Social Workers Helping the Mormon Church to Embrace the LGBT Community

15 Sep
Friend or Foe ?

Friend or Foe ?

My dear friend and LGBTQ ally, Jennifer Carey inspired me to write this blog article and gave me permission to share a part of her narrative.  Jennifer grew up in the Mormon church and she has witnessed first hand:

I have witnessed myself the public and familial shaming and ostracizing of gay children, siblings, friends.

I have been friends with Jennifer for four years now and she is an amazing and humble ally for the LGBTQ community. As Jennifer pointed out to me, “One of the great internal debates of the church right now is its attitude towards homosexuals.”

Helping the Mormon Church look at and reflect upon its attitude toward the LGBTQ community is Dr. Caitlin Ryan, a medical social worker and self-identified lesbian. Ryan recalls her disappointment and despair with the passage of Prop 8 as she witnessed how the Mormon Church revealed itself as the wealthy, homophobic political and machine it is.  The Mormon Church wielded so much political power and economic power that it had a huge impact on the passing of Prop 8.

Dr. Ryan connected with Dr. Robert Rees, a Mormon and a religion professor, to address the homophobia within the church. I would say this is a lot to unpack, because it means also unpacking hundreds of years of established misogyny. Now in 2014, six years after Prop 8, Rees is working with Mormon families at ways to embrace LGBTQ family members.  Rees is working with Ryan’s Family Acceptance Project. Sadly, too many Mormons found themselves in the untenable position of feeling that they have to either reject their family members or reject their faith.

While I am not a person of “faith,” I do realize that the LGBTQ community needs the support of religious communities, especially of those religions that have done great harm to the LGBTQ community.  The Public Religions Research Institute found that the Mormon Church was second only to the Catholic Church in its hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

We clearly have a long way to go regarding addressing homophobia, which is enixtricably tied to misogyny.  I am hopeful that the work of Dr. Ryan and Dr. Rees will help move conversations that create more space for different people.  If you know of any LGBTQ person that is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings please contact the Trevor Project.

Fox News And A Silkwood Shower: An Ugly Face of Racism

29 Aug

FauxI was visiting a dear friend in the hospital yesterday and because it was a shared room, I was exposed to hearing Fox News blaring from the television behind the curtain next to me. After four hours of exposure, I was certain that not even a Silkwood Shower could wash that toxic slime from my pores, for Fox (Faux) News is just a dirt that won’t wash clean.

For almost a solid four hours I had to listen to what is tantamount to White Supremacist propaganda — a bunch of white people foaming at the mouth and spewing venomous lies about racism.  I’m sorry Fox (Faux) News, but you don’t get to tell us that racism no longer exists.  Your vilification of the late Michael Brown is more than just shameful, it is nothing less than unconscionable. Upon publishing Ferguson and the War on Human Rights, I was exceedingly sad to see the number of search engine terms for “Darren Wilson hero.” It weighed heavy on my heart that a human being would even search for those words together.  I will not vilify Mr. Wilson, but I do hope we have some candid conversations about race and racial equity.

The brainwashing machine that is Faux News would have us believe that we live in a post racist society and that those terrible awful liberal Democrats (two words used by the Fox network in every complete sentence) are forcing white people to think about race.  I was horrified that they are allowed to tell outright lies and mortified that the manure they are spreading only contributes to increased racism. Their violent, baseless rhetoric supports and tacitly encourages the targeting of other groups that do not identify as white, heterosexual, or Christian — the moniker of “Christian” is a tricky one because there are many progressive and critical thinking Christians who are in diametric opposition to the Tea Party flavor of “Christian”.  Of course when I reflect upon the many intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, it is no wonder that the homophobic and racist Elizabeth Hasselbeck joined the team at Fox.

Sadly, this is the only source of information some people allow themselves.  We are losing the art of journalism and the implications are far reaching. If Fox persists and is the only source one allows, then one starts to believe the lies and propaganda, which means one is then colluding with racism, homophobia, misogyny, and all the other ways in which we target our other human beings. Faux News is worse than misinformation — it’s inhuman.

Happy Birthday, Howard Zinn

24 Aug

Howard_Zinn-Anniversary-2Howard Zinn would have been 92 years old today. Zinn passed away on January 27, 2010.  I remember listening to NPR and crying my eyes out. Zinn has been one of my heroes since I first read his People’s History of the United States in 1987.  Zinn has had such a powerful impact on my life that I would actually say he is, in part, why this blog exist and why I try to work towards global equity and equality.

Zinn was from a Jewish Austrian-Hungarian immigrant family.  He fought in WWII as a bombadier to try and end fascism.  His experience in the war influenced his anti-war stance. Zinn reflects on what some refer to as “collateral damage” and many of us call the loss of so many civilian lives in war:

I recalled flying on that mission, too, as deputy lead bombardier, and that we did not aim specifically at the ‘Skoda works’ (which I would have noted, because it was the one target in Czechoslovakia I had read about) but dropped our bombs, without much precision, on the city of Pilsen. Two Czech citizens who lived in Pilsen at the time told me, recently, that several hundred people were killed in that raid (that is, Czechs)—not five.

Zinn also influenced my energy around trying to unpack racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the intersections of how we target and marginalize people.  In 1963 Spelman College dismissed the then tenured Zinn from his teaching position for his activism with students in the struggle against segregation.  I love Spelman College and I suspect this was a very messy and difficult decision. I try to look at the level of risk for the college and balance that with the amazing work being done by Zinn and the students.  Two of his students in particular are also heroes of mine, Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.

If there are a few of you who are not familiar with Howard Zinn, I strongly encourage you to read People’s History of the United States and watch the amazing documentary, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.  

Thank you, Howard Zinn and Happy Birthday! I can only imagine how the world could be a better place for all with his inspiration.

 

Dr. Monica Wehby, the Hollow Candidate

22 Aug

Monica WehbyThe 2014 mid-term elections have conservatives salivating, and the Tea Party holds out hope they can gets folks to drink their rancid brew. With many Congressional Democrats retiring and a handful of red-state Democrats seen as highly vulnerable, the GOP is working hard to retake the Senate. If they succeed, President Obama’s final two years in office will make his first six look like a productive picnic. Despite the friendly playing field, conservative operatives are trying not to take anything for granted, noting the many deeply flawed candidates that have cost them probable seats in the past two cycles. (Remember these charm free folks: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle?) To hedge their bets, they’re looking at less likely pickups and dumping huge amounts of money on some long-shots. The amount of money being poured into GOP hopeful Monica Wehby’s campaign is disturbing. I suspect there are many countries that run on budgets that are much less than what the Koch brothers are pouring into campaigns such as Wehby’s.

The support for Wehby is perplexing. She’s running against Senator Jeff Merkley, the first man to receive the Marilyn Epstein Pro-Choice Champion Award from the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, who is finishing his first term. He’s popular, effective, and honest, but as a Freshman may be vulnerable. Despite the conventional wisdom, Oregon is NOT a blue state, but rather a very purple state with a slight Democratic edge in statewide races. The Koch Brothers and their ilk (The top 1%) have decided that this makes Oregon a potential pickup, so they found themselves a candidate.

Sadly, they did a worse job of vetting their pick than Sen. John McCain (R – Angrytown) did when he chose half-term half-wit Sarah Palin as a running mate. Dr. Monica Wehby is a surgeon and a political newcomer. In a “throw the bums out” year with Congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, this telegenic candidate seems promising. Until she tries to pick a position on, well, anything. Sadly, a number of advertisements against Senator Merkley  are already in full swing.

Before winning the GOP primary, Wehby made headlines for her history of stalking ex-boyfriends. She spun that as proof that she’s a determined person who would work hard to get what she wants in the Senate. The two different and independent stalking cases are pretty serious and my first thought was: “Oy! I only hope she does not have a gun on her.”  She also gained some notoriety for fleeing press conferences and debates once she’d used up her carefully crafted talking points. When pressed about LGBT rights in a TV interview, she kept talking about marriage equality, even though the question was about anti-discrimination laws. She says she’s pro-life but would support a woman’s right to choose while celebrating laws like “partial birth” abortion bans. She says she supports equal pay for women while saying that laws that actually enforce equal pay are bad because they would make employers hire more men to avoid lawsuits. Really. Stammering, stunned, and wide-eyed, she clearly isn’t comfortable taking a position that hasn’t been fed to her by the Kochs and their cronies. Again, I am reminded of Charles Durning’s performance of Dance A Little Sidestep from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Suddenly that Koch money is showing up on the airwaves. Wehby’s new ads are everywhere, trying to make her sound like a smart fiscal conservative. She attacks Sen. Merkley for voting to raise the debt ceiling and for opposing a balanced budget amendment. With a homey but deeply flawed analogy between the Federal budget and household money management, she manages to avoid any real fiscal facts. Raising the debt ceiling was critical to avoiding another, worse financial meltdown if the US were seen to ignore its obligations. The debt that Sen. Merkley wisely voted to keep paying is mostly the result of the fiscal ineptitude of George W. Bush and two pointless, costly wars. The balanced budget amendment is a nightmarish concoction that would hamstring the government. Economists both liberal and conservative decry it as a disaster that should be avoided at all costs. As an experienced legislator, Sen. Merkley knows this. I continue to be shocked and mortified that such falsehoods are allowed to be aired!  I know that in Georgia the Koch money is spreading lies and attacking Democrat hopeful Michelle Nunn. Koch money is fueling elections across the entire country.

It’s clear that Dr. Wehby is intended to be the anti-Merkley. That’s certainly true. Sen Merkley is an experienced, talented legislator with a deep understanding of the issues and a true passion for the needs of Oregon’s citizens. Monica Wehby is a shallow political puppet pursuing a Senate seat just because. Oregon’s choice this November is clear.

Ferguson and the War on Human Rights

15 Aug

FergThe scenes and stories from Ferguson, MO are both tragic and profoundly disturbing.  The death of Michael Brown, Jr., shot in the back by officer Darren Wilson, resonates deeply and clearly sends the message about how black male youth are disproportionately targeted and profiled. That his death sparked brief but significant street violence is understandable, but also sad. That hundreds of people exercising their rights to peacefully demand answers and inform the public have been brutalized by the police takes things to another shocking level. I find myself despondent and distraught, and the whole situation has me reflecting on the intersections of racism, violent culture, and hypocrisy.  It feels to me as though we have learned nothing from history.

I still cannot believe that anyone claims we live in a post-racist society. If anything, the election of President Obama has proved just how deep racism runs and how willing people are to exercise it. From the halls of power to the streets of America, the story is the same. The thread that binds Michael Brown, Jr. to Trayvon Martin to Rodney King is unravelling from the uneasy tapestry of the Civil Rights movement. Sure, we’re all equal now, but if an African American man is someplace that authorities don’t think he should be, that equality evaporates very quickly.

Sadly, the force used to apply that racism is growing exponentially. As the NRA-sponsored culture of guns and violence expands, the reaction to any perceived threat is to shoot first and ask questions later. The officer who shot Michael Brown, Jr. may have felt justified in using his firearm, although that justification is difficult to understand. Even if he did, why did he keep firing until Brown was on the ground dead? How can justice be had for anyone when presumptions of guilt end in the cold facts of death?

The very language we hear from our leaders is steeped in violence. We can’t simply deal with substance abuse, we need a war on drugs. Want to justify endless military action? Start a war on terror. Nothing helps build the prison industrial complex like a war on crime. By waging war on abstractions, we use language to justify needless violence. Those with the least power naturally suffer the most, creating a vicious cycle of loss. When the federal government offloads military supplies to local governments, it is no surprise that those who feel they are fighting these supposed great evils act like combatants rather than civil servants and keepers of the peace.

That irony leads to violent hypocrisy. In the name of protecting the people, suddenly we must gas them. In the name of freedom, journalists must be arrested for being in a fast food restaurant. That hypocrisy is modelled by authorities every day. When George W Bush exercised his executive authority, he was a bold leader; when the President of color does the same thing, he is a malevolent tyrant who must be sued and stopped.When white rancher and known tax criminal Cliven Bundy stands off federal officials, he is left in peace. When people of color peaceably assemble to request answers, they are shot with rubber bullets, gassed, and arrested. And quite sadly, the Mayor seems not to have a clue about racism.  Mayor James Knowles III continues to assert that Ferguson has no racial tension.  Really? The evidence would certainly point to the contrary. Adding to the horrific irony is that Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, was arrested yesterday along with 8 other protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown in St. Louis.  If this is not a cry for how we look at justice and the intersections of race and power, I don’t know what is. 

And so the cycle spins, with racism, violence, and hypocrisy grinding the marginalized and rewarding the powerful. In the end, the only thing that’s really surprising about Ferguson is that anyone is truly surprised. Sadly, every time we have another violent crime against a person of color from those in power, it is an excruciatingly painful reminder that we do not all start from a level playing field. People of color and other targeted populations are barraged with messages that this is not a safe place; that equity and equality are concepts reserved for those occupying the space of the dominant culture.

The Most LGBTQ Friendly Colleges In The United States

8 Aug

GayCollegesThanks to my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this story.  As LGBTQ people have to navigate with great care where they want to attend college, it is very important to know where one can look for a modicum of safety and hopefully embracing.  This week, The Princeton Review just released the list of the most LGBTQ friendly colleges for 2014-2015.  I must say this is a great resource for the LGBTQ community when looking at college choices.

Sadly, you must have a Princeton Review login to see their full report. The report was the result of 130,000 surveys from college students all over the United States.

The top five most LGBTQ friendly colleges in the US are:

1.  Stanford University in California

2.  Oberlin College in Ohio

3.  Emerson College in Massachusetts

4.  Smith College in Massachusetts

5. Warren Wilson College in North Carolina

While I am truly elated that there is a list of colleges and universities that are LGBTQ friendly, I also worry about those who cannot afford these institutions of higher learning.  I would also love to have seen a more granular break down of demographics.  How friendly are these schools for people of color in the LGBTQ community?  How do these institutions address systemic homophobia, racism and misogyny?  Finally, how do these institutions address economic justice? I do not diminish in any way the amazing, powerful implications for the LGBTQ community with this published list but I hope we know there is still so much more work yet to be done towards equity, Click here to see the rest of the story.

Mourning James Brady

5 Aug

James BradyJames S. Brady passed away yesterday. I am saddened by this loss and offer my deepest condolences to the family. I remember very clearly the day Ronald Reagan was shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. and watching all the commotion on the television.  We would learn later that it was James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot in the head. While suffering memory loss, some paralysis that required a wheelchair,  and language impairment, Brady eventually prevailed and was transformed by the tragic incident.

Brady became a fierce gun control advocate and used his power and privilege to encourage the nation to look at requiring background checks and waiting periods for gun owners.  Fortunately, Brady’s legacy is that of working towards greater gun control and eliminating unnecessary deaths. I can only hope that his death will provide the impetus needed to work even harder at limiting access to guns and take a serious look at groups like Open Carry Texas –w hat good is coming from that? Have we learned nothing from the long and absurd history of gun violence in just the last 33 years?

James Brady was a dedicated public servant who turned his personal tragedy into an opportunity to engage the public in a much-needed conversation. His heroic efforts spurred Congress into taking simple, common-sense action. Sadly, 30 years later we see an even more partisan Congress paralyzed by the historically inaccurate Second Amendment rantings of the Tea Party and the shrill but effective lobbying of the NRA. What does it say about our nation that the shooting of one outspoken man could once lead to needed change but the slaughter of dozens of students and children now motivates us to do nothing?

Let us honor James Brady’s legacy by pausing to reflect on our national discourse around guns and look for meaningful solutions to prevent future tragedy.

 

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