From Russia with Love (?)

22 Apr

jews-must-register-or-face-deportation-ukraine-russia-donetsk-leafletGiven all of the vicious homophobia of Russia and its self-proclaimed Tsar, Vladimr Putin, along with the recent annexation of Crimea and the long-established regional history of misogyny and anti-Semitism, I’m starting to get a bit worried about a possible resurrection of a new USSR.

Last week I learned that following Pesach services a group of masked men (hard not to make a link to the KKK here) were delivering leaflets that instructed Jews to register with the city of Donetsk.  Jews were told they had to register to prove their citizenship and provide a list of all of their assets.  Am I the only one freaking out about this? Is anyone else thinking about Nazi Germany or the old Russian pogroms?

Despite the clear impression they intended to give, the masked bigots were not actually representing the Ukrainian government or the city of Donetsk.  They seem to represent a fringe right-wing group of bigots. Sadly, I can only imagine the trauma caused to these people coming out of the synagogue.

The tensions mounting in the Ukraine are unsettling at best. I struggle with how humans can make space for creating communities to thrive, and how do we prevent communities from being taken over and governed by an autocrat? Certainly, Putin has not been a friend to the Jewish community or the LGBT community. Now with his increased military presence in eastern Ukraine, this is feeling similar to Uncle Joe Stalin’s way of governing.

Cousin Vlad has made stirring speeches referring to “Tsarist borders” for Russia. Given the Crimean annexation, that should be terrifying for anyone paying attention. Do those borders include Latvia? Lithuania? Poland? Finland? Does the simple weight of historical maps trump over a century of evolving national identities, diplomacy, and binding international agreements? Putin seems to think himself a law unto himself. If he gets a nationalist surge behind him, where will it end?

By no means am I encouraging or endorsing we entrench ourselves in yet another war, but I wonder if it would be helpful for NATO to take a strong stand against Putin? The weight of history around how humans treat Jews and gays is very scary for me and I wonder with sadness, have these militants never read a history book?

Homophobia at Oregon City High School

18 Apr
Home of Homophobia

Home of Homophobia

I have to thank my dear friend and amazing LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey, for inspiring me to write this story. She actually heard about this sad news before I did. Yet another story that hurts my heart.  Once again, here in the self purported progressive Portland, we witness some very ugly homophobia. Even more sad is that this awful incident comes in the wake of the Farmers Pantry homophobic debacle.

This story has a lovely beginning. Students at Oregon City High School were honoring the National Day of Silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.  Just to prove how much we need this Day of Silence, other students at Oregon City High School decided to protest, creating and wearing shirts that read: “Gay Day is Not Ok.”  I won’t even bother to link to the very hurtful homophobic interview one of the teens gave, but I will share some of  his words:

I don’t have a big problem with gay people. It’s just when they start parading around the school about how we have a day of silence for gays, lesbians, transvestites — it’s like, we don’t have a straight day!

Let us hope this young man will have a transformative experience in his life and will not be full of so much hate. Let us hope he will evolve. I also tire of the often heard heterosexual victim attitude of: “I’m not homophobic — I just don’t want to treat gays equally.”  How do we even address the ignorance of “it’s like, we don’t have a straight day”?  I hear this from many white people about Black History Month — “why don’t we have a white history month?”   Really people? Every day is white heterosexual day.

I contacted the school and tried to speak with Principal Tom Lovell about this incident, but he never returned my calls. I am interested in how he is addressing or not addressing this very serious problem.

The impact of this incident sends a very clear message that LGBT students are not safe at Oregon City High School. It also sends a message that LGBT people here in Oregon have a long way to go to being treated as human beings. We have yet another reminder that we LGBT folk must navigate the world with extreme care. I guess we cannot “parade” our lives in public like heterosexuals who are allowed to be who they are all the time.

Call to action: Here is an opportunity for LGBT folk and our allies to call Principal Lovell and ask that he address this homophobic problem.  On a larger scale, we have another opportunity to ask all schools in every state to create and enforce policies that help protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment.

Late Night with Stephen Colbert (?)

13 Apr

late-night-talk-show-hotsI subscribe to the New York Times on-line. Twice this week I received notifications that there was breaking news. My fear was that the “Breaking News” was something about the United Soviet Socialist Republic restructuring and that the Ukraine was now part of the New USSR — shades of Uncle Joe Stalin.  But, no. The breaking news was that David Letterman had announced when he would retire from Late Night with David Letterman.  This news was then followed up a few days later that Stephen Colbert was the appointed heir apparent.

So now we have witnessed two major late night television shows that have recently replaced their hosts.  I have nothing ill to say about either Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert. What does sadden me is that we have all now experienced continued white heterosexual male domination in who we can see for late night television. Was there a dramatic shortage of  LGBT folk and women and of people of color, thus the only population to pull from to fill these two spots was white heterosexual men?

I am exceedingly sad here because I can think of a number of amazingly talented and exceedingly witty potential hosts who are black and or women.  Why not replace Letterman with Arsenio Hall? He already has a proven track record as a host of late night TV.  Why not give the phenomenally talented Mo Gaffney a try? I am hard pressed to think of someone who is equally witty.  Speaking of witty and amazing, what about Whoopi Goldberg?  What about Julia Sweeney — another personal favorite of mine, or Chelsea Handler who is leaving her late night show on E. I wonder if either network even thought about giving one of these shows to our Margaret Cho? Even the charming Neil Patrick Harris was floated as a possibility, but I guess gay folk only get to host daytime talk.

Sadly, NBC and CBS have already made their respective decisions — decisions that have demonstrated that Late Night Television is reserved for white heterosexual men only. I wonder when this glass ceiling will be broken.

Celebrating the Fair Housing Act

11 Apr
LBJ expands his powerful legacy

LBJ expands his powerful legacy

On this date 46 years ago, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This important piece of legislation is better known as the Fair Housing Act. Its core purpose is to prohibit discrimination in housing — whether for lease or for sale. The law makes it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Sadly, even with the landmark civil rights legislation already passed, housing discrimination was rampant in the United States, particularly in urban areas. This blatant discrimination — including redlining, social steering, and other heinous practices — was not restricted to the South. Even though there was 100-year-old legislation (the Civil Rights Act of 1866) that implied the rights of property, the lack of a strong enforcement mechanism allowed many nasty practices to grow over time.

As the civil rights movement grew and the first major laws were passed — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act — activists began focusing on housing. The Chicago Open Housing Movement was a trailblazing effort and federal legislation was drafted based on the successful aspects of that movement. Unfortunately, Congress had lost some momentum and many members felt that civil rights had been sufficiently covered — a view afforded to those with white privilege. The draft law languished.

Then tragedy struck. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out and racial tensions rose again across the nation. Never one to miss an opportunity to take bold action, LBJ decided the time was right to re-energize the Fair Housing Act. He wrote personal letters to Congressional leaders demanding immediate action. As was often the case, he was sufficiently persuasive. One week after King’s death, he signed the Act into law.

LBJ has a complicated legacy, but he was a powerful, convincing leader whose passion for civil rights and equality cannot be questioned. No president before or since has done more to create legal protections for oppressed and targeted people. The Fair Housing Act created strict guidelines and penalties. It also established an enforcement agency, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The NAACP and ACLU have successfully pressed cases that have expanded the protections to include urban renewal planning. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the protection umbrella as subsequent legislation was passed over the years.

While this law was critical and made a real difference, housing discrimination is still a significant problem. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates approximately two million cases of discrimination every single year. Imagine what the problem would be like without a law in place! As with most federal protections, Fair Housing still does not carry protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several states and localities have created protections, but without cohesive federal standards this piecemeal approach is not enough.

Call to Action: We who believe in freedom cannot rest. Given the current Supreme Court’s fondness for gutting rights laws and the blatant violations that still exist, we must be vigilant to ensure that the enforcement, protection, and punishment mechanisms that are in place remain strong. We must also work to include all people in this protection, demanding strong federal protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Homophobia Sneaks in Everywhere: From Mississippi to Oregon

6 Apr
LGBT Folk Not Welcome

LGBT Folk Not Welcome

I could feel my heart being crushed at the news that the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, signed a bill on Friday that makes it legal to discriminate against people in the LGBT community.  While not surprising coming from Mississippi, it is nonetheless disappointing. Not the first and probably not the last time the state of Mississippi is on the wrong side of history–this is not a state known for equity and equality.

Sadly, closer to home, I realize that the purported progressive Portland, Oregon hosts many homophobes as well. Last week, it came to light that the owner of The Moreland Farmers Pantry, in Sellwood, a Portland neighborhood, spewed her homophobic views. Owner Chauncy Childs posted this on her Facebook page about gays and same-sex marriage: “…a tiny minority is dictating a change of our social structure.”  I guess a population wanting equality and equity needs to be more than just a “tiny” 10% of the population. Childs went on to say that she supports the right of businesses to refuse to serve gay people.  The Charm Free Childs went on to say:

…that gay marriage is wrong because it is the start of a slippery slope that could eventually lead to pedophilia and bigamy.

Rest assured Ms. Childs, my gay husband and I will not get in our gay car find a gay parking spot and enter your store of hate.

Call to action: I would please ask that all of us LGBT folk in that “tiny population” boycott The Moreland Farmers Pantry.  May I also ask all of our allies to also boycott Ms. Childs’ Farmers Pantry.

Sadly, the latest homophobic episodes in Mississippi and Oregon are just a constant reminder that we are never completely safe and that we must constantly remain vigilant against homophobic bigots.

The Supreme Court and Chrisley Knows Best: The Death of Social Justice?

4 Apr
Heads They Win/Tales We Loose

Heads They Win/Tales We Loose

While at first glance,The United States Supreme Court and the reality television show Chrisley Knows Best may seem like two very disparate platforms, they are sadly very similar when it comes to eroding social justice.

To my great sadness, Chief Justice Roberts and his inhumane colleagues voted to remove financial caps on donors to federal candidates.  Re-enforcing Citizens United, the Supreme Court has made it abundantly and painfully clear that money trumps democracy. The exceedingly misguided Chiefly On the Wrong Side of History Roberts tried to defend the 5/4 decision with a bastardization of the 1st amendment:

There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.

That would hold some truth if we had a categorically different distribution of wealth in the United States.  Fortunately, Justice Breyer offered an unprecedented dissent from the bench that perfectly captures the many inequities this decision puts in motion:

…the majority opinion is a disturbing development that raised the overall contribution ceiling to the number infinity. If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.

Well done, Justice Breyer.  I’m at least grateful that four of the nine justices understands the power of money and how it ties into buying elections, continuing to disenfranchise already targeted populations, and fostering an increased cynicism in our election process.

So how does this have anything to do with the rather awful television show, Chrisley Knows Best?  Sadly, this show is about how money trumps all!  If you have enough money you can now buy yourself a television show and create more wealth while obtaining a bizarre and shallow status of “celebrity.”  This vapid tv show is nothing more than an obnoxious display of conspicuous consumption, misogyny, and a reckless celebration of bad behavior.  Are we really supposed to feel bad for a white 17 year old boy because his father put a boot clamp on his $100,000 Range Rover.  Really? What does this say about us as a culture?  While I am the first to admit that I enjoy what I call popcorn television, is there no limit to how awful the impact might be of pop culture?

What happened to a purported government that worked towards equity and removing barriers from voting? We don’t even seem to offer the pretense of equity and equality.  Now we just have huge For Sale signs tagged to elections.

What happened to television shows that were amusing and didactic both? Shows like Maude, The Jeffersons, and The Mary Tyler  Moore Show seem to have been replaced by the uber wealthy that can buy their own “Reality” tv show.  What isn’t for sale now?

Call to action: Here I invite all of you to recommend ways in which we can both collectively and individually works towards social justice — work towards making the world a better place for all.

Women’s History Month 2014: Anita Hill

28 Mar

Anita HillToday it is an honor to have the opportunity to celebrate a woman I treasure, someone who is an amazing role model for women in the United States. Today SJFA celebrates Anita Hill. I also need to thank my dear friend Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write about  Ms. Hill.

I actually had the great pleasure of meeting Ms. Hill several years ago. No surprise, she was absolutely brilliant, gracious, and far more compassionate than I would have been. I was able to have breakfast with Anita Hill shortly after the bizarre phone message left on Ms. Hill’s answering machine demanding an apology.  I have no clue as to what kind of “Tea” our Ginni was drinking during that Tea Party.  I can hardly believe it has been nearly 23 years since they put Anita Hill on trial for being sexually harassed by the now Justice Clarence Thomas.  I suspect many of us share Ms. Hill’s feelings regarding his appointment:

“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” she said in a recent interview, acknowledging that it irritates her to see Justice Thomas on the court. “I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with. And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

Although she is a very private woman whose life was practically destroyed after the hearings in 1991, we can finally learn more about this amazing woman in the documentary of her life that was released on March 21, “Anita.”  While the documentary does not reveal her current impressions of Justice Thomas’ history sitting on the High Court, it does show how far we have yet to come regarding how we treat women and how sexual harassment is still a very real issue. How terribly sad that we still blame women and worse yet, we have devolved into a culture where we try to justify rape.

I hope people get to see the documentary and I hope we can stand in solidarity with women who experience the horrific violation of sexual harassment.  Thank you, Ms. Hill for being a hero to so many.

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