Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Today in History...

If you think about the sheer volume of world history, any given date will have seen important moments. Today is no exception. I bopped on over to History.com and Todayinhistory.com to check out what had happened on the May 26ths of the past. Of course, I found some interesting tidbits:
  • 1805 - Louis and Clark see the Rockies for the first time
  • 1864 - Montana became a territory
  • 1896 - Wall Street Journal starts publishing the Dow Jones
  • 1897 - Dracula was published
  • 1977 - Star Wars opened
  • 1978 - The first casino in Atlantic City opened

Neat stuff, right? At least if you're a geek like me. Here are some that seemed important, ironic, or otherwise relevant today.

1937 - the Golden Gate bridge opened
How ironic that such an icon of California - San Francisco, even - should open on a date that saw something beautiful close there. On May 26, 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, denying marriage once again to loving couples. To citizens. I saw hope close in the hearts of many people. I admit, it was a difficult day for me too. As we research the 3 day waiting period for marriage licences in Massachusetts, I had toyed with the thought of a wedding on a beach in California. Say goodbye to my money, California. Licenses, hotels, cab rides, meals...and that's if we didn't do a reception with flowers, cake, cocktails, etc. Or take a day to see the sights. Also today, the New York State Comptroller released a report stating that if New York allowed gay marriage, they'd gain at least $210 million in revenue.

1994 - Michael Jackson marries Lisa Marie Presley
Yeah, that turned out well, didn't it? I'm tired of trying to explain what seems so simple and apparent to me. It's a civil contract, folks. It doesn't force a church to perform a ceremony. It says I'm committing to this person (in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, till death do us part) and they have the right to my stuff, to make medical decisions for me, and all the stuff that goes with a marriage. Because I love them. Why is this so scary? You can married without a church. Why can't we? Did you know there 1138 rights and privileges that come with a marriage license? That there are many we can't get through legal paperwork? That many of these protect our families, children, and assets when something goes wrong? That denying us that WHOLE list is not only separate and unequal, but that it puts kids at risk?

1938 - The House Committee on Unamerican Activities is formed
Such a symbol of the misuse of power and how paranoia can permeate our society so much that we deny basic due process and civil liberties to our citizens. The rights of the minority should never be put to a vote; it's a basic premise of democracy. Because of who I am, I am not allowed to do something most everyone else takes for granted. We can't put it any more simply. We once had laws stating that you couldn't marry someone with different color skin. In 1967 the courts ruled that Unconstitutional, though not on May 26th.

1989 - The Danish Parliament allows gay marriage
How's that for irony? Please note that Denmark has not collapsed, exploded, or slipped into moral depravity. Straight people still get married there too. The churches haven't been run out or burned down. Children are no more likely to be gay than before, and the crime rate hasn't spun out of control. So can we get over it, already? The doom and gloom is just propaganda. All that's happening now is that you're denying loving couples the same rights which you, Britney Spears, and every unfaithful or closeted politician have been flaunting while making a mockery of the institution I want so badly to enter.

I know that this, too, shall pass and that progress and momentum are on our side. So let's spend more time fighting for what should be a no-brainer because a fundie got their undies in a twist. We've got nothing better to do, like fix the economy, reduce unemployment, ensure everyone can see a doctor, fight diseases on a global scale, repair social security, end a war....get the point yet?

Here's the other thing that happened today: for a huge segment of the population, the fight is on. Remember how we mobilized in response to the AIDS epidemic? You ain't seen nothing yet. You have challenged our right to love, and straight or gay, that's a sure way to back a human being into a corner. And NOBODY puts Baby in the corner. We're not going away and we're not giving up. There were 106 rallies across the country today. I can't wait to see what we'll do next. Our hearts will not be denied and our voices will not be silenced. That would be Unamerican, and our love (and weddings) are worth fighting for.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On joy and fear

Yesterday afternoon was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. I spent most of the day in the usual way, slogging through paperwork and planning at work. The morning offered a ray of sunshine for me, as I got to leave the office and facilitate a SafeZone session with this year's Orientation leaders. They're a great group, and the session went very well...leaving me in a pretty good mood.

Late in the afternoon I decided it was time to check up on the search for Craig Arnold. Craig is a poet, professor at UW, and friend to many here in Laramie. He's been part of the Flock, connected with the GLBT community, and revived open mike poetry readings/slams. In other words, he's a sweetie with a big heart, an infectious smile, and a place in our hearts. He traveled to Japan to visit a volcano for a project he's been working on, and went missing on a hike. After 10 days of searching, the teams were called off. Things aren't looking great, as they found his footprints leading up to a step dropoff, but not back down.

I was emailing with him a few months back about sexual harassment training, and my hope of his safe return is dwindling in my heart. It made me think about his son, Robin, and the nights we all spent frolicking and cavorting at Mark and Tessa's old apartment and the original Flock Hall. It made me think about his partner, Rebecca, and what she must be going through right now. Terror instantly seized my heart: what if it were Jesse who was missing? How would I go on? Process it? Survive? I realized that my greatest fear has changed, and losing Jesse is now the worst thing I can imagine for myself. I suppose that's a true measure of love, as his life means more to me now than my own.

Still reeling from the weight of Craig's disappearance and the fears it brought up within me, I drove home and made an overdue phone call. Margaret and Coley had called recently to invite us to their wedding party here in Wyoming. They were in Boston when I called, and Coley beamed through the phone as she said "We're officially married now." They were married in Provincetown, and though I've only seen a couple of "unofficial" photos, it was absolutely perfect. They left for their honeymoon in Key West this morning. Naturally I gushed congratulations at them, and told them how much it means to me that two of the greatest hearts I know have found happiness in each other.

It made me think about my own wedding, and the love and commitment behind it. It was something like a familiar hug, wrapping me in warmth. It also brought me to another bout of tears, thinking again about Robin and Rebecca. About love and loss, about uncertainty and fear. I could almost feel my own heart aching with love for Jesse, and its vulnerability since giving him a piece of it. I couldn't dwell on that, though, as it was too much to bear, even in the hypothetical. But that's the nature of love, isn't it? Letting someone into our hearts can brighten the darkest recesses of our soul, but also opens us to pain and suffering if something goes wrong.

Today's lesson: We all have a choice. We can give into the fear and remain closed off and remote. We can let our fear of losing someone paralyze us, spiral us into depression, or pull back into ourselves. Or we can use that fear to help us protect one another, cherish one another, and remind us how much those we care about really mean to one another. We can use it to make the most of every moment we have together, sharing in a joy that some ignore or take for granted. Don't give into the fear, friends...use it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fear Part II: Nothing to Report

I remember the first time I was aware that I was acting like a news junkie. On 9/11, I was glued to the news just like everyone else at work. Since we didn't have TV's at work, those with radios tuned in to various frequencies and everyone else bounced from news or network website to another. When new information was released someone would shout it down the hall, or IM updates from office to office. Pooling our resources allowed us to create an instant update network with those at work, our friends and family around the country, etc. It meant that we could access information collectively, and that made us feel better in the wake of fear and destruction.

I'm sure I'd scoured for news in this fashion before, but it was the first time I was actively conscious of the fact. Since then, I think our whole society has made this action permanent; we've institutionalized the need for instant news, even if it's no real news at all. When I was younger, something incredibly important had to be going on for the news to break into our regularly scheduled programming: an assassination attempt, an earthquake with serious casualties, etc. The news anchor would use their most serious and concerned voice as they gave us the details. They told us who had died, how many might be homeless, what the damage estimates were, and how to check on loved ones or where to contact folks about relief efforts. They waited until they had some information so they didn't waste our time...or cause needless panic.

These days we can't just watch the news and listen to the nice anchor-folk tell us about what's going on. We have to add news crawls at the bottom of the screen, giving us every trivial fact possible about the topic at hand, or recapping what was just said. We get endless updates about inane details of Britney or Lindsay's lives and news break-ins about the latest house fire in Southern California...just in case it turns into the next great SoCal wildfire. We watch an airport tarmac, waiting for the arrival of the President because somewhere along the line, we developed not only the right to know everything about everyone instantly, but the need. And we can only hear news from pretty people. It seems every network is racing to find a buxom beauty to draw us in while reading from a teleprompter. Does anyone else remember when anchors were chosen because they seemed trustworthy, intelligent, and approachable?

I'm certainly not the only one to point out this sort of insanity; Jon Stewart often has a clip montage that shows every major network anchor spinning their wheels to speculate as to what might be happening or what might have caused the latest...fill in the blank. They dust off the nearest expert and interrogate them about every possibility, no matter how remote or premature it might be. They have to fill time, you know, because sooner or later they will get information, and want to be the first to report it. Why wait until you have something to report before you start guessing about all the things that could be going on.

The favorite speculation game is connected to fear. Weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks, economic crisis, swine flu...they give us something to worry about, and these days the news is designed to deliver that fear right into your home and life. During a recent White House press conference, a reporter asked about the possibility that swine flu had been engineered or released as part of a bio-terrorism plot. With a wry smirk, the talking head behind the mike made it clear that, no, there was no evidence whatsoever to even suggest that. Naturally, they continued that line of questioning. I'm sure some network pumped it up with a segment that night that said "but what would it look like if they did?"

Make no mistake, it must also be completely instant. I was talking with a photographer from a Denver paper last year, who explained that he'd been asked by his editor to cover a funeral from the inside...via Twitter. He was asked to post messages during the service, "you know, if the minister says something that makes the family or someone important break out in tears or something." He politely refused, though it nearly cost him his job. He decided it was too much - too tacky during someone's time of grief to be focused on getting the scoop. Besides...who really needs that much information from a funeral. Last time I checked, funerals weren't intended to be entertainment...or a spectator sport.

So what's the harm, you ask? I'm proud to say that when news of the swine flu (aka piggy sniffles) broke, terrorism is something that never crossed my mind. I'm sure the Shrub would argue this means I'm not a good 'Merican, but so be it. Rather than talking about ways to protect yourself from any infectious disease, let's spend some quality worrying time. We probably also wouldn't want to spend time talking about overpopulation or poverty, both of which are actually impacting the current pandemic. Or access to quality healthcare and medication for everyone. Or how what happens in another country to another group of people can impact our daily lives, so we might want to revisit this whole globalization discussion (with a President who has two brain cells together to rub together and form a synapse). I don't view a funeral as a good time, and don't feel the need to obsess over every attendee or word said at a funeral that wasn't important enough for me to attend.

Today's lesson: Pay attention to what the news tells you. Is it actually information, or just speculation? What are they not telling you, and how does it connect to your life? As mentioned in response to my previous post, critical thinking can go a long way. And take a breath, people. The latest story might actually be more interesting to you when they actually have information worth hearing. Perhaps if more of us waited until there are facts before we demand an instant update, we wouldn't go in search of WMD's that might be in someone else's country because the anchor (or VP) thinks they're good at speculating a compelling story at us.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Marketing fear

One of the legacies of 8 years of a Bush administration has been a focus on fear. Every morning the news tells us what color our level of fear should be today. We're taught that we're under constant threat, though they usually can't tell us where, how, or when. We're supposed to be afraid at airports, and to go one step further by pointing out anything supsicious to the nearest TSA agent. To some extent, I understand this, as no security force can watch everyone at all times. Nor would the average citizen want that, as many of us value our privacy and independence just as highly as security. On the other hand, that same mentality has been used before with horrific results.

The Nazis told German citizens to watch their neighbors, keeping an eye out for collaborators or sympathizers. During the Red Scare, Americans were told the same: to keep an eye out for signs your friend or coworker was in league with the evil communist enemies. In both cases, even the allegation was enough to land someone in the hot seat, prison, or worse. We rounded up 110,000 US citizens and placed them in our own version of concentration camps, all because they had Japanese ancestry and were related to the wrong people.

So what got me focused on all this fear mongering, you ask? Well, it's not a new idea to me, but it was driven home over the weekend. We were watching a commerical for the EcoCanteen, which is essentially a metal water bottle. There are certainly some good reasons for such a product - less waste collecting in landfills, lower cost since you're not paying for packaging, etc. The other primary point in the ad is that plastic water bottles release toxins which can be harmful to the drinker.

But mentioning that isn't enough. The ad shows a mom packing lunch for her kids, and then reiterates that toxins are present. The message seems clear: if you don't buy this product for your children, you're a bad parent. You're poisoning your children, you idiot! It then goes one step further...showing an emergency room in the beckground of the ad. Now I don't know about you, but I haven't heard much on the news about hoards of folks being rushed into the ER for water bottle toxicity.

At what point does drinking water become akin to playing russian roulette? And more importantly, when did it become okay to terrify people into buying something? Most of my friends joked about buying generators for Y2K. Most also laughed when the news reported that sales of gas masks, duct tape, and plastic sheeting were skyrocketing. In the end, this isn't that much different. "There's something horrible out there, and only our product can save you. Be afraid!"

To me, it seems there ought to be a law about such things. Truth in advertising. Public interest. Causing a panic. You know, stuff like that whole "yelling fire in a crowded theater." Fear has become a cornerstone of our American lives. The economy, nukes in Iran or North Korea, swine flu...the list goes on and on. Personally, I spent too many years living in fear while in the closet, and I'm not inclined to spend more years doing the same because of something else - especially plastic water bottles.

Today's lesson: Pay careful attention the messages being blasted at you, whether from an ad, a reporter, a friend, or family member. What's at the core, and what strategy are they using to win you over? Think for yourself, and don't give in to fear, extortion, etc.

Friday, May 08, 2009


Sometimes chapters begin, and sometimes they end. This time of year is always bitter sweet for those who work on at a college or university. My life has been no exception of late, and I've been through many chapters, with still more on the horizon.

Today is the end of a long, hard semester. We've been running at full steam since January, and I'm really looking forward to a couple of months without night classes, committee meetings, and study groups. Jesse and I will be able to spend a bit more time together, something we've been needing and wanting. We're hoping to spend some time relaxing, whether it's camping at his family's cabin, lounging by a lake, or cutting loose at Pride.

Today is the end of my first academic semester in the new job. Last summer was pretty quiet, and we certainly don't have the number of trainings and such as we do during the school year. This year, however, we're making some changes to different committees and gearing up to break into partnerships with four HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). We're going to hit the ground running, and you can be certain that this summer won't be slow or dull. I'm not sure I'm looking forward to more ground-breaking work without a little down time, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

This time of year always means friends leaving, and is my least favorite part of graduation season. Most of the remaining denizens of Flock Hall 2.0 are bound for DC, and I'm going to miss the girls. Nobody cooks quite like Tessa, and we've shared many a bottle of wine together while whipping up something in the kitchen. Zach and Whitney will be here over the summer, thanks to their impending wedding, but then they're off to Africa to do HIV prevention and education.

Yardwork season is also starting. My hay fever HATES this time of year, and it often gives me flashbacks to my years working as summer help for my high school or working on the golf course back home. Kind of like weed eater/lawn mower/concrete pouring PTSD. That said, I'm looking forward to spending some time outside again, and Jesse is giddy about working on the yard. He's already got a jump start, and this weekend we're doing more...including planting flower seeds and veggies in the newly tilled beds out back. If nothing else, there will be more BBQ's and hot tubbing going on with friends, which is always a good thing.

One way or another, many things are starting, while still others end. It's all just another chapter in the stories of our lives. Before I move on to today's lesson, I have a request. Drop me a quick note on my comments, MySpace, or email. Let me know how the chapters in YOUR life are going, and how you're doing. It's a simple thing, but would mean a lot to me before everyone scatters to their own summer adventures. And now, without further ado...

Today's lesson:
Beginnings aren't always good, and endings aren't always bad - life is much more complicated than that. The most important thing we can do is keep turning the pages, one after another. You just have to see how this one ends!