Tag Archive | society

No one deserves to live in a closet

“If Harry Potter taught us anything, it's that no one deserved to live in a closet.”

“If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one deserved to live in a closet.”

It’s National Coming Out Day! And just for the record, in case it isn’t clear: I’m queer! Specifically I am a gay man married to a bisexual man. For many years I lived in the closet, and am ever so happy that those days are far, far behind me. So, if you’re a person living in the closet, I urge you to consider coming out. Being in the closet is scary—you live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. Studies show that this affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.

The problem is that coming out is also scary. 40% of homeless teen-agers are living on the streets because their parents either kicked them out because the teens were gay (or suspected of being gay), or drove them away through the constant abuse intended to beat the gay out of their kids. This statistic is the main reason I advise kids not to come out until they are no longer financially dependent on their parents. Yeah, there are many stories of kids who came out to their parents and those parents became supportive allies. But not all, by any means.

“My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short.” —Armistead Maupin

“My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don’t make that mistake yourself. Life’s too damn short.” —Armistead Maupin

Even if you are a self-supporting adult, coming out is often accompanied by drama. Some of your family and friends will not take it well. You will be surprised at some of the ones who you thought would be okay with it being exactly the opposite. On the other hand, some people will surprise you with how fiercely supportive they become.

In the long run, being out is better than living in the closet. You will finally know who loves you for who you are, rather than those who love the idea of who they think you ought to be. You will also find out that you were expending far more energy than you realized constantly being on the look out for signs your secret is discovered. There will be a moment when you feel the burden lifted. But you will also discover the coming out isn’t a one-and-done deal.

But the freedom of no longer living a lie is incredible. So when you’re ready, come out, come out, where ever you are!

Don’t just take my word for it:


Confessions of a recovering evangelical, part 2

Man dressed as Jesus stands in front of a group of anti-gay protestors. Jesus-guy holds a sign that says, “I'm not with these guys.”

“I’m not with these guys.” (Click to embiggen)

When I was a teen-ager our church had a debate about locks. I think the precipitating event was the purchase of a new organ for the main sanctuary, but I also know there had been an incident of one of the other churches in the neighborhood being vandalized. The upshot was, someone had proposed that we put locks on the main doors of the church. We had long had locks on some specific rooms inside the building, and the auxilliary wing of the church was locked up when not in use, but the main building and specifically the sanctuary (which is the official name of the large room with the pews, pulpit, and baptismal) were always unlocked and open to everyone.

There was a lot of talk during the meeting about insurance—either that our current insurance carrier didn’t want to cover us against theft and vandalism for parts of the building that were unlocked at night, or they were going to raise our rates significantly, I don’t recall which. There were a number of people in the congregation who felt maybe we should start locking the main building. “We aren’t in a tiny town and it isn’t the fifties,” is how I think one person put it. Another person told a story of homeless people routinely sleeping in churches and sometimes not being careful about where they went to the bathroom.

One of the associate pastors rose to his feet on that one and said, “Call me foolish if you want, but I think the proper response to finding a homeless person sleeping in your church should be to offer them a meal, and then ask what other help do they need!”

I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches where the tradition is that all business decisions related to the church are decided by the congregation as a whole. At regular intervals the usual Wednesday Prayer meeting would begin with a business meeting. Any congregation member, no matter their age, who attended the meetings had a vote. I had been attending business meetings at the many churches we attended (as my family moved) for as long as I could remember. I seldom remembered one that became more impassioned than that debate about whether to put locks on the sanctuary door.

It was beginning to look like as if the majority was leaning toward adding the locks. And then one elderly member of the congregation struggled to stand up. She had been frail and needed a walker to get around for some years, but she never missed a service at the church. She let the person sitting next to her help her to her feet, but then she sort of shook him off and raised her face as if she was speaking to the heavens themselves, and I hadn’t heard her voice sound so firm in years. “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me. And they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick and in prison and did not help you?’ And he will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did not do it for the least of these, you did not do for me!'” She paused, looked around at all of us, and then added. “We call it a sanctuary! That is what it is supposed to be! This isn’t our house, it is His house, and he already told us what we ought to do!”

And then she sat down.

Every one was very quiet for a moment, then someone said, “I move that we do not put locks on the sanctuary.” About forty of us said, “Seconded!” And the deacon conducting the meeting said, “Everyone in favor, signify by saying ‘amen’?” That was a very loud chorus of “amens.” Then the deacon asked, “Any opposed?” And I think one person said “Nay,” and he was immediately admonished by his wife.

Before I move on, a few notes. It has been many years since I considered myself a Christian. I usually say that I didn’t reject the church, but my denomination (which is still anti-gay decades later) rejected me. At that time, I felt I had no choice but to look for spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. I usually define myself as Taoist, now. But when that woman started quoting the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, I found myself murmuring along with her. I wasn’t the only person, by any means, but my point is that I was the kind of kid who could quote entire chapters of the Bible from heart. Some of those passages still speak strongly to me.

If it isn’t a sanctuary, it is not a house or worship.

So, yes, I was one of the people a bit outraged when so-called christian televangelist Joel Osteen, mega church pastor in Houston, Texas, refused to open his building as a shelter to his neighbor flooded out of their homes: Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch opens to Harvey victims only after backlash. The church’s statements have been slightly contradictory. There are plenty of posts on the internet you can track down of people living nearby walking to the church during the time when the church claimed it was flooded to show there wasn’t any flooding. And during the time when they said it was not locked people walked up and took videos of themselves trying doors and so forth.

So let’s get a few things straight. Osteen’s “ministry” preaches so-called prosperity gospel, the essence of which is: if you’re rich, that’s a sign God likes you. If you’re not, maybe he doesn’t. This runs absolutely counter to almost every word Jesus actually said. The church in question isn’t just a megachurch, it is a former sports arena that the “ministry” purchased for millions of dollars, then spent at least 70million more renovating. The renovations include installing two artificial waterfalls inside the church, yet somehow in all of that they neglected to put in any symbols of Christianity: there are no crosses or any other signs inside the sanctuary that indicate in any way that it is a christian house of worship. Thousands of TV cameras and screens and a top-notch sound system so that you can always see and hear Osteen, though.

While the child inside me who used to love reciting John 16:33, or Matthew 5:3-16, or Matthew 25:31-46 gets outraged at Osteen’s actions, I can’t really say that he is much of an outlier of typical evangelical christian thought. Most evangelical christians believe, whether they say it aloud or not, in the Just World Fallacy: if bad things happen to you, they are almost certainly a punishment from god. In other words, if you’re poor, it can’t possibly be because the entire system of the economy and society is geared to transfer wealth and resources from everyone else to the rich, it’s because you’re probably secretly doing something sinful. If you get a horrible disease, it isn’t caused by a virus or chemicals you’ve been exposed to in your deregulated workplace, et cetera, it’s because you’re doing something sinful, et cetera. And therefore, poor people, sick people, and so forth don’t deserve help and compassion. Like Osteen’s prosperity BS, it is the opposite of what Jesus actually taught.

As if one object lesson in just how uncompassionate and unchristian many of these so-called religious leaders are, at the same time this was unfolding, another group of evangelical leaders were doubling down on their anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-sex, anti-joy hateful rhetoric: Evangelical Leaders Release Anti-LGBTQ Statement On Human Sexuality. The fact that some of those “leaders” have been involved in serious scandals trying to cover-up rampant sexual abuse within their organization is really all anyone needs to know about them.

But someone else described these situations far more eloquently long ago:

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
—Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 21-23.

Voting is our best weapon, but they’re trying to take that away, too

Voter ID laws don't effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter ID laws don’t effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter Suppression Laws Are Working. The real purpose of so-called Voter ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud. That’s how they sell it, but the real aim is to keep poor people, the elderly, and other marginalized people from voting. Voter fraud is a for all intents and purposes a myth: There have been just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election – three of them voted for Trump. The number of fraudulent votes cast are always such a tiny fraction of the total that they don’t effect the outcome of races. And we’ve known this for a while.

Seriously, during part of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. Attorneys were ordered to make finding voter fraud a higher priority than any other case they were investigating. And after a lot of time and effort was expended, they came back and told the administration what state officials who run elections have been saying for decades: voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The most common forms of voter fraud, which add up to far less than one percent of the votes cast, are relatives of recently deceased people casting an absentee ballot for the dearly departed. The next most common is a relative who has been appointed a legal guardian of an elderly relative believing (incorrectly) that the power of attorney they have been given over the relative with a diminished capacity gives them the legal right to fill out the relative’s ballot. And the third most common are people who are wealthy enough to own homes in multiple states registering in all of them and voting there under the mistaken notion that because they pay taxes in more than one place, they can vote.

The Republican party of my state several years ago famously spent more than a million dollars tracking down four voters who had voted illegally in the very tight governor’s race that year: all four of the convicted felons who hadn’t had their voting rights restored had voted for the Republican (because the Democratic governor had been the state’s Attorney General before, and the four felons held grudges against her).

A lot of people ask, “What’s so hard about showing your ID?” Which seems like a reasonable question to a person who enjoys a certain amount of privilege. The funny part is, that the people asking this know how hard it can be and you can prove it to them. All you have to do, is ask them whether they look forward to going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license. They will either brag about how wonderful it is now that their state allows people to renew on line, or they will tell you a horror story about being trapped at said office for a long period of time. While it is an inconvenience to someone who is able-bodied, has access to their own transportation, and has a work schedule that allows them to take the time to go stand in line, to anyone who isn’t in that situation, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

Most poor people in the U.S. work multiple jobs. They aren’t hanging around on street corners waiting for a welfare check (that’s an even bigger myth). The typical low income family has trouble finding the time to sleep and cook meals for their kids, let alone try to find enough time during one of the days a licensing office is open to go stand in line for hours. That’s if they can even get to the office. The states that have passed strict Voter ID laws also happen to be states that have fewer offices where people can get an ID. And coincidentally, they tend to only have those offices in locations convenient to affluent neighborhoods.

So you have to add many miles of travel (and the time and expense involved) to the difficulties to overcome to get an ID. That’s if the person has their own transportation. And it just so happens that the same states the have strict Voter ID laws also spend the least amount of money on public transit. Yet more barriers.

I think about the hassle my mom went through a few years ago after a move when she was trying to get her license renewed and updated with her new address. I don’t remember how many times she had to go back, but it was several. One time it was because whoever she talked to before she went in didn’t tell her the right documents she would need to prove what her new address was. I don’t remember what the problem was the next time, but then after she finally got it after her third or fourth visit, they mailed it to her and several pieces of information on it were incorrect. So she had to go back to get it corrected, and that took more than one trip.

My mom is retired, so she theoretically had the time, and she can drive herself, and the office wasn’t very far from her apartment, but she’s got a lot of health issues, and some days she just doesn’t have the stamina to sit in a non-ergonomic waiting room chair for who knows how long, right?

And then there’s the matter of the fee to get the ID. The constitution forbids poll taxes but the requirement of having state provided ID for which you are required to pay a fee is essentially a poll tax. And even if you argue that the ID serves other purposes, the fee is yet another barrier for low income and fixed-income people.

So, Voter ID laws effectively take the vote away from low income people, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and people living in certain communities. And the lawmakers who pass the laws are well aware that those populations tend to vote in favor of one party more often than the other. They want to take that vote away.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about it: Donate to and/or Volunteer with Spread The Vote (spreadthevote.org). Spread The Vote helps people get their required ID. They provide volunteers to help people collect the required documents, transportation to the apply for their ID, assistance with fees, and so forth.

If you want to help with the fight at a legislative and legal level, consider donating to Project Vote (projectvote.org). Project Vote is working to improve voter registration processes and remove the barriers to make it difficult for people to get registered and to vote.

Card-carrying member of the ACLU, and proud of it!

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-3-25-17-pmIt’s George H.W. Bush’s fault. During the 1988 Presidential Debates, then-Vice President Bush sneered at his opponent, Gov. Mike Dukakis, for being a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Bush claimed that the ACLU was out to make child pornography legal as well as make it legal for children to see X-rated movies. Both of those claims were, at best, distortions of actual ACLU goals (the ACLU has long opposed a rating system used in the U.S. because the system is secretive, favors large studios over independent ones, and sometimes serves as a form of de facto censorship, for example), but it almost certainly shored up support from Republican-leaning voters. But the other thing that happened was that, in the days after the debate, tens of thousands of people called the ACLU and asked what it took to become a card-carrying member.

And then they donated and joined.

I wish I could say I was one of them. I didn’t become a member for a few more months. I was in the process of transitioning from college to working full time, and my wife was still a full-time university student (yes, I used to be married to a member of the opposite sex; it’s a long story). And in 1988 you couldn’t just google the ACLU and in a few clicks sign up. It was after the election, and after I got a better job, so it was sometime in the spring of 1989 that we signed up as members.

I’ve been a proud member ever since.

When school districts try to discriminate against queer students, it’s the ACLU that sends lawyers to sue the school and get kids their rights. When peaceful protesters are arrested, it’s the ACLU that sends in lawyers to get the protestors out of jail, to defend against the bogus charges, and sue the appropriate government officials to try to prevent future violations. When high school students are unconstitutionally strip searched by school officials, it’s the ACLU that sues the school district. When states enact unconstitutional voter suppression laws, it’s the ACLU that sues and often gets the measures overturned. When federal authorities tried to hide documents about torture progams, it was the ACLU that sued to get the documents brought to light so that citizens and legislators could demand changes. When states fail to provide required medical and mental health treatments to people in state custody, it’s the ACLI that sues to get people the basic care they are guaranteed under the law. And as everyone saw this weekend, when a narcissistic megalomaniac issues an unconstitutional executive order resulting in people being illegally detained or deported, it’s the ACLU that goes to court for stays to try to halt the illegal actions, and send lawyers to try to meet with detainees to help them.

I could go on and on.

If you believe in liberty; if you believe the Constitution guarantees that everyone is equal before the law; if you believe that everyone deserves legal representation and the full protection of the law; then the ACLU deserves your support.

gotyourbackOh, and if you’d like one of those spiffy blue pocket Constitutions to keep on your person in case you need to assert your rights (or just correct a douche bro who doesn’t understand what the Constitution actually says), the ACLU sells them in very affordable 10-packs. Because you want to pass out extras to your friends and loved ones. And if, like me, you have a lot of freedom-loving friends who are also bibliophiles, you might want to pick up some Bill of Rights bookmarks. Not to mention stickers and other things.

If you can, support the ACLU!

Come Out and Celebrate!

“Keep Calm and Be Proud of Who You Are.”

“Keep Calm and Be Proud of Who You Are.”

Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did).

I’ve written more than once about why I think it is important for all Queer people (by which I mean people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Pansexual, Genderfluid, Questioning, Polyamorous and their Allies) to be out about who they are. Because it can be dangerous to come out (kill the gays laws exist in many parts of the world, while here in the U.S. about 40% of homeless teens are children who were kicked out of their house by their parents for being queer or being suspected of being queer), there are some people who probably shouldn’t be out until their situation changes. But being in the closet is harmful in many ways. Studies and history has shown that the fastest way to get other people (and society at large) to accept and support queers is when queer people come out.

The more straight people who actually know queer people, the more minds are opened.

So, in case somehow it isn’t clear: I’m queer. Specifically, I’m a gay man married to a bisexual man.

Being in the closet takes an incredible emotional toll which affects your physical health as well. When you’re in the closet, you’re living in constant fear of rejection. Particularly if, like me, you grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and community. The fear of losing people you love—people who you have depended on—can be debilitating. The constant anxiety of what people’s reactions will be corrodes your soul.

The thing is, staying in the closet is no guarantee against that rejection. Someday someone is going to figure it out, not at a time when you’ve picked and prepared yourself.

Coming out was hard, and there was drama (oh, was there drama). I put up with all the wailing and the angry letters (28-page handwritten letter from one aunt outlining all of the words and topics I would not be allowed to bring up around her, explaining several times that if I brought my partner to visit we would not even be allowed to call each other honey, et cetera). But while many reacted badly to begin with, it wasn’t everyone. Another one of my aunts was the first to call to tell me she loved and supported me. She made it clear to folks on her side of the family that if they had a problem with me being gay, they would have a bigger problem with her.

If and when there is drama about your coming out, you have to treat said drama as your parents (or whoever) throwing a tantrum. They are trying to force you to pretend to be someone you aren’t for their convenience. And just as when a child throws a tantrum, you can’t reward that bad behavior. Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and gay activist, puts it this way: the only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.

It took a few years for some of my family members to come around. I remain grateful that my mom and one set of grandparents did so before my first partner, Ray, died. He had only a short period of time of feeling welcomed into the family. Now, years later, my husband Michael isn’t just welcomed, I’m pretty sure some of them like him more than they do me. And I can hardly blame them!

A few of my relatives never became accepting before they died, and it was their loss.

There will be some surprises. Some people who you were certain before you came out would never accept you will become your biggest defenders. Some people who you thought might understand will disown you and go to their grave without reaching out. You will definitely learn which people really love you, and which only love the idea of who they think you ought to be.

The thing is, being loved for who you are, instead of the illusionary non-queer person you pretended to be, is wonderful. The sooner you are able to find those people the better. And remember the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

And being out doesn’t just free you. Being out frees others.

HRC Celebrates National Coming Out Day 2016:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

What We Lose When We Don’t Teach LGBTQ History In Schools.

Wishing on 9/13…

Cover of the Sept 21, 2001 edition of the Village Voice.

Cover of the Sept 25, 2001 edition of the Village Voice. (click to embiggen)

Jim Wright, an author who is also a navy veteran, posted some comments about the 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Facebook on Sunday which upset a lot of people. They called him a traitor and other nasty names, and reported him to Facebook for violating community standards (which the post didn’t). Subsequently Facebook (as they always do) gave in to the loud voices of rightwing people who claim to love Freedom and Liberty, but only for people who agree with them. These folks also often yell a lot about how much they love Jesus, and then they call people like me faggots, lead prayers saying we deserve death, and call for people who have committed no crimes to be executed. So they neither understand what freedom means, nor do they understand any of the teachings of Jesus.

Mr. Wright’s post was blunt, and not at all a feel-good statement. But it also contained a lot of truth:

“You’re expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren’t you?

Here it is, but you’re not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then … America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren’t even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We’re still here. They aren’t.

We win. USA! USA! USA!


You goddamned right. We. Win.


Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.

It’s funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That’s what we wanted. that’s what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn’t matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he’s not an American, he’s the enemy see? He’s not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And…


15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How’d that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It’s 15 years later and we’re STILL afraid. We’re still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies — and our own citizens for that matter. We’re a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we’ve gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we’re talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I’m not going to watch the shows. I’m not going to any of the memorials. I’m not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don’t want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I’m tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I’ll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I’m not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I’m going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we’ve won.

I suggest you do the same.”

—Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

I almost never write about 9/11. On the first anniversary, I made a post on my old blog called “Living for 9/12.” And I reposted it on this blog around the eleventh anniversary. I didn’t express the same sentiment as Wright either of those times, but I’m getting to a similar emotional space.

It’s not that I think we should forget the deaths that happened that day. But could we try using that grief to accomplish some good in the world? I mean, my goodness, it took us 14 years to pass a bill to help the fireman and paramedics and police who responded that day, survived, but have suffered longer term health issues. And yes, we killed the mastermind of that plot, but along the way we’ve bombed countries that weren’t involved, and have used the original tragedy to justify all sorts of violations of our own civil liberties, assassinating at least one of our own citizens without due process, not to mention developing a disturbing habit of killing civilians with drones!

Every year about 11,000 U.S. citizens are murdered with firearms, sometimes in mass shootings like Orlando or Sandy Hook, most in incidents that barely make it to the local news. That’s nearly four 9/11s every single year. Maybe we should actually do something to prevent some of those? Or at least let the National Institutes of Health research into whether we could do anything to reduce that number?

Why are we unable to work up any determination over any of the tens of thousands of deaths that have happened since that day?

I need to stop ranting. There was one other 9/11 post I saw on the day that I think is worth looking at. It isn’t like Wright’s at all, but it also doesn’t wrap itself in the flag to push an agenda. Tricia Romano is currently the Editor in Chief of a Seattle weekly newspaper, the Stranger. But in 2001 she worked in New York City, writing for another weekly newspaper, the Village Voice: I Was In New York City During 9/11. I’ll Never Forget.

It’s my country, too

#WeAreAmerica #LoveHasNoLabels

#WeAreAmerica #LoveHasNoLabels

I find myself in really odd discussions lately on social media. The worst, to be honest, happen on Facebook—usually with relatives. But it’s not just the cousin who keeps insisting that only immigrants object to religious Christmas displays on the public dime. Nor is it merely the aunt who keeps insisting that she doesn’t hate “the gays” or “the transgendereds” but is constantly posting memes and personally penned rants about how god is going to destroy America because of gay rights, and allowing trans people to use a public bathroom leads to rape. It’s not even the folks who argued that their right to sell assault weapons was more important that my right to not want to be gunned down in a gay club.

Captain America photographed in the 2012 Seattle Pride Parade (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/)

Captain America photographed in the 2012 Seattle Pride Parade (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/)

It’s also the folks who post the “Make America Great Again” memes, and unironically talk about how perfect America was in the 60s or 50s or whenever their childhood was. It’s the people who post the “Thank a Veteran” memes while voting for Republican congresscritters who constantly cut funding for veteran’s health care (and everyone else’s healthcare while they’re at it). It’s the people who describe themselves as “patriot” but think that means a very specific rightwing viewpoint. It’s the people who scream “all lives matter!” in the face of overwhelming evidence that the murders of black people, brown people, trans people, or women, or Jewish people, or people perceived to be muslim are never given as much attention by the justice system as other people’s deaths.

I love America. I have a favorite Founding Father (and I can go on at great length about why he’s my favorite), and I have a second favorite (and I can go on at equally great length as to why he’s my second favorite and why I understand that a lot of people prefer him over my fave). I can quote whole sections of the Constitution from memory. I get irritated at people who leave their U.S. flags out in the rain or fly them at night without illumination. I get teary eyed when patriotic music plays. I believe, even though many of the men who signed the document didn’t, that the Declaration of Independence was right when it said that we are all created equal (though I really wish it said people instead of men). I believe that America’s ideals are great, and wonderful, and visionary, and worth fighting for.

But I’m also painfully and personally aware that neither our laws, nor our society, nor most of our institutions live up to those ideals. America has seldom been great if you were not a cis white heterosexual male—preferably protestant (or let’s be honest, with a veneer of being a protestant Christian). If you were lucky enough to fall into that privileged category as a child, or the next best thing, to be the child of such a person and therefore protected by their umbrella of privilege, yes, America seemed really cool when you were younger.

Part of that was all that privilege, but another part was that most real world problems weren’t yours to worry about. Your parents were responsible for keeping a roof over your head and food on the table. If your family wasn’t poor, you spent at least part of your childhood completely unaware of most of the downsides of the world. Similarly if you were lucky enough to have loving, non-abusive parents. So of course life seemed simpler then. It wasn’t any simpler. Violent crime rates were actually much higher (because they have been steadily decreasing for decades), for instance. A lot of diseases we have treatments or even cures for now were completely untreatable. If you weren’t white, male, or straight, the law denied you all sorts of rights many take for granted, and often actually criminalized your existence.

And it’s not as if things are perfect and enlightened now: Millions of Americans Have Nothing to Celebrate on the Fourth of July

Otters wish you a happy Independence Day (© 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium)

Otters wish you a happy Independence Day (© 2013 Monterey Bay Aquarium)

I mention America’s flaws not because I hate America, but because I love it and wish that we would live up to our ideals. As Elie Wiesel (the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died Saturday) said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

No one who calls themselves an American patriot should sit in silence while injustice, racism, sectarianism, homophobia, or misogyny are being perpetrated in our name. James Madison (called Father of the Constitution, though he preferred to be remembered for authoring the original Bill of Rights) warns us, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

It is our silence and indifference that erodes the promise of liberty. It isn’t the immigrant (besides, unless you are Native American, you or your ancestors are immigrants), it isn’t the person who adheres to a different faith than you, or to no faith. It isn’t the lesbian couple trying to buy a wedding cake. It isn’t the trans person wishing to use a public bathroom. It isn’t the African-American mother demanding justice for her 12-year-old gunned down in a playground by police. It isn’t people asking to close some of the loopholes in background checks before guns are purchases. It isn’t the Jewish person asking that we not have a manger scene in city hall. It isn’t the recent immigrant working two jobs and trying to fit in English as a Second Language class while getting their kids through school.

None of those people or events are what has made America anything less than great.

It’s people who call themselves “patriot” who blames any of those other people. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” and lecture people on line about racism while their own user name is literally a vile racial slur. It’s the people who call themselves “patriot” who sits silents while others denounce people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, sexual identity, et cetera.

Judging others for being different and denying them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not American—love, acceptance, and helping our neighbors is.

We Are America featuring John Cena | Love Has No Labels:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either

BryanFuller_2016-Jun-12It didn’t take long after people started reacting on social media to the news the at least 50 people were killed in an Orlando, Florida gay nightclub (and at least 53 were seriously injured) by a lone gunman before the arguing started. I made the mistake of sharing a comment about one very specific gun law that actually would have applied to this gunman’s purchase of the weapons used in the crime just a week or so ago, and commenting about who blocked the bill. And I was immediately accused of calling for the total ban of all guns everywhere, and reminded how badly prohibition worked with alcohol and drugs.

It’s a common argument. There are some problems with it. And those problems are most easily illustrated by looking at the topic of drunk driving. See, I’m old enough to remember when people actually argued that nothing at all could be done to reduce the number of deaths due to drunk driving. People have a fundamental right to imbibe alcohol, it was argued. People will find a way to get alcohol, look what happened during prohibition! The only person at fault is the “nut behind the wheel,” it was asserted, and no law is going to deter an irresponsible person! Just as no law or policy or other external force could prevent stupidity.

Editorials were written making the argument that while the traffic fatalities that resulted from the misuse of alcohol were tragic, no meaningful solution could be enacted—certainly not through the law!

I know, because I wrote one or two such editorials.

The first scientific paper drawing a connection between alcohol use and motor vehicle collisions was published way back in 1904 (it’s a little weird to realize that automobiles have been around that long). A much more rigorous study conducted in Sweden in 1932 is generally regarded as the first to definitively show that alcohol impaired drivers were more likely to have accidents leading to significant property damage, injury, or death than sober ones. But even as more studies piled up, the “nut behind the wheel” argument still prevented anything more than token laws that in many states treated driving while intoxicated about as severely as failure to use a turn signal.

In the mid-sixties several events managed to crack the public’s obstinance enough to recognize that automotive design and road design also significantly contributed to traffic fatalities. Congress created the National Highway Safety Bureau (later renamed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and gave it the mission to research the causes of highway fatalities and recommend solutions. Most of Congress and the public expected the Bureau only to bring back recommendations for safety regulations of the vehicles and roads, but the science made it clear that more would be required.

During the 70s, due to recommendations from the Bureau, a series of regulations were enacted improving both the safety of the cars and the roads. There was also a concerted effort to educate the public on two areas: seat belt use, and not driving after drinking. Various studies later found that the education campaigns alone didn’t have much effect. The improvements in vehicle construction and changes to road design did not reduce the number of fatalities annually, though the rate of fatalities as a percentage of total number of miles driven annually did go down. Population growth meant the more people were driving, therefore more miles total driven each year. Bottom line: the first decade of safety improvements had only a minimal effect.

Between 1982 and 1997 is when things took off. Congress made a lot of federal highway money dependent on states enacting more uniform laws about such things as the blood alcohol level that qualified as legally impaired, minimum age for legally purchasing alcohol, and bringing real penalties to bear for the drivers who were caught. Education and treatment programs were mandated, and regulations about the sale and serving of alcohol to individuals were enacted. All of these actions, along with activism and education campaigns from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, combined to do what the PSA campaigns of the 70s alone couldn’t do: the public’s attitude about drunk driving (as measured in surveys) changed, and (more importantly) the number of alcohol-related crash fatalities went down about 10% by 1990.

This prompted the non-profits and government agencies working on the issue to set a goal of reducing the number by another 20% by the year 2000—a goal we hit in 1997! Something that we said we couldn’t possibly do, and for all the same reasons that we are currently told are why absolutely nothing can be done about mass shootings and gun violence in America.

Is a total reduction of alcohol-related crash fatalities by 30% a complete elimination of the drunk driving problem? No. But if we could have fewer multiple-victim shootings next year instead of more, that would be a good start.

I am not proposing a ban on all gun sales. I never have. I’m a former NRA member, myself, for goodness sake! And no serious proposals I have seen have called for that, nor for anything even close to that. The big problem we have right now is that the moment any of us say anything about trying any of the measures which have already been demonstrated to work, people start howling at us about prohibition.

I was told yesterday that the 50 queer latinx lives snuffed out in Orlando yesterday were less important than the right of a dealer to sell an assault rifle to someone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. I was told that me being angry about an industry lobbying group blocking even one reform bill that would have applied exactly to yesterday’s murder case was rude. I was told that pointing out that the NRA is more concerned with protecting the profits of the gun manufacturing industry than promoting responsible gun ownership was rude.

When I was challenged, I did get rude, yes. Fifty queer people were murdered yesterday in what was actually a quite preventable crime, and I’m not allowed to ask that maybe a measure supported by 90% of the population in the country should be given a try?

Fifty queer people were murdered, and yes, I’m taking it a little more personally than some of the earlier shootings. Maybe it’s a failing on my part that I didn’t get as angry before. But just because I’m taking it personally does not mean that I don’t have a point. We can tweak regulations and close loopholes without destroying freedom—we did it to reduce drunk driving, we can do it to reduce gun violence. Just because there isn’t a single, elegant solution doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything.

But we have to be allowed to actually try.

A Day of Pink and the Stupidity of the Transgender Bathroom Argument

A t-shirt proclaiming, "It's time to talk about bullying, homophobia, transphobia. Day of Pink, April 13, 2016."

Today is the Day of Pink, an International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Transmisogyny across the world.

I’ve been noticing a theme in the search terms bringing people to my blog lately—many variations of “stupidity of transgender bathroom argument.” Which is understandable. We have certain states falling all over themselves to pass anti-gay and anti-trans laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, and the argument which seems to get the most traction with voters (or will get a certain type of person who isn’t a reliable voter to turn out) is the argument claiming that laws protecting trans people leads to sexual predators lurking in public bathrooms. So the laws that are getting passed include specific language demanding that people use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate, or that “matches their genitals” and so forth. Which in turn means a lot of people who want to figure out how to debunk those arguments are searching the web for an answer.

And it makes sense that some of those searches will land here, since I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before:

Setting aside some of the other ludicrous claims, the one take away that we need to return to, again and again, is that many states and cities have had laws that specifically allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and in none of those places as there been a single documented case of someone using that law in order to try to commit a sexual assault. Not one. Which is summed up nicely in the chart below.


None of those bathroom or locker room horror stories have a basis in fact. (Click to embiggen)

This chart (which was included in one of those previous posts) is a bit over a year old. Now, in addition to the original Media Matters nice compilation of statements from law enforcement officials and other experts from the 12 states that have had laws protecting transgender people on the books for year (some going back to 1993!) showing that there has never been an assault in a bathroom because of them, we have even more! Media experts, law enforcement, and real live trans people explain why the fear of men “pretending” to be trans to attack women and children in bathrooms has no basis in reality, and More Republican Lawmakers Arrested For Sexual Misconduct In Bathrooms Than Trans People.

But it’s important to note that in the 200 cities and 17 states with laws like this [allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their identity] already on the books, there are no examples documented of someone using it for nefarious purposes, of a transgender person who is this sex predator in the bathroom. It’s got no factual foothold. If anything, the irony in this is that it actually would require — and North Carolina now requires transgender men who have beards, who are muscular, to use the women’s restroom. So it actually creates the very problem that it claims to solve. —Dominic Holden, speaking on PBS’s Newshour

Why have I chosen today, the Day of Pink, which is supposed to be a day to raise awareness of bullying to come back to this topic? Because any time a law criminalizes or otherwise penalizes people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender, it encourages bullying. Businesses, school officials, hospital workers, and so on will reference the law as justification when they discriminate against someone who is queer or gender-non-conforming. The laws foster the notion that it is okay to mistreat, demean, and bully some people.

Ironically, these bathroom bills increase the likelihood that there will be assaults in bathrooms. It’s just that the victims will be the queer kids (or kids who are perceived by their peers as being queer). And it’s not as if school bathrooms aren’t already a place of terror for kids who are perceived as gender non-conforming, let along openly gay or trans children! In my early elementary school days, most of the teachers were women, and so the boys’ bathroom was a place where other boys could gang up on the class sissy or freak (usually me) with impunity. It got so bad for me at one school, that I simply stopped going to the bathroom at school. I avoided drinking anything all day, to try to stay out. My mom kept asking why I was running home from school and rushing straight to the bathroom.

So you can imagine the horror I felt when I read the headline: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms! Geeze, talk about dehumanizing children!

"More United States Senators have been arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms than trans women."

It’s not just a meme…

I quote Dominic Holden (who used to write for one of our local weekly alternative papers, so I’ve been a fan for years) for his appearance on PBS’s Newshour above, and I’ve embedded a Youtube video of a snippet below (the link after the embed leads to a longer video and transcript, by the way). And while I agree with most of Dominic’s points, I think he gets one little bit slightly wrong. “…it’s really put LGBT advocates in a difficult place because they haven’t figured out how to respond to this. And for the most part, they have not taken it on directly.”

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The part I disagree with is where he says that these laws have put advocates in a difficult place. No, we put ourselves there.

We were so giddy at the Supreme Court ruling, that we allowed ourselves to think the battle was won. I say “we” even though I was raising this concern back then. I raised the concern, but what did I do about it? Most of our official advocacy groups have been avoiding taking the issue on directly. They responding half-heartedly, if at all, to some of the earliest instances of backlash. They deployed a really generic fairness response in the Houston equal rights repeal, for instance.

And to imply that we don’t know how to respond is simply wrong. The current trans bathroom bill arguments are not substantially different than the arguments they have always made against queer people. The bigots have always claimed we are delusional—our orientation or gender identity is a choice we’ve made for sinful or other nefarious reasons, not an inherent characteristic. They have always claimed that we are dangerous sexual predators. They have always claimed that acknowledging our existence will cause confusion and harm to children. Exactly how they couched those arguments has changed. Which segment of the non-heterosexual population they were demonizing has changed, but the essence of the arguments are the same.

That is what they are claiming now. We’ve dealt with those arguments before. We have won battles in the court of public opinion against those arguments before. We can do it again. We just have to actually try. Marriage equality was only one touchdown out of a very long game. And it directly benefits only some of us, and only in some situations. The fight still belongs to all of us.

Which part of ‘love thy neighbor’ confuses you?

Billboard that went up in Jacksonville, Mississippi this week after the new anti-LGBT law was signed. “Guys, I said I hate figs and to love thy neighbor.”

Billboard that went up in Jacksonville, Mississippi this week after the new anti-LGBT law was signed. “Guys, I said I hate figs and to love thy neighbor.” (click to embiggen)

Lots of us have been predicting that there would be many, many more of these so-called “religious freedom” laws passed with an intent to discriminate against queer people, and that there would be more of the anti-trans bathroom bills passed in states since the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. Some people thought that the swift backlash from both regular citizens and the business community which prompted the repeal of the Illinois law and then a similar Arizona law’s governor’s veto last year would put a damper on the anti-gay legislation fervor. I was not one of the latter. I knew that the bigots would keep doing this for years to come. The war for equality isn’t over. We’ve made a few touchdowns, we’ve stymied a few of the other side’s scoring drives, but there is a lot of struggle still ahead.

Mississippi’s governor signed a bill this week that is pretty awful. It protects any individual, business, or organization (including hospitals) that want to refuse service to gay people due to a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, that sexual relations should take place only inside such marriages, and that the terms male or female refer to individuals’ immutable biological sex. So it specifies which “religious beliefs” are protected. That is not religious freedom, that is religious imposition. That’s not protecting someone’s right to a belief, that is forcing a very specific set of so-called religious convictions upon everyone.

Yes, the law later has specific language that says that it shouldn’t be construed to imply that anyone can be refused emergency medical treatment, but it will be construed that way, and people will die. We’ve had situations like this before. A lesbian couple was vacationing in Florida some years ago, one member of the couple was in an accident, her partner had their medical power of attorney paperwork, but was refused admittance to the hospital room, was not allowed to give consent to her partner’s medical treatment, and the partner died while the hospital was trying to track down a blood relative. There was no legal basis for the hospital to refuse the power of attorney. Personnel at the hospital refused because they thought that Florida’s ban on same sex marriage invalidated the power of attorney (it did not). Florida courts subsequently ruled that the hospital had been wrong to do that under the law, however they also ruled that the hospital and employees weren’t liable for the death or any sanctions, fines, or lawsuit because they had thought they were acting in good faith.

And that is part of the reason that these “religious freedom” laws are so dangerous. People will decide that their bias is more important than the life of a “sinner”—and other people will be harmed and sometimes even die. Often the person who let them die will get off despite those caveats in the law because it will be decided that they were acting in good faith.

The idea that the law will protect you if you discriminate against certain types of people will encourage people to take it further. As Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his famous dissent of the Supreme Court case that upheld sodomy laws, the mere existence of such laws, even when it was shown that they were largely unenforced, creates the notion that certain types of people are less than human. The existence of even a narrowly-focused law used to justify a plethora of other types of discrimination against people who the law is aimed at. A few years later, when the Supreme Court reversed that ruling and invalidation all sodomy laws, Justice Kennedy quoted Stevens’ earlier dissent in explaining the reason the court had changed course.

The most galling part of all of this is that these people are claiming to be following Jesus when the propose withholding medical care from queer people,  refusing to sell food to queer people, refusing the rent to queer people, et cetera. No matter how many times I read the gospels—especially the Sermon on the Mount—I can’t find anything that Jesus said that could be construed to condone such action, let alone command it! In fact, Jesus said that if someone sues you for the shirt off your back, give them your shirt and your coat, also. He doesn’t say change the law so you can shun and be cruel to some of your neighbors and be immune to being sued or legally punished for any of the consequences thereof!

This is why people are fleeing the churches, particularly young people. These folks have redefined Christianity, replacing Jesus’s teachings with condemnation of gay people. You can ignore any and all of Jesus’s actual commandments, but if you’re anti-gay enough you’ll be the hero of the Christian Right.

When laws like this are enacted, they don’t just hurt the people who get the services denied. They scare other people. They send a message that people who don’t conform to one group’s religious precepts are less than human, that they are not safe, that they cannot count on the police to help them if crimes are committed against them, that they aren’t welcome, that they won’t be treated fairly before the law. And that’s why businesses speak out against these laws. It isn’t because they are beholden to some mythic ally power queer lobbying force. It’s because employees—not just queer employees—don’t feel safe being sent to those states to work.

The truth is, no one should feel safe in places that have laws like this. Because the law gives judgmental people a license to punish anyone they think might be queer, or might be supportive of queer people. That makes these laws a form of terrorism—they are intended to scare queer people back into the closet, and with that stuff about biological sex and sex outside of marriage, all sorts of other people to lie and hide and pretend to be something they aren’t—and I can’t find any definition of love that condones that.

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