Saturday, October 31, 2009

Letter to Bernice King

Rev. Bernice King
Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Dear Rev. King:

I just read that you have been elected to head the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the eighth person and first woman to hold this position. Congratulations on this honor.

What a proud organization the SCLC once was. A great American institution. What a responsibility to fill the shoes of those like your father, your brother, and Bayard Rustin, who made the SCLC something we all came to look up to.

Unfortunately, there is a dark shadow that hangs over your election. While looking for some indication that as the first woman in this position you would be expanding this progressive tradition, instead I note that you have declared, "I know in my sanctified soul that he (Dr. King) did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage."

For many of us who hold your father and mother and Mr. Rustin in great regard, this is a stab right through the heart.

I’m glad you are convinced your soul is sanctified. You’re young, and self-confidence is always nice to see in the young, even if it crosses over at times into the hubris of believing you know the mind of God. With the passing of time, I hope you will come to understand that the battle gays are engaged in for same-sex marriage is only the latest of many struggles for rights and recognition. We are not lesser beings because we are gay. Your father knew that. Your mother was our friend and our champion. So was your sister, Yolanda.

Black Americans are not the only Americans who owe your father and mother a debt of gratitude. In the end, the rising tide of equality they worked for their whole lives long raised all our boats.

Please, Ms. King. Continue to bring the SCLC forward. Do not align yourself with evangelistic con artists like the Eddie Longs of this world.

Some are calling you the last nail in the coffin of a now irrelevent has-been organization. I hope they’re wrong. I hope you’re the person who brings it back to life. In the progress of history there were pro-women’s rights Christians and anti-women’s rights Christians, pro-slavery Christians and anti-slavery Christians, pro-segregation Christians and anti-segregation Christians. Your father knew how to choose the right side in these struggles. One of the last great divides in our society is between Christians who seek to demonize gay and lesbian people and Christians who understand making outcasts on the basis of sexuality is no more justified than making outcasts on the basis of race.

I hope you can find your way to help us rid ourselves of one of our society’s last lingering bigotries.

We will be watching your career with interest, and wishing you all the best.

Yours very truly,

Alan J. McCornick
Berkeley, CA

You have been terminated, Mr. Ammiano

I remember learning in civics class in the 7th grade that America had the best government in the world because people who differ, like Republicans and Democrats, could debate their differences and truth would come out in the end. Once the people had heard all sides we would vote. And that was called democracy.

But that was Connecticut in 1953 and this is California in 2009.

Connecticut was a pretty good place to grow up, but politically things never went into the red zone. Here they go there all the time.

Case in point…

Tom Ammiano is a California Assemblyman representing District 13, which includes the Eastern half of the city and county of San Francisco, including the Castro, where he is a hero to many. I remember him from the 60s when he was a small-time gay stand-up comic. If you’ve seen the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, he’s the nelly elementary school teacher who talks about Milk’s assassination with tears rolling down his cheeks. A major issue in Milk’s day was the Briggs initiative, which would have fired not only all gay schoolteachers like Ammiano but even sympathizers of gay schoolteachers, as well.

Ammiano’s career took off in later years. Like many politicians, he started with the school board. Elected in 1990, he became president in 1994. He then ran for Supervisor, the job that Milk pioneered for gays, and won. Here, too, he eventually became president.

I mention the documentary because there’s a line in there that made me squirm the first time I heard it. Gays were furiously trying to distance themselves from the lie that we were interested sexually in children. Instead of watching his language to steer clear of the highly distasteful topic, Ammiano blurts out, “I’m not interested in getting my hand in their pants!” Man, does this guy never monitor what he says, I wondered.

Among his many accomplishments is the legislation he authored making San Francisco the first city in America to provide universal health care access.

He’s pretty much any Republican’s worst nightmare. He also authored measures to increase police accountability, he channeled millions to the public schools and millions more to subsidize child care and social service to San Francisco youth. He extended marriage privileges to domestic partners in the city when that was still a new idea. He assisted first-time home buyers and increased salaries for the lowest paid city employees.

You know he was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ with Governator Schwarzenegger. Just a question of time.

Following, unfortunately, in the footsteps of South Carolina’s Joe Wilson, who heckled Obama with “You lie,” Ammiano shouted “You lie!” at Schwarzenegger recently at a democratic party gala at the Fairmont Hotel which Schwarzenegger crashed, joking that he was entitled to show up because, as he put it, he slept with a democrat every night.

Ammiano didn’t stop there. He was heard to say, “Kiss my gay ass” as he was leaving the room.

In many places, this would have given the victim of such vulgarity the opportunity to bask in the light of moral superiority.

But this is California. What does the Governator do?

He vetoes AB 1176, the bill introduced by Ammiano and approved by the Assembly, that would improve Pier 70 and add to the beauty of San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

But he doesn’t just veto the bill. He sends a note back to the Assembly.

Here’s the veto letter. Read down the first letters of every line in the second and third paragraphs.

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.
For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Best part of the story, I think, is that most people I’ve talked to about this, democrats all, think the Republican governor is cool. OK, so he's a little Neanderthal, at times. Something about him is cool. And this is California, not the palace at Versailles.

And the heads turn, as at a tennis game, to see what fun might be had from the other side now.

I think we should not overlook the worthy effort of some staff worker with a sense of humor. It must have taken no small effort to line up just the right first words of each line while filling each line with just the right number of letters. True, it's pretty transparent. "...just kicks the can down the alley” is the giveaway, for me. Not the right level of discourse for the medium. “Overwhelmingly deserve” likewise. Definitely the wrong adverb. And “unnecessary” is not the word most people would have chosen in a rejection statement when the word they are after is “wrong.” But it’s an accomplishment for all that. So it's Sacramento pettiness on the taxpayer's dime. Beats watching legislators taking money to sink health care reform, I say.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

First and Second Class Citizenship in California

Dear Folks:

A friend of mine who is not from California asked me recently to explain just exactly how we distinguish among our citizens. He had heard a Californian say, “I’m tired of being a second-class citizen in the land of my birth!” and wondered what that meant.

So I explained it all to him. My explanation went like this:

We have two classes of citizens in California. We’ve always had two classes of people, and not one. We used to have first class citizenship for men but second class citizenship for women, but then came women’s suffrage and we gave up that distinction.

We used to have first class citizenship for white people and second class citizenship for black people, but then came the rejection of the separate-but-equal notion and we gave up that distinction, too. We used to have a first-class sexuality – heterosexuality – and a second-class sexuality – homosexuality – but then came the various laws allowing gay people to fight discrimination in housing and jobs so that there was no longer a way to distinguish who could live where they wanted and work where they met the qualifications from citizens without those rights, so gay people began at last to enjoy first class citizenship without having to pretend they were not gay. But in terms of who could marry, there were still two classes of citizens: heterosexual and homosexual.

Until the Supreme Court decided there was nothing in the State Constitution that prevented gays from marrying each other, and the second-class citizens who where gay became first-class citizens who were gay. Then Californians put that right to a vote, and a few citizens, mostly Mormons and Catholic citizens (including a great many outside of California), both groups historically second class citizens in their day, paid millions of dollars to put out a disinformation campaign to convince the voters there was something sinister and dangerous about gay people getting married (i.e., that God wanted them to be second-class citizens and God should be in charge in California and not the Constitution), so 52% of the people going to the polls in 2008 voted to remove the right of gays to marry the Supreme Court said they had, and second-class citizenship was put into the California State Constitution as it was once when people legally designated as black (i.e., polluted by 1% “black blood” even if they appeared white) were not allowed to marry people legally designated as white. Because the voters had decided this should be so, the Supreme Court let that stand, even though privately some of the justices thought second-class status for any citizen was a bad idea.

As a kind of compromise, they decided that those gays who had married when it was legal for them to do so should be allowed to remain married, which meant that now the picture was a little bit more complicated.

Now there are two kinds of citizens of California, heterosexual citizens, 100% of whom are first-class citizens, and homosexual citizens, some of whom are first-class citizens and some of whom are second-class citizens.

And until today, all of the married gay citizens of Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway and Sweden, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, i.e., countries or states which do not have two classes of citizens divided by their sexuality – became second-class citizens as soon as they entered California. Today, though, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law the right of those citizens, first-class citizens in their home states or countries (because all of their citizens are by law first-class citizens), to be considered first-class citizens in California, too.

So only gay people who did not marry before their right to marry was removed, or who cannot afford to travel to another state to get married are second-class citizens. The rest are first-class citizens.

There. I hope that was helpful.