Archive | December, 2012

Number 1 Hero of the Year 2012: Malala Yousafzai

31 Dec
Number 1 Hero of 2012

Number 1 Hero of 2012

Even with all the wonderful nominations TSM received for Hero of the Year, the winner was clear from early on. No one received more nominations than Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. The final decisions were based on more than just votes, however. Yousafzai — a young woman of 15! — is a shining example of social justice. Having virtually no inherent power or privilege, she found her voice at the age of 11 and has used it to great effect.

All of the heroes and honorable mentions have made the world a better place. What sets Yousafzai apart is the very real risks she takes every day. She has less to start with and has put it all on the line, even suffering a potentially fatal gunshot wound from Taliban assassins.

Her mission is simple but powerful — every child in the world should have access to a reasonable education by 2015. Coming from a place that believes women should never be educated, she understands the power of learning and reading. Nurtured by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, also an education activist, she began blogging about conditions in her province for the BBC at age 11. She also attended a Peshawar press club event, getting rousing applause for her powerful question:

How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?

For her powerful voice, tireless activism, willingness to risk all, and youthful promise, TSM is proud to honor Malala Youfsazai as Hero of the Year.

Honorable mention for the top spot goes to another Muslim activist seeking change. Ludovic Mohammed Zahed started the Unity mosque in Paris, the first fully LGBT embracing house of Islamic worship. Zahed’s mission includes full inclusion for women and transgender worshippers. He’s another brilliant example of change from the grass roots and a great example of using personal power to change the world for everyone’s benefit.

Number 1 Bigot of the Year 2012: National Rifle Association

31 Dec
Number 1 Bigot of 2012

Number 1 Bigot of 2012

This year’s nominations for Bigot of the Year were pretty remarkable, as you have no doubt noticed over the past few days. Thanks again go to all the TSM readers who took the time to recommend their choices for awful behavior and social injustice. It was a bit of a surprise with all those great nominations to have someone come out of nowhere and grab the top spot. With the insane rantings of its VP Wayne LaPierre and its manic worship at the altar of firearms in the wake of Sandy Hook, however, the NRA managed to do just that.

The shooting tragedy in Newtown was among the worst in U.S. history. Children of 6 and 7 were being buried as LaPierre broke the NRA silence and made his now infamous speech.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

How about not letting the “bad guy” have a gun whose only purpose is to destroy human flesh? How about really enforcing the lamentably weak gun laws we already have? How about not using racism and class warfare to scare people into thinking they need to carry a gun wherever they go?

The NRA’s general behavior as one of the largest and most feared lobbying organizations was bad enough. Over the past year or so, however, they’ve upped the ante significantly. Apparently fearing action in the courts that might result in support for reasonable gun laws, the NRA has begun meddling in judicial appointments. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor are the first two ever “rated” by the organization, clearly targeting votes in their favor as being anti-gun, something many Senators fear. NRA operatives are also working hard to scuttle an arms trade treaty in the U.N.

They’ve also launched a sister organization, the American Silencer Association, to push sales of the one legal firearm enhancement that might have made Adam Lanza’s attack more devastating. The sales pitch? Silencers make guns safer for children’s hearing. Really.

Congratulations, NRA leaders. You’ve demonstrated such lack of compassion and judgment that LaPierre was billed on the New York Daily News as the “Craziest Man On Earth.” Sadly, far too many in power listen to the kind of crazy his money buys.

Dishonorable mention goes to the NRA’s partners in tastelessness. Mike Huckabee already came in at #5 for the year, partly on the strength of his screed about putting “God back in schools” to avoid another Sandy Hook. The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer gets a nod for similar words, delivered in his own inimitable crazed style. Last but by no means least, the National Review for its misogynistic editorial that just having more men in schools would butch them up enough to stop potential killers. Let’s try to learn from the real lessons of Sandy Hook, and not from these ranters and opportunists.  Now is the time to look at gun control, racial profiling, and angry white men.

Number 2 Hero of the Year 2012: Chris Kluwe

30 Dec
Number 2 Hero of 2012

Number 2 Hero of 2012

The success of any social movement requires effort not just from the oppressed but from their allies. This year the LGBT community got a big boost from an unexpected source. NFL star Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings came out blazing for marriage equality. Once he got people’s attention, he refused to be silent. I must confess a great amount of joy at the amazing number of nominations that poured in for Kluwe as Hero of the Year–thank you TSM Readers.

His advocacy started when another player, Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo, expanded his ongoing support (after work with NoH8 and other groups). Ayanbadejo joined the fight for marriage equality in Maryland and was attacked by a local politician. Recognizing the opportunity for advocacy, Kluwe wrote a public letter to the offending bigot, skewering him, supporting Ayanbadejo, and making a clear, commonsense case for marriage equality.

This straight, white, rich guy used his privilege to speak truth to power, modelling great behavior. On top of that, he did so with wit (introducing the phrase “lustful cockmonster” into the vernacular) and insistence. Since the initial foray, Kluwe has been a strong voice for LGBT equality — he even debated marriage rights with an empty chair immediately after the GOP convention. Kluwe and Ayanbadejo deserve credit for helping the successful equality campaigns in their states and for showing that professional athletes can be supporters of the LGBT community without suffering.

Honorable mention goes to Ayanbadejo for his stellar advocacy work. It also goes to the steadily increasing number of LGBT athletes who are coming out and serving as role models in traditionally homophobic careers. Silence =Death and visibility = power.  A huge thank you to all of the LGBT allies out there.  With your help, we can stamp out homophobia!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Number 1 Hero of 2012.

Number 2 Bigot of the Year 2012: Republican Party Platform

30 Dec
Number 2 Bigot of 2012

Number 2 Bigot of 2012

There are those who claim that a party platform is just a bunch of words to rally the faithful and that what matters is each candidate. To them I say, words matter. Candidates who stand up under a party banner should note what they claim to stand for. This year, the Republican party approved a rancid Tea-soaked platform that slid even further backward into a viciously white, male, heterosexist hierarchy. With that being said, I still refuse to paint all Republicans with this tea stained brush.

It should come as little surprise that the platform was rabidly anti-gay. FRC President Tony Perkins was allowed to draft language that not only called for a national one-man-one-woman amendment but targeted all the progress made during the Obama administration for dismantling.

The War on Women showed up in the guise of a personhood amendment, the most egregious type of attack on reproductive choice. Trampling freedom of religion, the platform trumpeted the farthest right of so-called christian values, elevating the “rights” of a random assemblage of cells over even the life of the mother. How very pro-life THAT is–protect the fetus at all cost, but damn the mother and the child after birth.

The platform also attacked health care and called for dismantling the Affordable Care Act without proposing any alternative. It painted immigrants as greedy illegals, celebrating Arizona and Alabama-style immigration laws and demanding intrusive bureaucracies to force companies to investigate all potential employees. How’s that for smaller government?

The hypocritical, anti-everyone — unless they’re white, rich, christian, heterosexual men — document was a shocker even for the 21st Century GOP. Sadly, the candidates picked up the hateful flag and marched.

Dishonorable mention goes to four particularly loathsome GOP men. Mitt Romney leads the list, railing against the LGBT community, women, and the poor while pretending to tack to the center. His cruel detachment and willingness to do anything to win make him a perfect exemplar of this decaying party. His running mate, Paul Ryan, gets special notice for his Randian budget plans, a real “I’ve got mine so go to Hell” approach to governance.

Two angry men round out the list. Regular TSM bigot winner Allen West leaves office in a fit of petulance. Despite his clear loss, he prepared to waste thousands of dollars and ignore election law to try to change the results. Fortunately, he was so nuts that even in Florida he couldn’t make the case. Sen John McCain (R – Pleistocene) rounds out the list. His regular angry rants hit a new low when he targeted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. He hypocritically attacked her integrity — after supporting Sarah (Gun) Palin and  Conoleezza Rice and her lying ways years earlier — in a blatant move to get John Kerry out of the Senate and give his mini-me Scott Brown another shot. What a sad, nasty creature our McCain (Gollum) is.

Number 3 Hero of the Year 2012: The American Voter

29 Dec
Number 3 Hero of 2012

Number 3 Hero of 2012

This year’s election was a critical choice between two starkly different philosophies of government. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent  (which will be a whole blog article in itself) and Americans were inundated with thousands of hours of advertising and opinions. In the end, despite poor expectations, corporate investment, hardship, and obstacles, the people stood up and said that they want a government that works for everyone, not just the chosen few.

Most pundits believed that the grass-roots coalition of voters built by the Obama campaign in 2008 was a fluke. Minorities, the poor, and the young are less likely to vote in general, so their turnout was supposed to go way down. What the naysayers didn’t realize is that the mobilization and empowerment weren’t just a one-time effort but an ongoing strategy. While all turnout in 2012 was down a bit from 2008 and the full data aren’t available, it’s clear that Latinos, African Americans, and young voters showed up at the polls, stood up for their rights, and helped Democrats and fairness take the day.  Never underestimate progressive social movements and grass-roots activists.

SuperPACs and corporate donations were also supposed to help Republicans this year. Hundreds of millions were filtered into shadowy groups who supported Mitt Romney and a host of Teahadists. Fortunately, all that Citizens United energy did little to change the election results. Obscene amounts of money were wasted, but voters made up their own minds and tuned out the ghastly shrieking from the right.

Many states launched voter suppression efforts, usually sponsored by Republican legislatures that expressly wanted to ensure a Romney win. Voter ID laws, voter registration purges, and changes to early and absentee voting were the typical strategies. Despite this, voters stood up and demanded their rights, paying attention to the changes and demanding their votes. The courts were also very helpful, striking down the vast majority of the odious new laws as unconstitutional.

American voters supported marriage equality for the first time in FOUR states. They handed President Obama a clear mandate for his second term. They kept Democrats in charge of the Senate and sent more women to that body than ever before. They shrank the Republican advantage in the house while electing the most diverse Congressional delegation ever. Despite the screaming and spending, voters showed up — even in the states ravaged by hurricane Sandy — and used their most powerful right. What a wonderful thing to see.

Honorable mention today goes to Oregon’s own junior Senator, Jeff Merkley. Since taking office in 2009, Merkley has been a champion of progressive values and functional government. He stood up for filibuster reform before he was even sworn in and is pushing hard for it now (with the help of Sen. Tom Udall (D, NM). His efforts won him recognition in The Nation‘s 2012 progressive honor roll as “Most Valuable Senator.” Congratulations and thank you, Sen. Merkley!

Number 3 Bigot of the Year 2012: GOP Rape Apologists

29 Dec
Number 3 Bigots of 2012

Number 3 Bigots of 2012

There were plenty of examples of the Republican War on Women in 2012, ranging from battles over contraception to the stunning failure to renew the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. Nothing was quite so vile, however, as the shockingly repeated misogyny regarding rape. No fewer than five candidates for Federal office said something appalling about rape victims, often relating to shutting down a woman’s right to choose.  For a party that consistently demonstrated how much it HATES women, the GOP was determined to own every vagina in the land.

The most famous are Senate wannabes Todd Akin (MO) and Richard Mourdock (IN). Let’s take a quick look at the whole fool’s gallery.

  • “The right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, […] gift of human life and accept what God is giving to you.” Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (PA), Jan. 20
  • “If it’s an honest rape, that individual should go immediately to the emergency room; I would give them a shot of estrogen.” Rep. and Presidential candidate Ron Paul (TX), Feb. 3
  • “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Senate candidate Todd Akin (MO), Aug. 20
  • “It was really an issue of the Catholic church being forced to offer those pills if the person came in with an emergency rape.” Senate candidate Linda McMahon (CT), Oct. 15
  • “When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (IN), Oct. 23

Sadly,the media largely overlooked the first two, but Akin’s bizarre comment went viral and sunk his nearly sure thing candidacy. The GOP tried to get him out of the race, but he stayed put. With all their hopes for the Senate evaporating, the GOP leadership stuck by Mourdock. That included another lovely “gift from God” quote from Sen. John Cornyn (TX) and an endorsement from Mitt Romney. Happily for the nation, sensible voters said no to false KKKristianity and blatant misogyny.

Dishonorable mention for misogyny even beyond the GOP standard goes to radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Not content to rail against the contraceptive provisions in the Affordable Care Act, he targeted Sandra Fluke, a woman testifying before Congress about the need for contraceptive coverage. Limbaugh called her a slut and raved about contraception in a remarkably ignorant way, even for him. He devoted days of his show to the topic, resulting in a costly backlash as sponsors fled from his toxic spew.

Number 4 Hero of the Year 2012: President Barack Obama

28 Dec
Number 4 Hero of 2012

Number 4 Hero of 2012

It’s been a challenging year for President Obama. The hijinks of the obstructionist Republican leadership made even his best efforts challenging. Facing reelection with a still fragile economy, he also had to deal with steady criticism from the left. While there may be more he could have done, he still accomplished a great deal in spite of large obstacles. He also continued to rebuild the human face of the Presidency — mugging with Olympic athlete McKayla Maroney, hugging victims of hurricane Sandy and surviving family members in Newtown, and letting a small boy rub his head in the Oval Office.

What stands out most clearly, however, is his support of marriage equality. President Obama has worked hard for equality — dismantling Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, refusing to defend DOMA, extending same-sex benefits to federal employees — but nothing resonated like his interview in May. Never before had a President stated clearly that all loving couples deserve to marry. His words helped shift public opinion, with numerous polls showing a new, consistent majority for equality. His encouragement had a huge impact on the African-American community, arguably making the difference in marriage equality passing in Maryland. His courage and clarity, in a year where silence might have seemed a safer option until after the election, is notable and speaks to his character and leadership.

Now that he has a second clear mandate to lead real change in his second term, let’s hope for more of this. Not just for the LGBT community, either, but pushing back against the war on women and taking a strong stand against poverty and inequity. It’s been a good, if challenging, four years. Can the next four be even better? Yes, they can.

Because TSM was very fortunate to receive so many lovely nominations for Hero of the Year Award, I had to list many splendid honorable mentions. Honorable mention goes to all the grass-roots activists in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington who helped those states achieve historic victories for LGBT equality. Learning from mistakes of the past, they crafted clear, effective messages, raised funds $5 at a time, and pushed back the forces of bigotry to great effect.

Honorable mention also goes to two brave women. Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer was discharged from the military for being honest about her sexual orientation in 1992. She stood up for LGBT equality and fought discrimination and DADT for years. In the space of a year she saw that equality become a reality and was one of the first to marry her same-sex partner in Washington state when marriage equality became a reality there. Brigadier General Tammy Smith included her wife in the ceremony where she accepted her new rank, making her the first openly serving LGBT general in U.S. history.

Finally a sad farewell and honorable mention to AIDS activist Spencer Cox. He was instrumental in moving forward clinical trials of HIV fighting medicines in the 1990s, proposing protocols and helping shred bureaucracy to accelerate the availability of life-saving drugs. He died this month at the young age of 44.  Let us hope we get to Zero soon–zero new infections and zero AIDS related deaths.

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