Last week, a pair of super-articulate and handsome young twins, Austin and Aaron Rhodes, announced to their father and the YouTube world that they were both coming out as gay. The provocative headline of the James Nichols piece on Huffington Post compelled me: "WATCH: Teen Twins Both Come Out To Father And Catch The Emotional Moment On Film". It turns out that their dad was generally supportive on the phone call, which seemed to relieve the twins. Love and support won out. What might I do or say under the same circumstances? Not because of any concern over my twins ever coming out as gay, but more because of what I know about how the LGBT community is often treated or mistreated in our society.
I am relatively old to have newborns, 44 and counting. So maybe it gives me some wisdom or perspective that I likely would not have had earlier in life. My wife and I had our twin boys in June. They were born nine weeks premature and spent a gut wrenching month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. With great care and lots of love over the last seven months, Daniel Thelonious and Lucas Othello have grown from three pounds to 15 pounds. They are healthy at home, and I now understand the adoration, beauty and fulfillment of being a father.
It's 5:00 a.m. and I'm feeding Daniel while rocking Lucas into a slumber as I tap this out with one finger on my iPad. I also have a 12 year old stepson, John, who is the best big brother we could ever hope for. He loves his brothers and helps out unconditionally. The urge to protect our sons and to ensure their safety is primal and real.
What does any of this have to do with LGBT rights? Unless you've had your head in the sand for the last year, it has been a relatively good year for the LGBT community in America. There is absolute a long way to go, but LGBT equality efforts on marriage and a renewed focus on anti-hate and anti-violence have gained traction in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Last night, I was heartened to hear President Obama in his lame duck State of the Union Address condemn the persecution of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. "We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer," he explained.
I concur. This is the society that I want to live in; and that I want my sons to grow up in. Especially here in the Bronx, where I live and work. Despite New York City's reputation for being LGBT-friendly, the Bronx, like many communities in New York and throughout the United States, can be an unsafe, unhealthy and even dangerous places for individuals whose gender expression does not conform to the heterosexual majority. Anti-gay incidents continue to rise, especially in the outer boroughs of the city.
On October 3, 2010, a group of street gang members calling itself the Latin Goonies cajoled a young man to an apartment and proceeded to sadistically abuse him for hours in what the New York Times described as "one of New York's most savage antigay crimes." They were sentenced from two-to-14 years in prison last year. Immediately after the violent incident, LGBT groups and allies in the Bronx, including the nonprofit I lead, rallied with elected and government officials to denounce this hate crime and to insist upon greater safety for the LGBT community in our borough.
It is safe to say that New Yorkers share a concern for issues like violent crime. The 2013 murders of Mark Carson in Greenwich Village and Islan Nettles, a transgender woman in Harlem, are other recent and egregious examples of the continuing problem of LGBT-related hate crimes in our city. Enough is enough.
In order to realize our charity's vision of health, wellness and safety for all, we know that it is essential to fight for the rights of communities that are the most in need, marginalized and stigmatized. But it needs to done with full engagement and in strong partnership with the community and its leaders. We are doing just that right here in the Bronx. We have teamed up over the last several years with the Anti-Violence Project to work more effectively with transgender sex workers who are disproportionately impacted by harassment, street violence and HIV/AIDS in the Bronx.
Building towards the future, BOOM!Health is now raising funds for and constructing a new 35,000 square foot state-of-the-art Wellness Center in the South Bronx primarily focused on the needs of the LGBT community, particularly homeless youth. We are part of a larger effort to ensure that the LGBT community has a safe space to go for support while spurring positive growth and development in an area previously infamous for the burned down and abandoned buildings of the 1970s and 80s. Our new Wellness Center is scheduled to open this spring, and will feature a drop-in center for youth, social services and a unique co-located partnership with Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, the Chelsea neighborhood-based premier LGBT health center in New York City. High quality primary care, behavioral health and pharmacy services will launch by this summer, right here in the Bronx. We are also partnering with the renowned LGBT Community Center from the Greenwich Village neighborhood to develop innovative LGBT leadership and workforce development programs onsite. And a cafe social enterprise is in the works to provide high quality coffee, healthy food and much-needed job training for LGBT youth who often face discrimination in applying for jobs.
As a father and a leader serving my community, I need to continue to step up in alliance with other far more courageous LGBT leaders and community folks to ensure that we are creating a just society that protects the basic human right of safety for everyone. I urge other allies to do the same by pushing for LGBT equality and safety in the Bronx and beyond. Whatever their eventual orientation or gender expression might be, my sons deserve that. We all do.