A Gay in the Life for Aug. 2, 2012

For Weekly SurgeJuly 31, 2012 

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Meet Bob the Ladybug

Local activist, artist and now children’s book author Tommy Starling wants to end bullying by teaching about diversity and acceptance to young children everywhere. Starling and partner Jeff Littlefield were originally featured in a 2008 Weekly Surge cover story “Pawleys Island Family: Chasing the American Dream.” The two gay dads living in Georgetown County are fathers to a lovely little girl that they had through a surrogacy in 2006.

The family of three has already accomplished a lot for the education and visibility of LGBT families. Starling serves on the board for the Family Equality Council, a national American advocacy organization committed to securing family equality for LGBT parents, guardians and allies based in Boston. According to its Web site ( www.FamilyEquality.org) the organization “connects, supports and represents the one million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in this country and the two million children they are raising.”

The couple documented through online blogging the surrogacy process and the early life of their young daughter – giving great insight to other gay couples looking to do the same thing and showcasing the rights and struggles of gay families. In addition, the family has been a part of the White House Easter Egg Hunt and Family Equality Council’s Gay & Lesbian Family Day at the Capitol earlier this year. "Everything is a gradual process," Starling told CNN at that time. "Now that we have Carrigan in our lives, people's minds are changing. They see her; they see us in the PTA functions; they see us in the community, going to the school, so we have a different group of friends, and everybody's hearts and minds are opening to seeing that we are a family just like theirs."

Now as a writer, Starling, along with illustrator Jacquie Gonzalez of Myrtle Beach, has introduced the life of “Bob the Ladybug.” In his first children’s book subtitled “Bob’s New Pants,” Starling wants to subtly teach about diversity and acceptance to young audiences. The main character, Bob the Ladybug of Floraville, is a shy ladybug that wants to wear pants like other boy bugs. (In said ladybug world – all ladybugs wear dresses.) His character faces bullying head on with the support of his diverse group of bug friends. The book, geared toward an audience aged 3-to-7-years-old, takes an interesting twist on conventionality. Add this to the vibrant illustrations by Gonzalez and you have a winner for kids of all ages. “If children learn from an early age to be empathetic to everyone and accept differences, there is a greater chance to end bullying,” says Starling.

Starling utilized crowd-funding Web site, KickStarter.com in order to raise money so that he could self-publish the book. “There seemed to be so few choices of children’s books on diversity, acceptance or bullying on the shelves of bookstores or online,” Starling continued. “I was inspired to create the character of Bob the Ladybug, especially for my young daughter.”

Copies of the book are available directly from Starling’s Web site, www.BobTheLadyBug.com and available in paperback ($12.95) through Amazon.com. There are plans for a series of 12 Bob the Ladybug books that each teach a lesson on diversity.

EAT THIS!

There’s been so much out there, especially in the social networking world, already about Chick-Fil-A and its president/chief operating officer’s stance on same-sex marriage that I won’t rehash too much of it, but it’s important to realize the greater issue at hand. The owners and franchisees of the Atlanta-based fast food chain have every right to make personal statements about their beliefs and give their money to whomever they choose. It’s not about that. The issue is the choices we make about how we spend our money and how we educate our friends and families using this issue as a catalyst.

The issue has become the hotspot of political activity causing 2008 Veep candidate Sarah Palin to pose online all-smiles and thumbs-up with her bags of Chick-Fil-A and Democratic Minority Party Leader Nancy Pelosi tweets saying, “For the record, I prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Protests disrupted the grand opening of a Laguna Hills, Calif. Chick-Fil-A store and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it was not welcome in their cities. Even the Jim Henson Company pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals saying, “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years . . . Lisa Henson, our CEO, is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage.” Coincidentally, following the statement by the Henson Co., a sign showed up on a Texas Chick-Fil-A in regards to a recall of the toys for “safety” reasons.

This week, both sides are taking a stand on the issue with those supporting Chick-Fil-A’s stance in support of “traditional marriage” and opposition to gay marriage geared up to purchase fattening chicken sandwiches on Wednesday (Aug. 1) as part of “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in reaction to the scheduled “National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A” scheduled for Friday across the country. Most of the company’s 1,600 restaurants are located in the Bible Belt.

Here’s my challenge – don’t stop at Chick-fil-A (in more ways than one). As I mentioned a few weeks ago in reference to local bar news, educate yourself on where you’re spending your money. Don’t be afraid to check and see who really benefits from that chicken sandwich, pizza, television, movie, etc. that you buy. For starters, check out Human Rights Campaign’s annual buying guide at www.hrc.org/apps/buyersguide to see where companies stand on workplace equality, anti-discrimination protections, domestic partner benefits, diversity training and transgender-inclusive benefits. Then, educated yourself and those around you. You might lose friends. You might lose family members. There comes a time in every fight for civil rights where we have to stand on our principals, stand up to our enemies (in a civil way) and create change in the world. I often refer to my rule of the 3 E’s – engage, educate and energize. It’s time to start working on those folks.

OUT & ABOUT

Friday, Aug. 3 – Join others in a show of equality as folks across the nation take part in National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A restaurants. Locations along the Grand Strand include at Myrtle Beach Mall, 10177 N. Kings Highway; 1301 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach; 1940 Mister Joe White Avenue, Myrtle Beach; 2360 Dick Pond Road, Coastal Grand Mall at 2000 Coastal Grand Circle; 690 U.S. 17 North in North Myrtle Beach; 1613 Church Street in Conway, and 4400 U.S. 17 in Murrells Inlet.

Friday, Aug. 3 – The First Friday Happy Hour group will meet from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Friday at Liberty Tap Room & Grill, located at 7651 North Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach. Take advantage of Liberty’s popular happy hour menu available from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. First Friday is a gay professionals after work happy hour where everyone is welcome. For more information, visit www.firstfridayhappyhour.org.

Aug. 10-12 – Myrtle Beach Gay Days is scheduled for the second weekend in August and more information is out about this 3-day festival of fun. On Friday, after guests check-in at Breakers Oceanfront Resort, this year’s host hotel, head across the street to Papas Lounge for a kick-off wine social, before heading out to the night’s block pre-party at Rainbow House, Time Out! and Club Traxx. My guess would be that Pulse Ultra Club will be added soon. Then on Saturday, get up early for Sun-Up Yoga and the Family Fun Festival at Plyler Park on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. The day’s events will include Myrtle Beach Gay Games, live beach entertainment, a rainbow marketplace which area all free to the public, followed by a group “takeover” of Family Kingdom (Tickets are $21) and happy hour entertainment at Time Out!. Saturday night is the main party with the Gay Days Block Fusion Party in the Super Block area of downtown. Sunday finishes off the weekend with a Beach Bum 3K Charity Run (registration is $20) to benefit local and national charities and the inaugural Mimosa Brunch at 2nd Avenue Pier. All-access passes are available online for only $15 (which get you into all of the block parties and clubs) at www.myrtlebeachgaydays.com. Click on the “Gay Days Shop.”

Sept. 29 – Careteam’s Annual 2012 AIDS Walk is just around the corner and it’s time to get registered so you can start raising funds for this great community-based event which supports those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties. This year’s event will be on Saturday, Sept. 29 at Plyler Park on the corner of North Ocean Boulevard and 11th Avenue North. Registration is at 9:30 a.m. and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m. Minimum donation is $5. For more information, visit www.careteamsc.org.

Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Chris Rudisill an e-mail to SouthernGayWriter@gmail.com. You can also follow along on Facebook.com @SouthernGayWriter for more news and events.

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