Op-Ed

I came out almost 30 years ago to my family and friends. Personally, I have lived my life authentically as a gay woman in a remarkable and loving relationship for 23 years. Professionally, not so much. For a good part of my career path, I left my true self at home. 

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Jane Shull at Philadelphia FIGHT doesn’t know me. She knew my brother Brett, though.

Brett had a lot of challenges. He died in 2009 at 38 after spending most of the previous 10 years homeless, addicted and living with HIV disease. He died because he was what they call a “non-compliant” client — he couldn’t be relied on to take his meds, show up for appointments or tell the truth to the doctors. He spent his adult life depressed and angry.

I accompanied my brother to various kinds of appointments at FIGHT over the three years he went there. Brett told me that when he was there, they got him to believe that maybe he could do something about all his problems. He was an ex-offender, and despite that, he felt that FIGHT treated him like a human being. When he was there, he said he found himself wanting to take his meds, wanting to show up for the support group, maybe evens wanting to stay alive. But when he went back to the streets, it just seemed too hard.

The Black and Brown Workers Collective, which seems to be made up of a small, unhappy group of former FIGHT workers, is out to get Jane Shull, the founder and director of FIGHT, fired. Despite the overt racism of many LGBT community leaders, they say that the woman who has dedicated her life to saving the lives of poor LGBT people of color is the biggest racist of all. Her 30 years of service on the frontlines means nothing, in their minds. Her day-in, day-out, showing up to do God’s work for longer than most of BBWC’s tiny membership has been alive, means nothing. Her commitment to do the right thing for people weaker than her — something BBWC seems to know nothing about — means nothing. Instead, BBWC denies history and the truth to continue a personal vendetta that is nothing but dangerous for the people who rely on FIGHT for their care.

I don’t know Jane Shull. She doesn’t know me. But she did know Brett. Even though she’s known so many Bretts, she probably doesn’t remember him. And it’s in Brett’s memory that I say to BBWC: Leave Jane Shull alone. 

One of the first disco albums I ever owned was “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. I didn’t actually buy it; I won it in a radio call-in contest in the spring of 1979. I was living at home at the time and remember driving down to the local Southwest Michigan radio station to pick it up, excited to have won.

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My name is Preston Heldibridle. I’m 19 years old, I just graduated from high school in York County and I am transgender. I was also once a recipient of care through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). As a young kid who juggled four sports, had chronic ear infections and got bronchitis twice a year, CHIP was vital for me and my family as it is for many other trans youth who depend on CHIP’s funding to get the care they need.

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What we are witnessing in Charlottesville is nothing short of a brazen attempt to return America to an era of Jim Crow, separate and unequal for minorities and women, intimidating and threatening to those who aren’t up to the “white-enough” test of alt-right rabble rousers like David Duke, Richard Spencer and their sickening minions. They are racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, haters of women, transgender people, Muslims, immigrants and people who don’t look like them, pure and simple … no need for qualifiers any longer.

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Earlier this month, thousands of Philadelphians honored LGBTQ history, celebrated progress and affirmed our diverse identities at Pride. In the wake of these celebrations, now is the time to take action in the fight for LGBTQ equality. By advocating for the Equality Act, we can take a tangible step toward full, federal equality for all LGBTQ people.

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President Trump and Congressional Republicans recently gathered in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of legislation that will cause 14-million people to lose their health-care coverage next year. This would be the largest one-year decline in health-care coverage in our nation’s recorded history, which begs the question of what exactly there is to celebrate.

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Sometimes it feels easy to answer the question “What is SEXx?” “It’s community events we do throughout the year on sex and sexuality,” I often reply. But that reply doesn’t fully capture our work.

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