Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

Sometimes I hit my limit of bullshit and the truth falls out of my mouth.  Today, I was skimming the Book of Face and saw a post from an acquaintance that make my skin crawl and my blood boil.  Essentially, it was a rant about how anyone who doesn't want to sing the National Anthem, recite the pledge every few minutes, or think of the Founding Fathers exclusively as "god fearing men."  My last post pretty well covers my thoughts on the last point, but today I feel I need to go a step further.

I agree, our country has a lot of problems.  People from other countries are NOT the problem.  People who don't say the pledge are NOT the problem.  People who aren't "religious enough" are NOT the problem.  Growing divisiveness is a REAL problem.  It's preventing our Congress from accomplishing anything, and they have reached a new low in the number of bills they pass.  They no longer focus on the substance of a problem or solution.  Rather than discussing whether or not legislation is the right thing to do or if it will be enough to help, we discuss whether or not there are enough votes to override a filibuster.  Whether or not the other party will "allow" a bill to come up for a vote.

Searching for "others," those who are different in some way, to blame is a REAL problem.  Neither political party is solely to blame for the deficit, the economy, the job market, or foreign relations.  We are too focused on standing against the "other guy" rather than standing up for the little guy.  We have forgotten that we are a nation of "others" and outcasts.  We've forgotten that our differences don't create weakness, they provide strength.  They give us different ways of looking at problems, and different ways to approach solutions.  Only by combining our knowledge and skills can we hope to tackle problems as large as those that currently face us.  We need to focus on coming together instead of splitting apart. 

We are at our best when we work together.  There is safety and strength in numbers.  If nothing else, take a moment to remember that "God Bless America" doesn't mean "God damn everyone else."

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Founding Fathers and Freedom

I've seen several messages on the internet this week about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.  I've seen messages talking about how our country was founded on the principles of faith, and it got me thinking.


It is true that many of the early settlers moved to America because of religious persecution in their homelands.  In other words, they were seeking religious freedom.  That's not the same thing as our government being centered around faith, is it?

I've seen several messages about our Founding Fathers and their faith, leading me to think back to several classes on American History.  The Revolutionary War was not fought because of religious freedom.  Our citizenry didn't take up arms because they weren't allowed to pray on a certain day or in a particular way.  It wasn't because they were required to follow a certain faith.  Our ancestors went to war against a government that was denying them basic freedoms and liberties without representation or redress.  After that war, visionary leaders created a new creating a document.  Our country was founded on the Constitution.

If you haven't read the original US Constitution lately, now might be a good opportunity.  It spells out the powers and responsibilities of our government.  It details the printing of money, recognition of interstate contracts, and a myriad of other considerations necessary to run a country.  Funniest thing, though: the words "faith" and "religion" do not appear in it.  Nope, not once!  There is also no mention of God, god, G-d, or any other deity. 

How is that our Founding Fathers, who were supposedly driven by their faith and a profound deference to religion, failed to mention that fact in the cornerstone document of our democracy?  It wasn't added until the First Amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights.  If protecting religion, and Christianity in particular, were really their intent, why did they not actually address it?

The wording of the First Amendment is also important.  Most people describe the First Amendment by saying it protects religion, or the freedom of religion.  While that description is not necessarily wrong, it's also not necessarily right.  It's not the whole picture, and doesn't address the first part of the amendment.  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It's important to note that our Founding Fathers quickly realized that church and state did not and should not mix.  They didn't start by protecting the freedom OF religion, they started by protecting freedom FROM religion.  They placed more importance on that, rather than the free exercise of religion.  Religion didn't even get it's own amendment.  The amendment goes on to protect the freedoms of speech, press, peaceable assembly, and redress of grievances against the government.

So there you have it.  Our country was founded on representative government.  Democracy.  Individual liberty.  It was not founded on faith.  Religion and spirituality will always play an important role in our society; they can bring together the best in people.  Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst in us sometimes.  As we continue to discuss civil rights let's remember that religious freedom is an important individual right in our society, one that we must all protect.  However, it is not the overarching foundation of our country, nor it should it be protected at the exclusion of other rights. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Things I KNOW

When I was growing up, I KNEW that I wanted to be a parent.  My mother was a very good role model, and I KNEW that I wanted to experience the same kind of connection and joy she got from being a mom.  When I came out, I set that goal on a back burner of sorts.  Society wasn't too keen on gay people having anything to do with kids, and becoming a parent seemed like an insurmountable mountain.  Adoption and surrogacy are the most common methods, but they're lengthy and very pricey.  In those days there were plenty of stories about parents losing custody of their children, whether biological or adopted.  I also KNEW I didn't want to be a single parent, because I saw how hard it was for Mom.  It seemed like the universe was telling me that it wasn't in the cards.  Then one day it told me otherwise.

I met someone and fell in love.  He wanted to be a father too, and we started thinking.  Then planning.  I KNEW it wouldn't be easy.  I KNEW that we'd encounter problems along the way, and that it wouldn't be popular with everyone.  Then again, I'm not really one to put popularity first.  We prepared ourselves for negativity at every turn, but have been pleasantly surprised.  Medical and county offices not only recognized our relationship, they were cheering us on.  The hearts and minds of most people recognize love and commitment when they see it.  We still haven't had any major incidents of people being rude about our family because we're gay.

But just before Nessa's first birthday, we took a brief trip.  The morning we were heading home, we stopped for breakfast.  We had to leave before the little one normally gets up, and she was a bit out of sorts.  Her diaper had a blow out just as we were getting ready to leave the house, requiring a last minute bath so we were ready to meet with our attorney for the adoption later that day.  In her usual congenial way, Nessa was still a sweet and happy baby...but she was making a bit more noise than usual.  Not screaming or crying, but squawking and squeaking more than usual.

Our waitress rushed to the table and, in a genuine attempt to be helpful, offered a package of crackers to occupy her.  We politely declined and told her that in addition to the considerable mess that would cause, we would feed her egg from our plates as usual.  She replied that she was the one who would have to clean up the mess and that she didn't mind.  We again declined saying "I think we'll be fine, but thanks anyway."  One minute later, Nessa squawked again; the waitress appeared from nowhere with an open package of crackers, already handing them over to the munchkin.  Naturally, Nessa grabbed hold and cracker dust went flying everywhere.  "See...I told you that's what she wanted."  And off she went with a smile.

The waitress is lucky my mother raised me to use good manners, because I managed to choke out a "Say thank you, Nessa."  What I really wanted to say was "And I told you NO to crackers.  Twice."  I didn't, because she really was trying to be helpful.  Nevermind the fact that it wasn't the mess on the table or floor we wanted to avoid.  We wanted her to be somewhat presentable when we met with our lawyer...about the adoption.  We're funny like that.  Nevermind that we believe shoving food at our daughter's face is not the best initial reaction to every little noise she makes.  Perhaps we might want to try...parenting...first.  It's why we bring toys and books with us. 

Nevermind that giving her an entire cracker is probably not wise, given that she has a total of 4 teeth (barely) and is likely to choke if it's not broken up into smaller pieces.  Nevermind that, as her parents predicted, she wasn't interested in her egg when it arrived because she was looking for more crackers.  Nevermind that substituting a cracker for an egg meant she was hungry and fussy during a 4 hour drive home.  Nevermind that it's more than a little insulting to believe that you, meeting our daughter for the first time, are more capable of reading her wants and needs than the people who have cared for her night and day for the last year.  The fact that this belief seems based solely on the fact that you are a woman and we must be incompetent twits because we're "only" dads only adds insult to injury.

Truth be told, that's what hurt and angered me the most.  For some time I've KNOWN this was going to happen eventually.  But preparing for the experience and having it are two separate things.  I think the Dad squad handled the situation with grace and poise.  Experience is often the best teacher, and I'll handle it even better next time.  I'll still play nice in the sandbox, but I won't hesitate to make it clear that not only are we the customers, we're the dads...and we make the decisions and rules.  I'll explain my reasoning if necessary, but I won't just smile while someone countermands my parenting.  Not only is it my right, but I don't want to experience another long car ride like that if I can avoid it.  And that is something I KNOW. 

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Kindness of (Safeway) Strangers

Last week I was standing in Safeway waiting as the cashiers worked their way through lines of people.  This left me with some time for one of my favorite pastimes: people watching!  An older woman came along and offered a few “excuse me’s” as she waded through the line waiters.  She eyed me and said “you seem to be the tallest person here…could you reach something for me?”  I smiled and helped her out happily…even I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the last jars of parmesan on the back of the top shelf.  I love it when the universe brightens my day by giving me a chance to brighten someone else’s.

Because it was busy, the customers in the next lane were only a few feet away.  I noticed a woman and her son next to me, and she seemed to be looking for ways to pass the time as well.  She sent her son on a mission to get a box of Ramen Noodles and, as he took off in a flash, muttered under her breath “and then I’ll think of something else for you to go get.”  I couldn’t help but chuckle, and she quickly realized someone had been paying attention.  She smiled sheepishly at me, and it was clear she just needed a parenting break.  I winked and said “I laugh because it’s the ghost of Christmas future for me…my daughter will be one in a few weeks, and there are already times I use tricks like that.”  She smiled back…and then I saw a light bulb go on over her head.  “That’s where I know you from!”

Phrases like that still sometimes stop me in my tracks.  I never know what words will follow.  Where will this conversation go?  Will it be someone whose password I reset back when I worked in IT?  Will it be someone who saw the article in the Casper paper last year who thinks I need to be saved from my heathen ways?  Will this person accost me or welcome me?  I haven’t yet encountered someone making hurtful comments about my daughter or my being a parent, and I’m not sure I will be able to respond with my usual grace and civility.  My mom was something of a momma grizzly bear, and I know it’s genetic.

“You spoke to my social work class last year.”  I nodded, still unsure.  Then came her excited smile, and “how is fatherhood going for you?  When you were there, she wasn’t here yet!”  We chatted for a bit and I gushed predictably about her smile, her eyes, the joys, and so on.  “Every time I see something on the news about gay rights or court cases, I think about YOU.”  My breath caught for a second time, but this time I knew why.  “I hope that the adoption process goes well for you, and that things change and get easier soon.”  I gave her a thank you, and told her that it meant a great deal to hear that.  As I left the store, I took a deep breath and smiled.  Then it was my turn to mutter under my breath: “Message received.”

Next week we have a meeting with the lawyer to get everything going in full swing.  We don’t expect problems, but until that paper is in my hand saying it’s a done deal, I will be nervous.  Scared.  Uncertain of the outcome.  Just as I was when my Safeway stranger recognized me.  I just have to do what I always try to: do what’s right, share my heart and my story, and live from a place of love.  I have to trust that it will touch hearts and that our love and commitment will be apparent to a judge as well as social work students.  

Maybe it was a message from my mom.  Maybe it was just random coincidence.  One way or another, the universe gave me exactly what I needed.  It reminded me that living my life the way I have has brought amazing people into my life, and sometimes those people are strangers.  It reminded me that the Universe really will provide, and that everything happens for a reason.  I’m SO glad that I grabbed that cheese from the top shelf.  I needed a little instant karma.  As I often tell others: “left foot, right foot…repeat as needed.” 

Friday, March 21, 2014

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

It hardly seems possible that I haven't posted anything since 2011.  Could it really have been 2.5 years since I last shared my thoughts and opinions here on my blog?  Where have I been and what  have I been up to?  It's not like I ran out of opinions or things to comment on...

One reason for my disappearance was technical difficulties.  The server where I housed my images was decommissioned, so suddenly my banner image and cute pictures on the side were lost in the ether.  It felt like a daunting task to recreate everything, and I didn't want to keep posting to a blog that was "broken," or at least looked like it. 

I've also been fairly busy during this time.  There were a number of changes at work, including my boss retiring.  That meant I was covering the work of the whole department for a time, but I managed to handle it in stride.  Work still keeps me busy today, but I'm enjoying it nevertheless.  There are moments that are difficult, but that's true in every job, isn't it?

Perhaps the most significant reason I've been digitally absent is that my husband and I have been working very hard to create a family.  A friend of our agreed to be a surrogate and on Labor Day in 2012 we got the text we'd been waiting for...we were pregnant!  We tried to do things a bit differently than most, but I'll explain more about that in later posts. 

Our daughter was born in May of 2013, and my life will never be the same.  She gives me such hope and strength, and her smile can wash away any problems the day might throw my way.  It's hard to stay angry or hurt when those eyes and that smile come crawling up to me as soon as I walk in the door. 

My husband is the bio-dad, so we have to go through the adoption process here in Wyoming in order for me to be a parent in the eyes of the law.  I hope you'll follow us through the process here on my blog. 

For folks who followed me in the past, there might be a few changes to the blog.  There will still be posts about GLBTQ rights and the latest shenanigans in the news or government.  There will still be life lessons and thoughts, and I suspect many of my posts will still end with "Today's lesson."  There will also be some thoughts about parenting in general, "gay parenting," and the changes to my life since becoming a dad.

So there it is...a look back, and a look forward.  I hope you'll stick around.  My life tends to be an interesting ride.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Religious Exemption Laws

The following is the full text of an Op-Ed piece I wrote for LGBTQ Nation.  The edited version is available here. 

I’ve called myself an activist since coming out publicly at the University of Wyoming and joining the queer student group in the mid-nineties, and I really do try to stay calm.  Most GLBTQ folks can tell you that’s not always an easy task these days.  I like to think I’m pretty good at it, though.  In April 1999 I was a co-creator of Angel Action, the counter-protest against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.  Ten friends and I managed to stay calm and silent while standing mere feet away from a man I refer to as “a professional bigot.”  We stood in silence, wearing our most angelic smiles while Uncle Freddie made comments like “you have a dykey look about you” and “you have the whiff of brimstone about you.”  Maybe the wings made the difference.  When speaking to classes, I tell students that while they are bright, creative, and talented, I’m pretty sure they can’t say or ask anything that will be more offensive than what falls out of his mouth.  This week I’ve just about had it, though.

Being a gay activist in a conservative, predominantly rural setting requires a fair amount of patience and tact.  I have almost 20 years of experience in politely and respectfully framing my arguments so as not to offend the “other side” of the issue de jour.  Everyone has the right to their own opinion, right?  I try to follow the golden rule and give others the same respect I’m seeking.  I try to respond rather than react, and draw on my experiences in speech and debate to make reasoned statements supported by facts and examples.  Check your emotions at the door in the interests of creating a meaningful and productive dialogue.

This week I’m finding it unusually difficult to avoid the urge to scream at the seemingly endless parade of pundits and spin doctors tell me, in their most deferential and conciliatory tones, that the rash of proposed "religious protection" laws are not about discrimination.  Oh heavens no!  They're really just there to protect defenseless religious folk from the godless gays.  Like innocent business owners, who could be accused of discrimination, just for standing behind their deeply held religious views.  

Not surprisingly, they can provide no examples where this kind of hypothetical religious discrimination has occurred, though Anderson Cooper and other journalists have asked often and pointedly.  The response is that it might.  You know…tomorrow.  Or someday.  Nevermind that actual discrimination against GLBTQ people occurs daily and, in many places in the US, there’s no law preventing it.  But they want us to understand that they are NOT trying to discriminate.  I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to frame a response in my usual polite and respectful manner, and think I’ve finally landed on something appropriate.

“Bullshit.”  Apparently trying to play nice hasn’t worked, so it’s time to call it what it is.  Hate.  Discrimination.  Bigotry.  You can couch it in terms like “religious freedom” all you like, but it doesn’t make the emperor any less naked.  Perhaps we should look at some of the arguments being used.  In Virginia legislators spoke out against such an “abdominal” type of relationship, warning it will “pollute America.”  A Republican senator from Wisconsin said such marriages should be forbidden “simply because natural instinct revolts at it as wrong.”  Tennessee attorneys tell us such unions should be illegal because they are “distasteful to our people and unfit to produce the human race.”  And finally, a noted psychologist commented "I believe that the tendency to classify all persons who oppose gay marriage as 'prejudiced' is in itself a prejudice.  Nothing of any significance is gained by such a marriage."

If you’ve been watching or reading the news lately, these arguments probably sound pretty familiar.  They should, since they’ve been around for a long time.  They originally referred to interracial marriage, and the first three were made between 1863 and 1924.  That’s right, the logic being used to deny same-sex marriage dates back to the Civil War.  The last quote is from a brief in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia which established interracial marriage as a fundamental right between two consenting adults.  Ironic that it sounds like chapter and verse from our current debate, doesn’t it?  “No, we’re not hateful people; you’re the ones discriminating against us because you don’t respect our religion.”  Would anyone today care to make the argument that allowing interracial marriage violates religious freedom?

The argument is that business owners shouldn’t have to deal with someone as long as their objection is on religious grounds.  “I shouldn’t have to bake a cake for a gay wedding because my church says it’s wrong.”  Would it be acceptable to say “I won’t bake a cake for a Catholic wedding because I’m Methodist?”  What about a Muslim baker who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a Christian wedding? 
We already dealt with the question of whether or not a business can deny service to someone based on the belief that they are immoral, inferior, or otherwise distasteful; we determined that you have to let EVERYONE sit at your lunch counter and it is NOT a violation of your rights.

Individuals enjoy a number of rights and liberties, including the freedom of religion.  Businesses are not individuals, however.  Your cake shop is not a Christian, though its owner might be.  It’s a building, and when you start a business in the private sector it becomes subject to another set of laws and responsibilities.  There are different city ordinances, health codes, and tax laws that are separate from those for individuals.  Your religion might look down on tax collectors, but ignoring sales tax is illegal.  Perhaps your faith tradition takes a dim view of women in the workplace, but to refuse to hire a qualified female applicant because of it is discrimination.

As a business owner you get to decide a lot of things.  You can decide which products and services you offer, what your hours will be, and whether or not you will be open on the Sabbath.  You can set your prices, pick your own advertising, and choose your own business cards.  But you do not get to pick and choose your customers.  When you hang out your shingle, you’re agreeing to play by a different set of rules than you’re used to.  One of those rules says you have to serve everyone equally.  You can’t turn them away because of the color of their skin, how many years they’ve been around, or which church they attend.  Sexual orientation is no different.  My money is just as green and your public business is, by law, open to ALL of the public, of which I am also a part.

So yes, I’m mad.  Mad as hell, in fact.  I’m tired of hearing that GLBTQ folk aren’t really being discriminated against.  I can’t get married to the person I love and, after going through a surrogacy process that nobody really knew how to “deal with,” I still have no guarantee that the courts will allow me to adopt her legally.  But by all means, remain convinced that writing the names of two men on the cake is on the same level of what my family faces daily.  It’s your right, and I WILL be the first person to defend your right to think that way.  But take the money and make the cake, because it’s fair and it’s the law, at least in select states.  Be glad for the business as our economy continues to recover.  If you can’t abide by the rules and serve all customers equally, please remember that you will be viewed through the same lens as those who ran customers away from their lunch counters, sometimes violently.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Even though I’m feeling fed up this week, I am also hopeful.  I am returning to calmness and an angelic smile with the aware that those trying to prevent equality are getting desperate.  Some of the voices speaking up against these laws are doing so for the first time.  Some are prominent Republicans with a history of voting against our community.  Some are religious leaders from denominations that haven’t always been welcoming.  As the legislation becomes more ridiculous, more people realize that their attitudes are only one or two steps removed.  When a lobbyist pushes legislation to ban gay players in the NFL, an organization that already includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy, a few more folks will make a comparison to Jackie Robinson when watching the nightly news.  They will realize that we already KNOW bills like these are hateful.  And ugly.  And beneath us.  We know because we’ve done this before, and at least some of us learned from those mistakes.  Wouldn’t you rather go the head of the class than sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An open letter to an old friend


It's been 13 years since I last saw you. Well, 13 years and 5 days to be exact. Since that night. A part of me will always wonder - if I had said or done something differently, would things have turned out differently? I try not to dwell on that thought, as it only serves to tear open old wounds. I think about you so often, though - pretty much every day. Sometimes I hear a song, or look at a picture, or notice a post on Facebook from a mutual friend. It'd be a lie if I said it didn't still hurt. I was just getting to know you - and it wasn't enough.

But then I try to focus on all the good that has come about since your murder. You wouldn't recognize campus these days. First, we have a Rainbow Resource Center. And two GLBTQ student groups. The Federal hate crimes law was finally passed - with your name on it.

I try to focus on the people who have come into my life because of you. I get to see your parents and brother this weekend at the Bear dinner. They have been amazing, and continue to inspire me. Many documentarians have become friends - or family. How cool are your friends from Switzerland?! I've traveled around the country speaking at colleges, universities, and high schools. Not nearly as many as your mom has, but I know it makes a difference.

I've met many folks who are part of a production of The Laramie Project - students, directors, set designers. They all agree on something - your story and the play have touched their lives. They think about people differently. They're called to be more involved. All because of someone they never met. That has such power for them...and that's a big part of what keeps me going.

I'm tired, Matt. I'm tired of having to keep speaking, of having to keep telling people the FACTS, not the garbage put out by 20/20. Just two nights ago I was over at a friend's house, and met someone who claims she was your "bestie." She didn't seem old enough, but I didn't call her out on it - I was a guest in my friend's house, and didn't want to be rude. She started talking about how it was really about drugs. And about how your mom has made "so much money" off of you. That was just too far, and I sure as hell spoke up about then. And I always will.

No matter how tired I get of speaking out, I always will. I will go wherever someone sends for me. I will repeat myself endlessly, reviewing the facts and truth - trying to counter the myths and inaccuracies whenever I can. I'll do it because it's the right thing to do. It's a way I can continue to make a difference. And I'll do it because I promised you I would.

Because you continue to inspire me. To look at everyone as a person first. To get involved and make a difference. To appreciate the time I have with loved ones, as it is finite. Because my life is better having known you. You STILL give me wings.