Archive | June, 2012

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 30, Conclusion

30 Jun


On this final day of LGBTQ History Month, I want to take time to reflect on the necessity of celebrating this month as well as highlight some especially powerful stories.

As with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I wish we did not need LGBTQ History Month, but the fact is we do! We must not fall into the delusion that people in the United States and all over the world are treated equally by virtue of being human.  In most states in the south it is not safe to be part of the LGBTQ community.  In Uganda it is legal to kill gay people–a proposal seen just recently here in the United States.

I bring up Black History Month and Women’s History month because of all the people who have multiple identities and experience oppression on multiple levels. Marriage Equality is just a small portion of what needs to be addressed regarding civil rights.  Violence against the LGBTQ community has increased by 13% over the past year, with people of color and transgender gender non-conforming folk being specifically targeted. What is equally disturbing is witnessing false science by a so called “scholar,”  (funded by the recognized hate group NOM) who publishes homophobic data, or that Mitt Romney has signed a pledge to eliminate civil rights for the LGBTQ community–I believe that is called Fascism.  All of this violence and homophobia does not make it easy for people to be out and proud.

While quite honestly, I don’t want Tom Cruise on our team and I don’t really care why he is getting his third divorce while I’m not allowed to have a legal marriage,  I am particularly disturbed that Cruise takes such offense at people speculating that he might be gay, as though he were being called a racist.  Being called straight is not a pejorative, why should being called gay be one?

While I could go on ad nauseam about the disparities, inequalities, and intersections of oppression the LGBTQ community faces everyday, I would rather conclude on a positive note. Let’s highlight some stories that were particular favorites of mine, some dating back to last year’s celebrations.  Of course, one of my all time favorites was celebrating Dumbledore. Adding to the list of heroes of mine that were celebrated are: Bayard Rustin,  Glenn Burke,  and of course our Allies.

I hope the day will come in my lifetime that we are able to celebrate everyone in the LGBTQ community sharing in all of the civil rights enjoyed by our heterosexual brothers and sisters, just as I hope we will see an end to racism and misogyny.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 29, Omar Sharif, Jr.

29 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a man who made a bold statement merely through his honesty. Omar Joseph El Sharif was born in Montreal in 1983. He is the grandson of renowned actor Omar Sharif; as such, he had a privileged upbringing, spending his youth as a socialite. Wanting more, he obtained a Master’s in Comparative Politics from Queen’s University in Canada. Also bitten by the family acting bug, he obtained a role in an Egyptian TV program and tried stand-up comedy. Fluent in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and Yiddish (his maternal grandparents are Jewish Holocaust survivors), Omar continues to seek out roles internationally. In 2010 Sharif moved to Los Angeles, California to study at The Lee Strasberg Institute of Theatre and Film. He also participated in the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony, joining Kirk Douglas in a skit.

Earlier this year, Sharif raised eyebrows when he was interviewed by The Advocate. He spoke out about the need for civil rights free from religious dogma, specifially referring to the Egyptian revolution. Two weeks later, he published an impassioned editorial in the magazine entitled Coming Out Story: We’re Not in Cairo Anymore. He discussed his reasons for moving from Egypt, perhaps permanently, including this great passage:

One year since the start of the revolution, I am not as hopeful. […] The vision for a freer, more equal Egypt — a vision that many young patriots gave their lives to see realized in Tahrir Square — has been hijacked. The full spectrum of equal and human rights are now wedge issues used by both the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Islamist parties, when they should be regarded as universal truths.

I write this article despite the inherent risks associated because as we stand idle at what we hoped would be the pinnacle of Egyptian modern history, I worry that a fall from the top could be the most devastating. I write, with healthy respect for the dangers that may come, for fear that Egypt’s Arab Spring may be moving us backward, not forward. And so I hesitantly confess: I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay.

That my mother is Jewish is no small disclosure when you are from Egypt, no matter the year. And being openly gay has always meant asking for trouble, but perhaps especially during this time of political and social upheaval. With the victories of several Islamist parties in recent elections, a conversation needs to be had and certain questions need to be raised. I ask myself: Am I welcome in the new Egypt? Will being Egyptian, half Jewish, and gay forever remain mutually exclusive identities? Are they identities to be hidden?

The entire article is worthwhile reading, showing how articulate and insistent Sharif is and how dedicated he is to social justice. He is still finding his voice as an activist and advocate, but with a start like this, great things may come. The courage he demonstrates in outing himself in the face of religious and political exile is powerful. He sums it up in a way that many Americans should remember:

And yet I speak out because I am a patriot.

Hero of the Week Award: June 29, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan

29 Jun

Hero of the Week

This week we celebrate an enormous, surprising decision. With a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the main components of the Affordable Care Act. Significantly, they found the individual mandate, bete noir of the Radical Right, to be a reasonable congressional act under the authority to tax. Given the court’s rightward tilt of late, America was stunned. We’re pretty shocked here at TSM, too. Awarding a majority SCOTUS opinion the HWA is not anything we thought would happen any time soon.

This is a major victory not just for President Obama and the Democrats who worked so hard to pass even a mediocre health care bill. It is a victory for all Americans. The ACA, however flawed, is a significant step toward real care for all Americans. Without it, the poorest and the disenfranchised would continue to suffer, sicken, and die. Disproportionate impacts would be felt along racial, gender, and class lines, making it harder  and harder for those with the least to ever succeed. This Constitutionally sound victory — complete with a cease-and-desist order on the current challenges to the ACA — should let us move forward as a nation. We’ll see how the Republicans in Congress (John Boehner was crying so hard he called off his press conference!) try to cock it all up.

It’s fun to speculate why Chief Justice Roberts joined the more liberal justices in this opinion, just as it is important to note that Justice Kennedy has put the final nail in the coffin of his “swing vote” status. Roberts’ reasons don’t really matter, however: he did the right thing. We all owe these five Justices a debt of thanks this week. (For a great guide to the legal aspects of the decision in straightforward layman’s language, the ever excellent Ari Ezra Waldman has an analysis here.)

Bigot of the Week Award: Justice Antonin Scalia (with bonus Rand Paul sauce!)

29 Jun

Bigot of the Week

What a relief! The same week that the Roberts Court followed the Constitution and decades of legal precedent, SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia wackied his way back into BWA territory. The world once more makes sense.

In another surprisingly decent ruling, SCOTUS also struck down most of Arizona’s horrific breathing-while-brown immigration law. The odious “papers please” component was sustained but given a stern warning. Scalia’s head nearly exploded as he launched a dissenting screed so noxious that even Justice Thomas wouldn’t join in. Making an argument that legal scholars would typically designate as ass-backwards, Scalia gave this pronouncement:

So the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws? A good way of answering that question is to ask: Would the States conceivably have entered into the Union if the Constitution itself contained the Court’s holding? Today’s judgment surely fails that test. […] If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.

So laws and rulings affecting the states can only be made after consulting an Oracle to determine if any future state would refuse to join the Union based on that action? REALLY? Perhaps Justice Scalia should brush up on his history, as well as remember his own roots. Scalia, Mr. Anti-Immigration and Anti-Affirmative Action is the son of an immigrant, and it is not long ago that Italian immigrants were looked down upon with great disdain.  Based on his reasoning, it seems that he’s encouraging Arizona to secede. Didn’t we fight a WHOLE WAR over that? Just for good measure, he managed to throw in a dig at the President, declaring the Executive implementation of the DREAM Act sufficient cause for Arizona to create its own police state.

Moron of the Week

Dishonorable mention this week goes to Senator Rand Paul (Idiot – Wonderland), who joins Scalia in the alternate reality where their wishes trump the law of the land. After the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, Republican lawmakers went into a spiral of rage and nonsense. Paul managed to sink below the general level of discourse with this astounding statement.

Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so.

Wow. Sounds like somebody needs to take a grade school civics course (and a quick lesson in math) before returning to work…

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 28, Our Allies

28 Jun

Thank You Allies

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to all of the allies of the LGBTQ community.  Not just the vast number of allies I know, but organizations like PFLAG, the NAACP, neighbors, families, and all the heterosexuals that stand with us in solidarity.

In a time in our history when Presidential candidates have signed a pledge to discriminate against all LGBTQ people, it takes great courage and integrity to stand with us and demand we all be treated equally. It is time to say a huge Thank You to all of you that believe in civil rights and basic human rights.

Thank you all!

It it not easy to interrupt discrimination, but we must!  Because the LGBTQ community has so many overlapping identities, we must stand united when we work to stop the intersections oppression–when we work to stop homophobia, racism, transphobia,ageism, and misogyny.  Today I honor and thank you all.  “We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes.”

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

The Marrying Kind: A Novel by Ken O’Neill

27 Jun

It is with great pleasure that I get to talk about a book written by a friend of mine.  I have known Ken for over two years and I’m so proud that he had his book, The Marrying Kind published.  Ken is such a kind and compassionate human being, dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights.

Ken just celebrated his 15th anniversary with his partner and spent some time with me visiting about life and about his new book.

Fortunately, we live in NY so we could get married, but at present we stand in solidarity with those that cannot marry legally.  I realize there is great sacrifice for heterosexual couples that don’t get married for solidarity because they are giving up a lot.  I came out when I was  30 and my family is great and very supportive—I had an older brother who was also gay and died of AIDS. After acting for many years, but not enjoying auditioning, I became a massage therapist and I needed to do more—I can’t draw, so I turned to writing.  I have written a screenplay, which I’m still hopeful about.  The Marrying Kind is my first novel.

Can you give TSM a teaser about the novel?

It is a comic novel about a gay wedding planner who wakes up one morning realizing that he has devoted his life and career for people that are allowed to marry and he and his partner cannot.  He wants nothing to do with the economy of marriage and refuses to attend any marriages.  Adam (the wedding planner) has a sister that is marrying his partner Steven’s brother and they have to decide if they will attend the wedding or send their regrets.  I did not want it to be preachy, and I knew it had to be funny.  I’m glad it is funny and I’m quite proud of that.  I wanted to write a funny zany beach book where at the end of the book someone would have changed their minds about marriage equality and not even be aware that happened because they just enjoyed themselves so much.

What inspired you to write this book?

One day I was watching Oprah waiting for a massage client.  On the show was an over the top wedding, and I started crying—almost at the keening level.  I realized it was a little crazy—these are strangers, this is tv.  After the commercial and the show came back on, Oprah turned to the wedding planner who seemed very gay and I started thinking I really wanted to be married.  It was the first time I allowed myself to entertain that thought.  I started thinking about this wedding planner and what must it be like for him to plan weddings like this but never be able to have a wedding for himself.  I also wondered what would happen if the wedding planners, the florists, dress designers, and hair dressers all refused to work in the industry until there was marriage equality.

Is there a particular call to action for the LGBTQ community you would ask for?

I really see this as bigger than just the LGBTQ community, but a community that believes in marriage equality.  As long as there is a large population of people that cannot get married, it has an ill effect on everyone’s marriage.  It’s like if someone who likes to golf, but can’t get into a country club to play golf because they don’t allow Jews—it all ties into –it’s not good enough to want Jews allowed in the country club, but there needs to be action–segregation  keeps people from thinking and talking about equality, about health insurance, about benefits for spouses.  We are talking about Federal rights—it would be nice for people to step back and acknowledge this is not good, we need to fix this—it comes down to economics.

Ken thank you so much for our visit and for all you do for social justice. Here are some ways to go out and buy your copy of The Marrying Kind:

Bold Strokes Books:


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