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.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Carving out a slice of history

Back when I was in high school in the mid-'70s there was a movement in education to make what was taught in school "more relevant." Students, so the idea went, aren't interested in learning when they can't personally relate to the lesson.

Almost overnight schools began to offer courses in African American history and native American history. Some offered courses in women's history. Oh sure, traditional courses in American and world history were still mandatory, but students could choose to take elective courses to learn about the parts of history that got left out of or mentioned only in passing in the traditional history texts.

When it came to blacks, history texts mentioned Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, but few other names of African Americans were mentioned ... unless you count all the references to the slave trade which lumped all blacks together under the category of "slaves." The treatment of native Americans was even worse. Texts glossed over massacres carried out by white soldiers, broken treaties and such shameful episodes of the Trail of Tears. Native Americans seldom got mentioned as individuals and when they were they were presented as obstacles in the way of America's manifest destiny to expanded from one ocean to the next. And women? Well, apart from Betsy Ross and a few first ladies, it almost seems as if the founding fathers reproduced by some unknown method.

Since the 1970s history text books have tried to be more inclusive of the American experience. Now, with a law being considered in California, students may one day be learning about the contributions of gay and lesbian individuals to America's history.

Sponsored by openly lesbian Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the bill would add LGBT folk to the list of minorities California requires its schools to include. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article:

State law now requires that "men, women, black Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, Asians, Pacific Island people and other ethnic groups" be included in textbook descriptions of "the economic, political and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society."

"This is simply adding the LGBT community to the groups that the state has said must be included in the curriculum," said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, which backs the bill. "There's nothing special or different.

As you can imagine, the fun-D'uh-Mental-ists are going bat-shit crazy over the bill. That should come as no surprise. They make it clear they'd like to wipe the LGBT community off the face of the earth. But they'll settle for erasing them from the history books. At least for now.

Why should we care about teaching "gay history"? The article in the Chronicle makes it clear.

Researchers at San Francisco State University studying gay youth and their families have found that not teaching about gays and lesbians affects adolescent development.

"It's very important for self-esteem and for (gay youth) feeling their lives matter and are important," said Caitlin Ryan, who leads the Family Acceptance Project at the school's César E. Chávez Institute.

An American Academy of Pediatrics policy states that environments critical of gay people interfere with the development of gay youth. And a 2003 Preventing School Harassment Study by the California Safe Schools Coalition found that school climate improves and students feel safer and experience less name-calling and other harassment at schools where gay and lesbian issues are taught.

Growing up gay in a small, rural Midwestern town, finding the tantalizing hints that there were others like me out there made a difference. I can still remember an English class in which we read portions of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." (If you don't know who Walt Whitman was or why he is a major figure in gay history, put on a lavendar dunce hat and go sit in the corner.) The teacher mentioned in passing that Whitman was considered gay and had written poetry that seemed to indicate his interest in men.

That was all it took. I bought a copy of Leaves of Grass and devoured it for clues to myself. That lead me to other writers such as W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, A.E. Houseman and the like. I read the section of Moby Dick in which the narrator shares a bed with Queequeg with new insight.

A couple of years later Jonathan Ned Katz published his groundbreaking Gay American History, a thick book that found hints and clues about gay culture from the early days of exploration of the New World to the modern day. Other books followed the trail blazed by Katz and made it clear that there - between the words of the dry, academic history books - was a whole culture lying undiscovered.

I've long said that one of the major obstacles to the LGBT community advancing in society is our need to re-invent ourselves with each passing generation. Because we lack a shared history, each generation must discover itself anew and the accomplishments of the past generations are lost. That's one of the ways a dominant culture keeps subcultures oppressed.

When we moved native Americans onto reservations, we taught them English and punished them for speaking in their own tongue. We obliterated their history and replaced it with "Great White Father" George Washington bringing a "superior" culture to their land. We stamped out their beliefs and forced them to convert to Christianity.

By denying gays and lesbians their own history, the dominant culture is repeating the same sort of cultural elitism.

But now maybe GLBT youth will be learning something about their past. Maybe they will encounter people like Alan Turing, the British code-breaker during World War II who is the father of modern computers. Or maybe they'll learn that Jane Addams wasn't just single because she was totally dedicated to helping the poor. Or perhaps they'll learn that the struggle for gay rights in America didn't just start with the Stonewall riots in 1969, but was preceeded by the formation of the Mattachine Society in the 1950s (and even that was preceeded by the short-lived Society for Human Rights in Chicago in the 1920s).

We need our own heroes and our own history. Kuehl's bill in California is a first-step in that direction.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Honoring a hero ... and re-thinking an "enemy"

What I know about football wouldn't fill a thimble. I know it's a semi-civilized form of mock warfare where two teams pummel each other for the right to carry an oblong ball into the other team's territory. It's strategy and aims are completely lost on me. I can name only a handfull of names associated with the sport ... and probably most of them haven't seen a field in years.

One name I do recognize is Reggie White, but it's not for any of his accomplishments on the field. To me he's only the football player-turned-preacher who ranted and raved against gays and lesbians from his pulpit.

That's still the view of him I had when I heard Reggie White died. If I spared him a thought at the time of his death it was probably something like 'Good! Burn in hell, bigot!'

Today while blog browsing I found a reference to Reggie in Mike Fitzpatrick's "Reality Check" blog. In it Mike notes the passing of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin.

Coffin, Mike writes, "had been active the civil rights movement for nearly four decades. In 1962, he was a Freedom Rider in the black civil rights movement in the South. As chaplain at Harvard, he provided sanctuary to draft-resistors to the Vietnam war. In 1979, he was one of four clergy permitted to minister to the Americans held hostage in the U. S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Rev. Throughout the 1990's and until his death, Rev. Coffin had been active in the gay civil rights movement, marching with his wife and at times with his (straight) children in numerous Gay Pride parades in New York and other cities."

Coffin was also instrumental in helping Reggie see gays in a whole different light ... a light that led White in his last years to repent of his attacks on gays and others from the pulpit.

Besides honoring the passing of Rev. Coffin, the blog reprints his "Open Letter to Reggie White." The letter is so moving that I've reprinted it below in it's entirety:

Dear Reggie White,

I've only heard good things about you, and nobody for a moment doubts your greatness as an athlete. But if your words to the (Wisconsin) legislature this week were accurately reported, I'm troubled, and in particular about what you said about homosexuality.

I write to you as one ordained minister to another. As the Bible is the founding document of every Christian church in the world, it can't be taken seriously enough. But if you take the Bible seriously, you can't take it literally - not all of it.

For instance, in the book of Leviticus, it is a "toevah" - an abomination - not only to eat bacon, sausage and ribs, it is sinful even to touch the skin of a dead pig. If you thought that insight valid today, would you be playing football?

Homosexuality is not a big issue for Biblical writers. In the 66 books of Scripture (71 if you're Roman Catholic), only seven verses refer to homosexual behavior. Some time ago, I picked up a pamphlet entitled "What did Jesus say about homosexuality?" Opening it, I came across two blank pages. Closing it, I read on the back, "That's right, nothing."

St. Paul thought all men were straight. He assumed all homosexual activity was done by heterosexuals.

This assumption is true as well of Old Testament writers, which means that all the Biblical passages used to flay gays and lesbians have really nothing whatsoever to say about constitutionally gay people in genuinely loving relationships.

As Christians, we don't honor the higher truth we find in Christ by ignoring truths found elsewhere. I'm impressed that the American Psychological Association does not consider homosexuality an illness, and that natural scientists have discovered homosexuality in mammals, birds and insects. Clearly, God is more comfortable with diversity than we are!
In my experience, a lot of people talk in the abstract about homosexuality being a sin, but without first-hand knowledge of gays and lesbians. Wouldn't it be better to talk with rather than about homosexuals?

I write you all this in large part because today the "gay agenda" has replaced the "communist threat" as the battering ram of reactionary politics. It grieves me to see you put your considerable muscle behind such a blunt instrument of prejudice.

We live in a land of great prejudice and you as an African American and I as a white man have had to overcome the differences we have invented about one another. It is urgent that men and women, gays and straights, do the same, for as James Baldwin described us, "Each of us, helplessly and forever contains the other - We are a part of each other."

--Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Lawrence University

That marked the beginning of a change in Reggie White. White began to question organized religion. He went to Isreal and learned Hebrew so that he could study the Bible in its original language. He began to question the assumptions and beliefs he'd grown up with. And he changed.

Instead of wishing Reggie to burn in hell, I now wish I'd have met him in his last years when he was searching for truth. And I wish I had known Rev. Coffin, too.

Rev. Coffin's life reminds me that, even in a world where there is hate and bigotry, there are good people who quietly stand firm against it.

And Reggie's life reminds me that even people whose lives are so consumed with that hatred and bigotry can change.

(Thanks for the blog, Mike! ... and for more information about Reggie White's life - at least for the football-challenged - see the MSNBC article "Reggie White had just begun to live.")


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Protect your children! Republicans recruit!

I'd never heard of tiny Grays Harbor College in Washington state until I came across a rather striking story about it while looking for news articles to link to on my Democratic club's web site. (Just in case you're interested, the news page is here. ... How's that for a shameless plug?)

It seems the college's gay-straight alliance received a rather unflattering appraisal from a member of the student senate. According to the story in Grays Harbor's The Daily World:

The gay-straight student alliance at Grays Harbor College will not file a formal complaint against a student senator who believes being gay is “bad behavior.”

But Jeremy Vaughn, president of the club, is still asking for an apology from Amanda Plumb for comparing his group to a “pedophile club” during a student senate meeting.

Plumb told The Daily World Wednesday she hasn’t spoken to Vaughn. She said she has retained legal counsel and must be “cautious about what I say or don’t say.” Plumb declined to identify her lawyer but said he’s a member of her church and is offering his advice free of charge.

The county Republicans, meantime, are going to give her a “warm welcome” at their meeting tonight.

That's only the opening few paragraphs of a much longer story, but in those brief introductory words there are a couple of statements that raise questions among enlightened readers (ie., readers who don't goose-step to the Repugnantcan/religious reich agenda.

First, there's this gem from future mutiple divorcee Amanda Plumb: She said she ... must be “cautious about what I say or don’t say.”

Ummmmm ... Miss Plumb, if you're going to go around comparing gay organizations to "pedophile clubs," perhaps you should consider that the best time to exercise caution in what you say is before you open your mouth to spew venom, you ignorant, bigoted Republi-bitch.

Secondly - and hold on to your hats for this one 'cause it's a shocker! - is this bit of journalistic revelation: The county Republicans, meantime, are going to give her a “warm welcome” at their meeting tonight.

Holy crap! The Repugnantcans are actually celebrating such ill-tempered, brattish behavior by an adolescent? It boggles the mind! Who have thought it?

Do you think Repugnantcans give our toaster ovens to those who recruit young people away from the light and into the darkness of their twisted lifestyle? Inquiring minds want to know!


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Having issues with being an issue

I like straight folks. I really do. Granted, there are some I wouldn't mind seeing dipped into honey and left bound near a nest of fire ants ... both those are a separate subset of straight folks generally called the religious reich. Forgetting that group for a moment, there are plenty of other straight folks out there that are truly allies. They really get the struggle for LGBT rights.

Then there is a huge middle ground of straight folks who, in general, support gay rights, but only in the most superficial way. They'll make statements like "It's wrong to discriminated against gays" or "Same-sex couples should be allowed to get married," but they don't give a lot of thought to really understanding why discrimination against gays and lesbians is bad or why allowing same-sex couples to marry would be a good thing.

Take, for example, an online conversation I had with a straight person last week. It was on a progressive political message board and I had posted a comment on a news story about a group within the Methodist Church starting a petition to "disinvite" Emily Saliers, half of the lesbian due The Indigo Girls, from a Methodist women's conference. Saliers, according to the article, should be disinvited because her "open practice of lesbianism and her promotion of the acceptance of the lifestyle is contrary to church teaching."

The article went on to say:

The United Methodist Church does not condone homosexuality, though the church also says gay people should not be discriminated against. Consequently, both sides are citing church teachings to justify why Emily Saliers' invitation should be sustained or rejected.

Noting that both sides were using the same church doctrine to back up their argument, I posted: "I guess that's what happens when you have one of those namby-pamby denominations that speaks out of both sides of its mouth at once."

Almost immediately my comment drew a response: "'speaks out of both sides of its mouth' or a denomination that's divided?"

The discussion went back and forth and remained civil, though it was apparent the straight poster and I had very different opinions. He opposed confronting the conservatives within the church, while I perferred to go after them with the ultimatum that they either join the 21st century or go form their own church. "I favor remaining together so that time can heal even if it takes millenniums," he posted. That is a favorite patronizing position among unenlightened straight folks who seem think we have millennia to wait for our rights while they enjoy all of their rights.

While this person was working his way under my skin and doing a tap dance on my very last gay nerve, I decided that this was a better opportunity for education than cyber ass-kicking. I explained that it was the Methodist Church's nonconfrontational approach that prompted me to leave the church. "Having grown up in the Methodist Church and felt first-hand what it's like to have one's church struggle with deciding whether you are worthy enough to be a member, I hope you understand that on a personal level I chose not to hang around to see what the final outcome would be. I've seen adulterers, thieves, child and spouse abusers, and a whole host of other 'sinners' welcomed into full participation in the church. When the church in effect says, 'Whoa ... we've got to figure out whether you're good enough to be one of us,' it was time for me to go."

That brought a response of: "People leave their churches all the time for various reasons. However, that's a personal decision and separate from leaving a denomination intact so it can discuss divisive issues."

Before I could craft a response, another gay poster chimed in with a heated response that started with "Excuse me...but we are talking about someone's life and identity here and there is nothing that irritates me more than a bunch of straight people who gossip/debate/discuss others as if they aren't in the damned room." That was only the opening sentence of his post and it got far more fiery from that point. The straight poster's response was simple and to the point: "Thanks for your opinion. Have a nice day." At that point communication was shut down.

That's the trouble with modern pseudo-liberals today ... they talk down to you and refer to you as an "issue" rather than a person. They strip away your personhood and reduce you to being just another issue. And if you challenge them, they become dismissive and cut off communication.

Taxes, Social Security, military funding, cuts in social services, national security, foreign policy debates on isolationism vs. internationalism are all issues. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks aren't "issues." They are people. And when the pseudo-liberals see us as only "issues," it's their attempt to minimize our concerns and see us as not quite equal.

Such people are the figuritive grandchildren of the pseudo-liberals who advised blacks to be patient and continue sitting at the back of the bus during the Civil Right era of the early '60s. That was wrong then and the same approach in dealing with GLBTs today are equally wrong.

Bless all those straight folks who really, really understand our issues and care enough to offer their support. If gay activists were the first wave of the movement seeking equal rights for LGBT folks, then our straight allies constitute the second wave. If there is to be a third wave, we need to get all those heterosexuals who support us in theory, but haven't spent a lot of time thinking or confronting any of the problems we face, to see us not as issues to be moved from the back burner only when it's politically expedient, but as real flesh-and-blood people who are affected by prejudice and discrimination and homophobia.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Thirty-two years of sanity and counting

On April 8, 1974, a medical miracle occurred. Some 10 million Americans suffering from a mental illness were suddenly cured. Most didn't know that they had been mentally ill, but the American Psychiatric Association had said so, so it must have been true.

Then, 32 years ago today, the APA declared that those 10 million or so citizens were suddenly cured of a mental illness. This overnight cure didn't have anything to do with a new drug or a new therapy. Instead, the APA figuratively stamped "SANE" on the forehead of 10 million or so gay and lesbian American when it voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - the Bible of the psychiatric profession that defines mental illnesses and sets for the guidelines for their cures.

Suddenly the 10 million gay and lesbian Americans at the time were free to go about their daily lives, safe in the knowledge that they were not mentally ill. Or, if they were, it was not because they were gay or lesbian.

Up until that point, the heterosexuals who made up the majority of Americans had four very solid reasons for discriminating against gays and lesbians.

Homosexuals are sick. And so they were. The medical field had long seen homosexuality as an illness to be treated with goat gland injections, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, years of psychotherapy, and other treatments that ran from the bizzare to the almost sympathetic (at least in comparison to slicing open the brain and mucking around a bit in the grey matter).

Homosexuals are criminals. And so they were. From the Old Testament where homosexuals were called "abominations" and suggested as being worthy targets for stonings and Paul's epistles where his prudery about "men lying with mankind as with women" was clucked over and given the First Century equivalent of a thumbs down, homosexuals didn't fare well. As laws were written and passed down, ancient prejudices worked their way into the fabric of law that made anyone who had sex outside the biblically correct man-on-top-of-woman-in-the-missionary-position-with-the-lights-out-and-please-don't-enjoy-it way a criminal. Then suddenly in 2003 that all charged with the Lawrence v. Texas U.S. Supreme Court ruling that suddenly changed the estimated 16 million gays and lesbians in America at the time from criminals to law-abiding citizens in one feld swoop.

Homosexuals are unnatural. And so they were. From the days of the biblical patricarchs on down, it seemed readily apparent that homosexuals were outside the natural order of things. They may be "fruitful," but they sure couldn't multiply. Why, not even filthy animals engaged in that sort of behavior, so therefore, following classic Aristolean reasoning, homosexuals were unnatural. At least that was the reasoning until biologists really begin to study animal behavior and discovered that all sorts of animals engaged in that ol' unnatural male-on-male or female-on-female stuff. Books like Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity made note that homosexual behavior happened in the animal kingdom where the king of beast could turn out to be a queen. It followed, then, that something that happens naturally in nature could hardly be considered "unnatural."

One by one over the past three decades, the old ways of thinking about gays and lesbians - and coming up with logical reasons to hate them - have fallen.

Now that the APA has revised its definitions of mental illness and begun to view sexual orientation as a diverse spectrum, no one but the lunatic fringe makes the claims that homosexuals are sick.

With the Lawrence v. Texas decision, no one can automatically include gays and lesbians as criminals solely on the basis of who they sleep with ... though the religious reich and other assorted fringe elements make clear they would like to role back that decision.

With new, unbiased studies that show same-sex behavior is just one variation along a spectrum of sexual orientation, the condemnation of gays and lesbians as "unnatural" runs counter to scientific knowledge - except among members of fundamentalist cults who have been suspicious of anything that smacks of science ever since it was proven that the earth revolves around the sun.

The old bastions of prejudice have fallen, leaving the last and most formidable bastion alone on the battlefield.

Homosexuals are sinners.

The other bastions fell because they were exposed as false by empirical evidence. The last bastion - religion - remains standing because its insistence on faith and belief make it immune to empiricism. No amount of scientific proof can shake the faith of someone who stubbornly refuses to question his or her beliefs.

Despite all the evidence that sexual orientation is innate - a complex mix of genetics and hormones and environment in the womb and beyond - fundamentalists continue to insist that homosexuals choose to be homosexuals. It is an article of faith for them ... just as it is an article of faith that to choose to be homosexual is a sin. You can explain to them again and again how words that were translated as referring to homosexuals in the Bible actually were meant to condemn the pagan rituals of temple prostitution and the arguments make no dent. You can point to passages in the Old and New Testaments that proclaim the "sins of Sodom" to be pride and inhospitality to strangers, but they stubbornly refuse to be budged from the position that Sodom was destroyed because of wicked Sodomites wanting to play hide-the-sausage with angelic visitors.

Because the last bastion of prejudice against gays and lesbians is built on the basis of faith, it will take a long time for it to fall. And more than likely it will never truly fall even though bits and pieces are chipped away from it. There will always be those who will cling to their "the preacher said God said" blind faith to the exclusion of all reason, empiricism and proof.

For now we have to contend ourselves with living in a time when we saw three out of the four justifications for anti-gay prejudice collapse. For now we have to remind ourselves that three out of four ain't bad.