Tag Archive | civil rights

Do not get lost in a sea of despair — why this white homo mourns John Lewis

Full quote: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Full quote: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

John Lewis, ‘conscience of Congress,’ to lie in state at the Capitol
.

Lots of other people have written about U.S. Representative John Lewis. He was one of many fighting in the civil rights movement from the Nashville Student Movement in 1960, through the Freedom Rides and beyond. He was one of the “Big Six” organizers of the 1963 March On Washington (and until his death last week, he was the last survivor of the Big Six). He was beaten by police, arrested, had dog set on him, received countless death threats, but he never backed down. And eventually, he became not just an activist, but a member of Congress.

He was an American Hero from early on.

But he became one of my personal heroes in 1996. Bill Clinton had run for President on a promise to bring equal rights to the LGBT community, but instead he caved to pressure from the Republicans, conservative Democrats, and (even more problematic) timid Democrats. Instead of equality, he created the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for the armed services, which instead of making it easier for queer people to serve, significantly increased the number of discharges for being gay. And he also ultimately signed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which made it illegal for the federal government to recognized marriages of same-sex couples if states decided to extend those rights, and also exempted states from recognizing those marriages from other states (a clear violation of the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution).

John Lewis was not one of the timid Democrats. He rose in opposition to the act. He spoke passionately about why he would vote against it.

“This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence. It denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a basic human right.”
—Rep. John Lewis, explaining why he was voting against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in 1996

Unfortunately, the law passed. And we would have to wait for the Supreme Court to finally rule it unconstitutional in 2012.

That wasn’t the only time that John Lewis—a straight Black man, raised in the south, and an ordained Southern Baptist preacher—fought for LGBT rights.

“I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”
—Rep. John Lewis, in an op-ed he wrote for the Boston Globe in 2003

“As a nation, we cannot say we are committed to equality, if we do not mandate equality for every citizen. You cannot have equality for some in America and not equality for all. This is another major step down a very long road toward the realization of a fair and just society. We should embrace the decision of the United States Supreme Court. It is now the law of the land.”
—Rep. John Lewis, commenting after the Supreme Court legalized Marriage Equality in 2015

I had really hoped that Rep. Lewis would live long enough to see us oust the fascist from the White House. I guess we’ll have to do in on our own.

Every time I see another headline about Lewis’s death, tears come to my eyes. We have lost a giant.

Rise in glory, John Lewis.

Rest in power, sir.

That monument doesn’t belong here

This isn’t what I thought I’d be writing about today, but here we are! I missed this piece of local news over the weekend: Confederate memorial toppled at Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery in Capitol Hill. The first time I wrote about Confederate monuments and why I thought most of them should be torn down was in 2017 (a post which I republished recently with a little bit of additional commentary). In that post I talked about one of those monuments here in my local community:

Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the [civil] war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.

I have since learned that some of facts in the above paragraph are an over simplification. Some of the land in the cemetery was donated to the Grand Army of the Republic, and at least 11 Union veterans are buried there. But the cemetery holds a bunch of other people (included actor Bruce Lee). But one fact that is still not in dispute: there are no Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

The Confederate Monument was erected near the graves of the 11 Union soldiers, though. It makes as much sense to have a Confederate monument in that cemetery as it would to erect a monument to the army of Nazi Germany in a military cemetery full of U.S. World War II veterans.

Each time that organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy have gone on these binges of raising money for monuments and then bullying local governments into letting them be erected, has been a time where racist groups have felt a need to terrorize black people. The purpose of those monuments is not to teach history. They are meant as both propaganda and a threat.

A local news blog I read all the time posted a story today which only partially answers the question it poses in its headline: Wait, Why the Hell Does Seattle Have a Confederate Monument?

Yes, the Daughters of the Confederacy got the monument placed in the cemetery, in part by not just paying for the monument’s construction, but by making a donation to the non-profit that owns and manages the cemetery. A non-profit which has, by the way, ofter struggled with raising enough funds to adequately maintain the grounds. I think it is very interesting to note that no one at the non-profit wants to talk publicly about the monument.

In response to the news of this toppled monument, I’ve seen a couple people on social media try to put forward a “what-about-ism” argument because there is another monument in the cemetery which honors people who aren’t buried there. This is the Nisei War Memorial Monument, which was originally raised to honor 47 local Japanese Americans who served and died in World War II. In many cases the bodies were never returned to the U.S. I haven’t found a list of how many of those soldiers whose bodies were returned wound up in this cemetery, but apparently more than one did. Additionally, local Japanese American soldiers who served in the U.S. military and were killed in action in subsequent wars have had their names added to the monument

There is a very big difference between a memorial that lists actual names of local people who died in a war (at least a couple of whom are buried in the same cemetery), and one that lists no local names (and for that matter, no names at all!).

The local Japanese American community has been an important part of the history of Seattle and the surrounding area for about 140 years. The Confederacy—which barely existed for five years!—has absolutely no connection to Seattle. There is no good reason for a Confederate monument to be here, only a lot of bad reasons.

Supreme Court rules that existing federal law prohibits LGBTQ discrimination in workplace

This is a recreation of one the the two flags Gilbert Baker orignally created from Pride.

This is a recreation of one the the two flags Gilbert Baker orignally created from Pride.

I must admit, I did not expect there to be good news for queer people from the Supreme Court this year. The best I hoped for is that things wouldn’t get substantially worse. So when I saw the first headline this morning, I didn’t believe it: The US Supreme Court Just Ruled In Favor Of Protecting LGBTQ Workers
. I figured this had to be a joke. No way would this court, with two Trump-appointed arch conservatives on it, rule in favor of queer people! Right?

Yet, it did. And one of Trump’s appointees wrote the opinion!

It’s a 6-3 ruling, which is also unexpected. I want to pause here to point out that one of the rationalizations many Republican politicians have been giving for supporting Trump was that he had promised to appoint conservative judges that would start taking rights away from all us queer people. And one of those justices and just voted the other way. What was it a particular angel said? Oh, yes: “Evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

One thing that is important to note about this decision is that it is about interpretation of legislation. This ruling does not assert that this is about a constitutional principal. So, if Congress passed a law amending the Civil Rights act of 1964 to change the verbiage of this section of the act (and whoever is President at the time of such passage signs it into law), this could all go away.

Clearly the Democrats currently controlling the House of Representatives aren’t going to vote for such a change, so there isn’t an immediate danger. But it is worth remembering this.

“Gay people exist. There is nothing we can do with public policy that makes more of us exist or less of us exist. You guys have been arguing for a generation that public policy ought to essentially demean gay people as a way of expressing disapproval of the fact that we exist, but you don't make any less of us exist. You just are arguing in favor of discrimination. Politics with Jared and Dave”

Gay people exist…

On the other hand, this case would appear to invalidate the reasoning the Trump administration used for writing the anti-trans rule that was announced on Friday. The policy that health care providers can discriminate against transgender people relies on the argument that when the Affordable Care Act says providers can not discriminate against an individual based on sex, that the term “sex” does not include gender identity. But today’s ruling says the opposite: it lays out that discrimination on the basis of sex does include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The reasoning is summed up in this sentence from the majority opinion: “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.”

Now, this doesn’t settle everything, and I’m sure there are going to be multiple legal challenges involving this, but I think we should all take a moment to savor a win.

Today’s announcements from the Supreme Court had two more pieces of bad news for Trump and his alt-right cronies:

California’s ‘sanctuary’ cities rules stay in place after Supreme Court rejects Trump’s challenge.

Gun-Rights Appeals Turned Away by U.S. Supreme Court. There were ten different cases pending before the court where the court could have significantly expanded the definition of the right to bear arms and therefore invalidate some state restrictions. The court turned all of those away, leaving those restrictions in place for now (and signaling that if other states enacted the same restrictions, they would likely be left intact, as well).

None of those statues mean what you think they mean—bless your heart

“Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. Those that do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

(click to embiggen)

Studying history means actually studying it—not looking at statues that were put up for non-historical reasons with misleading if not outright false plaques on their bases. When we remove symbols of racism, colonialism, and genocide, we aren’t erasing history, we are removing propaganda. As I tried to explain when I posted the following on August 22, 2017:

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” (click to embiggen)

I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.

Each of those statements was a lie.

I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.

Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a portion of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, the typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at least they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!

In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.

The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center's graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South; the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery.

There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one.

And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers—a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.

Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.

When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later? They don’t belong in the public square.

They belong in the dustbin of history.

Misleading notions my teachers taught, Part 2: Protestors were small, unconnected groups

People always mis-remember the famous flower in the gun barrel photo as being a young woman. It wasn’t. The photo, taken by Bernie Boston, is of George Edgerly Harris III better known by his stage name Hibiscus. He was a member of the San Francisco based radical gay liberation theater troupe the Cockettes. He died of AIDS in 1982 (when the disease was called GRID for Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency). The photo was taken on October 21, 1967 at a protest at the Pentagon.

People always mis-remember the famous flower in the gun barrel photo as being a young woman. It wasn’t. The photo, taken by Bernie Boston, is of George Edgerly Harris III better known by his stage name Hibiscus. He was a member of the San Francisco based radical gay liberation theater troupe the Cockettes. He died of AIDS in 1982 (when the disease was called GRID for Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency). The photo was taken on October 21, 1967 at a protest at the Pentagon.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, often cited as the beginning of the Modern Gay Civil Rights movement in America. It’s a little weird to realize that events which happened within my lifetime are looked on as distant history by a significant number of adults. To be sure, I was only 8 years old with the Stonewall Riots happened—it was the summer between first and second grade for me—and I didn’t hear anything about them at the time. What I do remember being in the national news was mostly the Black Civil Rights movement and the Anti-War Protests.

That was also a summer that I spent with my Grandparents, which meant that most nights I watched the news with my Grandpa, and during the day I listened to the radio, hearing hourly news updates of about 3 minutes duration, and then listening to Paul Harvey at noon. And the impression I had then and over the next couple of years was that there were a very small number of black people who were unhappy about… things. And any equally small number of completely unrelated people were protesting the war in Vietnam because war is bad.

My teachers mostly didn’t talk about any of this stuff until a few years later, and again the attitude was less than sympathetic to either movement. They didn’t go so far as to call the war protesters cowards, like my dad did, or the much worse words he used for the black people, but the overall impression was that people were upset about something that wasn’t a real problem. And, again, it was emphasized that it was a few isolated groups of troublemakers behind it all. Similarly with the Women’s Rights movement and the Native American Rights movements. Each of those things were treated as distinct, unconnected things.

And it only got worse in middle school and high school. By the time I was in high school the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and the consensus seemed to be that the whole war had been a mistake, but the people who protested it were still described by many of my teachers as a fringe group that hadn’t really been proven right, but more that their knee-jerk peacenik attitude just happened to coincidentally align with reality. Or something. The woman who taught my high school history class was quite in favor of women’s rights, and had a lot to say about how poorly Native Americans were treated by our society, but seemed to think that the Voting Rights Act of 1964 had taken care of any inequalities facing all other racial minorities.

By high school the Gay Rights movement was at least acknowledge, but none of my teachers (even the ones that many of the students thought might be gay) referred to at as anything but a small fringe group of mentally ill people (almost all of whom lived in California) who wanted their sickness treated a something deserving of special rights. And I do mean all of the teachers. The state-approved text book for my high school health class had an entire chapter on sexual deviancy, and it not only defined all kinds of kinkiness and homosexuality as mental illness, it explicitly referred to it as a single mental illness, in which straight kinkiness would always lead to bisexual and then homosexual behavior which would always progress to bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia. Yes, I’m absolutely serious. On the test we had to list all of the stages in the “correct order.” Note that this was in the late 1970s in a state that has been reliably blue for many decades.

But the one thing that all of them still agreed upon was that each of those movements advocating for a better society was a unique, distinct, and totally separate group. Even when I got into college and had not one but two stereotypical uber-liberal history teachers (one always wore turtlenecks, like the other alternated between turtlenecks and ponchos brought back from his summer sojourns into Central America) treated each of those movements as totally autonomous things. They portrayed the Civil Rights movement as solely the work of some African Americans. They portrayed the Native America Rights movement as soley the work of some Native Americans. They portrayed the Women’s Rights movement was solely the work of some women (usually white women). And they portrayed the Gay Rights movement as solely the work of a small group of (white) gay men and lesbians.

The truth was, that the people who stood up to the police and started fighting back at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago were trans people of color. There were a lot of lesbians of various races in the crowd and some gay men. But most of the white faces in that crowd that night were street kids—the homeless teens kicked out by the families who found their way the New York City and did what they had to do to survive.

And the bigger truth was that all of those civil rights movements and the anti-war movement had a lot in common. There were people who participated in all the fights. George Edgerly Harris III, the young man how put flowers in the gun barrels was a queer man who was part of a radical gay theatre troupe. He went by the name Hibiscus, and became famous for wearing the outrageous drag while keeping a full beard—a look that would later be labeled genderqueer or genderfuck. And in 1967 he joined a protest march on the Pentagon. He was active in the anti-war movement and the Gay Rights movements, obviously, and at different times in life worked with or supported the efforts of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movement.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who took the “Flower Power” picture, was a photojournalist who covered all of those events, at least one time famously getting into a conflict with some KKK members. And by frequently arguing vehemently with cops or MPs or National Guardsmen when they tried to interfere with the coverage. He was multiracial, of African American, Native American, and Irish American descent, and strangers usually assumed he was black. As a journalist, he was trying to cover the events, not be part of them, but sometimes that line blurred.

Just as Martin Luther King, Jr’s trusted righthand man, Bayard Rustin, was an openly gay man long before Stonewall while he was helping organize things like King’s March on Washington, the New York Bus Boycott, and other events. A lifelong pacifist, of course he supported and worked with the anti-war movement. He argued for making political alliances with other marginalized groups, and was active in the Gay Rights movement, various anti-semitic groups, pro-labor groups, and women’s rights groups.

These are just a few examples. But the thing is that all those fights had both goals and people in common. They were (and continue to be) fighting the forces of oppression in our society. We should all be working together. We should not let people divide us and act as if they are separate fights.

Because nobody is free until everyone is.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who captured the moment, a black/native man who in another incident willingly stood up to a chapter of the KKK.

Bernie Boston, the photographer who captured the moment, a black/native man who in another incident willingly stood up to a chapter of the KKK.

Oppressed Oppressors: Angry straight white men

“Did you know? * No one said #AllLovesMatter, before they heard #BlackLivesMatter. *No one championed #StraightPride, until there was #GayPride. *No one cared about #WhiteHistoryMonth, before #BlackHistoryMonth. *No one mentions #Men'sRights or #Egalitarian, until there's talk about #Feminism. Let's face it. You never cared about this things before. And the only reason you bring them up now is because your cozy bubble is about to burst, and the thought of marginalized people having the same rights that you've always been able to take for granted scares the shit out of you. Well, sorry. The good ol' days, when women and black people knew theeir places — and Queer was just the dirty family secret no one ever talked about — are over. Welcome to the 21st century.”

What-about-isms and false equivalencies abound. (Click to embiggen)

When I first saw people referring to straight pride this week, I didn’t think much about it. It’s one of the least intellectually-sound critiques that is ever leveled at Pride or Queer rights in general. And I’ve already written about why LGBTQ Pride is still needed more than once. Since the day before I saw these first mentions, I also saw a huge number of clicks on one of those posts I wrote years ago, I thought, “Okay, some idiot somewhere has written about straight pride, it made the news, and people are googling related terms.” Turned out it wasn’t just that someone had written about it. In case you didn’t hear, the leader of an alt-right group has strong-armed the city of Boston into giving him a permit to hold a so-called Straight Pride Parade.

“The Venn diagram of  'straight pride parade' and 'what about men's appreciation day?!' is a circle filled with swastikas”

That’s correct! (click to embiggen)

Given that the parade organizer has previously organized or been featured prominently in alt-right/neo-Nazi rallies that have turned violent before, I guess we can’t treat this as a joke. No matter how tempting it is. The truth is that nothing makes a certain kind of straight white man more angry than when they aren’t the center of the conversation. They are outraged someone they perceive as “other” gets treated equally.

And it isn’t even fair to say equally. There have been studies that show when women talk for more than 15% of a class or presentation or similar activity that the men perceive that the woman are dominating the conversation. Only 15%, the men describe it as “equal time.” I haven’t found similar studies about their perception of people of color or queers, but I have a life time of personal observation to say the participation of other marginalized people are perceived the same way. If queer characters exist in a story or movie or whatever in more than a restricted token manner, they scream “why are the gays ruining everything?!” And when it comes to people of color, well, a black actor was featured prominently in the first trailer for The Force Awakens and they lost their collective minds, calling for boycotts (and worse).

And I know it isn’t just angry straight white men. There are angry straight white women who make the same “why don’t we get a straight pride day?” arguments, too. Believe me, I know. I’ve had that one thrown at me by relatives at family get-togethers.

There are two different, completely true answers to the question of why there isn’t a straight pride day.

The first answer is: every day is straight pride day! Every day day society and strangers celebrate and cheer straight marriages. Every day society recognizes and approves of the existence of straight people. Every day thousands of television episodes are broadcast in which the straight characters are the protagonists and their stories and concerns are recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Every day little boys are described as future lady’s men, and little girls are called heart-breakers, and no one screams at the people who say it that the children are too young for that. 99% of all movies, books, songs, plays, and TV shows center straight people and their concerns.

"It's official. Boston is going to have a 'Straight Pride Parade.'   I'm straight. I like being straight. A big reason why I like being straight is that I've never once experienced bigotry for my sexuality. I didn't have to fight for my right to marry the person of my choosing. I didn't have to concern myself with being beaten or killed because others didn't accept who I wanted to sleep with. I didn't have to stay closeted out of fear, or worry about the reaction of my family, friends, or colleagues by coming out.   I never got called a slur for being straight. No one told me I'm going to burn in hell for being straight. There aren't any programs where I could be sent to be tortured into no longer being straight. There aren't any countries where you can be put to death simply for being straight.   There is nothing I ever had to fight for, or struggle against, because I'm straight. And therefore, there isn't any reason to take pride in it. Grateful for the privileges I get? Sure. But pride? I don't see it.   What I do see is that this parade is misnamed. It's not a 'Straight Pride Parade." It should be called a 'I'm a homophobic piece of shit' parade."

(click to embiggen)

The second answer is: there is no systemic bigotry against straight people. There are no laws, and never have been, baring straight people from teaching or adopting children. There have never been laws against straight people getting married. No straight child has been thrown out on the streets by their family because they are straight. Straight people have never been barred from the military for being straight. No one has ever claimed that programs to stop bullying of straight children in schools is a violation of freedom of religion. No child or teen-ager has ever been forced into ex-straight therapy. People aren’t bashed and murdered for being straight. Straight couples holding hands in public have never been attacked by a mob and beaten for being straight. When a straight couple is depicted kissing in a movie no one organizes boycotts to stop straight sexuality being shoved down the public’s throat. No authorities have ever said that they don’t hate straight people, they just disapprove of their lifestyle. No medical associations or governments have ever officially defined being straight as a dangerous mental disease.

All that has happened is that when some straight people express bigoted opinions about queer people, society as a whole no longer chimes in to agree. Worse than that, some people actually point out the homophobia. In some circumstances the law doesn’t penalize queer people the way it used to. In some circumstances the law no longer privileges straight people to the detriment of queer people.

That isn’t the same as being oppressed. It isn’t the same as being bashed. It isn’t the same as being murdered. It isn’t the same as being forced into homelessness. You did not have to overcome adversity, bigotry, threats of violence, actual violence, family rejection, and more just to live as an openly straight person.

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn't a straight pride movement, be thankful you don't need one.”

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.”

Pride means visibility and hope— confessions of a hopeful fairy

“Promote Queer Visibility”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve written many times about the first time I watched a Pride Parade. Because of the lurid press coverage I had seen before that, and even some of the critical things I heard from certain queer acquaintances, I was expecting something very different that what I actually saw. So what did I see? Mostly a lot of very ordinary looking people. There was a group of people in shorts and t-shirts who were marching with their dogs on leashes. There was the group of people driving a particular small foreign car. The drivers were wearing matching t-shirts, and I suspect shorts, though it was hard to tell. There were many, many groups where most of the people were wearing matching t-shirts and shorts and walking behind a banner that declared they were with one non-profit organization or another. A lot of them.

There were a lot of pink triangles. There were also rainbows, some lambdas, and some labryses. A lot of people had pink or purple hair. Most of the groups had at least some members who had their children marching along beside them.

There were people dressed very scantily. There were banners and floats that had some sort of sexual innuendo as part of the theme. There wasn’t any actual nudity, but there were a few costumes that were very close to it. But the thing is, not quite a year before my first Pride Parade, I had attend my first Seattle Torchlight Family Seafair Parade with a bunch of co-workers. And at that parade—an official city parade with the word “family” in its title—I had seen a whole lot more near nudity, many more sexual innuendos as themes for floats, and a whole lot of drunken participants in the parade.

I should mention that there didn’t seem to be many queers in the pride parade who were under the influence. Certainly nowhere near as many as I saw at the Seafair Parade.

The difference was, that all of the sexual content and near nudity in the Seafair Parade was clearly aimed at the heterosexual male gaze. Just as I see a lot more sex in the typical set of Super Bowl commercials that I have ever seen at a Pride Parade. And that’s the thing: straight people are so used to straight male sexual desire used to sell everything from cupcakes to beer to automobiles, that they don’t even notice it any more.

Heck, in Seattle we have another annual parade called the Fremont Solstice Parade, and it is famous for have scores of nude bicyclists in it every year. Under Washington state law, if you have body paint on, it counts as not being nude. And it was a community parade put on by mostly straight people who was doing it for years before the queers in Seattle started doing it in our Pride Parade.

“Homosexuality is not a choice, but homophobia is. Got pride?”

(click to embiggen)

So if you’re one of those people who objects to Pride Parades because you think they’re too wild or sexy or whatever, I am just going to laugh at your cluelessness. I’ve written a few times about the people from within the community who hate it, and I have yet to meet one whose arguments didn’t boil down to being equivalent of the bigots. So if you’re one of those people you don’t get my laughter, you get my pity and a hope that someday you will stop being a self-loathing hater.

If you’re one of those people who think Pride isn’t needed because bigotry is somehow far behind us, please take this does of reality:

Finally, if you’re one of those people who asks, “If you’re born this way, what’s to be proud of?” First, look up at that list. Remember that that is barely scratching the surface of the hate, bullying, and oppression that every queer person has survived. So, what do we have to be proud of? Some people want us dead, but we’ve survived. Some people wish we were invisible, and we have stepped out into the light and shared our beautiful glittery freaky selves. We have been told we aren’t worthy of love, but we have found loving friends and chosen families and yes, even someone to call husband or wife. People have tried to bury us in hate, and we have shown the world our love. They have knocked us down again and again, and we have gotten back up, fiercer than ever. They have tried to force us into the shadows, and we have shown the world our light.

I’ve quoted before the old Jewish joke that the meaning of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us. We’re still alive. Let’s eat.” In the spirit of that sentiment:

They wish we were dead or invisible. We refuse to hide.

Let’s dance.

You fight it on the ground: register, remind people to vote, help them get to the polls, and be ready to challenge voter suppression

“Republican Logic: It is wrong for two adults of the same sex to get married; but it's ok for a child molester to become a Senator.”

“Republican Logic: It is wrong for two adults of the same sex to get married; but it’s ok for a child molester to become a Senator.”

I tried to avoid the news last night, because I didn’t want to relive the horror of last year’s election night. So many polls showed that it was either too close to call or that the Republican twice-ousted judge who molested teen-age girls, wants to “outlaw” queers (not just take marriage equality back, but also to make it a criminal offense for us to be gay), wants to bring back slavery, wants to repeal the parts of the constitution giving voting rights to people of color and to women, wants to ban muslims from public office, insists that only Christians are have civil rights was actually leading in the race. Republicans were so fixated on retaining their two-vote majority in the U.S. Senate that some of them said that while they believed the allegations of sexual misconduct, they were still going to vote for him. Evangelical leaders were saying that they were going to vote for him!

But later in the evening, I peeked at my main twitter feed. And then I went the FiveThirtyEight.com’s live coverage. I skimmed through their updates (and wonky math-y talk about polls and margins). When I reached the point when they were calling it for the Democrat, Doug Jones—calling it with a margin large enough to avoid a recount!—I started crying.

A lot of people are going to try to say that this is only because of Moore’s sexual scandal. And while it was a big factor, I think this win in a deeply red state with a well-documented history of suppressing the vote of African Americans and other demographics believed to favor Democrats is a sign. So, how did they do it?

Once a Long Shot, Democrat Doug Jones Wins Alabama Senate Race

Propelled by a backlash against Mr. Moore, an intensely polarizing former judge who was accused of sexually assaulting young girls, Mr. Jones overcame the state’s daunting demographics and deep cultural conservatism. His campaign targeted African-American voters with a sprawling, muscular turnout operation, and appealed to educated white voters to turn their backs on the Republican Party.

Jones does marathon get-out-the-vote effort while Moore is quiet

“We’re trying to work all angles,” said Patricia Mokola, spokeswoman for the Alabama NAACP. “We’re trying to reach not only African Americans, we’re trying to reach millennials as well. They will be instrumental in this election … We’re not telling people who to vote for, but their vote is their power.

Rallies, leafleting and door knocking all part of effort to urge voters to cast ballots in Alabama Senate race

“We have got to find a way to come together, and we need leaders that are not going to divide us, and separate us, and cut us up, and dissect us, and stand in judgment over some, and lord over others,” [New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory] Booker said at a canvass kick-off in Birmingham on Sunday. “We need someone that is going to remind us of the calling of patriotism, the calling to love, and so this is the moment now. There are consequential moments in our American history, and this is one of them.

How Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race

Jones’ victory is all the more remarkable in that it didn’t rely on many Republicans defecting to the Democratic side. Less than one in 10 Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Jones. But Democrats – who overwhelmingly favored Jones – came out in stronger numbers, trailing Republicans in vote share by just six percentage points. And Independents – who make up just one in five voters in this highly partisan race – also favored Jones by nine points: 52 percent to 43 percent.

They mounted a massive get-out-the-vote campaign and sustained it for months. They registered people to vote. They put out leaflets everywhere reminding people when election day was. They called. They went door-to-door. The campaign spent a lot less on TV ads and more putting up billboards in neighborhoods that had lower turnout in the 2016 general election. They funded programs to give people rides to their polling places. They put out information on social media, pamphlets, posters, and signs explaining what kind of ID you need to have to vote, and a phone number to call if a poll worker refused to let you vote. They had observers at polling places. They had teams and lawyers available to respond to those voter suppression issues at the polling places.

Exit polling showed that white voters overwhelming went for the pedophile, but they also showed that Trump’s approval rating even among them has gone way down, and their enthusiasm for the candidate they voted for was lukewarm. Meanwhile, the African American vote (especially women) overwhelming went to the Democrat. And because of the way that the state has reduced the number of polling places in Black communities, and reduced the number of voting machines at those few polling places, it means that those African American voters were more likely to have to stand in line for hours and hours just to vote—and they did!

The ground game—registering voters, reminding them when election day is, reminding them what they have to do to vote, offering them rides, and so on—is how we got results in leaning-blue Virginia, and it’s how we won in deeply-red Alabama. It’s the new strategy of the Democratic National Committee. It’s not the way they fought in 2016. One of the journalists I saw tweeting about this last night summed it up: less money on TV ads, more money to help people vote.

That’s a strategy that can turn the midterm elections.

We can do it! We can do it!

That statue doesn’t mean what you think it means—bless your heart

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” (click to embiggen)

I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates at school. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.

Each of those statements was a lie.

I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.

Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a port of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at east they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!

In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.

The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center's graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South, the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.

Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.

When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later, they don’t belong in the public square.

They belong in the dustbin of history.

Why do I keep having to explain why we need Pride?

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn't a straight pride movement, be thankful you don't need one.”

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.”

It’s that time of year again. The perennial question arises: “If you get a Gay Pride Parade, why can’t we have a Straight Pride Parade?” I can’t decide which is the saddest aspect of this question: 1) that they think this tired old canard is clever, 2) that they don’t understand that 99.9% of all television, movies, news, and other public discourse is geared toward affirming heterosexual life, including straight sexuality (so every day is already Straight Pride Day), or 3) that they don’t understand that Queer Pride events are about our very right to exist—an act of defiance against those who want us to be invisible or dead—not merely our right to party?

And some people seem to be most hung up about the fact that we have parades and festivals. Especially the parade seems to bug them. They are always quick to say that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but the truth is that what bothers them is us being visible. When they ask us why we have to flaunt who we are, what they are really saying is why can’t he be quiet and stay hidden and not remind them that anyone who is different than they exist.

And you know how you can prove this? Ask them if they have ever raised the same objections to St. Patrick’s Day parades. The earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades in colonial times were about Irish Nationalism, since all of Ireland was under British rule at the time. By the mid- and late 1800s the St. Patrick’s Day parades were about Irish equality in the U.S., since anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was quite high, and yes often encoded in laws and government policy. While the anti-discrimination purpose of the parades has faded away, the parade is still about taking pride in one’s Irish heritage. If a person doesn’t object to Irish pride parades (which is exactly what St. Patrick’s Day parades are), but they do object to LGBTQ+ Pride parades, the only logical reason can be that they object to the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, and all other Queers in particular, and not the idea of a parade celebrating identities in general.

I can pretend that the question isn’t a passive-aggressive exercise of bigotry and give you some simple answers. Why do we need Pride?

None of those reasons apply to straight people. No one bullies straight children just because they are straight or gender conforming. No parents kick their straight children out on the street because they are straight. No one is targeting sports bars to kill straights because they saw a man kiss a woman somewhere. No preachers are going on the air to say that straight people deserve death. No one is passing laws saying gender conforming children aren’t allowed in public school bathrooms. No one is passing laws trying to ban straight people from adopting children or getting medical benefits for their partners. Straight people and straight people’s sexuality (ever seen a romantic comedy?) is the subject of at least 99% of all movies, television shows, et cetera. So straight people don’t need pride. But if you really think you do, no one is stopping you from organizing your own parades (though I’ve argued before that you already have those, too).

The reason queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out and brave enough to protest when necessary. Be it staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly allow two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or boycotting industries whose spokespeople lobbied for laws to take away our rights, or protesting laws making it a crime for us to be intimate with the person of our choosing, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now owe a debt to those earlier generations of queers. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t safely be out themselves, yet.

We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because there is still a long, long way to go.

%d bloggers like this: