Following the most recent gay teen suicides, there has been a great deal of publicity about bullying and violence against gay, lesbian and the transgender teens.  It is sad that it took the deaths of these young people to finally get people to focus on the tragedy of teen suicide and the problem of hate crimes against the LGBT community.  But, a larger point is being missed.

It is easy for people to be outraged by the actions of Tyler Clementi’s roommate, or by a Congressional aid posting “All faggots must die” on a popular LGBT blog.  However, these outrageous acts of hatred did not occur in a vacuum.  They were fueled by the more insidious acceptance of institutionalized bigotry by political leaders, religious leaders and the public at large and by legalized discrimination existing in laws such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (“DADT”), and anti-gay marriage laws such as the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) and Prop 8.

Anti-gay bullying doesn’t start in a school or on a playground, it starts in a pulpit – when a religious leader such as Pope Benedict describes gays as “intrinsically disordered” and refuses to support a UN ban on criminalization of homosexuality.   Or, when the Catholic Church states that same gender marriages will cause the “downfall of civilization.”  Or, when Pastor Rick Warren compares gay and lesbian relationships to incest and is then invited to speak at a presidential inauguration.  Hatred starts when a US Senator says gays and lesbians should not be allowed to teach.  Or, when a state makes it illegal for us to adopt a child.  Or, when a hospital will let someone die alone while her partner is kept out because they are not in “a gay friendly state.”

The anti-gay message from these individuals and organizations is damaging enough, but it is no more damaging than the President failing to end legalized discrimination and prejudice such as DADT and failing to support our constitutional right to equal protection under the law in the form of marriage equality.

We can shake our fists all we want about bullying and these terrible suicides, but we cannot ignore the underlying institutional discrimination that supports and encourages them.  The message is out there every single day – you are not equal, you are less.  If priests and pastors and presidents can bully and mistreat you, so can your peers.  And worse, your parents and your family and your friends will continue to attend those churches, and support those pastors and pundits and candidates as if it does not matter to them at all.

In this environment, when one can turn on CNN or Fox News and hear all the gay bashing you want disguised as “pro-family” or “protection of traditional marriage”, how can we expect the bullying and suicides to end.  The homophobia and anti-gay bullying and bigotry will not end until the public at large, including our “friends” stop supporting it in all of its forms.  Silence kills.

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     Can one really be a patriot and ignore – no, derogate – the First Amendment.  In all of the pseudo flag waving opposition to the Islamic cultural center which may someday be built two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, almost no one mentions the Constitution.  So I wonder, do most Americans even know what is written in the Constitution and the bill of rights?  Do they even teach about the constitution in schools anymore?  Because, the First Amendment does exist – and it states that there shall be, “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

     In fact the First Amendment was designed and written to keep government out of the religion business.  It’s a little something nostalgically referred to as “separation of church and state” – although there are some ignorant right wing zealots that swear it does not exist.  But, the fact is that religious tolerance has been a cornerstone of American democracy since its earliest days.

     Yale professor, David Bromwich, recently wrote an article which reported this historical exchange:

“As to religion,” wrote Thomas Paine in Common Sense, “I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.” But did Paine and others mean to extend such toleration to Muslims? They did, and they said they did. The question was openly debated whether religious liberty ought to be extended to such outliers as Catholics, Muslims and Jews.  In the debate on the Constitution, for example, in the North Carolina convention, on July 30, 1788, Henry Abbot wondered if there were not considerable danger in granting a federal government the power to make treaties. Could not a treaty be made “engaging with foreign powers to adopt the Roman catholic religion in the United States, which would prevent people from worshiping God according to their own consciences.”

A conclusive reply to Abbot was given by James Iredell:

     “How is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for? This is the foundation on which persecution has been raised in every part of the world. The people in power were always in the right, and every body else wrong.  If you admit the least difference, the door to persecution is opened.”

* * *

                How then can any American, or anyone who believes in freedom and liberty, walk away from these ideals? We cannot pick and choose when we will adhere to the Constitution.  It must be all or nothing.  Either we are all free, or none of us are.  Otherwise the Constitution is meaningless.  No Islamic center near “ground zero.”  What is next?  What about those child abusing Catholic priests – should we not permit any Catholic churches anywhere near a school or playground?  It is a dangerous and slippery slope, indeed.

                 A definition of “patriot” is, “a proud supporter or defender of his or her country and its way of life.”  So who are the real patriots then?  Are they those who wave the flag in hollow tribute to abandoned liberties and ideals?  I think not.  The true patriots are those who will stand against ignorance and intolerance of any kind, to uphold and defend the Constitution, even when such ideals are politically and socially unpopular.

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Are we sheep?  To be preyed upon and abused without fighting back.  Today it feels like we are sheep.  I started this blog one year ago after that crushing defeat in California.  While others celebrated the great new direction, I felt left out and angry.  There was no new direction for me.  It was the same old story.  The LGBT community supports candidates, like Barack Obama, who pay lip service to our equality, but always with a caveat.   Sure you should have equal rights, but marriage? – oh no we don’t believe in that.  You want to be in the military? – you’ll have to wait.  Prop. 8? – you didn’t work hard enough or raise enough money.  So, here we are a year later and what has changed?   Nothing.  And don’t even talk to me about the Matthew Shepard Act because I am not congratulating anyone for passing a law that promises to prosecute someone who kills me because I am gay.  Really?  Thanks a lot.

From what I can make of it, the strategy of our LGBT leaders is this:  If we are really nice to people, once they get to know us, they will have no choice but to give us equal rights.  Oh how silly it will all seem – if we had only known you better – we would have allowed you to get married and to protect your families – it was all just a big misunderstanding (break into a rousing verse of “Getting to Know You”). 

I am no expert, but I do not believe the strategy is working.  We are being used by politicians and victimized by the electorate and it has to stop.  A new strategy is in order.  We must not be sheep.  We must fight back.  Just like Gandhi and Martin Luther King we must make sure that everyone knows that we will no longer be pushed around.

First, we must stop contributing to and voting for politicians who do not believe we are entitled to full equality, even if it means not voting at all.  We need to get out of this abusive relationship with the Democratic Party.  Yes, in the short run this will help Republicans and hurt Democrats.  But, if the Democrats are too stupid to figure it out, do we really want to vote for them?  What have we got to lose?  From now on I will not contribute to, or vote for any candidate, including a president, who does not believe in my full and fair equality.  I will not vote for anyone who treats me like a second class citizen.  When I think of the president being applauded for his speech to the Human Rights Campaign and then remaining silent on the Maine ballot issue, it makes me sick.  We were taken.  Again.

Second, this “if they only get to know us” strategy is naive, demoralizing and a complete failure.  Moreover, it ignores the history of successful struggles for equality.  Gandhi didn’t care if the British liked him.  The Southern Leadership Conference didn’t care about getting to know the racist enforcers of “Jim Crow” laws.  They fought inequality with civil disobedience and boycotts and marches and sacrifice.  They fought.  We need a new strategy.  We need to fight. 

Times are hard and Maine is “vacationland.”  I am cancelling my annual trip there next July and I am going to tell them why.   We need to boycott Maine and we need to make sure our friends and families boycott as well.  From now on I will not vacation in Maine, nor will I purchase products from Maine (yes, lobsters too).  Maybe I’ll be alone in this.  Maybe no one will care.  But imagine if it caught on.  Imagine if all the LGBT people and all their friends and families spent their money elsewhere.  Imagine if there were ads saying thanks but no thanks to Maine.  Imagine the power and the impact our collective action could have.  We need to stop caring if people like us and make sure that they respect us.  We need to prove that we will not stand for this continued abuse.  We will not take it anymore.  We are not sheep.

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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and Pastor Rick Warren

                 President-elect Barack Obama has chosen two ministers to lead prayers during his inauguration.  Protestant evangelical pastor Rick Warren will deliver the opening prayer or invocation.  Civil rights leader and Methodist minister Joseph E. Lowery will deliver the benediction.  We have heard a great deal over the past few days about Pastor Rick Warren because of the reaction of the LGBT community to Obama’s choice of the anti-equality right wing preacher.  We haven’t heard as much about Rev. Lowery, the legendary civil rights leader.  I thought it would be interesting to compare their stories and their views.  The contrast is striking not only for their different views regarding the LGBT community but in their different views of Christianity and human rights.

                Joseph E. Lowery was born on October 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama. He attended Knoxville College, Payne College and Theological Seminary, and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. Lowery earned his doctorate of divinity. In 1950 he married Evelyn Gibson, a civil rights activist and leader in her own right.  After graduating from seminary in 1950, he was ordained as a Methodist minister and received his first assignment in Mobile, Alabama.  After Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955, Lowery helped lead the famed Montgomery bus boycott.  Inspired by Montgomery, Lowery followed up by leading a successful drive against the segregated bus system in Mobile.  Hoping to build upon these victories, Lowery and other black southern ministers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the openly gay Bayard Rustin, met in Atlanta at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, to form an organization that would provide leadership and structure for the civil rights movement.  The organization founded by Dr. Lowery, Dr. King, Rustin and others was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Lowery would eventually lead as its president from 1977 to 1997. 

                Dr. Lowery is referred to as the “dean of the civil rights movement.”  In 1959 Dr. Lowery’s property and that of several other civil rights leaders, was seized by the State of Alabama as part of a libel suit. Though innocent, the four ministers were found guilty by an all white jury and ordered to pay $3 million in damages.  As a result of the judgment, much of Lowery’s personal property was seized even though the ruling was reversed four years later by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Like many other civil rights activists Lowery was subjected to violence and imprisonment. In 1965, Lowery played a key role in the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Dr. King named Rev. Lowery chairman of the delegation that would deliver the protesters’ demands to the segregationist Governor of Alabama, George Wallace.  Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety and warned that he would take all measures necessary to prevent it.  State troopers and Sheriff’s Department officers, some mounted on horseback, awaited the marchers. In full view of the news media, the lawmen brazenly attacked and beat the peaceful demonstrators with clubs, bull whips and tear gas.  Televised images of the brutal attack and images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured roused public support.  What came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” focused the nation’s attention on the extreme measures used to prevent black citizens from exercising their constitutional right to vote, leading Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Thirty years later, in 1995, George Wallace apologized to Dr. Lowery, as Lowery led the 30th Anniversary reenactment of the march.

                After the assassination of Dr. King, Rev. Lowery moved to Atlanta.  Lowery expanded his agenda to encompass the fight against poverty and violence and to work to end apartheid in South Africa.  Dr. Lowery was among the first five African Americans to get arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C. during the Free South Africa movement.  He co-chaired Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to Atlanta.  As a leader of an organization called the Coalition to Change the Georgia Flag, he played a crucial role in efforts to modify the design of Georgia’s state flag, which had prominently featured the Confederate battle flag.  Although that crusade encountered bitter opposition, the supporters of change eventually prevailed. In 2001 Clark Atlanta University established the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights.  He is still involved in the battle for equality for all people.

                Lowery does not shy away from controversy.  At the funeral of Rosa Parks in 2005 he said: We know where the weapons of mass destruction are. They are not in Iraq. They’re in Detroit and Chicago and Atlanta and Montgomery. That’s where the weapons of mass destruction are.  50 million people in this country with no health insurance. That’s a weapon of mass destruction. Minimum wage is a weapon of mass destruction.

                In 2006, at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, Dr. Lowery received a standing ovation when he remarked, before four U.S. Presidents including George W. Bush:  “We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here.  Millions without health insurance.  Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor.”

                Reverend Lowery is also a strong and eloquent supporter of LGBT civil rights and marriage equality.  Affirmation, as newsletter for United Methodists with “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns” stated this about Lowery: 

Noted over the years for his ability to not only “talk the talk” but “walk the walk,” Lowery addressed a series of justice issues that still challenge us in this first year of the 21st century. Among these issues are … the risk the church takes when it restricts, limits and excludes those whose orientation is homosexual. Dr. Lowery wondered out loud, “how could the church, because of a person’s sexual orientation, deny ministry to those whom God has called?” He suggested that he would prefer to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion.

                In 2004, Dr. Lowery explained his support of marriage equality to ABC News:  “When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that’s a civil rights issue. And I can’t take that away from anybody.” (ABC News, 03/13/04).  Rev. Lowery has recently stated that he is in favor of civil unions and has some discomfort with the use of the word “marriage.”  Nevertheless the 87 year old Lowery has stated that he is in favor of full equal rights for LGBT couples.

                Dr. Lowery was the keynote speaker at University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s 21st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on January 17, 2007.  In a packed ballroom, Rev. Lowery told the story of an African-American, Washington, DC pastor who led his congregation down what Lowery saw as a path of divisiveness, preaching in favor of a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.  Rev. Lowery spoke about respect for all people and how that played into civil and human rights as a whole.  He said that if you are one who says, “I believe in human rights for all people, except for…” then you really don’t believe in human rights or equality at all.  He said no matter what race, color, religion, creed, sex, gender, or sexual orientation… we are all deserving of human rights, civil rights and equality.

                As he marched for civil rights in the 1960’s alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Lowery said, he prayed the country would one day elect a black president, “but I never thought I’d live to see it.”  Rev. Lowery hopes Obama can unite a country divided over war and embroiled in a recession.  “He’s been touched by the hand of God to lead this nation and, indeed, lead the world through leading this nation to an era of peace and abundant life,” Lowery said. As for the benediction, Lowery said, “I’m honored and overjoyed, [I’m] looking forward to it with great anticipation.”

                Rev. Lowery will be joined at that inauguration by Pastor Rick Warren who was asked to give the invocation.  Warren was born in San Jose, California, in 1954.  He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from California Baptist University in Riverside, his Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1979) in Fort Worth, Texas, and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

                According to Warren, his call to full-time ministry came as a 19-year-old student at California Baptist when, in November 1973, he and a friend skipped out on classes and drove 350 miles to hear W. A. Criswell.  Afterward, Warren stood in line to shake hands with Criswell.  “When my turn finally arrived,” said Warren, “something unexpected happened. Criswell looked at me with kind, loving eyes and said, quite emphatically, ‘Young man, I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you!’ He placed his hands on my head and prayed: ‘Father, I ask that you give this young preacher a double portion of your Spirit. May the church he pastors grow to twice the size of the Dallas church. Bless him greatly, O Lord.’”

                Warren is the founder and pastor of the Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, California.  Warren held Saddleback’s first public service on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1980, with 200 people in attendance.  Pastor Warren, a charismatic Southern Baptist, went door–to-door to survey the people in the area surrounding his new church.  He found that the region’s younger population did not connect with their parents’ churches. He believed that they were looking for a more welcoming, less formal approach.  Pastor Warren preaches in casual clothing, in a theater-style auditorium with no pews and no traditional hymns.  The congregation listens to contemporary music often performed by a live band.  His positive message sermons are focused on real life social issues and the personal problems faced by his congregation.  Warren’s goal is to draw people in – to give the people what they want.  The church provides a social support structure.  Members are urged to meet during the week in small organized groups of people with common interests and life experiences.  Members are encouraged to bring non-members to these meetings and to services, but only those who pledge obedience can be members of the church:  “Members are expected to abide by the lifestyle guidelines of our membership covenant.  Those who engage in immoral activities are subject to church discipline.”  Saddleback has grown to 20,000 congregants and is located on a 125 acre campus style facility.

                Through Pastor Warren’s Internet marketing, tens of thousands of subscribing pastors around the world have learned about his church, follow his “marketing” techniques and preach his sermons.  In the past decade, many pastors have worked to replicate his methods, creating new churches and transforming existing ones into “purpose driven” churches to increase membership. 

                Pastor Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life” is one of the best-selling books in the world, with more than 30 million copies sold.  The book is a 40 chapter/40 day plan to find the purpose of your life by becoming more obedient to god.  Through his books and internet marketing, Pastor Warren has developed a huge national and international following.  He and his wife, Kay, decided to reverse tithe, giving away ninety per cent of the tens of millions of dollars they have earned.  They have purportedly met with members of the gay community to talk about fighting AIDS.  Warren has made repeated trips to Africa and has sent out volunteers to forty-seven countries.  Pastor Warren’s five-point plan for global action, the P.E.A.C.E. plan, calls for church-led efforts to tackle global poverty and disease, including the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to support literacy and education efforts around the world.

                The plan is to use the international network Pastor Warren has created to expand the purpose-driven life around the world to tackle social problems.  “There is only one thing big enough to handle the world’s problems, and that is the millions and millions of churches spread out around the world,” he says. “I can take you to thousands of villages where they don’t have a school. They don’t have a grocery store, don’t have a fire department. But they have a church. They have a pastor. They have volunteers. The problem today is distribution. In the tsunami, millions of dollars of foodstuffs piled up on the shores and people couldn’t get it into the places that needed it, because they didn’t have a network. Well, the biggest distribution network in the world is local churches. There are millions of them, far more than all the franchises in the world. Put together, they could be a force for good.”

                 Warren believes that his AIDS relief efforts represent an elevated form of Christianity over those non-evangelical do-gooders whom he compares to “Marxists” because they’re more interested in good works than salvation.  According to Warren, churches have a moral obligation to promote abstinence and faithfulness as the only healthy behavior.  Warren’s prevention approach to HIV/AIDS has been criticized by some.  Michelle Goldberg and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington have disclosed some insights into Rick Warren’s much-vaunted international work. Goldberg has written a new book The Means of Reproduction, about the impact of religious fundamentalism on reproductive freedom worldwide.  She reveals some of the impact of Warren himself from her reporting in Uganda:

When it comes to his public persona, Warren is something of a magician. He has convinced much of the media and many influential Democrats that he represents a new, more centrist breed of evangelical with a broader agenda than the old religious right. This is, in many ways, deceptive. Yes, Warren has done a lot of work on AIDS in Africa, but he supports the same types of destructive, abstinence-only policies as the Bush administration. One of his protegés, Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, has been a major force in moving that country away from its lifesaving safer-sex programs. He’s been known to burn condoms at Makerere University, the prestigious school in Uganda’s capital, and in his Pentecostal services, marked by much sobbing and speaking in tongues, he offers the promise of faith healing to his desperate congregants, a particularly cruel ruse in a country ravaged by HIV.

And the Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Eighth Bishop of Washington, has this to say about Warren:

Mr. Warren has been rightly praised for his efforts to deepen the engagement of evangelical Christians with impoverished Africans. He has been justifiably lauded for putting the AIDS epidemic and global warming on the political agenda of the Christian right. Yet extravagant compassion toward some of God’s people does not justify the repression of others. Jesus came to save all of humankind, and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, “All means all.” But rather than embrace the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu, Mr. Warren has allied himself with men such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda who seek to “purify” the Anglican Communion, of which my Church is a member, by driving out gay and lesbian Christians and their supporters.

                Unlike Rev. Lowery, Pastor Warren does not believe in human rights “for all.”  When he was in Uganda, addressing the anti-gay “Christians” opposed to universal human rights, Warren stated that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. “We shall not tolerate this aspect at all.”  Warren’s comment was made while he was speaking in support of Ssempa, the Ugandan evangelist who supports criminalization of homosexuality and identifies gays and lesbians as sex abusers. 

                Saddleback church expressly excludes homosexuals from its membership.  Warren is a supporter of the ex-gay movement that tries to cure people of their homosexuality.  Saddleback has a 12-step style program called Celebrate Recovery.  There are subgroups in the program that cater to people with “addictions”.  There is reportedly a group for those who struggle with “same sex attraction”.  Supposedly, once a homosexual is “cured” and rejects same gender attraction to become obedient to God, they can become a member of the church.

                Pastor Warren believes that opposition to gay marriage is a “humanitarian issue” because “God created marriage for the purpose of family, love and procreation.”  Warren claims that he’s not homophobic and that he has “gay friends”; but he believes that marriage equality for gays and lesbians is equivalent to an adult marrying a child, a brother marrying his sister, or polygamy.  Warren was a leader in the effort to pass Prop 8 in California.  In October he implored his followers to vote for Proposition 8 because “there are about 2 percent of Americans are homosexual, gay, lesbian people. We should not let 2 percent of the population…change a definition of marriage that has been supported by every single culture and every single religion for 5,000 years.”

                Rev. Lowery’s life has been dedicated to the fight for equality for all people.  He personifies the idea of “inclusiveness”.  He and other civil rights leaders used their religion as a force for empowerment of others, not to seek power for themselves.  Pastor Warren is about empowerment of the church as a means of controlling the individual.  His goal is to draw people in to the social structure of the church and to surround them with church influences.  The church will guide you, lead you, “cure” you and save you so that it can tell you your life’s purpose. 

                I believe that preservation of power is the reason Warren and other religious leaders fight so hard against LGBT rights.  If the much vilified LGBT people are free and equal and can live happily in society despite their sinful lifestyle then how can Warren convince people that the road to happiness is through obedience to his church and his idea of “God’?  Rick Warren opposes our very existence because we are a threat to his.  The difference between Lowery and Warren is as simple as the difference between dedication to social good and dedication to social control.  

                The LGBT community worked for and voted for Barack Obama in very large numbers.  On the night of his election, we celebrated his victory while California, Arkansas and other states passed laws to take away our rights.  Now, on the day of his inauguration Barack Obama will give a national stage, along with his tacit approval and acceptance to a man who professes that LGBT people are sinners, who need to be “cured” and whose sinful relationships are the equivalent of “a brother and sister being together”, “an older guy marrying a child” and “one guy having multiple wives.”    The reason the LGBT community is justified in their criticism of the selection of Warren to give the invocation is not about marriage or any policy decision, it’s about human dignity.  By welcoming him, Obama has made the LGBT community feel very unwelcome, just as a Jewish person would feel in the company of a Nazi or an African American would feel in the company of a Klansman.  And you can be sure that in the weeks and months ahead, while we are fighting for our rights in California, New York, New Jersey, Vermont and Maine, Rick Warren will be there, using his national stature to raise money and to recruit people in the fight against us.

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“Don’t Tell Me Words Don’t Matter”

     In February 2008 during the democratic primary, in response to criticism that he was more about words than substance, Barack Obama gave a speech in which he extolled the power of words.  In that speech, Obama recited the now famous line borrowed from Deval Patrick, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”  Obama was correct, words do matter.  In fact, words can be very powerful.  Given his understanding of how much words matter, it is difficult to comprehend how Obama selected Rick Warren, the pastor of the Saddleback Church, to give the invocation at the inauguration.  Rick Warren was a strong supporter of Prop 8 in California and recently said that in his view the relationships of gays and lesbians are equivalent to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. 

            Last night I listened to the debate regarding Obama’s choice of Warren.  Obama supporters said that the choice was one of inclusiveness, spiritual bipartisanship and that there is room for everyone under the big tent.  These are the same arguments they made last fall when Obama had the anti-gay, ex-gay gospel singer Donnie McClurkin emcee a large public fundraising event in South Carolina.  Defending their inclusion of McClurkin, Obama’s camp stressed their vision of the big tent, “to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree.”  McClurkin has vowed to battle “the curse of homosexuality.”  Words.

            The question then is this.  If you invite the hater into the tent, what effect does it have on the hated?  It is demoralizing and, frankly, infuriating.  I read somewhere that the LGBT community’s continued support of the Democratic Party is tantamount to battered spouse syndrome.  They give us just enough to stop us from leaving, but every once and a while they smack us down to remind us of our place.  Well, I for one don’t want to be under that tent.  The inclusion of a religious “leader” who believes that because of who I love I am an evil and dangerous sinner is not acceptable to me. 

            There is a difference between being open to differing opinions and being open to bigotry.  I believe in free speech, even hate speech.  However, just because it is legal does not mean that it is acceptable.  I also believe in right and wrong.  White supremacists and neo-Nazis have the legal right to spew whatever vile hatred they want, but should we provide them with a national platform?  Should we invite them in to give a little talk at this year’s holiday party?  How would our African American and Jewish friends feel about that, and why should we feel differently?

            I am sure Obama does not believe that Warren will stand up there on inauguration day and give an anti-gay rant.  But, that doesn’t really matter.  By inviting him he has given Warren tacit acceptance and approval.  What message does it send – not only to the LGBT community, but also to the anti-LGBT community — to see Rick Warren on the steps of the Capital, on inauguration day, with the new President, the Supreme Court justices, the leadership of Congress?  What will he do with that stature in the weeks and months that follow?  What words will he use against the LGBT community in the battle for equal rights?

            Don’t tell me words don’t matter.  In the wrong hands words can be powerful and even dangerous weapons.  Words of hate, words of bigotry, or words that incite violence matter greatly.  Warren has acknowledged that there is little difference between his views and those of James Dobson.  Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told a crowd of supporters of same-sex marriage bans, “Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the earth.”  Dobson has written that “[t]here is no issue today that is more significant to our culture than the defense of the family. Not even the war on terror eclipses it”.  Words.

            Rick Warren believes that marriage equality is equivalent to legalization of incest, pedophilia and polygamy: “I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.”  When asked why we hear so much opposition from religious conservatives about gay marriage and not about divorce, Warren replied, “oh, we always love to talk about others’ sins more than ours.”  Gays and lesbians are sinners, equivalent to pedophiles, who will destroy the earth.  Words.

            Don’t tell me words don’t matter.  Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has stated that this kind of language by religious institutions is not only hateful, but dangerous. “It is quite remarkable how they claim to hate the sin but love the sinner. That’s an absurd claim. We have reports that clearly show this kind of rhetoric paves the way to violence,” Potok said. “Without question, gay men and lesbians are the most attacked group — and the hate crimes toward them are more violent.” Offenders often say they are simply acting out the wishes of the larger community, Potok stated.  So when Christian leaders spout anti-gay messages and preachers sermonize on the “moral intrinsic evil” of homosexuals, there is little doubt the language leads to violence, Potok added, “these leaders are acting in a sense as permission-givers for violence.”  If those are the people President-elect Obama wants to include under his big tent, I believe the message to the LGBT community is clear.  Enter at your own risk.


 Let Obama know what you think about the selection of Rick Warren. His LGBT liaison is Parag Mehta, parag.mehta@ptt.gov

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Update – Right and Wrong

     It is being reported today that the New York State Senate “Gang of Three” deal has collapsed (see below “Not Exactly Profiles in Courage”).  The deal had purportedly granted powerful leadership positions to the “Three” (Ruben Diaz, Carl Kruger and Pedro Espada) plus certain rules changes that they had demanded, in exchange for their support of Senator Malcolm Smith as leader of the new Democratic majority.  In addition, Diaz had reportedly demanded and received assurances from the Democratic leadership that a marriage equality bill would not be presented to the Senate for a vote in 2009 and possibly not even in 2010.  The deal was roundly criticized by the press, the public and rank and file Senate Democrats. 

                New York Daily News reporter Elizabeth Benjamin is reporting that she spoke to Diaz last night and that he is angry.  She reported as follows:

        The bulk of his displeasure was directed at the gay community (“They’re jamming my phones”), the editorial pages that have panned the deal (“What else could they say about us that they haven’t said at this point?”) and, oddly, former Mayor Ed Koch.  Evidently, Diaz had just caught Koch’s weekly appearance on NY1’s “Wise Guys” segment during which he, according to Diaz, referred to the Gang of Three as “rats.”  “The only rat is Ed Koch,” Diaz exclaimed. “When he was mayor, nobody in our community wanted him. The only rat he had was this rat. Rev. Diaz. Now this rat is no good anymore.”

        “The gays are calling my office. They’re jamming my phones. They’re going to see what we can do. They’ve going to see exactly what we can do. Ed Koch is going to see what we can do. They’re just going to see. That is what I’m telling you.”  I have no idea what he meant by any of this. But he’s angry, and he insists there will be consequences. So, there you have it.


                Bring it on.

                Malcolm Smith acknowledged today that the deal was off, reportedly saying that the Democrats are prepared to remain in the minority rather than compromise their “moral standing.  Regarding the Diaz demand that no marriage equality bill would be brought to a vote, Smith stated that the issue of gay marriage would not be part of any deal to keep the majority because “real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers; those issues must be part of the legislative process.”  http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/


                Sadly, all of this is happening in the context of a horrible hate crime story out of New York City. 

                Last weekend, in Brooklyn, two brothers, Jose and Romel Sucuzhanay, were walking home from a bar with their arms around each other.  At the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Kossuth Place, the brothers, both from Ecuador, were attacked by three men riding in what a witness described as a maroon or red sport utility vehicle.  The men had spotted the brothers and got out of the car, shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs.  One of the men hit Jose over the head with a bottle, another swung an aluminum baseball bat at his head, the police said.  Jose fell to the ground as the three attackers continued beating him. The beating ended only when Romel held up his cell phone and said he had called the police.

                At Elmhurst Hospital Center, where Jose is being treated, his brother Diego Sucuzhanay said he was alive but in critical condition.  The New York Times is reporting that Jose has been declared brain dead and that family members are awaiting the arrival of his parents from Ecuador before making any medical decisions.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/nyregion/10assault.html

        “We believe all of this happened because of who these individuals are and who these perpetrators believed them to be,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  “For some reason (they) didn’t like the two men they believed were gay…and felt so emboldened in their hatred that they acted out in violence.” 

         Many other New York City leaders have voiced outrage over the attack.  I have not yet seen any reports of comments by or from Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz.

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Not Exactly Profiles in Courage

                A profile in courage is the act of taking a stand, not because it is popular or politically expedient, but because it is the right thing to do.  The American civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award in 2001.  In his acceptance speech, Congressman Lewis said in part:

Courage is a reflection of the heart — It is a reflection of something deep within the man or woman or even a child who must resist and must defy an authority that is morally wrong.  Courage makes us march on despite fear and doubt on the road toward justice.  Courage is not heroic but as necessary as birds need wings to fly.  Courage is not rooted in reason but rather Courage comes from a divine purpose to make things right.

Acceptance speech delivered by Congressman John Lewis, recipient of the Profile in Courage Lifetime Achievement Award, May 21, 2001.  www.jfklibrary.org/ 

                New York Governor David Paterson showed such courage in May 2008 when he directed all New York State agencies to legally recognize same gender marriages performed in other jurisdictions.  This week, his Democratic colleagues in the New York State Senate failed to live up to his example. 

                 In November, for the first time in 43 years, New York Democrats achieved a majority in the state Senate, thereby giving them historic control of the Senate, the Assembly and the Governor’s office.  During the election, Senator Malcolm Smith, in line to become the majority leader, had pledged his support for marriage equality for all New Yorkers.  The LGBT community, Empire State Pride Agenda (“ESPA”)and other groups worked hard to accomplish the democratic majority in the Senate.  The LGBT community reportedly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to state Democratic candidates.

                In 2007 a marriage equality bill was passed by the New York State Assembly.  There was no doubt that if passed by the Senate, the Governor would have signed the bill into law, making New York the first state in the union to legislate marriage equality.  Perhaps a legislative enactment of marriage equality could take the sting out of the unintelligible decision by the State’s highest court in 2006, which held that legal marriage in New York  was limited to marriage between a man and a woman because only heterosexual couples could accidently procreate.  Unfortunately, there was no chance of the bill’s passage in the Senate, where the Republican leadership would not even let it get to the floor for a vote.  In that context, news of the Democratic majority in the Senate brought a great deal of optimism to the New York LGBT community. 

                However, the new majority is a slim one and in order to win the majority leadership position Senator Smith will need the votes of all 32 democratic members of the 62 seat senate.  With that knowledge, three democrats, Ruben Diaz, Sr. (Bronx), Carl Kruger (Brooklyn) and Pedro Espada (Bronx) threatened to withhold their support and to vote for continued Republican leadership unless their demands for “reform” were met.  One of the “Gang of Three” (as they apparently like to call themselves), Ruben Diaz, Sr., is a Pentecostal minister and a virulent opponent of LGBT rights.  In 1994, Diaz complained that the Gay Games, which were hosted in New York that year, would lead to an increase in AIDS and increase tolerance of homosexuality by young people.  In 2003, Diaz brought a lawsuit to stop the expansion of the Harvey Milk School, a Manhattan school which provides an educational safe haven for persecuted LGBT teenagers.  He has suggested that Hispanic voters sit out elections rather than vote for Democrats supportive of LGBT rights.  In November, in the wake of the historic state and federal elections, Diaz announced that his opposition to LGBT civil rights is so fanatical that he would withhold his support for the Democratic leadership in the New York State Senate unless they, “give it to me in writing that [they] will not bring the gay marriage bill to the floor.”

                In a secret meeting held last week, the Senate Democratic leadership apparently gave in to Diaz’s bigotry and extortion and reportedly threw LGBT families overboard.  “It’s historic,” Sen. Kruger said, referring to the new agreement.  “Everyone will be treated equally, fairly and equitably.”  Everyone that is, except New York LGBT people and families.  Diaz has stated that among other portions of the leadership deal, it was promised that a marriage equality bill will not be brought to the floor of the Senate next year and possibly not until after the 2010 elections.  Smith has not confirmed or denied this statement.

                According to Gay City News, the executive Director of ESPA, Alan Van Capelle, stated that they would not have the votes today to pass a marriage equality bill anyway, but that they intend to continue the lobby effort and “once we get those votes, we will push the State senate leadership to take up the bill.  This does not change our game plan.”  But, New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, who steered the marriage equality bill to passage in the state Assembly in 2007, said that any such agreement would complicate the lobby effort because members are not likely to give you an honest answer if they know that there is no chance a bill will actually come to the floor.

                LGBT people have been consistently loyal to the Democratic Party, but have not received comparable loyalty in return.  National party leaders have been unapologetic in their refusal to support marriage equality.  They do this secure in the knowledge that we will continue to vote Democratic, even if they do not recognize and support our civil rights.  This dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party must stop.  We must let those in power know that we will no longer sit idly by while they walk all over us.  We need to build upon the organizational work that began after the passage of California Prop 8 – state by state, city by city, county by county and town by town.

                In New York, we must increase pressure on all elected officials, Democrats and Republicans to pass a marriage equality bill.  We must let the Democratic leadership know that our rights are not bargaining chips to be negotiated away as part of some back room political deal.  Such a deal is outrageous and offensive and if it had been done to any other group – African Americans, Latinos, women – their leaders would be screaming with outrage and the press would be all over it.  Where is the outrage?  Where are the leaders?  This is clearly a test of our mettle.  Complacency is our enemy, more so than religious or ethnic groups; it has allowed our political representatives to take us for granted. 

                Each of us has a duty to get more involved.  Send this post to everyone you know in New York.  Tell them to go to the New York Senate website ww.senate.state.ny.us/senatehomepage.nsf/senators?OpenForm (the link is on this blog page) to find out the district office address, email and telephone number of their elected Senate representative and call or write, at least once a week, until a marriage equality bill is passed in New York.  Feel free to cut and paste this letter and add to it your own personal story.


Dear Senator _____________:

                By being denied the fundamental right to marry, same gender couples suffer institutionalized discrimination on a scale not suffered by any other group.  For the price of a marriage license, state and federal laws provide married couples with over one thousand legal rights and protections.  They can automatically make life and death decisions for each other.  They can buy and sell property together and inherit property from each other without tax consequences.  They can share medical insurance and other benefits with their spouses and their children tax free.  They automatically inherit and become primary next of kin.  They automatically become the legal parent of a child born or adopted during their marriage.  If one spouse is injured or incapacitated, there are social and legal safety nets set up to protect them and their children.  The same is not true for unmarried couples even if they are registered as domestic partners or enter into a civil union.  Exclusion of same gender couples from the benefits of these rights, resources and protections is discrimination.  This is unconstitutional and unjust.  I will not vote for any political candidate who does not support the civil rights of all people.  I strongly urge you to support marriage equality legislation in New York.



                Remember, marriage equality is a civil right.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Civil rights, by definition, protect people against discrimination. The 14th amendment to the US Constitution guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law. That means that the civil laws created by the states (including marriage laws and the rights and privileges derived from those laws) must be applied equally to all people.  Civil rights are not about sex, or sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender — they are about equal treatment of people, human beings, under the law.

                Profile in Courage award recipient John Lewis said this about marriage equality:

“It is time to say forthrightly that the government’s exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families ….  I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

We must, as a community, stand up and fight for our rights as ardently as John Lewis.  To do any less would make us undeserving of his support and respect.  Write, call, email, protest, march, contribute time and/or money, do whatever you can.  The only thing that is certain is that if we do nothing, nothing will change.

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How Much Blood is Enough?

     Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was on The View two weeks ago discussing the progress that has been made in the United States — moving from the days of segregation, to the election of Barack Obama as President.  When asked why he does not support equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, Huckabee said this, “when we’re talking about a redefinition of an institution, that’s different than individual civil rights … here is the difference, Bull Connor was hosing people down in the streets of Alabama.  John Lewis got his skull cracked on the Selma Bridge, that’s wrong.”  Governor Huckabee’s comments are both troubling and misleading.  To begin with, any civil rights movement must necessarily seek to redefine oppressive social institutions.  The African American civil rights movement redefined institutionalized segregation in American society including voting rights, education, as well as public accommodations and facilities.  The women’s rights movement redefined women’s roles in the family and the workplace.  Likewise, the movement for LGBT rights seeks to redefine family and social institutions.

                More troubling however, is Governor Huckabee’s comment insinuating that LGBT Americans have not suffered through enough violence.  His comments are disturbing, but not surprising.  The strategy of those opposed to LGBT rights and protections is to argue that we are asking for “special” rights that we do not need, or are not entitled too.  But, the idea that we have not suffered enough is unsettling given the history of abuse the LGBT population has endured and continues to endure.   So, my question to Governor Huckabee and others is this:  How much suffering is necessary?  How much blood is enough?  How much blood must be shed before we can have the same rights as all Americans?

                In 1969, the “Stone Wall” protests in New York City launched the contemporary gay rights movement.   The anti-gay reaction that followed brought with it a wave of violence against LGBT people and the levels of violence have increased steadily through the years.  The anti-gay crusade went national in 1977, courtesy of Anita Bryant.  Bryant, a runner-up in the 1959 Miss America pageant and spokesperson for Coca-Cola and Florida orange juice, said she knew next to nothing about gay people before she attended a 1977 church revival in Miami.  There she learned about a new Dade County, Florida ordinance that protected gay people from discrimination.  Speaking against the ordinance, a preacher at the revival said he’d “burn down his church before he would let homosexuals teach in its school.”

                  Bryant took up the cause and worked to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance, eventually winning with almost 70% of the vote.  Bryant believed that women were generally more supportive of gay rights then men.  Therefore, she and her cohorts came up with the idea to focus their rhetoric on portraying gays as dangerous to children (a tactic still used today).  She founded a national group called “Save Our Children” and took her anti-gay message on the road, helping fundamentalists organize anti-gay ballot campaigns in the few American cities that had passed gay rights laws. Save Our Children’s primary tactic was fear mongering.  “Homosexuals cannot reproduce,” Bryant often said, “so they must recruit.  And to freshen their ranks they must recruit the youth of America.”  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Save Our Children also distributed a press kit with a paper titled, “Why Certain Sexual Deviations Are Punishable By Death.”  Homosexuality was among those deviations.  So was “racial mixing of human seed.”

                Anita Bryant put the issue of gay rights on the front pages of newspaper and magazines all over the country.  And, like the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California, her success provided renewed inspiration for the gay rights movement.   In San Francisco, Harvey Milk and others lead a march protesting the repeal of the Dade County ordinance.  The night of the Florida vote, Milk led marchers on a peaceful, five-mile protest march through the city.  He declared, “This is the power of the gay community.  Anita’s going to create a national gay force.”  Nevertheless, throughout 1977 and into 1978, civil rights ordinances were overturned by voters in Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Wichita, Kansas and Eugene, Oregon.  But, Milk was correct; the movement had found its voice.  There were protests, pickets, petitions, and a boycott of Florida orange juice, which led the Citrus Commission to discontinue Bryant’s endorsement contract.  Bryant’s record and book sales declined.  Her marriage ended in divorce — which left Bryant ostracized by many of the evangelical Christians who had joined her campaign against equal rights for gay Americans.

                Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, to the dismay of the anti-gay crusaders, polls showed rising public support for gay rights.  But being out and proud came at a price.  No longer invisible, gays and lesbians became the targets for hatred and violence, fueled by a strategy of demonization by the anti-gay movement.  In the 1980’s the National Gay Task Force began surveying gay people regarding violence in their lives.  The first survey results, published in 1984 revealed that 94% of respondents had been the victim of some form of anti-gay violence ranging from verbal abuse to assault by fists or weapons.  Twenty percent reported being victimized by police officers. 

                 The gay-bashing increased in the 1990s.  Gary Bauer took the lead, filling his fundraising appeals with references to gay people as “perverts” and “weirdness on parade.”  On “The 700 Club,” Pat Robertson said President Clinton’s proposal to permit gays in the military would give “preferred status to evil.”  “What’s at stake here,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins “is the very foundation of our society, not only of America, but all Western civilization.” “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry,” said the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. “And I’m gonna be blunt and plain: if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.”  The hatred spewed by anti-gay activists, posing as Christians, has left a trail of blood leading up to today.  The following stories are only a small sampling of the bloodshed endured by the LGBT community over the past thirty years:

                Harvey Milk’s swearing-in made national headlines, as he became the first openly candidate in the United States to win an election for major public office.  Milk began his tenure by sponsoring a civil rights bill that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.   Attendance at Gay Pride marches during the summer of 1978 in Los Angeles and San Francisco swelled.  An estimated 250,000 to 375,000 attended San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade.  Milk gave one of his most famous speeches, the “Hope Speech”, that The San Francisco Examiner said “ignited the crowd”:

On this anniversary of Stonewall, I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country … We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.

 Later that year, on November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone were shot and killed by former city supervisor Dan White, who was angered by the growing political strength of the gay community.  Randy Shilts, author of the book “The Mayor of Castro Street”, quotes White as having told a gay newspaper man a few days earlier; “I’ve got a real surprise for the gay community – a real surprise.”   After executing Milk and Moscone with gunshots to the head, White, a former police officer, turned himself in and confessed.  In the days after the murder it’s reported that Police officers, no fans of Moscone and Milk, openly wore “Free Dan White” t-shirts.  An undersheriff for San Francisco later stated, “The more I observed what went on at the jail, the more I began to stop seeing what Dan White did as the act of an individual and began to see it as a political act in a political movement.”

                White’s defense was based on diminished capacity.  The defense team argued that White’s self-imposed isolation, depression, and a diet of too much junk food drove him to kill Moscone and Milk.  It came to be known as “The Twinkie Defense”.  The prosecution offered no objections and it was widely believed that the case against White was not forcefully prosecuted.  Politics and homophobia were never introduced as possible motives. White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The sentence was 7 years.   White served the minimum sentence of five years and committed suicide on October 21, 1985, shortly after his release.  TIME Magazine selected Harvey Milk as one of the 100 most influential politicians of the 20th century.

                The night of Saturday July 7, 1984, after a church group pot luck supper, 23-year-old Charlie Howard was walking with a friend across a bridge spanning the Kenduskeag Stream in the heart of Bangor, Maine.  A car slowed behind them and stopped.  Three young men coming from a party got out of the car, two young women remained inside.  “Hey fag,” one of the young men yelled.  As the three ran toward them, Charlie and his friend tried to escape, but Charlie tripped on the curb and fell to the pavement.  The boys grabbed him and began to punch and kick him.  Then one of the boys yelled “over the bridge!”  They lifted Charlie by the arms and legs and threw him over the rail.  Charlie managed to grab hold of the guardrail, but they pried his fingers loose.  Charlie fell into the water 20 feet below.  The boys, laughing, got back into the car and returned to the party to brag about what they had done.  Charlie’s friend had pulled a nearby fire alarm, but by the time help arrived Charlie was nowhere to be found.  Hours later, Charlie’s lifeless body was dragged from the water.  That Monday, more than 200 people attended a memorial service at the church.  Afterward, they walked in a slow candlelight procession over the bridge, stopping with Charlie’s mother to drop roses into the water below.  They walked on to the police station where they stood in silence while hecklers shouted obscenities at them.  Later that week, on that same bridge over the Kenduskeag Stream, someone spray painted the words “faggots jump here,” at the spot where Charlie Howard was murdered.

                By all accounts, 44-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran James Zappalorti was a kind, quiet man.  Zappalorti had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1962 and was discharged due to a disability in 1965.  He loved living in his small house by the beach in Staten Island, New York and he never missed Sunday mass at the local church, where the Reverend Maurice Burke said, “Jimmy was a friend.”  In January 1990, after leaving a local deli, Zappalorti was followed to his house by two men who taunted him, calling him “queer” and “faggot.”  When they reached his house they slashed Jimmy Zappalorti’s throat and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest, killing him.  The two men that killed him had been arrested and convicted in 1986 for kidnapping a gay man from a parking lot, locking him in the trunk of his car and threatening to blow it up.  Both had served short time in prison for the prior offense.

                Michelle Abdill and Roxanne Ellis thought they could make a good life for themselves in Medford, Oregon.  They belonged to a local church, where they had been elected to the board; they ran a successful property management business and were active in the community.  In their spare time they worked on restoring their house and visiting with Roxanne’s 3-year-old granddaughter.  They had been together for twelve years.  On December 4, 1995, Roxanne went to meet 27-year-old Robert Acremant, purportedly to show him an apartment.  At about 5:00 p.m. Roxanne called Michelle and said that her car would not start.  Michelle left the office to go pick her up.  Neither Roxanne nor Michelle was seen again, until their bodies were discovered four days later.  They had been bound and gagged and executed with gunshots to the head.  Upon his arrest, Acremant admitted killing the two women.  Initially he claimed his motive was robbery, but the victims’ purses, wallets, money, jewelry and cell phones were all found at the scene.  Acremant later stated that he had made up the robbery motive.  He said that he had asked Roxanne Ellis if the women were lesbians and that she had said they were.  He said it made him sick to think of her as someone’s grandmother.  He didn’t like lesbians, so it was easy to kill them.

                Shortly after midnight on October 7, 1998, two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, lead 21-year-old Matthew Shepard to a remote area on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming.  They tied Matthew to a split-rail fence, robbed him, tortured him and beat him with the butt of a pistol, while he begged for his life.  He was left there to die in the cold night.  Matthew was discovered, almost 18 hours later, by a cyclist who initially mistook him for a scarecrow.  He was still alive, but in a coma.  He had a fractured skull, severe brain stem damage and about a dozen lacerations around his head, face and neck.  His injuries were so severe that doctors could not operate.  He never regained consciousness.  Matthew Shepard died on October 12 at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, surrounded by his family.  Fred Phelps, leader of the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church, and author of the Internet site GodHatesFags.com, announced that he intended to picket Matthew’s funeral.  Phelps had made a name for himself in the 1990s protesting at the funerals of AIDS victims.  Phelps faxed reporters images of the signs he and his followers intended to carry at Matthew’s funeral: “Fag Matt in Hell,” “God Hates Fags,” “No Tears for Queers.”  On the day of the funeral Phelps’ picketers were blocked from direct contact with the mourners.  The crowd turned their backs to them, their umbrellas, pulled out for the falling snow, acted as a shield for the Shepard family.  The assembled crowd sang “Amazing Grace” to drown out the Phelps group.  The Matthew Shepard tragedy became a symbol of the violence endured by the LGBT community.   Ten years later, the memory of Matthew Shepard and the heroic work of his family to combat hate, remains an enduring symbol.

                Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder had been together for 14 years.   They made their home in Happy Valley, California.  Together they had founded a garden center and Plantstogo.com, an online nursery.  Matson had a master’s degree in environmental horticulture and had helped to start a community garden to help feed the hungry, a children’s natural science museum and a local arboretum.  Mowder, an anthropologist, spoke at local high schools and was a source of support and information for gay and straight teens.  On the morning of July 1, 1999, Oscar Matson called his son Gary and heard a confusing message on the answering machine and strange voices in the background.  Worried, he went to the couple’s home.  He found them executed, face down in their bed.  Matson had been shot five times in the head, once in the back.  Mowder had been shot seven times in the head and once in the neck.  Shell casing littered the floor.  The walls and ceiling were spattered with blood.  The Williams brothers, Matthew and Tyler were local landscapers who operated a lawn service business out of their parents’ home.  After the Williams brothers were found using Matson’s credit card, searches of their homes uncovered white supremacist literature including information from the “World Church of the Creator” a known hate group.  Investigators also found a “hit list,” which included the names of prominent Jewish leaders in the Sacramento area.  After their arrest, the brothers admitted that they killed Matson and Mowder because they were gay.  They did not consider the killings murder, but a “judgment,” because homosexuality is a sin punishable by death.  After leaving the site of the gruesome murders, Matthew Williams drove off in Matson’s Toyota.  Benjamin Matthews went home to his parents’ house and went to sleep.

                Private First Class Barry Winchell enlisted in the army in 1997.  Within a few months he joined Delta Company, 502nd Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne.  He was by all accounts a good soldier.  He was a hard worker and became the best marksman in his company.  He had recently been nominated for Delta Company’s soldier of the month award.  Then, on July 5, 1999, while he slept, Pvt. Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier.  All of the blows were aimed at his head.  His face was pummeled beyond recognition.  During the months before his death Winchell had been the target of harassment by other soldiers and taunted by his superiors, because he was believed to be gay.  “Pretty much everyone called him derogatory names,” said a platoon Sergeant.  “They called him faggot, I would say, on a daily basis.”  Winchell never complained to his superiors, but the platoon Sergeant did.  “It was basically blown off,” he said.  “I filed a formal complaint.  Nothing was ever done about it.”

                In March 2001, a dismembered body was found in a park in Queens, New York.  A social security number was found written on the skull, along with racial and anti-gay epithets.  The police identified the body as the remains of 19-year-old Steen Fenrich.  The police later reported that Steen had been murdered by his stepfather John Fenrich because he disapproved of the young man’s homosexuality and was angered by his request to return home.  John Fenrich committed suicide before he could be arrested.

                A Florida man was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2005 killing of his 3-year-old son, Ronnie Antonio Paris.  The child’s mother, Nysherra Paris, testified that her husband was trying to “toughen up” the boy because he was worried that Ronnie might be gay.  According to The Tampa Tribune, the boy was beaten so badly that he became lethargic, stopped eating, and began wetting himself.  Ms. Paris told police that on January 21st she saw her husband “pick up the victim and slam the back of his head against the wall.” On January 22 the 3-year-old went into a coma.  Ronnie died six days later.  Experts testified that his death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head.

                In May 2007 in Greenville County, South Carolina, 20 year old Sean William Kennedy was walking to his car when he was approached by Stephen Moller.  Moller made a comment about Kennedy’s sexual orientation, and then punched Kennedy, with a force so hard that it broke every bone in his face.  Kennedy fell to the pavement.  The impact caused his brain to separate from his brain stem, killing him.  Shortly after driving away, Moller left a message on the cell phone of one of Sean’s friends: “Tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand.” 

                Lawrence King, 15, had said publicly that he was gay and had started wearing makeup and jewelry to school, prompting a group of male students to bully him.  “They teased him because he was different,” said Marissa Moreno, 13, also in the eighth grade. “But he wasn’t afraid to show himself.”  In gym class, the boys would shove him around in the locker room.  Larry reportedly made no secret of the fact that he liked Brandon McInerney.  But when Larry asked Brandon to be his Valentine, Brandon’s friends started taunting Brandon and joking that he and Larry were going to make “gay babies” together.  The next day, February 12, 2008, in computer lab, Brandon quietly stood up.  He removed a handgun from his backpack, aimed it at Larry’s head, and fired.  Brandon fired at Larry a second time, dropped the gun on the ground and calmly walked through the classroom door.  Police arrested him within seven minutes, a few blocks from school.  Larry was rushed to the hospital, where he died two days later of brain injuries.

                In July of this year, in a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, an out of work truck driver opened fire with a shotgun during a children’s performance of the musical Annie.  Two people were killed, six others were wounded.  In a letter found in the gunman’s truck, he stated that he was upset with liberals and gays.  Unitarian Universalist churches are supportive of gay rights and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.   One of the congregants killed was 60-year-old Greg Mckendry who was killed while he shielded others from the gunfire.  The gunman was subdued by the people in the church until police arrived.

                One month ago, on October 26th, 2008, Milton Lindgren, 70, and Eric Hendricks, 73, were found dead in their Indianapolis area home.  Friends of the couple believe that the slayings were hate crimes. Indianapolis police describe the killings as extremely violent.  It appears the two men died in separate rooms of blunt force trauma.  The large amount of blood found in both locations is indicative of the extreme violence of the attacks.  Such evidence of overkill is a common hallmark of anti-gay hate crimes.  According to neighbors, Milton and Eric had recently suffered anti-gay harassment.  Police reports show that the men had their phone and cable lines cut twice in the past few months, and anti-gay statements had been posted on their front door.

                Two weeks ago, on November 14, 2008, according to the police in Syracuse, New York, Dwight R. DeLee shot and killed Moses “Teish” Cannon, with a .22-caliber rifle, because of Cannon’s sexual orientation.  Cannon, 22, and brother, Mark, 18, had been invited to a party.  As they sat in a car parked in front of the house party, guests started “making profane and vulgar comments in regards to the sexual preference of our two victims,” police Chief Gary Miguel said.  DeLee went into the house and got a .22-caliber rifle.  He then put the rifle into the driver’s side window and fired.  The bullet passed through Mark’s arm and struck Cannon in the chest.  “There was no previous argument between these individuals, there was no previous fight, there was no bad blood,” Chief Miguel said.  “Our suspect took a rifle and shot and killed this person, also wounding his brother, for the sole reason he didn’t care for the sexual preference of our victim.  Isn’t that sad?  Isn’t that a sad situation that that’s the sole reason why?”   Indeed.

                Several days ago, Vermont Senate Majority Leader John Campbell (D-Windsor) announced that when the state legislature convenes in January 2009, he plans to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.  That prompted a woman to call the state house and threaten to blow up Sen. Campbell’s home.  Officer Dale Manning, who took the call, says that police do not take threats like this lightly and are investigating. The caller did not identify herself.  Sen. Campbell characterized the call as disturbing, saying, “this wasn’t directed just at me, but at my family, which is quite unfortunate.”  On July 1, 2000, Vermont became the first state in the union to legalize civil unions.

                LGBT people are disproportionately affected by hate crime violence.  According to some reports, more than 35,000 anti-LGBT crimes have been documented over the past twenty years.  Year after year the annual figures have increased.  The FBI reported that 14% of hate crimes reported to police in the U.S. in 2005 were based on perceived sexual orientation.   For 2006, LGBT hate crimes increased to 16% of total documented hate crimes across the U.S.  The 2006 annual report stated that hate crimes based on sexual orientation are the third most common type, behind race and religion.  According to the FBI, in 2006, there were 770 attacks across the U.S. against Hispanics/Latino-Americans; 1,027 incidents against Jewish Americans; and there were 1,485 attacks based on the victim’s sexual orientation.  However, unlike Hispanic/Latino or Jewish victims, in many states and under federal law, gays and lesbians have absolutely no protection whatsoever when it comes to hate crimes.  Transgender victims have even fewer protections.  From 2006 to 2007 the total number of victims reporting anti-LGBT violence increased 24% with 16.6 percent of all hate crimes reported by the FBI in 2007 “resulted from sexual-orientation bias.”  A 2007 study by the University of California, Davis, found that “[n]early four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals in the United States have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation.”   The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs recently stated that the number of violent crimes against LGBT people is up significantly in 2008. 

                Meanwhile, the “ Matthew Shepard” hate crime bill languishes in congress.  The bill would provide federal resources to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, and would include sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of hate crimes.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been updated a few times since its passing, and has since added age and disability to its protections but not sexual orientation.  As of right now, there is zero federal protection for LGBT victims of hate crimes.

                To suggest that a civil rights movement must meet some sort of violence threshold is an incredibly dangerous argument — and blind to the serious violence LGBT people have already suffered.   As a society we must recognize that words and actions have consequences.  The dehumanizing rhetoric used to propound marriage ban amendments and anti-adoption laws encourages destruction, not only of “lifestyles,” relationships and families, but of the human beings within them.  You cannot argue and advertise that we are dangerous to children and to the very social order, and then attempt to separate your words and actions from the backlash of brutality that ultimately results in someone’s death.  The blood is on your hands.  So I ask you Governor Huckabee – how much blood is enough?

                One of the speakers at the funeral of Harvey Milk was Anne Kronenberg, an aide to Milk and a lesbian activist. She read a prophetic poem, written by Milk, that she had found in his desk:

I can be killed with ease.

I can be cut right down.

But I cannot fall back into my closet.

I have grown.

I am not myself.

I am too many.

I am all of us.


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Marriage Equality is a Civil Right

What if they took away our civil rights and no one cared?  Oh wait, they just did.

                 Election night, Nov 4, 2008 12:00 midnight — a victory for hope and democracy.  As I flip from channel to channel, I hear the proud commentary:  “we have come so far;”  “I never thought I would see this in my lifetime;”  “only in America.”  I switch over to MSNBC as Rachel Maddow announces that it appears that Proposition 8, defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, has been approved in California.  Similar measures have passed in Arizona and Florida, and voters in Arkansas approved a law designed to ban adoption of children by gay or lesbian parents.  Maddow noted the irony of the moment.  On the same night we are celebrating the tearing down of one barrier to equality, we are witnessing the construction of another.  No one else on the panel responded.  I stared at the television screen. 

                I watched President- elect Obama give his speech.  I heard him say that he wants to be president of all of us, “black, white… gay, straight…”  But I know he does not mean it.  I know that he does not believe in my equality.  I know that he does not believe in the equality of my family.   I don’t expect the religious extremists to be reasonable, or to respect the constitution.  But I cannot understand how Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other people who have fought for equality, can oppose my equality and marriage equality, based upon religious beliefs.  Do they not believe in the separation of church and state?  Do they believe that I am not entitled to the same civil and fundamental rights that they have?  I would like to hear their answers to these questions. 

                An organization called “Protect Marriage,” which is a coalition of churches and other organizations and individuals, was the primary proponent of California Proposition 8.  Proposition 8 was designed to reverse a ruling by the California Supreme Court which held that marriage was a fundamental right which must be available to same gender couples, based upon equal protection and other rights in the California constitution.  Protect Marriage opposes marriage equality based upon 3 basic concepts: (1) marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution derived from god; (2) marriage equality will destroy the institution of marriage; and (3) marriage equality will harm children. 

                Protect Marriage states that marriage between a man and a woman is a gift from god, given for the purpose of having children and no other definition is acceptable.  That is their religious belief.  However, it is not a universally held belief.  Every religion has its own marriage rules.  Churches may prohibit marriage to a person of a different faith, or to a person who has been divorced.  In addition, there are a growing number of faiths that do in fact permit marriage of same gender couples.  In short, there is no single standard of religious marriage.  Each church creates its own standards and the government does not force religious institutions to perform marriages contrary to their beliefs.  Nevertheless, the members of Protect Marriage have used their collective power to restrict the definition of marriage and to force their religious beliefs upon everyone else.   

                In the United States, the legal power to perform marriages is derived from the state, not the church.  Since the earliest days of the republic, marriage has been a civil and legal construct – not solely a religious one.  Clergy are only able to perform marriages because they are authorized to do so by the states.  Marriages performed without state authority are not legally recognized.  Likewise, people may choose to have their marriages sanctified by their church, but that is not required by law.  Religious restrictions on marriage do not prohibit otherwise legal marriages, just as religious restrictions on divorce do not prevent legal divorces.  This is so because our country was founded upon constitutional rights, guarded by the courts, to protect a minority from the tyranny of the majority.  The First Amendment states: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The authors of the constitution were careful to separate religious beliefs from the civil government.  Yet in California, the proponents of Proposition 8 have, in effect, now made their religious beliefs part of the California constitution.  One result is that churches that permit marriage to same gender couples are no longer free to perform such marriages.

                Protect Marriage also argues that marriage equality will destroy the institution of marriage.  They believe that they have a duty to protect marriage from people who want to be married.  What they really want, however, is the power to restrict who will enjoy the legal and social benefits of marriage.  This “protection of marriage” argument, in order to restrict marriage rights, is not new.  After the civil war, many states passed legislation prohibiting marriage between whites and other racial and ethnic groups, even making such marriages a crime.  The arguments in favor of these “anti-miscegenation” laws were that marriages between the races would weaken the white race and degrade the institution of marriage.  Sound familiar?

                Ironically, Protect Marriage has not called for the ultimate protection of marriage – the repeal of laws permitting divorce.  After all, isn’t divorce the greatest threat to the institution of marriage?  The Catholic Church does not permit divorce, but Catholics get divorced every day.  Should marriages performed by Catholic priests be excluded from divorce laws?  Perhaps that should be put to a vote.

                Finally, the most offensive allegation by Protect Marriage, is that same gender marriages will cause harm to children.  There is no credible evidence to support this contention.  There are thousands of gay and lesbian families in the United States raising children in loving homes.  Studies have shown that children raised in gay and lesbian families are just as well adjusted as children raised in mixed gender families.  But make no mistake; our children may be harmed.  Harmed by being legally prohibited from having the same rights as children of married parents.  Harmed by not being entitled to survivor, health and other benefits.  Harmed by legalized discrimination.  Harmed by ridicule and intolerance.  Harmed by being told by religious leaders that their families are not “real” families in the eyes of god.  Harmed by being told by hospital personnel that they cannot be with one of their parents while she lay dying alone in a hospital room, because “Florida is not a gay friendly state.”  That’s the real danger to our children.  And one has to wonder about the sort of people and institutions that would cause such harm to children in the name of their religion.

                Nevertheless, our families will not disappear simply because Protect Marriage and others were temporarily successful in legislating discrimination.  We are still here.  We will survive.   Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We will continue to fight for justice and equality, like all those before us, with or without their help.  

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“There was a time when intellectual honesty was not considered unpatriotic; when compassion for, and understanding of, your fellow [hu]man was a sign of strength, not weakness. There was a time when the phrase Have you no shame? meant something, and the First Amendment was not used as toilet paper to wipe up the excremental verbal degradation of vulnerable segments of the American population. A time when it was expected that citizens would understand the difference between free speech and irresponsible speech. Somewhere along the line, a cancerous segment of American popular culture and media cunningly exploited the long-standing, honorable American “cowboy” motif and mentality. They grafted cruelty, divisiveness, and ignorance to it, making the two appear indistinguishable, and natural allies. And they are neither, or at least ought not to be.”

Michael Rowe Huffpo June 11, 2009

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