Saturday, November 14, 2009

Did I read this right?

"You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."

- Pope Benedict XVI, asserting that condom use is not the answer to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, Associated Press.

If only some of our elected officials had half of this young man's courage!

Arkansas 10-Year-Old Won’t Pledge Allegiance Until Gays Gain Equality
by Kilian Melloy of Edge
Wednesday Nov 11, 2009

A 10-year-old Arkansas boy name Will Phillips has decided that he cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag as long as the country for which it stands refuses legal equality to its GLBT citizens.

That stand has brought young Mr. Phillips anti-gay taunts in the lunch room, but admiration from around the country, reports a Nov. 5 Arkansas Times article. The West Fork School District fifth grader clashed with a substitute teacher for his refusal to stand for the pledge, prompting a call to Will’s mother, Laura Phillips. When the principal acknowledged that Will has the right to refuse to say the pledge, Ms. Phillips asked that her son receive an apology--a request that the principal declined to honor.

A 1943 Supreme Court decision found that schools may not punish students for refusing to recite the pledge. Objections to compulsory recitation of the pledge arose from the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis that their religion does not permit expressions of allegiance to anything other than their own religion and to God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their first case before the Court in 1940, and reportedly suffered from bias-motivated violence in the aftermath of that case. The Court’s 1943 decision reversed the earlier finding, and students have had the right to decline saying the pledge since then, although socially such refusal is often met with disapproval.

Such has been the case with Will Phillips’ stand, but he hasn’t backed down. Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times that her 10-year-old is "probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair."

Fairness in this case is more than a mere abstraction, since the family has a number of openly gay friends and has participated in GLBT equality events such as Pride parades. Will, who told the newspaper that he would like to pursue a career in law when he’s older, could not square the tenets of the pledge with the political realities faced by his family’s GLBT friends, whose family and individual rights are under constant challenge. "I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all," said Will.

That led the young man to his decision not to pledge his allegiance due to the injustice he perceived to prevail against gays and lesbians. He discussed the matter with his family and then took his stand--or rather, refused to stand with the rest of the kids when the time for the pledge came around each morning. The first week of the young man’s protest happened to be a week when a substitute teacher, a friend of Will’s grandparents, was in charge of the class; as days went by, the teacher grew more aggravated, until finally she took Will to task.

"She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up," Will told the Arkansas Times. "I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ’With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’"

That was enough to get Will sent to the principal’s office, which was when his mother received a call. The principal "said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge," recounted Will’s mother. "My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work." Upon learning the specifics of the exchange, Laura Phillips requested an apology for her son. "She said, ’Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’" Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times.

Will’s mother tweeted about the incident, and family friends informed the media. Support has poured in from around the country, and some of Will’s classmates have also been supportive.

But not everyone, said Laura Phillips, has been supportive, and those who oppose Will’s stand "are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are."

Moreover, Will’s stand for equal rights for gays has led those who disagree to attack him personally with anti-gay epithets: "In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay," Will said. "It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad."

That hasn’t been easy for Will, who skipped fourth grade but seems older than his age, especially in contrast to some of his peers. Said Laura Phillips, "It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature."

The interviewer from The Arkansas Times asked Will what it means to be an American. The answer: "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents."

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates discuss Same Sex Marriage

 "I’m running on the gay marriage, no religion, legalization and taxation of marijuana platform. I don’t have a chance."

- Brad Pitt Today Show, responding to Ann Curry’s question if he would consider running for mayor of New Orleans.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The clerk and the taxi driver, part two

Yesterday I blogged about a clerk in Brookstone’s who was fired for harassment when he called a lesbian worker “deviant,” among other things.  Another incident involving homophobia in the workplace also made recently made news.  This time the workplace was a taxi in New York City.

Here’s what we know. A gay couple flagged down the cab of Medhat Mohamed.  Two blocks later, the driver ordered the men out of the car.  Both Mohamed and the men agree that the couple was hugging in the back seat.  Mohamed claims he would have done the same thing to a heterosexual couple and that the issue was his own distraction, not homophobia; it was all about safety.  He also expresses concern that he didn't know how far the couple would go.  The couple insists that it was the fact that they were two males that led to their eviction.

What’s been especially interesting about the incident is how the right wing is using it.  I must say that it surprises me that some of the same people who have been anti-immigrant are now the empathetic spokespeople for an Egyptian immigrant who they claim was persecuted by the “gay mafia.”  One blogger went so far as to say that this “mafia” wants to fire a hardworking taxi driver during the “Obama Depression.”  A New York Post headline read, "Hack halts cab nookie and now he’s screwed?!" Other postings claimed that the two men were having sex in the taxi, something even the taxi driver denies.

But here’s what may surprise some folks about both stories: many gay bloggers and readers are divided as to what should be done to the clerk and the taxi driver.  If there is a “Gay Mafia,” I certainly can’t find it.  Opinions have ranged from “ignore it” to “fire them.” Far from being a mass persecution, some of the LGBT blogs I have read express deep reservations about firing either the clerk or the taxi driver.

Certainly taxi drivers can’t pick and choose who they accept for rides.  And we’ll never know what was really going on in the mind of the driver. What I do know is that the incident needs to be addressed.  In the best of all worlds this would not involve the firing of a taxi driver, but growth, understanding, and a clear message that bias can’t be tolerated when on the job.  Of course, we don't live in the best of all worlds, and I don't know what the driver is willing to do to make amends with the men and the community of which they are a part.

Mohamed has stated that the incident had nothing to do with homophobia and that “it is about them, not me.”  In fact, it stopped being about all three of them when the story was hijacked to make political points with right wing.  Read one post on a conservative blog, "In Obama’s brave new world, this cabby will be brought up on a hate crime.”

Thanks to Kilian Melloy of EDGEBoston for some of the details in this blog.

An important public service announcement

Did I read this right?

"Not that long ago the American Medical Association (AMA) lightened its stance on marijuana laws, which is the only explanation I can think of for their recent decisions to oppose state marriage protection laws and come out in favor of repealing the long standing restrictions of homosexuals in the military."
--Family Research Council

Sorry.  I have no words.  


"The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage. The church remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman."

Michael Otterson, Spokesman for the Mormon Church, in supporting a LGBT non-discrimination bill before the Salt Lake City Council

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mary Poppins Goes Political

The clerk and the taxi driver

Two stories involving service providers (a clerk and a taxi driver) have recently highlighted the complexity and politicization of how best to deal with homophobia.  In the first, a clerk at Brookstone's was fired for allegedly harassing a lesbian co-worker about her sexual orientation.  The religious right has had a field day with this incident, claiming that this, ultimately, is the goal of "gay activists": to purge the country from Christian beliefs.  (The statement, which I paraphrased, is breathtakingly ignorant of Christian LGBT people or others, like myself, who belong to churches that hold the respect of different faiths paramount.)  Headlines in right wing newspapers and blogs such as "Man Fired After Saying Homosexuality Wrong" and "Accused of 'Harassment' Even Though Lesbian Approached Him" have depicted the clerk as an innocent victim, perhaps even the target of harassment himself.

In fact, the clerk was not fired because of his beliefs.  He was fired for what he said at work, and what he said at work doesn't seem born of religious faith but of bigotry.  How else can you characterize his stating that he "hates people like her" and calling her "deviant"?  I'm not even sure that one needs to rely on sexual harassment policy to find this wrong, although calling someone "deviant" for being gay certainly fits the bill.  My question: doesn't a manager have the right to make sure the workplace is a welcoming one for all?   And I would absolutely feel the same way if the clerk were ridiculed for his religion.  As Alvin McEwen (who did some great reporting on this story) writes, "What if the employee was heterosexual, unmarried, and bragging about her children's success in school.  If (the clerk) had approached her and said something like 'you are denying your child a chance to have a father. You and your children are deviants,' there wouldn't be any discussion of whether or not he deserves termination."

I won't judge whether or not a firing was absolutely warranted since I have no understanding of the clerk's employment history.  I don't know if the dismissal followed warnings or conversations with management. I don't know how I would have handled the situation.  I tend to believe that education should be the first step, discipline the second.  But I absolutely believe that it was within the rights of Brookstone Company to fire him. 

NEXT: The case involving the taxi driver in New York City.

Could the DNC boycott be working already?

John Aravosis of Americablog, one of the leaders of the LGBT boycott of the DNC, reports that the tactic might just be working.

One day after the boycott began, Barney Frank, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, said that the Don't Ask/Don't Tell will likely be taken up by Congress this spring.  This is the clearest indication yet that the anti-gay policy may be repealed during Obama's first term.  Previous signals from the White House and Congress were vague at best.  Frank, a liberal known for his ability to effectively manipulate the rough and tumble politics of Washington, most likely made his suggestion with consent of the DNC leadership.

It's a good start.  But if DNC members think a quick announcement -- not by the administration but by a member of Congress -- will mend fences, they're in for a surprise.  And two things about this new information make John Aravosis hesitant: (1) the use of the word likely...still not a definitive statement and (2) the fact that a senior member of the administration did not make the announcement.

Parsing words?  Maybe.  But every word is parsed in Washington.  Words like "likely" are important, as are the titles of those who make the announcements.  And let's not forget that we're unlikely to see any profiles in courage in Congress during an election year.

 Did I read this right?

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn't change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

from the Washington Post, November 12

So let's see.  If you legalize same sex marriage we'll punish the homeless and the hungry in Washington DC?
Could someone tell what really is the big deal?   Watch this very short and very sweet video from Canada

As marriage equality haltingly but inexorably spreads state by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have spread the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be afraid.”

Frank Rich, columnist for the  New York Times

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's Up with the Mormon Church?

This week the Mormon Church -- yes, the same church that spent millions of dollars depicting LGBT people in the most unflattering light during the Prop 8 debate -- endorsed a proposed law that would ban discrimination against LGBT people in Salt Lake City.  The council then approved the measure.

Yes, you might need to read that sentence again.  Light the fireworks.  Unpop the champagne.

Or should we?  Call me cynical, but I'm having a hard time believing that the church suddenly realized it wasn't okay to slam LGBT people.  Indeed, if you read the fine print of the church's statement, you'll see that the church finds the measure acceptable because it "does not do violence to the institution of marriage." Strange that I don't really see myself as doing violence as I sit here with two lazy basset hounds while my husband drinks tea.  I tend to think of violence as fear-mongering campaigns to break up families.

No matter.  The filmmakers who documented the Mormon Church's role in Prop 8 said that after seeing their film, Mitt Romney asked the church to "extend an olive branch to the gay community and to try to deflate the anticipated negative press" the film will bring upon its release.  Let's see.  Could this have anything to do with Romney's presidential ambitions in 2012?  Is he afraid that he may not want to be associated with a church that spent so much money on nixing gay marriage, but got bad PR afterwards?

Yet even if the motives of the church are calculated moves to restore its image, there are two pieces of good news in this story.  Most important is the fact that LGBT people will be legally protected from discrimination in Salt Lake City.  A second piece of good news is that our demonstrations and letters worked.  The church responded to them because they were doing damage to a church that relies heavily on recruitment and proselytizing.  Could it be that it was harder to reach people after the church's image had taken a beating?

So ultimately this is good news.  Even if it scares me that the mere nod of a religious group ensures a law's passage.  And even if no one has still revealed who the anonymous million-dollar donor was to the "yes on 1" campaign in Maine.  In that, too, we might find hope: at least the donor considered it bad PR to support such a cause.

Hard to believe it but...

"An opponent of same-sex marriage, Governor Carcieri has vetoed a bill that would have added "domestic partners'' to the list of people authorized by law to make funeral arrangements for each other.

In his veto message, Republican Carcieri said: "This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue.

"If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnerships, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of the state of Rhode Island decide."

story from Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog

So let me get this straight, so to speak. The entire state of Rhode Island gets to vote on whether a longtime partner can make funeral arrangements for his/her dead spouse? Can it get any more mean-spirited than that?

Movie preview Gen Silent: A documentary about LGBT elders

This is a preview of a documentary set in Boston about LGBT elders that is due out in the spring (even though the trailer says this fall). The preview alone is worth seeing.

Donations and the DNC

Well, I just emailed the Democratic National Committee asking them to indefinitely take me off the donation list.  We were dedicated givers.  Once, twice, sometimes even three times a year.  But now I just can't.  I understand change is slow.  I know the political obstacles.  I'm not a pie-in-the-sky idealist who expected great change immediately.  But what I didn't expect was that the DNC would be downright obstructionist when it came to LGBT issues.  How else can you characterize recruiting Mainers to work phone banks for the Governor of New Jersey -- volunteers that could have been used to defeat the marriage referendum?

Instead, I intend to give to those candidates who are leaders, not followers or obstructionists in equality.  First on my list is Deval Patrick. Without his leadership, same sex marriage would have been put to a vote in Massachusetts.  Period.  No question.  He put his office on the line in convincing  reps and senators in the Massachusetts State House that civil rights should not be put to a vote.  He's in trouble in Massachusetts, not because of his marriage stance, but because of the dire economic situation.  It's not the time to bail out on him.  He led when we needed him.

Marriage Update:  The Washington, DC City Council will most likely vote on a marriage bill within the next few weeks.  All signs point towards its passage, with one possible obstacle: the US Congress.  By law, the US Congress can require its own vote for DC legislation.  It rarely happens, but this might just be too good an opportunity for some grandstanding and showmanship among same-sex marriage opponents.  Stay tuned.
"It’s never crossed my mind that it’d ever be possible for me [to get married]. That’s the scar that I and so many others bear -- we believed ourselves to be second-rate citizens for so long, the idea of being able to say, ’This is my husband, these are my children,’ was not an option. I remember Tom Stoppard saying to me when I came out, ’I feel so sorry for you, because you’ll never have children.’ These days I would say, ’Well, why not, Tom?’ But 20 years ago I accepted his judgment."

Openly gay actor Sir Ian McKellen to Details magazine Oct. 29

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not promising in New York right now

11:38: The New York State legislature is slated to meet at noon today for a special session called by Governor David Paterson.  Paterson is a passionate supporter of same-sex marriage, and he had hoped that during this session -- which will deal with the budget crisis in New York -- a vote on same-sex marriage would come to the floor.  That was yesterday.  The news today is that the marriage legislation will not come to the floor.  The sponsors still need a few Republicans to support them.  Not long ago, this seemed absolutely possible.  Now, after the right wing of the party drafted an ultra-conservative candidate to run against the more moderate Republican in Congressional District 23, some legislators are getting cold feet.  Also significant is that the far right has threatened to run candidates against any Republican who supports same-sex marriage.  All's fair in love and war, I guess, but this is sad development.


We are not legislating for people far away and not known to us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.


Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, arguing for same-sex marriage in his country


The "they'll teach it to first graders!" tactic against same-sex marriage

In both the California and Maine campaigns against same-sex marriage, much was made (in fact, created) about how homosexuality would required curricula in schools if marriage rights were extended.  This was the crux of the opposition's campaign.  In fact, there was not a word about teaching in either of the bills.  So when these accusations were aired on very effective TV ads, the knee jerk response from supporters of same-sex marriage was "that's not true!"

Something has bothered me about this response for some time now.  It feels like the defensive actor or politician who proclaims, "I'm not gay!" (Remember Larry Craig?  The senator with men's room restless leg syndrome?)  The implication that it is also wrong to be gay is hardly subtle. So when I hear supporters of same-sex marriage say, "homosexuality will not be taught in our schools," I get the same feeling.  The subtext?  Because that would be wrong or inappropriate.

I'd like to question that assumption that we shouldn't teach about LGBT issues with another assumption: gayness and homosexuality are already taught in schools across this country.  Here are some examples of how this is done:

1. It's taught every time a kid hears "that's so gay" or the word "faggot" in the school yard.
2. It's taught every time a kid enters a school building and knows of not one gay person there.
3. It's taught when a kid remains quiet during kindergarten talk about families because a brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt or cousin is gay.
4. It's taught by not being taught, by the absence of any recognition of LGBT people in history or literature.
5. It's taught when the school dance group has no male members, because the boys are afraid of being called gay if they join.
6. It's taught the day after a referendum on same-sex marriage in Maine, when a high school class is discussing current events, and a gay kid has to sit through one more conversation about how people don't want her to get married.
7. It's taught on the baseball diamond, when one kid yells to another, "you throw like a girl."
8. It's taught when everyone knows a teacher is gay but it is never publicly acknowledged because it should be a secret.  And secrets are usually bad.
9.  It's taught every time a kid opens a math book and does yet another word problem that involves a heterosexual couple buying groceries or driving x miles an hour down the highway.  Gay people aren't in word problems because they aren't supposed to exist.
10. It's taught when a female athlete doesn't do her 100% best because everyone assumes all good female athletes are lesbians, and no one wants to be known as that.

So, yes.  Homosexuality is taught.  And what is presently being taught about LGBT people is just fine with many of those who so vocally and passionately oppose same-sex marriage.  Because the last thing they want children to believe is that being gay is, well, normal.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Family Feud Update

LGBT leader John Aravosis called for a boycott of donating to the DNC until it responds to some of the concerns of LGBT folks.  So I guess the gAyTM is closed for now. Stay tuned....

“It’s a big mistake to think marriage is really about two adults’ public commitment to each other and a declaration of their love.”

Margaret Somerville,  prominent leader in the opposition to same sex marriage

Family Feud

There's a feud brewing among some gay leaders and it's becoming public.  I'm sure this has been simmering for some time, but the referendum in Maine seems to have been the breaking point.  John Aravosis, a blogger who was named one of the "Top 50 Most Influential LGBT People in the United States," publicized the story last week that an arm of the Democratic National Committee emailed Maine voters to help in to the reelection of New Jersey Governor John Corzine.  Absent from the email was any mention of the gay marriage referendum.  This infuriated some gay leaders, including Aravosis.  He then claimed that the DNC had lied when it called the email a mistake, claiming that internal emails in the DNC proved otherwise.

Enter Andrew Tobias, an important gay leader in his own right, author of one of the most important books in the modern gay literary canon, The Best Little Boy in the World.  Tobias, a financial wizard, is treasurer of the DNC.  Aravosis points to Tobias for allowing the email to be sent; Tobias blames Aravosis for leading a gay revolt against the DNC.   While both have expressed their disappointment that the Obama administration remained quiet on the Maine ballot question, Tobias is much more willing to work with the administration for change.  Aravosis and others have had it: Rick Warren, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Justice Department's brief that reads like a position paper from Mike Mike Huckabee, and now this.  Gay writer Dan Savage appeared on Keith Oberman's show to say that "President Obama is a fierce advocate of gay rights the same way I'm a ladies' man.  He isn't and I'm not." (Obama had defended his choice of Rick Warren by saying that he has always been a "fierce advocate" of LGBT rights.)

So insiders vs. outsiders are fighting who share the same goal.  Is this really anything new in any struggle?  The fact is, we need them both.  We need the insiders to help us keep the faith and not give up; we need the leaders outside of government to scream like crazy and call the President on his lack of action. We need the insiders who have the ear of the administration  and know-how to work the system; we need the outsiders to tell them the system doesn't work.  We need the insiders to remind us that things would be quite different under a John McCain administration; we need the outsiders to say that a "fierce advocate" would not remain silent when our civil rights are put to a vote.

We need them both.  And I thank them both.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Defending Marriage

Oh, and by the way, let's not get facts get in the way of a sound bite to keep couples from getting married.  How often have you heard that same-sex marriage will weaken the institution of marriage?