Archive | September, 2013

John Boehner’s House of Shame

30 Sep

Boehner_Hostage_xlargeJust when you thought the country was able to finally get the rancid taste from the Tea Party out of our collective mouths, the Teahadists have brewed a particularly wicked, hypocritical, and inequitable pot of tea.  John (I seem to have mislocated my spine) Boehner has yet again proven his dedication to erring on the wrong side of history. Twice in one week the House has passed a budget bill defunding the Affordable Care Act even though President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have made it clear that such a budget bill will never survive. Never mind that these nasty Republicans are acting AGAINST what is best for Americans and against what most Americans want.

Boehner yet again acquiesced to competing Madhatters, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.  This gang of school yard bullies have wasted tax payer money with their grandstanding and posturing in their attempt to hold the country hostage over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Yes, why not deny millions of Americans access to health care? These civil servants (a term I use loosely with this group) do not have to worry about their own access to health care, but certainly are not advocating for those in need.

Let us also address how this greedy group of gangsters is impacting the economy. Without a budget in place, most Federal government functions will shut down on Tuesday. That means millions of workers will be furloughed and may never get their back pay. The ripple effect will touch every service these workers might use and every place they might shop. So-called “essential services” — air traffic control, Social Security payments, meat inspections, and such — will continue but most services will not. Even the things that will be funded will operate more slowly.

Ironically, many health services are considered essential. That means that by shutting down the government, the Tea Tainted Tricksters may actually ensure the implementation of the next wave of ACA measures.

The GOP’s increasingly strident demands to defund the ACA demonstrate how much they fear it. Polls and samples clearly show that as Americans understand what the law actually does — and begin to benefit from it — its popularity goes up. If it rolls out as intended, the Democrats have a signature accomplishment to campaign on in 2014. Bitter, bickering, bigoted, and blathering, the GOP has nothing but rhetoric and an insane hatred of the President to campaign on (racist much?). Sadly, they are willing to punish millions of true civil servants to make their pointless point.

Bigot of the Week, September 27: Guido Barilla

27 Sep
The Homophobic Pasta

The Homophobic Pasta

Thank you again to fierce LGBT ally and my friend, Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article.  I must confess, I don’t  particularly enjoy writing the Bigot of the Week articles, for they sit heavy on my heart. Sadly, I feel I must write them to expose where and when people are being oppressed.  This week, Guido Barilla, the CEO of Barilla pasta engaged in oppressing the LGBT community.

In an interview Barilla did explaining why he would never use gay people in his commercials, Barilla said:

I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role…if the gays do not agree, they can always eat pasta from another manufacturer.

Wow! Where does one start to unpack this?  Shall we start with the definition of a family? Clearly, Barilla is getting his definition from Dan Quayle from 1992.  Barillia’s comments are full of misogyny, hypocrisy, homophobia, classism, and just plain old ignorance. For those who are under the assumption that the LGBT community is now safe and can rest easy, please know these comments from people in power are so hurtful and harmful to all of us — all members of the human family.  Barilla and other homophobes send the message that human beings can easily be discarded if they do not fit into the boxes prescribed by the dominant culture — a white, male, heterosexual, Christian paradigm.

Sadly, McDonald’s is implicated in this homophobic attack. My hope is that McDonald’s will discontinue its partnership with Barilla pasta.  I also hope that the LGBT community and all of our allies will stand in solidarity and boycott Barilla pasta. When did hate become a family value?

Another call to action: If you already have Barilla products in your home, you can either return them to your grocer and explain why you are returning the product, or donate it to your local food bank.

Hero of the Week Award, September 27: Cassidy Lynn Campbell

27 Sep
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Thank you to my dear friend and LGBT ally Jennifer Carey for inspiring me to write this article. Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a 16-year-old student at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, CA, was named homecoming queen last Friday. The remarkable thing about this everyday occurrence is that Campbell is transgender. She is the first known transgender homecoming queen at a U.S. high school.  Brava, Cassidy!

Campbell began taking hormone blockers and estrogen injections in high school to transition and has documented her journey in videos on her YouTube channel, LanceMize. As she started this school year, she decided to stand up for the transgender community and run for queen.

If I win it would mean that the school recognizes me as the gender I always felt I was. But with all the attention, I realized it’s bigger than me. I’m doing this for the kids who can’t be themselves… it wasn’t for me anymore and I was doing this for so many people all around the county and the state and possibly the world and I am so proud to win this not just for me, but everyone out there.

What amazing courage and dedication! Few people of any age would have the strength of character to make such a bold, public stand. Fortunately, the students at her school proved supportive. On September 20, blue and gold balloon at the school revealed her win. “I instantly just dropped to the ground and started crying,” Campbell said. Campbell’s mother is very supportive, calling her “wonderful” and saying “I never would have thought in my lifetime that I would see this.”

Sadly, not everyone has been so supportive. After the election was announced, she was subjected to bullying comments and feedback that she described as “ignorant.”

After 16 years of struggling, I finally do it and I finally am myself — thinking I’ll be so happy. It’s just sad that everyone has to be so judgmental about it, and so hateful, and so mean and so negative. I’ve never done anything to any of these people. And I don’t know why they have to be this way, when I’ve done nothing to them. It just hurts so bad because I feel just as much of a girl as all of them do.

Let us all send Cassidy Lynn Campbell our support and help her celebrate both her accomplishment and her wonderful spirit. She deserves happiness and success.  Let us also hope that Cassidy’s narrative is heard and we all stand in solidarity with her to help fight transphobia.

Ted Cruz Has His Health Care, Who Cares About Yours?

25 Sep
Sen. Cruz counts the number of people he actually cares about

Sen. Cruz counts the number of people he actually cares about

If anyone doubted just how twisted Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Pit of Hell) really is, his antics on the Senate floor this week are all the evidence we need. You see, Cruz is engaged in a talk-a-thon pseudo-filibuster to block a vote on a bill he actually approves of. If that sounds a bit whacky to you, then you’re paying attention.

A bit of background: Worst Speaker in History John Boehner recently caved to the tea-soaked fringe of his party and helped pass a budget bill that would avoid a shutdown of the government (for three whole months). The price? It removes all funding for the Affordable Care Act. That’s right, the House passed its 42nd effort to eliminate a law that would improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Sen. Cruz favors this bill. All his blather is aimed at one thing: running out the budget clock. If there isn’t a budget bill in place by Tuesday, the Federal government shuts down. (That worked really well for Newt Gingrich in the 90s…) So what it comes down to is this: Cruz, clearly grandstanding as he sets up a 2016 presidential campaign, is willing to risk a stoppage of most Federal services and cut off pay and benefits for millions unless the Senate passes the nasty House bill and blocks improved access to health care for another set of millions of Americans. In my best Dolly Parton voice from 9 to 5, “I never thought I would have to say this about another human being, but you are evil, that’s right you are evil Mr. Cruz.”

Talking much and saying nothing isn’t new for Senate Republicans, but Cruz is part of a new wave intent on putting their selfish hypocrisy on display. Remember when Rand Paul (R – Myopia) filibustered an Obama nominee to protest the administration’s stand on the use of armed drones? (And then reversed himself just days later after no-one was paying attention…) Cruz is engaged in just such grandstanding. In fact, Sen. Paul stepped up to lend a hand. So did Mike Lee (R – Who?), the worst Senator you’ve never heard of.

It’s all pointless, of course. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will call for a vote today and even the Republicans won’t muster enough votes to block it. The Senate will never defund the Affordable Care Act and the President would never sign such a bill. Cruz, Paul, and Lee  (The Three Stooges) just want to make it as hard as possible to work out a compromise. So, he babbles on about anything, giving television reviews and reading from Atlas Shrugged and Green Eggs and Ham. (That’s a literary analysis that can’t help Ayn Rand’s legacy any…)

Never mind that the majority of Americans (including a plurality of Republicans) oppose a shutdown. Even larger numbers oppose using health care to hold funding hostage. Even people who dislike (or more likely misunderstand) the health bill believe that it should be implemented and improved, not used for games. Sen. Cruz and Paul don’t care. His health care is secure; so is his salary. The rest of America can suffer.  A very odd approach to civil service.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Tama Seavey

23 Sep

Tama and I became friendsTama through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male.  His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together.  As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.

Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983.  Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression.  Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit.  Like her late husband, Tama  challenges:  racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.

Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.

Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October.  She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11.  She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system.  All 14 of the homes were white.  While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive.  She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.

Tama, what brings you to the  work of social justice? 

I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients.  All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”

I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism.  How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations.  The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression.  I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.

Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, very much so.  My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level.  I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice.  I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.

People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place.  This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces.  Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people.  This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

Oh, the list is very long.  At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion.  Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment.  They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available.  We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.”  This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice.  Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable.  So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following.  The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility.  I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.

Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action.  How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another.  I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.

Hero of the Week Award, September 20: Russell Brand

20 Sep

Russell BrandI am the first to admit that I am not one that has been able to appreciate the work of Russell Brand. I’ll further admit that the only thing I have seen him in was the re-make of  Arthur, which should never have been remade.  When you have a cast like Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, the late Sir John Gielgud, and the late Geraldine Fitzgerald what are the hopes of doing better than that, even with my beloved Helen Mirren?  As it turns out, Russell Brand is a rather impressive young man with a keen awareness of homophobia, class, distribution of wealth, and history.  Bravo, Mr. Brand!

Brand was just recently the recipient of a British GQ Oracle award, which is sponsored by Hugo Boss.  Upon receiving his award, Brand took the opportunity to remind the audience of the deep ties Hugo Boss had to the Nazi Party during WWII.  Hugo Boss not only supported the Third Reich, but made an enormous amount of money making the uniforms for the Nazi soldiers. The uniforms were often made by prisoners of war — a truly horrific irony. Despite Boss’ prohibition from operating the business after the war, he transferred power to a relative and the business continued on its ill-gotten gains. During the push for reparations in the 1990s, the company paid lip service to the effort but refused to publicize any findings regarding their activities and contributed what adjudicators called “a bare minimum” to the reparation fund. What an awful example of soulless corporate greed.

In Brand’s most impressive speech, he also deftly addresses the persecution of gays during WWII — sadly we have a redux in Russia now.  And with great aplomb, Brandon also gives a much needed smack down of classism and the inequitable distribution of wealth.   I have to love Brand’s understanding of power dynamics and how corporations and governments are implicated. Note this portion of his speech as transcribed in the Guardian:

Now I’m aware that this was really no big deal; I’m not saying I’m an estuary [sic] Che Guevara. It was a daft joke by a daft comic at a daft event. It makes me wonder, though, how the relationships and power dynamics I witnessed on this relatively inconsequential context are replicated on a more significant scale.

For example, if you can’t criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event, do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy? Will the relationships that “politician of the year” Boris Johnson has with City bankers – he took many more meetings with them than public servants in his first term as mayor – influence the way he runs our capital?

Sadly, GQ editor Dylan Jones reprimanded Brand on Twitter, stating, “What you did was very offensive to Hugo Boss.” Brand responded aptly, sticking to his important thesis: “What Hugo Boss did was very offensive to the Jews.”

I hope you will be equally as impressed with Russell Brand, as I let him speak for himself here.  I also have to add how much I love Danny Glover for initiating a boycott of Hugo Boss back in 2010, when the company tried to stomp out any signs of unionization.

Bill de Blasio: Civil Service Through a Social Justice Lens

18 Sep

Bill de BlasioBill de Blasio’s win of the New York City Democratic mayoral nomination is a victory, not only for New York, but for all of us in the United States working towards social justice and building a vision of equity for all people.

Current New York Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy of the Stop and Frisk policy, also known as legalized racial profiling, is finally losing some teeth.  Thankfully, people like de Blasio are ever mindful of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other targeted populations as we look to a much more inclusive and representative form of leadership.  de Blasio’s inclusivity is laudable:

Something I feel very strongly is you’ve got to treat your family and the other people in your life with a lot of love and respect and you’ve got to treat the society around you the same way. I know people who’ve done one, but not the other. And I really resolved very early on to try and do both.

Unlike many civil servants during my lifetime, de Blasio is very intent on serving all people, as he demonstrates a great respect and even awe of humanity — what a novelty not to discard humans that don’t fit in the box we assign them; how lovely to go outside of the dominant culture.  The television ad his son Dante does is amazing and inspires great hope.

One hopes that if people such as de Blasio get elected, we stand a good chance of changing the face of oppression, systemic racism, and the “othering” of people.  It is most encouraging to see New York looking at progressive candidates who are focusing energy on jobs, affordable housing, healthcare for all, better transit system, gender equity, and LGBT rights, just to name a few of the issues de Blasio has a strategic plan to address.  Would that our country had more of this type of visionary leadership. How refreshing it is to see a political candidate not scapegoating people who are different.  How lovely to see a political candidate embracing all of the citizens .  This seems like true civil service to me.

To learn more about Bill de Blasio and support his mission, check out his website here.

Parenthood: Childless

9 Sep

ParenthoodMy husband and I watched Parenthood last night.  It is one of my favorite movies. It was also the first time I fell in love with Diane Wiest, who does a great job of showing the difficulties of being a single parent with unconditional love for her two children.  The movie does a fantastic job of showing the tensions, troubles, and triumphs of being both a child and a parent. While I still loved watching the movie, I was also quite mournful.  As a middle aged gay man, I had always wanted children.  I always saw myself as a parent before I saw myself as a spouse. I was quite comfortable not having a husband and thought I would just adopt a child and live my life out as a parent.

My world changed about 15 years ago and I fell in love with a man who is nothing less than wonderful and amazing.  He is so amazing that I chose being married over being a parent.  Of course, there are times I still break down in tears that I don’t have  children.  in fact, a short time ago, my husband and I were at a restaurant and I saw this young child with dark skin and really curly hair and thought, “this could be my child.”  I started to weep over my hamburger.  While my husband was quite supportive, he did not feel the loss I was feeling.

Sadly, while watching the movie, Parenthood, I reflected on how neurotic I would have been if I had children and how overly involved I would have been.  Fortunately, we have some very dear friends who allow us to watch their four children — we love them dearly!!!  However, I am able to observe my neurosis even while spending time with the kids.  For example, when one of the kids wants to show me her head stand, it takes everything I have not to say “please don’t do that,” for fear she will hurt herself.

I am so elated that same-sex couples have children.  The same-sex couples I know who have children love them so dearly. Regardless of sexual orientation, children need structure, guidance, and most of all love.  How sad that Justice Scalia and his  merry little band of homophobes try to justify their homophobia under the guise of bearing children.  Where does that leave all of my heterosexual friends who either choose to be childless, or are unable to bear children?  Again, we see Scalia and his fellow haters on the wrong side of history.

Finally, I am also grateful for all of the children (now adults) that I have had the honor of teaching.  It is an amazing honor to see students grow up as adults and still keep in contact with you.  While I don’t have biological children, I am very lucky to have generations of kids in the past 25 years.

Bigot of the Week Award: September 6, Texas National Guard

6 Sep
Bigot of the Week:Texas Weak, Texas Pathetic

Bigot of the Week:
Texas Weak, Texas Pathetic

Thank you to my dear friend and LGBT ally, Jennifer Carey, and Arturo Schultz, for inspiring me to write about this week’s Bigot.  Despite the Death of DOMA, Texas wants to create its own laws and refuses to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision. Recent actions by the Texas National Guard refuse to treat LGBT people as equal citizens of the United States.  Yet again we see Texas on the wrong side of history.  Lest we forget the misogynistic Rick Perry beaten back by the amazing Wendy Davis.

Sadly, The Texas National Guard refused to process requests from same-sex couples for benefits on Tuesday,  September 3, 2013.  Despite a Pentagon directive to honor these requests, they tried to justify this discrimination by citing the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage. Interestingly enough, Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the commanding general of Texas Military Forces, wrote in a letter, …”the Texas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, his state agency couldn’t process applications from gay and lesbian couples.”  However, in this rather convoluted state of confusion, he added that ” the Texas National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard would not deny anyone benefits.”  How to reconcile these statements is unclear. And incidentally, what about the rest of the LGBT population in Texas?

To my surprise and delight, National guard officials in Florida, Michigan and Oklahoma – all states that ban marriage equality for LGBT couples – said they will follow federal law.  I say with a great sigh, when will the rest of the South and the rest of country abide by Federal Law and work towards equality and equity for all LGBT people?

While I am able to enjoy and appreciate the steps towards progress, I cannot rest in that place. When do each of us actively work to stand in solidarity with all targeted people? When do we say enough to racism, homophobia, misogyny, and when do we pull together to eradicate poverty and look at a more equitable distribution of wealth?

Higher Ground: Syria and Violence

2 Sep

SyriaI initially had a Labor Day story prepared, but scrapped it because the impending attack on Syria is sticking in my craw. I’m happy to share last year’s Labor Day story if you would rather read that.

I heard President Obama’s speech imploring congress to give the green light to attack Syria and I was left feeling forlorn and felt somewhat betrayed. I thought President Obama was going to be the President who would find a way to remove the United States from wars, yet we are still in Afghanistan. (“Never fight a land war in Asia” — thank you Princess Bride.) I thought this was the president who learned from history about the spoils of war — the great profit machine.

The President repeated the phrase “national security” in his speech, a verbal tic that was disturbingly Bush-y. Those words ring hollow when lives are at stake and no credible evidence shows any real risk to our country. Am I missing something? Can anyone tell me where this threat lies?

Of course I believe we need to offer some way to interrupt the violence and the people being killed via chemical warfare.  But do we have no other options aside from more violence, which has no guarantee of changing the overall system in place in Syria?  As with Iraq and Afghanistan, we know many civilian lives were lost. Are we still comfortable to simply call it “collateral damage?”

Have we asked the people of Syria if they want  help and how they envision what that help might look like?  Have explored the myriad options of what an intervention might look like, aside from violence?

Let us also look at the soldiers that will be sent and the disproportionate number of soldiers of color and lower socioeconomic status who will be fighting. When we lose these lives we also alter our political landscape — we continue to silence an already marginalized and disenfranchised population. Do we learn nothing from history?

People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
I’m so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach the highest ground
Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Oh no
Lovers keep on lovin’
Believers keep on believin’
Sleepers just stop sleepin’
Cause it won’t be too long

You can hear Stevie Wonder perform this song  here.  I want to believe that people “keep on learnin'”and that we will stop warring, but there is little evidence of that thus far.  I would also add that when voices like John McCain and John Boehner are supporting an attack on Syria, it would seem prudent and wise to alter one’s plan of attack.

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