Tag Archives: Courage

Closing Black History Month 2014

28 Feb

Black History Month_2014logo_0As with every year, I remain somewhat sad that we still  need to celebrate Black History Month in the United States; but we have overwhelming evidence that racism is sadly alive and well and living in every state. Hopefully, SJFA has celebrated many folks who have been relegated to corners of history and are rarely celebrated.  I have to confess what a pleasure it was to celebrate so many African Americans who have dedicated their lives to civil rights and social justice, including many who continue to do so today.

We have no further to look than the case of the killing of Jordan Davis, a black youth, and Michael Dunn, the white man who killed him. One of my favorite writers, Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald does a great job of unpacking this horrific case and how it reflects racism on a national scale.

Sadly, the Paula Deen debacle just gave further proof of the current climate of racism and misogyny and why we desperate need Black History Month. Now Deen has compared herself to Michael Sam — sadly, you read that correctly.

Some of my personal favorites this month were:

Michael Sam–what a lovely portrait of courage and good energy.

Rosetta Tharpe–was another favorite. Sadly, she remains somewhat unknown and yet her contribution to the world and to the world of music was nothing less than profound.

Alice Walker will always be a favorite of mine and I hope everyone will get to know her through her poetry and literature.

I hope you got the chance to learn about some new people and were able to rejoice in names you already recognized.  Chime in and let me know who were some of your favorites and tell me some people you would like me to add to the list.  I suppose one of the “take-aways” from this series is that until we see African Americans being represented in all history books and American culture values Black History, we will continue to have the need for Black History Month.

Hero of the Week Award, November 1: Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey

1 Nov
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Democrats in Congress have been demonstrating some real leadership for a change. Ever since the GOP/TeaParty overplayed its hand and forced a painful and unpopular government shutdown, Democrats have been holding together as a caucus and demanding that GOP obstruction and game-playing be called out.

This week’s GOP circus was the hearings on the rollout of Healthcare.gov, the federal portal to get insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Since they weren’t able to defund the ACA, the GOP are trying to hide its benefits by highlighting the current bugs in the website. Fed up with the hypocrisy and obstruction, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D – NJ) called the GOP out on its bad behavior.

Despite Democrats opposition to Part D ten years ago we committed to making the best of the program. … We lost the policy fight. And what did we do? We went back to our districts. And we told our seniors although we voted no, we personally believe and would work with the Bush administration to make it work.

He’s exactly right. When the Democrats lost the fight on Medicare Part D, they worked to make the law better and more effective. They did not waste millions of taxpayer dollars trying to repeal it. That’s good governance.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R – AR) responded with typical Republican talking points about alternative plans, trying to duck the issue. Pascrell would not allow it. He stood up from his seat and held the GOP accountable.

Are you really serious; after what we have gone through over the last three and a half years? You can sit there and say that you had a legitimate alternative after these years? We’ve gone through 44 votes, 48 votes now of you trying to dismantle this legislation. You call that cooperation? I don’t.

Let’s talk. Let’s not water the wine here. Let’s say it like it is. You refuse to expand many of these governors’ Medicaid, they refuse to set up state marketplaces.

He called out all the obstruction and asked what Griffin and his ilk propose. Sadly, Griffin and most of the GOP/TeaParty need a loud strong reminder that they are civil servants–they are to serve all Americans, not just the 1%.

What are you going to do about the approximately 17 million children with preexisting conditions who can no longer be denied health insurance coverage? You wanna go back? You wanna say ‘you are no longer covered any longer?’  You going to tell the parents of those kids? Which one of you is going to stand up and tell the parents of those children the game is over, sorry that was just a phase.

Nicely done, Rep. Pascrell. Thank you for standing up to the ridiculous and harmful games the GOP is playing. Let’s hope the American people are listening.

Congressional GOP Gets Lost in Oz

16 Oct

ScareBoehner copyToday’s post will be greatly enhanced if you start humming the wishful tunes of Dorothy’s stalwart companions. The Shutdown has already cost close to 5 Billion Dollars thus far. As the government shutdown enters its third week and the debt ceiling looms, Republicans in the House and Senate seem to be searching for a brain, a heart, and some courage.

IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN! Sadly, the longer the shutdown continues, the more absurd the claims of individual GOP Congresscritters gets. Initially, the refusal to fund the government was presented as a “principled” stand against the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare.”) When their bullying demands were met with stern resistance by Senate Democrats and President Obama, the House GOP got confused very quickly. They still stand for something, they assure us, and they’ll be sure to let us know what it is… as soon as they figure it out.

Almost daily, Speaker John Boehner hints at a new plan, lets a few details leak, holds a short press conference, and fails to bring anything to the floor. Apparently he left the shared brain with Mitch McConnell, who needed it to try to reason out a compromise that might pass the Senate. In the meantime, the usual crew — Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, Mike Lee, and all the rest of the lollipop guild — keep changing their off-kilter tune. The fight isn’t really about health care (except when it is), it’s about the size of government (except when it isn’t). Forced to abandon their thinly-veiled racist rants against the president’s signature accomplishment, they just don’t know what to do.

IF I ONLY HAD A HEART! Members of Congress continue to draw their salaries while hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without. There’s still no guarantee that retroactive pay will be part of any deal. Even more dramatically, nearly SEVEN MILLION FTE worth of government contractors are without work during the shutdown and have no chance of retroactive pay. All this ignores the thousands of kids turned away from Head Start, the millions deprived of food, medical, and housing care, the thousands more who are just waiting for funds to run out one program at a time. If the shutdown continues to the end of the month, there will be no money to pay out Social Security or Veterans’ Benefits. And, just to prove how heartless they are, GOP leaders in both chambers of Congress are proposing to strip health benefits from their staff, driving them (ironically) to the ACA exchanges without an employer subsidy. You can bet all those staffers would like to drop a house on the leaders of the House.

IF I ONLY HAD THE NERVE! The media still spin this as a problem coming from the far right of the GOP (when they aren’t falsely laying blame on the President). It may be that the loudest voices from the fringe started the shouting, but in every vote so far the Republicans have voted as a tight bloc, more evidence of the GOP sharing one brain. All the so-called moderates have refused to stand up for what’s best for the country. In the Senate, the GOP managed to filibuster a clean debt ceiling bill. If there are voices of reason in the party, they refuse to speak. Sadly, the Gerrymandering of House districts leaves too many representatives sheltered from reality. GOP ratings in polls are dropping like the Wizard’s balloon but most House members can rely on at least a slim majority to return them to office.

CALL TO ACTION: We live in the United States, not Oz. We need elected officials who take their responsibilities as civil servants seriously and who govern with compassion, reason, and courage. Republicans should look seriously at their Representatives and find ways to support new voices in Congress that will bring true compromise and balance. Democrats should take courage and support challenges to GOP folks that seemed undefeatable. The people are paying attention, and the next election should be a clear message about what we really need.

Hero of the Week Award: September 28, French President François Hollande

28 Sep

Hero of the Week

What a delight to celebrate a world leader taking a strong international stand for basic human rights. French President François Hollande made an historic speech at the United Nations this week. Using his own nation as an example, he discussed the obligation of leaders to fight for universal human rights and freedoms.

France will continue to engage in all these struggles: for the abolition of the death penalty, for women’s rights to equality and dignity, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which should not be recognised as a crime but, on the contrary, recognized as a sexual orientation.

All member countries have the obligation to guarantee the security of their citizens, and if one nation adheres to this obligation, it is then imperative that we, the United Nations, facilitate the necessary means to make that guarantee. These are the issues that France will lead and defend in the United Nations. I say this with seriousness. When there is paralysis… and inaction, then injustice and intolerance can find their place.

Well said, Mr. President! How nice to see that France replaced Sarkozy with someone truly presidential. Let’s hope American voters are smart enough not to do the opposite this November.

Honorable mention this week goes to two women who shared their personal struggles to help improve the lives of thousands. Katie Couric revealed her youthful battle with bulimia in an interview. A few days later, Lady Gaga expanded on her Born This Way foundation to include victims of poor body image, discussing her battles with anorexia and bulimia because she “felt like a freak.” Let’s hope that the courage and leadership they have shown help remove stigma and move the dialog forward productively.

Hero of the Week Award: August 10, Rep. Nanci Pelosi

10 Aug

Hero of the Week

It’s a real pleasure to celebrate this week’s Hero, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – CA). Always outspoken and clearly interested in making America work for all its citizens, she’s been boldly visible this week on many fronts. Demonstrating clear reasoning, she supported Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recent remarks about Mitt Romney’s refusal to share his tax returns. She delivered a brief, precise analysis of Reid’s statement that one of Romney’s former Bain colleagues claimed the GOP hopeful paid no taxes for at least a portion of the past ten years:

[That statement] is a fact. Whether he did or not can easily be disposed of: Mitt Romney can release his tax returns and show whether he paid taxes.

Equally and delightfully accurate and succinct, Pelosi has also weighed in on the disastrous House Republican tax plan:

I don’t know what’s trickling down but it hasn’t been pleasant.

She also skewered the Republican budget plan, noting that the massive reduction in health and environmental regulations required by their slashing effectively makes the bill’s supporters “The E. Coli club.”

Topping it all off, she took the Dept. of Homeland Security to task, noting that recent statements in support of bi-national same-sex married couples are still just lip service which has lasted more than a year.

It’s a welcome development that a DHS spokesperson is explicitly and publicly acknowledging that DHS’s consideration of family ties includes same-sex couples and spouses. We look forward to the written guidance that we expect would be a logical next step.

Demonstrating courage and real leadership, Rep. Pelosi reminds us why she was one of our nation’s best Speakers of the House and shows a clear contrast to the cowardice and fringe-pleasing orange abomination who currently wields that gavel.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 28, Our Allies

28 Jun

Thank You Allies

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to all of the allies of the LGBTQ community.  Not just the vast number of allies I know, but organizations like PFLAG, the NAACP, neighbors, families, and all the heterosexuals that stand with us in solidarity.

In a time in our history when Presidential candidates have signed a pledge to discriminate against all LGBTQ people, it takes great courage and integrity to stand with us and demand we all be treated equally. It is time to say a huge Thank You to all of you that believe in civil rights and basic human rights.

Thank you all!

It it not easy to interrupt discrimination, but we must!  Because the LGBTQ community has so many overlapping identities, we must stand united when we work to stop the intersections oppression–when we work to stop homophobia, racism, transphobia,ageism, and misogyny.  Today I honor and thank you all.  “We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest Until It Comes.”

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 22, Glenn Burke

22 Jun

Thank you to my dear friend Ahmed for inspiring me to write this tribute. Today we honor and celebrate a courageous athlete who sacrificed his career for his honesty. Glenn Burke was born in 1952 in Oakland, CA. Before we go any farther, I have to say this man is an absolute HERO! He was a star basketball player in high school, leading his team to an undefeated season and a regional championship. Named high school basketball player of the year in California, he seriously considered an NBA career, but received a baseball offer first. Given his height (barely six feet), he opted to take the offer.

He debuted with the LA Dodgers in 1976 and was called “the next Willie Mays” due to his success in the minors. Rumors about his sexual orientation started early and Burke refused to deny them. When Dodgers general manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish wedding and honeymoon to defuse the gossip, Burke’s reply was “To a woman?” He also angered manager Tommy Lasorda by striking up a friendship with his estranged son, the gay Tommy Lasorda, Jr. Unwilling to compromise, he irritated the power brokers on the team even though his fellow players seemed unphased.

Despite his talent, the Dodgers traded him to the Oakland A’s (for a much less promising player) in 1978. A’s manager Billy Martin introduced him to the team as “this faggot.” He was given little playing time; after he suffered a knee injury, the A’s sent him back down to the minors. He retired from baseball in 1979 at the age of 27. Burke played in the majors for four and a half seasons, batting .237 and stealing 35 bases. “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have,” Burke said in an interview with The New York Times last year. “But I wasn’t changing.”

Glenn Burke was one of the first athletes to come out publicly, definitely the first major league baseball player. He is one of the rare players to come out while he was still active. Most, like activist and retired baseballer Billy Bean, wait until they are out of the locker rooms to live their lives honestly. As an African American man in the late 70s, he faced opposition for his honesty on almost every front. Nevertheless, he stuck by his principles. As he observed in an interview with People in 1994, “My mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype . . . I think it worked.”

Sadly, Burke was badly injured in a car accident in 1987. His leg was permanently damaged and the pain led to increased drug use and dependency. He suffered financial loss and homelessness, only slowly beginning to rebuild his life in the early 90s. By then he was dealing with significant complications from HIV. Glenn Burke died at 42 in 1995. His best epitaph is this quote:

They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.

Hero of the Week Award: June 22, Naka Nathaniel (and friends)

22 Jun

Hero of the Week

The Boy Scouts of America got a bit of attention at their annual meeting last month, leading to more bad press for their ridiculous anti-gay policies. This week, journalist Naka Nathaniel, an Eagle Scout, renounced his rank and repudiated the Scouts in an interview with MSNBC. His powerful words say it all.

When I earned my Eagle Scout rank 20 years ago, I was proud of my accomplishment. When my little brother earned his Eagle 13 years later, I traveled halfway round the world to attend his court of honor. I was proud of him and my family. My parents had raised two Eagle Scouts. Today, I’m ashamed to be an Eagle Scout.

I don’t want my son to participate in Scouting…The antigay policies of the Boy Scouts of America have forced me to turn my back on an organization that, along with my parents, I credit for helping me be a good son, a good husband, a good employee, and a good citizen.

Well put! For those who missed it, the wonderful Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout with two lesbian mothers, delivered over 275,000 signatures demanding a change in policy to the Scouts’ annual meeting. Another former scout, actor and activist George Takei, is hosting Jennifer Tyrrell, the Ohio lesbian who was banned from her son’s scout troop, at NYC Pride. Let’s hope more scouts will follow the charge for bravery in Scout Law and take action to pressure this organization to live up to some of its other standards, like kindness, courtesy, and helpfulness.

Honorable mention this week goes to General Mills. The Minneapolis-based food giant has “joined the culture war” and made a strong stand for equality. Earlier this month, a General Mills executive testified before Congress about the need for inclusive non-discrimination legislation. This week they company issued a strong statement opposing the Minnesota ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriages. Hooray — now eating Cheerios and Häagen-Dazs is a stand for civil rights!

Hero of the Week Award: May 11, President Obama

11 May

Hero of the Week

I must confess, Wednesday I found myself quite depressed because of the news about the bigots in North Carolina.  Fortunately, later in the afternoon, my friend and social justice super hero, Eva Hoffman grabbed my arm and told me President Obama just endorsed Marriage Equality.  I will tell you I broke down in tears of joy.  Never did I imagine that in my lifetime I would witness a U.S. President have the courage and integrity to push civil rights even further.

In an eloquent, clear statement during an interview with ABC news on Wednesday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to fully endorse marriage equality for LGBT Americans — something I never thought I would witness in my lifetime. There are those who try to diminish this statement as a cynical plot for votes. Or perhaps its no big deal because we all really knew how he felt and he just had to use the “evolving” smokescreen to find the right moment. Some even say it was a mistake, risking the mythical undecided independent swing state voters. All these claims miss the point.

Harry Truman once said, “When in doubt, do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Given his “evolving” stance, the President has been in doubt. Wednesday, he did right. Let’s be clear, no civil rights issue articulated by a sitting president has failed to become national policy within a generation. That’s huge. Whatever the additional hurdles, whatever the setbacks (like North Carolina), however carefully constructed the declaration, the President weighed in on a critical issue of civil rights and made his opinion, likely to lead the direction of his party, clear.

Same-sex couples should be able to get married.

Thank you, Mr. President. Count me both astonished and gratified. Regardless of what happens, President Obama has sent the world a clear message regarding equality and civil rights.  He will now and forever be on the right side of history, unlike the lying bigot that is Mitt Romney.

Very honorable mention goes to two members of the Obama administration for their support of equality. Vice President Biden stumbled into the debate with his trademark speaking style, but made it clear he personally supported equality over the weekend. President Obama has even credited Biden’s interview as a catalyst for his statement. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gets points for clarity. When asked on MSNBC’sMorning Joe if he thought same-sex couples should have the legal right to marry he said, without hesitation, “Yes, I do.” Nicely done, Mr. Secretary.

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