Howl of the KweerWolf

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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Saying "I do ... need the publicity"

Bginning Dec. 21 in England, same-sex couples will be allowed to get married. Well, maybe not "married" exactly, but enter into Civil Partnerships ... so I guess the term will be "civily partnered."

That's a major step for the U.K. and a major victory of British gays and lesbians, including some high-profile couples who have announced plans to tie the knot or bind the partnership or however they will describe it.

Among them is Elton John - oops! "Sir" Elton John, I mean - and his partner David Furnish, who seemed to make a mad dash to announce their plans as soon as the U.K. approved civil partnerships. Not to be outdone, George Michael of the nearly forgotten due "Wham" (not to mention his long-remembered Beverly Hills tearoom arrest) and his partner, Kenny Goss, jumped onto the partnership bandwagon and announced they plan to exchange vows soon, probably early next year.

Call me cynical (though I much prefer the phrase "wise in the ways of the world"), but it's hard to look at these to impending nuptuals as love matches when they have all the trappings of marriages of convenient publicity.

First we have Elton whose career peak came and went decades ago. "The Bitch is Back," according to Elton's song from the days when he still had talent, but in his case the song should have been titled "The Bitch is STILL Here!" Now, instead of turning out pop songs that actually get played on the radio, Elton is trying to dig his fingernails into fame and hang on by singing duets with anyone who'll sing with him. (Remember his embarassing duet with homophobic rapper Eminem on the Grammys a few years ago? That was the first time I noticed his eyebrows move around like two wooly catepillars desparately trying to flee his face when he sings.)

If he can't find anyone to sing with him, Elton tries to keep the spotlight shining on him with outrageously bitchy comments, a la attacking Madonna for miming her songs (for which he later apologized).

Not to be outdone in the race to the altar, George Michael hopes to civily partner with his boyfriend "probably after the first of the year," according to He also adds, much to the relief of fashionistas everywhere, "We won't be doing the whole veil and gown thing."

Oddly enough, the wedding does seem to correspond with the release of a rather self-indulgently titled documentary George Michael: A Different Story, which follows the highs and lows of George's life and career. Apparently, his relationship with boyfriend Goss is one of the highs and is featured prominently in the film; so what better way to promote a documentary on a fading pop star than take the relationship to its logical conclusion and get hitched. Mediocre sit-com writers have been using the "wedding angle" to boost ratings during the all-important sweeps periods for years. (These same writers also use the "new baby angle," too ... but please don't tell Elton or George that unless you want to see baby photos of Elton's or George's new baby gracing the cover of People magazine the next time their stardom begins to fade.)

Maybe I shouldn't be so cynical. Perhaps Elton's and George's partnerships are truly love matches with their soul mates. But these are cynical times and it's easy to imagine that both fading divas (or is it "divos"?) captializing on their partnerships as an attempt to hang onto past glories.

As high profile as these civil partnerships will be, I just don't want to read any headlines a year or so from now like "Elton calls it splitsville with hubby" or "George Michael's partner dumps him after 'tearoom' incident." That would just provide more ammunition to the anti same-sex marriage folks who will use it as "proof" that we shouldn't be allowed to marry.

For now I'll wish the best for Elton and David and George and Kenneth - and remind them rather pointedly that the rest of us are counting on them.

And I'll add a tip of the hat to Queen Elizabeth's mother, the Queen mum, who, with the impending "marriages," will soon by the last tired old queen still single in Britain.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Helping Fred celebrate half a century of hate

A milestone passed on Sunday and none of the mainstream media picked up on it. Neither were their proclamations signed nor speeches made by politicians to commemorate the event. Yet the LGBT community should mark the passing of this event because their lives and issues are intricately entwined with it.

Fred Phelps, everyone's favorite posterboy for homophobia, marked the 50th anniversary of "preachin' the gospel" at his Westboro Baptist Church in Topkea, Kan.

Fearing the milestone would pass unnoticed, Fred sent out his own self-congratulatory flyer of his goldern anniversary as a hatemonger who wraps his hatred in a perverted version of Christianity. Just how perverted his "religion" is becomes evident when you see just how hard the rest of the radical religious reich like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson work to distance themselves from the likes of Fred and his tiny congregation of mostly family members.

Phelps is so far out there on the far-flung fringes of extremism that the head of the Illnois Family Institute denounced him earlier this year and suggested Fred had been "planted" among the religious reich to gain sympathy for all those homo-seck-shuls he claims God hates.

Living less than an hour down thr road from Phelps' stomping grounds, I was aware of him and his little in-bred clan long before he burst onto the national scene. Fred started on a small scale picketing in the Topeka area to draw attention to all the "fag sodomy" occurring across the street from his little compound in Gage Park. This was during the '80s and Fred was able to latch on the coattails of the AIDS epidemic to spread his message. It wasn't long before he began picketing the funerals of persons who had died of AIDS.

Apparently those evil fags in Topeka weren't dying in sufficient numbers to suit him. Fred began exporting his pickets to other cities around the area, including Kansas City. At first he was a novelty. Then the novelty wore off and the local media began ignoring him. With every snub from the media, Fred stove for controversy on an even larger scale and soon landed an interview on ABC News' "20/20" where then host Hugh Downs prefaced the piece by calling Phelps "one of the most outrageous characters we've ever featured."

Give a media whore some attention and he's going to want more. One stunt lead to another and another as he tried to remain in the media spotlight with a determination the surpassed even Madonna's. He picketed Matthew Shepard's funeral. He picketed the funeral of Fred Rogers or "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" children's TV fame. He picketed the funeral of Bill Clinton's mother. Lately he's even started picketing the funerals of U.S. soliders killed in Iraq, claiming that soliders are dying because America has become a "fag nation" and is facing God's wrath for its tolerance of homo-seck-shuls.

So why celebrate when Fred and marks his golden anniversary of spreading hate?

Simple. For better or worse (and with Phelps, it's usually worse), Fred makes it easier for us to win more straight allies. Just like the line in Frank Caprs's "It's a Wonderful Life," about how "every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings," every time Fred shows up with his "God Hates Fags" and "Fags Burn in Hell" signs, a few more straight allies are born.

Consider what happened here in Kansas City. Back in '87 after years of hard work behind the scene by LGBT groups, the city council was finally going to consider an ordinance adding sexual orientation to its non-discrimination law. Here in the Midwest, such laws were rare. While activists hoped and believed they had just enough votes to get the ordinance passed, Fred began showing up with his pickets around town. Suddenly city council members who were on the fence about gay rights issues came face to face with homophobia. Not the "polite" sort of homophobia that gets expressed in telling fag jokes in the tennis club locker room, but the rabid, unbridled version of homophobia. They were shocked. Then they got pissed. Then the ordinance passed unanimously.

Thank you, Fred Phelps. Bless you and your little pointed head.

Now wherever Fred and his merry band of cretins go, they may bring homophobia, but they also manage to sprinkle a bit of outrage in their wake like pixie dust.

While Fred is getting up in years and in poor health (rumors continue to float around that Fred is suffering from Parkinsons disease), have no fear because future generations of Phelps spawn stand ready to take up the challenge once Fred has suffled off his mortal coil. There's Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, who has become the designated spokesbigot for the church in recent years. And don't forget Phelps' grandson, Benjamin (Bend-Over Benji) Phelps, who is the "genius" behind the and web sites. Plus, there are all those darling little tykes running around wearing God Hates Fags t-shirts and holding picket signs depecting stick figures about to engage in sodomy, so future generations of homophobes are ensured.

Buffoons that they are, the Phelps clan is likely to be around for a while. And while they are around, we can continue to welcome our new allies who have been won over by their homophobic antics.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Same as a handshake

I am a member of that gay golden generation that came of age sexually between the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the appearance of AIDS 12 years later. My peers and I are among the last to know what it was like to exchange bodily fluids not only without a condom, but also without a fear that we were putting ourselves at risk of anything that couldn't be cured with a few shots of penicillin in the ass. The only thing remotely unsafe about sex back then was a cigarette smoked afterward.

Several years ago I dated a much, much younger guy. (He was in college at the time, so I wasn't exactly in Michael Jackson territory.) We went out a few times, but what he seemed to enjoy the most were long conversations about what it was like to be gay when I was his age. I'd haltingly tell him stories of trips to Kansas City as a college student and things I had seen (and participated in) at parties, in "cruising" areas, in the dark corners of gay bars, and once in a glass elevator overlooking the Country Club Plaza.

Talking about those times is difficult for me because of the hindsight of what came next. But for him it was as much as ancient history as a Roman orgy. "It was a different time," I told him. "We didn't have AIDS to worry about and a blow job was the same as a handshake." His eyes would be big with wonder and I was never sure whether he was feeling envy or amazement that such times ever really existed.

Now there's a new documentary that tries to recapture that time - a time Brad Gooch captured in the novel The Golden Age of Promiscuity and Larry Kramer wickedly satirized in Faggots. I haven't seen Joseph Lovett's "Gay Sex in the '70s" yet and I'm not sure I will. I've tried to convince myself that Lovett's film deals only with New York and my experiences in that vast wasteland those on the coasts call "the flyover" are much different from the perspective of a gay New Yorker of the same era. In truth it's more that thinking of the '70s evokes a mix of nostalgia and guilt.

The nostalgia comes from the unbridled freedom to explore your sexuality to its fullest potential. The guilt comes from knowing that so many others who did the same things I did are no longer here.

I was 12 when the Stonewall riots happened in New York. I hadn't heard about it at the time. That kind of news seldom filtered down to the rural small town in Southern Missouri where I grew up. But that same summer I was experiencing the beginnings of my own liberation. That was the summer when I discovered what jacking off meant and what "shooting sperm" felt like, courtesy of an older boy name Roy who was staying with his aunt across the street. The same summer that queers and drag queens were taking to the streets, I was learning about the kinds of things they were fighting for in a shaded "fort" hidden along a fence row.

I was 15 when I first read Dr. David Ruben's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Actually, the chapter on homosexuality was the only thing I read in the book. In it I learned that people like me shoved cucumbers and light bulbs up our asses in the absence of a partner and we could never be happy or find love because we were forever looking for "the perfect penis." The bad (and downright erroneous) information aside, the book did give me ideas of where I could meet people like me and I couldn't wait until I had my driver's license to go find them.

At 16 I was having a friend with excellent penmanship forge letters allowing me to leave school for appointments with doctors and dentists. Then I'd drive to the county seat of the next county where I had heard men like me met in the basement men's room. Ironically, I was already well-versed in the concept of the glory hole and the tea room before I even knew what the words meant. I was very popular among the mostly married men who dropped by and more than a few would hand me money afterwards. It never occurred that the offering was anything other than gas money for the trip home.

During my senior year in high school, Miss Wright, my teacher in a class called "family living," wrote across the top of my end-of-the-year term paper how glad she was I was going to college and how she was sure I'd find college to be a "more accepting place" than high school. When I discovered she didn't write a similar message on the term papers of other college-bound classmates, I wondered if she guessed the secret I worked so hard to keep hidden. Her prophecy came true in ways I'm not sure she ever intended.

College was a turning point for me. For the first time in my life I was away from the stifling, small town atmosphere and I reveled in my freedom. Once I had explored the options available in a larger (but still too small) college town, I set about discovering the carnal pleasures of Kansas City. Among the new words I learned was "Meat Rack." While every city has its own version of the meat rack, Kansas City's was a section of Penn Valley Park where a series of paths led through an "enchanted" forest where a short side path could lead you to a shaded spot beaten down by thousands of feet where you could witness just about any sexual act ever catalogued or imagined.

That was my sexual coming of age. Sex came easy. A willing partner was never more than a few steps away. If you forgot to ask his name, what did it matter? You weren't likely to see him again.

The '70s taught me all about sex. But the closet I got to love was exchanging phone numbers or, more likely, being turned on enough by a guy to feature him in jerk-off fantasies for those times I couldn't make it to the meat rack or any of the other places where sex was given so freely.

That was my version of "Gay Sex in the '70s." I'm not sure I need to see Lovett's version.

Earlier today I came across a column on PlanetOut on the documentary. It was written by a man born in 1974 (at about the same time I was skipping out of school to explore the courthouse's basement men's room). In the article he writes:

At the beginning of the new documentary, "Gay Sex in the '70s," the director refers to this era of drugs and anonymous sex as "the most libertine period the Western world has ever seen since Rome." And after watching the film, I'm glad I wasn't of age to experience it. ...

While certain aspects of the film did seem like the '70s might have been a good time -- nude sunbathing on Fire Island or hobnobbing with the glitterati at Studio 54, for instance -- the ramifications of unprotected sex with hundreds of people wouldn't have been worth it. I would have preferred to be a fly on the wall of a dark backroom, as opposed to having my fly unzipped as I was pushed up against the wall of a dark backroom.

As Rome eventually fell, so too did this decade of decadence. The era of free gay love came to a screeching halt in 1981 with the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. One would hope that the gay community would have learned from the past, but everything in life is cyclical. I am not surprised that, 20 years later, more and more gay men are involving themselves in risky behaviors, such as barebacking and PNP ("party and play") -- much as they did in the 70's.

My overall impression from the film was that the promiscuous gay sex in the '70s, while fun at the time, is best left to the homo history books. And that "Chelsea Piers" would be a great name for a drag queen.

So perhaps one day I'll write my own "homo history book" about what it was like to have gay sex in the '70s. But I don't want to stop with just descriptions of acts and partners and settings. I'd want to show what came next. Sure, there was the scourge of AIDS, but for those of us who made it through it there was something else, too. We learned about caring for each other in new ways. We learned to comfort each other. We learned to grieve. We learned to stand up and fight back. We learned to be angry.

And somewhere along the way we learned about love, too.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Eulogy for a little known hero

An 82-year-old man died this week in Paris. His name was Pierre Seel.

It's not surprising that his name isn't recognized. After all, the French government had tried for years to sweep him under the carpet for what he represented: French complicity is the Nazi persecution of gays during World War II.

Seel was the last surviving "pink triangle" in France. He was arrested by the Nazi-controlled Vichy government in France at the age of 17 and sent to the only concentration camp located in France because he was gay. At the camp he was raped repeatedly by Nazi guards and sodomized with a wooden stake. His 18-year-old lover was killed at the camp and Seel was forced to watch while his lover was fed to the dogs the Germans used to help patrol the camp.

This is how Seel described his lover's death:

All the inmates were summoned to stand at attention in the camp's assembly ground. The camp commandant and all his troops were there. Into the center of the square we were ordered to form, two SS men dragged a young man. With stupefaction I recognized my beloved, Jo -- he and I hadn't seen each other since a few days before my arrest....The loudspeakers played noisy military music as the SS men stripped him naked, and violently jammed a metal bucket over his head. They unleashed on Jo the camp's ferocious guard-dogs, German Shepherds, who began to rip at his flesh -- first his genitals, and his thighs, and then they devoured Jo before our eyes. His screams of pain were amplified and distorted by the bucket over his head. Frozen in place and trembling, wide-eyed at seeing so much horror, I had tears running down my cheeks. I prayed that he would rapidly lose consciousness....

His experiences were recounted in his memoirs and seen the documentary on the Nazi persecution of gays, Paragraph 175. Seel was one of a handful of gay survivors of the Nazi extermination machine located to be interviewed for the film. Most of the surviving "pink triangles" (named for the patch on their prison uniforms that identified them as gay) lived out their lives in shame, shunned by their families and friends after the war. Most died quiet, anonymous deaths.

But not Seel. He refused to let the world forget.

As cruel as Seel's fate in the concentration camp was, what came later was just as cruel.

Throughout his life, Seel fought for the recognition of what happened to gays under the Vichy government and its Nazi overlords. He fought for compensation as well, but his attempts were denied by the French government. He penned his memoirs to draw attention to what had happened to gays in France under the Nazi occupation - and to what had happened to him as he continued to force France to admit its involvement in the imprisonment, torture and death of its own citizens.

Finally in 2003 Seel received official recognition as a victim of the Holocaust by the International Organization for Migration's program for aiding Nazi victims. But the fame he received would have its own consequences. After an appearance on French TV, Seel was assaulted and beaten by a street gang who called him a "dirty faggot."

Seel was a true hero for speaking out about what happened to him under the Nazis (and the Nazi-controlled Vichy government). Most gay survivors of the Nazi gay purges lived and died in shame, but Seel spoke up and refused to let the world ignore the fact that gays were not only the victims of the Holocaust, but victims of the German and French governments' attempts to hide this aspect of the Holocaust.

May his spirit find peace!

Addendum: Ironically, as I write this I think back to an incident that happened in a gay chat room last night. One of the chat participants showed up on cam with a graphic of a swastika.

If this was an attempt to spark controversy, then it was an extremely poor one. It's too bad that even in the gay community there are pieces of trash who find the Nazi symbol of hate "ironic" or even humorous to display in a gay chat room.

Almost as disheartening were the few individuals who defended the idiot's right to display the swastika as "free speech." Sorry, but tolerating that kind of hate speech stretches tolerance beyond its limit.

I wonder just how willing this piece of scum would be to display a swastika if he had faced even a tenth as much as Seel had faced in his life?


Friday, November 25, 2005

Finally ... the other side of marriage speaks out

I don't know Joseph DeFilippis or John D'Emilio, but I'd like to shake their hands.

The two men were among the activists at the recent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual Creating Change conference held this year in Oakland, Calif. They were also two of the loudest voices to question the LGBT movement's efforts to make marriage equality as THE queer rights issue.

"There were all these major marriage activists, and all these people who were really sick of it. Some people were sick of it because they felt it diverted energy and funds from other issues. And some people, like myself, are actually scared about what gay marriage is going to do," DeFilippis said in an interview with The Bay Area Reporter.

According to the article:

DeFilippis and others at last week's conference said they favored domestic partnerships and other ways to legally recognize nontraditional family structures such as the army of ex-lovers that often serves as a caregiving network for queers and polyamorous and extended families of all sexualities. Pushing for things like universal healthcare, they said, would be preferable to pretending that marriage would take care of LGBT people who do not have romantic partners or jobs with benefits. And upholding the notion that only romantically involved people are committed enough to deserve recognition, they said, could have devastating effects on the community.

If conferences like Creating Change are a microcosm of the national LGBT movement, then it is evident that more outreach must be done to bring pro-marriage and anti-marriage forces together in the struggle. This is particularly true in places like California, where the right wing has combined the issues of marriage and domestic partnerships in an effort to discriminate against all relationships – gay and straight – that deviate from the one man-one woman model of economic and legal responsibility.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against marriage - regardless of whether the couple involved has the same or dissimilar "plumbing." But the efforts by LGBT activist to portray marriage equality as the defining issue of our struggle has drawn attention away from issues that should be at the core of our movement.

At its most basic level, the LGBT movement's internal battles over the marriage issue brings into sharp focus the schism between assimilation and separatism in the LGBT community.

Marriage, argue the assimilationists, is an issue where we can show the straight majority we have the same need to love and be loved ... just like them. (Sure, and a guy who picks up another guy at a bar Friday night and takes him home for a weekend only to be tired of his trick du jour by Sunday afternoon isn't much different than Britney Spears' 52-hour Vegas wedding ... well, except that we don't have to go through the time and expense of annulment process in front of a judge.)

At the other extreme, separatists look at same-sex marriage as an attempt to mimic the straight oppressors. We should, they argue, be free to define our own relationships. Monogamy, polyamory, triads, and any other permutation or combination are just flavors to be sampled until we find a style that fits us in an off-the-rack world. (It's the kind of stuff the pro-marriage folks shake their heads about and go "tsk ... tsk" in much the same way as when they see a leatherman or a drag queen marching in a gay pride parade. Why can't those people just fit in? they wonder.)

Just estimating based on the people I know, I'd say about 20 percent of the LGBT community is thumbing through Bride magazine looking for wedding ideas. A similar number are in the opposite camp. That leaves a whooping 60 percent of us somewhere in the middle. We hope we'll find the man or woman of our dreams someday, but for now the idea of marriage is not at the top of our agendas.

This is where our national organizations have made a mistake. In pushing for marriage equality as the centerpiece in our struggle, organizations like Human Rights Campaign and others have alienated the anti-marriage separatists and left the huge group in the middle giving luke-warm support to the idea of marriage equality, but not buying into the idea because it has no immediate bearing on their lives.

The people and organizations who purport to be our leaders have failed to learn a fundamental lesson: Make sure their agenda for us fits as many of us as possible.

Instead of pushing marriage as a panacea that will magically turn us from society's outcasts to full-fledged accepted members, the fight for marriage equality needs to be framed as something that we all have a stake in. The battles over anti-gay marriage amendments would resonnate with more people - gay and straight - if they were portrayed as battles against discrimination instead of for the rights of a minority within a minority.

If our national organizations really want to lead us, then let them provide leadership on issues that affect the vast majority of us. Only a handful of states and a few dozen cities protect our right to employment. In the rest of the country we can be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And since the majority of us work, workplace equality should be a bigger issue than marriage. Likewise with health care issues. Those types of issues should be a no-brainer for HRC, NGLTF and other organizations to get behind.

Marriage is a fine and noble institution for those who choose it. But even the most solid marriage can come apart at the seams when faced with lost jobs or out-of-control costs for medical care. Putting marriage at the forefront of our agenda moves more universal issues to the back burner.

That's why I'd like to shake the hands of DeFilippis and D'Emilio. Agree with their ideas about marriage or not, they are finally pointing out that in promoting marriage as our primary issue, we risk losing ground on matters that affect an even greater number of us.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Memo to fundies: It's OK to be a whore ... just don't be a stupid whore

As frustrating and irritating as Fun-D'uh-Mental-ists can be, they can also be amusing. Take, for example, the fundie propensity for being completely oblivious to anyone's motivations but their own.

Progressives and liberals have recognized for years that the Republican Party's hopping in bed with religious zealots is not really a match made in heaven. Fundies are like the kind of plain girl so dazzled to be dating the captain of the football team that her legs go up in the air while visions of a big church wedding dance in her head. Her Republican suitor, on the other hand, is making plans to move on to his next conquest even as he says, "Yeah, ummmm ... sure I love you, baby. Now raise your hips a bit so I can get your panties off."

Usually a girl who falls for the blandishments of a suave but insincere cad is loathe to let it happen again. But with the fundies, one good line from the Republicans and the clothes start to drop faster than Bush's approval ratings.

Republicans: Abortion should be illegal!
Fundies: Oh! My hero!

Republicans: Taxes are too high!
Fundies: I'm sooooo turned on!

Republicans: Big business deserves tax breaks because they fuel the economy!
Fundies: You're making my nether regions quiver!

Republicans: Marriage should be between a man and a woman!
Fundies: Oh! Take me NOW you magnificent stallion!

The sadly amusing thing is the fundies keep falling for these lines again and again and again. You'd think they'd realize that with a Republican in the White House, a Republican-controled Congress and a Supreme Court that leaning further and further to the right that if the Republicans really wanted to make abortion illegal or take on an amendment banning same-sex marriage, it would have already been done. Granted, the Republicans have already worked on cutting taxes and helping out large corporations, but these were done to impress a couple of the Republicans' other girlfriends - Miss Wealthy and Miss Big Business. If these accomplishments can impress the fundies, too, then so much the better. It keeps the Republicans from really having to deliver on all those pillow-talk promises about gay marriage and abortion.

Of course if Miss Fundie ever gets restless and starts to wonder if there might be other suitors on whom she can lavish her affections, the Republicans can always trot out abortion and gay marriage.

Fundies: I think I have a headache.
Republicans: Oh baby ... just when I was getting ready to appoint a new Supreme Court justice. I think this might take care of that abortion problem. (wink, wink)
Fundies: Kiss me!

Fundies: Do you really love me?
Republicans: Sure thing, doll. Why else would I be introducing the marriage amendment again?
Fundies: Hurry up and get your clothes off!

That fundies fall for these lines again and again and again doesn't say a lot about their collective intelligence. But just in case there is any doubt what the Republicans think of them, the indications are pretty clear Republicans have been dissing them to the other guys in the political locker room lately. So, fundies, take heed and learn what being said when you're out of earshot.

Take, for example, the case of a Crestwood, Ky., accountant who asked her state representative to support gay rights legislation next year received a reply not from the lawmaker but from an aide, who mistakenly sent comments meant for the legislator to the constituent. The Associated Press reports:

"This is one of those issues where it's safe to say, 'Thanks for writing, I will consider your views,' and not go too far about your personal beliefs," wrote aide Cheryl Long of the Legislative Research Commission to Rep. David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, Ky. "Seriously, these people really can get out of hand!...This particular group is much worse than pro-lifers!"

"If you reply to Ms. Amanda, make sure you delete my e-mail!" Long said of answering the e-mail from Amanda McWane.

Then Long mistakenly hit "reply" instead of "forward," sending her comments to McWane, and not to Osborne as Long intended.
Worse than pro-lifers? Ouch! That's gotta hurt. I'm sorry to be telling you that your boyfriend thinks you rank right down there with your worst enemy, but I thought you ought to know. Care for a tissue, Miss Fundie? There's more bad news I need to tell you.

It seems that Mike Scanlon, one of those unsavory types associated with Jack Abramoff and that whole sordid affair about a federal investigation into the possible improper acquisition of some $66 million from several Indian tribes that operate gambling casinos, has been saying some mighty unflattering things about you. In a memo outlining the Louisiana political budget he said ... well, maybe I should jsut let the part of the memo that talks about using you speak for itself:

We plan to use three forms of communications to mobilize and win these battles. Phones, mail and Christian radio. We believe that if you are on TV you are generally losing battles like this Our mission is to get specifically selected groups of individuals to the polls to speak out AGAINST something.

To that end, your money is best spent finding them and communicating with them on using the modes that they are most likely to respond to. Simply put we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees.

Wackos!?!? The nerve of him! Why, if I were you, Miss Fundie, I'd certainly withhold my favors from anyone who talked that way about me.

And frankly, Miss Fundie, I have to tell you that you're getting a bad reputation by associating with all these low-lives who promise you anything in order to get you to put out and then start bad-mouthing you all around once they've had their way with you. It's not my place to judge, you know, so I won't condemn you if you want to whore yourself out. Just don't be a stupid whore 'cause it's giving streetwalkers a bad name.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Confronting the boogieman

This is one of those times when it's best to let other sources speak for themselves. The following quoted material is from The Philadelphia Daily News story of Tuesday, Nov. 8, headlined: Gay-bashing turns deadly, attacker slain. I'll simply add my thoughts throughout the story and at the end.

Lucas Dawson had just returned from an audition for "American Idol," and planned to tell his friends all about his experience on Oct. 29.

But while walking to the bus stop to catch a ride downtown, around 10:30 that Saturday evening, Dawson ran into four teenagers less than one block from his East Mount Airy home.

"They started calling him 'faggot,' saying 'You're gay,' stuff like that," said David Dawson, Lucas' stepfather.

Such a scene is the nightmare of every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person. There is a deep-seated fear that every time someone shouts "Faggot!" at us because were are holding hands with someone of the same sex or our car has a rainbow flag decal or we're seen walking out of a gay bar or were are just perceived as somehow "different." Do we confront our taunters? Do we walk away and try to ignore them? Lucas Dawson tried to walk away, but that didn't deter his attackers. It only made them bolder.

Lucas Dawson crossed the street, near Upsal and Musgrave, to avoid trouble, but he later told his family, the group threw a basketball at him, rushed him, and started pummeling him.

"One of them punched him in the mouth," David Dawson said. "They knocked him to the ground. They kicked him. They stomped him. They called him faggot."

Dawson, 21, of Upsal Street near Magnolia, managed to get to his feet, and he pulled out a small pocket knife. He waved it at the crowd a few times, David Dawson said, trying to push them back.

Then, he ran.

Lucas Dawson did what many people would do: he tried to protect himself. And when his attackers backed off, Lucas didn't press his advantage. Instead he tried to put as much distance between himself and them as possible.

Gerald Knight, 17, allegedly followed and then reached out to grab Dawson, who still had the knife in his hand.

During the ensuing struggle, Dawson plunged the knife into Knight's chest.

Knight, of Hortter Street near Chew Avenue, died at Einstein Medical Center less than an hour later, police said.

I don't celebrate anyone's death. Hell, even if Fred Phelps died tomorrow and was called to an afterlife of being bitch-slapped by Jesus for all eternity I doubt if I'd show up at his funeral with signs reading "God Hates Bigots" and "Fred Burns In Hell." I might think about it and get a little secret joy wondering how his followers would react if Fred was treated to the same send-off he gave others. But while I don't celebrate the deaths of others, there are certainly those whose death I wouldn't grieve. And Gerald Knight is certainly one of those.

Dawson, an aspiring singer and performer, faces a preliminary hearing today on voluntary manslaughter charges in the slaying. He plans to plead not guilty, his family said.

"There is nothing else to plead here," said Lisa Dawson, Lucas' mother. "Four guys attacked him... You're going to do whatever you have to to protect yourself."

Lucas Dawson spent last week at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility because his family has been unable to raise the $30,000 for his bail.

"Because somebody died, I can understand he might have to do some jail time," David Dawson said. "But at the same time, let the truth be told about what really happened."

David Dawson believes his stepson is the victim of a hate crime.

"That's always been my biggest fear," Lisa Dawson said. "That someone would attack him just because he is gay."

That's one of the biggest fears of the LGBT community, too. We have lots of fears. We fear we'll lose our jobs because we're gay. We fear we'll be denied the chance to visit a hospitalized partner. We fear our families will reject us. We fear the bigots of the religious right will stir up voters into taking away what few rights we do have and keeping us from attaining others. But most of all each of us carries a very visceral, very real fear that we will face a situation like Lucas Dawson faced.

Gay bashers are the boogie-men of LGBT mythology. The hate-filled stranger with a gun or a knife or a baseball bat or even just fists haunts us.

I remember when I was just beginning my coming-out process in the mid-'70s and making weekend treks to Kansas City from my college dorm 50 miles away. Too young to enter a bar, I'd go to the gay cruising area around Penn Valley Park and the Libery Memorial. It was there I heard for the first time the tale of a nude body found in the park with the words "For Anita" carved in its chest. That was in the heyday of Anita Bryant and her homophobic "Save the Children" campaign. The story was repeated and repeated and every new person I met added new details to the story. The story wasn't true, however. It was one of those urban legends, but one with a gay twist. I've since heard the story updated numerous times, only the name carved into the chest changing as a new homophobe takes Anita Bryant's place.

So pervasive is our fear of being attacked, injured, or even killed for being LGBT that we have incorporated it into our own urban legends.

Maybe Lucas Dawson's mother had the same twinge of fear as she watched her son walk out the door that evening.

Within 15 minutes, his mother said, Lucas, bloodied and frantic, had returned to the house through the back door.

"I think I cut one of them," Lucas told his family.

One of the other teens told him, "Now we're going to have to shoot you."

Lisa Dawson said that even if the charges are dropped, she fears for her son's safety.

"I don't feel like he can come back home," she said. "There are three people out there who already made a threat."

That says a lot about our society when a mother believes her son is safer in a jail cell than at home.

Friends have been stopping by and donating money for his defense. One friend said she didn't have any cash, but she would bake pies to sell as fund-raisers.

Meanwhile, Lucas, who faces 30 years in prison if convicted, is waiting.

"He's scared to death," said David Dawson. "But he's more hurt by the fact that he killed somebody."

"Kharma is something," he added. "Because if they had just let him go on his way and get on that bus, none of this would have happened."

Yes, I'd say kharma turned around and took a big bite out of the dead basher's ass. I'll leave it up to everyone's own interpretation on whether or not the little miscreant deserved his fate - but I will add that I truly believe he is complicit in it.

The tragedy is that Lucas Dawson has to suffer for the stupidity of some pea-brained bigots who had nothing better to do than play "smear the queer" on a Philadelphia street.

If anything good comes of this, maybe it will make potential bashers think twice about attacking someone out of fear that person might be armed with something stronger than words.

Lucas Dawson was released from jail Wednesday and the manslaughter charges against him have been dropped. That's the good news.

The bad news is that he plans to leave home because of fears of retaliation from his other attackers.

(For information of firearms and the LGBT community, please check out the Pink Pistols web site. The group's motto is: "Armed gays don't get bashed."


Friday, November 04, 2005

Taking the 'me' out of Methodist: 'Hallelujah! I've seen the dark!'

Pssst. Wanna hear a deep, dark secret from my past? At the age of 14 I had planned on becoming a minister. Oh, don't worry. I got over it before I got my driver's license, but it's still not exactly the kind of personal information I usually share.

I grew up in a small town attending the Methodist Church, one of the two largest churches in town (the other being the Southern Baptist Church). We also had a few other denominations, but the Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God, and Nazarene churches were clearly the closet closest we had to "minorities."

For those who don't know, the Methodist Church is one of those white-bread, mainstream Protestant churches. Theologically, it inhabits the middle ground between the moderately liberal United Church of Christ and the definitely conservative Southern Baptists. As I recall from the Sunday mornings of my youth spent in the pews or the choir loft, the most striking feature of Methodism was its ... well, it's blandness. While Baptists would "dunk" members to baptize them, Methodists would dab a bit of water on top their heads. While the "holy rollers" would burst into ecstatic "fits" of worship, Methodists would quietly sit through the service except when expected to rise, sit, sing, recite the Apostles' Creed, or provide a response to the responsive reading. While Catholics got wine with their communion, we were treated to thimble-sized glasses of grape juice. Methodism was like Religion Lite. Little was offered and little was expected. The only thing that seemed to matter was whether the collections kept coming in to build a new church bigger than the one the Baptists were building.

It was in that denomination at the age of 14 that I "saw the light" and decided to become a minister. Before the age of 16, however, I had "seen the dark" and left the Methodist Church never to return. My disenchantment with the church stemmed from watching it split between traditional Methodists and a small but vocal group who had taken to attending weeknight worship sessions with a small group of charismatic Catholics. On one side were the "holier than thous" who insisted you weren't really "saved" without being baptized in the Holy Spirit and the attendant "speaking in tongues." On the other side were the "we're holy enough, thank you very muches" who insisted being born and baptized once was sufficient.

And the church's response to this "mini-schism"? Exactly nothing. In true Methodist fashion, the church didn't want to risk giving offense to anyone, so it did nothing and the wounds festered. Despite the stereotpe of rebellious teenagers, at the age of 14 or 15 most teens actually want some sort of guidance. I know I did. On the one had I was being told I was already a good Christian. From the other side the message was I wasn't doing enough to avoid the fires of hell. I just wanted the church to take a stand one way or another.

When it didn't, I walked away and embarked on a path that lead from atheism to agnosticism then into the Eastern religions of Buddhism and Taoism and from there to neopaganism and Native American spirituality and New Age beliefs (though I would roll my eyes at the crystal gazing and channeling and some of the other trappings of it) until finally today I'm so eceltic in my approach that "universalist" is the only label that seems to apply.

Now I find I miss my old church. That's not to say they can expect me showing up for services any time soon. I miss the Methodist Church that steadfastly refused to take any sort of controversial stance on the issues of the day. Today's Methodist Church is much more likely to take a stand; but when it comes to LGBT issues, the stands it takes are more rooted in fear and ignorance and prejudice than in Christian love and compassion.

Sometimes Methodists can "talk the talk," as in the case of statement by it's Council fo Bishops that was reported in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch:

The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops says membership in the denomination is open to everyone, including gays and lesbians.

"While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier," council members said in a pastoral letter released yesterday.

The council, which is meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C., asked that the letter be read or distributed during worship services Sunday.

"Walking the walk" is something else entirely. Considering that such an affirming statement was made just after the denomination's Judicial Council had issued two alarmingly anti-gay rulings, it comes across more like spin control than an authentic statement of beliefs.

In one case, the Judicial Council overturned a lower church court ruling and ordered the defrocking of a lesbian pastor who is in a committed relationship with another woman. The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian ministers as long as they are celibate - sort of a theological "don't ask, don't tell" policy, given the number of gay and lesbian Methodist clergy running around. But when the Rev. Beth Stroud notified her Germantown, Pennsylvania congregation of her relationship with another women in a sermon on April 27, 2003, her bishop immediately began procedures to remove Stroud from the ministry.

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in a column after Stroud was defrocked:

"Each time, Jesus showed up, a living presence on the wrong side of the door where he had no reason to be," she preached on April 27, 2003.

That is the same sermon in which she told her congregation she was gay and in a loving relationship with Chris Paige, her partner of nearly three years.

"Because of my relationship with her, I am a better, more faithful Christian," Stroud told them. "I am deeply grateful to her for the daily practice in loving and being loved, and forgiving and being forgiven, that constantly deepen who I am as a person of faith."

Stroud said she came out to her congregation because she could not fully embrace her faith if she kept such an important part of her life cloaked in darkness. She warned them that her public announcement might lead the larger church to condemn her, but she cautioned the congregation against looking for "an enemy to fight."

I suppose it could be argued that Stroud knew the risks of coming out and gambled her ordination and lost. But she challenged an unjust policy and I applaud her for it.

In the second case involving LGBT issues, the Judicial Council ordered the reinstatement of a rural Virginia minister placed on leave for denying a gay man membership in his church last winter. The Council decided the Rev. Edward Johnson was within his ministerial rights when he denied membership to the would-be parishioner.

From an article in The Washington Post on both cases:

Johnson, 58, had been on an involuntary, unpaid leave since June, when Methodist ministers in Virginia voted 448 to 114 to discipline him for refusing to allow a gay man to become a member of his congregation. His district superintendent and his bishop had urged Johnson to admit the man.

Yesterday, the Judicial Council reinstated Johnson, with back pay, with a 5 to 3 vote. It said local pastors have the discretion to decide on members.

Johnson was traveling yesterday and did not return messages. The Rev. Tom Thomas, who served as Johnson's legal counsel, said the decision "salvaged" the career of a good pastor and "preserves the way pastoral ministry has been done in our church for 200 years."

The Judicial Counsel viewed the case as a question about a pastor's authority, rather than a question about whether people in same-sex relationships are eligible to join the church. In a dissenting opinion, Judicial Council member Susan T. Henry-Crowe said the decision "compromises the historical understanding that the Church is open to all."

OK, so let's recap, shall we?

Tell a gay person he or she can't be a member of your church? Check!

Defrock a minister who speaks of her same-sex partner (but allowing ministers with opposite sex partners to talk openly about ther spouses)? Another check!

Draft a statement telling me how welcome I am and that "homosexuality is not a barrier" and expect me to show up on Sunday morning, wallet in hand to donate to the new church fund? I don't think so!

Growing up, I came to dislike the "mush-mouthed Methodists," as they were called, who tried to please everyone by taking a stand on nothing. Rather than giving me something I could choose to accept or reject, it gave me nothing.

Now, three decades later, the church has finally given me something that I can reject. It just a shame that the reasoning behind the recent rulings say more about the fears and prejudices of a few so-called Christians than the teachings of Christ.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reading the tea leaves on Alito

The failed nomination of conservative iconoclast Robert Bork was a watershed in the history of presidential Supreme Court appointments.

Back in 1987 When Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court the outspoken arch-conservative made an easy target for liberals and moderates. "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, children could not be taught about evolution," said Sen. Ted Kennedy in a speech on the floor of the Senate. So effective were the attacks on Bork that his nomination went down in defeat and the word "bork" entered the vocabulary, meaning "to destroy a judicial nominee through a concerted attack on his character, background and philosophy," according to The New York Times.

Since then American presidents have learned to be somewhat more circumspect when nominating a Supreme Court justice. Rather than pick a candidate who will be a lightning rod for controversy from either the left or right, they tend to look for "stealth" nominees that have left little in the way of paper trails that might betray their judicial leanings.

The culmination of this "stealth" approach was the recent nomination of Harriet Miers, counsel to President Bush, who was seen as so stealthy that Bush's conservative base went wild fearing Miers could become another David Souter.

Souter was the pick of the current President Bush's father. Rather then hewing to the conservative line, Souter proved himself to be his own man and has become a moderately liberal voice on the Court - much to the chagrin of conservatives.

Thus, when Miers was nominated and her paper trail was found to be nearly invisible, Bush's far-right base became rabid from fear that Bush Junior would repeat his daddy's mistake of appointing a closet liberal to the Supreme Court. In appointing a stealth candidate whose true opinions would evade the liberals' radar, Bush enraged his base who were as uncomfortable trying to read the tea leaves to discern Miers' stands as were the liberals. Even Bork participated in the "borking" of Miers, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia:

Bork arguably borked judicial nominee Harriet Miers in an October 19, 2005 Wall Street Journal editorial where he states she lacks "the basic skills of persuasive argument and clear writing", is without a "philosophy of judging", and "demonstrates absolutely no ability to write clearly and argue incisively." Those who view "borking" as an unfair attack misrepresenting a nominee's paper trail would disagree with that assessment, as Bork's disagreement with the Miers nomination stemmed from her lack of public participation in important debates about the role of the judiciary, and his assessment of her qualifications, rather than attacks on her character, judicial philosophy, or motivations.

Conservatives are not alone in casting for signs and portents among the tea leaves when stealth candidates are nominated. LGBT organizations are likewise forced to look for any scrap of evidence to predict whether a given nominee would expand (or at least preserve) LGBT issues or return the nation to the days when the notoriously anti-gay 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision was the law of the land.

In the case of Miers, a 1989 questionnaire she filled out for a Dallas LGBT political group while running for the city council became the tea leaf for what might be her stands on LGBT issues. Her responses provided a mixed message: she expressed general support for equal rights for gays and indicated she opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation, but she also said she would not support a bill to repeal the Texas sodomy law, according to an article in The New York Blade.

Bush's first Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John Roberts, faced the same sort of tea-leaf-reading when it was reported he provided assistance to a pro-gay group preparing to argue the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case that would eventually overturn the Texas sodomy law (as well as other sodomy laws pertaining to same-sex couples). Even Roberts' "cross-dressing" performance as Peppermint Patty in an all-male school production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown raised eyebrows.

Now we have Judge Samuel Alito, Bush's second attempt at replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Though Alito comes with a much clearer conservative pedigree to appease Bush's conservative base, the tea-leaf reading continues. Take, for instance, today's Boston Globe and its article headlined Alito writing backed privacy, gay rights:

As a senior at Princeton University, Samuel A. Alito Jr. chaired an undergraduate task force that recommended the decriminalization of sodomy, accused the CIA and the FBI of invading the privacy of citizens, and said discrimination against gays in hiring "should be forbidden."

The report, issued in 1971 by Alito and 16 other Princeton students, stemmed from a class assignment to study the "boundaries of privacy in American society" and to recommend ways to protect individual rights.

The far-ranging report, which satisfied a requirement for public policy students and which was stored in the university's Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, provided a glimpse of a more liberal Alito than the jurist is now perceived.

"We sense a great threat to privacy in modern America," Alito wrote in a foreword to the report, in 1971. "We all believe that privacy is too often sacrificed to other values; we all believe that the threat to privacy is steadily and rapidly mounting; we all believe that action must be taken on many fronts now to preserve privacy."

Behold! New tea leaves to read!

But before we get carried away and decide that Alito might be "gay-friendly" (or at least not of the "let's-round-up-the-queers-and-burn-'em-at-the-stake-like-God-wants" gay-UNfriendly sort), keep in mind a few things:

1. Alito's pro-gay writing goes back to 1971, a decidely more liberal time (especially compared to today).

2. He wrote the report as a law school assignment. That doesn't mean he necessarily agrees with it. I can remember writing essays for a very right-leaning philosophy instructor in college who saw every philosophical school of thought through the lens of unbridled free-market capitalism. Those of us in the course quickly learned that re-stating his own opinions was the easiest path to a good grade. For all we know, Alito was writing to please a liberal instructor.

3. As the former classmate who actually wrote the section on gay rights tells The Boston Globe, he "could not remember whether Alito personally agreed with the recommendations."

It's possible Alito could be a vote to expand LGBT rights on the Supreme Court. It's also possible he could be the crucial vote to roll back those rights. It seems the tea leaves have given the same frustrating answer that those old "Magic 8 Balls" would give occasionally: "Answer uncertain. Ask again later."

When it comes to stealth Supreme Court nominees, the answers provided by tea leaves, Magic 8 Balls, crystal balls, or whatever form of prognostication seem rigged to always return an "ask again later" reply. Unfortunately, "later" means after the nominee is sitting on the bench.

In a nation so polarized along the lines of right/left, liberal/conservative, pro-choice/pro-life, pro-gay/anti-gay/ religious/secular, etc., etc., the practice of trying to sneak a stealth nominee by the opposition will likely continue. That's too bad because it results in a "crap-shoot" process that doesn't serve the nation. We end up with Supreme Court justices more concerned about shoe-horning a case into their ideaologies rather than jurists who will give reasoned, thoughtful deliberation to the cases brought before them.

In the best of all possible worlds a Supreme Court nominee would openly state where he or she stands on abortion, LGBT rights, privacy issues, or any of the other hot-button issues of the day. At least that way it would push the Court away from extreme positions on either side and more toward a moderate middle ground.

But as has been proven time and time again, this is far from the best of all possible worlds.