‘Other’ genders serve the community, too
October is Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender History Month, a concept founded in the 1990s by teachers and community leaders, including the National Education Association. Just as we have Black History Month and Women's History Month to focus on the accomplishments and stories of courageous individuals who've persevered in the face of discrimination, this month students, teachers and the public are encouraged to learn about inspiring role models and a community whose stories are often overlooked or misunderstood.
The GLBT community has many heroes who are worthy of remembering. These include the celebrated American author James Baldwin, whose novels and essays, such as "Go Tell it on the Mountain" and "Giovanni's Room," captured the conflicted spirit of late 20th- century America. Baldwin received many awards during his lifetime, including France's highest civilian award -- Commander of the Legion of Honor -- in 1986.
Another hero worthy of honor is Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and Fire Department of New York chaplain who died in the 9/11 attacks. Father Judge was a hero to many long before his death. He was beloved by FDNY personnel and their families, and worked as a champion for the homeless, AIDS patients, gay and lesbian Catholics and others. He was among the first clergy to minister to AIDS patients at a time when they were considered untouchable. Through the organization Dignity, he served gay and lesbian Catholics even after the church excluded them from worship.
In Hawaii and across Polynesia, GLBT people have long traditions of strengthening families and protecting community traditions. From assisting with child care to teaching chant and hula, mahus have demonstrated they are part of all of our families and make our entire community stronger through their gifts. Today, GLBT folks are continuing to strengthen families by becoming foster parents, getting married in places like Canada and Massachusetts, and working toward creating safer schools.
As the executive director of The Center, I can tell you that our organization regularly answers calls from members of the U.S. military seeking assistance. These individuals put their lives on the line for America, yet do not receive equal treatment from the government regarding benefits and ability to serve.
The Center operates a youth program that provides a safe space for young people to learn about health risks such as smoking and harassment, and builds their confidence to protect themselves from these risks through counseling, social activities and skills-building opportunities. We provide information for visitors about gay-friendly Hawaii and we educate members of the visitor industry about this valuable market segment. These are some of the ways we fulfill our mission as a resource, referral, advocacy and education organization.
I invite everyone to learn more about GLBT history by visiting www.glbthistorymonth.com. For information about local GLBT resources, events and activities, visit www.thecenterhawaii.org or call us at (808) 545-2848.
Eduardo Hernandez is executive director of The Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.