Archive | January, 2013

Hooray for the Boy Scouts? Not so fast…

30 Jan
Too good to be true?

Too good to be true?

Less than six months after the Boy Scouts of America aggressively reiterated their anti-gay membership policy, the organization seems to have had a change of heart, or heart facsimile. In a media statement quietly linked from the homepage of their website, the Scouts present a brief statement about their membership policy. On the surface, it seems like a strong step forward.

Currently, the BSA is discussing potentially removing the national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.

That vague promise — pending a closed-door conversation like the one that reaffirmed the gay ban in July — has the media all a-tremble. Even major LGBT advocacy organizations are treating this statement like a major change in policy.

Sadly, I am skeptical. Beyond the less than emphatic phrase  “discussing potentially,” the whole thing feels like a desperate media grab rather than a sincere change of heart. Let’s look at another important part of the statement.

This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families.

“The best needs of their families?” Can you smell the hypocrisy? For decades the Scouts have bullied any local chapter that tried to be fully inclusive into toeing the national line. Suddenly, a patchwork of gay-might-be-okay troops that makes Don’t Ask Don’t Tell look like sound policy is perfectly acceptable. Rather than take a clear, inclusive stand, the so-called leaders of the Boy Scouts of America are lapsing into a laissez-faire confusion, or worse yet a “separate but equal policy”. It’s pretty clear that the motivation is greed.

Even before last July’s shocking affirmation of bigotry, the Scouts were bleeding money and support. Many companies were refusing to fund a blatantly bigoted group, and many local governments were voiding contracts with the Scouts as violations of non-discrimination policies. Feeling the financial pinch, the BSA is looking at their policy afresh. Rather than say that discrimination is wrong, however, they are afraid of the many conservative — often church-affiliated — groups that run local chapters. Fearing a reverse backlash, they hope to have their gays and hate them too.

Don’t get me wrong, progress is welcome. But after so many years of telling gay boys and leaders that they are unwelcome and unfit, trying to strike a muddled balance just won’t cut it. Forcing parents, scouts, local supporters, and sponsors to navigate a gay-might-be-okay morass doesn’t fit well with scout law.

A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.

None of those adjectives reconcile with this clearly self-serving discussion of potentially reversing some policies. As long as there are other options available, parents who truly want their children to learn, share, and grow should continue to steer clear of the Boy Scouts of America.

Hero of the Week: January 25, Brendon Ayanbadejo

25 Jan
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

When a celebrity stands up for an issue, its nice to see them stick with it and not just enjoy a flash of press. Brendon Ayanbadejo, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, clearly has the courage of his convictions. A long-time proponent of marriage equality and LGBT civil rights, he weathered a storm last year when a local politician demanded that his team’s owners put him in check.

Ayanbadejo stood firm on the side of equality, and with the help of Minneapolis punter Chris Kluwe brought even more attention to the issue. His strong voice contributed to the success of marriage equality in Maryland at the ballot box.

Hometown success is not enough for Ayanbadejo, however. He continues to raise his voice for equality and stands in solidarity with the LGBT community; now he suddenly has a much larger platform. The Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl, and he wants to use that exposure to make the case for marriage equality nationally. Wanting to make the most of this opportunity, Ayanbadejo reached out to two other equality supporters — hip hop mogul Russell Simmons and activist Brian Ellner.

Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?

What a great goal! While millions are turning their attention to this sporting event, he can convey a message of social justice. As a straight, biracial athlete, his power and voice are enormous, and he won’t squander them. Thank you, Brendon Ayanbadejo.

Obama’s Inspirational Inaugural

24 Jan
We the People

We the People

The inaugural speeches of U.S. Presidents are seldom very interesting. As part of a larger ceremony — admittedly a significant one in the operation of our government — they tend to be bland “what a great country” orations.  I must confess that I don’t usually pay much attention. This year, however, the presence of Myrlie Evers got me watching, and I’m truly glad that I did.

President Obama can be an inspiring speaker. This Monday he delivered what may be the finest speech of his career. The handful of great inaugurals — Lincoln’s call for healing in 1865, FDR’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” in 1933, JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you” in 1961 — have taken place at pivotal moments in our country’s history. It can be hard to spot such moments when you are living in them, but our President did just that and I don’t know that I have ever been prouder to identify as an American.

The divide between Americans — by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so much more — have been cast in such sharp relief by the politics and behavior of the past decade that too many of us wonder where we fit in. Obama’s theme, We the People, called out this problem and sought everyone’s participation in its solutions.

I was stunned and thrilled to hear him use the world “marginalized” in the speech. That barely prepared me for the next sentence.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.

Having the leader of the nation clearly show the path from the first feminists to the struggle for racial equality to the struggles for LGBT rights was stunning. The participation of gay poet Richard Blanco in the inaugural events was a welcome touch. The very real words of the President, calling for that march of justice to keep moving, was overwhelming. My husband and I were both in tears, caught off guard and astounded by his direct call for justice; this is probably the most hopeful I have felt in years.

The entire speech, only 15 minutes but packed with power, is worth reading. As a social worker, I found his very specific challenge to those who write the laws as well as those who rally for social justice particularly resonant.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

For the first time, a President actually explicitly used the word “gay” in an inaugural. I have seldom felt so accepted as a citizen of this nation.

It’s no wonder that days later pundits and journalists and Americans of all types are still marvelling at this speech. It wasn’t just a pale summoning of an America that might be. It was an invocation of what we say we are and a challenge to all of us to live up to that promise — not just for ourselves but generations to come. Let us celebrate this President, his words, and his intentions. Let us work together to help his vision come true.

Roe v. Wade: Celebrating 40 Years

22 Jan

roe40thstampOn January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled that women in this country could legally govern their own bodies with the landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade.  Sadly, 40 years later, we are witnessing a vicious attack on women’s health with people like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch and their ilk working to take full control over women’s bodies.

Another concrete example of recent monstrous misogyny is Republican Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi. His stated goal is to shut down the last clinic in the state that provides safe and legal abortions. On Thursday, Bryant said:

My goal, of course, is to shut it down. Now, we’ll follow the laws. The bill is in the courts now, related to the physicians and their association with a hospital. But, certainly, if I had the power to do so legally, I’d do so tomorrow.

Here we see some serious white male privilege at work. Bryant and all of the anti-choice folk seem far more interested in protecting the fetus while demonstrating complete disdain once the child is born.  Furthermore, we have a serious class issue at hand.  For women of financial resources, the law becomes immaterial, for they can travel someplace to have a safe and legal abortion.  What about women without resources? Why do Bryant and his ilk get to decide what is best for women in our country? Those who are anti-choice should be free to live their own lives according to their beliefs; they do not, however, possess the right to impose their beliefs on others through abusive practices.

The power of the courts to clarify rights and interpret law is vital. We should celebrate significant decisions like Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education. But we live in a participatory democracy and must remain vigilant. On many issues there will be disagreements and those who feel their views should triumph over established rights. As we take time to celebrate great decisions, we must also strive to ensure that the fruits of those decisions remain available to all Americans, regardless of class, location, race, or any other factor.

MLK Holiday 2013: A Conversation Around Race

21 Jan

martinlutherI’m glad that we have a National holiday honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  What troubles me is how far we have yet to go in the civil rights movement.  I hear people talking now about the March on the Mall in Washington, yet they don’t know the March was organized by the openly gay Bayard Rustin.  Hearing so many people purporting to have been present during King’s I Have a Dream speech, also leaves me a bit bothered. We like to pretend that we are not a nation continuing to struggle with racism; I have even heard people use the phrase “post-racist” society as though that was something real and already achieved.  Yet we have no further to look than the numbers.

Let us start with the Senate.  Of the 100 Senators currently serving, only one of them is African-American (and he was appointed to his current office).  Moving on to the House of Representatives (note the word Representatives), of the 435 civil servants (albeit 433 right now due to current vacancies), only 41 are African-American.  Of the 50 Governors only one is African-American. Of the nearly 8300 U.S. mayors, only about 650 are African American. This disproportionality in representation and leadership clearly speaks to how far we have yet to go.

As one can see the power structure is still fundamentally white, male, Christian, and heterosexual.  Whether we want to admit it or not, most people still benefit from institutionalized racism.  I am not saying most people are racist, in fact, I would assert that most people are not racist (save for the Tea Party), yet we have a mass of people who are the beneficiaries of racism.

I am grateful for the significant strides being made for civil rights and social justice, but let us acknowledge there is still much work to be done around people that are marginalized and how we treat people that are not part of the institutional power structure.  Dr. King’s voice of advocacy for civil rights has room for many others to join the choir and push back against how we “other” people and strip populations of their dignity–now is not the time to be satisfied:

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity…–I Have a Dream, Dr. King

TSM also wants to wish a heart felt congratulations to President Obama on his second inauguration! I hope everyone gets to see the amazing Myrlie Evers deliver the Invocation.  I also want to note that the openly gay  Latino Richard Blanco is the inaugural poet–nice choice.

Hero of the Week Award: January 18, Todd Schweikert and the Brooklyn Scouts

18 Jan
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Brooklyn dad and Eagle Scout Todd Schweikert absolutely believes in the motto “be prepared.” He felt like he gained a lot from his time as a Boy Scout and wanted his seven-year-old son to have the same benefits. What he didn’t want was to provide any support to the Boy Scouts of America, rejecting their homophobia and hyper-religious approach to values. So he did what any resourceful person would do: he created his own troop.

Rather than support an organization that teaches false values and marginalizes people, Schweikert founded the 5th Brooklyn Scouts. This new troop emphasizes engagement with the outdoors, social values, inclusion, responsibility, and service. It is open to any children of the appropriate age (5 to 17), regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Says Schweikert,

Any form of discrimination, no matter how small, is never ok and not something I can endorse and wish to teach to my children.

How wonderful to see someone take something they value and elevate it to its better form rather than trying to live with a truly broken and damaging framework. The troop is associated with the Baden-Powell Service Association — named for scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell — an alternative organization that supports the founding principles of scouting without the narrow BSA structures. Schweikert has over 40 kids already interested in his troop, proving that a good idea will bring its own rewards.

Honorable mention this week goes (believe it or not) to the U.S. Marine Corps. Responding to the many changes needed in the dismantling of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Marines became the first branch of the military to officially recognize the importance supporting military spouses. As a result, the  Marine Corps legal office has mandated that all military spouses clubs admit gay husbands and wives if they want to continue operating on-base. Rightly calling a refusal to recognize a same-sex spouse federally prohibited sexual discrimination, the USMC has set a strong precedent that should serve as a model for all military services for same-sex families.

Bigot of the Week Award: January 18, National Rifle Association. Again. Really.

18 Jan
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

In the month since the Sandy Hook shootings, the NRA (Nasty Repulsive Arrogant) has exceeded all its previous behavior and shown its true colors at every turn. Somehow, they managed to top themselves AGAIN this week. In a clear preemptive strike against President Obama’s upcoming press conference — at which he discussed VP Biden’s gun task force recommendations — the shoot everybody ‘casue some of ’em are bound to be guilty organization released their most odious and racist advertisement yet.

The spot, titled “Elitist Hypocrite” targets the President, presumably to undermine his credibility before he even presented his plan. The sick, tragic core of the ad is an attack on his parenting skills based on gross misinformation about his daughters and their school. (The ad is here if you can stomach it.) An ominous voice asks “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?” The rest of the ad talks about the security given to the President’s children and mentions the security staff at the school they attend. It then calls the President a hypocrite for protecting his kids and opposing armed guards at every school in the country.

This is so vile on so many levels that I don’t know where to start. What happened to the simple decency of leaving presidential kids alone as innocent members of an important family? Oops! Did I just expect decency from the NRA? Silly me.

They also neatly overlook the fact that these two children are at massively higher risk than most other kids and that providing security for the families of dozens of high-profile political families is common sense and long-established practice. Whatever the NRA would like us to believe, they also lie about the Obama girls’ school. It has NO ARMED PRESENCE. The security officers carry no weapons, making the hypocrisy charge an ugly falsehood.

Can we also talk about racism here? Need I really remind the NRA that people of color are profiled unjustly in such horrifically disproportionate ways?

Can anyone take this bloated lobbying whore seriously? Well over 90% of Americans (including 90% of gun owners) support common sense gun reforms including background checks. Of course those who only profit from more gun sales don’t care who is safe or what anyone thinks. They just lie their way to the bank.

Thanks go to my friend Jennifer Carey for this week’s dishonorable mention. Mike O’Neal (R), Speaker of the House in Kansas, sent an email to his colleagues calling for the death of President Obama. Lifting a passage from the bible (Psalm 109, calling for the death of a leader), he gleefully wished of the President

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

O’Neal refuses to apologize and insists the comment was taken out of context. How exactly a direct bible quote with the observation “At last — I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president!” is out of context he didn’t bother to explain.  What kind of monster is O’Neal? It will take a lot more than prayers to help this man.

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