Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Testing the Waters

There are a lot of people claiming the battle for gay rights in the U.S. is essentially won.  A large majority of people are in favor of same-sex marriage and an even larger percentage of Americans insist there is no justification for discrimination against LGBT people, period.  For many Americans who don’t have gay friends and family, it’s time to take the topic off the front burner and recognize it only directly affects a tiny percentage of the population.  My response to that is that percentage is about the same as the percentage of Jews in the U.S., and given the historical injustice done to both gays and Jews in our history, I’d say OK, take it off the front burner – but don’t turn off the heat. 

The gay liberation struggle is no longer my central focus in life.  That would probably be trying to stay awake after meals and making sure my canine daughters get outside at regular intervals, so I don’t have to pick up accidents off the bathroom rug.  But sometimes the struggle still calls out for attention and I find myself dipping into the pool and checking the water temperature.  Gay liberation still runs hot and cold.

When you look outside the limits of the pockets of progressivism in Europe and North America, it’s clear the battle is still raging hot and heavy.  The Catholic Church in Mexico, for example, is working hard this week to prevent the current government from extending same-sex marriage rights from the capital and nine of Mexico’s thirty-one states to the rest of Mexico.  Protest marches have been organized around the country by the National Front for the Family  showing the power of the church in Mexico is still considerable.  Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancún has been grandstanding, declaring he’d be happy to go to jail to defend the family.  (Oh, sit down, Pedro, you’re embarrassing yourself.)  Meanwhile, LGBT people are marching on archbishop Norberto Rivera’s digs in Mexico City, and demanding the pope bounce him out of his job.

La lucha continua.  The struggle continues, in other words, in this culture war now extended to the entirety of Western civilization over the roles men and women are expected to play, and whether those roles may be expanded or otherwise modified. The same tired old arguments.  Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara is upset the government is not allowing (sic) parents to pass on their faith to their children, assuming the right to raise your own kids catholic, which remains unchanged, includes the right to prevent other people from living by non-catholic rules and conventions.  Same old, same old.

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima, in Peru, incidentally, seems cut from the same cloth.  “Gay marriage and the so-called (sic) ‘day after pill’ are things people are not interested in.”  That’s according to a report in the Catholic publication Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse.  

Gotta love it.  The people are “not interested in the day after pill.” 

I know.  I asked the people and they told me they were not interested. 

Sure you did.

You go over there, Juan Luis, and sit next to Pedro Pablo and see if you two can make your church look even sillier.

Homophobia is unacceptable.  Fear of change is another story.  I don’t think everybody uncomfortable with outspoken women or men holding hands is a monster.  I think they need time to recognize that the world will not fall apart if the continuing struggle for human rights takes its natural course and the artificial barriers set up on the basis of sex and race and sexual preference are gradually taken down.  But I think there can be no let-up in the struggle.

It’s always hard to watch members of the Catholic hierarchy in their silks and satins spread the doctrine that one should not use condoms, do stem-cell research, allow women to have executive authority over men or any of us to touch ourselves down there unless we’re making babies.  One wishes they’d get the hell out of the Middle Ages.

Gay Pride in Harrison, Arkansas
But they’re not quite as frightening, somehow, as some of the evangelicals we have in this country whose “old ways” are closer to lynching and the celebration of slavery.  I came across a news story in Harrison, Arkansas the other day, the home of the Ku Klux Klan.  Apparently a group of folk had managed to organize themselves a gay pride event.  How about that, I thought, as the newscaster interviewed the event’s organizers.  I noted they had dropped the word “gay” and were using just “pride” – but hell, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Across the street from Gay Pride in Harrison, Arkansas
But then the video continued and suddenly we were looking at the face of one R. G. Miller, head of the Arkansas League of the South.  Have a look at the video.    It’s chilling.   “Our duty is primarily to God,” says Miller.  “To stand for his word, to stand for his truth, and to stand for his law.  And his law condemns this.  It says that it is evil.  And we don’t want our children to be growing up in a city where homosexuals can parade around the town square.”  The “city” he’s talking about has a population of 12,943 people according to the latest census.  

And that includes the out-and-proud, whom you have to admire for wanting to stay and stand up to the R. G. Millers and the Ku Klux Klan.  I would beat it out of town like the road runner.  But they grew up there, and they call it home.  Of course they want to make it better, safer, saner, and closer to the ideas expressed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Time to recognize how good I have it.  At breakfast this morning, I found an article by Kevin Fisher-Paulson, who is a sheriff in San Francisco who, when he isn't sheriffing, writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle.  It’s titled, “Yo ho ho: He’s me lawful wedded mate” and I got to bask in the luxury of living in another part of the country, one where the KKK never held sway and the issue of same-sex marriage is now settled.  Read the entire article if you can.  It may be limited to subscribers, and I’m afraid to reproduce the whole thing here for copyright reasons, but here’s a taste.  Fisher-Paulson writes about his husband and their two adopted kids, Zane and Aidan, and their habit of talking like pirates.   Also, read the story of how they had adopted three kids once before and had them taken away from them because "the love of two men can never replace the love of a woman."

The Fisher-Paulsons and their boys
When Zane and Aidan’s two daddies, Fisher and Paulson, were finally able to get married, they suddenly realized they didn’t have a best man.

The morning of the wedding, at the kitchen table, I asked Zane about this best-man business.  He said, “Daddy, you’re the best man.” And Aidan said, “Papa too!” In that crazy kindergarten logic, it worked. Brian was my best man, as well as my bride.

For a quarter of a century, he’d been the guy who bought me old comic books, raised my children and ate my experimental chili. Through the years of working in video stores, our Christmas tree committing suicide, losing the triplets, losing Tim, adoption ceremonies, baptisms, raising 21 rescue dogs, dance awards, newspaper columns and medals of honor, we’ve shared every one of those 11,315 days and nights with each other. It doesn’t get any more best-man than that.

What we got for a wedding party were two middle-aged white queens, their hyperactive adopted black 5-year-old son, their hyperactive adopted mixed-race 3-year-old son and three Pekingeses. Kind of like “We Are the World” meets “Here Comes the Bride.” The ceremony was short, and, thanks to Brian’s wisdom, we were not dressed as pirates.

…Eight years later, Brian is still my best man. As well as me hearty.

We’re going to be all right.

Photo credits:

lipstick and mustache = me source

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't say gay - redux

My friend Bill Lindsey writes from Arkansas that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, which covers the entire state, has issued new guidelines for dealing with gay people.  Stop using the word gay.  Not because it isn't sufficient to include LGBTI people, but because we should pretend all these people don't amount to a hill of beans in the first place.  Just don't say the name and maybe they'll go away.

Here's the actual wording of the pronouncement:

Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express same-sex attraction in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing homosexuality or homosexual inclinations, the use of the term "same-sex attraction" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.

I'm all for avoiding confusion, Lord knows.  There's so much of it going around these days.

And they don't stop there.

If a student’s expression of gender, sexual identity, or sexuality should cause confusion or disruption at the school, or if it should mislead others, cause scandal, or have the potential for causing scandal, then the matter will first be discussed with the student and his/her parents.

Cause scandal?  Have the potential for causing scandal?

Don't look now, folks, but we've reached the heart of the matter.

When it became obvious that priests were abusing young boys in large numbers, what was the church's response?  To circle the wagons.  To protect the church from scandal.  Throw the young'uns under the wheels, if you have to, but for God's sake don't let it get out that priests were using them for sex.  What a scandal that would cause!

God damn, you've got to give these buggers (yes, pun intended) credit for consistency.
Keep your eye on the donut, boys, not on the hole.  Watch out for scandal!

But I digress.  

You've got something there with being careful about your choice of words when speaking of people different from ourselves.  Let's be sure to control the discourse.  We choose the words to describe you.  Not you.  We are church. You are something "other than church."  If you will all just follow me, please, we can avoid confusion.

How about?

Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express race consciousness in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing race or racial identity, the use of the term "dark- or light-skinned person" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.   
Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express any aspect of the Hebrew language and culture in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing Jews or Jewish practices, the use of the term "Semitic" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals. 
 Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express Mexican culture in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing people of Aztec, Mayan or conquistador heritage, the use of the term "south of the border" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals. 
Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express German identity in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing Germanness or Germanic traditions, the use of the term "Hun" is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.

Words matter.  Let's all use the right words, people!

photo credit

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ding Dong

I grew up in a culture in which we were taught never to speak ill of the dead.  It's tacky.  Mean. Nice people don't do it.

So when I saw this picture on Face Book of the Wicked Witch’s red shoes sticking out from under the house that fell on her, from The Wizard of Oz, I think I was supposed to cluck, “Well, no, it’s not right to laugh.”  Instead, my reaction was, “Damn!  Somebody shares my sense of humor to a T.”  Phyllis Schlafly 1924-2016.  The witch is dead.

I’m sure there was a part of this woman that her children could love.  She raised six of them, after all.  And had sixteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  I wouldn’t dance and sing about her death in the presence of these people.  There was a private person someone could call grandma.

But there was also a public figure who worked diligently to assure that women would continue to be legally defined as adjuncts to their fathers and husbands, a Catholic woman who followed her church’s patriarchal teaching to the letter.  This witch is now dead and will ride through history as a footnote, along with Jerry Falwell, in the American culture war over the rights of women and minorities.  And, by the way, when it came to family loyalty, it would seem to have been rather one-sided.  When her son came out as gay, her response to gay people remained unchanged.  “Nobody’s stopping them from shacking up,” she said.  “The problem is that they are trying to make us respect them, and that’s an interference with what we believe.”  Gee thanks, mom.

Schlafly’s most notable accomplishment was the founding of the Eagle Forum.  She organized it originally to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, but it then became an umbrella organization for other arch-conservative causes. Until Schlafly came along, the ERA was on its way to becoming ratified.  Thirty-five state legislatures had passed it by a vote of more than 90% - out of the thirty-eight necessary.  But congress was then bombarded by pie-baking church ladies, and the amendment died on June 30, 1982. 

Schlafly seemed to relish the role she played in keeping alive the Ozzie and Harriet image of a perfectly coiffed homemaker in pearls and heels welcoming hubby home from the office with a cocktail and his slippers.  Floor vacuumed, not a hair out of place.  She used to begin her speeches by thanking her husband for allowing her to go out and speak.  In this, she was not one for practicing what she preached.  Twice she ran for Congress, in 1952 and in 1970.  Lost both times.

She had a point when she argued that the ERA would actually take away some privileges granted to women on the basis of their sex.  The two biggies were alimony and freedom from the draft. Conservatives today insist that the number of rapes of female soldiers prove she had a point.  Ditto the number of children born out of wedlock.  But pull the camera back a bit.  Focus on the whole woods, and not just a couple individual trees.  Reminds me of the arguments that we can't eliminate the growth of poppies for heroin because farmers depend on it for a living.  Or shut down coal mining for the same reason.  Sometimes you have to change two or more things to get the desired result.  I'm always struck with the short-sightedness and lack of imagination in anti-birth control arguments. And limitations on divorce. And giving refuge to children fleeing war.

Phyllis Schlafly supporting Pat Buchanan for president
in 1996
My use of the witch metaphor is hardly original.  Betty Friedan once declared she’d like to burn Schlafly at the stake.    She also referred to her as “Aunt Tom.”  Political Scientist Alan Wolfe wrote in  The New Republic in 2005, “Schlafly has to be regarded as one of the two or three most important Americans of the last half of the 20th century.” But he also wrote that “every idea she ever had was scatterbrained, dangerous and hateful.”  No doubt he was referring to such comments as “sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women,” and “sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions.”

Politically, you couldn’t get much further to the right.   She even hated Henry Kissinger for being too liberal.  The atom bomb, according to Schlafly, was “a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.”  Sex education, she said, was “a principle cause of teenage pregnancy.” The Schlaflys were ardent anti-communists who supported Joe McCarthy and the Bricker Amendment in 1954, which would have prevented an American president from negotiating international treaties.

Particularly irksome to women (and men) in the fight for equal rights was the realization that Phyllis Schlafly had taken the quickest path to a life of leisure; she had married rich.  Gail Sheehy captured the “I’ve got mine” insensitivity of the privileged when she wrote, “Phyllis Schlafly’s formula for the better life, then, is based on marrying a rich professional, climbing the pedestal to lady of leisure and pulling up the rope ladder behind her.”

Each time we complain about some lousy idea, we are faced with the question of how far we want to go to shut people up.  I am for erring in the direction of free speech.  I think neo-nazis should be free to express anti-semitism, keeping in mind the rule that one cannot shout fire in a crowded theater.  I think people should be allowed to express the notion that the South fought for states’ rights and not to keep slavery intact, even though they are dead wrong.  It’s up to the rest of us to make sure facts get out there to contradict this kind of misinformation.  Trump and other dirty politicians can lie their heads off.  It’s up to the rest of us to call them out and vote accordingly. 

So I’m not for labelling Phyllis Schlafly’s hateful pronouncements hate speech.  Not something to be punished.  Just something to take note of as hateful.  I just want to be sure that when her ideas get a hearing others get to step up and reveal the pernicious effect of her work.  Because she fought AIDS education, people died.  Because countless numbers of women could not get access to birth control information, thousands of abortions took place that should not have been necessary, and women who might have gotten out from under bad marriages remained tied to abusive men.  All because the crusader, Phyllis Schlafly, was convinced she was doing God’s work.  Schlafly was a fountain of slander and misinformation.  Consider her claim that the real purpose behind the push for same-sex marriage was to eliminate the Christian religion.  

Just as most Muslims ignore what's actually in the Qur'an about slaying infidels and such, most Evangelicals, thank God, ignore what’s actually in the Bible. The naughty parts where Yahweh insists you should bash the brains out of the children of your enemies.  And where Jesus (in Luke 19, verse 27) says, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." And most Catholics ignore the retrograde teachings of the so-called Holy See. The world has moved on.  Hypocritical biblical/magisterium cherry-pickers like Pat Robertson and Ted Cruz and Phyllis Schlafly, who find their way into American politics, however, will, little doubt, be ever with us, insisting on the importance of maintaining the old ways.  Holdovers from a harsher age.  When white people spoke of the white man’s burden, when blacks went to lesser schools if they went to school at all, when women were paid only 77 cents for the same work men were paid a dollar for… OK, so that last one still holds…

In any case, Mrs. Schlafly has gone on to her reward.  She came.  She had her say.

And now she’s gone.

Ding Dong.

photo credit:

Witch is dead: Jennine Hill’s Face Book page