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.

Women’s History Month 2014: Rosie O’Donnell

21 Mar

RosieToday I would like to wish a happy 54th birthday to a woman who has always used the power and voice of her celebrity status for social justice. Rosie O’Donnell was born in Commack, NY, the third of five children. She was popular in high school, known to be outgoing and funny. She began exploring comedy with Gilda Radner impressions and took that passion with her to college.

After stints at Dickinson College and Boston University, she left college to build on her promising standup career. She got a slot on Star Search and won several weeks in a row, giving her a national profile. O’Donnell built that opportunity into a series of TV and movie appearances. After 15 years of increasing success, she launched her own daytime talk show. The Rosie O’Donnell Show (I really loved this show) quickly took over, with her outspoken, open personality and sense of fun capturing the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

During this time, O’Donnell became a foster parent, adopting her first child, Parker, just before her show took off. A strong advocate for children’s rights and quality foster, adoption, and care programs, Rosie always took time to share her views and her dollars to support these causes. She gained additional fame in 2002. After appearing as a lesbian single mother on Will and Grace (fantastic episode), she announced at a comedy show to support Ovarian Cancer Research, “I’m a dyke!” While her coming out was not a huge surprise, she was among the first of the early 21st Century wave of celebrities to come out.

Once she was out, she became a strong vocal advocate for the LGBT community, building on previous quietly visible support. She especially focused on the challenges of LGBT parenting, notably shining a harsh light on Florida’s rabidly anti-gay adoption laws (and others like it). After ending her show in 2002, she wrote a book and launched a magazine, donating significant proceeds to children’s charities and cancer research. She also started a family-friendly LGBT travel company, increasing her focus on parenting for all.

Rosie joined The View in 2006. Somewhat ironically for a woman called “the Queen of Nice,” her outspoken views and willingness to speak truth to power ruffled many feathers. She regularly spoke out against the tragic residue of the George W. Bush administration and made sure the chats on the show were informative and thought-provoking. As a former Catholic and strong supporter of children, she came under fire for speaking out about the abuse scandals in the church. Undeterred, she famously observed,

I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism.

She also gained attention for questioning Donald Trump’s attempts to assume a position of moral authority when his Miss USA Pageant faced scandal. Never mean but always willing to be honest and direct, her approach eventually led to her departure from The View — a significant loss.  Thank goodness they at least have our Whoopi!

Rosie O’Donnell is very present in the public eye with her wife and children, helping put a familiar, human face on LGBT parenting. She donated all the proceeds from her second book to her children’s charity and continues to spend millions on improving the world for the vulnerable and marginalized. She also donates her talent, helping headline Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tours.

A strong voice, a fierce advocate, a caring parent, and a great example — Rosie O’Donnell is an easy woman to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Rosie, and thank you!

Difficult to Mourn: Rev. Fred Phelps Dead at 84

20 Mar

fred-phelpsI just learned that the infamous leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., died yesterday.  Phelps, who will be best remembered for his legacy of hate, such as: “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” because all of those deaths were “God’s punishment” for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.  Those of us in the LGBTQ community and our allies would usually hear his name and cringe, thanks to all of the damage he has done to our community.

Typically, Phelps and his family could be seen holding huge signs that read: “God Hates Fags.”  Phelps’ picketing of the late Matthew Shepard‘s funeral catapulted him and his organization into the national spotlight.

While I will forever hold a space of sadness for all the lives he hurt, I have to say that I am holding a space of sadness for Phelps.  What an awful legacy he leaves — a legacy that now he has no chance of doing any repair.  He will always be remembered as a man of hate — a reputation he worked hard to earn.

I can only hope as we reflect on his passing, that we also reflect on what it means to preach such vitriol.  My experience has been that people who have the most difficulty with LGBTQ folk, are usually battling their own internalized homophobia.

Call to action: I also hope that with Phelps passing we look at institutional and structural power that works to target and disenfranchise LGBTQ people.  How do we make a difference and make the lives of LGBTQ people easier? How do we enlist our allies to help us pressure those in power to create policies that create equity and equality?

I suspect there will not be many mourners of Phelps; that is quite sad.  Sad because he leaves only a legacy of hate. I invite everyone to reflect: What do you want your legacy to be?

Update: March 25, 2014:

Nathan Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, released a rather compassionate statement regarding the passing of his father. I have included a particularly poignant excerpt from his statement:

The lessons of my father were not unique to him, nor will this be the last we hear of his words, which are echoed from pulpits as close as other churches in Topeka, Kansas, where WBC headquarters remain, and as far away as Uganda. Let’s end the support of hateful and divisive teachings describing the LGBT community as “less than,” “sinful,” or “abnormal.” Embrace the LGBT community as our equals, our true brothers and sisters, by promoting equal rights for everyone, without exception. My father was a man of action, and I implore us all to embrace that small portion of his faulty legacy by doing the same.

It is nice to see that some type of repair work is being done by Nathan.

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