Carla Trier Brings Heaps of Love to Sheridan, Wyoming by Way of the Foster Parent Exchange

Carla Trier, founder and Executive Director of Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange.

Carla Trier has a radio voice, and you want to listen when she speaks.

It’s sultry and earnest and sparkles when she talks about the nine children she has fostered/mentored as a single parent.

Her first foster daughter was seven years old when she arrived on New Years Eve 2012.

“She came only with a sack of things,” Carla said.

“She was sobbing, and I made a pretty fast decision that this wasn’t the way things should work.” she said.

That clarity lead to the Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange.

Carla said, “Children are removed from parents quickly, and that usually meant stuffing a few things into a trash bag as they are taken from the parents.”

But awareness is changing, and evidence of that are duffle bags often replacing plastic bags when children are picked up.

“That makes the little ones’ self images a lot different than arriving at a new home with a garbage bag,” she said.

Carla was a foster child, but unlike most children she encounters, she was sent with a suitcase and a teddy bear under her arm.

Change is also seen in Sheridan in the form of both children and the foster parents receiving help faster.

Children immediately receive 7 days worth of clothes, hygiene kits, towels, handmade quilts, coats, shoes, socks and underwear, pajamas, books, and stuffed toys.

Yet it’s not about handing a child a bag.

“Sometimes they’ve never had things that are their own, and we don’t ask for anything back,” Carla said.

As well, foster parents, grandparents, and biological parents reuniting with their families are all supported by this 501(c)3 nonprofit.

What Carla Would Like You to Know

“People say foster care is something they could never do.” Carla said.

“They’re afraid they’ll get attached to a kid and then they’ll leave”

Carla and her first foster daughter. The following year Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange was created.

To Carla, though, if you don’t give it your all, you’re not serving yourself or the child.

“The love they know when they are with you may be the only time they experience that in their lives.

“That might be the only place they have to go back to in their minds.”

“Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.”
Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University

“It’s not always been easy with my kids,” Carla said.

Yet her support is unwavering.

“The love they know when they are with you may be the only time they experience that in their lives. That might be the only place they have to go back to in their minds.”

“I tell all my kids, I am not going to give up.

“I say, ‘Hey, I love you.
‘Hey, you matter.
‘Hey, you made my day special.
‘My day is always better with you in it.'”

“Those are things they may not hear in their lives,” she said.

“I just keep showing up.”

Take Action!

Donate to the Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange.

Watch a 90-second video on Sheridan Foster Parent Exchange narrated by Carla Trier.

•  Learn about a similar organization in Laramie, Wyoming

•  Watch the feature film, “Instant Family,” based on director Sean Anders’ own experience adopting his three foster children. From the movie’s website learn more about fostering and adoption, and volunteering with the foster care system as a tutor, mentor, and more.

•  Read about other organizations doing great work in Wyoming:
Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care Sees Far Beyond Medical Needs
–  Climb Wyoming Breaking Multi-Generational Single Mom Cycle of Poverty

•  Listen to Josh Shipp, a former foster child, talk about The Power of One Caring Adult

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and is a practitioner of both HeartMath and The Connection Practice.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Refugees Resettled in Maine Give Me Hope in Humanity

Deo, Uber driver in Portland, Maine by way of Tanzania and Burundi.

While visiting my home state of Maine I used Uber to get around Portland

During one trip the driver, Deo, and I started talking.

He has lived in Maine for 10 years.

And he is an immigrant from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa.

In 1993 the first democratically-elected President came to power there.

Voter turnout was 97%.

Later that year the President was assassinated, and civil war erupted.

After two of Deo’s children died the same year, he walked 600 miles to Tanzania.

For the next decade he called two Tanzanian refugee camps home while assistance from the United Nations helped secure his asylum in the United States.

In 2008 he relocated to Maine after a short stay in Iowa.

Maine Used to Champion Refugees

For close to a decade Maine championed refugees, and whether that is because its population is rapidly aging and attracting younger workers was strategically smart or if it was a humanitarian gesture, I can’t say.

Either way, it was a powerfully good thing.

And unlike Wyoming, Maine had a plan to assist people in need.

But as of January 2018, an amended Act curtained Maine’s participation in what remains of the federally-funded refugee resettlement program.

In truth, since the U.S. presidential election of 2016, refugee resettlement in Maine and elsewhere has all but ended.

Between October 1, 2017 and March 15, 2018, 91% fewer refugees came to Maine.

That’s 21 arrivals versus 229 in the same period the previous year.

Yet for Deo, life here is good.

He works in Portland and belongs to a supportive community that both sees and believes in his worth.

I’m encouraged

After all he has witnessed and experienced, he reports being treated fairly and with respect in the whitest state in the country.

And his reflection on Maine matters to me; I want to live where human life is valued and compassionate acts are not only tolerated but are sanctioned.

•  •

Deo’s Uber profile shows he has a 4.86 overall rating with almost all evaluations being perfect 5-stars.

He says on the Uber app, “I am honest and take care of people.

“I love gospel music.

“I am filling [feeling] nice when I give people rides.”

Take Action!

•  Read about the Wyoming student who wrote a refugee resettlement plan for the only state without one.

•  Listen to Maine Public Radio, The Year the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled, by Deborah Amos, Jan 1, 2018.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and is a practitioner of both HeartMath and The Connection Practice.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


“Pain should not be wasted”— Deep Gratitude to Three Parents Who Have Not Wasted Their Pain

Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of Matthew Shepard.

Holocaust survivor, Gerda Weissmann Klein said, “Pain should not be wasted.”

And I am deeply grateful to three parents who live that wisdom.

Karen Ball began the Sturge-Weber Foundation when her daughter, Kaelin, was born with Sturge-Weber Syndrome accompanied by a significant facial port wine stain.

Because this Foundation was there when my son, Byron, was born with the same syndrome, we were not alone.

Karen continues to blaze trail after medical trail in service to others.

The Shepards of Casper, Wyoming

And then there are the Shepards.

Their son, Matthew, was murdered 20 years ago this month.

It was a hate crime for being gay.

Judy channeled her anger and pain and created good:  The Matthew Shepard Foundation.

And for two decades, she and her gentle husband, Dennis, have traveled the country and the world erasing hate, promoting tolerance, and heralding human rights for all.

“This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.” – Judy Shepard

We spent this week-end in their presence.

On October 26, 2018 at 10 a.m., a public celebration of Matthew’s life will precede his interment at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

His remains are still not safe in Wyoming.

And that is unimaginable.

The Shepards model both public anguish and resilience as they counter the injustice of Matthew’s death.

And though their service to humanity cannot be measured, award after award attempts to quantify the shift their work is creating.

As Judy said during the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice in Laramie last spring, “This is not about courage or some higher calling; This is what happens when you piss off a mother.”

And for me, a mother still fighting for me children — sometimes out of fear, occasionally from anger, and mostly out of love — I spill tears every time I’m close to the energy that swirls like tornados around Judy and Dennis.

Because beyond the LGBTQ community, the work they do emphasizes justice for all human life on the planet.

“Pain should not be wasted.”

And for Judy and Dennis and Karen it hasn’t been.

•  •  •

An excerpt from Dennis Shepard’s trial statement:

“You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone . . . First, he had the beautiful night sky with the same stars and moon that we used to look at through a telescope. Then, he had the daylight and the sun to shine on him one more time — one more cool, wonderful autumn day in Wyoming . . . And through it all he was breathing in for the last time the smell of Wyoming sagebrush and the scent of pine trees from the snowy range. He heard the wind — the ever-present Wyoming wind — for the last time. He had one more friend with him. He had God.

“I feel better knowing he wasn’t alone.”

Take Action!

•  Learn more at the Sturge-Weber Foundation

•  Help Erase Hate at the Matthew Shepard Foundation

•  Read about growing up in a moderately-tolerant town

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and has been practicing Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy since 2013.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care Sees Far Beyond Medical Needs

Abigail Strube, WFCC Executive Director, with her mom, Cathy.

Last year Abigail Strube’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

And that’s when they both came to know volunteers from the Angels Care Cancer Program, a Casper-based organization that’s part of the Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care (WFCC).

In fact, it was an Angel who suggested Abigail apply for her current job.

“WFCC is all about reducing the burden of cancer,” Abigail said.

And that translates to helping patients and families with non-medical needs that accompany treatment.

Help Beyond Medical Care

“We sometimes pay utility bills.

“We’ve even made mortgage payments,” Abigail said.

“We give gas cards, and this past summer a patient who needed to travel for a much-needed surgery had unsafe tires, so we just bought new ones for her.”

A large portion of WFCC’s budget goes to paying hotel bills.

Because of vast distances between Wyoming towns, people seeking cancer treatment must often travel hours for care.

It’s is all about reducing the burden of cancer.

WFCC Board of Directors includes (front row) Abigail Strube (ad hoc), Kara Frizell; (back row): Angie VanHouten, Michele Nash, Dr. Robert Tobin, and Sam Carrick (ad hoc)

More than 12 years ago staff at Rocky Mountain Oncology in the mid-state city of Casper saw patients struggling at home with non-medical needs.

So they considered how best to help.

The result was a grass roots organization as an arm of the large Tennessee based eplus Cancer Care foundation.

Then in 2018 WFCC received its own 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Until recently funding came 100% from community donations and grants from individuals.

And now as they extend their reach to more of Wyoming and are eligible for federal grants, efforts are underway to grow the current $50,000 budget.

It’s about supporting patients and families with the non-medical needs that accompany treatment.

In 2017 more than 206 people state wide were served, and this year 176 patients have already been helped.

And the only eligibility requirements are that applicants be Wyoming patients currently undergoing treatment.

Partnering with Hands-On Care

When WFCC merged with the Angels Cancer Care Program more ways to offer non-medical support were possible.

That’s because many of the volunteers have, themselves, gone through cancer treatment.

“They know how to help make the stress of chemo more bearable,” Abigail said.

“Volunteers may sit with patients going through treatment, assemble cancer care kits, and drive patients to appointments.

“They have even put together teams to do house cleaning,” she said.

“In Wyoming we are proud to take care of our own.

“We believe in the spirit of the west and supporting cancer patients in our communities who are in need,” she said.

As for her mom, Abigail reports, “She’s 10 months out of treatment and doing really well.”

Take Action!

•  Read more about Wyoming Foundation for Cancer Care

•  Donate to WFCC. Every small donation has a big impact.

•  Review Preventing Alzheimer’s and Slowing ALS: The Focus of Jackson Hole Medical Non Profit.

• Read Climb Wyoming where efforts to end the cycle of single-mom poverty in Wyoming are effecting change.

•  Read about a daughter who helped her mom live fully to the end of her life.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. She is a HeartMath Certified Trainer and Coach, and certified through HeartMath to administer the Stress and Well-being Assessment tool; A Connection Practice Trainer, a Trainer’s Trainer, and Coach; and a Registered Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (RCST®). Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West



Take Two: Why the Singular, Non-Binary “They” Pronoun is Darned Difficult to Master

If you read no further, delight in watching John E. McIntyre’s Baltimore Sun video on the indisputable appropriateness of the singular, epicene, pronoun “they.”

The third-person, singular “they” he talks about was the 2015 American Dialect Society Word of the Year.

Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries agree.

And the Washington Post style guide, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style do, too.

So why is speaking “they” when we’re referring to one person so difficult to master?

Even — and especially — if someone has told us “he” or “she” just isn’t who they are.

Logic says this should be easier.

Most of us have lived through a few language changes in our time.

Think no further than “groovy.”

We used it, then shuttered and moved on.

Yet tell me that they/them/their are your pronouns, and I’ll stumble, fall, get up, and do it again.

“As shorthand for any thing or concept, pronouns are used so often and so unconsciously that they are more like hardware.

Linguistics May Hold the Answer

Why I slip up so often can, at least partially, be explained by linguistics.

John McWhorter, an English and literature professor at Columbia University, says we are flexible with changing nouns, verbs and adjectives, and it can even feel natural to add, subtract and revise them.

Like software, he said, we can adapt moderately easily to new versions of what’s called, “open class words.”

But other parts of language are different.

“Pronouns are closed class words,” he said.

“As shorthand for any thing or concept, pronouns are used so often and so unconsciously that they are more like hardware.

“A new object or practice is one thing — but a new “you” or a new “him” or “her”?

“It’s harder to wrap our minds around changing something so cognitively fundamental, just as one does not pop up with new prepositions.

“ . . . nouns and verbs are lightbulbs; prepositions are the wiring inside the walls.”

He said the origins of our language can be traced back 6,000 years.

And even then people spoke pronouns that sounded similar to “me,” “you,” and “we.”

“That’s how hardy pronouns are,” he said.

Comfort in Knowledge

So let’s drop some of the judgment we put on ourselves for making mistakes with “they.”

Slipping back into “he” or “she” when someone says their pronoun is “they” is what can happen when you have hard-wired parts of the brain.

And as a result, this is going to take time.

What we’re seeing is a rapid evolution in English.

But John McIntyre cautions against taking too long to adapt, “The tide is running against you, and it’s coming in,” he said.

“. . . Resistance is futile.”

Take Action!

•  Read  the CNN Opinion by John McWhorter, Goodbye to ‘he’ and ‘she’ and hello to ‘ze’?,” October 14, 2015.

Read  New York Times magazine article, “Who’s ‘They’? by Amanda Hess, March 29, 2016.

•  Watch John McIntyre’s Baltimore Sun video on singular ‘they.”

•  Read last week’s blog, The Evolving World of Pronouns, and My Struggle to Keep Up.

•  And You Might Enjoy  Growing Up in a Town Hospitable to Lesbians and Others with Non-Binary Lifestyles 

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

The Evolving World of Pronouns and My Struggle to Keep Up

October 17th is the first-ever International Pronouns Day.

That means that organizations and individuals are acknowledging and supporting — celebrating, even — nonbinary pronouns.

And I’ve already signed up.

What has been she/her/hers, he/him/his in me/mine/my language is expanding.

English pronouns are becoming they/them/their, ze/zim/zir, sie/sie/hir, ey/em/eir, ve/ver/vis, and more.

Other languages have far more pronouns than we do, so this change isn’t revolutionary, but it’s happening quickly, and it’s confusing to me.

Dizzying and disorienting better describes where I am with all this.

Last year my husband and I took lunch-time classes at the University of Wyoming to become better-informed LGBTQIA+ allies.

The topics were LGB 101, gender identity, and how to be a visible ally.

But even after being encouraged to ask people their pronouns, I couldn’t.

I haven’t been able to say to a single person, “Hi, I’m Ellen. My pronouns are she/her and hers.

“What about you?”

I fear I’ll anger some people while offending others.

My own history foreshadows the perils of good intentions.

At least once I called someone’s husband by her former husband’s name.

And then there’s the personal anguish of anonymity that I experienced with my chronically-sick child.

In hospitals I was seldom summoned by any name other than “mom.”

It was as if I didn’t exist.

And not being seen doesn’t feel good.

So I really do get that this pronoun upgrade is important.

But I don’t want to be shamed or humiliated or seen as disrespectful if I mess up.

Yet that’s exactly what recently happened.

An Email Exchange

Last week I wrote an email suggesting that when I don’t know someone personally I can ask, “What are your preferred pronouns?”

A swift reply arrived from my colleague, a self-described, non-binary human who uses the pronouns they/them/their.

My offenses were itemized.

First, they said, “Being trans is not a choice. One does not just choose to not be cis.

“In this vein, the pronoun that people use is not a ‘preferred’ pronoun . . .

“There is no preference here. I am not a woman, therefore they/them IS my pronoun — not a preference.”

So noted.

In the same email they said it’s impolite to ask a personal question about a relationship.

But wait a minute.

Isn’t asking about someone’s pronouns a really, really personal question?

They also told me to “refrain from using the word biological.”

“Assigned Female/Male at birth (AFAB, AMAB) is the word choice at the moment (these things change!!)”

And for me that’s the fulcrum of the problem; I feel the rules keep changing.

Being warned that changes are coming isn’t exactly the rally call I need to go forward with confidence.

So what I’m now trying to understand is if the comments I received are the reaction of a single person, or are the points they make typical of a wide range of people asserting rights to their own pronouns?

I Could Use Some Empathy

What they didn’t seem to consider [and here I’m using “they” as a personal pronoun for one individual] is that every single time I take a risk with the intention of being respectful and empathetic, I am leaping flat footed into vulnerability where criticism is poised to pounce.

But ok.

I accept the feedback and will learn from my errors, innocent as they may be.

I have another chance at success.

This time it’s a commitment to myself and a nod to Pronouns Day.

By October 17, 2018, I promise to look someone in his/her/their/zir/hir/eir/vis eyes and say, “Hi, I’m Ellen. My pronouns are she/her and hers.

“What about you?”

Take Action!

•  Sign Up to Support International Pronouns Day.

•  Read Lindy Westenhoff about and her simple ideas for updating language in college classes.

• Read my experience of growing up in a town friendly to multiple-gendered people.

•  Take free online LGBTQIA+ ally classes through the Safe Zone at the University of Wyoming.

•  Read “Understnding Non-Binary People: How to be Respectful and Supportive” on the website.

•  Read a CNN article by John McWhorter, “Say Goodbye to ‘he’ and ‘she’ and hello to ‘ze’?” .

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.

Positive Roadside Messages: Won’t You “”?

I noticed a billboard on Interstate I-25 in Cheyenne, Wyoming with the then child Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai’s photo and quote, “Girls should learn history. And make it,”

I saw it again in Laramie along I-80.

And a similar one a few miles away that featured a 13-year-old boy who started a nonprofit when he was 5.

Today in Tucson, Arizona I drove past a bus stop with a picture of Garth Brooks and lyrics from his song.

“When there’s only one race, and that’s mankind . . . We shall be free.”

And each billboard and post included, “”

The Foundation for a Better Life is the nonprofit that began in 2000 to promote positive values through public messages.

It is a 501(c)(3) that has, it says, “zero political or religious affiliations.”

They don’t accept financial contributions, and not a single thing is for sale on their website.

Rather, the Denver-based nonprofit that offers free billboard copy, radio and TV spots, posters and daily emails is funded entirely by Philip Anschutz through the Anschutz Family Foundation.

Its website says it “. . . exists solely to create and share uplifting messages . . .”

According to Variety, though, there has been significant criticism surrounding Philip Anschutz’s funding of conservative groups including pro-gun, anti-abortion and those touting anti-LBGT values.

A Gift to the Elton John AIDS Foundation

Yet earlier this year, Anschutz donated $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Isn’t passing it on what we human beings do really REALLY well?

He said, “My gift to the Elton John Foundation is intended to emphasize that we support freedom of all people to live their lives peacefully, without interference from others.”

Each message includes a red rectangle identifying the value in its story.

Inclusion, inspiration, courage, service, soul, persistence, compassion, soul, optimism . . .



You could be driving across country on I-80 or getting on the same interstate to travel to the other side of Laramie.

It doesn’t matter.

Most of us can use a reminder now and again that we have it in us to do and be better.

As imperfect humans we look to one another for stories of encouragement and inspiration, even stories that fit on billboards.

And passing those stories on is something we do really REALLY well.

Take Action!

•  See someone — really  see someone with the eyes of appreciation, then tell them what you see.

 Access the entire collection

 View Garth Brooks’ full We Shall Be Free video on Vimeo

•  Read about Rooted in Wyoming‘s efforts in Sheridan, Wyoming to bring people together through community gardening.

•  Get to know why Wyoming Untrapped‘s work to keep bobcats alive could be a tourist draw for the state.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

Growing Up In a Town Hospitable to Lesbians and Others With Non-Binary Lifestyles


I’m pretty sure the central-Maine town I grew up in was modestly hospitable to lesbians and other women who didn’t fit neatly into a heterosexual mold.

There were the two close friends who worked in Newberry’s.

The egg lady who made deliveries smoking a pipe.

And the Page sisters in Burlingon I visited with my grandfather.

In hindsight it didn’t seem to matter if these and so many other women I knew were lesbians or fell somewhere else on the LBGTQIA+ spectrum.

Rugged Little Town

Lincoln is carved from a forest of white pines and birches.

Many of the 13, grey-blue lakes that dot the landscape are framed in pink quartz and granite.

It’s much closer to Canada than any major American city.

And it is still the place my heart calls home.


It’s a rugged little town whose sole industry, making paper, closed down as reading became digitized and competitors in China and Finland prevailed.

Overt femininity peaked for many of us in the experimental years of high school.

Perhaps it tapered as the practicalities of living in a remote part of the state took over.

Where snow gets deep and stays.

And summers are breathtaking but require a certain no-nonsense approach to black flies and mosquitoes.

Yet it seemed as long as you were white, Christian (though not necessarily practicing), Republican (as evidenced by not declaring to be a Democrat), a hunter or recipient of the hunt (as my mother was with the necks of deer for mincemeat canning), you were  accepted.

My decade of influence was the 1960s.

Lesbianism and other lifestyles weren’t talked about, but in hindsight they sure seemed to be accepted.

Especially if you were a lone woman or part of a quiet, female couple.

Anti-discrimination in Wyoming and Maine

The second-ever Pride Week just ended in Laramie, Wyoming, the town my husband and I have lived in for the past 11 months.

It’s where Matthew Shepard attended college and was brutally murdered 20 years ago by being beat up, tied up, and left for dead at the base of a fence.

Laramie now has a city ordinance – the only such one in the state – that prohibits “discrimination of any person based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.”

Unlike Maine, Wyoming doesn’t yet have state-wide protection laws.

State anti-discrimination laws
Grey = no state protections; dark purple = states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; the rest of the state laws are somewhere in between.

Women’s Alternative Lifestyles in Lincoln

Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins
Olympia Snowe (left), represented Maine in Congress for 34 years – 16 as a House Member and 18 as a Senator. Susan Collins (right) has been a Maine U.S. Senator for 22 years.

I have to wonder how the women who chose alternative-lifestyles managed in Lincoln back then.

How did they deal with inheritances, hospital visits, and the whole next-of-kin thing?

And more generally, how much of who they were did they have to keep secret?

Still, I don’t recall — even once — anyone making a face or a fuss over how someone else chose to live.

And this was a time before precedence, formal laws, ordinances or activists for equal rights having much of a voice.

Maine Congresswoman and Senator, Margaret Chase Smith, 1940-1973.

It may simply have been a case of getting along with one another.

Through my eyes it was a matriarchal community, starting with my grandmother, then my mother and her strong, funny friends.

And might that be part of the answer?

When not goaded to separation by hateful media and cruel religious takes on right and wrong, could it be that people naturally accept one another?

Even act kindly?

Maybe as time has passed and Maine continues to elect centrist, independently-minded, female leaders,  Lincoln’s ease with people just as they are continues to grow.

I know my own has.

Take Action!

Read about Lincoln, Maine

Learn about aging LBGTQIA+ in Maine. “AARP Maine/SAGE Maine: Statewide GLBT Aging Project Report,” by Jane Margesson, March 22, 2013.

Learn about SAGE: Advocacy and services for LGBTQ elders

Support  Wyoming Equality.

Learn about EQMaine – Equality Maine

Learn about non-discrimination in Maine

Read about Wyoming’s Safe Zone, free online trainings for LBGTQIA allies.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West


[Comment] No Duality — Both Charity and Justice are Ways to Follow the Light

[This comment about duality refers to the June 18, 2018 post, Charity and Social Justice: “Distinct but Complementary”.]

by Barbara Cornell

Abraham Joshua Heschel
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching in Selma in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King.

I love the clarity, immediacy and honesty of the latest blog post.

You invite us to join you in an important struggle — to determine for ourselves what it takes to live on the right side of history.

You set out creating a non-partisan space for social justice, and I think that question, that struggle, is really what motivates both sides, for better or for worse.

Yet the bit of Buddhist in me squirms at the duality of the debate between justice and charity.

It seems to me that social justice warriors are trying to shock people out of their complacency so that we, as a society, can do the heavy lifting needed to bend the arc.

But there is a smugness to the assertion that meeting immediate needs is “comfortable.”

It is not comfortable for me to drag myself at the end of a long day to pack books for prisoners.

It is not comfortable to learn that the person asking for the books I love has brutally murdered his wife and children.

To argue that charity is an exercise in feeling good
while social justice is the real deal is like saying
my hand is worthless because it is not my foot.

It is not comfortable to send endless emails to arrange for the never-ending list of needs our organization has (money, transportation, storage, etc.).

It is not comfortable to be busy-up-to-here but take on one more task because the kids of an incarcerated person might be better for it.

To argue that charity is an exercise in feeling good while social justice is the real deal is like saying my hand is worthless because it is not my foot.

. . . even for social justice movements,
maybe especially for social justice movements,
money is mission.

There is no duality here. Both are a way to follow the light.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the great figures in social justice, said that you do not need to go looking for God, because God is looking for you.

God can’t bring about His creation without your willingness to work for it.

Where do any social justice organizers worth their salt turn when they need to build an advocacy community?

They turn to the front-line workers and volunteers who grapple with the problem — the comfortable “charity” crowd, in your line of argument.

And why does that community respond?

Because it is impossible to stand on the front lines and not see the larger social forces at work.

Even people who just write checks and party at galas have their role.


Because even for social justice movements, maybe especially for social justice movements, money is mission.

•    •    •

Barbara Cornell
Barbara Cornell, author of this post, is a wise friend, student of wonder, and long-time volunteer at DC Books to Prisons. (photo taken at the Wonder Exhibit at the Renwick Museum  in Washington, DC)

“To be or not to be is not the question.
The vital question is how to be and how
not to be . . .”   — Abraham Joshua Heschel




Take Action!

•   Listen to The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel, On Being, 12/6/12.

•  Check out the organization Barbara Cornell volunteers with,  DC Books to Prisons

• Watch PBS episode on Religion and Ethics about Rabbi Heschel and his walk in Selma; an excerpt from the forthcoming documentary called, “Praying With My Legs,”.