Monday, March 30, 2015

Religious freedom... What the hell?

Let's face it, Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is not the first of its kind in the United States but, it is getting a log of attention that other RFRA's haven't received.  This type of legislation has even been a Federal Law since 1993 (signed by Bill Clinton), and 19 other states have similar laws on their books.  

Kentucky passed such a law in 2013.  The law is "supposed" to protect religious organizations from government laws & regulations that would make it difficult for them to practice their beliefs.  Prior to the passage of the law, for example, the state required (for safety concerns) the Amish in Western Kentucky to put large orange triangles on the back of their buggies.  The Amish said this practice went against their beliefs, so some of the Amish buggy drivers were put in jail for refusing to comply. 
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This is what an RFRA law is "supposed" to do... it is supposed to protect religious freedoms from being burdened by the government.   Many speculate that such a law has a hidden agenda that would grant the right to provide goods and services to customers who most align with their religious values, and deny services to those who don't (ahem... the LGBT** community - even though there are many LGBT people who are also Christians).  This may not be a stretch, but as of yet, in Kentucky, there have been few (if any) lawsuits between private citizens and businesses over such discrimination.  The only case I am aware of occurred prior to the state RFRA passage, and was based on a local fairness ordinance.  Correct me if I am wrong... I know you will.

So, why is Indiana's law the final straw against a "legislated right to discriminate" when there have been so many other laws already in place?

Well... because the politicians in Indiana added a little extra teeth to their bill that would make it very possible for people to discriminate openly against one another and be protected under "religious freedom."   Judd Legum, writer for Think Progress, illustrates this nicely, "There are several important differences in the Indiana bill but the most striking is Section 9.  Under that section, a "person" (which under the law included not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity) whose "exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened" can use the law as "a claim or defense... regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding."

People (as widely defined by law) will now have the right to not only profile others and make business decisions based on a very subjective set of criteria, but they also have the right to claim that serving anyone who violates their religious beliefs is a "burden".

My head might explode!  I can hardly get my mind around this.  Religions (with somes exceptions) have "burdened" the shit out of MILLIONS of people for THOUSANDS of years and now they are passing laws to make this legal??  


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Burned alive in the American Melting Pot

You may be asking yourself, what America as a melting pot has to do with LGBT empowerment.  It is imperative that we evaluate the gay equality movement in a larger societal framework, and to begin a more honest discourse of the successes and failures of our journey to equal citizenship. Empowerment is not a linear concept.  It ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, yet it is often narrowly viewed as an individual notion.  It is my hope to help others see that the quest for equality is impacted by individual enlightenment, as well as a broader societal understanding of oppression and homogeny.
The 20th century notion that America as a melting pot is flawed and impractical.  The concept of America as a melting pot originates from a popular 1908 play called “The Melting Pot.”  The line from the play that inspired this way of thinking is "America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming... Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians - into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American."
The countries from which people arrive to the United States have changed, but the American attitude of assimilation and melding into our image of a homogenous society still remains.  The notion of melting together so that diverse individuals, cultures, races, sexualities, ages and abilities are indistinguishable and each element granted the same optimism of pursing the American dream just does not play out in the daily lives of those who call the United States “home.”
The majority of immigrants coming to America in the 21st century are not European, they are South and Central Americans, and Asians.  And, much like our history shows us, America is quick to push our neighbors into the great American Melting Pot in order to create a country in which everyone has the same values, speaks the same language, and pledge’s an undying allegiance to the Red, White and Blue.
For those of us who are gay American citizens we too are pushed into the molten ooze of homogeny, and like our immigrant counterparts, are left without a sense of identity, access to justice, and equality. All of America benefits from the contributions of its diverse population.  We are the doctors you turn to, we are the social workers you call for help when things are tough, we are your children’s teachers, your pharmacist, your garbage collectors… It’s an exhaustive list.   As LGBT citizens, we are expected to contribute like our straight siblings through responsible citizenship, and taxation.  However, when we question the fairness of the American political & legal systems, LGBT people are looked upon by our straight counterparts as “having a gay agenda” and our religious counterparts as a “drain on American values.”  I assure you, and certainly science and history proves there is no “gay” agenda.  Furthermore, we were raised with the same set of values imparted to our siblings, and friends.  Like immigrants, all the hundreds gay men and women I have met, not one ever expressed an interest in dismantling the American way of life, in contrast we have all been looking for a way to fulfill our own version of the American dream.
The pursuit for fairness and equality under the law is a human rights agenda.  For gay men and women, it’s a movement that seeks the coverage of 1,100 federally legislated marital rights now only granted to our straight family members.  It’s a movement that wants reciprocity among state laws for employment, housing, family, and protections.  It’s a movement that seeks to end needless violence against America’s youth.  It’s a movement that asks why the constitution applies to some, but not all.  We are asking why it is okay for one state to recognize the value of ALL its citizens gay or straight, yet their neighbors can decide to ignore us. 
The great American Melting Pot has a crack in it, and it’s called the Defense of Marriage Act.  We live under the United States Constitution which declares “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
All men are created equal.  This is not political ideology.  This is not propaganda to bring justice for the underdog.  It’s the truth.  I am as equal a human being as my brother, and sister… In America, the equality stops there.  I have personal stake in repealing laws that serve to discriminate against segments of a population that the constitution has deemed equal.  As a gay man, with a devoted and talented Colombian partner, I am especially aware of the securities afforded by lawful marriage.  If my brother were to meet, love, and feel completed by a woman from another country he could secure his future with her, and her citizenship through marriage.  Their marriage would be recognized in every state of the union.  If he needed to move from his home state for a new job, he would not fear their marriage would become void. 
It’s time for a more honest discourse in this country about equality and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s time for those in the minority to ask themselves what they can do to forward our movement, and it’s time for the majority to ask themselves why they get to decide what’s right for an entire country. 



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Some homosexuals don't like other homosexuals..

I've read the phrase "internalized homophobia" several times over the years, and the best analogy for this phenomenon is that as gay men and women we often react strongly when we see other gay people mirroring back to us the things we like least about ourselves. 

Have you ever been with a friend or family member when they make a comment about how much they dislike sloppy eaters as they chomp and slurp like a famished raccoon?  Pointing out in others the things we can't deal with in ourselves is a defense mechanism that somehow allows us to justify our behaviors by saying to ourselves "Well, at least I'm not that bad."  Among the many gay men I've known over the years this action is much more biting, catty and ultimately destructive.

I'm guilty of seeing my reflection in other men and disliking what I see, or feeling unable to accept gay men as they are.  This happens most when I am around guys that are flamboyant.  Perhaps I'm bothered that they are freely effeminate, and it reminds me of how much I have restricted my own self-expression.  Perhaps I find him perfectly delightful, but refrain from embracing him or expressing my attraction to him because he is SO obviously gay.   Regardless of his characteristics, through some honest self reflection I'm able to see what's going on inside of me to garner such a strong reaction.  But, the buck doesn't stop here.  I have to forge through and embrace my mirror image so that I can embrace my brother for who he is and affirm him.

For those who don't know what catty means, Webster's defines it as having or showing a desire to cause someone pain or suffering for the sheer enjoyment of it <a catty remark that served its only purpose: to make someone cry>

One of the best examples of this meanness came one winter when I had been out shopping for ornaments.  I ran into a rather handsome fella who looked overwhelmed by the giant isles of glittered glory.  I was totally in my element, and my confidence was high so I commented to him that he had an attractive assortment of ornaments and that I just saw the perfect ribbon for his tree.  Our conversation stuck primarily to Christmas trees, lights and decor for the next hour, but when I went in to seal the deal and asked for a drink date he was instantly aloof. 
I recounted this tale for some gay friends just later that week.  Instantly they knew who I was talking about, and commented that my new crush was actually a neighbor that lived with a long term partner.  Of course I dramatically lamented "What's wrong with guys?"  I talked to this guy for more than an hour about the holidays, trees and lighting.  He consistently used "I", "Mine", and "Me."  He never so much as indicated that he had a partner!!  UGH!  This still ANNOYS me.  But, that is for a different day... sigh.
The point is that I was disappointed that someone I was obviously flirting with and asked to see again wouldn't tell me he was unavailable!  One of the men standing in the kitchen listening to my lament commented "Oh you mean "John Doe"? I never thought he was cute. He's kind of elfish with his pointed ears."
Stunned silent.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Born This Way

I'm often asked by friends when I come out to them, "Do you believe you were born gay?"  The smart ass in me wants to ask them if they were born straight!  I withhold this.  Usually.  The other question I get occasionally is "When did you know you had to choose one way or the other?"  I'm much less gracious in responding to this question when I quip back with "When did you choose NOT to be gay?"

Perhaps they are treading the waters of challenging their own belief systems, or they are testing me to see just how steadfast I am in my identity.  Regardless of the motivation, I always welcome the opportunity to educate.

I knew from the earliest age that my inclinations were not like the men and other boys in my life.  I knew I was different, but didn't necessarily know that I was gay. 

It wasn't until I developed my first mega crush on a boy a year ahead of me in school that i knew romance was in the gaze of another boy.  I was completely fascinated by his wily blond hair, daring spirit, and any crumb of attention he gave me.  When he was near, I was mesmerized.  Our friendship lasted for many years, and I was very much smitten by him the entire time.  We met when I was entering the 3rd grade.

As for "born this way?" I answer with a hearty "YES!"  For a few years I worked with a conservative christian lady who was inquisitive, and spirited.  She was the very first one that ever said to me that she understood it wasn't a choice, and gave a compelling reason why.  She simply said, "Who would choose a life so hard."  She went on to build her argument to say that if sexuality was a choice, it would be much easier to choose to be straight because that is what most of the world believes in, and supports. 

I was forever altered by such direct insight. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Safe schools are a myth.

In a 2009 school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a gay student in the United States had an 85% chance of being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 72% heard remarks like "faggot" or "dyke."
These statistics are astounding.  This means a gay high school student who has the courage to come out of the closet can almost guarantee to be called names, and be verbally assaulted.  Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.

The results of this study are significant in several ways. 1) Gay teens are coming out of the closet at an earlier age. 2) Gay Straight Alliances and resource centers  decrease the number of harassing incidents in schools. 3) We have a long way to go in the US before it's wrong to harass a kid for being or appearing to be gay.

According to famed psychologist Erik Erikson, the father of social development theory, our adolescent and young adult years are the most crucial in developing our adult identity and relationship skills.  Between the ages of 12 & 18, according to Erikson, our identity is mostly shaped by what we do.  It's through the development of friendships, and a certain freedom in experimentation that we develop our blueprint for life.  It's during these years that we struggle with social interactions, and moral issues.  An unsuccessful journey through these years will leave us with significant role confusion and upheaval.

Between the ages of 18 & 35, according to Erikson, we begin looking for significant relationships through a partner and our friendships.  It's in this early stage of adulthood that we experience emotional intimacy on a very deep level.  If we are not successful in this stage Erikson believed that isolation and distance from such intimacy would occur.

It is especially crucial for anyone working with teens, gay or not, to have an understanding of these basic ideas of development.  If young gay teens are somehow stifled in their adolescent exploration of their philosohpies, talents, and roles this lack of development can hinder the next stage.  I've believed it's this stifling that leads many young gay men and women to have a delayed adolescence in their 20's & early 30's.  It's during this delayed adolescence that we feel the freedom to explore, express ourselves, and begin developing friendships with other gay men and women.

Perhaps an unsuccessful mastery of these development stages sets the foundation for many of the struggles gay men, especially, face in adulthood.  While I recognize that many gay men have very successful relationships, there are many of us who have struggled to find deep and sustainable intimacy. 

The good news is that times are changing.  There are a number of national LGBT advocacy and research centers. LGBT resource centers and student groups are common place in most universities, and slowly we are seeing a more authentic representation of gay couples in the media like Cameron and Mitchell on ABC's Modern Family.

So long as we keep reading, learning, teaching and sharing our stories, it is my hope this progress will continue. And as long as we see a modicum of growth we have to celebrate it and appreciate it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tom boys are better than sissies

Beyond overcoming stifling shame, many of the authors I've been reading talk about integrating all of the different parts of oneself, or aligning our fractured sense of identity as a way to live whole and authentically.

Joe Kort, author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love, writes about integrity.  "Integrity is a lifestyle of congruency; it means being outwardly who you are on the inside.  Yet from childhood, we gay boys quickly learn that being out and open means ridicule, negative judgments, and lack of emotional and physical safety.  So we spend our most formative years learning to live out of integrity, even in relationship with ourselves.  For children of any orientation, integrating all the parts of oneself is impossible.  Family rules as well as socialization norms call for children to disown aspects of themselves. For gay children, an additional part gets disowned---our gayness."

As a child the messages we may often hear from adults are that "boys like girls" and "girls like boys," and anything outside of this law is wrong or even perverted. Furthermore, even in the most progressive of families, societal norms still play out.  One of the best examples of this comes from my own family and friends.  My oldest nephew was about 2 or 3 at the time a friend and I went to visit my family.  Still being very much a baby, my nephew was crying and asking for me to hold him and console him.  Much to my surprise, my friend said something along the lines of "that boy needs to toughen up."

It's little wonder, in our hyper-masculine world, that boys especially are ridiculed for showing any more sensitivity, creativity, or emotion than their cohort.  The reverse doesn't play out quite as concretely for girls.  We've even donned a very acceptable label for little girls who act like boys, tom-boy.  Unfortunately for boys we continue the stigmatizing label of sissy. Let's face it; we value masculinity far more than femininity in this country.

So, many gay boys grow up never embracing their childhood crush on the neighbor boy.  Many grow up without encouragement to bend the gender roles and play with their sisters' toys too.  Little gay boys learn from an early age to hide or villainize their feelings.

Joe Kort goes on to write, "Gay and straight alike, we must all come back into integrity---which is often what a midlife crisis is all about.  I prefer to call it a midlife awakening: finding out who you really are and moving toward it."

Consider all of your experiences, and all of your parts.  Recount your boyhood crushes, and embrace them.  Draw a picture in your mind of which boys at school you were attracted to and why.  How did they make you feel?  What type of friendship did they offer?  How were these boys alike?

Embrace these relationships wholly now, and celebrate them.  This is one of the most significant tools a gay man can use to integrate his experiences as young gay boy into his life as an adult gay man.  It will serve to remind us that as children we weren't wrong in feeling this way, and that all little boys and girls get crushes.  Our crushes were just as real as theirs.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

LGBT Elders - Back In The Closet

If Harvey Milk were still alive, he would have just turned 81 years old on May 22.  Living in New York at the time of the Stonewall Riots (1969), Harvey was 39.  He moved to the Castro District of San Fransisco shortly after this, and became one of the country's first openly gay elected officials serving as city supervisor.  He was assassinated within the first year of taking office, however his influence on the gay rights movement continues today.

In the 60's and 70's many of the gay men and women in this country were still living in the closet, especially in rural conservative areas.  The effects of Harvey Milk and the Stonewall Riots didn't reach much of America for years or decades to come.  As these men and women have aged, many of them never enjoyed the freedom of expression, or current level of acceptance we do today.

How might things have played out for Harvey Milk if he, like many Americans, lived long enough to need care in a nursing home? 

Current statistics would give him about a 50% chance of having dementia of some form, simply because of his age.  And, since he had no children to care for him, his chances of needing nursing home care would have increased even more.

There's no way to know how Harvey's life would have played out, but what we can know for sure is that openly gay men and women of his generation are finding themselves increasingly back in the closet as nursing home and assisted living residents.

In the recent anecdotal survey "LGBT Older Adults in Long Term Care Facilities: Stories From the Field", experts from various national advocacy groups discovered some startling incidents of discrimination, harassment and emotional abuse.  Nearly 300 long term care residents, family, staff, social workers, administrators and ombudsmen participated in an online survey which found: 
  • Only 22% said they could be open with facility staff
  • 89% predict that staff would discriminate
  • 43% reported 853 instances of mistreatment
  • 93 respondents reported restrictions on visitors
  • 24 reported denial of medical treatment
The sense of going back into the closet as a resident in long term care, extends even to people in assisted living.  One 71 year old anonymous participant said, "Within the next two weeks I'll be going into assisted living. Due to my financial situation, I will have to share a room with another man. The thought of going back into the closet is making me ill.  Frankly, I'm afraid of telling anyone I'm gay."

What's even more disturbing is how families are treating their loved ones as they age in nursing homes.  "A woman died shortly after I started as a floor nurse in a nursing facility in 2002, and I learned her story from other staff. The woman came to the nursing home after having a stroke. She  was unable to communicate.  The family decided that her partner of 50+ years had no rights to their property, or to see or make decisions for the patient.  The family sold the home and got a restraining order against the partner.  These ladies were retired schoolteacher in their 80's and had never considered being "out."  They had no legal protections in place.  The partner of the patient had sever health issues herself.  She would call the nursing home occasionally on the night shift to see if a kind nurse would be willing to break the rules and tell her if her partner was still alive and how she was doing.  It was a sad situation.  -Michelle F., Riverview, FL

The first time we come out of the closet is usually to a friend or family member.  After that, we continue to come out to everyone we meet (I hope).  While coming out to more and more people is changing the public's perception of who we are as gay men and women, our responsibility doesn't stop there.

As members of a minority, we MUST advocate for change.  We MUST live as examples to follow.  We MUST work to create more sensitive, accepting and educated institutions in this country.  From Kindergarten to Hospice, it is our responsibility to see to it that the path is made easier, and the world made kinder for all those who follow.