Sunday, November 30, 2008

Loss and Remembrance: World AIDS Day 2008

The summer after my junior year in high school, I attended a six week residential program for intellectually gifted students known as Governor's School. North Carolina Governor's School is the oldest statewide program of this type in the U.S., integrating academic disciplines and the arts. There are no grades, no tests, just learning for the sheer joy of learning. I loved it but not just because of the joys of intellectual exploration; it's where I met a boy.

His name was Hoagy. He was there to study drama; I was there to study French. He was funny, sweet, and talented. I was totally enamored of him. I adored him all summer and cried when we had to part. During my senior year, my best friend, who was allowed to drive her family car, took me down to the coastal community where he lived and the three of us spent the day roaming the sand dunes. That Christmas he sent me the first gift that I had ever received from a boy, a delicate silver necklace ornamented by a cross with a single turquoise stone in the center. I thought that it was the most beautiful gift that I had ever received.

I think that Hoagy was gay. I think that he tried to tell me on at least one occasion but I didn't understand, and I suspect that neither did he. I also think that he may have been in the first wave of young gay men to die from AIDS.

I lost contact with him for several years and then he turned up managing a bookstore where my younger sister worked. By then, I think that he was living his life as a gay man. He became ill. His health grew steadily and rapidly worse, and then he was dead.

December 1, 2008 is World AIDS Day. A site that I joined some time ago, Bloggers Unite, (BU) has selected World AIDS Day as a focus for its social awareness campaign. Throughout the year, BU selects various social awareness issues and asks bloggers to illuminate the issues by writing blog entries about them. As I thought of what to write in recognition of World AIDS Day, my mind conjured up the smiling face of a young man who made me feel appreciated more than 30 years ago.

I don't remember the exact year that Hoagy died, but I think it was in the early 1980s, when AIDS was still a "gay disease," spoken about in hushed whispers. Sadly, there are still far too many people who labor under the belief that AIDS is a selective disease. HIV/AIDS is an equal opportunity disease. It doesn't tap on the door and inquire, "Any gay people here?"

I read an op-ed in the New York Times (link sent courtesy of Marc, Le Trash Whisperer) that spoke among other things of a strategy for decreasing the opposition to gay rights issues. The author, Charles M. Blow, points out that a significantly higher percentage of African-American women voted in favor of California's Prop 8 (banning same -sex marriage) than black men. (Note: The black population in California was not the decisive factor in the passage of Prop 8; pundits estimate that it would have passed even without the black vote.) He suggests that the best strategy to persuade black women, who typically vote in higher numbers than black men in most elections, to rethink their opposition to gay rights is to put it in terms of a health issue.

The more stigma attached to being gay, the less likely someone is to admit, even to himself or herself, to being gay. People end up living a lie, to their detriment and the detriment of those with whom they have intimate relationships. In a 2003 study of HIV infected people, 34% of infected black men said that they had sex with women and men, while only 6% of infected black women thought that their partners were bisexual. Among infected white men, 13% said that they had sex with men and women and 14% of infected white women stated that they knew their partners were bisexual.

I do not wish to be misleading and suggest that only men engaging in bisexual behavior are responsible for the increased rate of HIV/AIDS among women (see chart for most recent data [2005] on infected women); it is a factor but according to a 2005 CDC HIV/AIDS Report, the majority of infected women were infected via high-risk heterosexual contact. However, I was struck by Mr. Blow's discussion of the need to focus on the health issue aspect as a tool to persuade black women that it is in our self-interests to change our cultural perceptions of homosexuality. As he puts it, "The more open blacks are to the idea of homosexuality, the more likely black men would be to discuss their sexual orientations and sexual histories. The more open they are, the less likely black women would be to put themselves at risk unwittingly." ( Charles M. Blow)

I don't know if the answer is quite as simple as linking gay rights and health issues, but I think that a focus on health issues should be a piece of the strategy for keeping our attention on HIV/AIDS as a disease and not an issue of religion or morality. I think that there has been progress made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS since a sensitive boy made an awkward girl feel pretty but there is still a long road ahead and the journey is far from over.

The theme for World AIDS Day is leadership--from all sectors--government, individuals, families, communities, and organizations. I take this to mean that we are collectively and individually responsible for keeping this health issue on the front burner. HIV/AIDS is a pandemic, it knows no geographic boundaries. It is a worldwide problem and it requires a worldwide effort to conquer it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Letting Go and Removing Splinters

Note: I've vacillated for over an hour about posting the following. Normally I just write what I'm thinking and put it out there. However, I confess that I had some concerns about this post. I read a comment to one of my earlier posts that I found fundamentally disturbing and I wanted to respond to the comment. However, when I checked out the commenter's blog, I was unsettled by what I found there. After communications from friends that I trust and respect, I've decided that I would not be true to my sense of personal integrity if I didn't publish my thoughts unexpurgated.

I always read my comments. Sometimes, I write about a comment that grabs my attention. A new reader left the following comment on a recent post. (The use of capitalization is Micky's own little stylistic touch.)

Micky said...

"You will not have intercourse with a man as you would with a woman. This is a hateful thing.” (Lev 18: 22)

I find Micky's all caps statement, "homosexuality is a sin," as offensive as I find the use of the word "nigger." Normally I refuse to write the word, using the the euphemistic "n-word." I use it here for its shock value. Mickey's statement offends and shocks my senses. I find it to be a crass and crude attack on people that I care about that I know to be gay, and on the millions of people in this world that so often have to hide elements of their true self even from their family and friends.

I really don't have the energy to explain to Micky that Leviticus is one of several Old Testament books that presented the laws by which the Israelites were to live. Nor do I have the time to clarify that Leviticus is focused on instructing the Israelites who are about to enter the land of Canaan after the exodus from Egypt not to engage in the behaviors of either their former masters, the Egyptians, or of their new neighbors, the Canaanites. Chapter 18 is particularly fixated on prohibiting all types of sexual behavior, specifying against men lying with their mother, their brother's wife, their sister, their aunt, their neighbor's wife and with any woman who is menstruating. (She is deemed to be unclean. )

I didn't take the time to do in depth research of social customs of the land of Canaan or ancient Egypt, but I do know that intermarriage of close relatives in the upper classes was not uncommon. It was a way of continuing blood lines and ensuring their purity. No doubt, the prohibitions were intended to make it clear to the Israelites that such practices were not to be adopted by them.

If I had the energy, I'd explain to Micky that the Bible was written by men. I don't see that it detracts from the Bible being divinely inspired, but the hands that wrote the words on the page were human hands, directed by human brains. The Bible is a fascinating review of the cultural norms, beliefs, and practices of the many peoples who inhabited the middle east for generations. Many of the prohibitions in Leviticus stem from the cultural practices of one people being juxtaposed with those of another people. The laws in Leviticus are about maintaining a separate cultural identity for the new immigrants from their neighbors in the land of Canaan. They are about a displaced people trying to survive, to maintain their heritage. What better way to insure that these laws were followed than to assert that they come directly from God?

No doubt, by now Micky is convinced that I am profaning the word of God. I have respect and faith in God. That is why I don't believe that She really took the time to specify when it is okay to eat the fruit from your orchard. (According to Leviticus 19:23-25, when you plant a fruit tree, you must not eat any fruit it may bear for the first three years. The fruit that it bears in the fourth year must all be given to God. It is only in the fifth year that you may eat of the fruit.) Leviticus is filled with admonitions about gleaning fields and food preparation, perhaps important to maintaining a people's cultural identity through adherence to social customs but not really something of significance to the Creator of the universe.

I also wonder if Micky has noted that if we accept a literal interpretation of the verse from Leviticus that he cites, then lesbians are okay. The prohibition is directed towards men and specifies that a man is not to lie with another man as he would lie with a woman. It doesn't say anything about what women can do. So Ellen can lie with Portia and there's no harm done.

I'm also thinking that I should direct Micky to Leviticus 20:11 that provides that if a man and woman commit adultery that they are both to be put to death. The number of electric chairs required to apply this biblical law would likely cause a power outage over most of the planet.

The Bible contains many lessons and many spiritual truths but it also contains ideologies shaped by the social and cultural norms of the the various time frames in which it was written. (Note: the Bible was not all written at once, in a single sitting by a single author.) If we literally follow every proclamation made in the Christian Bible, we will have everything from requirments for self-mutilation (If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out) to prohibitions against the physically disabled being allowed to offer food on the altar of God (Leviticus 21: 17-23).

I have my own favorite Bible verse, one with which I'm not certain that Micky is familiar, Matthew 7: 1-5.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

Micky proclaims on his profile that he is saved. I would hope that he is saved from the ugly hate that he has taken it upon himself to express towards his brothers and sisters. I hope that he is saved from continuing on the path of arrogance that spurs him to be judge over his brothers and sisters. I hope that he takes to heart another of my favorite teachings from the Bible, "Love thy neighbor."

I confess that I find it difficult to always love my neighbor. As I've been reminded by the words of a dear friend, even those with whom I fundamentally disagree are my neighbors and I must let go of any ill will that I harbor against them. I have much work to do to remove the wooden beam from my own eye so that I may look with charity even upon those whose beliefs offend me. I'm working on it every day.

NOTE: Language of the Biblical quotes is that of the New American Bible

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Creative Spirit

Perhaps it's the season, but there is a lot of giving going on here lately. Earlier this week, Alan of Robert's Roost and Lessons for a New World, was kind enough to include my blog as a recipient of the Arte y Pico Award. I have learned a great deal from Alan about the importance of communication. I have greatly enjoyed my dialogues with him, spurred by our various blog entries. It touches me deeply that he included me in his list of award recipients.

I am always curious about the origins of things, so I went searching for the origins of the Arte y Pico Award . I found a blog with that name, written primarily in Spanish. Hablo espanol un poquito, pero no se muchas palabras. (I speak a little Spanish, but I have a limited vocabulary.)

From my halting translation, the site appears to have devised the award to recognize artistic creativity in textile based arts such as fabric dolls, quilting, and knitted and crocheted items. From tracing the award around the Internet, it appears to have been expanded to cover an all around recognition of creativity.

Today has not been my best day and Alan's thoughtfulness has given me a bit of brightness in an otherwise dark day. I think that this type of inter-community recognition means a lot more than I have previously realized. I hope that my own choices bring a smile to the lips of the recipients.


1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.
2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.
3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award.
4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art." (Actually, that's a pretty loose translation but close enough.)
5. Show these rules.

There are many good bloggers out there, so to narrow my choices, I decided to only select blogs where the author demonstrates creativity in the visual arts. They are painters, photographers, collage makers, art teachers...

(1) A New Bridge by Bea
(2) Gina's Space by Gina
(3) Judith Heartsong by Judith Heartsong
(5) The Painting Activist by Ashley Cecil

I include a sixth site that isn't a blog. This means that you (Marc) are excused from having to follow the rules. It's included because of its creative content.

(6) Arcistry by Marc Olmsted

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The River of Change is Wide and Deep

I read a post over at Marc's place, Le Trash Whisperer, about multiple topics but the one that particularly grabbed my thoughts had to do with the passage of the discrimination law, Prop 8, a California state initiative on the 2008 ballot. In case you have been shipwrecked in the south seas since November 4, Prop 8 legalized discrimination by revoking the right of gay couples to marry in California.

Marc has published several thoughtful pieces about the significance of the passage of Prop 8. I am awed by his ability to be far more reasonable and rational about this topic than I am.

I am unforgiving and judgemental. I find the denial of the right to enter into marriage based on the sexual orientation of the two people who wish to marry to be an unconscionable act of discrimination and those that support this discrimination to be bigots. I don't believe that declaring oneself not to be a bigot means anything; in this matter, actions and beliefs shout bigotry louder than any words of denial.

Marc suggests that there is a middle ground or compromise position that would allow for civil unions between any adults who choose that route, including gay couples, but that would reserve the term "marriage" for straight couples. I think that I understand his logic--so many who are against gay marriage insist that they object to what they perceive as the expansion of marriage to include same-sex partners and want it declared that marriage is only for male/female unions. Marc's solution would eliminate the entire debate as to how allowing two same-sex adults to marry would somehow undermine the institution of marriage.

While I respect Marc's proposal, I don't think that it would work. I think that the so-called "defense of marriage" forces would simply find other reasons to object to same sex unions, regardless of what they are called. I find it curious that the defenders of marriage only find the institution to be threatened by allowing two same-sex adults who wish to publicly profess their love for one another and their commitment to that love to marry. I figure that if marriage can survive infidelity, divorce, and indifference by one or more partners, it ought to be able to survive a few more people willing to give a lifetime commitment a try. It's not as if heterosexuals have made a huge success of lasting marriages; I really don't see how gay couples could do any worse.

A lot of people, including me, have made parallels between the racial civil rights movement and the gay civil rights movement. After giving it some additional thought, I actually think that it may have been simpler for black people to achieve legal equality coupled with forward movement in social equality than it is going to be for gay people. Religion ultimately worked in favor of black people. Even in the heyday of slavery, the impetus of the abolitionist movement was born out of some Christian churches taking an inventory and recognizing that slavery and Christianity mixed about as well as oil and water. Certainly there were those who looked to the Bible to justify slavery, particularly among southern denominations. (Genesis 9:25-27 re: the children of Ham was often cited.) However, the abolitionist movement that blossomed in America grew out of an anti-slavery evangelicalism that had its roots in movements in England and in America that began to question human bondage as being consistent with a belief in a loving God and an obligation to love one's neighbor.

The intertwining of the civil rights movement and religion continued into the 20th century. The heart of the racial civil rights movement was grounded in a moral concept of the worth of all humans, regardless of skin color. After all, the largest symbol of the movement was a minister who appealed to basic principles of Christianity in promoting the message of equality. It was difficult for all but the most hardened, sheet wearing, cross-burning bigots to argue that the Christian God condoned keeping a people in bondage or subjected to second class citizenship because of the color of their skin.

Disturbingly, there is a refusal by a significant segment of organized religion to recognize anti-gay rights sentiment as being in the least bit immoral. To the contrary, they are certain that morality is on their side. They don't view the issue as denying rights to a group of people based on sexual orientation but rather as refusing to recognize what they view as unnatural, an aberration in the sight of man and God.

The phrase that I've heard for years is, "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." I find this sentiment hypocritical and nonsensical, but those that espouse it are rock solid in their self-righteousness. I don't know that they would be moved if their son or daughter, or grandchild declared, "I'm gay." I've seen far too many families close the door on all interactions with a family member who comes out of the closet. They pray for the "sinner" to see the error of his or her ways. On family holidays, a few daring souls speak about the absent family member in occasional hushed whispers, certain in their moral righteousness that they have followed God's law.

I don't have an answer. I believe that communication and education is essential, and we must continue to speak truth in a loud and clear voice and refuse to validate bigotry regardless of the basis for that bigotry.

However, I am disturbed at where my thoughts have taken me. I don't feel optimistic about social change taking place regarding gay civil rights to the same extent as black civil rights in the near future. I am also even more convinced of the absolute necessity of pushing forward with legal protections of those rights with "all deliberate speed."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thank You, Indigo

I have always thought of writing as something that I do because I can't imagine not doing it. Of course, I also want to be read, to be understood, to have someone say, "I know what you mean." That is why it was such a delightful gift to find that Indigo, Scream Quietly, listed my blog among her seven picks for the Marie Antoinette, A Real Person, A Real Award. I don't know the origins of the award, but I accept it with humility.

I am delighted because Indigo is herself a writer that makes me nod my head in understanding on a regular basis. I am also thrilled to be in the company of Indigo's other award recipients, all of whom write with clarity, depth, and a good dose of well placed humor.

In addition to saying thank you for the award, I must also make my own nominations. Not an easy task to choose seven out of the many fine bloggers out there.

Here are the Rules for the Award:

1. Please put the logo on your blog
2. Place a link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Nominate at least 7 or more blogs
4. Put the links of those blogs on your blog
5. Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.

I nominate the following blogs for this award:

Diary of a Podgy Poof

Latent Thoughts

The Self-Sufficient Steward

Kickin Tina

Prison's A Bitch

Isn't She Great

Random Threads

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Choice Ain't Got Nothing To Do With It

I had a good chat with my sister, Rhonda, today. She's married to that maven of fame, Bob.

Rhonda is often my muse. She has all of these great ideas and she doesn't mind my swiping them for writing material. Today we were talking about my last blog entry; the one about how the percentage of black folks who engage in homophobia and anti-gay discrimination is disgraceful. I was sharing concerns with my sister that were raised by my blogami, Marc, that the focus needs to be on addressing the express rejection by some in the black community that discrimination based on skin color and discrimination based on sexual orientation are equally offensive and indefensible.

The reasoning among black people that I know personally and on some of the black websites and blogs is that we don't choose our skin color but that people choose to be gay. I've always found this to be outright idiocy. If people choose to be gay, then obviously the rest of us choose to be straight. I don't recall ever making that choice. I just remember being in fourth grade and really wanting Bruce, who was in sixth grade, to notice me. I didn't make a decision to like boys; I just did and do. I figure that it's the same way for people who are gay. Do you choose to be right handed, left handed, or ambidextrous? No, you just are.

My sister and I were discussing this when I shared with her that the core issue for me was that it really shouldn't matter even if one's sexual orientation were something that you chose.

"If I choose to shave my head, does that mean that my boss should be able to fire me because she doesn't like women with bald heads?"

Rhonda, who is actually a whole lot sharper than I am, took my babbling about bald-headed women to a much more relevant analogy--choosing to wear Afrocentric or ethnic hairstyles. You may recall that I wrote about hair as political more than once when I was blogging on AOL journals. (It's a Hair Thang! and Embracing Me...). Simply put, black women choosing to wear natural hairstyles still run the risk of discrimination including being fired from their jobs.

A collateral effect of the civil rights movement was the acceptance by the Black community that our natural hair texture didn't need fixing. Afros became a political statement and a fashion statement, followed by a multitude of other styles that played up our natural hair textures. However, this embracing of the natural also has resulted in lawsuits involving employers attempting to ban certain hairstyles from the workplace as being unprofessional, hairstyles typically worn by black people--braids, cornrows, twists, afros, and locks. This hair issue is not a thing of the past, in 2007, two women who worked at a corrections facility in Virginia were fired because their supervisor decreed that their natural braids and locks were inappropriate and extreme hairstyles, and they refused to alter them. In 2006 in Virginia Beach, Kokoamos Island Bar refused admission to people wearing their hair in locks, twists, cornrows, or braids. Another 2007 story had a private pre-school expelling a three year old because his parents chose to lock his hair.

I certainly support that black women have the right to choose to wear their hair in whatever style pleases them and that it is discrimination to object to styles that are more readily worn by black women and men that reflect our ethnic and cultural heritage. However, if we follow the logic of the, "Oh no you don't try to claim that racial discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation are fruit of the same poisonous tree. You choose to be gay; I don't choose to be black!," well, I think that we lose on the hairstyles thing. After all, I choose how I wear my hair. I don't have to refuse to straighten my hair. I choose to wear twists, braids or an afro. My sister chooses to wear her rocking locks. Clearly if one chooses some attribute then it's okay to discriminate against you on the basis of that attribute. Not!

I realize that I probably won't readily change anyone's mind based on this logic, but I'm certainly going to give it a shot. It seems beyond unreasonable to me to find discrimination acceptable. The LGBT community comes in all colors, including black. If you believe that you don't have anyone in your family who is gay, you probably also still believe in the tooth fairy. I find this whole argument of choosing or not choosing to be ludicrous and a distraction from the real issue. There are people who live in this country, who contribute to this country, who pay taxes, but who are denied a right that the rest of us take for granted, the right to publicly and legally declare their commitment to the person whom they love. I cannot and will not be silent in the face of bigotry; even if that face bears the same skin color as my own.

Marc has written an article that is published online on the topic of California's Prop 8 and gay marriage issues. Click this link to check it out.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's About Civil Rights

I sometimes read a blog known as Pandagon, but I hadn't visited in a while until a friend sent me a link directing me to the comments on a post by one of the writers, Pam Spaulding.

Spaulding who is both black and a lesbian, had written about the successful initiatives in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida to legalize discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation. She also addressed the significant percentage (70%) of Black voters who had voted for Prop 8 in California, overturning recent law that recognized that people who are gay were entitled to marry the person whom they loved, a right that straight people take for granted. Spaulding pointed out that in spite of the large numbers, that as Blacks make up 6.2% of California's population and about 10% of voters, it isn't likely that the Black population was responsible for single-handedly passing Prop 8. However, she also indicated that the large anti-homosexual feelings that run deep in Black communities across the nation need to be addressed directly. Spaulding suggested that the LGBT community needed to engage in more outreach in the Black community challenging homophobia and bigotry based on sexual orientation.

For those of us who are black and gay, a group too often marginalized within a marginalized community, I see this as a clear signal to the LGBT advocacy community. There hasn’t been enough outreach to those groups who voted against us. We haven’t reached them; there hasn’t been enough effort expended. (Spaulding )

I think that Ms. Spaulding has a valid point, but as I was reading my friend Marc's blog entry for today, another thought hit me. When I was younger, and the civil rights movement was the hope of the future, I remember sitting in a discussion group and trying to explain to a well meaning young white woman that ultimately it was other white people who had to challenge white racism. I'm not certain that she understood me, but my words came back to me as I read Marc's entry.

As a black person, I have experienced bigotry and discrimination first hand. I know what it does to one's psyche to be treated as less than, to be denied the same rights as the majority population because you and your people have been identified as other. How can I not vehemently oppose any attempts to place any other group of people in that same cage with a lock forged from irrational fear and hatred? The same words that I spoke to that young woman some 30 years ago, I spoke to myself today with a little modification. As a black person, who understands that bigotry in any form is unacceptable, I have to challenge other people, black and white, when it comes to discriminating against anyone based on his or her sexual orientation. I like to think that I have lived my life in such a way that I have done this consistently. However, today I concluded that there is an even more important need for me to specifically address the Black community on this issue of civil rights where we should be standing in solidarity.

Yesterday, while reading Spaulding's post, I also read the comments that followed. One of them was from a woman who identified herself as a Black woman. She leaves a series of comments that get progressively more defensive and offensive. Listed below is her comment that started the discussion ball rolling ; the punctuation and spelling are those of the commenter:

Here’s my drop of honesty on this one: I am Black and a Woman.... but, I am pretty sure I am atypical:
-I do not go to church -I am selfish (I LOVE myself more than I love other people...I do not sacrifice myself on the alter of womanhood and motherdom) -I have dated more White men than Black men
-I do not espouse the status quo or the Patriarchy and I do not shy away from the word “feminist”

Here’s the thing though---; When presented with the question about whether homosexuals should be able to marry and adopt, my answer is NO. Furthermore: When people start waxing on about how anti gay marriage laws are reminiscent of anti miscegination laws and / or making comparisons between racism and anti homosexual sentiments, my hearing gets turned off. There you have it. Uhura! on 11/05 at 02:03 PM

I left the following comment addressing Uhura's words, but my comment is really for anyone who thinks like the person calling herself Uhura (I confess that as a long time fan of Star Trek in all its incarnations, I am really offended by her appropriation of Uhura's name):

Dear Uhura:

I’m a 53-year-old black, southern woman. I proudly identify myself as a feminist. I am spiritual but I don’t attend church regularly. However, unlike you, my hearing is just fine and discrimination is discrimination no matter what disguise it may wear. Gay rights are a civil rights issue.

Denying people basic civil liberties based on sexual orientation is just as discriminatory as denying rights based on skin color, ethnicity, age, disability, national origin, socioeconomic class, or religious belief.

Indeed, the very act of demanding that people convince you as to why they are entitled to the same protections under the law as you are entitled to is in and of itself, discrimination.

If someone were to ask me to justify why black people are entitled to protection under the laws of this country, I would think that person to be a complete and utter fool. No one has to justify why they are deserving of civil rights. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence that sets out the founding principals of this country presents that these rights are "Inalienable." They cannot be taken away because they are not conveyed; they are each and every person's entitlement as a human being. Don't worry, I'm quite aware that the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration and subsequently our Constitution has been an ongoing and sometimes sluggish process, but the ideology is clear.

No group of people has to justify why they are entitled to the same rights experienced by the majority. It is the responsibility of the majority to specifically delineate the basis for any restriction on those rights. That's the basis for our entire legal system. If someone is accused of violating a law, that person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. It is only when a jury of ones' peers determines that one is guilty of the allegations against him or her that the person's civil liberties are suspended.

You offer no basis for suspending the civil rights of an entire class of people based on their sexual orientation other than that you just aren't in favor of the idea of gay marriage or the adoption of children by gay parents.

"I really have a hard time expressing exactly why, and I would love to be converted to the other side of the argument. "(Uhura)

I find this exceptionally lazy. If you are going to express your belief that some people are not entitled to the same freedoms that you enjoy, you should at least make the effort to articulate the basis for your bigotry. Uhura, I really hate to burst your balloon, but you are a bigot and one of the more disturbing kind. Having grown up in the south, I have always preferred my racial bigots to be honest. Tell me flat out that you believe that my skin color makes me inferior and not entitled to the same rights and freedoms that you enjoy. Don't do some song and dance about how I need to persuade you of why I should have the rights that you so freely enjoy.

Your type of rhetoric is only designed to make you feel justified in your bigotry, to be able to tell yourself that you are not a bigot; it's those gay people who can't even justify why they should be allowed to get married or adopt children. No one has to justify why he or she is entitled to the same freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution to everyone.

Discriminating against the LGBT community is a civil rights issue, just like racial discrimination is a civil rights issue. No sane person would ever ask me to offer reasons why I am entitled to the same rights as white people. So Uhura, I offer you some choices: (1) you are insane; (2) you are a bigot; or (3) you are an insane bigot. You choose, but please stop running around pretending that you offer the black perspective.

Certainly there is a larger focus in segments of the black community on anti-gay sentiment and as Pam points out, there needs to be some serious strategizing as to how to ameliorate the bias. I also agree that the debate needs to be reframed to focus not on religious beliefs but on access to equal rights and equal treatment under the law.

Uhura, just so we are clear, I am not gay. I normally don't identify my sexual orientation except to people with whom I intend to have sex, but given your demonstrated proclivities for labeling any black person who disagrees with you as only doing so because they have a secret gay agenda, (Uhura accused a black male, who challenged her opinions, of being gay, in very unflattering terms), I want to make it perfectly clear that the only agenda that I have is one that recognizes that to discriminate against any person is to lessen the integrity of us all.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama and the Audacity of Dreams

In my lifetime, I've had many dreams. Perhaps my biggest dream was that the words that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. intoned so eloquently on August 28, 1963 would become a reality. Most people only remember one part of Dr. King's speech on that day, the part where he speaks of dreaming that one day his four children will live in a nation where they "...will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

However there are other parts of that speech that resonate with me. Barack Obama has referenced a phrase from King's speech on numerous occasions, "the urgency of now." I think that Obama knows the entire speech and has not forgotten any part of it.

As Dr. King began his historic speech forty-five years ago, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he spoke of the history of black people, my people, in words that still move me.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

I was eight years old that summer and I lived in a world where the dream of racial justice was far from a reality. For all of my childhood and a large share of my adult life, that dream has been tantalizingly out of reach, that check has remained uncashed.

Tonight as I watched President-elect Barack Obama stride onto the stage in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, a tapestry of race and ethnicity, I felt giddy with joy and hope. For the first time in my life, I feel that this is truly my country. I believe that America can and will make good on that promissory note. It won't be simple and it won't be immediate. We still have our walls that divide us and we have to learn to listen to each other, and to respect each other. We have to learn to accept our differences rather than trying to shape everyone into some generic norm that means giving up parts of one's sense of culture and identity.

It has truly been a long time coming, but I think that we may have just received a payment from the bank of justice.

The video is of an a capella singing group that I like a great deal known as Sweet Honey in the Rock. The song is entitled Ella's Song and is a tribute to civil rights activist Ella Baker. The video includes the lyrics.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Really Have to Stop Reading My Spam E-mail

I've been so consumed with the presidential campaign that I haven't taken the time to engage in the self-absorption that I promised when I began this journal. Let me remedy that oversight right now.

My spam email today contained this little gem: Why Didn't He Call You? Your Nov 2 Dish. From the subject line, I thought that maybe the email was in reference to cooking; but no, it was yet another email about my love life or lack of one.

The intro to the email proclaimed that I was receiving the "free dating advice newsletter" because I subscribed at the sender's web site, (she indicates that her name is Paige), Dating Without Drama.

Sometimes I misplace my keys and just today, I asked my sister to telephone me so that I could find my cell phone, but I'm pretty certain that I did not subscribe to Paige's web site. For one thing, I like drama in everything so I certainly wouldn't want to date without drama.

If you're wondering about the "dish" part, well it has nothing to do with cooking. Paige entitles her publication, Dating Dish Newsletter. As this issue was dated November 2, I assume that unless I click that "unsubscribe" link, I will be receiving sage advice from Paige on a regular basis.

My curiosity (or perhaps dating desperation) led me to check out Paige's website where she promised all sorts of insights: men's 6 secret commitment fears exposed, 11 simple secrets to attracting men, the calling game decoded, and my personal favorite, how to decode men's behavior.

Before getting started on all of these topics, I decided to accept the invitation to take the "Understanding Men" quiz. It only had five questions and promised that Paige would review my responses and send me a personal analysis. I quickly selected my answers, entered my email address, and error message. I tried again and click...another error message. I felt alone and abandoned as I realized that I would not be receiving personal advice from Paige and I would never know if I understood men.

I decided not to wallow in my abandonment, and I clicked on the link to order Paige's opus on capturing men, oops, I mean dating! I encountered an even longer list of promised insights. In addition, Paige offered me three books free of charge. All I had to do was send her $24.95 for an e-copy of Dating Without Drama and I, too, could become a man magnet! However, if I really want to achieve a fun, flirty, and fabulous love life, I also have to accept a 30 day trial copy of Paige's CD, "You Ask, Men Answer." The CD will help me understand exactly how men think and calm my fears. If I like the first CD, I get to keep it. (Darn that Paige, she is generous to a fault!) In addition, every month, I will receive a new CD and be charged just $19.95 for it.

After giving it some thought, I have realized that I am not certain that I want men or their secrets to be exposed and I just don't have fears that need calming. However, I appreciate Paige's thoughtfulness. In closing her email, she promised to write again soon and identified herself as my friend. I feel so loved.

Note to Paige: I appreciate the friendly advice but I think that Aretha sums it all up so much better.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

Take me to heart and I’ll always love you
And nobody can make me do wrong
Take me for granted, leaving love unshown
Makes will-power weak and temptation strong

A woman’s only human
You should understand
She’s not just a plaything
She’s flesh and blood just like her man

If you want a do-right-all-day woman
You’ve got to be a do-right-all-night man

They say that it’s a man’s world
Well you can't prove that by me
And as long as we’re together baby
Show some respect for me