May 26, 2007

Conservatives Claiming Bias in Media Treatment of Transgenders

Recent attention that transgender people have received in mainstream media, including the cover story in Newsweek and a character on the popular TV show "Ugly Betty" has started the conservative whining about "media bias."

From the Christian Post:

"They're (media) trying to normalize transgender existence. There's no question about that," said Dr. Robert Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Not only are some Christians concerned about the normalizing of the transgendered life, but one pro-family activist noted mainstream media bias on the controversial issue.

Pete LaBarbera, executive director of Americans for Truth (and extreme right-winger), told One News Now that the American media is justifying its biased reporting on the transgender movement in the name of compassion.

Echoing LaBarbera's concerns, Gagnon said the media is "trying to present a case where they are able to demonstrate that these persons cannot help themselves, [that] this is not something they asked for. [And] if you don't allow them to become transgender, they'll probably kill themselves."

While media may be drawing more sympathetic hearts toward the transgender community, it's still hard to say when or whether transgenders will be fully accepted in American society, says Debra Rosenberg, assistant managing editor at Newsweek who wrote "Rethinking Gender."

"With more anti-discrimination laws being passed, though, it does seem like things are moving in that direction," she adds.

It always saddens me when professed Christians are quick to put people different from them in seperate categories. It seems to me it's the people who put God in a small, inflexible box are the ones quickest to put GLBT people in their own, seperate box far away from God.

I praise any media attention that shows transgenders for what they are--people.

Trying to Change a Vote on the Matthew Shepard Bill

David Shelton, a pastor in Clarksville, Tennessee, is upset that one of his U. S. Senators, Republican Bob Corker, has stated he would NOT vote for the Matthew Shepard (hate crimes) bill when it comes to the senate floor. Shelton passionately expressed his feelings about that to Senator Corker in this letter, which he shared on his website and, since I strongely agree with them, I'm sharing them with you here:

I’m extremely disappointed to know that your office is more concerned about protecting your image than in protecting those that have been abused, beaten, and even killed. Your refusal to support Senate Bill 1105 is as heartbreaking as it is wrong.

You already know of the events surrounding the death of Matthew Shepard, after which this bill has been named. You might also know of the murder of Alabama teenager Scotty Joe Weaver, who was killed by his own friends because he was “a faggot.” Mr. Corker, this isn’t a rare thing at all. In fact, there have been people in your own state that have been killed just for being gay.

More than twelve years ago, a Clarksville man named Jerry Cope was brutally murdered in his own business. Mr. Cope was gay, and was also known to the local gay community as P’Knutts. For the rest of this email, I’ll address her by her chosen name. P’Knutts was highly popular, and was even involved in the political scene. She was loved by everyone who knew her. She left behind a daughter. She was 38.

When I say “brutally murdered,” Mr. Corker, I want you to understand. This was no “robbery,” as the local law enforcement said at the time. She was mutilated in a way so that it was clear that her death was to send a message to the local GLBT community. This was, in every possible way, a hate crime.

The bill, which you say that you will not support, would allow for FBI assistance to help bring justice in this horrible crime… which has yet to be solved. In fact, there has been nearly no activity since the first few weeks of her murder. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t controversial, Mr. Corker. It’s certainly not immoral. It is, in all reality, the right thing to do.

After all, how many small town law enforcement communities will not actively pursue a resolution in the murder of a local gay man, because “no one cares about that fag?” We’ll never know. This bill would put an end to that. We should expect that there would be federal protections for anyone, no matter who they are. It’s sad that you would disagree.

I’m not only disappointed, but I’m actually shocked that you would so casually dismiss a bill that would actually protect nearly ten percent of your constituents. The cavalier manner in which you and the rest of the Republican party, including President Bush, have dismissed the GLBT community only allows crimes of this nature to go on, and to remain unsolved when they do happen. You might also recall Pfc. Barry Winchell, the Fort Campbell soldier who was killed in July of 1999. Fort Campbell is in the cradle of Clarksville. This bill has clear Tennessee roots.

Mr. Corker, I urge you to reconsider. These are people with whom I have built solid friendships, and these are living, breathing, genuine people who desperately need to know that there is support for them and their families. I am a man of faith, and I’m a man of great passion… and there is nothing compassionate nor conservative in denying justice to people like P’Knutts and those who knew her. There is nothing Christian in denying federal support for smaller communities that need the assistance in solving hate crimes. In the end, Mr. Corker, I fear that you have little concern for protecting our citizens. And since I, too, am gay, would you dismiss me as well?

The time has come for this bill to be passed with bipartisan support. These hate crime laws will NOT restrict free speech in any way. And you know it. Our nation needs to support those who are denigrated and marginalized. Our great nation was founded on these principles, and the Constitution was framed to support those who can not support themselves, it was written to protect those who can not protect themselves.

You can dismiss this bill with a form letter, Mr. Corker. You can not dismiss the reality that this bill is a critical necessity for the future of our nation.

Please, Mr. Corker, don’t let the names of Jerry Cope, Scotty Joe Weaver, and Matthew Shepard fade into the obscurity of another failed attempt to bring meaning to their senseless deaths.

David W. Shelton

Pastor, Christian Community Church of Clarksville

May 25, 2007

"Civil Marriage Is a Civil Right"

That's the name of the new campaign Equality Maryland is leading to lobby for marriage equality in our state.

As a member of the organization myself, I encourage my fellow Marylanders to check out the website and sign the petition in favor of legalizing same-sex marrage in the state. I would encourage you to join me in requesting yard signs and bumper stickers to publicize your support for this important issue.

There is a case being reviewed now in the State Court of Appeals that could pave the way for this to happen, but one result of that would be an intensified effort by the right-wing to push for a state Constitutional amendment taking that right away. Equality Maryland is working to mobilize supporters now, before the ruling, so they will already be in place to fight that and any other initiatives that would leave GLBT people short of equality.

Familiarity Does NOT Breed Contempt With GLBT People

The Pew Research Center has released results of a survey where they asked three primary questions:

1) Do you have a close friend or family member who is gay?
2) Should schools be able to fire teachers because they are gay?
3) Should gays be able to marry legally?

You can click on the link to see the detailed results of the survey and form your own conclusions, but there is one critical takeaway for me here. People that know gays are significantly more willing to give them equal protection and equal rights under the law.

One example of that is the answer to the same-sex marriage question. Of those who knew a gay person, 55% responded that they should be able to legally marry. Of those who did not know a gay person, only 25% responded positively.

Now I realize some of that is quite likely due to the fact that some people are so passionately anti-gay that someone who is GLBT, either friend or family member, would be MUCH less likely to reveal it to that person.

Regardless, this survey again shows that it is easier for someone to be against a disembodied group of people having rights, but it is much more difficult to carry that over to a flesh and blood person you know.

This leads me to believe, although I acknowledge it is easy for me to say this in my straigtness, that the more GLBT people who do come out and live lives as positive examples, it really will make an impact on how the GLBT community is accepted in society and eventually lead toward full and equal rights.

May 24, 2007

Wayne Besen's Take on the Current Status of the Religious Right

As usual, columinst Wayne Besen does not pull any punches in his latest column, titled "The Right's Crisis in Confidence."

While the religious right is down, they certainly are not out. Falwell, for example, built Liberty University and the Liberty Counsel, his legal arm, to train activists to carry on his shameful legacy. Surprisingly, Liberty has one of the top ranked debate teams in the nation, where students learn apologetics so they can effectively argue, rather than apologize, when they offend others.

The media is busy anointing new religious leaders to supposedly take the place of the outgoing Falwell-Robertson-Dobson-Kennedy Axis of Ignorance. They seem to think Rick Warren, the author of the bestseller, "The Purpose Driven Life" is the logical successor.

Warren, who gives sermons in tacky Hawaiian shirts, is portrayed as dripping with compassion because he and his wife minister to AIDS victims. While they deserve credit for helping the sick, they are far from moderate on social issues. In fact, Warren supports the "ex-gay" message, which heaps shame on gay men - leading to more HIV cases. I guess, after he breaks down their self-esteem, leading to reckless sexual behavior, he'll take care of them.

It is a measure of how far to the right Falwell and others of his ilk have moved society that troglodytes like Warren are considered "moderate." This is hardly a record to be proud of, and in their hearts, many social conservatives know their movement has harmed this nation.

Leave it to a gay man to find fault with how a religious leaders dresses. I find some of Besen's points rather harshly stated, but, as I often do, I found a lot of truth in what he wrote. I particularly hope he is correct in how social conservatives are viewing their movement.

Perhaps the most damning piece I have read about Falwell was written by Ann Coulter:

Let me be the first to say: I ALWAYS agreed with the Rev. Falwell.

What's that old saying, you can tell a lot about a person by who his friends are?

"Is Christianism Peaking?"

From Andrew Sullivan's "Daily Dish."

.....there are clearly signs that American evangelicals - especially in the younger generations - do not share the conflation of faith and partisanship of the Falwell era. In this, of course, they are returning to the historical evangelical norm - and Falwell's harsh, exclusionary and condemnatory Republicanism is the real exception. Abortion remains non-negotiable, and I understand why. But I sense that more and more Christians realize that speaking out about the moral enormity of abortion, and attempting to restrain and decrease its prevalence, is not indistinguishable from legal prohibition in all cases. People's moral views on this are changed in the heart and soul, not by political power. And the depth of Christianity's rejection of earthly power is so great the temptations of Christianism can be resisted in the long run. was striking to me that same-sex marriage was not on the radar screen in the first two GOP debates. Is this battle over? On an intellectual level, it seems to me that only a handful of stragglers are clinging on. When the best argument against same-sex marriage is the recitation of a dictionary definition of heterosexual marriage, then you know they don't have much ammo left. The continuing drops in hetero divorce rates in the era of same-sex marriage doesn't bolster the case of the alarmists either. And the next generation of Christians have come to know gay people - and gay Christians - as their peers and fellow pilgrims. The demonization of the past is waning. But again, I wouldn't be too complacent. Maybe the attempt to roll back marriage rights in Massachusetts will galvanize the issue again in 2008. Or maybe the base really is exhausted from hysteria about gay couples who merely want to be treated equally under the law. I certainly hope so.

I echo Sullivan's call to avoid complacency and hope that the trend continues where more people are accepting GLBT equality on not only an intellectual level but a spiritual one as well.

May 23, 2007

The Religious Right In Flux

The recent passing of Jerry Falwell has brought attention to the challenges the religious right currently faces to remain a unified, effective political force. Here is some analysis from the Washington Post:

Although Falwell's personal influence had been waning for years, his death at age 73 last week threw into stark relief the current headless state of the political movement he founded with the establishment of the Moral Majority in 1978.

Headless does not mean weak. In the view of many social conservatives, their organizational structures -- from megachurches to Christian colleges, broadcasting networks and public interest law firms -- have never been stronger.

"It would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that because there is not one obvious or a few obvious leaders of this movement, that the movement is waning," said Mark DeMoss, president of an Atlanta-based public relations firm that works primarily for evangelical organizations.

But John C. Green, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said four factors combine to make this a time of flux on the religious right.

There is no single leader who stands astride the movement as Falwell once did. Nor has a 2008 presidential contender emerged to galvanize the ranks. A generation gap is emerging between younger and older evangelicals on subjects such as homosexuality. And a sometimes bitter debate is pitting evangelicals who want to keep their political activity tightly focused on a few issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, against those who want to embrace a broader agenda, including climate change and global poverty.

All these shifts present opportunities for younger leaders. But they also pose the possibility that the movement will become more fragmented.

Any weakening or moderation of the religious right, their fiercest advesary, is good news for the GLBT community

From City Manager to GLBT Activist

That's the unexpected journey Susan Stanton has taken in recent weeks. Known as Steve Stanton while the city manager in Largo, Florida, the announcement of a sex change where he would transition into becoming a woman landed Stanton in the national spotlight, and out of a job.

Susan made her public debut in Washington, DC this week to lend her voice to the lobbying efforts being made on behalf of transgender people.

From the Washington Blade report:

“I was joking with one of the newscasters that I wish I was gay,” said Stanton. “If I was, it would have been an easier issue. If you said 20 years ago that you were gay, the same thing would have happened, but many communities now acknowledge you can still be gay and be a doctor, lawyer, professional or a city manager. We’re not there yet in the trans community.”

Stanton said going to court with a lawsuit, even if it means taking a stand for other transgender people, doesn’t interest her because she would rather advocate for change outside a courtroom.

“At that point you don’t talk, you start deposing people. The legal process is not nearly as substantial as the ability to impact societal thinking through advocacy and providing information.”

You don't often see someone, especially during a major life changing event, who is willing to weigh the consequences toward the greater good against personal benefits, then choose the unselfish path. Having just getting involved in GLBT issues, Susan Stanton is already setting a very positive example.

There is a lot more about Stanton in the Blade article, including her struggles with transitioning and her current job prospects.

May 22, 2007

Labor Unions Fighting for LGBT Rights

Posted from

The trade union movement is taking a greater role in fighting for LGBT civil rights - from negotiating contracts with protections for gay workers, lobbying Congress for rights bills, and speaking out in favor of same-sex marriage.

The Transport Workers Union of America is the latest union to announce its support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The legislation was introduced in Congress last month. (story) It would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

"You can't just wish discrimination away," said Transport Workers Union of America President James C. Little.

"The civil rights movement taught us that. We need a federal law that protects workers not only from discrimination in the workplace but from the evil of discriminatory and antiquated state laws as well. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is the law we need and we need it now."

Little said passage of ENDA has the full support of the unions 130,000 workers nationwide. The union represents workers in commercial aviation, public transportation and passenger railroads. The union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO which has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights.

Meanwhile, in New York, unions representing 850,000 workers in the state are urging the Assembly to pass a marriage equality bill.

The unions, including the New York State United Teachers, United Federation of Teachers, the United Auto Workers, the Service Employees International Union and the Retail, Wholesale, Department Stores Union/United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and nearly a dozen other labor groups have sent a letter to all New York State Assemblymembers calling for passage of the legislation.

"As unions, we have a particular responsibility to protect equal rights and promote economic justice in connection with collective bargaining, economic benefits, and legislation that affects our members," NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin said in his letter.

“I am urging you to continue to do the right thing and co-sponsor and vote yes on the Marriage Equality bill…As you make your decision, I want you to consider my full and unwavering support for this bill. I stand in solidarity with the supportive union leaders, local unions, and area labor federations on the attached list."

NY Gov. Elliott Spitzer last month introduced legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in New York.

Out Soldiers Have Not Destroyed UK Military

According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, the absence of a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has had no significant impact on troops in Great Britian:

Since it began allowing gays to serve in the armed forces in 2000, none of the British military's fears - about harassment, discord, blackmail, bullying or an erosion of unit cohesion or military effectiveness - has come to pass, according to the Ministry of Defense, current and former members of the services, and academics specializing in the military. The biggest news about the policy, they say, is that there is no news. It has for the most part become a nonissue.

The Ministry of Defense does not compile figures on how many gays are openly serving, and says that the number of people who have come out publicly in the past seven years is still relatively low. But it is clearly proud of how smoothly gays have been integrated and is actively trying to make life easier for them.

"What we're hoping to do is to, over a period of time, reinforce the message that people who are gay, lesbian and the like are welcomed in the armed forces and we don't discriminate against them in any way," a Defense Ministry official said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with ministry practice.

Click here to read the entire article, which also tells how careful the British government is to not be seen as trying to influence the policy toward gay soldiers in the United States military.

Thanks to Average Gay Joe for the tip.

May 21, 2007

Gingrich Challenges "Radical Secularism" At Liberty U Speech

Former Speaker of the House and potential Republican presidential candidate in 2008 Newt Gingrich wasted little time in trying to claim the late Jerry Falwell's mantle of leadership in the religious right. Speaking at Falwell's Libery University's commencement last Saturday, Gingrich said:

''A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot profess the truths on which it was founded,'' Gingrich said. ''We are told that our public schools can no longer invoke the creator, nor proclaim the natural law nor profess the God-given quality of human rights.

''In hostility to American history, the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms,'' he said.

Gingrich also decried what he called judges' overreaching efforts to separate church and state.

''Too often, the courts have been biased against religious believers. This anti-religious bias must end,'' he said.

Not surprisingly, Gingrich has the "us-against-them, black-and-white" mentality of the religious right down cold. Of course, it is that attitude that, in my humble opinion, has led to much of the devisiveness in today's society, both in the church and politics.

I'm not the only one that thinks so. Robert Parham, the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, writes:

With Falwell now passed from the scene, Gingrich wants America to believe the Moral Majority founder entrusted him to bear this witness, just as Falwell bore it before him.

By conflating the Bible and Declaration of Independence, the former House Speaker fashions a civil religion, which is an inauthentic religion, in the search for power.

In Gingrich, the witness becomes the politician. The Christian God becomes national deity. The Christian faith becomes the prevailing cultural ideology. The people of God become synonymous with the messianic American community.

That is a false faith, and dangerous.

Authentic religion from the best of the Christian tradition transcends every nation and sits in judgment of every culture.

Authentic religion advances the delivery of justice to the poor and marginalized over rallies to appoint conservative judges. It pursues peacemaking over self-righteous patriotism. It seeks the welfare of the minority neighbor over false claims of religious persecution of the majority.

Gingrich offered no such sense of authentic religion as articulated in the biblical witness. Instead he modeled a civil religion, invoking the name of God some 30 times in his commencement address at Liberty University.

He threw in multiple references to the "Creator," "the Lord," the "Almighty," the "Divine" and "to the Truth," using more terms referring to God more times than a standard Sunday morning sermon.

It was as if Gingrich thought that by referring often enough to the Deity, he could establish his spiritual authority to inherit Falwell's

"This is a false faith, and dangerous." Believe it.

Also dangerous is the vision Falwell established for his Liberty University School of Law:

Falwell, the prominent televangelist and father of the Moral Majority who founded Liberty University in 1971, died less than a week before the school granted its first law degrees to 50 graduates on Saturday. But his dream of "training a new generation of lawyers, judges, educators, policymakers and world leaders in law from the perspective of an explicitly Christian worldview" remains very much alive.

Perhaps Mel White's comment about Liberty turning out a bunch of "little Falwells" was closer to the truth than I hoped.

May 20, 2007

John McNeil: A Pioneer in Reconciling Christianity & Homosexuality

After I first started attending Believers Covenant Fellowship in late 2004, I embarked on my own study to understand the place of GLBT people. One of the main resources I went to was the writing of John McNeil.

This from a feature in The South Florida Express Gay News:

After fighting in World War II, McNeill went to school and entered the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit order, in 1948. He then undertook a ministry of gay and lesbian Catholics. He became an ordained priest in 1959. McNeill then went on to earn his doctorate in philosophy in 1964.

McNeill started to write a series of articles on religion for his church newsletter. In 1976, they were compiled and published as the book “The Church and the Homosexual.”

“It was the first book by a theologian to challenge religion,” McNeill says. “It was the first book to call gay love good and holy.”

A year after the book was published, McNeill received an order from the Vatican’s “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. The church wanted McNeill to be silent in the media.

“I observed [the order] for nine years,” he explains. “I was hoping the church would change its mind.”

Privately, he still provided ministry to gays and lesbians and led workshops and retreats.

In 1988, he received another order from Cardinal Ratzinger. This one told him to give up all ministry to the gay and lesbian community.

McNeill refused.

John McNeil rejected the authority of the Catholic Church because he had opened his heart to a greater revalation from God.

He set the example GLBT people need to follow, rejecting the authority of churches that have claimed homosexuality by its very nature is a sin. God wants to show his gay and lesbian sons and daughters a greater revalation, but they need the courage to break away and travel on a different path.

That does not have to be done alone. There are others, both straight and gay, who will walk with you, and God is ALWAYS with all of his children.

Thanks to A Christian Voice For LGBT Rights for the tip.