June 23, 2007

"Equality Itself"

That's the title of a stirring editorial in the Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus:

Democracy does not provide crisp, clean victories on issues involving clashing values and shifting attitudes. Real and lasting change does not come with the stroke of a pen.

The struggle for gay marriage has been under way for decades now, and only in recent years have public attitudes undergone the kind of transformation that would allow an elected legislature to side with their gay and lesbian constituents and their supporters seeking equal marriage rights.

Even the terms of the debate have shifted. Gay marriage is the common term for the goal of freedom-to-marry advocates. But advocates for gay marriage insist they don't want gay marriage — a special category of marriage for gay people. They want marriage. Over time it has become more widely understood that what the advocates of gay marriage are talking about is marriage equality or freedom to marry.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick put the issue in a larger context on Thursday. "Today's vote is not just a vote for marriage equality," he said. "It was a vote for equality itself."

In Massachusetts, as in Vermont, supporters of marriage equality gained ground when they put a human face on their cause. Gay and lesbian residents told stories about the relationships that mattered to them, about family, loyalty, commitment. When confronted with the human reality of gay relationships, it happens again and again that fear recedes.

There is always fear. But the shadow fear casts has diminished as Massachusetts gave us a victory on Thursday for equality itself.

I want to elaborate on the point about putting a human face on the cause. Legislators and advocates can rail about all of the horrible things that will happen to society of two people of the same gender are allowed to marry, but I believe most people have a much harder time saying that to their face. After all, isn't that human nature; it's a lot harder to say or do something that will inflict pain on someone when you know them, when they're live, flesh and blood people.

That's why it is so important for people to put themselves out there, tell their stories, and put a human face on issues of discrimination.

Which Biblical Marriage Do People Really Want?

That's the question asked in this piece on Ethics Daily. This is an article that's not just worth reading, it should be studied and perhaps even printed out and kept for reference by any advocate for same-sex marriage.

One of the catch phrases the religious right spews to support their discriminatory policies is the preservation of "biblical marriage." That would presume there was one clear example of what that was. As with most of the "insight" religous right leaders share with the unwashed masses, that is not true.

As Miguel De La Torre writes, there were numerous acceptable definitions of marriage throughout the bible, some of them allowing for multiple wives (but not husbands, remember women were like property in those days) and/or concubines. In my younger days the concubine idea would have been very attractive, but now I'm just too tired and I'd have to deal with Pastor Brenda's vociferous objections.

De La Torre even points out the acceptance of slavery throughout the Bible and mocks Paige Patterson, the head of the Southern Baptist Southwestern Seminary, about including courses on how to treat slaves along with their new cirriculum for training pastor's wives.

My point here is that those who insist on taking the Bible literally miss at least one vital point; God has more to teach us than is included in His written word. God has a way of spoon feeding us, not teaching us more than we can assimilate into our little minds or more than society can adapt to.

The United States wasn't ready to understand the sinfulness of slavery until the 19th century, and even then there were men from the pulpit preaching how slavery was part of God's will because it was in the Bible. You see, there's nothing new about religious leaders working to hold back progress in society because they are incapable or afraid of moving past what is written in the Bible. That's one of the reasons God gave us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to guide us beyond Jesus teachings and lead us to the continuing, gradual, revelation of His will.

I believe with all my heart that the complete acceptance of GLBT people into church and the society is another step in the revelation of God's will. He will never lead us to something in conflict with the Bible, but He will continue to build upon the basic foundation of faith he laid out for us.

In accounting, my vocation, I went through years of plowing through textbooks learning the basics, then continued to learn addtional skills in the workplace which bulit upon those fundamentals I learned in school.

For Christians, the Bible is our textbook, but our education is not limited to the written word. Through the Holy Spirit, He has more to teach us beyond His written word than we could ever hope to learn on this Earth.

We just have to be open to learning it.

"Gay life: Challenge and change"

My friend Sharone sent me a link to this CNN article. There's not any new ground covered here, but I think any story in the mainstream media that puts a human face on GLBT issues is worth reading.

This article features a family with two mothers who moved to Massachusetts to get legally married but recently decided to move back home to Oklahoma and face serious discrimination issues.

The article also details the struggles of a gay soldier who, after serving in Iraq, came out to his commander and was discharged. To wait until AFTER his deployment to Iraq was complete speaks volumes to how committed he was to serve the nation. Yeah, those are the soldiers we want to have kicked out of the military.

Anyway, this was some good humanized coverage of some important GLBT issues and is worth checking out.

June 22, 2007

If You Think It's Tough for the U. S. GLBT Community.....

Check out these two stories:

From 365Gay.com:

Poland's LGBT community is fleeing the country as government sponsored persecution mounts an LGBT civil rights activist said on Wednesday.

Robert Biedron, head of the Polish Foundation Against Homophobia, said thousands of gays have packed up and left - many to Germany and the UK.

"It is incredible. The Polish gay community has just moved away because of the climate of fear and persecution," Biedron told The Daily Mail.

"Most of the people I know are now in England because of the current political situation. Not for economic reasons, but because of the persecution of homosexuals going on here.

From Reuters:

Israeli police detained an Orthodox Jewish man carrying a small homemade bomb in Jerusalem on Thursday, as thousands of Israelis marched in support of gay rights in defiance of religious protesters.

"Police stopped a 32-year-old religious Jew who was carrying a homemade explosive device," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said of the arrest before the annual Gay Pride march began.

About 7,000 police officers had deployed inside and around Jerusalem to protect the marchers -- about 2,000 of them by police estimates -- after threats from religious Jews, who take exception to the event being held in a city they hold sacred.

At a separate event some streets away, blocked behind police barriers, religious Jewish men in traditional black and white garb held a separate rally, intoning prayers against the march.
One man evaded police to approach marchers yelling: "Filth! Get out of Jerusalem!." He was escorted away by police.

In 2005, an Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded three marchers and fears of violence caused a march to be cancelled last year.

Did you catch those numbers, 7,000 police to protect 2,000 marchers? They were braced for a full-scale riot, weren't they? Kudos to the government in Jerusalem for protecting this peaceful gathering.

The Polish government, however, has taken the opposite approach and appears to be accomplishing its goal of driving GLBT people out of the country. I am confident the inhumane treatment the government condoned will come back and bite them at some point.

In the meantime, while there are important issues regarding GLBT equality to deal with here in the United States, I think it helps to place them in a global perspective every now and the.

June 21, 2007

"Ex-Gay" Throwdown

I just hate it when they fight, but there's a battle brewing withing the "ex-gay" industry.

As reported by the Christian Post, Stephen Bennett, who runs his own "ex-gay" ministry, has taken great exception to Alan Chambers' recent remarks that he had never met an ex-gay and that homosexuality was not completely "cureable." This carried a lot of weight since Chambers is the president of Exodus International, the most widely known "ex-gay" organization.

"Frankly, I am shocked that the president of the largest information and referral ministry in the world on homosexual issues, would ever make such irresponsible and false public statements," said Bennett in a statement Tuesday. "If Mr. Chambers, a married man and father who once engaged in homosexuality himself, says he's never met 'a former ex-gay' or one who has 'changed completely,' he's personally invited to our home in Connecticut to meet one. I'd also be happy to introduce him to numerous other individuals – all former homosexual men and women."

After 11 years of engaging in homosexuality with over 100 men, Bennett testifies that he was confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ and has "completely changed," no longer struggling "whatsoever" with homosexual temptation.

But there are those who tried leaving the homosexual lifestyle, and failed after numerous attempts. Peter Toscano of Beyond Ex-Gay – a community for those who have "survived" ex-gay experiences – spent 17 years and over $30,000 on three continents attempting to address his same-sex desires. He tried filling himself with Jesus and enrolled in professional ex-gay programs but realized the process was slowly driving him insane. He now embraces himself as a gay man.

And then there are those who left the homosexual lifestyle, but still struggle with temptation, such as Chambers. He, however, chose to "live differently" and says his feelings have changed too.

"Today, I am a far different person. Not that I don't struggle, but my life has changed," he said, according to The Orange County Register. "I certainly don't have the desire to be involved in homosexuality. It has no power over me."

There's a lot of anti-gay propaganda in the article, not surprising given the source, but it does show a rift in what is already a very small community. Ultimately, anything that prevents them from putting forth a united front and weakening their message is good news for gay and lesbian people.

June 20, 2007

"Rachel Maddow: Out on Air America"

Conceived and started in 2004 as a counter to the preponderance of right-wing rhetoric on talk radio, Air America has struggled to find success in the ratings or at the bottom line. That doesn't mean there the network doesn't offer quality programming, however. One example of that is "The Rachel Maddow Show."

PageOneQ profiles this host who happens to be a lesbian. She is out, but her show is not consumed with LGBT issues.

And while Maddow's sexual orientation is no secret to her regular listeners, she said she tends to discuss queer issues far less than her straight progressive counterparts "not by design, but just because of what I am interested in."

"I am really interested in war and foreign policy and electoral issues... I absolutely do tremendously care about HIV issues, and prison issues and gay issues -- but what I have found is that when I am really personally invested in a political issue, I do my least effective radio about those topics," she explained. "I talk about AIDS issues less than I should, given the importance of AIDS issues right now, and that's largely because I find myself ineffective at them, because I don't have good perspective about how to make it newsworthy for someone else. I know too much information about it, and so my perspective is not at all like that of an average Joe. And I therefore find it very hard to talk about it in a way that will draw other people in...when we get down to stuff that I am really, actively engaged in -- and that if I left radio I would go back to do full time activism on -- I am at my least effective."

Maddow added that while she has done some "gay specific-programming" through fill-in work at Sirius Satellite Network's LGBT station OutQ, she was "not very good at it.""I mean, yes, I am a gay person, but gay niche radio? They are straight hosts out there who are a lot better at that than me. I am good at explaining why the immigration bills never got passed, or doing cocktail recipes or talking about horse racing," she said with a laugh. "I may not be very good at it, but I am totally out. And that to me is even more radical. To say, 'Hey, I'm a big lesbian, and you can get your news from me instead of from NPR,' is to some extent a more radical statement... by the virtue of the fact that I am gay, every time I open up my mouth, what they hear me talking about is something gay."

Maddow is an excellent example of a person not being defined by his or her sexual orientation. Just as I don't focus my thoughts on how to express my heterosexuality, Maddow doesn't make her program all about being a lesbian.

Life is a lot more complex than that.

GLBT Rights Struggle Part of Progressive Tradition

I ran across a wonderful column in the Baltimore Sun that places the current battle for GLBT equality in some historic, and positive, perspective.

The movement for sexual orientation-based equality is part of a proud, progressive tradition that includes abolition, women's suffrage, the ending of child labor, racial integration of the armed forces, the civil rights movement and anti-miscegenation reforms.

Three patterns hallmark this long tradition: a defiant insistence by conservative doom-and-gloomers that the proposed reforms will undermine the fabric of American life; the inevitable rally by progressive and altruistic-minded Americans to the cause of expanding to others the protections they already enjoy; and, finally, widespread agreement a generation or so thereafter that conservative hysteria was not only misplaced, but America was stronger for having ignored their pinched, wrongheaded warnings.

Sure enough, conservatives who bemoan the "radical homosexual agenda" again find themselves losing the debate - not because the homosexual share of the population is growing but because straight Americans are rallying to their defense in the same way whites pushed for abolition and men marched with suffragettes.

Of course, the reason right-wingers want "the voice of the people" heard by giving them the chance to vote on GLBT rights is the simple fact that, since the overwhelming majority of voters are straight, most of them would be inclined to vote against. Like many views from that side of the fence, it is simplistic and short-sighted. As the columnist points out, it has failed before and will fail again because, eventually, people will move beyond their perceived self-interest to support the right thing.

GLBT equality is the right thing. I support it, and more people like me are reaching that point any day. The religious right always wants to turn things back, but their attempts to discriminate against GLBT people are doomed to fail. Let's work to make that happen sooner rather than later.

June 19, 2007

"Evangelical Christians" Make Noise at Sacramento Pride Parade

From the Sacramento Bee:

Conversation about religion dominated much of Saturday's gay pride celebration. But the big question of the day seemed to be: Whose point of view was the right one?

And whose God?

That of the 150 or so evangelical Christians who marched along the Pride Parade route to protest what they claim is a sinful lifestyle?

That of the participants in the 20th annual Pride Parade?

Or that of the various religious groups that showed up in counter-protest of the evangelicals' outcry, proposing tolerance instead?

In a repeat of last year's event, the evangelicals were raucous. They blew noisemakers and carried signs that left no doubt as to what they believe is the nature of sin.

An equally vocal but more liberal and diverse group of the region's religious communities came to challenge the evangelicals' message with words of love and acceptance.

Members of A Church for All talked to passers-by about their congregation's inclusiveness -- acceptance of all regardless of race, class or sexual orientation -- and worship services.

"We believe God is a diverse God. He can meet all of us," said congregation member Christine Campbell of North Highlands. "When Jesus said, 'Whosoever believes in me shall have eternal life,' he wasn't making any distinctions."

Daniel Velici, 35, wore a T-shirt that quoted Scripture. It implied that those celebrating their day in the park would not inherit the kingdom of God.

"The movement ... of the community is now destroying this country, the family, moral values -- everything," Velici said.

That last statement is one of the stupidest I've read in the two years I've been writing this blog, and I've seen a LOT of people saying some very stupid things.

What's destroying the country? How about a war in Iraq that is draining billions upon billions of dollars from our economy, a war the military won't even let open gays fight in.

What's destroying the family? How about a divorce rate still hovering around 50% and parents who don't take time to even know their kids much less raise them, yet loving same-sex couples are often denied the chance to adopt and love children who need a home.

What's destroying moral values? How about hatred and bigotry spewed in God's name that drives seekers away from the church and is a boon to athiesm and other alternatives to religion, a hatred that focuses on the GLBT community and is more obsessed with gay people than gay people are themselves.

What's the answer? A relationship with God, not filtered through some right-wing bigot, but one that is born from reading the Bible and seeking Him for yourself, then finding a place where that love and understanding can be nurtured.

With our ministry initiative (still in its early days) the Affirming Christian Network, we're working to present an alternative to the hate and condemnation heaped on GLBT people from pulpits across the country. We're building a community with resources to help people understand that God loves GLBT people, why he does, and how that love can be experienced at a personal level. Check us out if you're seeking, or just need to be fed spiritually.

The African-American Face of the Hate Crime Bills Opposition

Henry Jackson, an African-American preacher with a Harvard MBA who leads a church only a few miles away from me in College Park, Maryland, has emerged as the face of the religiouis opposition to the Matthew Shepard Law that would include sexual orientation as a protected minority.

I wrote about his campaign a few days ago when I linked to a USA Today article that mentioned him. There is much more about him in this article from The American Prospect.

But Jackson wasn't elevated just because of his preaching style, his popularity, or his voter registration. Because Jackson is black, his claim that granting rights to gay people amounts to discrimination against Christians is more emotionally charged -- and, in a sense, more credible -- than if it came from someone white.

Only in the rhetoric of the Christian Right can an effort to protect the civil rights of one's fellow Americans be turned into a war against Christianity. And that's exactly how Jackson and his allies have deceitfully framed the issue. The Matthew Shepard bill, they claim, will "criminalize" speech and thought, and in particular, make preaching the gospel a crime. Never mind that the bill deals only with crimes involving "bodily injury" and specifically exempts from prosecution "expressive conduct protected from legal prohibition by, or any activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of, the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Jackson nonetheless maintains that the legislation could be amended in the future to "widen" the definition of a hate crime to include his preaching on "one man, one wife, for life," which he says is "appropriate biblical morality." And while he insisted to me that painting him as anti-gay is "terribly offensive" and "bigotry in reverse," to his audience in Virginia Beach, Jackson promised that "God is going to lift up a standard against this abomination that wants to take the freedom away from our nation."

The church has been "diminished," he claimed, and "the authority of the evil one in the nation has continued to ascend and get stronger and bolder. 'Til now we're dealing with the fact that if God doesn't move and you don't act, they're about to shut us down with a Hate Speech [sic] legislation." Somebody, he added, "needs to reverse the curse," and everyone in the audience could start by signing the petition in the church lobby.

The man obviously enjoys being a media attraction, and the religious right loves using African-Americans to do their bidding, a trend they've had a lot of success with in fighting LGBT rights.

Of course, it is preachers like Jackson who are actually diminishing the church by diminishing Jesus. People like him place restrictions on Him that are clearly filtered through their own prejudice. Trying to defend their right to preach hate and what they claim is God's word by misrepsenting the facts and playing to the lowest common denominator in people (fear) goes completely against the message of Jesus, who is the way, the TRUTH, and the light.

It does get Jackson and his ilk a lot of face time and air time, though, doesn't it?

June 18, 2007

Baptist Seminary Training Women for 1950's TV Shows

One of the the fundamental truths I've learned about the religious right is their focus on looking back, taking the church and society back to "a simpler time" when issues were viewed in black and white without all that, you know, thinking.

Speaking of black and white, the Southern Baptist Convention (pause to allow for cringing) wants to train the next June Cleaver. If you don't know who that is, you don't watch nearly enough TV reruns. This isn't a reality show, however. Much worse, it's part of the cirriculum being introduced at the Southwestern Baptist Seminary.

As reported by Ethics Today:

Paige Patterson (the seminary's president) announced at the SBC meeting in San Antonio that his school was offering an academic program to train women how to make a Christian home.

The chairman of the convention's Council on Family Life even wrote in a denominational magazine, "The wife should not be burdened with the necessity of working outside the home."

"We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family," Patterson told messengers in San Antonio. "If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed."

The so-called cultural crisis apparently necessitated the seminary's program which will require 23 hours of course work, including seven hours of "design and apparel" with a lab for clothing construction. Another seven hours of course study covers meal preparation and nutrition.

If anyone reading this is holding their breath waiting for the SBC to open their arms to GLBT people, you need to exhale and start breathing normally right away.

They've got to learn about color TV first.

Is There Middle Ground For "Ex-Gay" Therapy?

Surprisingly enough, there is movement toward common ground by people representing both sides of the "ex-gay" issue.

As reported in this article in the Los Angeles Times, two key players in this debate are involved in finding some common ground regarding how to approach homosexuals seeking therapy regarding their sexual desires.

Alan Chambers, the director of Exodus International, the organization best known for saying "change is possible" regarding a person's homosexual inclination, is moderating that approach.

.....he's come to resent the term "ex-gay": It's too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said.

At this point that is a personal opinion, not one publicly stated by the Exodus organization.

On the other side is Michael Bussee.

"Something's happening. And I think it's very positive," agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.

Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor's Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month.

But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges.

He and other gay activists — along with major mental-health associations — still reject therapy aimed at "liberating" or "curing" gays. But Bussee is willing to acknowledge potential in therapy that does not promise change but instead offers patients help in managing their desires and modifying their behavior to match their religious values — even if that means a life of celibacy.

"It's about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act," said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

I have mixed feelings about this approach, which is still being ironed out and has not been officially adopted by anyone. On the plus side, it's better than people being misled that they can lose their same-sex desires and driven to suicide when that does not happen, feeling that they have failed. It seems, however, that people are being counseled to deny themselves what most of think is a very important part of their lives.

It's hard for me to put myself in that position since I've never been told that my natrual desires were sinful. I'd be interested in getting feedback from someone who has.

June 17, 2007

Featured Organization: Americans United for Separation of Chruch and State

A new feature I'm starting here is featuring organizations, buth national and local, who are working hard for the same goals I write about here; GLBT equality in politics and the church. I wish I could belong to and financially support all of the groups I'll write about here, but since that is not economically feasable, at least I can give them a little free PR here.

Today, I'm focusing on Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

This organization, led by Rev. Barry Lynn, is engaged in fighting off the right-wing agenda of moving the United States toward a theocracy. I have seen Rev. Lynn debate Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, effectively demonstrating how one can be a devout Christian without trying to take over the government and rewrite the laws of the nation to reflect their denominaton's religious views.

They publish a monthly magazine titled Church and State, which is also posted online. It is an excellent summary of news items from across the nation that impact church and state issues and reports on specific events Americans United is directly involved in.

One of the primary focuses of Americans United is acting as a watchdog regarding churches crossing the line and becoming too directly involved in partisan politics. This is a violation of IRS rules governing non-profit organizations, and Americans United has investigated numerous cases that appear to be violations and reported them to the IRS.

Another major program of American united is called "First Freedom First." They describe it on the website:

Established in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, religious liberty -- the right of individuals to worship or not -- was and is a defining American value. Often referred to as the "first freedom," this constitutionally guaranteed right is the foundation for the separation of church and state. This separation protects us from undue religious influence in government and undue government intervention in religion and private decision-making. We recognize that the wall separating government and religion is being eroded, and so is our right to make personal decisions.

We invite you to join us! Be a part of First Freedom First. Protect our religious liberty and separation of church and state. Sign the petition and encourage others to join you. Together we can send a powerful, resounding message -- safeguard the first freedom!

There is also a blog tied in with that project which features a variety of voices. One of their supporters is Walter Cronkite, who is quoted on the Americans United website:

"This is a very important movement that has to get across to the American people. It is important to understand religious liberty and separation of church and state, and our right and duty to defend it."

If Uncle Walter thinks it's the right thing to do, I'm in!

Transgenders: Less Jerry Springer, More Mainstream Media

That's one of the conclusions in this piece from the Hartford (CT) Courant.

The article mentions transgender characters in popular television shows like "Ugly Betty" and "All My Children," the recent cover story in Newsweek (which I linked to on this blog), a new documentary that recently debuted at the Tribecca Film Festival, and the recent high profile stories of the Largo, Florida city manager who was fired and the Los Angeles Times sports writer who announce his transition to a her.

Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality, partially credits the Internet and medical advancements with allowing people to express themselves physically. That outlet, she says, has created a domino effect.

"There's so many trans people out that more and more people do have trans people in their lives, and that's going to cause more trans people in the media," she says . "... When the entertainment media stories happen, they really have a dramatic impact. When they're done sympathetically, they make people feel safe and more willing to come out.

Ryan Murphy, the creator of FX's "Nip/Tuck," is developing a new series for that cable network that will follow a male sportscaster and father's transition into a woman. The story is unrelated to Daniels' story. Fox and ABC also are developing shows that feature transgender characters, Romine says."

There will never be acceptance of an issue without visibility, and it's these kinds of representations of the transgender community that will ultimately make the unfamiliar familiar," he says.

I believe that's the key point of this article. People have a tendancy to, at best freak out, and at worst hate and discriminate toward people who are different in a way they don't understand. Bringing some attention to the humanity still alive and well in transgender people before, during, and after they transition can only help bring, if not understanding, at least acceptance.

Let's face it, there are probably a LOT of people in our lives we just don't get, but that doesn't mean we should stop loving them. The same concept applies to transgender people.

We need to remember that the fact they are changing physical gender doesn't make them stop being people, and Jesus commanded us to love one another, not just people who are like us or that we understand.

Thanks to PageOneQ for the tip.