Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Soft Bigotry of No Confrontation

Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee Chariman is on C-SPAN speaking live from Howard University about how the Republican Party is the "party of Lincoln" (one of the Republican buzz phrases meant to attract black voters). The meeting is a "town hall" event.

Howard doesn't strike me as the kind of place where pandering plays well. But to be honest I've never been there and like most colleges it does have a College Republicans organization, so who knows who is in the audience? There are about 50 people in the room. One of the other buzz phrases Mehlman keeps using is "the soft bigotry of low expectations"--the RNC's quick answer to the criticisms of No Child Left Behind, which my friend Marianna calls No Child Left Unterrorized.

Q and A starts off with pre-screened questions, none doing little more than asking Mehlman to restate his original points. Oh, now they are going to take questions from the audience.

All of the people asking questions have identified themselves as Republican. opposing views during the entire Q and A time. I wonder if this is like all of the President's "town hall" meetings where only presidential supporters are "invited"? (Oh, there was one non-supporter there. He broke in during the middle of Mehlman's speech with a bullhorn and was quickly escorted out. It's a good thing there were security guards there to take him down.)

Now the event is over and people are milling around. People congratulating Ken. A few random one-on-one questions. Boom mike must still be on. We can hear all of this. Oh! One of the attendees is politely confronting Mehlman on No Child Left Behind. Maybe it really was an open event. Oops, suddenly the boom mike isn't working anymore. Camera moves to a big crowd shot. Now it's back on Mehlman, the NCLB query is over. And the mike is working again. How interesting. I wonder if Lincoln or his party chairman ever screened attendees to public addresses. Somehow I doubt it. Lincoln's was a different Republican Party.

I can actually understand why the black community might open up to the Republican party. Republicans talk a good game--small government, individual personal retirement accounts, school choice--as long as you don't look too closely. And if you do not believe in civil rights for everyone, the Republicans will certainly make you feel at home. (It always amazes me that some religious people cannot see that a narrow reading of scripture was what held slavery and segregation in place in America.)

But if more black people join the Republican party, I suspect (hope) there will be a keen interest in holding Mehlman and friends to their promises. The Democrats are taking a lot for granted these days--including the oddly at odds black and gay communities. In one sense it should make both parties work harder for minority votes if it is assumed that neither has a lock on them. On the other hand, I wonder if we are just moving from a racist society to a more classist one--with both parties saying "now that you have money and bother to vote, we'll start paying attention to you." At least the Republican party is paying more attention. I'm not sure what the Democratic party is doing these days.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Religous Right Goes to Pharmacy School

If you think you ever might need birth control and thought that the religous right's self-righteous tantrums were only going to be aimed at gay folks, you might want to check this Washington Post article out.

It doesn't matter if you and your spouse have five kids and can't afford another, your pharmacist can decide not to fill your birth control prescription and freely lecture you about your evil nature in the process. And if they have it their way, some Pharmacists for Life will not let another pharmacist fill your prescription or even transfer it to a different pharmacy.

Have you heard this one?

A woman walks into a drug store with her five kids under the age of seven (well one of them isn't walking just yet) and with a shaky hand and bags under her eyes she hands the pharmacist a birth control prescription from her doctor, "Could you fill this please?"

The pharmacist looks at the prescription and smiles sweetly, "Oh, I really can't. You see, I believe in a culture of life."

"What?" She asks while shaking the fistfulls of candy bars from her kids' hands back into the 2 for 1 bin.

"Yes, you see neither you nor I should thwart the natural purpose for marriage. Haven't you been following those "Adam and Steve" stories in the news? No telling where all that's going to end, but it sure won't be in a birthing room!" The pharmacist smiles kindly at the woman's two oldest children who are using cigarette cartons as building blocks on the floor, "Surely you agree that marriage and (whispering) sex are for procreation." The woman is too dumbfounded to notice her toddler batting around a box of condoms while her four year old thumbs through a copy of Cosmo.

"Look, I've got about all of the culture or life I can handle at the moment. And if you don't want child number six on your payroll in nine months, you'd better fill this prescription."

"Anne Coulter is so right. You liberals get all bent out of shape if people don't see things exactly your way, don't you? Well, you and I will just havt to agree to disagree on this issue. But I want you to know I'm doing this out of love, if not for you, at least for that poor child whose birth you are so hell bent on preventing. Here's a family planning brochure from my church. You know, if you had a better sense of timing we might not even be having this conversation."

While the above situation might be a bizarre inconvenience in a large city, it could potentially be an expensive family problem in rural American towns with only one pharmacy. All I can say is phone ahead and make sure you don't let that prescription lapse if you have to drive an hour to find the nearest sane pharmacy.

In honor of all of my female (and potentially panicky male) readers I will call my pharmacy to ask if all of their pharmacists fill b.c. prescriptions. If they don't, I'll be shopping around for a new drugstore.

Welcome back to the 19th century. Please keep your legs and arms inside the car at all times and hold tightly to loose objects, except for your civil liberties. You won't be needing those anymore.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

My Friend Jennie-- Lincoln Lover

For those who have never checked out Jennie at trimandfashionable, one of my "Go To People", allow me to give you a great gift (see below). Jennie is one the Batesville clan (it has been referred to as a cult by some) I grew up with. In fact, I remember the day she and her twin sister Julie were born--I remind them of this whenever I get the chance. They were the sweetest kids and they are even more impressive adults (eyes misting as I type).

Anyway, Jennie has always loved Abraham Lincoln, I mean she REALLY loves him. She has hosted a famous Lincoln's Birthday Party for years. It was written up in an Arkansas newspaper and I'd lost my copy of the article. Fortunately, she reprinted it as part of this year's Lincoln celebration. The story is such a testament to why I love my Batesville friends, though I truly believe I would love them even if they were not so darn entertaining.

If you love America, you have to read the article. Click here.

In the story you read about several Batesville stars--Georgette, our very theatrical friend and her wonderfully supportive mother, Georgeanne. Jennie's sister Lori, an Arkansas taste-maker and friend supreme. And McClain mom and dad, Practical Pat and Dr. McClain--always a joy.

John and I will travel to Arkansas next year for the celebration.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


All of the sudden poor Terry Schiavo, the woman in Florida whose family disagrees on whether or not to let her pass on, is the cause du jour to keep people from noticing how corrupt Tom Delay and friends are. Bush signed a bill that ignores the past seven years of litigation. His remarks from CNN (full story here)

Today, I signed into law a bill that will allow Federal courts to hear a claim by or on behalf of Terri Schiavo for violation of her rights relating to the withholding or withdrawal of food, fluids, or medical treatment necessary to sustain her life," a statement from the president said.

"In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life.

It is a good thing Terry Schiavo wasn't a Texan back in 1999 when then Governor Bush pushed the law below (thanks to Think Progress for the story and Daily Kos for picking it up, too):

Check out Section 166.046, Subsection (e):

If the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient is requesting life-sustaining treatment that the attending physician has decided and the review process has affirmed is inappropriate treatment, the patient shall be given available life-sustaining treatment pending transfer under Subsection (d). The patient is responsible for any costs incurred in transferring the patient to another facility. The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient …

Here's a new Republican slogan: "Life and's all about timing."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Passion and Palms

This was the first Sunday that I've been able to go to Broadway Church in four weeks. I could go when I'm traveling, but I'm not really one of those people who finds their way to churches when they are out of town. Growing up I always admired some of my friends' families for doing that, but was secretly glad I didn't have to (I was kind of shy). Anyway, I'm glad I got to go today. While riding in the car after lunch with my friends Francis and our pastor's 15 year-old son, Conor, I made an off-hand remark about how I'm always late for church. Conor said, "yeah, and that's when you show up." I'll defend my church attendance record some other time, but the real reason I was glad I went is because today is Palm Sunday; actually at our church it is Palm and Passion Sunday.

Perhaps I should explain the difference to friends of mine who may not go to churches where waving palm branches is a yearly event. Long story short, Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter. In Methodist churches and some other denominations you get a palm leaf when you arrive for church, which you then wave during a part of the service (they say the leaves are then burnt and used during Ash Wednesday services the following year, though I don't know how they keep up with them). The word "hosanna" gets used a lot during the Palm Sunday service. In most churches the idea is that you celebrate Christ's entry into Jerusalem just like the folks in the Holy City did--before they nailed him to a cross a week later.

Even though we didn't celebrate Palm Sunday at First Baptist Church in Batesville, we read the Bible enough to know about it. And Brother Don , our beloved pastor, always had something intelligent to say during the Palm Sunday sermons, so I knew how the story turned out.

When I started going to churches where Palm Sunday was celebrated I was sort of confused. Why celebrate what ultimately turned out to be a big misunderstanding? Jesus was obviously not who the people looking to get out from under Roman rule thought he would be. Not that he didn't give them a heads up on what he was about--rode in on a donkey, ate with sinners and the Jerusalem IRS, took an obvious pass on the Passover Sale at the temple. There were signs. Whooping it up with palm leaves on Palm Sunday seemed to kind of miss the point of the story, which was, to me at least, "Hmm...Jesus is not our trained monkey. He does things his way, and he often does not take the predictable route. And Wow! We humans can be real jackasses when things don't go the way we want ."

For the past couple of years, our church has celebrated "Palm and Passion Sunday" which is making a lot more sense to me. This year the service sort of revolved around the thief on the cross next to Christ's--the one who recognized Jesus's innocence and his own guilt, and thought to ask Jesus to keep him in mind when he entered his Kingdom.

Imagine having been nailed to a cross. Hanging on the cross next to you is another guy--bloodied, beaten and naked. Were I the crucified thief, I don't know if I could have managed to believe that a divine and royal future was in the cards for Jesus at that point. I can only pray my faith is that strong.

So in addition to waving palms today, we carried nails to a cross at the front of the church to symbolize our own need and desire for forgiveness. Rather than celebrating with joy the prelude to Christ's crucifixion we left the sanctuary in silence to reflect for the next week on the Passion (the event, not the movie. Oh, and our congregation is never really silent, but we were as quiet as we could manage to be.). I was surprised to learn later that this new way of doing things has irritated some people in our church. They are upset that the Palm party is no longer the main focus of the service. This kind of reaction is not uncommon these days (How many times have I heard "we shouldn't change the way it's been done for thousands of years" in the past 14 months?). But frankly, I'm not that interested in celebrating how foolish we humans can be. Reflecting on past behavior? Considering ways things could be different? Yes. Ritualizing mistakes? No.

So here is to all of those churches who recognized the connection between the Palms and the Passion (sounds like a bad soap opera title) and who are now asking me to pray about it over the next week. I took one of the extra nails home with me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pottery Barn Revelations

Last night my friend Dave and I were shopping for a small chest to put in my living room. The table John and I have in that spot right now is a little too leggy. Actually it would be fine, but all of our other furniture is leggy, and well, there are just four too many legs.

We were to meet up at Pottery Barn after we couldn't find what I needed at Cost-plus World Market. Dave got there first and went on in. Dave and I like to play pretend games when we are shopping. One day when we were looking for Easter things at another design store here in town, people kept asking us what we were going to do with the pieces of moss we were carrying around. After the third person asked us, Dave started telling people we were "designers" and that we were making arrangements out of them. That would have been fine except that by the time we left, people were asking for our number to help them redo their houses. Dave turned to me and said, "he's the real professional" (I'm not). Fortunately I did have some of my boss's cards, so we didn't get in too much trouble.

Anyway, when I saw Dave in Pottery Barn I made a big deal and acted like I hadn't seen him in years.

"David? Dave Gulley? It's me, Troy. I haven't seen you in ages. How have you been?" David is always quick to play along, so he acted like he didn't recognize me at first. Then a flash of recognition crossed his face.

"Troy! Oh my goodness. I've been great." Then without skipping a beat, he said, "I'm so glad we ran into each other. I have something to tell you." Long pause. "I'm in an ex-gay ministry. And I'm very happy. Can't you tell?" he said gesturing with his hand to a sort of tired half-smile and a constipated look on his face. Dave knows I was in an ex-gay ministry for a long time.

"Good for you! It really shows. You hardly seem gay at all. I see you're admiring those lovely "bird on a branch" synthetic florals."

"Yes, I won't be able to sleep until I own them."

Honestly, we really only play up gay stereotypes when we are shopping. In terms of self-entertainment, it is low hanging fruit. It is just too easy--two men in Pottery Barn? Seriously. (In case you are curious, Pottery Barn didn't have what I needed.)

In general I try to be sensitive about not promoting stereotypes about gay folks. John could not care less about shopping. His brothers and father (all not gay) are more into clothes than he is. John would rather be in his wood working shop in the basement.

Is "gaying it up" on occasion bad? I know the arguments that sitcoms like Will and Grace are gay versions of the old minstrel shows. But there often is something empowering about gay comedy. I am happy that I do not have to hide a significant part of who I am anymore. And for me, sometimes not faking it actually means putting things over the top as a reminder to myself of how afraid I was all those years to enjoy being who I am, liking what I like, and doing what I am interested in and good at doing. I can respect not only the less traditionally "gay" parts, but all of me. I can actually recognize myself in holistic terms.

I used to be annoyed by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, mainly because I bristled at the implication that all gay people are cultural aesthetes. Believe me; they aren't. But as I continued watching the show I realized that the gift that "out" gay people bring to our contemporary culture is not how to dress, shop, decorate or eat. The real gift we offer is that we can help people gain the courage to discover and proudly be the best of who they are. We know what it is like to hide or to get stuck in one way of viewing ourselves. We understand that some cultural constraints and assumptions produce negative effects rather than life-giving ones. And we know how valuable it is to have help figuring out the difference between the two.

Is it just gay people that have that figured out? Of course not. In the last century a lot of people in our society have--women, people of color, and thankfully reflective and self-secure heterosexual men--and maybe some gay people who decide they are happier living as heterosexuals have as well. Who am I to say otherwise? The point is, life is slowly getting better for all of us, and we all have a role to play in helping make it better for others.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Minority Report

Ever wonder why minorities insist on yammering on about how oppressed they are? There are a lot of answers to that question, but one of the most significant is that if minorities don't speak up for themselves they get used in ways that are exploitive and hurtful.

Case in point, have you heard about the Portland couple whose wedding photograph was taken without permission or payment from the Portland Tribune's archives to be used in an anti-AARP ad? The newspaper snapped a photo of Rick Raymen and Steven Hansen's on the day that they exchanged vows in Portland, OR. A consluting firm working for the conservative group USA-next used the photo in an attack ad against the AARP. They placed the picture with a green check mark over it, next to a troops photo with an X through it along with a note about AARP's "real agenda." The Portland Tribune story is here.

Okay, imagine a photo from your wedding one day shows up on the internet in an ad sponsored by a group that seeks to limit your freedom or at least use your struggle as a weapon against you. And the argument for using the photo without permission and without even paying the Tribune for it (also known as stealing in some parts of the world) is that they thought the consulting firm they hired to use your wedding photo to promote a political agenda that actually is damaging to you was pursuing their purposes legally.

Oh, and what does one do when they get caught toying mindlessly with the rights of minorities? Well, one prime strategy is to blame the victim. It was argued by the defendents that no one would even know about the picture if the couple had not made such a big deal about their wedding. Those uppity fags (or insert other deragatory racial or cultural slur of choice)! This quote from Steve Duin at the Oregonian (full article here.)

...Asked if his clients should have been a little more guarded about their privacy when they posed for the cameras last March, Wolf said, "There's a big difference between allowing your photograph to be taken on your wedding day and having that photo perverted into a homophobic political weapon.

"It really shocks me what they (USA Next) did here," Wolf continued. "If they wanted to make this point, they could have hired some models to pose as a gay couple getting married. Instead, they took two private citizens who value their privacy and inserted them into a really ugly political campaign."

Though it remains to be seen what the result in this case will be, according to John Avarosis, who is working on behalf of the couple:

In Washington, DC today, US District Judge Reggie Walton (an appointee of President Bush (41)) granted the gay couple’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against USA Next. The TRO requires USA Next to cease and desist from further use of the couple's photos for any purpose. This is a big deal because it means the judge has found that the guys have reasonable likelihood of winning their case, and he also said he could see how they could get damages.

The attorney for USA Next did not promise that the photograph would not continue to be used in ads. How is that for respecting the law? (Full article here)

So, you see, when you hear me sound alarmist or dismayed, maybe even annoyingly persistent about discussing this issue, maybe it will be easier to understand why. And I put these kinds of things here so you can be aware of the political landscape as well. You never know when you might find yourself in a minority someday.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Back Home Again in Indiana

Finally made it back from Boston. Flew in late last night. I have never been so glad to be home in my life.

It was such a busy week I never found time to write an entry. And today's won't be anything special. I am taking the day off to be in my pajamas and to sit in front of Sam the Woodstove (it's snowing out). I'm so exhausted that I'm actually choosing not to attend the anti-marriage amendment rally, which happens today at the Indiana statehouse. But I will report on it soon.

For now, all I can say is how grateful I am--for a safe trip, for being able to see John at the airport when I got back, for that bag of breadsticks he brought with him, and for a clean kitchen and for clean sheets on a bed that was in our own house.

Now it's nap time.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

In the Nation's Cradle

I flew into Boston today. I'm here for work and a conference. I'm staying with my friend Ray and his partner Hao. They are not home yet, so I let myself in. Brownie (their dog) and Bao Bao (their cat) greeted me. Bao Bao, Brownie, and I are now all curled up together on the couch. Bao Bao, who looks like Garfield if he were a Siamese, is trying to sit on my keyboard. There isn't enough room for him, but you can't really reason with cats when they are trying to sit on something.

I've been blessed to be in two great cities in the past three weeks where people would not go into convulsions as their eyes rolled back into their heads at the thought of John and I being married. Having spent time in Vancouver, it was really strange to come back to Indiana, where this is the kind of cultural conversation that is happening.

Some highlights from the Northwest Indiana Times article for those who don't like to click links:

INDIANAPOLIS | Senators from Northwest Indiana engaged passionately in the debate last week over gay marriage, one of the most controversial issues passed in the Legislature that closes its first half today.

Senate Joint Resolution 7 was approved 43-7 a week ago, but the battle that touches many aspects of life -- religious, sexual, historical and political, to name a few -- is just heating up.

Dueling rallies at the Statehouse next Tuesday promise to push emotions to a fever pitch as the second half gets under way....

And this from Senator Anita Bowser who is a voice crying in the wilderness:

Bowser compared gay rights to the civil rights movement, which at first made many politicians popular for championing discrimination but left a painful legacy. She said the last marriage amendments considered and rejected would have barred inter-racial marriage in 1912 and made divorce illegal in 1914.

U.S. soldiers are fighting in Iraq to protect freedoms, yet we won't grant equal freedom to our own citizens, she said. She told senators their conscience should not let them vote for something wrong simply to preserve their seats.

"I have yet to be shown one instance where your marriage is threatened by a gay person getting married," Bowser said.

And a most disturbing quote from the Joint Resolution 7's author, Senator Brandt Hershman:

Hershman said the Legislature has always reserved the right to define marriage, because the state has a compelling interest to promote marriage for the sake of rearing children, which the court recently reaffirmed. It preserves thousands of years of tradition, he said.

"This amendment does nothing to take away a right that has ever been given," Hershman said. "With malice toward none, we seek to preserve the way it has always been."

(Sigh) Does nothing to take away a right that has ever been given. Preserves the way it has always been. Preserves thousands of years of tradition. I'm glad Abraham Lincoln did not buy those arguments back when we were figuring out that slavery was a tradition that needed to be changed.

I will enjoy my stay in Boston. I may start looking at housing options for us.