Archive | August, 2013

Hero of the Week Award, August 30: Cory Booker

30 Aug
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Newark Mayor and New Jersey U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker has a longstanding reputation as a politician who understands his power and uses it to truly improve lives. He is very engaged with the people he serves and makes a practice of walking his talk — including a week spent on a food stamp budget and other practical demonstrations.

Booker is also an outspoken ally of the LGBT community. Although empowered as Mayor to perform marriages, he refuses to do so until all the citizens of his state have equal access to marriage. He has discussed his homophobia as a youth as an example of how people can grow.

As a lifelong bachelor with no visible social life, Booker is often the subject of speculation regarding his sexual orientation. Since he began his campaign for this October’s special Senate election. gay rumors have been swirling like mad in the media and online. Booker’s response?

And people who think I’m gay, some part of me thinks it’s wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, ‘So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.

Even more impressive is that the level of risk for Booker, as a multiracial man, supporting LGBT equality says volumes about his character and  his ability to lead. Sadly, Booker’s opponent, Steve Lonegan, chose to denigrate Booker for his wonderful attitude. Calling Booker “weird,” he said he “likes being a guy” and used Booker’s fondness for manicures as a sign of weak masculinity. Booker wasted no time in reinforcing his solidarity with the LGBT community.

It’s just disheartening to hear somebody, in this day and age, in the United States of America, say basically … that gay men are not men, they’re not guys. It’s shocking to one’s conscience in this country, where we believe that the content of one’s character, the courage in one’s heart, the strength of one’s sense of purpose, the love that one has for others and their service is what defines them.

During this week of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, how sad that people like Lonegan are on the wrong side of history.  Lonegan, like other folks who behave in homophobic or racist ways strip, not only others of their dignity, but strip away their own dignity. Thank you, Mayor Booker. We’re looking forward to your long and productive tenure in the Senate.

50th Anniversary Civil Rights March: A Reflection

28 Aug

50thToday is a most auspicious day, for it marks the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March (organized by Bayard Rustin) in Washington, DC.  This is a reflection of how far the United States has come regarding civil rights and how far we have yet to go.

Something quite remarkable happened during this 50th Anniversary celebration.  One of my heroes, Julian Bond, the chairman emeritus of the NAACP, stated quite clearly that:

We are returning amidst a newly reinvigorated fight for civil rights that has grown rapidly to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

After all, LGBT rights are civil rights.

No parallel between movements is exact. But like race, our sexuality and gender identity aren’t preferences. They are immutable, unchangeable – and the constitution protects us all against discrimination based on immutable differences.

Upon reading this quote, I must confess that Bond’s words made me weep.  I wish we had more voices like his and like that of Rep. John Lewis.  While Bond’s words and actions are representative of a great move forward, we still have so far to go around issues of racial equity and full equality for the LGBT community, not to mention the horrible inequities faced by those that share several identities, such as LGBT folks of color.

Sadly, even as we have such strong expressions of solidarity, we have too many examples of the prevalence of discrimination and racism. The story of 25 African Americans being denied service in a South Carolina restaurant just because their peaceful gathering made one person feel threatened is a tragic reminder that racism is still blantant, aggressive,  capricious, and very much alive in 2013.

Shall we also look at immigration and how the United States treats Latino/a Americans?  In 2010, Arizona passed SB1070, which demands that all brown colored people be able to supply legal documentation of their citizenship, something white folk do not have to do.  In its always progressive mode (note the irony here) Alabama adopted the same law in 2011 — yes, Alabama where 48% of all African American men are not able to cast a vote. Coincidence? I think not.

Let us now move to LGBT rights and Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ken (I can only think about gay sex) Cuccinelli.  Cuccinelli has proposed to overturn Lawrence v. Texas. Yes that’s right, he wants to make homosexuality illegal.  I do wonder if Cuccinelli and Putin have been exchanging love letters.

Call to action: my hope is that each of takes a moment to engage fellow human being in a discussion around race, gender, power, privilege, and civil rights, including civil rights for the LGBT community.  Let all of the targeted populations in the United States stand in solidarity with one another.  We who believe in Freedom cannot rest.

Celebrating the 19th Amendment: August 26, 2013

26 Aug

SufferageToday marks the 93rd Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.  After a very long and hard struggle for women to get the right to vote — fought by such heroes as Alice Paul and many  others — women were finally granted the right to vote.  Finally, in 1920 all women were being treated as full equals.

Oh but wait.  Sadly, this is far from true. While I am exceedingly grateful for the passing of the 19th Amendment, we still have a long way to go towards treating all women equitably.  Even more sad is that the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act.  With this ruling, we now witness the very intentional disenfranchisement of targeted voters: poor women, women of color, and a large percentage of people of color.

Today is a great day for action.  Today we should be standing in solidarity with all women to celebrate the 19th Amendment but to also initiate respectful conversations around what populations are being kept from the polls and how we shore up the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While five members of the Supreme Court may not remember history, there are many of us that do and are more than happy to offer a history lesson to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.

I would also like to celebrate the National Women’s History Project today, co-founded by Molly Murphy MacGregor. Today is Women’s Equality Day as proclaimed by the President of the United States.   Click here to find out more about the National Women’s History Project.

The Butler: The Personal is Political

23 Aug

OPRAH WINFREY and FOREST WHITAKER star in THE BUTLER My husband and I went to movie night on $5 Tuesdays here in Portland. We finally got to see the much acclaimed The Butler.  Of course, I would probably see anything with Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, and Vanessa Redgrave.   This all-star cast did not let anyone down.  While all of them give fantastic performances, I have to say that Whitaker and Winfrey give nothing less than Academy Award winning performances.   Some may remember that Whitaker earned an Academy  Award for his stellar performance in the Last King of Scotland. However, sadly Winfrey was robbed of an academy award for her stellar performance as Sofia in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Color Purple. 

The Butler does a marvelous job of weaving threads of fiction and non-fiction to create a compelling story of one man’s awakening to the realization that the personal is political against a backdrop of our nations’ ugly history around race.  If only race relations could be relegated to the past, but they cannot be yet — we still have so far to go.   Everything we do and in every way we live our lives, we are making a political statement.

The movie does a phenomenal job capturing the series of presidents under which Cecil Gains (Forest Whitaker) serves.  While LBJ was not someone I would want to my house for dinner, he was a great president and one of his greatest legacies was the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which has now been gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sadly, the movie also exposes the great flaws of the Reagans and how Reagan’s stand on apartheid put him on the wrong side of history.  Fonda does an amazing job of portraying Nancy Reagan.

I loved that the movie delved into the Freedom Riders and the need for the Black Panther movement.  However, I was sad that Bayard Rustin was not mentioned at all.  I am glad to see that both Rustin and Winfrey will be receiving awards later this year.

Winfrey is just as amazing in The Butler as she was in The Color Purple.  Her character, Gloria, is a complex alcoholic grappling with a husband working as a subversive — albeit he does not know his job is in and of itself subversive — and losing a son to the Vietnam War. (Another waste of human lives for a war that should never have been.)

Just to prove how much we need this movie, a theater in Kentucky has refused to screen The Butler.  So much for freedom of speech.  My esteem (while already quite low because of Rand Paul) just dropped even further.

We were glued to our seats during the entire movie and I so hope most people in the United States see this movie.  The Civil Rights Movement is not over–we still have a long way to go and we still so desperately need people like John Lewis.  Let me know what you think of the movie.

Hero of the Week Award, August 23: Antoinette Tuff

23 Aug
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week, tragedy was averted; this week, children did not die. Credit for the peaceful resolution to a potentially devastating situation goes to one person: Antoinette Tuff.

When Michael Brandon Hill  walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, GA with an AK47 style rifle, anything could have happened. Fortunately, he encountered Tuff, a clerk and bookkeeper at the school. Hill said he was off his medication and wanted her to call a probation officer. She called 911 and began to quietly and calmly reassure Hill that everything could work out fine. Even as Hill fired his weapon into the floor, she kept the line open and kept talking to him. While 870 students — Pre-K to 5th Grade — were evacuated, she was a model of courage and compassion.

The 911 recordings show a woman dedicated to humanity. She shares her own struggles, telling Hill about her husband leaving her and her disabled son, making herself a real person to him in the tense moment. She offered him encouragement.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?… We all go through something in life…You going to be OK.

It was building relationship with words of love and support and understanding, not armed guards or concealed pistols in teachers’ desks, that helped Hill make the right decision. Even after a brief exchange of gunfire with police, he was able to hear Tuff’s message and surrender. As things came to a close, what did this heroic woman say?

We not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up, so we’re not going to hate you.

In the face of potential violence, she expressed compassion. She allowed Hill to retain his humanity, dignity, and that human chose to seek more help rather than be another horrifying statistic.

Thank you, Antoinette Tuff, for doing all the right things. Not just calling 911 as procedure demanded, but for seeing a person in pain and doing everything you could to help. Dozens of lives may have been spared, and millions have seen the power of a caring word triumph over the threat of a weapon.  Would that we had more Antoinette Tuffs in the world that answer violence with love and compassion rather than hate and more violence. Brava, Ms. Tuff!

The Americanization of Emily: The Profits of War

19 Aug

the-americanization-of-emilyWe just watched Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily for the second time.  Wow!  What a brilliant movie that should be mandatory viewing.  As I have been reflecting lately on the cost of human lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other wars in the past 20 years, I have been saddened by the inability to justify any of these wars.  Granted, I am a pacifist and navigate the world in ways that hold me to my principals of what a pacifist means.

Chayefsky (writer of Network) does a brilliant job addressing the hypocrisy, greed, profiteering, and complexities of wars.  I don’t want to give a way too much of the movie, because I am hoping many of you will rent the movie or get it on the Hulu or however people rent movies today.  I will say that Chayefsky pushes the audience hard to think and reflect upon our core values, our core beliefs and ask us to look at how easily humans are manipulated.

Julie Andrews and James Garner give nothing less than stellar and complex performances and it is easy to see why their chemistry garnered another film,  Victor/Victoria nearly 20 years later.  Candidly, I was also amazed they were willing to make such a film that would question the American government and push back against sexism and misogyny in such a forthright manner. I’m not wholly convinced we have actors with such talent and moral fiber who would take these roles today. The movie is a clear indictment of the United States and of other countries that profit from warring and pillaging. It is also telling that both actors consider this their favorite personal work given the rich depth of experience they both have.

With that being said, I could imagine recasting this if an updated version were to be created — just for the record, I usually think it is a mistake to remake movies of this caliber.  However, I could see George Clooney in the James Garner role and Kate Winslet in the Jule Andrews role.  The movie also contains a homoerotic relationship between Charlie Madison (James Garner) and his superior, Adm. William Jessup, played by the late Melvyn Douglas.  This relationship would be interesting to explore in further detail.  Charlie Madison is a “Dog Robber,” so perhaps the homoerotic tension is an indication of the how accommodating a “Dog Robber” has to be.   I could easily see Robert DeNiro playing Adm. William Jessup.

I strongly encourage people to watch this movie and examine the word cowardice.  What does it mean in the movie what does it mean personally in a time of war as opposed to the word hero.  How many wars are defensible?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Bigot of the Week Award: August 16, International Olympic Committee

16 Aug

SochiBoycottThanks to my friend and fierce LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. SJFA readers will remember the story about the violent homophobia in Russia right now, but I fear It Gets Worse. Now all athletes who show any type of solidarity for their LGBT brothers and sisters will be punished by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  My how very 19th Century of the IOC.  It is as if the history of the persecution of folks with the pink triangle by the Nazis during WWII never happened.

The IOC, in a very Gestapo like manner, declared that anyone trying to make it safe for LGBT athletes, “Any participant who steps out of line may be punished, not by the Russians but by Olympic chiefs themselves.”  The IOC is calling upon Rule 50 from the Olympic Charter which states that the Olympics is not for political or religious propaganda — and here we have the blatant hypocrisy.  All the folks spouting their religious hate are facing no consequences, but those trying to ensure the emotional and physical safety of other human beings are being arrested and punished. How sad that the IOC willfully suffers the delusion that promoting human rights is a “political” agenda.

Do we need to be worried that Putin seems obsessed with us gay folk? Do he and Scott Lively need to finally announce their “love that dare not speak its name.”   I find it ironic that Putin the dictator of Russia is willing to grant political asylum to Edward Snowden, but then tortures LGBT folk.  Yes, for those not reading the newspapers, LGBT teens in Russia are being tortured.

Sadly, the United States cannot approach this issues from a place of innocence. Most part of the southern United States and even parts here in Oregon LGBT folk have to live their lives in fear.  We do not get to claim righteous indignation and moral superiority over Putin and his homophobic merry band of haters and fear mongers, for we have the same closet cases here in our own backyard.

Call to action: Yes, I fully support boycotting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but I would also ask that all of us that are committed to social justice stand in solidarity with ALL of our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world: Russia, the United States, Uganda, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe.

Archie Comics’ Big Gay Kiss

14 Aug

KellerKissArchie Comics’ first gay character continues to blaze trails for equality. Since his introduction three years ago, Kevin Keller has become one of the publisher’s most popular characters. He received his own title only months after his introduction and his appearances have been instrumental in the updating of life in idyllic Riverdale. Kevin Keller #10 continues this trend with a story that mixes Archie-style hijinks with solid social commentary.

Kevin recently began dating Devon, a young man who ran away from home when his father reacted badly to discovering he was gay. Devon is staying with Kevin’s pal (and frequent Archie love interest) Veronica Lodge. After events of the past couple of issues, Devon decides to return home to reconcile. After a chat at Pop’s diner, he and Kevin exchange a quick kiss.

A woman in the diner responds badly, accusing the couple of trying to corrupt her young daughter. Veronica rushes to their defense, and Pop himself bans the woman from the diner for her bigotry and disruption. Things get wacky (this is a comic book, after all) when Veronica accidentally posts the kiss to YouTube. The story goes viral, threatening to disrupt Devon’s plans and creating a media frenzy.

The blend of social justice and comic energy is perfect. Kevin just wants to be a normal teenager, a theme that helps make his book so charming and successful. Accepting the responsibility thrust on him by circumstance, he agrees to appear on Ellen to discuss the hyperbolic response to a simple kiss.

The issue also takes a poke at the infamous group One Million Moms, the hyperbolically named group that has mounted failed boycotts and protests of many representations of LGBT people. The group went after Archie Comics last year when the series Life With Archie, set in the future, featured Kevin’s wedding to his partner Clay. Using Ellen as the group’s clever foil, the story dismantles their homophobia and hypocrisy nicely while staying true to the characters and overall story.

The pacing is excellent and the characters are strong and believable. Writer and artist Dan Parent manages to convey important messages without being overly preachy. Besides Pop’s stand for equality, Riverdale High Mr. Wetherbee makes a bold statement about treating everyone fairly. Archie and his current African-American girlfriend reflect that their kiss at Pop’s would have created a similar stir not too long ago.

It’s an Archie Comic, so everything works out pretty well in the end. The story rings very true and the characters are strong. Devon’s interaction with his father is realistic but hopeful. Kevin and Devon continue to grow as characters and as a couple. Deftly handled and cleverly written, Kevin Keller #10 gets a full five stars for telling an important story and remaining true to the spirit of fun that readers expect from Archie.

Social Justice and Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees

12 Aug

2013PresMedFreedomSocJusThis year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Presidential Medal of Freedom  Awards, established by President John F. Kennedy.   For me, this year is particularly impressive because it is also the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March, which was organized by one of my personal heroes, Bayard Rustin, who has been celebrated several times on this blog.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  While I am not going to address all 16 recipients, I would like to take some time to recognize a handful that I consider Heroes of the World.

Bayard Rustin: I am sad this is a posthumous award, but he so deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged.  Not enough people know that it was Bayard Rustin, close confidante to Dr. King, who worked with King on techniques for nonviolent resistance.  Rustin was an openly gay black man working tirelessly for civil rights.  I cannot fully articulate my admiration for this man.  Of course at the time he was working with Dr. King, it was illegal just to be homosexual.  Some believe that Rustin’s effectiveness was compromised because he was openly gay.  Unfortunately, Rustin started to worry that his integral part in the civil rights movement would undermine the efficacy of the movement and thus offered to step aside.  King supported Rustin’s move to step aside.  As much as I respect and honor Dr. King, I wish he would have shown more support for Rustin.  Let us not forget that it was Rustin that organized the March on Washington.

Sally Ride: Sadly this is also a posthumous award. The world lost a shining light last year when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died from pancreatic cancer. She was only 61. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and physics from Stanford and went on to get a PhD in physics, studying astrophysics and free electron laser physics. She responded to a newspaper ad recruiting for the space program and became one of the first women in the program in 1978.

She became an integral part of the space shuttle program and in 1983 became America’s first woman and, at 32, the youngest American in space. Over her NASA career she logged over 340 hours in space. She was the recipient of numerous awards including the National Space Society’s von Braun award. She retired from NASA in 1987 but remained active in education and science. She taught physics at UC San Diego and was director of the California Space Institute. Ride’s most powerful legacy is Sally Ride Science, the program she launched in 2001. The mission of the organization is to

make a difference in girls’ lives, and in society’s perceptions of their roles in technical fields. Our school programs, classroom materials, and teacher trainings bring science to life to show kids that science is creative, collaborative, fascinating, and fun.

Sally Ride also wrote a number of science education books.  I am exceedingly grateful that I had the opportunity to have met Sally Ride.

Gloria Steinem: I have to say that Gloria Steinem is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a social worker.  Steinem is an icon of social justice for women, the LGBT community,  the disenfranchised and all marginalized and targeted populations. Steinem has dedicated her life to creating a level playing field for women, while at the same time embracing and working on issues for all marginalized peoples. In my humble opinion, Seinem’s voice is one of the most important in the 20th and 21st Centuries. My first reading of Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, spoke to me as a gay man and how institutionalized oppression can take its toll and how we must unite to speak our own truth. As most of you know, Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine and helped a culture learn about the power of words: Miss, Mrs. and Ms. I have heard Ms. Steinem speak three times and each time I left in awe and inspired. I don’t understand any of her detractors, for she speaks with such love and compassion. Listening to Steinem, one realized how fully she understands deep rooted patriarchy, misogyny, and oppression. I dare say, her detractors have never heard her speak, nor have ever read anything she has written. Yes, she supports a woman’s right to govern her own body–a controversy that would not exist if there were legislation trying to control what men could do with their bodies. I applaud Gloria Steinem for her courage and for her contributions to social justice, she encourages and inspires us all to understand more about the intersections of oppression.

Besides these personal heroes, three other honorees are particularly notable for their roles in social justice.
  • Oprah Winfrey has used her power and wealth to work hard for women’s rights and education; she is also a champion of the LGBT community. The fact that one of the most powerful, wealthy and recognizable people in the world is a woman of color is of great value in itself.  She is still creating an amazing legacy!
  • Sen. Daniel Inouye also receives a posthumous medal. He served nearly 50 years in Congress, elected when Hawaii became a state; he was the first Japanese American to serve in either chamber. During his long service he was a tireless champion of human rights, supporting civil rights for all including the LGBT community.
  • Patricia Wald is a well-respected appellate judge and a pioneer. She was one of the first women to graduate from Yale Law School. She was also the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she later served as Chief Judge.  She also served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and currently works for the Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

It is truly wonderful to see such champions of social justice receive this great honor.

Hero of the Week Award, August 9: Judge Harvey Brownstone

9 Aug

HarveyI need to thank my friend Bruce for inspiring me to celebrate Judge Harvey Brownstone as this week’s HWA.  Brownstone, the first openly gay judge in Canada, had the great pleasure and honor of officiating the wedding of Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor.  You might recall that it was Windsor who was the plaintiff in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which restricted federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex married couples — as a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Thank goodness we finally saw the death of DOMA.

Our Brownstone takes Tikkun olam  (Repair the World) quite seriously.  As a gay Reform Jew, Brownstone recounts:

I came from a Jewish community devoted to inclusiveness, helping one another, and fighting injustice—or, at least that’s what I thought growing up in Hamilton, Ontario.

Our Jewish community was filled with Eastern European immigrants and Holocaust survivors, and my father, a social worker who directed the Jewish Community Center, would bring affluent community members together to assist the newcomers with housing, furniture, clothing, and jobs.

While I do not subscribe to any religion, I have to admit that I wish more humans behaved in this inclusive manner and navigated the world through a lens of social justice.

It is important to note that Brownstone’s start was a difficult and painful one.  Coming from this social justice Jewish background, one would think his parents would have embraced their only child when coming out of the closet.  Sadly, this was not the case:

I decided to tell my parents that I was gay. We had always been close—I was an only child—and I anticipated that my father’s social work background, coupled with my parents’ strong Jewish values of “supporting your children no matter what,” would govern their reaction.

I could not have been more wrong. My parents exploded. They felt shame (“What did we do to cause this?”) and embarrassment (“What will people say when they find out?”). One of the most painful things my mother said to me was, “I survived the Holocaust for this?”

It was immensely painful to know that I had caused my parents such anguish and turmoil simply by revealing the truth about myself. To me, being gay was no different than being right-handed or having brown eyes. I believed—and still do—that we’re born this way. But to my parents, being gay was a choice, a “lifestyle.” I had been taught that what Jewish parents want most of all is for their children to be happy. But I quickly realized that my parents’ definition of “happy” was what counted, not mine.

Fortunately, Brownstone and his parents had a great reconciliation and he was celebrated for the mensch he is:

I invited my parents to my law school graduation, and they proudly attended. That was the beginning of a rapprochement that, over the next five years, would result in a full reconciliation…

In the early ’80s the Jewish community didn’t get that we were all Jews. If the Holocaust had taught us one thing, it was that to the Nazis it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight, Reform or Orthodox—you would share the same fate. But in my experience, this startling reality was overlooked when it came to accepting Jews who were different than the norm.

Eventually I became Chutzpah’s president. And in 1985, I persuaded the board to engage as gays and lesbians with the mainstream Toronto Jewish community.

Again, I am not a religious human, albeit I am spiritual, I do love how Brownstone concludes his interview with ReformJudaism.org:

Put simply—and no one should understand this better than we Jews—civil rights are not just about the law, and they’re not just about rights; they’re about human dignity. We were all made in God’s image. When we discriminate against and hurt each other, we hurt God. And that is why—whether we’re gay, straight, or plaid—this issue needs to matter to us all.

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