The Passing of a Legend: Julian Bond

16 Aug

julian_bond2Sadly, the 75 year old Bond passed away last night. Today I would like to honor and celebrate an outspoken pioneer for civil rights and social justice and one of my personal heroes. Horace Julian Bond was born in Nashville in 1940. He grew up in rural Fort Valley, GA, where his father was president of the university. He enrolled in Morehouse College, where he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He became its communications director and helped organize protests against segregation in public facilities in Georgia. He left school to spend more time as an activist; he would return to Morehouse and complete his BA in English at the age of 31–yay for English majors!

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Bond was one of eight African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. The House refused to seat him, citing his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. He lost an initial court case but appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously that Bond’s freedom of speech was being denied and compelled the Georgia House to seat him. He served in the Georgia house until 1975 and then in the Georgia Senate until 1987.

While still serving in Georgia politics, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center with Morris Dees in 1971 and served as its president for eight years. He also worked in education, teaching at a number of universities until 1998. That year he was selected as chairman of the NAACP, a role he held for 11 years. He helped create the 100th anniversary celebrations for the organization in 2009.

Julian Bond is an amazing voice for social justice and truly understands the intersections of oppression. He reluctantly boycotted the funeral of his friend Coretta Scott King because it was held in a viciously anti-gay megachurch. He shares King’s support of the LGBT community and has been a vocal advocate throughout his career.

African Americans […] were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now. Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.

He has also recorded a marriage equality spot for the Human Rights Campaign and has notably observed, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.”

Bond was a Distinguished Professor in Residence at American University in Washington, D.C. and a faculty member in the history department at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he taught the history of the Civil Rights Movement. He was also a fierce advocate for responsible legislation to address climate change. What an amazing and inspirational figure!  Bond will remain a national treasure and leaves an amazing legacy.

So Many Questions: GOP Presidential Candidates

10 Aug

GOP VillansI am trying not to be outraged in the wake of the GOP debates, both the Kiddie Table debate featuring Carly Fiorina (Ann Coulter light) and the regular debate featuring a bunch of men who hate women, LGBT folk, poor people, teachers, all people of color (ironic and sad given two of the candidates are people of color), and basically anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, and Christian. Rather than be outraged, I am trying desperately to understand what paved the way that allowed such utter absurdity that this is the best the GOP has to offer. What are the implications for the United States? What population is the current GOP trying to curry?

This current crop of GOP candidates make Joe McCarthy look almost reasonable. Is this a last cry/plea to protect a white heterosexual supremacist country, or are there even more nefarious forces at work?

Speaking of nefarious: Donal Trump certainly embodies all that is corrupt and soulless.  Hearing him speak reminds me of our Jane Austen’s Ms. Elizabeth Bennett: “The very rich can afford to give offense wherever they go.” Mr. Trump feels free to be a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot because his wealth insulates him. Speaking out against people of color, the LGBT community, and against women, is this who we want leading a nation? Sadly, ALL of the GOP candidates share the same views as Trump. I find it particularly worrisome that there was a stage of all men speaking out against women’s reproductive rights.

I also find it negligible and actually loathsome that not one candidate addressed the issue of race and racial inequities in the United States. Is this an example of a lack of courage, or a lack of leadership, or both? I think it is also worth noting there was no mention of climate change or voter’s rights. Sadly, there was mention of immigration, but the conversation felt quite racist.

While as one can see, I have many questions and concerns, I, do however, offer an authentic invitation. For those that see any viable candidate here, please help me see what you see. Would you want any of these people to be able to appoint a Supreme Court Justice? Help me understand why even one of these candidates should be taken seriously.

Marriage Equality Not the Cure All…

29 Jun

marriage equalityWhile I am absolutely elated and ecstatic about the SCOTUS ruling for both healthcare and marriage equality — for I never thought in my lifetime I would see marriage equality in the United States — I am also reflecting on how complicated the institution of marriage is, with its deep roots of misogyny and racism. I am also grateful that I benefit from marriage and happy that the SCOTUS decision was on the anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, and US v. Windsor.  

There remain many problems around marriage equality. Marriage equality hardly signals the eradication of homophobia, racism, or misogyny. In twenty-nine states, it is still legal to discriminate against the LGBT community in employment, housing, and education. In fact, fourteen of the states that already offered marriage equality simultaneously refuse to provide these basic protections (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming). This is a horrible disconnect. In practice it means that a couple who celebrate a happy, significant occasion are in fact opening themselves up to more discrimination, perhaps even the loss of their homes or livelihoods.

I also want to address why the conversation has to address more than just marriage equality. I hope we will devote our collective energy in eradicating white supremacy, in solidarity around trans rights, in supporting undocumented people, and dismantling poverty.

I am also exceedingly sad about the legacy of hate, bigotry, homophobia, and racism that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia (and Scalia’s minions) are leaving.  Talk about being on the wrong side of history. Scalia is now a parody of himself, with his dissenting commenting, “jiggery pokery.”  Here we have two of the most powerful men in the world, using their power to undermine civil rights. Something to think about as we look at a presidential race in the United States that will be appointing new justices.Demons

While I am happy to celebrate marriage equality, I hope we take a call to action individually and collectively to address all of the intersections of racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism, and poverty.

Remembering Alan Turing: LGBTQ Pride Month 2015

7 Jun

Alan TuringIt was 61 years ago today that Alan Turing took his life. He was not able to see anyway out of the homophobic culture he had endured.  The irony is not lost that just two years ago the British government finally declared that Turing would no longer be considered a criminal for being gay.

Alan Turing was born in 1912. His teachers and family noticed his immense talent for mathematics early on, and he began a rigorous education. He became a fellow at King’s College at the age of 22 and began work on computation. His pioneering work earned him the title: Father of Computer Science. During the war, he worked for the British government as a code breaker. His methods helped crack critical German codes. Some have gone so far as to give him credit for Britain making it through the war without surrender. Turing’s contributions to computer science, cryptology, artificial intelligence, and mathematics are immense, and his gracious style made his ideas approachable, helping spark further innovation.

He was also gay. He was generally careful about this fact, given that any homosexual activity was still criminal in the United Kingdom, but he did have partners. In 1952, after reporting a break-in at his home, he admitted to the police that he was in a gay relationship with the other man living there. He was arrested charged with “gross indecency.” While he felt no guilt about simply being who he was, he pleaded guilty to avoid the negative publicity of a trial. He opted for injections of artificial estrogen — chemical castration — rather than go to prison.

The conviction revoked his security clearance and ruined his career. It kept him from travelling to the United States to expand on his work. It left him alone and bitter, his promising life in ruins at the age of 40 just because he wanted to live his life honestly. In 1954, he died of a cyanide overdose that was ruled suicide. What a pointless end to an amazing life and we must ask ourselves who is culpable–who has blood on their hands?  How do we learn from this tragedy and learn how to support our LGBT brothers and sisters?

While very well known in math and science circles, the scandal kept his work and life from greater renown. It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government — in a statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown — apologized for what Brown aptly described as “appalling treatment.” (The Brits did better than the Catholic church, of course, with its habit of taking centuries to apologize for its legal abuses…) In the past four years, a bill has slowly worked through the parliamentary process to formally pardon Alan Turing. It appears poised to pass in October.

It will be wonderful for the charges against Turing to be formally erased. But his life cannot be returned. The amazing things his mind would have accomplished will never come to pass. The horrific impact of homophobia and abuse of power cannot be fully calculated or undone. Over 49,000 men were sentenced for the same crime in Britain — including Oscar Wilde — before the law was finally removed from the books.

There are still many countries with laws like this. There are still jurisdictions in our own country with laws like this. Let the dark example of Alan Turing be a call to action — every life deserves dignity, legalized oppression and discrimination must be stopped. In the end, Alan Turing was a victim, not a criminal. He does not need to be pardoned, the British government does, and this one positive step is simply not enough to wash the blood of thousands from its hands.

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman

31 May

walt-whitman1Today, Walt Whitman would be 196 years old. While he may not be present with us physically, he lives in perpetuity with his poetry. Whitman, the father of free verse, is one of my heroes.

In my darkest times, I read parts of Leaves of Grass to help ground me.  While there are still some who debate Whitman’s sexual orientation, it seems likely that he did have an affair with Peter Doyle.  Edward Carpenter recounted his intimate interlude with Whitman to his friend Gavin Arthur, who then recorded the affair in his journal. I suspect Whitman today would have worn the moniker of Queer quite proudly.

Whitman’s poetry fills me with optimism about humanity; his words often pull me out of my misanthropic woes.  When I read:

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,

I feel enveloped in a part of humanity that is flawed, but connected.  The connectedness is the rich good stuff–the stuff that gives me hope and optimism.

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

For me, this is my religion. Whitman’s words here seem sacred and his sharing of how connected we are, for me, seems to show how natural and fluid sexual orientation is, and the softness of the lines of gender identity–how natural.  In some respects, Whitman is responsible for this blog.  If you have not read two of my favorites, Leaves of Grass or Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I strongly encourage you to read these works.

Why Are The Gays So Loud? Unsolicited Advice From David Brooks

3 Apr

David BrooksIn the nasty wake of Republican Governor Pence making it legal to discriminate  against the LGBT community (which Presidential wannabes Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have both applauded), we have been admonished by his holiness, White Hetero David Brooks, shining his beacon from atop his throne  at The New York Times.

While I have never been a fan of Brooks, I used to think of him as being at least a quasi rational conservative, albeit one who never quite understands his position of power and privilege as a white heterosexual man in  the United States. Apparently our uniting and proclaiming that we will not be considered second class citizens was enough to cause Brooks to clutch his pearls and grab his smelling salts. Sadly, Brooks’ latest diatribe does not even bother to include transgender people, or bisexual people.

Brooks has missed the civil rights bus at several stops. First, NO,  the law passed in Indiana is not “just like” the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That Federal Law and the 18 state laws actually modelled after it have their own problems — just look at the recent Hobby Lobby decision irrationally referencing RFRA — but are fundamentally different from the Indiana hate legislation. RFRA prohibits government action from interfering with the faith of individuals. Indiana — just like Arkansas, North Carolina, and Georgia if they are foolish and bigoted enough to follow suit — allows individuals to use their personal beliefs as a weapon against other individuals, refusing services and goods. That is absolutely not the same, something a man with Brooks’ education and background ought to clearly understand.

Secondly, my goodness what great privilege you must enjoy, demonstrated by your ability to remain this obtuse:

Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.

While I would never have claimed you as an ally of the LGBT community, I do fear you are working against us, and this editorial certainly commits great trespass, for which I’m fairly certain you will neither reflect upon, nor make any attempts at repair.

Like many of your contemporaries, older, white, heterosexual males, you seem to be driving the train to irrelevance in the 21st century world. This is not what I would want, for I truly believe there is room for us all, however, the onus to get up to speed and become more inclusive is on you, not those of us who are targeted, marginalized, and have disproportionately less power. One should note, the Anti-Violence Project has reported that the homicide rate against the LGBT community is up exponentially in 2015.

Looking at this through a lens of social justice, I would add that people of color who are also LGBT often have even more at risk, thus I have to bring up the issue of race, as race and misogyny are always inextricable from the conversation.

Mr. Brooks, your aimless, thoughtless piece puts the blame on the victims, wondering why we have to push so hard to make ourselves heard. Your own deafness should answer that question for you. As a Jew Mr. Brooks, what happened to tikkun o’lam? Your behavior along with this editorial do nothing to help repair the world.

Bigot of the Week Award: Mike Pence and Matt McLaughlin

27 Mar
No, I'm Not Gay!

No, I’m Not Gay!

Sadly, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed into law on Thursday the freedom to hate and discriminate. This law is fairly far-reaching in how it will impact many communities.

Yes, the obvious community it allows for hate and discrimination against is the LGBTQ community. I would also like to call attention to the fact that this “Religious Freedom” law also paves the way for police officers to refuse to defend mosques or synagogues because it may go against their Christian beliefs. This law now allows the refusal to help women experiencing domestic violence, as previous laws in place to advocate for women  may not apply to someone whose religion says someone may discipline their spouse and children however they deem proper. I presume this law also allows the medical profession to now legally deny women access to birth control.

Help me understand how this law is beneficial to anyone’s civil rights? How is this not about protecting the fear of white heterosexual Christian men?

Demonstrating his enormous privilege and horrific lack of reflection, Pence had the audacity to observe

This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it.

As icing on the one-man-one-woman-only wedding cake, he also signed the legislation in a private ceremony. Just a little shy about making your hate public, Governor?

In other atrocious news, a most dishonorable mention must go to Matt McLaughlin. McLaughlin is backing the bill in California called the Sodomite Suppression Act, which calls for the execution of gays with a bullet to the head. Goodness, McLaughlin certainly seems obsessed with anal sex! Gratefully, California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, is desperately trying to find a way to just dismiss this modern-day Nazi bill.

Enough awful news! I am in search of all of the many heroes that need celebrating.

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