Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Reading

Growing Up Gay in Utah — High school students, both gay and straight, are overcoming bigotry and religious intolerance in a small town.

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Some disapproving classmates called members of the new club “Satanists.” Another asked one of the girls involved, “Do you have a disease?”

But at three local high schools here this fall, dozens of gay students and their supporters finally convened the first Gay-Straight Alliances in the history of this conservative, largely Mormon city. It was a turning point here and for the state, where administrators, teachers and even the Legislature have tried for years to block support groups for gay youths, calling them everything from inappropriate to immoral.

The new alliances in St. George were part of a drastic rise this fall in the number of clubs statewide, reflecting new activism by gay and lesbian students, an organizing drive by a gay rights group and the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has threatened to sue districts that put up arbitrary hurdles. Last January, only 9 high schools in Utah had active Gay-Straight Alliances; by last month, the number had reached 32.

The alliances must still work around a 2007 state law that was expressly intended to stifle them by requiring parental permission to join and barring any discussions of sexuality or contraception, even to prevent diseases.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative family group, promoted the law. Its authors expected, she said, that requiring parental permission would deter some children from joining the alliances and that restricting topics for discussion would mean that “there’s not a lot of purpose in being there, and the clubs end up being pretty small.”

“I just don’t think these clubs are appropriate in schools,” Ms. Ruzicka said. “You can talk about providing support, but you’re also creating a gay recruiting tool.”

But members of the new clubs said they were undaunted by the restrictions, which they said showed a misunderstanding of what the alliances meant for students who had often lived with fear and shame — at home and at school.

Kate Hanson, a 15-year-old bisexual sophomore at Snow Canyon High School, said that having the alliance “helps you realize that there are others like you and there are people who support you.”

“I was so excited when I heard we could have a G.S.A.,” she said. “I just thought it would be a fun club.”

With the increase in alliances, Utah is joining a growing national movement to provide friendly meeting places in schools for students who have often felt like misfits, clubs where gay youths and their supporters can socialize, speak out against discrimination and sponsor events like the Day of Silence in honor of bullied students.

More below the fold.

Dave Barry looks back at last year.

Let’s put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, the Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out 75 percent of all the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes we can, because they were not exposed to Jersey Shore.

So on second thought we see that this was, in fact, the worst year ever. The perfect symbol for the awfulness of 2010 was the BP oil spill, which oozed up from the depths and spread, totally out of control, like some kind of hideous uncontrollable metaphor. (Or, Jersey Shore.) The scariest thing about the spill was, nobody in charge seemed to know what to do about it. Time and again, top political leaders personally flew down to the Gulf of Mexico to look at the situation first-hand and hold press availabilities. And yet somehow, despite these efforts, the oil continued to leak. This forced us to face the disturbing truth that even top policy thinkers with postgraduate degrees from Harvard University — Harvard University! — could not stop it.

The leak was eventually plugged by non-policy people using machinery of some kind. But by then our faith in our leaders had been shaken, especially since they also seemed to have no idea what to do about this pesky recession. Congress tried every remedy it knows, ranging all the way from borrowing money from China and spending it on government programs, to borrowing MORE money from China and spending it on government programs. But in the end, all of this stimulus created few actual jobs, and most of those were in the field of tar-ball collecting.

Things were even worse abroad. North Korea continued to show why it is known as “the international equivalent of Charlie Sheen.” The entire nation of Greece went into foreclosure and had to move out; it is now living with relatives in Bulgaria. Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, all the while insisting that they would be used only for peaceful scientific research, such as — to quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — “seeing what happens when you drop one on Israel.” Closer to home, the already strained relationship between the United States and Mexico reached a new low following the theft, by a Juarez-based drug cartel, of the Grand Canyon.

This is not to say that 2010 was all bad. There were bright spots. Three, to be exact:

1. The Yankees did not even get into the World Series.

2. There were several days during which Lindsay Lohan was neither going into, nor getting out of, rehab.

3. Apple released the hugely anticipated iPad, giving iPhone people, at long last, something to fondle with their other hand.

Other than that, 2010 was a disaster.

Snowflakes — Adam Gopnik contemplates the truth about snowflakes.

It’s been cold out. Really cold, not just normal New York, scarf-and-overcoat December cold but Canadian cold, Arctic cold—the kind of cold that insinuates its way through window frames, and whispers under doors, and chills even perpetually overheated New York apartments. The city may have missed the big snows that have been falling elsewhere in America, crushing the roof of the Metrodome and forcing the Giants into a game in Detroit, but, with the weather this cold, can the snow be too far off?

All this makes the people who cackle with derision at the notion of global warming cackle even more, and though we like to shake our heads at the folly of those who choose to ignore the inarguable proof that this year is one of the hottest years on record—still, at the bone, the human genome does seem to conspire against the truth. In this kind of cold, it is hard to imagine that we will ever be warm again, as though a little genetic amnesia trap had been designed by nature to make us work for the spring to come—to make us plant bulbs and wrap bushes with burlap and light Yule logs and sacrifice virgins, whatever it takes.

In the cold, thoughts turn to snowflakes, heralds of winter. For the past three decades, at this time of year, a twinkling snowflake has been hoisted above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. It’s a giant, galumphing thing, which makes the crossroads of the world resemble the main intersection of a Manitoba town. Closer to the office, the local hearth, Starbucks on Forty-second and Sixth, even has a sign that reads, “Friends are like snowflakes: beautiful and different.” This thought seems so comforting, so improving and plural-minded, that one begins to wonder whether it is truly so. Are snowflakes really different—or, rather, how different are they, really?

Doonesbury — Got it all figured out.