February 23, 2008

If You Want a Tax Exemption, Don't Discriminate

Tax breaks are not a right, they are a privilege. There are generally rules that need to be followed by thoese companies or organizations that receive them. The township of Ocean Grove has decided to enforce their rules and take away a tax abatement away from an organization that clearly voilated the terms of the program.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association will have to pay about $20,000 in rollback property taxes for the boardwalk pavilion, the township tax assessor has determined.

Assessor Bernard Haney said Friday that he calculated the pavilion's taxes to be about $6,500 a year for 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Rollback taxes are usually paid when a property comes off the state's tax abatement rolls. The rollback taxes are usually for a period of three previous tax years.

The pavilion had been part of the association's boardwalk and beachfront property that was part of a state Green Acres tax abatement program. The association has not paid property taxes on the property since the program was established.

But controversy last year over the association's refusal to allow two lesbian couples to have their civil union ceremonies in the pavilion led the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Green Acres program, to re-evaluate the association's application this year.

DEP commissioner Lisa Jackson decided that because the pavilion was apparently not open to all on an equal basis — a requirement of the tax abatement program — she would not allow the pavilion to be included.

Good. Tax-supported discrimination should not be allowed to happen without consequences.

Click here to read more of the story in the Asbury Park Press. Thanks to PageOneQ for the link.

February 21, 2008

NFL Relents on Big-Screen Super Bowl Parties

This report from ESPN:

The NFL will allow church groups to show the Super Bowl on large-screen televisions, reversing a policy that drew criticism from elected officials.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will no longer object to "live showings -- regardless of screen size -- of the Super Bowl" by religious organizations, The Washington Post reported.

An earlier story in The Post about church groups canceling Super Bowl parties over fear of legal action by the NFL led to protest by some lawmakers and conservative leaders.

At the center of the issue is an NFL policy which holds that organizations showing public viewings of its games on televisions larger than 55 inches violate the league's copyright. Sports bars are exempt from the policy, but last year, the NFL sent letters to two church groups, advising them of the rule, according to The Post.

In its letter to Hatch, the NFL said it would not object to big-screen viewings in churches as long as they are free and held on premises that the church uses on a "routine and customary" basis, according to the report.

Hatch said in a prepared statement that he was grateful that the NFL made the exception.
"Many families want to enjoy the Super Bowl in a group atmosphere -- but obviously aren't going to take their kids to a sports bar," he said, according to The Post.

Steve Holley, executive pastor of Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Va., which canceled its big-screen Super Bowl party this year over the policy, was also pleased by the change.

"[The NFL] decided to set aside profit for community spirit," Holley said, according to The Post. "I'm encouraged by that."

I'd like to think it was my impassioned 30-second interview on local television that turned the tide. Humor me and go along with that, okay?

February 20, 2008

Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage is Good Business

That's the opinion of Baltimore Sun business columnist Jay Hancock:

Societies that are tolerant, free and diverse tend to be richer and happier than societies that aren't. Maryland has shown this for decades.

Now is the time to extend the legacy by legalizing same-sex marriage. The move would beam welcome signals not just to gays and lesbians but to all members of the young "creative class" who represent the economic and social future. Not coincidentally, it's the right thing to do.

More and more research shows how inextricably linked tolerance and prosperity really are. No religion, race or sexual orientation has a monopoly on talent. States wanting to stay ahead must show that their doors are open to everybody.

Statistically, a large gay population is one of the best predictors of a strong economy, economic theorist Richard Florida noted in The Rise of the Creative Class.

"To some extent, homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people," he wrote. "Openness to the gay community is a good indicator of the low entry barriers to human capital that are so important to spurring creativity and generating high-tech growth."

But as part of a larger policy of openness and benevolence, legalizing gay marriage makes sense for Maryland. We already boast the culture, tolerance, diversity and educational resources the creative class seeks. Allowing unions for two people who love each other - no matter what their gender - will cement the franchise.

And don't be surprised if they bring economic dividends.

What a wonderful common-sense approach! Click here to read more from this column.

February 19, 2008

Who Actually Has a Gender Identity Disorder?

Pauline Park, writing for Visible Vote 08, thinks it's not transgender people but rather society that is disordered.

I do not have a gender identity disorder. It is society that has a gender identity disorder. And I find it outrageous that transgendered people in the United States and elsewhere have to have themselves declared mentally ill in order to access health care or to get a job. What is commonly referred to as the problem of gender dysphoria is not to be found in the mind of a transgendered person but rather in the society that is too rigid to allow for those born male to identify as women or those born female to identify as men – or to allow those born male, female, or intersexed to identify as something other than men or women.

In fact, GID is most often used to subject gender-variant children and adolescents who ‘deviate’ from this rigidly defined norm to ‘reparative therapy’ that can and sometimes does include electroshock and long-term institutionalization. Such ‘ex-gay conversion therapy’ is in fact the recommended ‘treatment’ for gender identity disorder among gender-variant youth and is used by parents who seek psychiatric ‘help’ to ‘cure’ or ‘prevent’ homosexuality and/or transgender in their children.

As part of a progressive agenda for social change, we must commit to removing the GID diagnosis from the DSM as well as outlawing ‘reparative therapy’; doing so will help liberate thousands of gender-variant youth from the psychiatric abuse to which they are currently being subjected. We have to reject the notion that the body of a transgendered person is a diseased body or that the mind of a transgendered person is a diseased mind. We must reconceptualize pathologization as the problem and not the solution to our problems. We must find means by which transgendered people can access forms of medical intervention such as HRT and SRS without having to subject themselves to the degradation of being declared mentally ill simply by virtue of their gender identity.

Beyond holding on to tradition, just how important ARE clearly defined gender identies? Is there any rational reason to discriminate against people who don't fit into these fairly rigid molds society has cast in stone beyond the fact that those exceptions make some people uncomfortable?

I think someone putting their comfort ahead of another person's basic rights is the epitome of selfishness and, despite the fact that religious fundamentalists are some of those pushing the hardest to do just that, it is FAR, FAR away from the example Jesus set for us; to love our neighbor as ourself without exception.

Click here to read Pauline Park's entire essay.

"God Is Still With You"

Rev. David North was a successful pastor at a church in Washington DC when he was outed as a gay man. He was no longer welcome at that church , but he was still welcomed by God and also had other options in finding a new home to worship in, and that's the point he makes in this essay he contributed to the Washington Blade.

When a person joins a faith community, they do it for many reasons: to be with family and friends, to enjoy the particular flavor and style of music, preaching and worship and to find sanctuary. The Baptist church I grew up in was emotionally like a big extended family. We sang and shouted together, prayed and served together and experienced the love of God and love of family together.

However, when they “found out” what I was, I became a pariah. By their misinformed and misinterpreted biblical beliefs, I was judged to be an abomination. The familiar environment that had been my source of hope, joy, fellowship and inspiration suddenly became hostile and demeaning.

What do you do when your safe place isn’t safe anymore? What do you do when family and extended family judge, condemn and sentence you? The GLBT sisters and brothers in Greater Mt. Calvary Church are hurting. They have been betrayed on a visceral level. The pain from being ostracized is a lingering festering heartache that often takes years to overcome. I know. It took me about 10 years to reclaim wholeness in my ministry and spirituality.

MANY PEOPLE IN the GLBT community have given up on church, religion and spirituality altogether because of these kinds of horrific experiences. Fortunately, through the years, many GLBT people of faith have been reclaiming their faith.

That’s how and why MCC, Faith Temple, Inner Light, etc., and the whole affirming church movement came into being. We all understand that it’s hard to let go; it’s difficult to say goodbye; it’s tough to change. The abused seem to linger in futile hope that abuser will stop abusing. I say to all those GLBT brothers and sisters continuing to be in abusive churches, you have viable wholesome options, you have choices and alternatives to have fellowship and faith within safe and accepting contexts.

But whether you leave or stay, be true to yourself. God is still with you, just like God was and still is with me.

Click here to read the rest of Rev. North's essay.

BTW, he is once again behind the pulpit at the Holy Redeemer MCC in College Park, Maryland.

February 18, 2008

Clarifying the Biblical Perspective on Transgenders

As usual, Peterson Toscano gets it. His blog is one of my go-to sources when I want a deeper, non-fundamentalist perspective on important issues concerning the GLBT community. He provided just that in his most recent post, answering an article in Christianity Today. The piece, titled "The Trandgendered Moment," was not a right-wing hatchet job but still leaned, as one would expect with their editorial focus, toward the traditional view of transgender issues, trying to "love the sinner but hate the sin."

Peterson demonstrates a more informed and Christlike approach in his blog entry, titled "Transgender Bible Heroes and Sheroes."

Perhaps I read a different Bible, but once I put on some gender glasses and re-visited the scriptures with an eye to find those Bible folks who live outside of socially prescribed gender roles and presentations, I found a treasure trove of transgender Bible characters.

The article doesn't make a single reference to eunuchs, those gender others who play key roles in both the Hebrew and Christians scriptures. The whole story of Esther would fall apart if it were not for the surgically altered gender variant eunuchs. But beyond eunuchs, there are plenty of other individuals that good Biblical exegesis reveals as gender variant.

Ignorantly lots of folks think you need to have a surgery to be transgender. Nope, not true. Also, they fail to acknowledge that we do not always know who is trans among us or in the scriptures. Many of us live and work and worship alongside people who have transitioned, and we never know it. Some of these folks never had surgery. Today for female to male trans folks testosterone and chest binding works wonders.

Now if folks want to get a good education about the transgender experience in the scriptures, I encourage them to see my play

Click here to find out more about Peterson's play and also check out some more useful resources regarding trandgender issues.