Peace of Mind: Celebrating the Armistice Pals Project

11 Nov

armistice-palsToday is the 96th anniversary of the agreement that officially ended World War I, an official holiday in many countries that was once known as Armistice Day. Armistice is a powerful word, literally meaning the cessation of hostilities. The nations that had spent four years embroiled in armed conflict truly wished for it to be “The War to end all Wars” and established the annual commemoration to recognize the sacrifices and losses sustained on all sides.

Let us not forget that these losses disproportionately impact the marginalized/targeted and oppressed. However significant the military losses, the so-called “collateral damage” and impacts that linger long after the guns go quiet have stronger ripples among the poor and in communities of color.

Sadly, it was hardly the end of all wars, and over time most nations have chosen to rename the holiday. Most now call it some form of Remembrance Day, focusing on the soldiers but also pausing to reflect on all the casualties of war. In the United States, it has become Veterans Day, a fairly explicit recognition of the combatants.

A British group known as Armistice Pals is using this year’s holiday to raise awareness of the costs of war and to campaign for peace. What a novel idea, to campaign for peace. Helen Meissner, the director of the Folkstock Arts Foundation — dedicated to supporting acoustic musicians — recognized the long connection between folk music and peace campaigning. She assembled a group of like-minded individuals and organizations and Armistice Pals was born.

The group’s inaugural activity was a special recording of one of the finest anti-war anthems ever written. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? was written by the late, great Pete Seeger with Joe Hickerson in 1955. With its powerful imagery and striking chorus — “When will they ever learn?” — it has been recorded hundreds of times in dozens of languages and been awarded many honors.

Meissner collaborated with activist and singer Peggy Seeger, Pete’s sister and the widow of folk legend — and social justice champion — Ewan MacColl. Peggy was thrilled to be involved, continuing her long legacy of peace and social justice activism. She wants everyone to think carefully about the word “armistice” saying it

should be the buzzword for the minute people start disagreeing about something, then say “Wait, hold off, let’s see what this is really all about.”

That’s a powerful vision for using remembrance as a tool for avoiding future conflict.

Armistice Pals gathered dozens of folk musicians from several generations to record a stirring new version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Peggy Seeger leads the rousing chorus that closes out the song, and the producers include a few lines of Pete Seeger singing the original recording. Noting how community action can resolve — or avoid — conflict, Peggy celebrates the healing power of communal singing, calling it a big part of her brother’s legacy.

He loved getting people to sing together!

Let us use Armistice Day 2014 as a time to reflect on the painful price of conflict and a time to work together for peace.

More information on the Armistice Pals project, including an interview with Peggy Seeger and the lovely recording can be found at Folk Radio U.K. The new version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? went on sale on November 9 and can be purchased from Folkstock Records as a special edition including three other tracks. Proceeds will go to the Foundation for Peace, Peace Through Folk, the Malala Fund, and the British Red Cross.

I hope we can all take a moment to reflect today on how each of us individually and collectively can make the world a peaceful place.

Tim Cook And The Big Gay Apple

31 Oct

Gay AppleThis past Thursday, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announced that he is in fact gay.  I need to thank my friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey, for inspiring me to write this story. While there are some that have heard this news and have responded with “so what, how does this impact Apple?” I would offer that it is still exceedingly significant when a high profile person comes out. The more visible we are individually and collectively, the stronger we are as a community. For Apple, it sends a message around the world that Apple is a company that is safe for LGBT folk.

Safety, is no small issue. There are still 29 states where it is legal to deny a human being employment, housing, and healthcare just because of their sexual orientation. Cook’s visibility will be helpful to the entire LGBT community, as Cook seems to understand:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,  so if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

Well said!  I would add that Cook’s level of risk was minimal at best.  Sadly, the level of risk to be out at work is too great for too many of our LGBT family.  I hope today will be a reminder of how we can support people who are out and encourage people to become visible.

The Supreme Court Upholds Voter Suppression in Texas

20 Oct
Sad Legacy!

Sad Legacy!

Sadly, not many of us were surprised by the exceedingly conservative high court’s decision to uphold voter suppression laws in Texas.  The Roberts’ court continues to leave a legacy that works against civil rights, just in time to negatively impact the 2014 mid-term election. I would like to talk about how these voter ID laws negatively impact targeted/marginalized populations. Not that most of the high court is interested in how we continue to oppress targeted populations, but I hope we will at least start to have more conversations around what we all need to do to expand civil rights rather than curb them. Texas’ voter ID laws intentionally create barriers for the following communities to vote: people in poverty, people of color experiencing poverty, people with disabilities, senior citizens, transgender people, and all of the intersections of these populations. In addition to the horrible impact of this action, it flies in the face of judicial tradition. Typically, appeals courts — including the Supreme Court — act to do the least harm while the laws in question work their way through the system. Allowing the law to stand while it is under appeal aggressively disenfranchises Texas voters during the important November mid-terms. Even if the law is struck down in the long run, that damage will have been done, almost certainly to the benefit of Republican candidates. Suspending the suspect law until a final decision is made would be more typical, sensible, and just. Of course those words can rarely be applied to Scalia, Alito, Roberts, or Thomas. If only we could get more voices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s. Justice Ginsburg composed the dissent and eloquently highlighted the damage of this verdict:

…may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5 percent of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification…A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic. Racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact.

Both Justice Kagan and Justice Sotomayor joined Justice Ginsburg’s dissent. I want to believe there is hope that this court’s majority will soon gain a better understanding of their jobs and of civil rights.

Bigot of the Week Award, October 17: The Vincennes New Years Eve Ball

17 Oct

LincolnThank you to my friend and staunch LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for pointing me to this Bigot of the Week, a sad snapshot of just how far we have to go on the road to equality and why celebrations like National Coming Out Day are still very necessary.

Every year for decades Juniors and Seniors at Vincennes Lincoln High School in Vincennes, IN have been invited to participate in an annual New Years Eve Ball, with the restriction that the event is for “couples only.” Sadly, since 2004 the invitations have clarified that only “traditional couples” are welcome. Wow! That’s some harmfully loaded and coded language.

Just in case anyone was uncertain about that language, the charmfree Lincoln High School Super Straight Alliance has tweeted “We don’t cheer for queers!” and used the tag #StraightPower. So much for equal access at this public institution.

The group that organizes the party every year hides behind the fact that the Ball is funded by parent contributions and held off campus. Those facts do nothing to change the fact that the Ball is inherently bigoted and damaging to LGBT students. Invitations are distributed at school; the yearbook publishes pictures of couples at the Ball every year; the university that hosts the Ball is ALSO a public institution. Whatever defensive posturing and sickening sidesteps the hosts use, this event discriminates.

That’s the most important detail, making all the quibbling over who funds the event and where the students dance immaterial. LGBT couples are told they aren’t welcome, forced to accept that they are second class citizens. That damage is a lesson that will last for years after high school is just a distant memory. Bigotry is bigotry, even in fancy dress.

National Coming Out Day: Obsolete?

11 Oct

national_coming_out_day-395x400I know many of you will be clutching your pearls and grabbing your smelling salts when you now realize I am gay! Yes, there I said it.

I cannot underscore enough how important it is for LGBTQ people to be out and visible and I also realize there are still yet so many places in the United States and around the world where it is not safe to be visible. The more visible we are as a community, the more difficult it is to marginalize us and treat us as sub-human, or second class citizens, denied over 1,300 rights that our heterosexual brothers and sisters are granted just for being heterosexual. NO! National Coming Out Day is not obsolete, for it is still quite relevant and needed.

Much has improved! Watching President Obama advocate for LGBTQ rights during his inaugural speech brought me to tears, for I never thought in my lifetime I would witness the President of the United States talk about issues of equity for my community. Despite the fact that the LGBTQ community has made great strides in the past year, however, we are far from eradicating homophobia and all of the intersections that are linked to homophobia, such as racism and misogyny.

I actually think marriage equality is on the horizon for the United States and I caution people to remember this DOES not mean the end of homophobia.  While I am a great supporter and beneficiary of marriage equality, I also know we have to address the constant inequities for people who do not choose marriage. I would also encourage people to look at the many barriers transgender people still face, not to mention the increase in violence against the LGBTQ community in the past four years.

I hope that today there will be much celebrating as people find the courage to use their voices individually and collectively to be Out and Proud as a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, or Transgender person.  Living one’s life authentically allows for great freedom and of course supports the Gay Agenda!

 

David Brooks: Raising Money For Homophobia

30 Sep

David BrooksNew York Times contributor David Brooks has decided to give the keynote address for a right wing Christian money maker called The Gathering. I admit I have never been a fan of Brooks.  While at times he is able to almost contain his arrogance and white privilege when he does his occasional spot with E.J. Dionne on NPR, his white, heteronormative, misogyny ekes out, as we saw in his book The Social Animal. 

The Gathering is not some ecumenical group. The Gathering is more of a collection of white, right wing “Christians” that raise money to proselytize, which might not be so bad, save that much of the money they raise goes specifically to hate groups that target LGBT organizations.  The Gathering has funded over 125 anti-gay organizations and ministries. This money includes funding such violently hateful groups such as Uganda and its anti-gay bill. Not a big surprise, but much of the money raised also goes to such nefarious hate groups such as the the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, both of whom have been recognized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The irony is that Brooks purports to be in favor of same-sex marriage, a stand which clearly does not preclude violent homophobia. While I have never thought of Brooks as a self-aware human being, I am nonplussed by his decision to be the keynote speaker for an organization that does so much harm. I am also sad and confused as to why this is not getting more media coverage. Is it because there is a tacit agreement in major media that it is okay to be homophobic? Is Brooks the teflon man as so many Republicans are?

 

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.

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