Friday, September 8, 2023

Bigoted Underbelly

From the editorial board of the Miami Herald.

The debate over observing LGBTQ History Month at public schools stunningly revealed Miami-Dade County’s deeply held prejudices and homophobia. In at least eight hours of public testimony, misinformation left a mark and a message of intolerance to young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Item H-11 on the School Board’s agenda Wednesday meant to use October to observe the “important roles that LGBTQ people have taken in shaping the social, historical, legal and political worlds we live in today.” The proclamation wouldn’t affect “curriculum, classroom instruction or instructional materials” to avoid violating the parental-rights law known as “Don’t say gay.”It was a small measure to tell students, already embattled by Florida’s assault on who they are: “We see you and value you.”

The proposal failed by a 5-3 vote. That’s not surprising, given allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis have taken over the board. More disturbing were some residents’ public comments, steeped in conspiracy theories, with some of them also proclaiming to love Jesus and wanting to protect children.

There was the occasional version of “I’m not homophobic” followed by a lecture on the perceived ills of being a homosexual. There were so-called defenders of parental rights who used the following terms to describe LGBTQ History Month:

A “form of harassment.”


“Grooming,” a term that refers to how pedophiles build relationships with children to later sexually exploit them.


“Child abuse.”

There were misinformed statements like, “Homosexuality is a decision.” (It’s not.)

That observing LGBTQ History is “imposing sex into our kids” and “Boys have the potential of being misguided” into homosexuality by it.

And there were the far-right Proud Boys standing outside the School Board building in downtown, wearing T-shirts that read “Shoot Your Local Pedophile.” Extremism in Miami-Dade is alive and bold.

Not all opponents of the measure used such ugly language. Some had understandable concerns about having control over the type of information their children are exposed to. But too many of the public comments at Wednesday’s meeting parroted the rhetoric on LGBTQ+ issues that has festered on social media and in political speeches.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, with a tweet, helped introduced the false old homophobic trope “groomer” into the debate over the “Don’t say gay” law, wrongly equating homosexuality with pedophilia. “Indoctrination” has become a buzzword that DeSantis says in virtually every speech about “wokeness.”

It’s clear that inciting fear and paranoia into the minds of parents works as a political strategy. But observing the contributions of people like Martin Gouterman, a gay scientist and activist who discovered why blood is red, has nothing to do with sex.

It is meant to inspire gay kids to overcome adversity and teach others about those who positively contributed to our lives.

It’s disingenuous to equate a month of observance that doesn’t affect curriculum with sex education or, worse, the sexual exploitation of children. It’s cynical to ask why people of other sexual orientations don’t get a month dedicated to them, as board member Roberto Alonso did, the Herald reported. Such shallow arguments have already been used against Black History Month and International Women’s Day.

LGBTQ History Month was purely symbolic, but symbols matter. So does the massive backlash the proposal received. Miami-Dade County’s queer students now have it on the record that some of their neighbors and elected representatives see their identity as something to be banned from public discussion.

Some School Board members hid behind the excuse that the measure could violate Florida’s ban on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity — the “Don’t say gay” law — even though the board’s lawyer said it wouldn’t.

Member Steve Gallon III was absent for the vote despite attending the early part of Wednesday’s meeting. He told the Herald Editorial Board on Thursday he had a “prior commitment” of a “personal matter” scheduled. Although he made a motion to advance the item during a previous committee hearing, Gallon wouldn’t say how he would have voted on it. It’s a shame. His constituents deserve to know where he stands.

LGBTQ students will continue to exist in schools that find it taboo to recognize them and in families that don’t accept them. Unfortunately, our elected leaders and too many community members would rather fight innocuous measures to celebrate a community’s history than make those children feel welcome in our melting pot.

The rate of suicide among LGBTQ+ children and teens has gone way up over the last five years, in no small measure thanks to the hatred from the bigots and the cowards in power such as the Miami-Dade County Public School Board.  Their blood and the agony of their families is on their doorstep.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Doctoring Up Bigotry

Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian:

You know what I love about living in the US? Freedom! You can choose between multiple overpriced insurance companies to provide you with healthcare, for example. The healthcare companies, in turn, can seemingly charge you whatever they like for their services. If they want to charge you $1,500 (£1,200) for some toenail fungus cream, that is their prerogative. That’s freedom, baby.

As if this wasn’t glorious enough, the healthcare system in Florida has just had a new layer of freedom added to it. On 1 July, a new law goes into effect that means a doctor can look a potential patient up and down, decide they are giving off homosexual vibes and refuse to treat them because interacting with gay people goes against their personal beliefs. The doctor will not face any repercussions for denying care and has no obligation to refer the patient elsewhere.

I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not. Last week, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed the Protections of Medical Conscience (pdf) bill, which lets medical professionals and health insurance companies deny patients care based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs. While the new law doesn’t allow care to be withheld because of race, colour sex, or national origin, there are no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. The only bright spot is that hospitals must still abide by federal laws that require them to stabilise a patient with an emergency condition. In other words, you can’t let a patient die just because they’re wearing a Drag Race T-shirt.

At least, I don’t think you can: it is hard to say precisely what is allowed under this new law because, like a lot of regressive Republican legislation, the bill is deliberately vague. It does not list which procedures are acceptable to refuse and it doesn’t clearly define what constitutes a “sincerely held religious, moral, or ethical belief”. This lack of clarity is by design: Republicans love passing legislation with vague language because it creates confusion and is more difficult to challenge. It is also a lot scarier for the people affected when you don’t have a clear idea what is allowed and what isn’t. The journalist Mary C Curtis has called the tactic “intimidation by obfuscation”. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that the new law means “Floridians will have to fear discriminatory treatment from medical providers every time they meet a new provider, calling into question everyone’s trust in their medical care.”

DeSantis has been a very busy man: in the brief moments he has not spent fighting with Disney, his state’s second-largest employer, he has been signing a flurry of regressive legislation. The day before he signed his bill attacking healthcare equality, he signed a draconian immigration bill that makes life for migrants in Florida very difficult. And, on Monday, he signed a bill that would ban Florida’s colleges and universities from spending state or federal money on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. It also limits how race can be discussed on many courses. In a speech after he signed the bill, DeSantis told prospective college students that if they want to study wacky things such as “gender ideology” they should get the hell out of Florida. “We don’t want to be diverted into a lot of these niche subjects that are heavily politicised; we want to focus on the basics,” said DeSantis. Sounds like a great advert for Florida’s educational institutions, doesn’t it? “Come here if you just want to learn the basics!” I’m not sure what “the basics” are but they clearly don’t include studying Michelangelo or watching animated films since, earlier this year, a Florida principal had to resign after parents were outraged that their kids were shown a picture of Michelangelo’s David and now a Florida teacher is being investigated for showing her class a Disney movie featuring a gay character.

Having banned everything in sight, DeSantis’s next big project appears to be modifying Florida’s “resign-to-run” law so that he can run for president while still serving as governor. It’s not clear when he might finally announce his candidacy, but I will tell you this: it is looking very likely that the Republican nominee for 2024 is going to be either DeSantis, a man who has turned the sunshine state into a hotbed of bigotry, or Donald Trump, a fellow bigot who has been found to be a sexual predator by the law. Please feel free to scream.

Dear Doctor: If your profession of faith outweighs your profession of medicine, then perhaps you chose the wrong profession.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sunday Reading

Final Resting Place — Andrew L. Yarrow in the Washington Post on Congressional Cemetery’s “Gay Corner.”

In a quiet neighborhood of Southeast Washington, Leonard Matlovich has been a persistent advocate for gay rights since the 1980s. Over the years, he has attracted dozens of followers who have gathered nearby. You won’t hear him on talk shows or see his byline on op-eds, though, because Matlovich passed away in 1988. Instead, he — or rather his tombstone — can be found in Congressional Cemetery, which claims to be the world’s only graveyard with an LGBTQ section.

So, why is Matlovich buried here — in a bucolic, 35-acre stretch of land near the Anacostia River and RFK Stadium — and why did “Gay Corner,” as some refer to it, develop under the cherry trees near his 6-by-8-foot granite grave marker? Part of the answer is a 10-second walk away: the fenced-in grave of the country’s most notorious homophobe, J. Edgar Hoover, and the pink granite gravestone of the longtime FBI director’s deputy, Clyde Tolson. “It was kind of a middle finger to Hoover,” says Paul Williams, the cemetery’s president.

For much of the mid-20th century, Hoover’s FBI bugged, harassed and attacked gays with the same vitriolic virulence that the agency used to go after civil rights leaders, antiwar activists, alleged communists and others deemed “deviant” threats to the nation. Hoover himself was, of course, believed to be gay — and Tolson was thought (though never proved) to have been his romantic partner — but don’t expect to hear about that if you visit the cemetery. “We got a cease-and-desist order” — from the now-defunct J. Edgar Hoover Foundation — “to stop our tour guides from suggesting this,” Williams says. Instead, guides simply tell visitors that the pair lived together, though they did have separate houses for the sake of appearances.

Once known as the “national burying ground,” Congressional Cemetery is owned by nearby Christ Church but acquired its name because the government in the early 19th century bought plots for members of Congress who died in office. Patriotic composer John Philip Sousa and pioneering Civil War photojournalist Mathew Brady are also among the 68,000 people buried at Congressional. A Public Vault was used to hold the bodies of Presidents John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, among others, until they were buried elsewhere in the country.

The story behind Matlovich’s after-death protest has its roots in the mid-1970s, when he met the early gay rights activist Franklin Kameny — who in 1957 had been fired from the Army Map Service for being gay. Matlovich was a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had served in the Air Force for 12 years. A 1974 Air Force Times story reported that Kameny wanted to challenge the legality of the military’s ban on openly gay men. He was looking for “someone with a flawless record who the military doesn’t already know is gay, and who is ready to fight as a test case,” recalls Michael Bedwell, a friend of Matlovich’s and adviser to a project on gay history. “Leonard got Frank’s number and told him he fit his criteria.”

Matlovich came out with a flourish, appearing on the cover of Time magazine in September 1975, and five years of legal battles ensued. “Leonard loved the Air Force, but he felt that facts should prevail,” Bedwell says. That fall, Matlovich moved to G Street SE, across from the then-rundown cemetery, and he discovered that Walt Whitman’s lover, Peter Doyle, was buried there.

In 1984, two years before Matlovich was diagnosed with AIDS, he and Bedwell visited Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Oscar Wilde’s grave is a popular gay destination. “This brought home the idea that gays needed heroes to identify with,” Bedwell says. For Matlovich, Congressional Cemetery had “gay resonance because of Doyle”; he bought two plots near Hoover as a last laugh of sorts, explains Bedwell.

Matlovich died in 1988 at age 44. He had hoped the second plot might be for a future partner, but his gravesite instead covers both plots. His headstone reads: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Above those words are two pink triangles, an upward-pointing one symbolizing gay rights and an upside-down one that gay prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps.

To the left of his grave is a modest memorial to Kameny that reads “Gay is Good,” a then-heretical slogan that the activist coined in 1968. Kameny is not actually buried at Congressional, but many other gay men and women are. About 60 have been interred in Gay Corner, and 100 more have bought plots, according to Williams. Kay Lahusen was buried this spring next to her partner, activist Barbara Gittings, sometimes referred to as the mother of the gay rights movement. Gittings founded the East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first U.S. lesbian rights organization, in 1958 and led the fight to force the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness. William Boyce Mueller, a founder of Forgotten Scouts — which fought the ban on gays in the Boy Scouts (the organization his grandfather established) — is buried close by under a broad magnolia. An obelisk installed in 2017 honors Antinous, an enslaved young man who was Roman emperor Hadrian’s lover and has been called a “gay god.”

Among those who have bought plots in Gay Corner are Stephen and Joshua Snyder-Hill, who were married at Matlovich’s grave in 2011. That year, Stephen was cast into the limelight when he was an active-duty soldier in Iraq who was booed at a Republican presidential debate for his videotaped question about ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Nearer to the cemetery’s gatehouse at Potomac Avenue and E Street SE, several other prominent gay men are buried along the path called Congress Street. The remains of Alain LeRoy Locke, the first Black Rhodes scholar (in 1907) and a leading philosopher during the Harlem Renaissance, were moved to Congressional in 2014, 60 years after his death. A short distance away, the words on Ken Dresser’s headstone — “whose artistry is known to millions” — may be puzzling until one learns that he created Disney’s Main Street Electrical Parade.

Beyond the LGBTQ notables, modern-day political figures buried at the cemetery include Marion Barry. In keeping with Barry’s norm-defying career, the back of his stone lists major donors.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the cemetery became a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes. But it was brought back to life by both Gay Corner and a group of dog owners who pay dues to allow their pets to wander amid the gravestones. The cemetery also hosts outdoor horror movies in the summer and weekend yoga classes in the chapel or on the lawn.

Every June, up to 3,000 people gather at Gay Corner for the beginning of the Pride Run 5K; in the fall, the cemetery hosts a Veterans Day commemoration of gay service members. There has been talk of creating a national LGBTQ veterans monument at Congressional, where, for those dying to get in, a burial plot now runs up to $10,000. A much less financially and existentially costly option: free weekend walking tours where you can see for yourself that political activism in Washington never dies.

Doonesbury — Rent-A-Corps

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Oh Look At The Kitty – Part Infinity

Trump bans transgender people from the military:

Trump made the surprise declaration in a series of posts on Twitter, saying he had come to the decision after talking to generals and military experts, whom he did not name.

The sweeping policy decision was met with surprise at the Pentagon, outrage from advocacy groups and praise from social conservatives. It reverses the gradual transformation of the military under President Barack Obama, whose administration announced last year that transgender people could serve openly in the military. Mr. Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, also opened all combat roles to women and appointed the first openly gay Army secretary.

The shift was announced with such haste that the White House could not answer basic inquiries about how it would be implemented. Chief among those questions was what would happen to the thousands of openly transgender people currently serving on active duty.

Well, I guess that rules out “Caitlyn Jenner, USMC” as the new hit sitcom this fall on Fox.

Jokes aside, this nasty, brutish, and cruel attack on a segment of the population that has done nothing to engender this hatred and loathing from an alleged man who never served one day in the military serves two purposes: it shores up his creds with the homophobic base in the electorate and the halls of Congress (where a goodly number of them have an unhealthy obsession with other peoples’ bathroom habits and use of gentialia), and it distracts from the fact that his attempts to pull down Obamacare are going down like a turd in a well and the walls are closing in on the Russia investigation.  Quick!  Find something to throw attention elsewhere!

Maybe because I’m getting up there in years and have been openly gay for over forty years, but I was neither shocked nor surprised by this move on the part of Trump.  I fully expect there to be calls for his impeachment for this and it will go nowhere; after all, the number of LGBTQ people who actually supported and voted for him wouldn’t fill the Velvet Spike on a Tuesday night, and the assent from the knuckle-draggers will be enough to carry him through the debacle of the Senate melt-down and budget battles.  Gay-bashing is the default mode for these bigots and he knows the chattering classes on the TV — which he claims to never watch — will cover it wall to wall, but I’m getting a little tired of being the go-to scapegoat for bigotry.  The only saving grace is that if he’s coming after my tribe, he’s not going after the Muslims, the Asians, the Mexicans, or the bicycle riders.

Oh, and speaking of Caitlyn Jenner, she was so disappointed that the man she supported and has turned on him:

There are 15,000 patriotic transgender Americans in the US military fighting for all of us. What happened to your promise to fight for them?

So you’re just now figuring it out that he’s a lying, cheating scumbag?  You really are new to this whole dating-men thing, aren’t you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The View From The Hammock

I have a great deal of respect for Garrison Keillor as a writer and story-teller, and aside from his singing — he makes a Gregorian chanter sound like a rapper — I liked his time on “A Prairie Home Companion.”  Now that he has retired he is sharing his insight on the goings-on near and far in much the same way he told of life in Lake Woebegone: anecdotes of plain people and their takes on life wrapped up in a soft comforter of nostalgia and attempted self-deprecation.  He’s the anti-Keith Olbermann.

But his latest column in the Washington Post — “What will be Trump’s legacy?  Who cares?” — comes across as a gentle message to the masses:  don’t worry what will befall us because in the long run presidents don’t matter all that much in our daily lives.

Presidents are royalty and we measure our lives by their reigns, but their effect on the country in general is greatly exaggerated. Take me, for example. Mr. Lyndon Johnson’s Selective Service System more or less governed my 20s, and now that I’m old and shaky, his Medicare is very helpful, but for most of us, presidents are part of the scenery, like the great stone heads on Easter Island. Millions of words have been written about Richard Nixon but his effect on my life was minuscule compared to that of my third-grade teacher Fern Moehlenbrock. Her kindness and cheerfulness grow larger and larger in memory, and Mr. Nixon recedes to the size of a dried pea.

We remember Johnson for his abdominal scar and his syrupy voice, Nixon for his incredible awkwardness and “I am not a crook,” and Gerald Ford for tripping on the airplane stairs coming down. Then came the Georgia Sunday School teacher and the actor and the Ivy League Texan and the Arkansas playboy and the stupefied Dubya reading “The Pet Goat” to a class in Sarasota when the planes hit the twin towers in Manhattan. We remember their voices, as done by comedians. Their so-called legacy is mostly as cartoons. The disasters they caused fell mainly on foreigners. The marble temples erected to worship them are a bad joke.

And now, after eight years of the most graceful and articulate chief since FDR, we get this crude showman with the marble walls and gold faucets. Most of the country dreads him as he slouches toward Washington to be inaugurated. I worry what effect he’ll have on children. Everything Mrs. Moehlenbrock told us — no pushing, no insulting, no lying, no crude talk — Mr. Trump does on a daily basis. But how will he actually affect my life? Not much.

That’s easy for a white Protestant citizen of the Midwest to say, but unless I’m missing something, Mr. Keillor and those like him have nothing to fear from a Trump administration.  He’s old enough to be on Medicaid and Social Security which are under scrutiny by the Republicans in Congress, but I really don’t think that Mr. Keillor is living on a fixed income or has to scratch to come up with his insurance co-pays.  He’s not dining on Meow Mix or splurging by using the favor packet from Top Ramen.  He’s not in danger of losing his dwelling because his landlord won’t rent to a straight white man, and I doubt that in his long career he ever faced workplace discrimination or the threat of being fired simply because he’s straight.  His Scandinavian heritage does not put him in danger of being deported, nor does his adherence to his faith make him a target by roving bands of Confederate flag-waving patriots.

I’m an entrepreneur, a writer. I don’t look to the government for a tax deduction for time spent writing work that got rejected. I’m not looking for legislative protection from foreign authors. Some people buy Dostoevsky’s books who might otherwise have bought mine: tough noogies. If I threatened to move to Mexico, no big deal.

Except he does have legislative protection from those who would steal his work and pass it off as their own, and I’m pretty sure that like me, he belongs to some kind of writers guild that provides him with legal assistance should he need to sue someone.  Kind of like a union.

The government that matters to me is local. I will always remember the day 14 years ago in St. Paul, Minn., when my daughter went into convulsions and I picked up the phone and in six minutes the rescue squad was in our living room, five uniforms looking after my girl and one uniform explaining to me about febrile convulsions. If you were in the midst of this crisis, Donald J. Trump would be the last person on earth you’d want to see come through the door. He would tell you all about how he won Michigan and bring in a podiatrist and give you a coupon toward one of his steaks. It’s going to be a long four years, people. Get back in touch with old friends. Take up hiking. Read history. But not books about Germany in the 1930s — it’ll only make you uneasy.

Mr. Keillor embodies the genteel side of the mindset of the Trump-voting Obamacare volunteer: government close to home is wonderful, but the further you get away the more they resemble alien occupiers imposing their will by decree.  But they don’t seem to bother him; they’re a minor inconvenience like a fly buzzing around his head while he snoozes in the hammock.

Must be nice.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back To When?

Via C&L, we meet a Trump voter who wants to take her country back to a time when we didn’t have “the homosexuals” and “the abortions.”

A voter named Barbara explained that she was motivated to support Trump because “morality and values” were important to her.

“Based on what the country was based on,” she said. “I think that the laws that Obama has passed, the way the country has — I call it down turning. Some of the other people are proud of it and happy for it. I personally am against it, the homosexuals, the abortions. All the stuff, I am against.”

“When Donald Trump says ‘Make American Great Again,’ is that what you hear?” Dickerson wondered. “That it’s going to go back to before the time that you’re now describing?”

“That’s part of it,” Barbara agreed.

I’m not sure how far we’d have to go back in time to make Barbara happy.  If history is any guide, there have been gay people since the days that the first Homo Sapiens got together and checked out the hunky dude in the tight loincloth from the next cave over.  Abortion has been around since people figured out where babies come from.

Actually, I get where Barbara is coming from.  She wants gays back in the closet and abortions in the back alley so that we can all go on with our lives pretending that everyone is happily straight and that all babies are bundles of joy.  There were no teens driven to suicide because of bullying or being disowned for being “different,” no families torn apart by religious bigotry and poorly-suppressed reality, and there was no rape or incest or life-threatening birth defects.  Life was perfect until Barack Obama came along and in eight years just ruined it all.

PS: “The Homosexuals” and “The Abortions” sounds like the line-up of an ’80’s heavy-metal band concert.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rubio Stands On Their Bodies

Sen. Marco Rubio said that the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June was one of the reasons he changed his mind and decided to run again for the Senate seat he planned to give up to become president.

The senator had indicated the massacre caused him to reconsider a possible campaign. Rubio said he was “deeply impacted” by tragedy hitting a community he knows well, saying, “it really gives you pause to think about your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country.”

So how is he going to share that commitment to being useful?  Why, he’s going to be the keynote speaker at an anti-gay conference, of course.

The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel Action, an extreme anti-LGBT group whose affiliate is famous for representing Kentucky clerk Kim Davis in her stand against the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, announced in an email today that the Florida Renewal Project will be hosting an event called “Rediscovering God in America” in August. The event will be headlined by Rubio, who will speak alongside anti-LGBT activists David Barton, Bill Federer, Ken Graves and Mat Staver.

I can honestly say I didn’t give Marco Rubio enough credit; he can be even shittier than I thought possible.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016

No Birthday Cake For You Lesbos

Now it’s not just wedding cakes that the Jesus-shouters won’t bake.  Via Wonkette:

It certainly wasn’t the text message Candice Lowe was expecting to get on her honeymoon. She says it came from the owner of a local bakery, canceling the order for her wife’s birthday cake. Lowe says, “after she saw my Facebook page, she found out that I was in a same-sex marriage and she could not do my cake.” … The couple was just married two weeks ago and are still on cloud nine after celebrating with their son, family and friends. But that all came crashing down. In some ways, they say, it’s like taking two steps back. “It wasn’t a wedding cake, it was just a birthday cake [for my wife, Amanda],” Candice said. “A birthday cake has nothing to do with your sexual preference.”

And, as Wonkette points out, since when is doing a background check on Facebook a requirement for deciding whether or not you want to expose yourself to mockery and possible legal action?

Dan Savage sums it up:

Welcome to America — where bigoted bakers do background checks to avoid selling cakes to lesbians (because Jesus) but we don’t require merchants at gun shows to do background checks to avoid selling weapons of war to crazed terrorists, abusive spouses, and the mentally ill (because freedom).

Monday, June 27, 2016


This is significant.

President Obama will designate a new national monument at the historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City to honor the broad movement for LGBT equality. The new Stonewall National Monument will protect the area where, on June 28, 1969, a community’s uprising in response to a police raid sparked the modern LGBT civil rights movement in the United States.

The designation will create the first official National Park Service unit dedicated to telling the story of LGBT Americans, just days before the one year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality in all 50 states.

Significant in the fact that in less than half my lifetime we have gone from an administration that mocked AIDS victims — when it finally got around to saying the word — to one that supports equality in all its forms and venues, including transgender rights.

Of course it’s not over.  I and millions of LGBT citizens still live in states where it’s legal to be discriminated against in employment and housing, where it’s still acceptable to bait and stigmatize gays and lesbians in political campaigns, and where a commercial showing two dads or two moms raising a family generates a call for boycotts (and, of course, fund-raising).

Designating a national monument will have no practical effect in changing the remaining conditions of hate and bigotry in places where it’s still not acceptable in the sight of many for a man and a woman of different races to get married.  It is, however, a milestone to acknowledge the history and mark the place and then keep moving on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Keep Digging

First it was Indiana.  Last year the state’s legislature passed an ironically named “religious freedom” bill targeting gay rights.  It created such a stink from the business community that Gov. Mike Pence rushed to have it amended.  This year it was North Carolina which caused — and still is causing — threats of economic sanctions ranging from multinational corporations and banks to rock stars.  The governor of Georgia saw what happened and vetoed that state’s version of the bill, thereby assuring a worried world that “Family Feud” will still be “made in Georgia.”  But Mississippi went ahead with their bill, which is even more sweeping than the one in North Carolina, because, well, they’re Mississippi.  Now it’s South Carolina’s turn.

So I wonder if those geniuses in Columbia looked around them, saw what happened in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi and said, “Mm, we gotta get us some ‘o that!”?

Oh well, there are already too many tourists in Charleston and Hilton Head.  The hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops could use a rest.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

Teach Your Children Well — Jonathan Zimmerman in The Atlantic on the poor state of civics education in public schools.

Little hands. A bad tan. And blood coming from wherever.

If you’re put off by the crude tone of politics in the Age of Trump, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll by Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate, and KRC Research, 70 percent of Americans think that political incivility has reached “crisis” levels.

The poll also found that Americans avoid discussing controversial questions, out of fear they too will be perceived as uncivil. The findings speak to a flaw with civic education, especially in the main institution charged with delivering it: public schools. Put simply, schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they can’t, or that that they don’t.

Schools have sometimes been blamed for the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, whose legions of supporters allegedly lack the civic knowledge to see through his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States or to kill family members of terrorists in the fight against ISIS. But it’s hardly clear that Trump supporters are less knowledgeable than anyone else. In six state GOP exit polls, Trump was the most popular candidate among college-educated voters and came in second in another six polls.

Indeed, the facile dismissal of all Trump enthusiasts as bigots or ignoramuses speaks to the most urgent problem in American civic life: the inability to communicate with people who do not share the same opinion. Trump himself epitomizes that trend, routinely vilifying his opponents as “losers” or “dummies,” or worse. And yet Trump’s critics often use similar terms to tar his diverse array of devotees. This isn’t a discussion; it’s a shouting match.Public schools aren’t merely expected to teach young people the mechanics of government: how a bill is signed into law, what the Supreme Court does, and so on. They’re also responsible for teaching the skills and habits of democratic life, especially how to engage civilly with people from a different political camp.

Many districts have written policies promoting the teaching of “controversial issues” in schools. Typically, these policies affirm students’ right to discuss such issues as part of their preparation for citizenship. They also warn teachers against imposing their own point of view on students.But there’s an enormous gap between policy and practice. Many teachers say they’d like to address controversial issues but lack the time; in poorer districts, especially, every available minute is devoted to preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests. Others admitted that they were not prepared to lead such discussions, which require deep background knowledge on the issues as well as the skill to manage diverse opinions about them.

Still other teachers said that their districts discouraged or even barred them from addressing controversial issues, particularly if the teacher displayed a liberal or unorthodox bent. After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, for example, two teachers and a counselor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were suspended without pay for hanging posters in their classrooms urging “No War Against Iraq.” School officials invoked the district’s “controversial-issues” policy, which declared that teachers “will not attempt, directly or indirectly, to limit or control the opinions of pupils.”

As later court filings confirmed, however, the district offered no evidence that the teachers were trying to do that; instead, the mere expression of their opinion was taken as proof of their propagandistic intent. Never mind that military recruiting posters festooned other parts of the school, or that one of the suspended teachers had organized a debate between herself and a pro-war colleague. Her poster was an act of indoctrination rather than education, officials said, and it had to be stopped.


To be sure, it’s easy to imagine situations where teachers might impose their views instead of assisting students in formulating their own. But many school leaders simply don’t trust teachers to know the difference. After the Ferguson riots, a superintendent in nearby Edwardsville, Illinois, prohibited teachers from mentioning the subject, lest they sway students in one direction or another. “We all have opinions on what should be done,” the superintendent explained. “We don’t need to voice those opinions or engage those opinions in the classroom.”

But how will children learn to “engage those opinions” unless they do so in the classroom? That’s become even more urgent over the past few decades, when Americans increasingly segregated themselves into communities of the like-minded. In 1976, 27 percent of Americans made their homes in so-called “landslide counties” that voted either Democrat or Republican by 20 percent or more; by 2008, 48 percent of Americans lived in such environments.

When divisive subjects do arise, Americans don’t know how to discuss them. In the same KRC survey that revealed overwhelming concern about the incivility of modern politics, over a third of respondents said they avoid talking about racial inequality, abortion rights, or same-sex marriage for fear of the discussion turning “uncivil.” And only one-third said that they do not avoid any issues because of worries about incivility.

Trump has played on that anxiety in his frequent broadsides against “political correctness,” encouraging people to follow his lead and say whatever they think. And while there’s a certain attractiveness to that kind of blunt candor, it’s a poor formula for civic discourse. Nearly three-quarters of the people replying to the KRC survey said they supported “civility training” in schools. Let’s hope they prevail on the schools to provide it.

Why It’s The Worst — Katherine Stewart in The Nation on Mississippi’s gay-bashing law.

On Tuesday morning, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law HB 1523—the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”—one of the most sweeping of the nation’s “religious liberty” bills that are making the rounds in numerous red-state capitals this year. In the press they are often referred to as “anti-LGBT bills,” because they would give legal cover to those who want to discriminate against LGBT people out of “sincerely held religious belief.” Critics such as Ben Needham, director of Human Rights Campaign’s Project One America, has said the measure is “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.” But there is an even more radical agenda behind these bills, and the atrocious attempt to deprive LGBT Americans of their rights is only a part of it.

According to State Senator Jennifer Branning, one of the Mississippi law’s original backers, the real victims of the story are not the LGBT couples denied services but people “who cannot in good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.” These are the true targets of discrimination, and we are invited to sympathize with the proverbial florist who balks at providing flowers at a gay wedding or the restaurant owner who refuses to serve a same-sex couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. But the text of the law also specifically protects the “sincerely held religious belief” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” a marriage between a woman and a man. So if you are religiously opposed to other people having non-marital sex, this could be the law for you.

It is also inaccurate to think that this law is just about those who wish to refuse to perform a service. One of the more disconcerting sections of the law is that which discusses people who provide foster-care services. The government, we are told, will no longer be allowed to take action against any foster parent that “guides, instructs, or raises a child…in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief.” If you want to know what that could mean, check out Focus on the Family’s “spare the rod” philosophy of child rearing. On its website, the religious-right advocacy group offers handy tips on “the Biblical Approach to Spanking.”

If the point were only to spare the fine moral sentiments of a few florists, why would the law’s sponsors seek such a wide-ranging exemption from the laws and norms that apply to the rest of society? A helpful clue can be found in a letter that the American Family Association sent out in support of the Mississippi bill before it was passed. (The AFA has been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010.) The bill, said the AFA, is crucial because it protects the AFA, and groups like it, from the “governmental threat of losing their tax exempt status.”

There is a revealing irony in that statement. Tax exemption is a kind of gift from the government, a privilege. It is an indirect way of funneling money from taxpayers to groups that engage in certain kinds of activities (like charity work or nonprofit education)—and not other kinds of activities (like political activism). The AFA is right to worry about the governmental threat to their governmental subsidy. As our society views the kinds of activities they endorse with increasing skepticism, the justification for continued subsidies and privileges from the government will diminish.

The people who drafted the bill on behalf of the Mississippi legislators get it. (Most of the red-state “religious liberty” bills were either drafted or, to some degree, inspired by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the “800-pound gorilla” of religious-right legal advocacy and itself a beneficiary of the great tax exemption game.) This is why the very first “discriminatory action” by the government the law prohibits is “to alter in any way the tax treatment” of any person or organization that abides by the newly sanctioned religious beliefs.

It’s about more than money, of course. The AFA and its allies on the religious right want to carve out a sphere in American public life where religion—their religion—trumps the law. It’s a breathtakingly radical ambition. And it upends the principles on which our constitutional democracy is based.

None other than the late Antonin Scalia put his finger on the problem. To make an individual’s obedience to the law “contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs” amounts to “permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, ‘to become a law unto himself,’” he said. It “contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.” Scalia made these comments in his 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith. In that case, the majority ruled that the state of Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a pair of individuals who violated a state ban on the use of peyote, even though their use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. It was the overreaction to that verdict—on both the left and the right—that produced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Though intended only to ensure that laws did not needlessly burden the religious liberty of individuals, the RFRA sparked a wave of unintended consequences. It effectively planted the demon seeds of the current crop of “religious liberty” bills.

Employment Division, as it happened, involved a religion—that practiced by the Native American Church—with which Scalia likely did not identify. Which brings up a crucial point about the Mississippi law and its numerous cousins. These “religious liberty” bills are really intended only for a particular variety of religion. Indeed, HB 1523 protects you only if your religion involves a specific set of beliefs—such as the religious belief that “man” and “woman” “refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex,” and that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” marriage. To speak frankly, the law was designed to advance the claims of conservative Christians, and it would never have become law otherwise. If you think that every religion will find as much liberty in the laws of Mississippi, then I have a Satanic temple to sell you.

Donald Trump Performs Shakespeare — Aryah Cohen-Wade in The New Yorker.


Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

“Romeo and Juliet”

Quiet, quiet—shut up, over there! What’s coming through that window? A light, it is the east, and Melania—you know, people are always telling me, they say, “Mr. Trump, you’ve got a wonderful wife”—Melania, she’s sitting right there. Stand up, sweetheart. Isn’t she a beautiful woman, Melania? Gorgeous. I love women, they love me—and I think we all know what I mean, folks! I’m gonna do so well with the women in November. So well.

Melania’s the sun, is what a lot of people are saying. Hillary Clinton? I mean, with that face? She looks like the moon! She’s very envious, if you ask me, very envious, but can you blame her? Visit Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue—which is the best street in New York, by the way—I mean, who wouldn’t be envious? This moon, Hillary, is sick and pale with grief when she compares herself to Melania, who is a very beautiful woman, I have to admit.

Melania, she’s got a great cheek, it’s a wonderful cheek, a bright cheek, everyone knows it, the stars ought to be ashamed of themselves, ashamed. The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars. As daylight doth a lamp! Look at this, folks, how she leans her cheek upon her hand. If I were a glove upon that hand—first, let me tell you, I think we all know what I would do, because I bought the Miss Universe Pageant, very successful, so I know a thing or two about gorgeous women. And all this stuff about the gloves, and my hands—I have great hands, O.K.? Gimme a break.

“Julius Caesar”

Friends, Romans, folks—listen up. The reason I’m here is to bury Julius. It’s not to praise him. It’s just not. Brutus over there—we all know he’s a good guy, right? And he says Julius was low-energy. Is it a crime to be low-energy? Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—who knows?

The point is, Brutus is a good guy, all these guys over there, the ones who did this, they’re all good guys—and Julius, Julius was my friend, a really terrific friend to me.

Julius—he brought a lot of captives home to Rome, filled a lot of coffers. Really fantastic coffers. Does that sound low-energy to you? And when the poor people, regular, hardworking, everyday Romans, cried—Julius did, too. He cried. I saw it with my own eyes—many, many times. But Brutus—Brutus says Julius was low-energy. And everyone knows that Brutus is a good guy, right?

You all saw that on the Lupercal, three times—three times—I tried to give Julius a kingly crown. And you should’ve seen this crown—this was a great crown, O.K.? Very, very kingly. And three times he said, “Nope.” Is this low-energy? Yet Brutus says he was low-energy—and, sure, sure, Brutus is a good guy.

I’m not here to say Brutus is lying, but I am here to speak what I do know. You all loved Julius once—so why not be a little sad, now that he’s dead? Just a little sad.

I’m sorry to say that the Roman Senate has been run by a bunch of morons for a long, long time. Morons! A lot of bad decisions—these guys, they’re like a bunch of animals. It makes me so sad. So sad. And I’m looking here at the coffin of my good friend, Mr. Caesar. Just a minute. (He pauses to wipe a tear from his eye.)

So we’re gonna build a wall! And who’s gonna pay for it? (The crowd shouts, “The Visigoths!”)


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and yadda yadda, the days are going by—what I’m saying is this is gonna last a long time, believe you me. Long. I see this candle, and I say—should I blow it out?

Should I? Because, when you think about it, and there’s been some great polling on this, in fact there’s a new poll out from the Wall Street Journal—which is a terrific paper, by the way, they’ve won a lot of prizes—listen to this, they say blow out the candle. They do, they say blow it out.

People come up to me and say, “Mr. Trump, life is like a shadow,” and I’m like, “What? A shadow? I don’t get it, and, listen, I went to Wharton, O.K.—the top business school in the country. So I’m a smart guy, I’m a smart guy, it’s no secret.”

And what’s really interesting is I like to talk, and tell a tale, and that tale is gonna have a whole lotta sound, and a whole lotta fury, because that’s what the American people want to hear! They want to hear some sound and some fury sent to Washington for once in their lives, and, I mean, is that too much to ask? They want to hear me tell it, and they can decide what it signifies, but I’m saying right now—it’s gonna sound great, I guarantee it. Absolutely, a hundred and ten per cent, just really, really great. O.K.?

Doonesbury — Future shock.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Nothing To Boycott

When North Carolina passed a bill that basically allowed discrimination against the LGBT community, the response by corporate stakeholders was swift and determined.  A lot of large corporations have holdings in the state and they let it be known that they were displeased with this bigotry and they said so.  One — PayPal — put their money where their umbrage is by announcing that they were cancelling plans to expand their facilities in the state.

Other states took notice.  When the Georgia legislature passed a similar law and the boardrooms reacted negatively, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill.  He did it while noting “[o]ur people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities.”  Emphasis on “work.”  If big companies pull out of the state because of intolerance, that’s bad for business, and business beats Jesus every time.

Now that Mississippi has passed and signed into law an even more broad bill enshrining “religious liberty,” will there be a move by corporations to put the squeeze on the state?  Probably not.  It’s not that the fire has gone out to defend the rights of the LGBT community, or, for that matter, the straight folks who have a little on the side.  It’s because when it comes to Mississippi, there’s not a whole lot to boycott.

The economy in Mississippi is different from those many other states that have recently addressed legislation impacting the LGBT community. The state, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the country, is not home to any Fortune 500 companies, lacks a significant tech sector, and has no major pro sports teams.

With relatively nascent LGBT movement, Mississippi was not ripe for the kind of backlash the country has seen recently in Georgia and North Carolina, where Atlanta and Charlotte house major national corporations, more established LGBT communities, and cosmopolitan attitudes. Mississippi has no major metropolitan area.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a LGBT advocacy group that does work in Mississippi and North Carolina, told TPM that Mississippi lacks the “nexus where the corporate world meets the political world meets the cultural world” that exists in states like Georgia and North Carolina.

“We just see a very different economic climate there and a very different network of relationships between the corporate sector, the political sector, and advocates,” she said of Mississippi. She said it’s challenging for LGBT people to work their way up the corporate ladder in Mississippi, which she said “creates one further level of impediment, one further reason why a major employer wouldn’t be able to sort of very nimbly pivot in a moment like this and speak out politically.”

So the legislature of Mississippi, with no corporate cudgel hanging over their heads, didn’t have any problem enshrining religious bigotry into law because there would be no backlash, at least from anyone that mattered.

The problem with that is that there are probably just as many LGBT people per capita in Mississippi as there are, on average, in states like North Carolina or Georgia, or anywhere else in America.  Not all queer folk live in Key West or San Francisco.  They may gravitate to gay meccas, but I know first-hand that there are LGBT communities in small towns and rural America, quietly living their lives and working side by side with straight people.  They may not be out to their co-workers and neighbors because that’s just not who they are.  Their private lives are just that: private.  They may not want to call attention to themselves not because they’re ashamed but because they just don’t feel like it’s anyone else’s business, or they just may not want to make a big deal about it.  They would rather have their ordinary lives remain just that: ordinary.

This is one reason I’m not entirely comfortable with boycotts.  I think they tend to do more for the boycotters than the boycottees. It makes them feel good that they’re sticking it to the homophobes or the racists or the ignorant, but it also removes any kind of leverage they might have in swaying the local politicians or communities to change their ways.  You can’t change someone’s mind if you’re not there to make your case for inclusiveness.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Takes

President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

No charges filed in the Minneapolis shooting of an unarmed man by two police officers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina because of the recently-passed LGBT law.

Ice sheet forecast suggests disastrous sea level rise by 2100.

F.D.A. eases abortion pill access.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ted Cruz’s Friends

Sen. Ted Cruz isn’t shy about being anti-gay, and he has a strong support staff to carry that message out to the base.  Via Right Wing Watch:

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group, helped coalesce Religious Right support behind Cruz and campaigned with the senator in Iowa. Cruz apparently sees it as helpful to campaign alongside Perkins, who has defended Uganda’s “kill-the-gays” bill and claimed that gay rights advocates are pawns of the Devil.

Perkins joined Cruz on the trail in Iowa along with Glenn Beck, the conspiracy theory radio host; David Barton, the right-wing pseudo-historian who heads one of the leading pro-Cruz super PACs and who, like Beck, has declared Cruz to be God’s answer to his prayers; reality TV star Phil Robertson, notorious for making bigoted remarks; James Dobson, the anti-gay radio personality who founded Focus on the Family; Rep. Steve King, the congressman known for his anti-gay and anti-immigrant tirades; Bob Vander Plaats, the Iowa political organizer who describes homosexuality as a “public health risk” similar to smoking; and far-right radio broadcaster Steve Deace.

Other endorsers touted by the Cruz campaign have included North Carolina activists who have referred to gay people as Satan’sminions; a North Carolina pastor who has likened gay people to “maggots” and linked them to Ebola; an Oklahoma preacher who warns that homosexuality is part of a demonic communist conspiracy to bring down America; a Virginia radio host who has blamed gays for everything from terrorism to train derailments; and a Virginia lawmaker who has sponsored an assortment of bizarre anti-gay bills.

Most recently, Cruz welcomed the endorsement of Mike Bickle, the leader of a church that many have criticized for using cult-like practices, who has referred to Oprah Winfrey as a harbinger of the Antichrist, called gay rights as a Satanic plot that will usher in the End Times, and explained that Adolf Hitler was raised up by God to be a “hunter” of Jews.

So when Marco Rubio says he will do what he can to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality — even though he doesn’t explain how or what will happen to the thousands of couples who have married — he sounds like a lightweight.