Archive | June, 2013

LGBT History Month 2013: Reflections and Work Yet to Be Done

30 Jun

AlbusDumbledoreAs we celebrate the last day of LGBT History Month, I am reflecting on the victory of the Death of DOMA, the tepid Supreme Court Decision regarding Prop 8, and the work yet to be done towards full equality for the LGBT community.  The striking down of DOMA does not mean that LGBT folk are no longer targeted or marginalized. Of course, the marginalization is even worse for people of color who are also LGBT.

Sadly, when I shared my Death of DOMA article on a social work social media page, most of the comments I received were from “Christian” social workers that were defending DOMA and acting as if they were victims because they were afraid to come out as Christians.  Really?  REALLY?  When was the last time a bunch of folk committed suicide because they are Christians? When was the last time in the United States people were denied housing, health care, employment because they are Christian?  I candidly was ashamed of my colleagues in the field of social work and I fully understand why people outside of the dominant culture would not trust us!

We still have a long way to go regarding equity and equality for the LGBT community.  Regardless of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, in most states in the south it is still illegal to be gay and in most states in the south it is completely legal to deny employment, healthcare, housing because of being LGBT, not to mention the many states that have constitutional amendments banning marriage equality, including South Carolina.  You remember South Carolina, the state where they just re-elected Mark Sanford after he spend tax payer money abandoning his job to take his now famous “Appalachian Trail” hike.

While we have so much work to do, I do want to close with a very sweet celebration of LGBT History.  For me, it was absolutely profound to learn that Dumbledore, the Headmaster at Hogwarts, was gay.  What a lovely message for J.K. Rowling to send to young people, that LGBT folk can be wonderful caretakers of children and role models of integrity.

Hero of the Week Award: June 28, Wendy Davis

28 Jun
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Some weeks the choice for Hero is abundantly clear. Thanks to regular SJFA follower Voice of the Trailer for nominating the amazing Wendy Davis.

Davis is a Democrat state senator in Texas, a thankless job if ever there was one. When Gov. Rick Perry called a special legislative session specifically to curtail abortion rights, she refused to let his scheme work. The short session was intended to pass a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, create more burdensome requirements for all abortions, and crush Planned Parenthood in the state. Davis, working with a strong coalition that included Planned Parenthood’s wonderful Cecile Richards, mounted a firm plan of resistance.

Demonstrating what a filibuster ought to be, Davis launched a thirteen-hour speech on the Senate floor, refusing to allow the bill to move forward. Her marathon speech required the use of a back brace before she was done, but she stuck it out. Republicans tried a number of administrative tricks to block her, but she carried on almost to the end. When they finally cut her off with moments to go, dozens of pro-choice supporters in the gallery raised their voices in protest, shouting down any action until the clock ran out on the special session.

Gov. Perry has sworn to try again, but the voices raised against him are strong. Having a true leader like Wendy Davis brought new life to the cause. There’s now a movement to draft her to run against Perry — that would be lovely justice indeed.

Honorable mention goes to the four justices on the Supreme Court who did their best to truly represent the people in their work this week. In the devastating ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ginsburg delivered a scathing dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor. All four also voted to overturn DOMA and to preserve Affirmative Action and worked to ensure that Prop 8 was nullified in California. When the highest court in the land is ruled by an opportunist ideologue, their courage and voices for justice are needed more than ever.

Bigot of the Week Award: June 28, The Supreme Corruption

28 Jun
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

The Supreme Court wrapped up its judicial year this week with a number of major decisions. On the four that got the most press — and had the largest impact — they managed one disaster (Voting Rights), one victory (DOMA), and two adequate indecisions (affirmative action and Prop 8). As those rulings were rolled out, however, the aggressive activists on the right of the bench bared their ugly souls once again.

The most vile decision was Shelby County v Holder, in which the Four Injustices of the Apocalypse were joined by two-faced Kennedy in gutting the Voting Rights Act. Despite the fact that the VRA was renewed unanimously by the Senate and by an overwhelming majority in the House after extensive research, the Court ruled that Congress acted capriciously and violated States’ rights. That rationale fails to disguise the clear desire to allow states to practice voter suppression, disproportionately impacting marginalized populations which coincidentally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.  Talk about intentional disenfranchisement!

Chief Racist Roberts penned the poison decision, helping secure his horrible legacy. He also wrote an ugly dissent in Windsor v United States, the case that overturned DOMA.

Speaking of ugly legacies, Justice Scalia managed to spew his usual bile with flair and volume. He continues to argue that calling a bigoted law bigoted is biased against bigots. That’s some weird reasoning. He also displayed his split personality in the Shelby and Windsor rulings. To support racism, he trumpets States’ rights and blames Congressional overreach. To support homophobia, he says that Congress should have the final say, and the will of the states that support LGBT rights be damned. In a curious bit of double-speak, his Windsor dissent includes:

It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere “primary” in its role.

That is one huge spleen that Scalia has!  Justice Alito-Mussolini, joined in the discrimination chorus. He also demonstrated his ongoing behavior as a petulant brat. During Justice Ginsburg’s scathing Shelby dissent, he rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. He displayed similar disrespect to opinions offered by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor on other matters. Racist, homophobe, misogynist — score three for Alito, but of course “he does make the trains run on time.”

Justice Thomas remained inert, participating only far enough to support a version of the Constitution that must have been written in 1276, content to continue suppressing the rights of others now that he’s got his lifetime gig.

What a horrible example of judicial activism and abuse of power!

There’s plenty of dishonorable mention to spread around, as well, so let’s just highlight two magnificent examples.

  1. Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose efforts to crush Planned Parenthood and severely restrict reproductive choice in his state were thwarted by true democracy in action, chose to demonize state Sen. Wendy Davis. He argued that she’s lucky she wasn’t aborted by her unmarried mother and should take a lesson from that. My he is Klassy!
  2. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R – What’s the Matter with Kansas) followed the DOMA decision by introducing a new bill to ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution. I guess the House didn’t waste enough taxpayer time and money defending the indefensible.

Many of the usual homophobes spewed their bigotry in despair after the Windsor ruling as well. Rather than bother with names and quotes, let’s take a lesson from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose flawless response to their angry bloviating was a calm, “Who cares?”

LGBT History Month 2013: The Death of DOMA!

26 Jun

Constitution-No-DOMAToday marks a landmark decision from the United States Supreme Court and a victory for the LGBT community.  Clinton’s legacy of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is now dead.  Even now, I am having to write this article through tears of joy!  The unconstitutional, shamefully discriminatory DOMA has finally been put to rest.

The 5-4 decision found Justice Kennedy siding with the reliably progressive Justices Bader Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor. The ruling is quite clear, emphasizing that by ignoring state marriage law, the federal government violated the Fifth Amendment. It reads, in part:

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.

Of course, Scalia and his other school yard bullies  (including homophobic Chief Justice Roberts) voted to keep DOMA intact. They put forward a few different rationales, but basically relied on the “gays are icky” defense.  Sadly, Chief Justice Roberts who holds enormous power, has sent a clear message that he does not intend to treat all citizens equally or equitably.

Congratulations to Edie Windsor, whose steadfast insistence on having her marriage recognized moved this case forward. She is a true hero and her legal team deserves our thanks.

We still have a way to go. The patchwork of state-by-state marriage equality means that LGBT Americans get different rights based on where they live. This decision, however, makes it clear that marriage is marriage. That’s a huge step forward.  Poor John Boehner who spent so much of our tax payer dollars defending DOMA.  Is that a tear I see, Mr. Boehner?

LGBT History Month 2013: Cyndi Lauper

24 Jun

cyndi  lauperToday I would like to honor and celebrate a fierce  and lifelong LGBT ally — a woman dedicated to civil rights for all and social justice, not to mention a personal hero of mine, Cyndi Lauper.  Lauper founded  the Give A Damn Campaign, which strives for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality. What a lovely voice of solidarity for the LGBTQ community.  Her activism is greatly appreciated and she uses her celebrity for the greater good.

Lauper’s True Colors tour — taking its title from her #1 ballad to being true to yourself –  is a wonderful spectacle of support for the LGBTQ community and for strong voices in the music community representing marginalized populations. She truly exemplifies the values she speaks. Activist neo-divas like P!nk and Lady Gaga owe a great debt to her bold example.

More recently, Lauper started True Colors Residence, providing housing for LGBT youth.  Yes, sadly, there are far too many LGBT youth who find themselves homeless after coming out. Announcing the facility, she stated:

These young people often face discrimination and at times physical assault in some of the very places they have to go to for help. This is shocking and inexcusable!

Lauper also successfully turned her many talents in a new direction with a recent Broadway hit. Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell asked her to write the music and lyrics for a stage adaptation of the true-story movie Kinky Boots. Harvey Fierstein came on board to write the book for this story of a young man who recruits a drag queen to help him save his family shoe factory by designing comfortable and stylish drag footwear. Nominated for 13 Tony Awards, the show’s win for Best Musical may be the gayest Tony ever. Lauper became the first woman to win Best Original Score solo, adding another first to her list of accomplishments.

From the very beginning, Lauper has used her star power to help the under-represented. On her groundbreaking video for Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, she insisted that the performers be as diverse as possible wanting:

every girl who saw the video to see herself represented and empowered, whether she was thin or heavy, glamorous or not. I wanted women of every race.

She has used that same philosophy to great impact in her support of the LGBT community. Thank goodness for allies like Lauper.

Hero of the Week Award: June 21, Alan Chambers of Exodus International

21 Jun
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Yes, you read that correctly. Alan Chambers, president of the notorious “ex-gay” organization Exodus International is this week’s hero. Chambers has a complicated history. Although he is married to a woman, he has famously admitted that his attraction to men has never ended. Over the past year, he has made a number of statements that seemed at odds with the Exodus mission of “converting” gay men and lesbians, insisting that sexual orientation is not a choice.

This week, he went one step further and issued an abject apology for his role in contributing to the pain and oppression of the LGBT community. He describes his own journey noting that “it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church.” Chambers does a nice job of looking at the damage he and his colleagues have done, owning the impact of their work, whatever their intent. Let me start by saying that Chambers does not really fully qualify as a Hero, but he is evolving and this is worth noting.

Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this.

In fact, he and the Exodus board have decided to close down the whole organization, making this announcement yesterday.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom.

The situation is still complicated. Chambers and his colleagues still cling to their belief that homosexual behavior is a sin. His refusal to continue pushing that belief on others, coupled with his work to end an organization whose very mission was nothing but harmful, however, sends a powerful and much-needed message.  Let us hope he continues to evolve and realized that being gay is NOT a sin!

Bigot of the Week Award: June 21, Jeff and Tanner Flake

21 Jun
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

Thanks to my dear friend Bob for inspiring me to write this week’s BWA. Newly elected Senator Jeff Flake (R – AZ) is a complicated fellow. He is staunchly anti-choice and was an active part of the nasty budget battles while in the House. He is also supportive of strong immigration reform and was one of only a handful of Republicans in the House to vote to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Right after joining the Senate, he voted against modest gun control legislation despite pleas from constituents impacted by the Tucson shootings.  Basically, I was not able to understand this man at all.

Sadly, I suspect he is mortified at his son’s behavior and we are left wondering where did his son learn this horrific behavior.

Flake’s 15-year-old son, Tanner, recently gained some Internet notoriety for the following tweet:

To the faggot who stole my dirt bike from the church parking lot, I will find you, and I will beat the crap out of you.

Isn’t that just lovely. Is this common language found in church parking lots?  If it is, we have another difficult conversation that needs to be had. That post led to increased scrutiny of the younger Flake’s online presence. The results? Finding an online game that he plays as n1ggerkiller; countless racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic posts where he freely uses the words “nigger” and “faggot”; calling Mexicans the “scum of the Earth;” and much more. There’s also a video where he pretends to commit suicide with a loaded gun.

Sen. Flake issued a very tepid apology, promising that he had “spoken with” Tanner. This pattern of behavior is far too disturbing to be satisfied with a simple non-pology. The Senator needs to look at his own behavior. Where did his son learn these things? What can be done in his household to ensure a real change? What lessons can he learn from this that will make him a better legislator?

For now, that apology is all we’re seeing. So much for “Family Values.”  Here is where I must take three deep breaths and hope that Tanner gets the serious help he needs and I must believe he is capable of a transformative experience.

LGBT History Month 2013: Langston Hughes

19 Jun

LangstonHughesToday I would like to honor and pay tribute to Harlem Renaissance poet/writer, Langston Hughes. Although Hughes’ sexual orientation has traditionally been downplayed, like James Baldwin, he was black and openly gay. Hughes was attracted to the ideals of Communism, given the racism and homophobia  in the United States. Though Hughes never officially joined the Communist Party, he was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations led by Joseph McCarthy.

Sadly, even today (46 years after his death) men of color take enormous risk to be openly gay.  We, as the LGBT community, do not do enough to support of brothers and sisters of color.  We must stand in solidarity.

I fell in love with Hughes poetry the first time I read Dream Deferred.

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Another favorite of mine is Dream Boogie.  I will conclude this post with they lyrics of Ella’s Song by my favorite a cappella Social Justice group, Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons (Refrain)

That which touches me most is that I had the chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can I’ll shed some light as they carry us through the gale (Refrain)

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand and fight is the only way the struggle survives
I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word (Refrain)

Gay Graduation Gratitude

17 Jun

MHSGraduation“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)  In the last two years I am grateful that I have learned how to start being comfortable with my largeness and my contradictions — to sit in ambiguity and reflection.

I started this journey with great trepidation.  I was going back to get my MSW as a middle aged gay man who felt like a cross between Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern; I was scared to death no one would like me and feared it was too late to reinvent myself as a social worker.

I have learned a lot about dignity — how to help people retain their dignity and keeping mine, which means working with resistance and understanding how people need resistance to protect something.

My first experience after being accepted into the program was my visit to the IT Department.  You see, I did not know how to access my student account.  I explained this to the very nice young woman who was trying to help me in earnest.  She very politely explained that she did not have the answer to my query, but would make a phone call (she was standing no more than two feet from me).  She picked up the phone and said: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here from the MSW program and he can’t get into his account.”  Of course, I looked around to see who she was referring to, and it dawned on me that she was talking about me.  I had become “the elderly gentleman” just two days before the term had started.  Of course, I wanted to take the tennis ball off my walker and throw it at her, but decided just to walk away and appreciate that she was genuinely trying to help.

While I am exceedingly grateful for my professors and their time, dedication, and belief in me, I have to say that I am also in awe of and grateful for so many members of my cohort.  I listen to their individual and collective narratives full of passion and reflection and I have learned a great deal from these absolutely lovely people. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank these people for also embracing me and making me feel so welcomed and integrated into the community.

There have been many times during the last two years that I have submitted to my misanthropic woes and have often reflected: “Maybe I can’t do social work.  I don’t know that I do believe everyone is capable of a transformative experience — what if I’m not capable of a transformative experience?”  Then I hear one of my peers talk about standing in solidarity with me around marriage equality and I get verklepmt and I reflect: “How lucky am I? How on earth did I get here?”  I must confess, I don’t always feel worthy of being in such amazing company and I hope I have been able to add just a tiny significant gem to those I have touched and have touched me.

In the larger scheme, I know most of us are desperately wanting to change systems that are wholly unfair.  We are wanting to eradicate poverty, racism, homophobia, and ageism and underscore the power of interconnectedness and interdependency.  The energy and dedication to creating equity both locally and globally is palpable.  One can feel that amazing energy walking down the halls of the school of social work, or running into each other at the Occupy Movement, or posting activist events for us to attend.  When I look around me today, I feel so much optimism that maybe, just maybe we can actually do it!

I have been fortunate enough to have many “social work” heroes through my lifetime: Bayard Rustin, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, several of my professors and peers here at PSU, and of course Walt Whitman.   The common thread that ties all of these folk together is that they are all radical progressives — the gatekeepers of truth.  None of us can remain neutral.  If we do not work to interrupt oppression, we are as culpable as the oppressors. As radical progressives, we must not give into systems that collude with oppression, but rather we must stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.  Collectively and individually, we are the Bayard Rustins, the bell hooks, and the Walt Whitmans.

Whitman also wrote, Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you. I find at this point in my life, I am both searching and waiting and I could not be in finer company to do so.

LGBT History Month 2013: John Oliver (The Daily Show)

14 Jun
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Thank you to my dear friend and fierce LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write today’s article.  Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has always struck a nice balance between humor, irony, and information. Few of its correspondents are as good at the irony as John Oliver. Sadly, while I love his exposure of the hypocrisy of French and Russian homophobes, it is also a painful reminder that we have so far to go for LGBT rights around the world.

What a shame that something joyous — the establishment of long-needed equality and recognition for the relationships of same-sex couples — has resulted in such monstrous behavior. Thank you John Oliver for showing the hypocrisy in behavior that would be downright silly…if it weren’t so viciously destructive.

We are most regrettably targeted and marginalized around the world and most states in the USA.  One way to conquer homophobia is to be VISIBLE: let the world know we are everywhere!  Click here to see John Oliver’s lovely exposé.

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