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I remember when Pulse Nightclub was the new gay club in Orlando. I grew up just about an hour and a half outside of the city, to the west, in a town so conservative even the Puritans would have suggested we put our Bibles down for a few minutes and have a drink—and Orlando is where a lot of us went for that.

In 2004, right after Pulse opened its doors for the first time, I was dating a guy from the Orlando area, and he and I would escape to the city, hanging out with his friends and going out at night. Being gay in 2004 was immensely different than being gay in 2016, and we did actually feel the need to escape our everyday lives and the personas we wore Monday-Friday. My boyfriend at the time was very active in his fraternity at the University of Florida, and while he was out of the closet to some people, he never could be quite himself at college. I was living at home and had a very strenuous relationship with some in my family about my sexuality. Making the trek to Orlando, for us, was a small sacrifice for that little bit comfort we got just from being in our own skin.

It probably seems really silly to straight readers, but Orlando was Disney World. I realize Disney is near Orlando, and not actually the city itself, but Orlando to a 2004 version of Preston was a magical kingdom of sorts. My hometown, Crystal River, Florida, isn’t known for much—though it did make its way on The Daily Show that one time—and growing up there was a special kind of hell for a gay kid. In Crystal River, people like me had their lives threatened, they got beat up, thrown out of their churches, told by school administrators that they shouldn’t be gay if they were afraid of physical harm, and so much worse. Well, I assume that’s how it would have been. It’s difficult to know when there aren’t more of you around to compare stories. That simply didn’t happen as much in Orlando. Stick 4 or 5 gay guys at a table in a restaurant in a 2004 version of Crystal River and wait for the fireworks to start, because someone would say something and the chances are good those gays would be harassed mercilessly, if not actually physically assaulted.

In a 2004 version of Orlando, very few people gave a shit.

Big cities to gays were, and to many still are, places to which one could flee and find a community willing to support them. Orlando isn’t a big city to most people, but it was to me back then, and I loved it for that. Despite never having actually lived there, I’ve been to more gay bars in Orlando than I have any type of bars everywhere else. Some of them have been nice and others not, but they’ve all welcomed me and helped me survive this life.

Every single time I go to a gay bar, which happens with no regularity at all these days, I think back to the first time I ever went to one. I asked my sister if she remembers that night, and she does—she’s the one who took me afterall. It’s a cute story, really, one my sister is all too happy to share. Celebrating my 18th birthday, more than a few drinks already down the hatch, I first patronized a gay bar in November of 2002, and I was the “most gay” my sister, Lauren, had ever seen me. Those are her words, not mine, but they’re as true as any words really can be.

The bar, which is still open, is called University Club, but everyone knows it as UC. Walking up to it that night I remember this tension just slowly being released from my body. Starting outside the bar that night, even before getting in, I saw, met and spoke to more gays than I had every day in my life up to that point combined. I saw diesel dikes, drag queens, gender-bending queers and, thankfully, a lot of fags just like me. Some people describe their first trip to a gay bar as a homecoming, which is great for them. For me it was more similar to going to a party where I was actually wanted and where I actually had a chance to meet someone. For the record, I didn’t meet anyone that night, but it was just nice knowing I stood a chance. I’m not sure if straight people understand this, but there’s no better feeling than actually being somewhere where you aren’t a minority and where you might actually be able to have a good time without ending up bloodied.

“You danced like you have never danced before. So young,” Lauren told me, the melancholy thick on her voice. Despite my heavy drinking that night, I remember much of it, even 13 years later. The matron of the joint, Lady Pearl, spotted me within seconds of the drag show starting. She came down the stairs to the small dance floor where the drag show took place and started her opening monologue, but maybe two minutes in she started pointing at me. “’Fresh meat,’ she called you” is how my sister recalls it. I just remember that silly twat of a drag queen pulling me into the spotlight, intending to disarm me, asking, “do you suck dick?” Yeah, like I was going to answer that one way or another in front of my sister and a whole bunch of strangers. Being held hostage by this drag queen lasted only a minute or two, and I dodged the question while escaping Lady Pearl’s grasp unharmed, mortally terrified and equally exhilarated all at the same. Back safely with my sister and friends with a lot of eyes on me, Lady Pearl gave me one tiny smile and nod that said “welcome” with all the warmth she could muster, and I knew everything would be all right.

lady pearl performing at university club gainesville

Lady Pearl Performing at University Club

Lady Pearl died almost two years ago. Colon and liver cancer. And though I never knew her personally, I loved her for what she did, and I cried when she passed. At 18, being gay wasn’t easy for me. I had some troubles at home with my sexuality, and I was very much depressed and suicidal because of it. Coming out as gay at the age of 16 cost me a lot of friends, both at school and at church, and it caused a lot of problems at home. Today it seems as if kids come out and they become more popular, but that wasn’t the case in Bush’s America circa 2002. Being gay in Crystal River, I was so lonely that I began secretly planning an escape to New York City as soon as I graduated. Then I turned 18 and my big sister did what she needed to do: She took me to my first gay bar. And that damned drag queen let me know that no matter what I’d always be welcomed there and at all gay bars. It was Lady Pearl who kept my ass where it belonged, because with a simple smile and a nod she let me know I didn’t need to run away from anything and that there would always been friends there when I needed some—even if they were total strangers.

Lady Pearl never got the answer to her question that night, but she didn’t give a shit. All she wanted to do was make sure that lonely, uncomfortable and awkward 18 year kid knew he was welcomed. She did, and I was, and I never forgot that fact for the rest of my life.

I can’t stop crying when I think about what happened in Orlando this past weekend. At first I thought, man, I’m lucky no one I know was there and everyone is okay. But then I stopped to actually think about it, and while, yes, I may not be personally saying goodbye to friends or family, I still feel like something has been taken from me—as I’m sure many gay people are feeling right now.

I’ve been to Pulse. I’ve sat at its bar sipping on water (boring, I know). I’ve listened to its music. I’ve danced on its floors. I’ve been in the bathroom where Omar Mateen cornered and murdered some of his victims. It seems so silly, but I actually remember the feeling I got when I stepped through its doors—because it’s the same feeling I’ve always had every time I walk into any gay bar. It’s the same feeling Lady Pearl made sure I got walking into UC in 2002.

If you didn’t grow up gay you don’t know this, but there is a feeling you get walking into a gay club that you don’t get anywhere else. It’s this very specific kind of comfort, subtle and unobtrusive, but enveloping. Even if you don’t want to be there, even if you’re afraid of crowds and hate the thought of being around so many people, like I do, a gay bar welcomes you for who you are at the most basic level. Gay bars, throughout my life, have been a safe zone, a place where I never needed to worry about being called a faggot or killed for just being me, and I think the past few days have proven how very needed places like that are for the LGBTQ community. A feeling of safety is one of the most precious and fragile things in human existence, and as strong as I want to say I am and we are as a community, I doubt I can ever feel that way again.

“That feeling you described when walking into a gay bar was the same 60 years ago when I was 23. It was like retreating into a fortress.”

That’s from my Uncle Ronny, who’s been at this game a lot longer than I have, and it was even more true for him than it was for me; he had to worry about the police killing him too. The thing is, I’ve been taking that feeling for granted for the past 10 years, after my now-husband and I started dating. He and I have gone to a few bars together during our time dating, but for the most part we fell in love and domesticated ourselves. Early in our relationship, I was so careful not to show any affection to him, not to act “too gay” in public. I knew how some people might react, because some people really want people like my husband and me to die. I knew this. He knew this. So, we behaved.

Preston Hemmerich and Andrew Becks on their wedding day

Preston (right) and husband Andrew (left) after cutting their wedding cake, September 13, 2014.

After a decade together, we’ve built a life. We have a house and five amazing pets. We’ve even discussed starting a two-legged family, through adoption, if we ever feel “ready,” whatever that really means. We’ve lost family members together, but we’ve also welcomed my niece into the world as uncles. Our separate lives are more of one super sappy and sickeningly sweet life together, these days, just like it is for loving straight couples.

We’ve also opened up a bit. We’ll have small, intimate moments sometimes in public before we realize it. We’re not talking big makeout sessions, but just casual and short moments of affection. If you’re in love, you know how sometimes you just want to put your hand on the other person’s hand for no reason, just to feel close? That’s what I’m talking about. Five years ago I wouldn’t have done that in public, but after 10 years my guard seems to have let itself down. I mean, it’s 2016, gay people don’t just get gunned down these days, right? We may not be loved by all, but our lives are safe, aren’t they? I went to bed Saturday night very sure of this fact, but I woke Sunday morning and felt all that security and safety disappear.

In 2007, when my now-husband and I began dating, I wouldn’t show him any affection in public. No hand holding. No kissing. Maybe a hug, but that hug would have needed a #NoHomo disclaimer. My private life then, like it was before, was very segregated from my public life. Except in those little havens called gay bars. They were, for so long, the only place a gay man’s public life and private life could mix, but over the years things changed. Maybe that’s why my husband and I stopped going to gay bars. Maybe we felt like we didn’t need them anymore. We probably just felt safe enough without them.

This week a friend of mine is going to have to attend six funerals to say goodbye to his friends who lost their lives early Sunday morning. I don’t know Omar Mateen’s motives. I don’t know why he decided to kill 49 people. I don’t care if it’s because of ISIS, or because of his religion. He took 49 lives he had no right to, and he took a feeling of comfort and safety from millions more.

There are reports now that Mateen himself might have been gay, and I’m sure for many people that changes everything about how they see the situation. Not for me. If Mateen was gay, it just proves even more that we have a long way to go in this country—because someone who is gay should never hate himself enough to do this.

When I was a timid 18 year going to my first gay bar, I would have given anything to feel as safe and welcomed in society as I did at UC, and maybe the last 10 years with my husband fooled me into thinking I was, because I thought we were almost there. It turns out we still have a very long way to go.

Early Sunday morning I woke to the news of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub, with as many as 20 people being killed.

Police report that at least 20 are dead and dozens more injured after a shooting inside an Orlando nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning. As of this time, police are not providing any details about the number of gunmen or suspects, or about any possible motive.

Shortly after, we began seeing updates.

First update: It was a gay nightclub. Second update: Omar Mateen was the gunman. Third update: The death total could eclipse 50. Fourth update: Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS. Then: Every major media outlet begins crafting its own narrative of the events.

Working in media, it’s difficult sometimes to take a moment and consider what’s actually happening when you’re writing about it. We’re under so much pressure to publish something quickly that we’re often grasping for things to say and arguments to make. When it is time to chronicle a major event, such as the largest mass shooting in U.S. history (unless one were to count Wounded Knee, which technically happened on a reservation within the United States), we have responsibilities to our employers to write and get articles out there in the most enticing and engaging way possible—without sacrificing our integrity. Of course, news journalists have their obligations and objectivity to guide them; the rest of us, the commentators of society, we have to say something, so we do, and we’re the people who will ultimately dictate how this event is remembered in history.

I am a little-known and inconsequential writer, at least part time, and as the only gay writer for MensTrait.com, I should have had something to all of the site’s readers on Sunday to document the date of June 12, 2016. But I didn’t. By June 13, I could have had something up. But I didn’t. The Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack is one of the few events in my life where I am honestly struggling to find the words needed to write about it, but that could be because it’s the first time I’m writing about something that feels this personal.

As a writer, a chronicler of events, I don’t know how I want the history of this event to be told. If someone wants to blame Omar Mateen’s religion, they can. The same is true of those wanting to blame ISIL and Islamic extremism. Make it a gun laws issue if you want. I don’t care. Blame whoever or whatever you want, because that doesn’t matter. All that matters to me, and to people like me, is to be safe and welcomed somewhere, and hopefully everywhere, one day.

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Sweden’s Move To A 6 Hour Workday Should Make You Very Angry

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Sunset in Stockholm, Sweden
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

What would you do with 6 extra hours of free time every week? That’s the question every full-time worker in Sweden is going to have to answer. After years of individual companies making the switch, the entire country is about to embark on an ambitious plan to maintain productivity while also eliminating 17% of the current workweek. Yes, the entire country.

Not only have Swedish workers just been given 312 hours of their lives back each year, but they have effectively been given a rather nice raise as well. In 2014, the average Swede took home about of €30,612 (the equivalent of $34,285) each year, or €2551 ($2857)  a month, which is about €589 ($660) a week. If we break that down over a 36 hour work week (less than the 47 hours the average American works full-time ), that equals €16.35 an hour. With the switch from a 36 hour workweek to a 30 hour workweek, the average take-home hourly wage just jumped to €19.63/hour, or a 20% increase.*

That would make me pretty happy, and I hope our CEO reads this and feels compelled to give all of us at Men’s Trait a 20% raise. We’re not holding our breath, however. Wages in the U.S. have been slightly better than stagnant for decades, and now we have to sit back and watch as an entire nation was just collectively given a raise that we could only dream of in the States.

In the United States, the average earner made $45,230 before taxes in 2014. More than the average Swede, right? Not necessarily. You might have noticed that the amount people in Sweden take home, on average, was €30,612 ($34,285), not what they earned. That’s the net, after tax amount. In the U.S., depending on a worker’s tax bracket, that amount would be at best $33,923, excluding any deductions and credits on their taxes. Depending on the exchange rate at any given moment, people in Sweden might take home more money than Americans. Or Americans might take home more. It’s very, very close.

But each country is different, and the cost of living in Sweden is higher than in the United States. Or, rather no, it isn’t. When we look at just after tax income, not accounting for fixed expenses, the average Swede has more buying power than the average American. Rent and utilities are significantly cheaper for people living in Sweden, making it slightly more affordable than the U.S. overall. Removing just utilities from the equation gives the advantage to Americans for having more buying power. Luxury activities, like eating at restaurants or going to the movies, are more expensive in Sweden than they are in the United States; that’s one financial advantage we have. But Swedes don’t do those things on the same scale that Americans do, so the premium prices affect them less than they would someone living in the States.

Okay, so I’ve rambled for over 500 words about how the Swedes just made a change to how much people work, and then delved into a bevy of numbers comparing the incomes and buying power of Americans and Swedes, only to come to the conclusion that there really isn’t that much difference between the two countries. Both are wealthy countries, with each celebrating a 7.2 OECD Better Life Index score that measures the quality of life for people around the globe, well above the average score of 6.0. So what’s the point?

Just remember, you could be living the American dream in Sweden, only by working at least 312 fewer hours each year. Oh, and the Swedes are guaranteed 25 paid vacation days and 16 paid holidays yearly, plus some paid maternity (56 weeks, or 13 months) and paternity leave (34 weeks), neither of which are guaranteed in the United States.** Now, with this new 6 hour workday, your typical Swedish worker will work 458 fewer hours every year than the average American (this even includes part-time workers)—that’s 19 full days.

Yes, you should be angry. People in Sweden are living the American dream better than we are.

Preston Hemmerich is the Content Manager for 301 Digital Media, overseeing MensTrait.com, OutwardOn.com, DailyBeautyHack.com and more. He enjoys covering food, politics, travel and writing sad attempts at humor.

*This figure does not account for hourly employees, only salaried employees. Some businesses have applied a wage increase to hourly employees to make up for lost hours, but that is not a country wide practice. In reality, this de facto raise disproportionately benefits higher income individuals working salaried jobs.
**Collectively, citizens of the U.S. get nowhere near 41 paid days off a year that Swedish citizens do.

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Pro-Clinton Columnist In Bed With Clinton Staffer — Literally

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Jonathan Capehart and Nick Schmit
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Over the past 24 hours, a flurry of scandal has unfolded involving MSNBC contributor, Washington Post opinion columnist and prolific Clinton supporter Jonathan Capehart.

Writing an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Capehart sought to sling mud at Bernie Sanders — Swiftboat-style — in questioning Bernie Sanders’ past achievements in fighting for civil rights on behalf of African-American communities in the 1960s. (This, itself, isn’t even an original idea, as Capehart was simply jumping on the Establishment’s anti-Sander claims, which continue time after time to be disproved or found to be outright lies. (Here, here, here and here — in case you’d like some background reading.)

But that is not the central thesis of this story. Instead, let’s look a little more closely at Jonathan Capehart himself, and the flurry of lies and misdirections for which he is quickly becoming known.

Capehart, who currently offers his opinions to readers of the Washington Post and viewers on MSNBC, has spent the past five years in a long-term relationship with Nicholas Schmit IV, a long-term Clinton aide. Schmit has served in various capacities for the Clinton family and the US State Department under Clinton since 2004. You can see his full resume on LinkedIn, but we’ve summarized the key timeline of his career here.

2004 – 2007
Schmit graduated from The University of North Dakota in August 2004, and joined the Clinton Foundation, serving in various roles ending with Director of Finance, before leaving to work on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign.

2007 – 2008
Schmit worked as the Travel Compliance Director for the Hillary Clinton for President campaign, before her primary defeat by now-President, then-Senator Barack Obama.

2008 – 2013?
Schmit returned to the Clinton Foundation as a consultant, before being tapped to join the Clinton-led State Department in various capacities. His last update on LinkedIn shows him moving into the role of Assistant Chief of Protocol for Diplomatic Partnerships at the State Department in February 2013, the same month that Clinton left the State Department.

Whether the last (or any) of the promotions were based on merit or simply Clinton politics as usual is unclear, but regardless, a clear pattern has emerged.

Flash forward to now. In the middle of a heated and contentious primary season that pits the Clinton-establishment against the sweeping change and progress that Sanders promises, and which Obama promised and failed to deliver in full.

If it feels like history is repeating itself, that may be because history is repeating itself, and Clinton is running the same campaign with which lost in 2008.

Instead of taking a neutral position on the matter to help further Clinton’s policy agenda and talk about how Clinton will move the country forward, Capehart has gone out of his way, time and again, to ensure that the Clintons are presented as the only reasonable choice for the Democratic party. The idea of “politics as usual” as a bad thing is clearly lost on him.

It’s clear that Clinton is the favorite of the Democratic party establishment — despite her arguments that being a woman somehow makes her a non-establishment outsider — when 38.0% of the popular vote translates into 50% of the delegates, thanks to the magic of “party rules”. (More about that here.) So it’s not surprising that Capehart may have a preference for Clinton, and it’s not his political positions that are at issue. He is welcome to support Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Bush, or Jill Stein*, should he choose.

The real issue, it would seem, is that despite the fact that Capehart and Schmit have a history of mixing their personal and professional lives, including Capehart attending official State Department events with Schmit, and that they share a home and life together, Capehart, never saw fit to disclose this conflict of interest, despite his years of work as a journalist blogger.

Instead of admitting his mistake and moving on, Capehart has doubled-down and attacked anyone who questions his “journalistic integrity” as an opinion writer, refusing to acknowledge that his story was factually inaccurate and has already been widely disproven:

Whether there’s really any direct connection to the Clinton campaign today remains to be seen and is up for question, but it should not be forgotten that Capehart’s long-term partner has the Clinton’s to thank for his career and that, by extension, the Clinton’s have helped pay for his Washington, DC duplexAnd knowing that, doesn’t it make the whole situation just seem a little slimy and tawdry?

* Disclosure: We love Jill Stein, but understand that she lacks the name recognition to win. (See, Jonathan, that’s how disclosure works.)

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Can Mindfulness Meditation Reduce Police Brutality?

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police brutality black lives matter hands up don't shoot sign protests
THIS CONTENT WAS REPUBLISHED FROM AN EARLIER DATE.

Let’s face it–America has an unfortunate history of police violence used to settle disputes. As of late, there’s been a strain amongst civilians and “The Boys in Blue” largely because of incidents of extreme brutality such as the in-transit death of Freddie Gray, Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha’s broken leg that derailed a stellar season and potential championship run, and the death of Eric Garner which further catalyzed the Black Lives Matter initiative. These incidents are not necessarily indicative behaviors of all officers of the law, but they do highlight a startling trend of over reaction and opting for physical intervention over patient analyzation and verbal reaction in non-life threatening scenarios.

With the recent trend, some people – like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who is under fire for his department’s shooting of LaQuan McDonald –have called for more oversight of our nation’s police forces, while others have called for officers to don 24/7 video cameras to hold them more accountable of their actions. Both are more direct reactions to the problem of police brutality, and I’m certain other effective channels are being explored, but one slightly more “out of box,” conceptual approach could come in the form of optional mindfulness meditation training amongst police forces.

Mindfulness meditation and its concurrent learning practices are well regarded amongst most modern psychologists, though hard evidence of meditation’s benefits have only recently begun to be recorded. That being said, the benefits of mindfulness meditation are surprisingly applicable to overwrought, stressed police officers that could benefit from some sort of emotional release in lieu of unleashing physical abuse. Some empirical benefits of mindfulness mediation include

  • Decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, along with fatigue, and anxiety.
  • Sharpens focus of attention and suppresses acceptance of distracting information.
  • Less emotional reactivity, which is likely the key contributor to the instances of police brutality. If emotional reactivity can be curbed, the possibility of non-violent resolutions would hopefully be more likely.
  • More cognitive flexibility, another support parallel that would hopefully enable officers to be able to react intelligibly and logically, before resorting to physical force.

There are countless other qualitative benefits to mindfulness mediation that could prove highly beneficial to police officers across the country while making strides toward a more compassionate and deliberate police force. Mindfulness meditation has already made its way into certain portions of the American police force, as Hillsboro (OR) Police Department began its own mindfulness-training program in 2014, and has already seen substantial growth in the mental resiliency of the department’s officers. Started by Lt. Richard Goerling, the program is focused on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which he hopes will help stifle the prevalence of cynicism amongst officers of the law.

Goerling believes that the trend of over-aggression by police is “largely driven by the suffering behind the badge,” things such as PTSD, depression, and personal ware that can negatively affect an officer’s performance on the job. Granted, mindfulness meditation training may not become the most popular method of bridling the trend of police brutality in America, but it is comforting to know that there are police forces that are receptive to the idea of a low cost, low effort method of accounting for one’s actions in order to continue to protect the greater good.

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