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a Valentine’s Day poem for Ruth Coker Burks

 

Flowers photographed

And posted on Instagram;

A selfie with

Heart-shaped hands.

 

Write love on your arms

To remember. She

Buried the young men,

Skeletons of their former

lives with love and sex

 

Dinner parties and

Dancing parades-

When their families

Would not face

 

Who the boys they’d

Raised were. She was

More than a marble

Spectre in Arkansas.

 

No real nurse’s training,

Just what she’d watched

From a vinyl, hospital

Chair. But she knew

 

How to take that

And mop a forehead

Or change a bed pan.

 

How to use her own

Savings at the crematorium

And to find cracked cookie jars.

How to transform a plot bought

 

Out of spite

Into the grave for 43

Dead men, abandoned

 

by judgement and health.

 

If you are paying attention to such matters on social media, you may have noticed that LGBT activists are currently calling for boycotts against  significant events and policies due to the anti-LGBT practices and activism of these groups. Some are not spending their money at Target, because the department store has once again donated a large sum of money to a PAC supporting an anti-gay candidate. (Target in Hot Water Again) Many individuals and businesses, including my favorite LGBT night club The 313, are boycotting Russian vodka, while others are calling for companies to boycott the upcoming Russian Olympics due to the country’s new anti-LGBT laws.( Russia Vodka Boycott )But none of these boycotts are as controversial to my many geek friends as the anticipated boycott of the upcoming film release of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game due to the author’s long-standing and outspoken views against equality.

Although, I am stating upfront that I fully intend to participate in this boycott, this blog post will not advocate for a position on that issue.

(For a nicely stated argument for the boycott visit this op-ed piece from The Advocate Why I Plan to Skip Ender’s Game My friend Gary Nilsen also does a great  job discussing his dilemma about the issue as both a fan of the book and an advocate for equal rights in his blog post Ender’s Game: the Debate )

Instead, I’d like to address the latest ploy of the anti-LGBT side, usually led by conservative Christians and being echoed as one response to those boycotting the film. I call this the “you’re being intolerant of my intolerance and I don’t like it” defense. Basically, conservative Christians are claiming that they are being bullied, that their religious freedom is being compromised and that they are the victims of  the very intolerance of which they are being accused.  Visit any of the webpages for groups against equal rights like “Focus on the Family” or the “National Organization for Marriage,” and you’ll see claims of how they are being treated unfairly due to their views.

Even the Vatican is making such statements: “Intolerance in the name of ‘tolerance’ must be named for what it is and publicly condemned. To deny religiously informed moral argument a place in the public square is intolerant and anti-democratic.” Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/27intolerance_in_the_name_of_tolerance_should_be_condemned/en1-696018 of the Vatican Radio website.

This is a ridiculous argument. LGBT persons, although making great strides with the recent Supreme Court rulings against DOMA and Proposition 8, have yet to reach full legal equality in our country. It is a fight that continues to go on. Boycott is a powerful tool in this battle. And in spite of these recent wins, on the side of privilege and oppression, no one can deny that in modern times Christians are a privileged group in the United States and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people are not.

What many Christians who feel restricted when expressing their views against homosexuality are experiencing is not “bullying” or “intolerance.” It is merely a loss of the privilege to do so. When they express these views it is not without consequence. There are victims at the other end of their beliefs.

Two years ago while attending workshops sponsored by The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network at Camp GLSEN, I participated in the most uncomfortable yet revealing racial experience of my life. Among classes designed to help educators make schools across the country safe and welcoming to LGBT students, was one entitled simply, “Anti-oppression Workshop.” This workshop, created and facilitated by GLSEN’s Kiwi Grady, was designed to examine areas of human categorizing in which discrepancies of privilege and oppression occur; race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and age are examples of this.

For one activity during this workshop persons of color were invited to stay in the main meeting room while the white folks were asked to move across the hallway where we were instructed to discuss what white privilege has meant to us.

What? I thought.

I’d never been asked to voluntarily segregate based on race before. And, to be honest, it seemed racist to discuss my white privilege. I couldn’t see where the activity was going. But even with my internal resistance I participated, and received a humbling and enlightening lesson.

When we experience privilege in our society, especially when it is based on a characteristic we have possessed since birth, we do not necessarily understand that we have it. It’s like air. Always there, making life comfortable to us until someone or something threatens to make it disappear. I’ve always been white and I can never truly understand what it’s like not to be so.

Conversely, I’ve always been female, hence I do not know what it’s like to have male privilege, but all I have to do is look at the sex of the majority of people in power or think back on some of my own exposure as a victim of sexism to recognize that male privilege exists.

The idea of privilege and oppression has been marinating in my mind ever since. And it’s an idea that makes what is happening with those opposed to marriage equality or to letting gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly in the military make sense.

They are feeling something they have never felt before. Some of the advantage they have enjoyed is slipping from them as people have become more educated about the realities of homosexuality. Many are evolving in their thinking. Evolved thinking is leading to policies and laws that are making life better for our LGBT citizens. It is also making many less tolerant of bigoted views.

These new ideas, policies and laws are not at the same time, however, making life more difficult for anyone else. And there is the difference. The pressure of a boycott to advocate for changes that will help many and harm none, is not the same thing as using archaic religious beliefs to deny ten percent of our population the same basic rights to life, liberty and happiness that the other ninety percent enjoy. It is not the same as causing LGBT students to feel so worried for their well-being that they choose to drop out of school rather than face another day of bullying from their peers and sometimes even teachers. It is not the same as a war veteran’s wife being left behind without the same widow’s benefits that other widows receive, because her marriage is not recognized by the federal government. It is not the same as having your marital status change when you cross state lines from a state that recognizes it into one that does not.

In a recent statement,  Orson Scott Card admited that equality is winning when he said in response to the controversy surrounding his views, “With the recent supreme court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The full faith and credit clause of the constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state. Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Is that like saying “I can be intolerant of you, but you can’t be intolerant of me?” I don’t think he has much to worry about, though. Once equality is achieved and he’s left behind on the wrong side of history, he won’t be impeding progress anymore. The faster this progress is made, the less likely boycotts of his sequels will be.  And we geek advocates will be relieved about that.

I was a naive girl. I grew up on military bases from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to Fort Dix, New Jersey, which may have been some of the most racially egalitarian places in the country. Military bases often are. My neighborhood was diverse, but at the time I didn’t recognize that. Kids were kids. We all played together, went to each others birthday parties, snuck kisses behind trees, never paying attention to the color of each others skin.

Our neighborhoods were divided by military rank, so our dads were all Green Berets, or Drill Sergeants, or Rangers. We didn’t care much about that either.

I remember first learning about the United States’ history of intolerance in school: slavery, civil rights and racism. I thought how terrible things were back then. I believed that I lived in a time when people were equal. That racism was a thing of the past. I, of course, was wrong.

Although in the last week our country made strides towards equality with the Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, it also backslid as well. Reminders of just how much racism is alive and well littered our television screens and social media. The SCOTUS decision striking down key aspects of the Voting Rights Act, reactions to the Paula Deen scandal, the George Zimmerman trial and its launching of social media vitriol against witness Rachel Jenteal are all evidence that this country is not sure about its position on just what makes something “racist” and if what to if something is deemed so.

I recently posted a Facebook status questioning the motivation of a woman in my small, New Hampshire town wildly flying a large confederate flag from the back of her pick-up truck. The responses I got clearly reflected an ambiguity about what makes something “racist.” A distinct dichotomy was present in the responses of my friends, who saw the flag as either a symbol of racial intolerance or as a symbol of southern pride.

As an American, I believe in freedom of expression. I would never take away another citizen’s right to display the confederate flag on his personal property or self. However, a person who makes the lifestyle choice to display that symbol must accept the fact that to thousands of other human beings it is an offensive one – even to other white Southerners. I know, because I’ve discussed it with some of them.

Even if the intentions of those displaying the flag are not overtly racist, the displayer must understand that to many the flag is a painful reminder of a time when the systematic oppression of others simply due to the color of their skin was an acceptable part of sustaining a good economy.  And no amount of revisionist history attempting to edit out the significance of slavery as one of the root causes of the Civil War is going to change that.

People like Paula Deen and George Zimmerman may have been raised in times or places where racism was just part of what the adults around them passed on, but they currently live in 2013. A time when they should know better.

For years church groups have attempted to send young gay people to “straight camps” to try and work the gay out of them. These have been failures, as being gay is a natural part of a human being, not a lifestyle choice as many believed. Fortunately, this practice is fast becoming a thing of the past as evidenced by the recent apology by Exodus International and the organization’s announcement that it will be shutting down its “pray away the gay” ministries.

Perhaps anti-racism camps could take the place of closing straight camps.  Unlike being gay, being racist is a trait that is learned, a lifestyle choice, and, therefore, can be cured. This somewhat naive girl still believes that.