Friday, May 16, 2014

Speaking of Idaho...

The  Republican candidates for  Governor  had  a televised debate, last night...

Wow...  seriously,  just  wow.    So much crazy  on one stage.   It  defies commentary,  just watch, and enjoy!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Hey Wisconsin! Are You Watching This??

I grew up in the American Midwest State of  Wisconsin.  Yet I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the  Western U.S. State of Idaho.  It is a beautiful place.  Wikipedia says ..

Idaho is in the northwestern region of the United States. The 14th largest, and the 7th least densely populated of the 50 United States. The largest city and capital is Boise. Residents are called "Idahoans". Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890, as the 43rd state.

Idaho is a mountainous state with an area larger than that of all of New England. Idaho's nickname is the "Gem State", because nearly every known type of gemstone has been found there.In addition, Idaho is one of only two places in the world where star garnets can be found in any significant quantities, the other being India. Idaho is sometimes called the "Potato State" owing to its popular and widely distributed crop. The state motto is Esto Perpetua (Latin for "Let it be forever").

Idaho is also where my Mother was born and grew up. Where both my parents went to University and where to this day, I have a large number of relatives. It is also where,   as a young child my family would often go for Summer Vacation, to visit my Grandmother, my Aunt and assorted cousins. The three day car trip was always exciting for me, travelling along interstate highway I-80, across the center of the United States, over the Continental Divide and into the Rocky Mountains.

A highlight was always visiting  the area of Southern Idaho where my Mom spent most of her Childhood.  A beautiful area long the Snake River  known as  "Thousand Springs"

I have wonderful memories of my childhood visits to Idaho, when my Grandmother later moved to Wisconsin a few years later, I was thrilled to have her closer, but part of me missed those trips out West to visit her. Yet as I got older I became aware of the social and political climate in Idaho and found my sense of nostalgia, and desire to go back and visit seriously diminished. Idaho like many parts of the Western and Southern United States is culturally very conservative.

Anti-LGBT sentiment, white supremacist groups and ultra conservative "militia movements" had  found measures of support in the cultural landscape of the Gem State. Attempts to legislate bigotry into law have been as recent as February of this year. The Young Turks have the disturbing details...

So I had pretty much given up on the idea of ever visiting Idaho again. Certainly the idea of going there with my Husband was hard to envision. I had less concerns visiting Malaysia, a Muslim country that I have been to three times, and will be going to again in two weeks, than I did about going back to Idaho. Then, yesterday this happened.

Wait..  Gay Marriage is now legal in Idaho!!?? ,  but NOT in my home state of Wisconsin,    So just to be clear,   Idaho is now more progressive and has greater civil equality for its citizens than Wisconsin does.  If Eric and I move back to the United States we would have more civil rights living in Idaho than in Wisconsin.

Not only Idaho, but  as I highlighted  in my previous post, the ultra conservative Southern State of Arkansas now has greater civil equality for its citizens than Wisconsin does.

The marriage equality map of the United States now looks like this...  Green means gay marriage is allowed. Red means it isn't. Yellow means that a same-sex marriage prohibition in the state has been overturned but put on hold pending appeal..

One wonders what the great Progressive voice Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette would think of his home state now.  The State with the motto "Forward"  is now numbered among the most backward states in America.  

Meanwhile in 2014  Wisconsin's Republican Governor, Scott Walker  believes  that enshrining discrimination into the  State's constitution is part of a "healthy balance" on civil rights for  Wisconsin's citizens

Wisconsin is truly on track to become  "The Mississippi of the North".

Forward?  Not so much.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

That Arc just just bent a little bit farther...

'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.' - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The past twenty four hours have been quite remarkable. First of all, we have the National Football League in the United States drafting a very talented college player from Missouri named Michael Sam.

Sam had a very successful college football career. As a senior in 2013, Sam recorded 11.5 quarterback sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He led his college athletic conference, the SEC,  in both categories, and tied Missouri's single-season record for sacks. After the season, Sam was named the South Eastern Conference's Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

Michael Sam was recently drafted to play for the NFL's St Louis Rams, not a big surprise right? So what is so remarkable about it? Well I'll let the video of the moment speak for itself.

The NFL was seen as a fortress of homophobia where being Gay was the ultimate barrier to playing at the professional level, that NFL just drafted its first openly Gay player.

I think the front page of the Huffington Post says it all..

Yet the arc of the moral universe wasn't quite finished bending this week. Down in the heart of the American "Bible Belt",  more specifically, in the State of Arkansas.

The "bible belt"  is an informal term for a region in the south-eastern and south-central United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average.

The Bible Belt consists of much of the Southern United States.  It is  personified  by  the social climate in states like  Texas,  Mississippi and  Arkansas.  In the Bible Belt, it's common to see bumper stickers that claim One Man + One Woman = Marriage, church billboards that command one to "Get right with Jesus," letters to the editor comparing gay marriage to marrying one's dog, and nightly news about homophobic attacks from "Pro Family" groups.

Yet this past week,  the State of Arkansas joined the list of  American states  that have marriage equality  for  their  LGBT citizens.

And last but not least, we have that bastion of camp and pop-music cheese that is the Eurovision Song Contest. The finals for this year,  held last night in Copenhagen, Denmark, took place in the shadow of a growing divide between Western and Eastern Europe over the issue of LGBT Rights.

A poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) found majorities in several Western European countries in favor of marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples, with those in the Netherlands (85%), Germany (74%), Belgium and Spain (71% each) expressing the most support. In Scotland, the percentage of people who favor same-sex marriage has increased from 41% in 2002 t0 61% in 2010,

While in Eastern Europe we have seen the  opposite trend. With  Croatia  and  most notably, Russia, passing  sweeping laws targeting  Gays and Lesbians for discrimination.   

For those unfamiliar with the Eurovision Song Contest all you need to know is , the only thing Gayer than Eurovision is... okay,  I really can't think of anything  that is gayer than Eurovision.  Maybe  the Tony Awards, but only if Neil Patrick Harris is hosting.  Anyway, you get the picture.  

So  while the contest is  wildly popular  in Eastern Europe,  its  inherent tolerance of  Gays is not.  So much so, that protesters in Armenia and Belarus created petitions asking their national broadcasters to edit a gay contestant from Austria, out of the live broadcast, though the European Broadcasting Union wouldn't allow that.   

The contestant in question, is an Austrian Drag Queen named  Conchita Wurst.    So in what is being seen as a collective European  rebuke to  Russia and its  rabidly homophobic "macho man" President, Vladimir Putin,  guess who won Eurovision 2014?  

All in all, this past week was not a good one for homophobia. The arc of the moral universe just got a whole lot closer to justice. As much as I have enjoyed these news stories, it did make think of those people I know for whom the past week was seen as bad news rather than good.

There are friends you lose when decide to live outside the prison of the "the closet". It is regrettable, but it happens. I found myself thinking of one of those "lost friends"  this past week. Someone who after our  being friends for a quarter of a century, upon finding out the love of my life was a guy named Eric, abruptly ended that  friendship without a word. 

So in light of this past week I wonder  what my old friend  thinks of the NFL drafting Michael Sam.   Knowing for the past few months that Sam was a Gay man, did he root for or against his Alma Mater's football team, at the University of Missouri? Will he root for or against the St. Louis Rams? 

Does the courage of his anti-gay convictions extend to  all aspects of his life, including football,  or just  to me?    The likelihood is that  I will never find out. Yet part of me hopes this past week has given him, and others who have the same fears and misconceptions he holds,  something to think about.   Seattle based writer and activist  Dan Savage sums up the contradiction  many people with anti-gay fears and  phobias  are  perhaps  struggling with after this week....

 Congratulations Michael and Conchtia.  You are helping that Arc of the Moral Universe to continue to bend towards justice.  With your help,   it is my hope that eventually  everyone, lost friends included, will come long for the celebration.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Problem With Taking Half a Step Forward...

When the  Boy Scouts of America  made its first small step into the  21rst  Century with changes to membership policies  regarding  Gay Youth  in  the program, many people  (myself included) applauded  the change.  Yet  people familiar  with  the  structure of Scouting immediately saw  a problem.  How  Scouting defines who is a  "youth member" of the program.

The issue is that various parts of the Scouting program define "youth" and "adult" differently. In Boy Scouting, you are a youth member until you turn 18. Yet the Exploring and Venture Scout programs define a youth member as under the age of 21.

 Also the Boy Scout's Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow also defines youth members to be under the age of 21. This clearly becomes an issue when one part of the BSA considers you to be a youth, while another says you are an adult.   So it was just a matter of time until this contradiction would surface in the area of Summer Camp Staffing. 

The majority of Boy Scout camp staff are in High School and College, and under the age of 21. Yet if you are Gay, and over the age of 18,  you are not not eligible to be in Boy Scouting.  BUT,  if you are still  under 21, you are still "legal" to be a involved in other parts of the Scouting program, like Exploring, and Venture Scouts.  This contradiction becomes a big issue when you want to work on a BSA Summer camp staff.  MSNBC  picks up the story..

Scout Camp Staff - 1991
I worked on Boy Scout  Camp Staff pretty much every Summer from age 16 until after I graduated from  University. On all the staffs I worked on, there were people who talked about their wives and girlfriends pretty much constantly. There were staff members who worked at camp with their wives and girlfriends. I have friends who met their future wives and husbands while working at Scout Camp.  There were more than a few staffers who even who dated girls from the local community. 

All of that is a non-issue for the BSA. Yet this kid mentioning on Facebook that he was dating someone, and then someone else asking "what's his name?", that according to the BSA,  is somehow bringing homosexuality into Scouting.   Really?

The problem with taking half-steps forward,  is they invariably cause you to stumble.  By trying to change, yet not change, their problematic membership policies, the BSA has created a whole set of new problems for itself.  When the current policy change went into effect, I remember a conversation  with a friend of mine, where  I mentioned the risk that this half-measure might create a "witch hunt" mentality among people uncomfortable with change.   Resulting in instances where people  specifically target youth who fall into this odd age loophole.

So the fact that the local Scouting organization, (or someone connected with it) , where Garrett Bryant lives was digging through this young man's Facebook profile is pathetic, disturbing and sadly not surprising. By leaving bigotry half-in place the BSA has sent a message that it is still acceptable to discriminate against people, as long as they are over the age of 18.     I fear the situation  that  Garrett Bryant finds himself in will happen to more and more young men in Scouting as they turn 18 but are still able to be  active  "youth" members in various parts of the Scouting Program.  

As long as the BSA  keeps taking only  half-steps towards dealing with discrimination, Scouting as whole will continue to stumble.