Several years ago, someone told me, “Gay rights will really move forward once gay couples’ kids can vote.” I agreed with the logic, though of course I hoped it wouldn’t take too long. I’ve since met plenty of children with gay parents who became activists on behalf of their families, and a video of one such young man is making waves throughout the country.
Iowa’s Supreme Court surprised the rest of the country when, citing a history of leadership in civil rights, it ruled in 2009 that same-sex couples there had the right to wed. Anti-gay activists ran a successful campaign to dismiss three of those assenting justices, marking the first time since voting was instituted in ’60s that Supreme Court justices were not reelected.
On Tuesday, those same political forces pushed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage through the Iowa House with a 62-37 vote, according to the Iowa Independent, with three Democrats joining all of their Republican colleagues to pass the measure. It would still need to pass in the state Senate, which looks unlikely, and then pass through both bodies again in two years before it could even go to a general vote.
Those who voted “yes” used arguments like this one from Rep. Rich Anderson (R-Clarinda), as quoted in the Independent:
“If we remove the gender requirement for marriage, there is no rational basis to define the number,” he said. “So we open up the possibility of the constitutional recognition of polygamous relationships. That’s a slippery slope. And I don’t know where the logic is to draw the line. We wouldn’t recognize incestuous relationships between two consenting adult brothers and sisters. That raises up within us disgust, and we can’t accept that. We draw lines. We define marriage.”
Enter Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old college student whose parents are lesbians. Before the House voted, he explained why it would be harmful and how the claims that gay couples can’t raise healthy children are wrong. His words may have fallen on deaf ears in the Iowa House Republicans, but he gave a truly inspiring speech that has rightfully received national attention.
Update: Zach Wahls and his family speak about the aftershocks of his testimony.
The older and more sentient I get, the harder it becomes for me to do simple things like shop or eat. Through most of high school, it never occurred to me to consult something like the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index. By college, my house mates and I were agonizing over whether to buy the delicious chocolate chips of low-scoring Kraft or more responsible, less enjoyable confections. We chose the latter. (Thankfully, Kraft has since made great strides toward equality—and allowing college students to make guilt-free cookies.)
It was with a bit of a surprise yesterday morning that I opened the New York Times to see the article “A Chicken Chain’s Corporate Ethos Is Questioned by Gay Rights Advocates.” It seems the NYT has finally noticed LGBT folks’ growing frustration with a company that claims to be “family friendly” while at the same time working to deny many families basic rights. Talk about political déjà vu!
It’s never been a secret that Chick-fil-A is a right-wing Christian organization. They’re closed on Sundays, which founder S. Truett Cathy has reportedly said is “our way of honoring God,” and the chain frequently gives out religious toys with its kids meals. Early this month, the story broke that a local eatery was sponsoring anti-gay marriage conferences, this time in my home state of Pennsylvania. For those with strong stomaches, there’s a video on the website for The Art of Marriage, the organization behind the conferences. In the classic style of these kinds of religious promos, it’s overproduced, features unnecessary sports metaphors (ooh, a spat is just like football!), and waits a couple minutes to wallop you with its true intent.
The ensuing brouhaha led to this ridiculous statement from Chick-fil-A corporate on their Facebook page (as preserved on Wikipedia):
First and foremost, thanks for your patience as we made sure we gathered the facts in regards to recent postings. We have determined that one of our independent Restaurant Operators in Pennsylvania was asked to provide sandwiches to two Art of Marriage video seminars. As our fans, you know we do our best to serve our local communities, and one of the ways we do that is by providing food to schools, colleges, civic groups, businesses, places of worship, not-for-profit groups, etc. At his discretion, the local Operator agreed to simply provide a limited amount of food. Our Chick-fil-A Operators and their employees try very hard every day to go the extra mile in serving ALL of our customers with honor, dignity and respect.
Like many right-wing politicians, Chick-fil-A wants us to know that they’re concerned with our “honor” (read: wallets), but that they’re still going to fight tooth and nail to make sure we don’t have equal rights. I wonder, would they expect anyone to swallow this if they provided food for a group that rallied against a religious or ethnic minority? It seems people are finally starting to realize what’s going on, and I’m hoping it hits the chain in the “honor” too. You can’t have it both ways: either you’re for everyone’s rights and you don’t try to oppress anyone, or you put some people above others. You can’t have your greasy chicken and eat it too.
Since the article was published, the company has responded with another statement from President Dan Cathy, which netizens have already picked apart. Here’s the section I found most significant:
Chick-fil-A’s Corporate Purpose is “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” As a result, we will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family. This decision has been made, and we understand the importance of it. At the same time, we will continue to offer resources to strengthen marriages and families. To do anything different would be inconsistent with our purpose and belief in Biblical principles.
On its face, his pledge sounds progressive, but that caveat at the end is telling. What would actually change if they continue to offer those “resources” at the exclusion of LGBT families? Political acts aren’t confined to campaign donations.
Being a vegetarian, it may be easier for me to resist Chick-fil-A’s processed meat sandwiches. But I will admit that their waffle fries are delicious, so don’t think I’m sidestepping this sacrifice completely. I haven’t shopped at Target since it has shown it will say one thing (that it supports LGBT people) and do another (fund anti-gay candidates, even after promising not to). And don’t get me started on Wal-Mart, where I never go. I’m not a rich man, and I feel the pinch of pricier stores and the pain of no waffle fries, but I’m not willing to put any dollars—however few of them—directly against my self-interest or what I believe is right.
The Senate voted today to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the 17-year-old policy forcing gay men and lesbians to lie if they wanted to serve in the military. The bill now goes to President Obama, who has said frequently and publicly that he wants to end the policy, so his signature is a safe bet.
From the NPR News story:
“It is time to close this chapter in our history,” Obama said in a statement after a test vote cleared the way for final action. “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”
The repeal of this policy was long overdue. There was absolutely no evidence that making the military inclusive would harm it; in fact, there was overwhelming evidence from other countries that it would have no ill effect whatsoever. A Pentagon study undertaken in anticipation of the vote surveyed the military and found 70% of respondents didn’t think repeal would have an adverse effect. Unsurprisingly, most Republicans were adamant that repeal would take the U.S. into completely uncharted waters, and Sen. John McCain was even today grasping at those straws. As he was quoted by NPR News:
“They will do what is asked of them,” McCain said of service members. “But don’t think there won’t be a great cost.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos expressed similar fears earlier in the week. “‘I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction,”’ NPR quoted him. “‘I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.”’
While these ridiculous, unfounded and biased fears lost today, it’s not as clear a victory as I would have liked. The actual repeal of the policy still awaits several layers of bureaucratic approval beyond the nearly year-long aforementioned study, and with not everyone in the military on board, that could take a while. Even if I were to agree that everyone would need to be trained to learn how not to discriminate, it still shouldn’t take long to figure out how to implement the new bill—there are already numerous sensitivity training workshops available. Furthermore, given the military’s top-down command structure, service members shouldn’t have too much trouble with an order as simple as, “Don’t fire people for admitting who they are.”
It’s funny to think how just this past March my pro-LGBT stance earned me an angry letter at my old job as a newspaper reporter from someone who didn’t approve of an inclusive force. The writer, who signed himself “One of the Majority,” had this to say:
Because there is resentment in commingling, the homosexuals should ask to have their own unit. As for me I would rather spend a 20 year career with people who wanted me as opposed to forcing myself in where I was not welcome.
Even if we have a long way to go, both on ending DADT and on other fronts in the fight for LGBT rights, it’s refreshing to see the kind of backward thinking demonstrated above suffer the blow it did today.
On Friday, Human Rights Day, I was privileged to go to New York City to attend the United Nations’ panel on ending violence against and decriminalizing the behavior of LGBT folks. The event was organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a very worthy organization, and in the interest of full disclosure I should note that I’m an on-call volunteer translator for them.
Labeled a “high-level panel,” it was an amazing event filled with very notable speakers including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice; Desmond Tutu (in a pre-recorded video address); many other ambassadors and officials; and several activists fighting for their rights at the ground level and against serious, institutional opposition. Check IGLHRC’s website for complete transcripts of all the speeches made that day and a video.
It’s easy for we LGBT Americans to worry about the struggles we face every day, but much of it—and certainly my personal experience—pales in comparison to the troubles of people like Civil Society speaker Linda Baumann, the interim director of Out-Right Namibia.
Here’s part of her speech, which I found very moving. It’s a long quote but well worth reading:
I sit here in front of you representing a movement of sexually and gender diverse people from my continent, “Africa,” whose lives are in danger. We are people who live in fear, people who are denounced from our families, who have school fees and support withdrawn, people who cannot freely express themselves and feel good about themselves, all due to the prejudice, stigma and discrimination that we face because of the people we love or the way we express our gender.
What harm do we cause to our immediate families, communities and our nations at-large? What harm am I causing to you all sitting here that could defer the developments of our national states?
It hurts to know that in my continent, the mere mention of my identity will mean that my right to privacy is infringed and that my private life will be questioned by the government. The dominance of heteronormativity, sanctions me to limited rights just because I do not conform.
The future of lives is dependent on the current leadership, but with recent developments it’s clear that the loss of lives will increase in the years to come.I call upon all member states to respect the universality of human rights and passionately work to protect all of their diverse citizens.
Along with the three activists’ talks, I was also struck by the strong language of the ambassadors and other officials. Secretary General Ban, for instance, was unequivocal in his support for LGBT rights and his recognition of the current global political situation:
Today, many nations have modern constitutions that guarantee essential rights and liberties. And yet, homosexuality is considered a crime in more than 70 countries. This is not right. Yes, we recognize that social attitudes run deep. Yes, social change often comes only with time.Yet let there be no confusion: Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, rights must carry the day. Personal disapproval–even society’s disapproval–is no excuse to arrest, detain, imprison, harass or torture anyone–ever.
U.S. Ambassador Rice enumerated the steps we’ve taken in this country on LGBT rights since President Obama took office, and even though I’ve often frustrated by the slow pace of his administration, it was an admittedly long list. And to her credit, she acknowledged that plenty of work remains on that front. “The story of my country is, in part, a story of the expanding boundaries of rights and dignity—of the way that discrimination and prejudice have been countered by acceptance and equality,” she said.
“As we can never forget, change comes from human agency. It comes from people—like the human rights defenders with us here today—people who refuse to give up and who refuse to move to the back of the bus. It comes from the leaders, the activists, and the ordinary men and women who believe that all human beings have equal worth, equal dignity, equal consequence—and equal rights,” she added.
Rice also announced the U.S. would push for a standalone resolution to add back in a reference to sexual orientation that was removed in November from a committee’s resolution against extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. An astonishing 79 countries voted last month to remove the reference, including well-known LGBT oppressors like Egypt and Uganda and more surprising countries like South Africa, where same-sex marriage is legal even though the LGBT community still faces a great deal of resistance.
Discussion of that resolution and its associated amendments made up a decent portion of the speeches that day, and it wasn’t lost on me that it’s all a matter of semantics. Even if the U.S. and other countries do manage to add the reference back in, the resolution, like this event, will be purely symbolic. But it’s far too easy to overlook the power of symbolic gestures; let’s not forget how much it stings to have your relationship considered equivalent to a straight couple’s but still labeled differently. Words matter.
Let me end with another statement from SG Ban, one that made it into my notebook because it struck such a chord with me:
Human Rights Day commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not called the partial declaration of human rights. It is not the sometimes declaration of human rights. It is the Universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights… without exception.
It’s been barely more than a month since Criss debuted with his performance of “Teenage Dream,” which spread through the internet like wildfire. His performance inspired me to finally download iTunes after years of holding out, since the mp3 was available there about a week before it was to go on sale at my regular source, Amazon.com. Almost immediately after his debut, it was announced Criss had been cast as a regular, and I’ve been hearing a lot more about Glee since then than I ever did before.
Take for instance Criss’ duet with Chris Colfer (Kurt) on tonight’s episode. Fox used the below clip to generate buzz, something that would have been unheard of even a few years ago. But what’s even more striking is that a male-male duet is on a mainstream Christmas album. A relative asked me what the big deal was and I challenged her to name a single mainstream gay male duet; she couldn’t.
Sure, Criss is a good actor, looks dashing and has a great voice, but I think the character of Blaine has caught on the way it has because he’s so unusual. There aren’t many gay characters on TV, especially on prime time on a major network, and even when there are they tend to fall into very stereotypical roles. As I said last post, Kurt stands out for being out, but he’s also a high-voiced, fashion-obsessed effeminate boy who loves musicals—a stereotype from the ’50s. Blaine, on the other hand, comes off as a well-adjusted, normal (if somewhat preppy) guy who’s comfortable in his own skin, and that’s just about revolutionary.
It seems like the writers are still trying to get his character down, and he has had some unfortunately stereotypical moments since his debut, but I still have hope for Blaine. He has the potential to be the kind of character we rarely get even in shows aimed at gay audiences. (Try to find a normal person on “Queer as Folk” and you’ll be sorely disappointed). I really hope the writers can get him to that point, because while having someone like Kurt would have been great when I was in high school, but someone like the idealized Blaine in my head would have been a teenage dream come true.
As I was chatting with friends last night we fell upon the topic of people you’ve just met who make very outlandish statements and assume you’re on their side. These are almost always political or racist/homophobic/other -ist and never leave you in a comfortable position. In Hightstown, NJ, this often takes the form of people casually turning the conversation to how they harbor a strong antipathy for the borough’s immigrant population.
This is my tale of gay-related discomfort.
It was either just before or just after I spent a year teaching abroad. I was without a car and had to depend on the train to go up to Fishkill to visit Mike and to return. This particular day I was actually meeting friends in the city while Mike was at work, so I called a taxi to transport me to the station.
The cab driver was a middle-aged woman who was fairly chatty and I sat up front with her as she picked up and dropped off other passengers along the way. (This is normal in the Hudson Valley, though I’ve never had it happen anywhere else.) Our conversation was pleasant enough and strictly superficial, and that was fine by me. But as we got close to the station she got on the topic of natural disasters and how they were god’s will. I distinctly remember her likening the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans to “Sodom and Gomorrah” and saying they “were asking for it” because of their licentious ways, specifically their acceptance of “gays.”
Up until this point in the conversation, there had been absolutely no indication this was coming, and I was dumbstruck. There was no graceful way to continue the chat, since, trapped in a moving vehicle, my only options were to:
- Agree with her on views I found abhorrent
- Start a disagreement right before she gave me a bill she determined, or
- Not say anything and let her interpret my silence on her own
In the end I went with #3 and was extremely grateful when we soon arrived at the station. I made as quick an exit as I could and never mentioned to her she had picked me up from my boyfriend’s apartment or that I was off to visit bisexual friends, but I felt charged with adrenaline as if I had been directly threatened.
Looking back, I wonder if I missed an opportunity to challenge her views, but I don’t think she was very open to other points of view. And in cases such as this, it doesn’t seem wise to challenge a potentially unreasonable person piloting 2 tons of steel.