Friday, January 30, 2015

2016 - The GOP's Gospel of Fear...

There is nothing that scares the American Media more than a slow news day. So even though 2015 is not even one month old, the media on all sides of the political / ideological spectrum have all moved on to obsessing over the 2016 election.

Show of hands… anyone really surprised? Anyone? Didn't think so...

Politics in the United States used to be about the art of the possible. What people of divergent opinion but unified intent could accomplish for the country,  when they worked together. Even from this side of the Atlantic I can hear many of you snickering and saying; “Dave, Dave… what are you smoking?”. Yeah, I know. It’s safe to say those days are clearly long gone. 

Politics in America is now a blood sport, and has been for some time. One of the interesting side effects of this is  the impact  on America’s two political parties.  I have blogged at length about how the Republican Party I knew in my youth,  bears no resemblance to the GOP of today.   The  last three months since the 2014 midterm elections  have provided a fascinating glimpse into the inner mind set of the GOP and its "Conservative Base" .

If there is one clear theme that has emerged from the crowded flashmob of GOP 2016 Presidential hopefuls, it is that America is under "attack", or  is  about to be  under "attack".  America's  freedoms, values, families and "job creators" are all under dire threat.

From what you ask?   America is under threat from; 1) Anyone who doesn't believe in a narrow exclusionary definition of Christianity. 2) Anyone who hasn't been born in the United States.  And last but not least,  3) Anyone who is LGBT,  or believes that  LGBT Americans deserve the same civil rights as everyone else.

The would be standard bearers of Republican Party believe that they are not just defending America from various "attacks" , but that they are truly "defenders of the faith", and by faith,  they mean their specific definition of who is a "Christian".   Comedian Will Ferrell's take on this would be funnier if it was not so close to reality.

video
 
As recently as the past two weeks,  we have seen  how clearly the GOP is connected to America's own brand of fundamentalist Christian extremism.  While at the same time claiming America is under dire threat from non-Christian religious extremism.   In the 1980's the GOP ran against the threat of Soviet Communism.  In the 1990's  the GOP ran against the threat of  Gay people. After 9-11 it was the threat  of "Islamo fascist terrorism"  and  then in 2004 it was both Islamic terrorists AND the Gays.  2008 and 2012 saw the GOP come full circle  and run campaigns that all but screamed "Vote against the SCARY Black Man!  (Who is probably a Muslim too!)".
 
Last week it was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who decided the best way to grab the attention of likely GOP voters, was to claim that America was in serious danger of Muslims establishing "no-go zones" in major American cities.   Areas where non Muslims (i.e. white conservative evangelical Christians) would be in danger if  they tried to enter.  As evidence,  Jindal simply  repeated a  disproved lie claiming  such zones already existed in many  European cities.  
 
When confronted by reporters in London with  the facts,  Jindal squirmed  pathetically.    Yet once back in the US, Jindal doubled down, repeating the lie and standing by his ridiculous assertions.  What is interesting here is his devotion to the talking point,  even when it contradicts reality.  It's  clear that the Governor Jindal feels the path to the GOP Nomination is to  run against "scary Muslims" as much as it is  to run against any other Republican or eventual Democratic Presidential candidate.
 
This week,  it was the Republican Party itself that was caught with their hands in the extremist cookie jar.    The Republican National Committee, along with the party's. National Chairman,  Reince Priebus were revealed to be participating in all expenses paid junket to Israel.  Paid for by the hate group, the  American Family Association.   An organization that claims the First Amendment to the United States Constitution only applies to Christians.  When caught out on this,  the AFA's response  has been to try  to spin some distance between themselves ,  and the things they themselves have been saying for years.  MSNBC's. Rachel Maddow has the very interesting details.
 

 
As of this posting, the RNC still has not pulled out of the AFA funded trip, nor has RNC Chairman Reince Priebus responded to reporters questions now that is clear that Bryan Fischer is still very much the face and voice of the. AFA.   Right now,  the clear message of  the Republican Party is that they subscribe the position that  America is a Christian Nation,  and basic civil rights only apply to people of the Christian faith.   
 
Compounding this message is the GOP position on the threat to America posed by immigrants.   GOP 2016 Clown Car occupant and attention seeking cartoon character Donald Trump,  has made "building a fence" (to keep out the scary brown people),  the centrepiece of his attempt to woo attention from  the Republican base.
 
video
 
The GOP has a problematic relationship at best, with the Latino community.  Demographically one would think it's political suicide to work so hard to alienate the largest voting block in the United States.  Yet, apparently in the GOP mind set,  its more important to have something you can  scare your base with, than it is to expand your electability beyond that base.
 
Setting aside the GOP's obsession with all things LGBT for the moment, when we look at the rest of the would be Presidential Candidates for the Republicans,  we see the clear trend of not, what they each stand for, but rather what each one hopes will resonate with "the base", because of what they are against.
 
Sen. Rand Paul - Running against poor people and Immigrants who he says want to steal your jobs and tax dollars.  Gov. Chris Christie - Running against Courts, Judges and Prosecutors who keep looking into possible crimes committed by his administration.  Sen. Ted Cruz - Running against Science and Affordable Health Care.   Gov. Mitt Romney - Announced today that he IS NOT Running. Probably due to the fact he couldn't run against the opponent he wanted. (Barack Obama).  Gov. Scott Walker - Running against Unions, Public Employees  and anything else that might upset the Koch Brothers.  Gov. Jeb Bush - Ok lets be honest here,  Jeb is really running to save his Father's legacy and family name.  He is running  against his brother,  George W. (Good Luck with that one, Jeb.)   Gov. Rick Perry- Running against Science,  scary Muslims and Medicare, .   Gov. Sarah Palin - Running against grammar, syntax and the "Liberal Media".   Gov. Mike Huckabee - Running against anyone who isn't a Christian and those non Christians  having any sort of civil rights. Dr. Ben Carson - Running against Muslims,  the minimum  wage, and oh yeah,  Benghazi. 
 
And all of the GOP hopefuls  want the good citizens of Teabagistan, (and Iowa), to know that they hate those icky Gay people and Women being able to control their bodies, just as much as they do, and have no reservations taking a felt tip marker to the US Constitution to put those pesky Gays and uppity feminists back in their place. And any attempt to protect the rights of people who think differently is clearly an "attack on Christians!!"

Now lest you think I am completely one sided here, I consider the Democratic side to be just as incoherent.  All I really know about Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at this point is, that   she is clearly  for winning and against losing.

Yet  compared to the GOP's clown car of "Pick  me because here's who / what you should fear / hate",  even the say nothing, do nothing, but raise lots of money -undeclared Clinton candidacy, is infinitely preferable to the cirque du insanity currently gearing up on the Right.

The United States of America is not a fundamentalist  Christian theocracy.  The unmistakeable message  coming from the Republican Party at this stage is, in 2016 they want to elect people who think it should be.
 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Catch Up Blogging.. State of the Union 2015

Yeah yeah... I know.  I have been pretty quiet for the last  two months... What gives?  Well,  like most folks I was busy over the holidays.  We were back in the United States spending Christmas and New Year's  in Northern California with my family.  It was great to be back in San Francisco.   As always it was too short of time to see everyone we wanted to see.  But like we always say, there is a remedy for that;  Come visit us!

There has been a lot going on in the news obviously.   The horrific terror attacks on Paris,  the ongoing threat of the terrorist group Islamic State,  the beginning of the three ring cirque du insanity that will be the 2016 US  Presidential Election campaign,  and the decision by the US Supreme Court to finally take up the issue of Marriage Equality.   Not to mention  the looming  general election here in the United Kingdom next Spring.

So there is a lot to talk about.

But for starters,  we have last night's State of the Union Address by President Obama  in Washington, DC.   For those that are interested,  you can watch the speech in its entirety  here:



To be honest,  I  was not that optimistic as I sat down to watch the speech.  With Congress now completely controlled by the Republican Party,  I fully expected there to be blatant displays of disrespect for the President.   After all  it was at President Obama's very first. SOTU Address that Congressmen Joe Wilson lost his marbles  and blurted out " You Lie!" at the President, when he stated the completely true fact that illegal immigrants could not get health care under the Affordable Care Act.   

So I was not optimistic the 112th Congress would be any better.   I am very happy to report that the GOP majority  behaved itself.    Granted,  it  treated America to the sight of the Republicans refusing to even clap for things like equal pay for women doing equal work,  or that making sure all Americans can vote is good thing.    But overall the GOP mostly just sat on their hands and sulked.

The one moment they did try to get in a jab at the President,  it didn't really go well.  When President Obama mentioned that he would not be running for any office ever again,  the GOP erupted into cheers and applause.  Giving  Barack Obama the opening to respond  with the best one liner of the night:



Setting aside, the zingers, applause lines, and who stood up for what.  The speech shows that President Obama is determined to be anything but a lame duck in this last two years in office.   The agenda he set out last night is a bold one.  So bold in fact,  you could easily say his chances of getting any of it through this congress are slim at best.

The GOP Majority has already signalled its opposition to any attempt to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and despite overwhelming evidence that the Affordable Care Act is a success, the GOP remains determined to kill it and take away health insurance from millions of Americans.

The Republican agenda is basically this;  Affordable Health Care = Bad,  Keystone Pipeline = Good.  The thought process pretty much stops there.    As was evident in the  GOP response to the speech.  Actually,  I should say it was evident in the GOP response(s) to the speech, as there were FOUR of them.  Each one less coherent than the last.

President Obama's State of the Union was officially rebutted by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, then  Rep. Curt Clawson of Florida delivered the tea party response.   Then Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida interpreted the first GOP response in Spanish. Lastly, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul , desperate for attention, gave his own  YouTube response.

 It's worth noting that  Texas Senator Ted Cruz tried to give his own You Tube rebuttal, but it went so badly that his staff yanked it offline shortly after it was posted.  But the Huffington Post managed to save it for all to enjoy.  So for the Democrats, the good news is that the GOP may be so divided among itself that it proves unable to effectively move its own agenda forward.

It is always an odd experience to watch  American politics from the vantage point of an Expat living overseas. The divisions that dominate the American domestic discourse  seem so petty and just plain silly from this distance.   From here in  Europe ,  where the concept of Universal Health Care is just common sense,  Senator Ernst's insistence that  the  Affordable Care Act is a "disaster", is so irrational  as to call into question  her honesty or her intelligence , or both.

Add to this  the  GOP fetish of clinging to the myth that somehow, directing all wealth and opportunity to the richest in society will result in that wealth and opportunity "Trickling Down" to everybody else.   Trickle down economics does not work. It has never worked, and it will never work. The GOP's bizarre insistence that it does, just makes them  look either really stupid or really greedy.  

Asking the top one tenth of one percent  to pay the same tax rates they did under Bill Clinton, (which by the way are still less than they were under Ronald Reagan) is not “class warfare”, it’s asking the those who have benefited the most from American Freedoms to give back in a fair measure.   That is called Patriotism.

So  the gauntlet has been thrown down by  Barack Obama, it will be interesting to see just how much of this ambitious agenda can survive the political reality  of next two years.


 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Seasons of Hope....

I woke up to see a brilliant sunny and cold day here in London. It is one of those early Winter days were the sunlight has that particular Northern Hemisphere winter gold tinge to it.  No snow here in the UK yet , but they say our first dusting could come as early as mid week.  So I was feeling pretty good. 

Then I saw the news from back in Northern California...
(via Joemygod)

Ronin Shimizu, a former student at Folsom Middle School in Folsom, California, took his life on Wednesday afternoon but police are not releasing any further details about his death.

The school district has confirmed that the boy's parents, who also have a younger son, complained on multiple occasions that he was being bullied and officials said that they followed protocol. But friends say that the taunting continued. He recently left Folsom Middle School to be home schooled. 

On Thursday night, friends and their parents gathered outside the Shimizu home to hold a quiet candle light vigil. "I heard that people called him gay because he was a cheerleader," one of his teammates told CBS Sacramento at the vigil. Ronin was the only male cheerleader with the Vista Junior Eagles Cheer Team.   



 Daniel Thigpen with the Folsom Cordova School District said that officials were looking into the complaints made by the boy's family. "Any allegations of bullying related to this specific incident, we're certainly reviewing how we responded to those and we'll use that as an opportunity to always take a look at how we respond to future allegations," he said. Grief counselors are at the school to help students and staff. The Vista Jr Eagles, the team Ronin had cheered for, also released a statement as they shared photos of the young, grinning boy in his cheer uniform.

Let's state up front, this is not going to be a calm and pleasant posting.

It is time for somebody to go to jail.

I want to see  the officials of that school district  charged.  Criminally charged  with negligent homicide.    There seems to be this idea in the United States that middle school,  (or as I knew it. "Jr. High"), is supposed to be hellish.   It is seen by many as a given fact.   When I went to  middle school,  there were teachers who honesty viewed students, tormenting each other,  as some sort of sick, twisted "rite of passage" that was supposed to happen.

On the nutjob insane "Evangelical Right"   in the United States,  attempts  to prevent tragedies like this one are opposed as "attacks on religious freedom."  Klu Klux Klan alumni and global hate monger Tony Perkins,  all but loses his mind if a school district tries to implement anti-harassment / bullying programs.    Yet you can bet all the money you have and more, that his Theo-facist hate group,  the "Family Research Council" will be stone silent  on the death of this young man.  

These bigots are killing children.   They belong in Prison.  This isn't  "defending religion",  it's committing faith-based murder by proxy.

Earlier this week,  an Arizona pastor made  headlines after claiming that "we can have an AIDS-free world by Christmas" if gays were  executed".

The Huffington Post  reports that Pastor Steven Anderson, who runs Tempe's Faithful Word Baptist Church, made the shocking claims during a sermon delivered Nov. 30.   Arguing that members of the gay community are "filled with disease because of the judgement of God," Anderson said, "Anybody who's a homo or bi -- it's all the same category -- sodomite is what the Bible would call them."

Citing Leviticus 18:22, he then added, "It was right there in the Bible all along ... It's curable right there... if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn't have all this AIDS running rampant."

In the wake of major victories for LGBT rights, bigots like Perkins and Anderson have just  stopped filtering.  They are now openly advocating for the death of  LGBT people.

We find ourselves this month, in the season of Advent.  That part of the liturgical calendar that precedes Christmas.  It is hailed as a season of expectation, preparation and hope.   In Christian churches around the world, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, each marked by a candle on Advent wreaths, symbolize the hope that we are not simply adrift in the sea of life.   That we have a very real relationship with  the source of that life.   Immanuel - God With Us.

As a person of faith , I have always taken great comfort from that.   Yet I will be honest with you and confess I don't feel hopeful or comforted today.    I don't feel expectant, nor do I feel the presence of  the peace which defies all understanding.   Today I am not feeling any of these things. 

What I feel today  is anger.   I feel rage and yes , even hatred.   Right now I don't want peace on earth.   I want the people who allowed the torture and death of 12 year old Ronin,  and the countless others like him, to suffer... a lot.   I want  Tony Perkins , and those  like him,  who actively encourage that torture, to  suffer in as dark,  lonely and terrified a manner as he, and those like him have driven children like Ronan to.

I am past wanting peace, justice and understanding.  I want vengeance.  Old Testament, wrath of God, fire and brimstone vengeance.   I want those who hurt Ronin and who revel in hurting others who,  in their small twisted view have committed the great sin of simply being different , to lose everything they hold dear.  I want karma  to be a sword that strikes these bigots down in as messy and painful a way as possible.    And I  want to revel, and even rejoice in their pain.

So yes,  I guess in this Season of Advent I am hopeful.   I hope that the blasphemous, murdering bigots of the Family Research Council,  Focus on the 'Family', the National Organization for Marriage,  and all the other assorted Nazi shit-stains that lurk in their shadows,  will feel even a fraction of the pain, misery and death they joyfully incite others to inflict  on kids like Ronin Shimizu.

Yeah I know... so much for goodwill toward men,  right?

I guess the reason  I am just so angry right now , is  because  I wish I could have talked to Ronin.   I wish I could have told him that life was so much bigger than Junior High, and it truly was going to get better.  I wish I could  have told him about the 12 year old kid  in Sun Prairie Wisconsin  who hated sports,  loved theatre  and politics  and was constantly aware of just how different he was from other kids, and  how those differences were at the time, utterly terrifying.  Especially in a school where the absolute last thing you ever wanted to be was... different. 

I wish I could have told him that he would survive  Middle School "guidance counsellors"  who are useless.  I wish I could reassure him that he would  survive insecure  kids who saw attacking him as a cheap way to make them selves feel better about who they were.  I wish I could have told him that  one day he would leave behind lazy teachers who turned a blind eye,  or even worse felt  that his pain was somehow "good for him".

But I can't tell Ronin that, no one can,  because he is dead.  Dead at the hands of the people in the very place where he should have been safe, and where he should have been  valued the most.  His own community.

I really don't have a point to make here.   Other than this madness has to stop.  If you are so moved. I urge you to support  those who are working to help bring about that change.

The Trevor Project - http://www.thetrevorproject.org

The Stand Up Foundation - http://www.standupfoundation.com/

The Give a Damn Campaign - http://www.wegiveadamn.org/

The Human Rights Campaign - http://www.hrc.org/

The It Gets Better Project - http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Hollywood's Predictions vs. Reality...

32 Years ago, in 1982,  Ridley Scott's  ground breaking Sci-Fi movie. "Bladerunner" painted a stunning vision  of what Los Angeles might look like in 2019...



So  LA,  you've got 5 years to sort  that whole flying police car thing out....

Ok,   so aside from a lack of flying cars,  thick toxic smog, and  huge Chinese digital billboards,  Los Angeles in 2014 does look sort of  "bladerunner-ish".



 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Wisconsin's Moment of Decision....

Many of my friends are shocked  when they learn that I,  used to be a Republican.  How could I,  a good progressive Gay man ever have been a member of the GOP?    The answer is found in a conversation I had  one afternoon when I was thirteen years old.

 I was attending an event hosted at Vilas Hall, on the University of Wisconsin Madison Campus.    The event was to promote a media literacy and education  organization I was heavily involved with at the time    Like many such events I attended, I spoke fairly early in the program and was the youngest speaker. I would then have to sit there while speaker after speaker began to blur together and my 13 year old mind began to wander. Realizing. I was in danger of nodding off, I quietly excused myself, and  ducked out into the adjacent "green room" to get a drink of water.

As I walked into the lounge area I heard the sound of a Television, and saw an older gentleman sitting on the couch watching the University of Wisconsin Football game. With his curly white hair and trademark red vest, I instantly recognized former Wisconsin Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus. I had met Governor Dreyfus a few times previously and was fiends with his daughter Susan. With whom I worked with on media literacy and education projects.

 He saw me, motioned me over (remembered my name), and cheerfully announced that the Badgers were up by 7. I sat down next to him, and we watched game for a few minutes in companionable silence. He then turned to me and asked me how I was doing. I. talked briefly about the Media education project I was there to help promote.

Then I got up my courage and asked if I could ask him a personal question. Governor Dreyfus smiled and said; "So is this an interview Dave?". I assured him we were off the record, he laughed and gestured for me continue.   "Why did you want to be Governor?", I asked. Dreyfus had recently finished a very successful term, then not run for re-election. A move that had surprised most, and frustrated many inside the Wisconsin Republican Party, as the conventional wisdom was, had he run again, he would have won re-election. Quite easily.

Looking back at the television to check the score, he reached over and turned the sound down  and then asked me if I had ever noticed  the murals in the rotunda of the. State Capitol building, just a few a blocks away.      I proudly replied that I had,  and eager to demonstrate my knowledge, rattled off the names of the four murals that form the base of the rotunda.   Government,  Justice, Legislation, and Liberty. 

The former Governor of my home state then went on to give me the best civics lesson I have ever had. He explained that he had benefited from the education system and professional and economic opportunities that living in Wisconsin had provided. Consequently he felt an obligation to "do his part" to ensure that those opportunities and advantages he had enjoyed,  were protected and expanded.    

He went on to say that our system  was set up to make that possible.   The executive branch (Government)  worked with the Legislature and the State Senate  to craft and pass the laws (Legislation) that were then interpreted by the courts (Justice).  Combined, this system of checks, balances and cooperation between all three entities,  ensured freedom and opportunity for everyone (Liberty).    

It was at this point his daughter poked her head into the room and chided us both for. "hiding out" and said we should re-join the event next door.   I shook Governor Dreyfus' hand and thanked him for taking the time to talk with  me.   "My pleasure Dave", he said, and we went back into the next room. 

It would be a conversation that would stay with me for years, and it was that day that at the ripe old age of 13,  I. decided that I , like  Lee Dreyfus,  was Republican.   I would join the Young  Republicans campaigning for Ronald Regan in 1984,  and two years later,  I would cast my first vote.  While a student in Germany in 1986, I proudly walked into the. American Consulate in Munich,  filled out my absentee ballot and cast my first ever vote,  for Republican Tommy Thompson for Wisconsin Governor.  

I would go in to become an active member and officer of the College Republicans,  even chairing the CR election efforts on campus for. Bush-Quayle '88 and '92.  My reasons were clear.   It was a Republican who had showed me the power of our system of government to make the lives of Americans better,  and by extension,  the world a better and safer place. 

So what happened?   Why did I leave the GOP?    The most concise way to answer that question to simply say the. GOP left me.   Or more accurately the GOP left me, Lee Dreyfus, Tommy Thompson, George HW Bush, Bob Dole and yes,  even left Ronald Reagan.


Wisconsin was the birthplace of the Republican Party.   I used live in the town of Ripon Wisconsin, and would regularly go past the landmark where the GOP had its creation.  The Republican Party on the ballot tomorrow in Wisconsin bears no resemblance to the that party.  Let alone party of Lee Dreyfus.  

The Party of Scott Walker  sees our great system of cooperative branches of government, with its checks and balance, as an obstacle not an asset.  Scott Walker is a man who serves a small select group of  corporate and financial interests. The people of the great state of Wisconsin,  are at best a nuisance to be tolerated,  and in truth,  often seen as a threat to the  agenda those interests have tasked Walker to deliver for them. 

The Republican Party is addicted crazy.  It has embraced the darker politics of division and fear in place of  faith in our system and public service to our citizens.    Like many addicts, the  Wisconsin Republican Party, and by extension the GOP as a national party,  doesn't want to get better.  The only way for the GOP to stop digging the deep  dank dark hole  it as been wallowing in since 1992,  is to finally hit rock bottom.

This isn't just an election.  It's an intervention.    For  the GOP,  it's time for tough love.  A vote for Scott Walker  and the GOP is a vote  to return to 50 million Americans with out access to health insurance.  It is to turn the stunning natural beauty of the state of  Wisconsin into a strip mined, fracked toxic wasteland  where water catches fire when it comes out of the Tap.

A vote for Scott Walker is to hand the public purse over the  Koch Brothers, and then gut public education and  services to  pay  their bar tab.  It is to sacrifice Wisconsin's place as American's Dairy Land in favour of becoming the. Mississippi of the North.  An under-educated, under-employed, over polluted gilded swamp of the very very rich,  the very very poor and nothing in between.

Tea Party activists like to scream about how they "want their country back", which is nothing more than code for not wanting a black man in Oval Office.   Well I want  my Party back.  I want  a Republican Party that  believes in the synergy of Government, Justice , Legislation  and Liberty.

It;s time  to give the GOP a time out.   It's for the people of Wisconsin to step up and save the Republican Party.   How?  By voting  for Mary Burke,  and voting for the Democratic Party.  

 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Glimpses of a Previous Life....

The  recent  court victories in the United States have made this year's  National Coming Out Day something of a celebration in many parts of the U.S 

Now more than 60% of Americans live in a state that has equal rights for same sex couples.  Now the number of states that don't discriminate outnumber those states that  are still trying to cling to bigotry.   

Recently  we went out with friends here in in London and saw the brilliant movie "Pride".  It tells the story of the unlikely alliance between striking British coal miners in the 1980's and the LGBT community.



As  heart warming  a film as it is, (and one I highly recommend you go see), the film also does a remarkable job recreating the feel of the. LGBT community in the early 1980's.   Of course, by that I mean the fear, many LGBT people felt everyday back in early 1980's.  A time when gay bashings, even in places like  in central London were a common occurrence, rarely if ever investigated by police..  When in many places, just  being, "out" was literally risking your life.

It was a look back in time that was more than a little unsettling.   Yet at the same time a very real affirmation of just  how far  things have come.    Which   has prompted me to once again,  revisit  and update one of first blog entries I ever wrote, back in  October, 2006.


I was bouncing around the web and stumbled on zabasearch.com. It is a site than helps you locate addresses of people. So out of curiosity I typed in the name of my best friend from High School. Sure enough a result for his name came up. Not sure if it was the right person rather than call, I sent a note with my business card attached saying, if this was who I thought it was, to please write back.

A couple of weeks went by... and I forgot about it. I honestly didn't expect to hear anything back. Then I got an email and it was indeed from him. It is an interesting experience in a way. I really have not heard from him since I attended his wedding.
 
At the time I really envied him. He and his wife  were starting to build a life.   Now has an amazing  son with a  brilliant daughter.    In his note, he said it was amazing to hear from me couldn't wait to hear all about what I have been doing over the past few years.

I will confess, at the time I had very  mixed feelings about that.

For the most part, I hadn't kept in touch with anyone from my High School days. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed High School, had great friends and good memories. Yet it really was a whole different life. Like many LGBT kids in the mid to late 80's I was closeted and terrified of coming out. On some level every day had some undercurrent of fear of my "secret" being discovered. The ultimate put-down was to say something was "gay" or to be called a "fag". You saw the kids who were even slightly effeminate or "different" getting tormented on a daily basis.

So you kept your mouth shut and your eyes closed. When you watched those 80's brat-pack movies, while your friends oggled Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, you didnt admit to anyone, not even to yourself that you thought Rob Lowe and Emilo Estavez were really hot.
 
Add to that, the media was full of stories of this new "gay disease" called AIDS, and the Reagan and first Bush Administrations were not interested in getting any information about it out to the public.
 
The first time the Reagan White House Press Secretary  Larry Speakes  was asked about AIDS, his glib,  joking response, is horrific and sickening when we  read it  now,  in the aftermath of the death of  Millions of people world wide.
 
So like a lot of gay kids I didn't know what to think. Could I get AIDS by coming out? By even holding hands or kissing a guy? Was it really God's way of getting rid of homosexuals? The fear you felt was this huge cloud that hung over you every day. You really did wonder if you were destined to be miserable and alone for your entire life.

 And of course at time I thought I was the ONLY gay kid on earth. Now I know that there were in fact more than a few. Even at my own school. But at the time, the sense of isolation was overwhelming. But then, time moved on. I left and in many ways never looked back. I moved to Europe, studied there, came back to WI and went to college, after graduation worked, travelled back to Europe, then even moved to Asia. Eventually, I came back to the US and settled in Chicago, and then I came out.

Like many people, for me coming out was a frightening and painful process of self-discovery and acceptance. I think back on the fear I felt in those days and it seems like I am watching a movie of someone else's life. A life that I would not ever want to revisit. Yet in truth it was MY issue, not my friends. They had no way of knowing what I felt. The whole traditional High School experience of the first date, first dance , first kiss, first umm... "whatever", while a given for everyone else, was just not possible for a lesbian or Gay kid in South Central Wisconsin in the 1980's. Or at least  was convinced , it wasn't possible for me.

Many Gays and Lesbians who should be my age never lived to see today. The statistics on suicide for LGBT youth in the 1980's and 90's will give you nightmares. I am so amazingly fortunate to have the family that I do. My parents are the two most incredible, supportive and amazing people in the whole world. Coming out to them while scary as hell, was truly the end of an old life and the beginning of a new much brighter and happier one.
 


 ( Just in case I haven't told you - Thanks Mom & Dad.)

 I marvel at many of today's LGBT kids with "Gay Straight Alliances". I was delighted to see my own High School now  has a GSA. When I read about kids taking their same sex partner to a high school dance, I can only smile and be amazed at how, at least in some places how far we have come. Though certainly for thousands of LGBT youth in America the reality has not changed from the one I knew .

Over the years I didn't stay in touch with people back from "back home". One wedding, an occasional Christmas Card was pretty much the limit of my contact , and even that soon stopped.  Then one day someone  asked me why I didn't keep in touch with people from those days, and  I didn't really have a good answer. Hence my card to my friend.  It would be the start of an interesting journey for me...

It is worth noting,  the friend I wrote to and about  in  2006 , like so many other  amazing friends from my life  showed me  in words and deeds  what I have always suspected;  My friends are in general, a lot wiser than I am.   As we mark today's  National Coming Out Day there are straight allies in my life who  I still cannot thank enough,  
 
From the amazing friend who answered that letter in 2006, and reminded me why were friends in the first place, and  still today reminds me to laugh at life more than 30 years later.  To other amazing friends who proved my fears unfounded.   The remarkable  couple in Georgia who's friendship, (that has spanned both decades and continents), literally changed my life.  To the lawyer in Dallas, and  the school teacher in Boston who both  challenged my own stereotypes , and instead, ended up teaching me invaluable lessons about acceptance and true friendship. And as always, my incredible family who show me everyday the power of love over fear.
 
And yes, to those, who for reasons political, social, and religious felt they could not continue our friendship. I thank you as well. Not because I don't miss you, for believe, me, I do miss you , every day. Yet I owe you my thanks for showing me that the choice to live authentically does not come without cost, and therefore must not, ever be taken for granted. 
 
 Lastly, to my amazing husband Eric. Who with one brilliant. smile took my hand and changed my life. Without even trying, you provide me with living proof every day that taking those steps to come out of the closet were by far, the best ones I have ever made.
 

 
 

Happy National Coming Out Day



 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Remembering a Dark October Night...

Wednesday October 7th, 1998 was a fairly ordinary day in Chicago. I was working for a small consulting firm in the near West suburb of Oak Park, and had spent the day in a series of fairly productive meetings. So I felt pretty good when I got home from work. I was puttering around my apartment making dinner when I picked up the remote control for the TV and turned on CNN.

The lead story was a brutal attack of a young man in Laramie Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. Shepard, age 21, had been beaten into a coma and left tied to fence along a rural highway outside the city. The news report noted that the victim was a young gay man and was not expected to survive.

I remember walking down into “boystown” (the north Halstead area of Chicago, and the center of the city’s Gay community). There were lots of people standing around outside the bars, and restaurants along Halsted Street, talking about what had happened in Wyoming. A makeshift memorial had been set up on the corner of Halsted and Roscoe.

I walked into the 7-11 there on the corner and bought a small votive candle, lit it and placed it with the growing number of candles, handwritten notes and flowers that were being placed around a picture of Matthew that someone had printed off the internet. I stayed for a little while talking to people who were gathered there. Some people were angry, others sad, but we all knew that something in our own community had changed as a result of what had happened,  hundreds of miles away in field outside Laramie.

In 1998 I had just moved to Chicago after being overseas in South Korea. I was in the middle of my own “coming out” process,  and was gathering up my courage to have “the talk” with my parents when I went home for Thanksgiving in a few weeks time. I will admit the news of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder shook me up. Suddenly the decisions I was making to live openly and honestly as who I was, had potentially fatal consequences.

On an intellectual level you always knew that there were “gay bashers” out there. People who were so conflicted about their own sexuality that they felt the way to “cure” themselves was to attack others for what they feared most about themselves. Yet now those hypothetical risks, were not so hypothetical.  What's more, those cosequences now  had a face, and a name.

As I walked home, my thoughts turned to Matthew Shepard’s parents. What must they be thinking and feeling? Had they known Matt was gay? Did it really matter? Years later I would have the great honor of meeting Judy Shepard,  and hear her tell her own powerful story .

Now 16 years later, I marvel at how my own life has changed. I am married to an amazing man, we have incredible friends and loving families who remind us every day,  that the world is not as bleak and dark a place as it seemed,  on that October night in 1998.

Yet I am still saddened and angry that there are many people in America who honestly feel that Matthew Shepard got what “he had coming to him”. That demonizing , discriminating against, and even murdering Gays and Lesbians is somehow “doing God’s work”.

People with a vested interest in keeping LGBT people as the one group it is still safe to hate. People who seek to profit, personally, politically and even economically from fomenting deadly hatred and fear of others. Bigots whose actions and beliefs are the farthest thing from being Christian, yet claim to have a monopoly on what they claim God thinks and who they claim "God hates".

I really don’t have a point to make here, other than to say it’s important to remember Matthew and so many others like him who have died as a result of hatred and bigotry. If you want to get involved, here are a few great places to start...

The Matthew Shepard Foundation: http://www.matthewshepard.org/

The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation: http://www.standupfoundation.com/

The We Give a Damn Campaign: http://www.wegiveadamn.org/

The "It Gets Better" Project:  http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

Thanks,

Dave