born and raised in poverty in New York by a single parent, experienced sexual and physical violence as a child, and later, in her teens, because of her perceived sexuality. After 9/11, she became the target of severe anti-Arab harassment. At the age of 15, she became a member of the national board of directors of GLSEN. In the eighth grade, she received a scholarship to a boarding school, which provided a path to college. At Simmons College, because she was the president off both the campus LGBTQ and Muslim student organizations, she began receiving death threats after her name appeared on an international hit list, released out of Syria, of “16 Women who Shame Islam.” Undeterred, she became active in Project Ijtihad, an international organization working to restore Islam’s tradition of critical thinking, an to reinterpret (not rewrite) the Qu’an with a human-rights lens. Fluent in several languages, she uses a variety of artistic mediums, from dance, to spoken word and photography to express her experiences as a mixed-race, reform-minded Muslim and to instigate positive change.

Video: Good Soldier by Deadlee


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