Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Speech I made

This is the speech I made at UMass today. It was to a group of students in a class called My Body, My Health"

I’m so happy to be talking with you all today. My name is Martina Robinson. I’m a bisexual woman of color with a disability. I have a speech impairment. Hopefully this projection will help you understand me. During Q&A, please ask me anything you want. If you don’t understand my reply, simply ask me to repeat myself. I’m used to that. I have to do it 15 times a day on average. It doesn’t embarrass me. I’d much rather answer your question than have you leave here with a burning one. I also gave your professor slips of paper with my contact info, please contact me if
you feel you need to at any time.

I’m 34. I live in Belchertown. I am a writer and an organizer. I just got promoted. Now I am the Disability Examiner for the whole country on in addition to covering Western Massachusetts. I spend a good deal of my time fighting for justice, which includes giving speeches with the Speakers Bureau. I have assistants who come to my house and perform tasks for me such as putting me to bed, getting ready in the morning, and coming with me wherever I happen to be going (which today was here). They also make my food, do my laundry, clean my house, and tend to my cat.

I’m out to every person that works for me. I feel that that is very vital to having a healthy mental state. There are still places that require me to be the closet. Since coming out to my family at 21, I’ve vowed that my house would never again be one of them. It hasn’t. This decision has costs me a few workers, but I wouldn’t change it.

I’m a health educator by necessity, if not degree-based training. You see people in certain of my communities especially the disability community and certain communities of color, don’t believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people exist within their membership. This makes it very hard to discuss matters like sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention and same-sex domestic violence, both of which are issues that every community needs to deal with no matter how deep their denial goes. So, being a community organizer and activist by training and passion, I became a health educator by default. There was no way, I decided (and I’m pretty stubborn) that I was going to let issues like HIV and domestic abuse steal away the people I valued most.

So I learned and I studied. I gave workshops. I was publicly out as a bisexual, woman of color with disability. Some people didn’t like the things I said. Some people wanted me to shut up. They failed, obviously.

I was and still am willing to defend the people I value, whatever the cost. As society becomes more and more accepting (which I believe it is despite the failure to abolish bigoted laws like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or to as yet legalize same sex marriage in every state) the risks that publicly out people take becomes less and less. I’m overjoyed about this turn of events.

From experience, I can tell you that it’s in no way healthy to have the very truth of your existence questioned or denied by people whom you value. My parents, who live in a very small town in Pennsylvania, blamed my deciding I was bisexual on going to a very liberal arts college and taking women’s studies courses. Of course, that’s ridiculous. I no more decided to be bisexual than I decided to have darker skin than some of my co-presenters. It’s just part of my biological makeup. People, some of whom I respective, have argued that it’s not the same. They say you can hide not being heterosexual, but you can’t hide being a person of color.

Obviously, people with these opinions haven’t studied history. Before the civil rights movement, lots of light skinned people of color tried to pass themselves off as white to escape the grip of segregation. This was not a physiologically healthy practice. It was a survival skill.

I feel that being in the closet is the same thing. It’s painful to always watch your pronouns to make sure you’re not outed. It’s horrible to not bring your significant other to family gatherings, because of what people might say. Never knowing what to do when your mom/aunt/grandma decides that it’s “time you met someone” and proceeds to introduce you to her neighbor’s friend’s son when you’re already head over your heels in love with a girl they’ve never met is just gut twistingly awful. It hurts to lie to people you care about. If you do it often enough it’s hurts physically and can affect your well-being. Trust me, I know.
I’m an organizer and I am not just going to sit here and tell you some “poor me” story without giving you the tools to make it better for the next person down the line. So, what can you do as people, regardless of your sexual orientation, to make this campus and the broader world beyond UMass more accepting of GLBT people?

Be an ally. Let your friends and family know that you love them, regardless of who they love.

Confront and Interrupt anti- GLBT bias! Be it in yourself, the dorms, your family home, or on the street. Be mindful of safety, though. Sometimes, the best course of action is to sneak off to a corner, discreetly call the authorities, and make them come deal with what’s happening.

Learn about GLBT history and culture. GLBT people are not a some new phenomena that simply popped up 20 or so years ago. We have always been here. We will always be here. Celebrate us-even if you are straight.

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