Archive | November, 2011

Happy Birthday, Shirley Chisholm

30 Nov

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday, Shirley Chisholm. In 1972, Chisholm became the first black woman to run for President of the United States. Given the permanent blemish on American History that was Nixon and Watergate, how sad that our Chisholm did not win. As a young girl, she let the words of another civil/human rights pioneer guide her–the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “don’t let anybody stand in your way.”

Chisholm represented New York’s 12 Congressional District for seven terms. Chisholm was a first generation American, with her father being from Guiana and her mother being from Barbados.  One can only imagine how the current Tea Party would be treating our Shirley Chisholm.  During her bid for the Presidency in 1972, she survived 12 assassination attempts. Chisholm also was known for taking positions against the Vietnam war, minority and women’s issues, and for challenging the Congressional seniority system.  How many politicians today can claim to be “unbossed and unbought?”

Enjoy this video of Chisholm during her run for President. Chisholm also worked on a bill to give workers the right to a minimum wage–not sure our Scott Walker would have liked that! For more information on Shirley Chisholm, click here.

DC’s Newest Gay Hero: Diversity or Tokenism?

27 Nov

DC's Newest Gay Hero, Bunker

As we noted here at TSM a while back, DC Comics’ “New 52” relaunch of all their titles has been a bit of a mixed bag. Many of the characters are getting truly fresh starts (especially Superman and Wonder Woman) while others are barely being tweaked (Batman and Green Lantern). One stated purpose of the relaunch was to make the DC universe more appealing to a broader cross-section of readers. The first month did a mediocre job in terms of bringing in more female readers and the subsequent two months haven’t improved on that much.

So how do LGBT characters fare in the New 52? As we reviewed before, Batwoman is still a strong lesbian character with a clear history that includes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Former gay couple Apollo and Midnighter have been fully rebooted, so their new versions have just met, but the editors promise us that they will remain a couple. In the 31st Century, Legion members Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet are pretty clearly still a couple; recent additions (just before the relaunch) Gravity Kid and Power Lad have yet to be seen.

The biggest gay splash in September came from a character who was not actually seen in the comics until just last week, new Teen Titans member Bunker. Co-creators Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth indicated that they would be introducing Bunker, a gay teen from Mexico, in Teen Titans #3, which was released on November 23.

So how does Bunker stack up on a first read? Also a mixed bag. He’s a fairly flamboyant character, which is a departure from other gay superheroes. While some readers will find this an irritating stereotype, I actually found that aspect of the character refreshing; some gay men are flamboyant, and having one hero represent that part of the community is fine. Topping that off with a purple and pink costume and the power to generate purple psionic constructs, however, is a bit over the top. His dialogue is also pretty improbable, even for the character as briefly defined. He makes a casual reference to his own “cute butt” when speaking to a hobo he’s just met on a train, which screams stereotyping to me.

His Mexican heritage also reads as tokenism in this first appearance. His dialogue is pretty improbable, coming across more like an American teen who speaks Spanish as one language than someone from a “very small village” in Mexico. He peppers his speeches with random Spanish phrases (like “Madre de dios!”) which serves only as an irritating reminder that he’s part of a larger cultural fabric. We’ll see how his background is fleshed out; over a few issues many of these concerns may be eliminated, but the initial presentation feels very self-congratulatory.

I’m also concerned about writer Scott Lobdell’s ability to create a three-dimensional gay character. He did write the famous issue of Alpha Flight in which Northstar comes out, but the dialogue and characterization were pretty cardboard. He’s also responsible for the horrific rewrite of Starfire in the New 52, and his treatment of female characters (including Wonder Girl in a nurse’s uniform in this issue) is built heavily on objectification. Given his defense of that approach as “empowerment,” it’s clear that he doesn’t understand feminism; we’ll see how he does with a gay character.

Bunker’s first appearance lacks the subtle complexity of Marvel’s young gay couple, Hulkling and Wiccan, introduced a few years ago. The character may develop well, but the overt stereotyping in the first appearance isn’t promising. Fans of the Teen Titans will find Red Robin and Kid Flash compelling as characters but no real meat in the series so far. Readers interested in a strong gay character would be best advised to take a wait-and-see approach. The New 52 has a long way to go before it demonstrates diversity that even begins to approach the world it purports to reflect.

Fun Family Event For Good Cause

26 Nov

Mark Your Calendars: December 4

On December 4, 2011 from 2-5 pm, TransActive will be hosting a silent auction with food, fun, and an opportunity to raise money to support transgender youth.  The title of the event is Super Heroes for Super Kids, featuring guest speaker Janet Mock, the Associate Editor of People.com  Mock is transgender and she believes in giving back to the community. I encourage you to look at her bio, it is quite impressive.

All proceeds go to supporting and finding resources for transgender and gender non-conforming youth. Tickets are $15. in advance and $20. at the door.  If you are interested in buying tickets, please contact me!  This event is an opportunity for us all to make a huge difference in the lives of many young people. If you are not able to attend, but want to make a tax deductible donation, please make out a check to TransActive, or visit the website and use your credit card.

I hope to see many of you at this fun family event.  There will be lots of fun events for your kids.

Hero of the Week: November 25, Gov. John Kitzhaber

25 Nov

Hero of the Week

In the wake of some truly despicable people being elected governors recently (think Rick Scott and Scott Walker, just for starters), we Oregonians got a refreshing reminder this week of just what a great decision we made in returning John Kitzhaber to the Governor’s office.

In a bold move that underscores his ethics and his leadership, Kitzhaber announced Tuesday that he will halt all death penalty executions in Oregon during his term as Governor.

Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice – in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer. The hard truth is that in the 27 years since Oregonians reinstated the death penalty, it has only been carried out on two volunteers who waived their rights to appeal.  In the years since those executions, many judges, district attorneys, legislators, death penalty proponents and opponents, and victims and their families have agreed that Oregon’s system is broken.  But we have done nothing. We have avoided the question.

Recognizing that Oregon voters have implemented and repealed the death penalty multiple times in the state’s 150-year history, the Governor bravely rejected the tepid “will of the voters” argument that has been used to support this deeply flawed system of injustice. Speaking from painful personal experience, he recalled that the only two executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984 were during his first administration, calling those deaths “the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor.”

It takes a strong and courageous person to admit so publicly that he was wrong and a great leader to learn from such mistakes and ask his state to do better. Kitzhaber has called on the Oregon Legislature to investigate and implement an overhaul of the system during the 2013 legislative session. Let us hope that they listen to the Governor’s wise words and not the inevitable howling from the right as so-called “pro-life” lunatics insist on death for men and women sentenced in a deeply flawed and bigoted system.  I personally get tired of  the “pro-life” philosophy of “protect the fetus at all cost, so we can execute them as adults.”

Kitzhaber’s press release is required reading for understanding good government. Bravo, Mr. Governor! Thank you for giving Oregonians one more thing to be thankful for this week.

Bigot of the Week: November 25, The Salvation Army

25 Nov

Bigot of the Week

It’s that time of year again. As the holiday season gets fully underway, the Salvation Army bell ringers take over store entryways across the country. Don’t be fooled. While many of the smiling people wishing you cheer as they ask for your change may have the best of intentions, the organization they want you to donate to is not just another charity. The Salvation Army is an evangelical religious sect that denies services to millions of Americans.

The Salvation Army is rabidly anti-gay. Before offering any services to LGBT people in need, the Army subjects them to sermons and lectures. They insist that established couples renounce each other before they can receive care. This nasty group is also very anti-choice, insisting that pregnant women not seek abortions if they want services, regardless of what is best for the woman (Kind of like Jesus if he were one of the Koch Brothers).

Beyond this hostility to individuals, the Salvation Army is also an aggressive lobbying organization: they have tried (unsuccessfully, fortunately) to overturn or get exemptions from equal access and non-discrimination laws in multiple jurisdictions around the world. In a fit of petulance unbecoming a charitable organization, they have even threatened to close soup kitchens in New York City rather than abide by local non-discrimination laws. How very Christian of them. Who would Jesus hate?

This is a season when many people think more actively of giving and want to be charitable. Please honor those instincts, but don’t contribute to organizations that practice hate and bigotry. If you want to find the best place to make your contributions, try the Charity Navigator; if you want to get more actively involved, there are dozens of ways you can give to all of your community. When it comes to those shrill bells, red pots, and artificial smiles? Take some advice from Burt Bacharach and walk on by.

Thanksgiving: Collective Amnesia

24 Nov

While I most certainly appreciate time to gather as families over good food, I am struck by the seemingly intentional energy to forget history.  Contrary to what Michele Bachmann tells us, “that all Americans came here for freedom,” I wonder if there is another way to celebrate sacred time with families on the last Thursday of November?

Do we collectively, as Americans, conveniently choose to forget the genocide of the native peoples living in North America–the use of bio-warfare?  Yes, multi-generations of white folk have benefitted from the slaughtering of indigenous populations in North America and stealing land. It is ironic that the early survival of the Plymouth colony depended so heavily on the agricultural and fishing advice of the Wampanoag.

The whole idea of a “first Thanksgiving” is historically murky at best, with both religious and civil harvest festivals easily traceable to the Spanish in St. Augustine and British colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth. The native populations also had histories of harvest festivals, thus rendering a colonizer’s claim of “first” another in a series of misappropriations. Regular Thanksgiving celebrations as fixed civil events became common much later, dating to the 1660s.

As with so much of early colonial American history, most of what we “remember” is filtered through centuries of creative reconstruction: bucolic paintings, myths of noble savages and honest oppressed British outcasts, grade school songs and pageants. It is understandable that we prefer not to dwell on our collective responsibility for the decimation of whole populations, but it is an important part of our nation’s history. The colonizers’ relationship with the native populations was complex (and occassionally grateful) but seldom benefitted the natives and almost certainly did not involve everybody sharing a lovely meal around a table in peace.

The root idea of Thanksgiving — shared by the Europeans and the indigenous peoples — as a celebration is a good one. Be thankful for what you have; celebrate the cherished loved ones in your life; take time to remember what is good and bountiful with no expectations of gain other than shared love and thanks. Let us move forward as a nation, correctly learning, remembering, and growing from our history. Let us work hard to return to this spirit of Thanksgiving. It need not be buried in any trivia: upcoming shopping orgies (conspicuous consumption), 437 sporting events, overindulgence for its own sake, or cute “historical” imagery that overlooks a complex history.  We all have people and events in our lives worthy of celebration; that is what we should use today to be truly thankful for. I hope everyone reading this blog will be able to spend time with cherished loved ones, be it families of origin or families and communities we create.

Wednesday Word of the Week, November 23: Thankful

23 Nov

A thankful WebWordWarrior

This week’s word is THANKFUL

grateful for something; showing or feeling gratitude

This is the week that has traditionally kicked off the U.S. holiday season (until plastic Santas started showing up in stores mid-October). The Thanksgiving I remember from my childhood was one of joy and celebration, good feasting, family gathering, and none of the pressure that the gift-oriented holidays and occasions can bring. That sense of togetherness and a pause in the routine of the week made it easy to feel thankful.

It is a testament to both the OBSTINANCE

resolute adherence to your own ideas or desires

and the OPTIMISM

a general disposition to expect the best in all things

of the American people that we managed to take a mythical event that over-glamorizes the relationship between established indigenous peoples and genocidal religious fanatics and turn it into a celebration that has real meaning. Let us take this opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving as it ought to be celebrated, not as a gluttonous lead-in to crass consumerism, but as a real opportunity to pause, gather, and reflect.

Everyone has something in their life for which they should be grateful. Let us try, without cynicism (which is understandably easy today), to hold those things foremost in our minds. I suspect that for most of us, our thankful list includes people who give our lives meaning. Let us take the time to tell those people that we are thankful.

It is in that spirit that I want to offer my thanks to you, my loyal readers. This is a bittersweet Word of the Week for me, because complications in my crazy life will require me to discontinue this series, at least for now. I truly appreciate all the visitors to my weekly ponderings and the delightful comments that many of you have made.

More significantly, I am thankful for Michael Hulshof-Schmidt and The Solipsistic Me. My participation in this wonderful blog has been a delight and sometimes a salvation for me during a tumultuous 2011. Michael, his husband Robert, and I have all celebrated TSM on its anniversary, so I will not repeat those observations here. Suffice it to say that this is one of the brightest spots on the Internet; I have been privileged to participate in it. I hope that all of you are thankful for the time and effort Michael puts into helping us all work harder to make the world a better place. I shall visit regularly to read for inspiration, comment as I have insight to share, and post as my time permits.

In the meantime, let me close with a sincere paraphrase of Jack McFarland from Will and Grace, “All right. What am I thankful for? So many things, really. The smell of jasmine… A kitten’s purr… InStyle magazine… The Solipsistic Me…”

Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

All definitions courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online, a source for which I am regularly thankful.

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