The Final Verdict (?): Part I, Court in Session

The Final Verdict I

Two years ago, I was standing outside the capitol building in Indianapolis as part of a nationwide solidarity demonstration as the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments in Windsor v. United States. We were having our day in court and seemed that before the summer was over, we would finally be finished with the question of marriage equality.

But it wasn’t to be; the Court ruled more narrowly in Windsor than anticipated and while they struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on Fifth Amendment grounds, under the Due Process Clause, they did not strike down state laws barring marriage equality, only holding that the Federal government must recognize marriage equality in those states that had it.

In his dissent, Justice Anthony Scalia spoke prophetically “As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”

Fast forward two years to April 28th, 2015, the Supreme Court is once again taking up the issue of marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The question for the Court is whether or not a state may refuse to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple or whether or not a state can refuse to recognize such a marriage if it is performed in a state where such a marriage is recognized.

The legal strategy for this case is different than it was for Windsor, as Windsor argued on a strictly Federal level the primary Constitutional question was based around the Fifth Amendment and whether or not the Federal government denying recognition to a same-sex couple violated the Due Process Clause. Since Obergefell is based around states’ recognition or lack of recognition, the primary legal argument is based around the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause.

Mary Bonauto, speaking on behalf of the Petitioners, didn’t waste any time in her opening argument before the Court in addressing the question of the Fourteenth Amendment;

“The intimate and committed relationships of same-sex couples, just like those of heterosexual couples, provide mutual support and are the foundation of family life in our society. If a legal commitment, responsibility and protection that is marriage is off limits to gay people as a class, the stain of unworthiness that follows on individuals and families contravenes the basic constitutional commitment to equal dignity.

Indeed, the abiding purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment is to preclude relegating classes of persons to second-tier status.”

The questioning by the Justices was divided about where it was expected; Chief Justice Roberts tried the old claim that what the Petitioners were seeking to do was “redefine” marriage. I suppose it never occurred to him that words grow and change as time passes, just like any other part of human society. Justice Scalia tried desperately to prove that gay marriage never existed in previous societies and of course, tried to raise old fears about “religious liberty”. Ms. Bonauto stood her ground on that point and assured the Justice that the First Amendment was still in effect in this country.

The more liberal side of the Court tried to show some sympathy with Ms. Bonauto’s arguments, Justice Sotomayer particularly asking as it related to the question of protected class status, how LGBT people were treated not only in this country, but around the world.

Justice Kennedy, a long time legal defender of LGBT rights, seemed a bit unsure in his line of questioning, realizing that approximately ten years had passed since Massachusetts had become the first state with marriage equality, roughly the same time frame between Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia, but still saying “it’s very difficult for the Court to say ‘Oh well, we know better’.”

John J. Bursch spoke for the Respondents in the case, his opening remarks to the Court seemed to be focused on who exactly gets to make the decision regarding marriage equality, speaking;

“This case isn’t about how to define marriage. It’s about who gets to decide that question. Is it the people acting through the democratic process or is it the Federal courts? And we’re asking you to affirm every individual’s fundamental liberty interest in deciding the meaning of marriage.”

Mr. Bursch’s argument shows a shift in tactics from what our opposition used to proclaim. Their arguments against us in terms of marriage usually revolved around some deep personal loathing they had for us, a deep loathing that was obvious to everyone, even if they tried to sugar coat in that stale old “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit.

But with the decline in the sway of the Religious Right, maybe they’re realizing that that tactic no longer pays the dividends that it once did, so they have to try another approach. In this case, they are trying to appeal to the value of democracy, stating “Hey, this is the way the people voted, you have to respect it!”

However, it seems some of the Justices didn’t fall for that, particularly Justice Breyer who lacerated Mr. Bursch’s arguments in matter of minutes, pointing out that many of the Jim Crow-era laws were passed by popular vote, that didn’t make them right or just.

Mr. Bursch tried another angle; this one almost as equally ridiculous, he tried to make the claim that the reason the state has an interest in restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was because the state has a compelling interest to protect the welfare of children. A weak argument and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayer were quick on the attack, asking Mr. Bursch if he would ask couples seeking to marry if they intended to have children and asking him about elderly couples who get married well past the age of fertility.

In his closing arguments, Mr. Bursch tried desperately to maintain his original argument of democracy, claiming that the state has no hard feelings towards LGBT folks, it’s just that this is a question that the people should decide and to hell with the courts.

The case certainly ran hot and not just during the actual Court proceedings, in a rare instance, a protester interrupted the Court by shouting out “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in hell! It’s an abomination!” The protester was forcibly removed from the Courtroom.

But what will the final decision of the Justices be? Even with the transcript and audio of the proceedings, it’s very difficult to tell. Justices Sotomayer, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer certainly seem to be on our side, Scalia stands in firm opposition as expected, Justice Thomas and Alito remained relatively silent during proceedings. Chief Justice Roberts could be a swing vote, but it’s doubtful, given his conservative leanings. The swing vote may come down to Justice Kennedy, who throughout the history of his time on the Court and as it relates to LGBT issues, has generally been on our side.

Perhaps the more important question shouldn’t be whether or not we win, but how narrowly we will win. Windsor was decided in our favor, but on pretty narrow grounds, granted, it opened the floodgates to states to recognize marriage equality, prior to Windsor only ten states had marriage equality, now thirty-seven states have it, many due to Federal circuit judges citing Windsor as precedent, but Windsor wasn’t the final decision. If the stars align and the gods are smiling, the fight over marriage ends here.

But what if it doesn’t end here? While many are looking to the Windsor case, we would be wise to also remember Hollingsworth v. Perry, the California Prop 8 Case. The Court ultimately decided that the parties didn’t have proper standing to warrant a decision by the Court and the case was remanded back to the Ninth Circuit with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing.

Granted, in that case, it worked out in our favor, but what if the Court reaches a similar decision here? Not granting a final ruling and simply punting back to the lower courts; it may put many gay and lesbian couples’ marriages at risk because the majority of states have attained marriage equality due to Federal Circuit Courts citing Windsor as precedent. If the Court rules to punt this case, we may be fighting this one fight for another few years.

The bottom line is the time for legal theory has come and gone, if the Court merely wanted to “uphold the will of the people” as Mr. Bursch asked them to do, they could have done that months ago by denying certiorari to the Petitioners. It would have taken only four justices to do that. Instead, the fate of hundreds of thousands of families now hangs in the balance, real flesh and blood families. Not only that, but in light of the Windsor ruling and subsequent lower Federal rulings, states around the country have adjusted their tax codes and paperwork to meet the courts’ decisions. To throw all that away and reverse the course would be disastrous, not only would the tax codes and paperwork have to be completely reset, but it would be the first time in recorded history that an entire class of people would have their families torn apart by a Supreme Court ruling. Such a disaster would be a giant shit stain on the Roberts Court and all the bleach of press releases and explanations couldn’t lift that stain a lick.

So what’s it gonna be your Honors? Are you gonna rule on the right side of history or are you going to piss all over the front of your robes in front of the whole damn country?

To be continued…

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Transgender (In)Visibility: Ohio on the March

Transgender Invisibility

What if there was a party and nobody showed up? It certainly seemed like the mics, cameras, and headlines across the country were silent on March 31st; just another day passing, nothing special going on, no reason to unfurl the banners and dust off the song books.

For those of you who missed the memo, March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a time where our trans siblings around the world take the day and take the streets to hold their heads up high and kick out the jams.

Well it seems like every LGBT media outlet missed the memo, the event was held worldwide with marches reportedly taking place as far away as Ireland and Scotland, and there wasn’t single mention of the International Transgender Day of Visibility in any of the major American LGBT news outlets, there wasn’t a piece from the Huffington Post or LGBT Nation, not a word from the Advocate either.

That’s bullshit. There’s no nice way to put it, that’s bullshit. We’re supposed to be a community, united and strong, and here on an occasion where our trans siblings were putting on their marching boots, out on the streets, showing their neighborhoods, states, nations, and the world that they were here, they demanded to be heard, seen, and recognized, our major news outlets were silent. They turned their backs on their own siblings.

As far as myself goes, I was lighting a smoke when I got a message from H. Klote, the media person for GetEQUAL. She told me she had a story for me, but it wasn’t a local Indiana story. I told her that was fine, I covered whatever sounded interesting. She put me in contact with Zoë Lapin, an independent organizer who organized the march with strictly local sources, and told me that across the river in Cleveland, Ohio, the trans siblings were marching loud and proud.

Since I was unable to travel to Cleveland to witness this local march first hand, I got in contact with Zoë, who agreed to give me the ins and outs on this rally taking place in the heart of the Midwest.

****

Walter: Tell me a bit about this march and how it all came about. How you organized it strictly within your local community?

Zoë: The event came about primarily out of a lack of activity and awareness around the day of visibility, locally. The transgender community in Cleveland has been working tremendously to promote visibility, education, and outreach in the entire city but there was no focus on anything surrounding the day of visibility. Much like the original intention of the holiday, I felt it was extremely necessary to share the spirit of the day and join in solidarity within Cleveland and with the global trans community. I organized the event exclusively within the community because it has been the community putting in the work and reshaping the culture here. I reached out to Jacob Nash and Sue Doerfer, two community leaders whom I regularly work with in promotig efforts of trans equality and liberation. I asked them if anything was being done for visibility day and after learning there wasn’t, I simply decided to try to make it happen. Unfortunately, this was about 3 weeks ago (a valuable lesson for organizing next years event) but I took the task on with high ambition and a determination to make this event an example of solidarity, community, healing, and liberation.

Walter: You organized it in three weeks? That takes a lot of dedication, will power, and black coffee.

Zoë: Hahahaha yes.

Walter: How was the turnout? Do you have rough estimates?

Zoë: The turnout was pretty great, I felt! There were about 50 attendees, a diverse representation of identities, expressions, and all walks of life.

Walter: Fuckin’ A, I dig it! What were the events that happened during the march? Did you have any speakers or maybe a big group sing-along?

Zoë: The event consisted of speakers from members of the trans community and allies. Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson was one of the first speakers giving a powerful testimony about his own path towards understanding trans people and becoming an (unexpected) ally. The speakers were of all perspectives-students, leaders, veterans, immigrants, parents, actors, organizational directors. We had 10 speakers altogether, along with ASL and Spanish interpreters. Speeches were all of promoting awareness, education, solidarity, and community-every narrative was just powerful. Hahaha about sing-alongs, the location of the event is actually in front of the justice center, at one point in the evening I wanted to “shake the walls” of the justice center by getting the audience to repeat “TRANS LIVES MATTER” as loud as possible. We also showed a message of healing by giving a joined “we love you” to the memories of the trans and gender non-conforming people whom have lost their lives-rather by another hand or their own. It was necessary to do I felt, especially when we had 3 trans women murdered in Cleveland in 1 year (2 actually in the same week), back in 2013.

Walter: You had a local city councilman speak at the event? That’s pretty major. I don’t know how things swing in Ohio, but here in Indiana, it would usually be pretty rare to get an elected official to speak at an LGBT related event.

Zoë: I’m honestly still in shock by it, there are a number of advocates for the community on the council and more and more are becoming public about their advocacy and support for trans rights.

Walter: It sounds like your event was a smash, especially given such a short organizing time frame. How was the local media coverage? I mean I’m a freelancer working for a national rag; did any of the local TV stations or newspapers pick up on your event?

Zoë: I reached out to the local media about the event but none of the media outlets were in attendance. I was able to utilize social networking, however, and that was essential in getting awareness out about the event.

Walter: Social media is a necessary item in the tool box of any activist, be they working grassroots independent or with a state or national organization.

Zoë: I completely agree.

Walter: Given the wide array of voices present in this event, especially in such a Midwestern spot as Cleveland, Ohio, does it give you hope in the future of the trans community and the movement? To bounce off that a bit, where do you see the future of the movement? It seems that nationwide, much is still needed to be done to lift up our trans siblings.

Zoë: Absolutely! Much needs to be done, on all levels. I hope that more and more grassroots organizing efforts happen at the local level and that they are getting adequate support from national organizations. I think that national organizations are going to reach out more and more into the community and diversifying their leadership. I think the movement as a whole, will be one of complete solidarity, in which the issues are addressed with intersectionality, accountability, and full representation.

Walter: Well I don’t think I could put it any more succinctly. Any final words of wisdom for the readers?

Zoë: Yes, if you want to promote inclusion, you have to internalize inclusion. When you are speaking out for liberation, equality, and visibility-you need to represent those things. Intersectionality isn’t just another word; it’s a direction-a direction that we always need to be aware of, in any effort. You have to be willing and ready to reach out, you have to not only hold others accountable, but hold yourself accountable-and be willing to be held accountable.

****

Despite the fact that Zoë was organizing a rally of visibility, the rest of the queer press didn’t give a damn, they were apparently too occupied with toasting to the marriage victories across the country; meanwhile our trans siblings are still taking way more shit than any human being should. Brother Gavin out in Arizona said it best in a rant posted earlier;

“I know folks who still can’t take a piss without freaking out, myself included, because the education isn’t out there. I know people who live in states where they can be canned for being who they are.”

Step up your game, LGBT news media, don’t ignore our trans brothers and sisters. They deserve better than that and if you call yourselves queer journalists, you will do better.

I would like to applaud Zoë, lack of press coverage be damned, she organized her locals, went out there and was heard by all willing to listen, even a grungy looking unshaved underground journalist.

Is there a “War on Christianity?”

warart

Once again, we are being bombarded with stories and complaints about the supposed “War on christianity.”  All over, there are stories of people using “religion-based” bigotry.  When called out on this bigotry, suddenly, they complain that they are the ones being persecuted.

For example:

Memories Pizza.  This is a family run business that very blatantly said that they wouldn’t cater to same-sex weddings due to their “beliefs.”  (First question:  What self-respecting gay couple would want their wedding catered by a pizza joint?)  When called out on their hatred, they closed their doors out of fear of “retribution from the hordes of angry gays.”  Somehow, they were able to raise almost a million dollars through crowd-funding!

Tom Delay:  “I have the RIGHT not to serve gay sinners, because they undermine my “religious liberty.”  His complaint is that the “Gay Agenda” is out to squash “religious liberty.”  Ummmmmm.  does he not take into account, or does he simply choose to ignore the incredibly large number of LGBT people of faith?

An article in a publication called “Right-Wing News” by a guy named Walter Todd Huston starts out with:  “We are seeing it nearly every day. lately – Christians in our own country being attacked by radicals. and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is exactly right when he says the Christians now need legal protection for their “Religious Expression.”  In the article, he does a fairly good job of standing up for Jindal’s “defense if his state’s RFRA, but ends the piece with this gem:  “The Left’s goal is to outlaw Christianity, and they intend to do it through misusing our own laws against us.  Liberals want freedom for everyone…unless you are a Christian.”

True, I am an atheist, but I was raised in a christian family.  In fact, I held on to my faith into my late forties.  most of my family still clings to their belief, and I have some dear friends who are staunch and TRUE christians.  I’m not a idiot when it comes to knowing what christianity is supposed to be about.  What I do know is this.  Anyone who feels the need to use their faith as a weapon against ANT other person, is NOT a true christian.  You’ve take what you were taught by the person you pretend to worship, and you’ve perverted it to your own warped translation.  The :Christ” I was taught about, as a child, was a man of love, forgiveness, redemption.  Not hate, discrimination, anger.  He never said that you should force your will on anyone.  In fact, he said quite the opposite.  “If anyone will not welcome you, or hear your words, then leave that home, or twon, and shake the dust off your feet.”  Matthew 10:14

But let’s get to the “real” story here, that of this so-called “war on christianity.”  Let’s take a quick peak back through history.

The Crusades:  How many were killed by “good” christian knights simply for being born in a muslim country, and for trying to keep what they considered  THEIR Holy City out of the hands of “infidels?”  True, they fought back, and killed off countless crusaders, but, what do you expect?

The Inquisition(s):  This is a great one!  Millions, yes millions, tortured and killed while being forced to accept the “supremacy” of the church.  Forced into conversion at the point of the sword. Even after conversion, many were still “executed.”  Yup.  That’s real godly love for ya!

The first explorers of the new world.  Columbus in the Caribbean, Cortez in Mexico and Central America, the list goes on.  All used the bible to justify subjugation and murder.  In some cases, entire cultures were wiped out.

We can go through slaver, the subjugation of women, Adolph Hitler’s “I believe today, that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the almighty creator.”

But lets move ahead to what’s been called the “Civil Rights Movement of our Generation.”

This is a fight that’s been coming since the dawn of religion.  The Gay Rights Movement.  For millenia, LGBT people have been belittled, (at best) down trodden, beaten, and (at worst) murdered, simply because they were born differently from religious norms.  For most of that time, it has gone on without resistance.  Over the past few decades, a few brave souls have risen up and said “Enough.”  These heroes were followed by a growing number of people who found strength by their example.  Add in our allies, and now we’re a force to be reckoned with.  There are enough LGBT activists, that we are noticed on the world’s political stage.  Hell, when the President of the USA speaks in a positive light about you in his inauguration speech, you KNOW you’ve grown up!  In my opinion, this scares the hell out of the people who’ve been walking all over the LGBT community for ever.  More and more, we’re hearing from some more inclusive and progressive religious leaders that homosexuality is NOT a thing to be despised. We also know that the few bible verses used by right-wing religious nuts are fundamentally flawed in their translation.  But they continue to tenaciously cling to them and use them as weapons.

Now that the LGBT community is actually going toe-to-toe with the religious right, they’ve suddenly had to become defensive.  Their new rallying cry is”  “They’re using their ‘Gay Agenda’ to step on my ‘religious freedoms’.”  Grow up, it’s not happening. You still have your “freedom of religion, and I still have my “freedom FROM religion.”  Fortunately, the laws in North America are based on something call the Constitution, and not the bible.  In both Canada, and the USA, we are guaranteed HUMAN Rights.  ALL people have the right freely, openly, and in celebration of whatever defines us.

There you have it.  There is no “War on christianity.”  It’s not real, it never was.  If there is a war on anything, it’s a war on hatred, anger and discrimination, whether religiously-based or not.   Having said that, if your version of christianity  includes hatred, bigotry and discrimination, then I, for one, am a very willing soldier in the war on you!

Ken

Hollow Victory: Damage Control and the Continuing Fight Against the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Hollow Victory

Well I think my governor may have grown tired of being a national punchline for the last week. After the protests, the boycotts, and the potential loss of millions of dollars in state revenue from conventions, concerts, and job opportunities, Governor Pence signed an amendment to SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which is designed to clarify the bill. The amendment, passed by the statehouse and signed by the governor on April 2nd, reads as follows:

“This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military Service.”

Governor Pence certainly seemed happy with himself, in a press release issued shortly after signing the amendment, he said, “Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.”

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma likewise patted himself on the back, saying “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

But not all of Pence’s cronies were happy, Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, said “Our legal advisors tell us that it actually changes our law in a way that could now erode religious freedom across Indiana.”

Clark’s statement is very telling about the original intention of the bill. Even though Governor Pence and his posse in the statehouse swore up and down that this bill had absolutely nothing to with discrimination against LGBT folks, Clark is insisting that this amendment essentially guts the bill, rendering it useless for its intended purposes. Do you have a bit of a wild card in your stacked deck, Governor? Did Clark state the truth against your better judgment?

The response from our allies has been mixed as well. Noted actor and LGBT advocate George Takei was quick to claim victory, writing on his Facebook page “I am very happy to replace ‪#‎BoycottIndiana with ‪#‎IndianaForAll, with the hope that Hoosier hospitality once again can flourish. This has been a difficult and soul-searching week for many on both sides. But from here we move forward, together, towards an inclusive society where religious beliefs and individual civil rights can exist in harmony, side by side. This is a great day for Indiana, and for the entire nation.”

But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff didn’t appear to be so fast on going back on his promise to reduce his business in Indiana due to the law. In an interview on CNN, he told the reporter that he was looking to help employees move out of the state, saying “I just got an email on the way to studio from another employee who said, ‘look I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore, you have to move me out,’ and I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘great, you’re clear to go.’”

So is this amendment the fix we needed? Does it put an end to the fight here in Indiana?

Nope; first off, while the new amendment does offer a first in Indiana history, the first time LGBT people received civil rights protection on a state level, it applies exclusively and only to this bill, only to SB 101. There are still no state-wide civil rights protections for LGBT folks on a general level.

Furthermore, while it appears to limit the potential damage, it’s not as all-encompassing as it might seem. Look at another part of the governor’s press statement issued shortly after signing the amendment, “The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing” [bolding done by the journalist]. What does that mean? What else does a business potentially cover outside of the provision of goods and services and employment? I think there’s still something extremely fishy there.

The biggest thing with this “fix” is that if it is a victory, it feels like a hollow victory to me. It feels like a cheap shuck carnival trick, a bit of political maneuvering, nothing more. We had Governor Pence on the run, he was cancelling appearances all this week, seemingly locked in his office, pulling out his hair, screeching “Holy shit, what have I done?!” It has been rumored that Pence has his eye on the White House and it felt like we had dashed those hopes for him, crippling his political career once and for all.

And now, with a quickly signed amendment and a press conference, it seems like Pence is breathing easy for the first time in a week. He thinks the media circus is over and picketers will pack up their signs, banners, and flags and go back about their business. He thinks the newspapers and television stations will quit sticking a notebook or microphone in his face, demanding to know just what the hell he was thinking.

We could give him that. We could count this as a victory, be grateful we got the half a loaf that we did and move on. But I think that would be a fatal mistake on our part.

Look, we got the amendment to explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity under the protected classes and it’s great that we were able to do that. But why stop there? Why just be happy that our equality applies only to this bill and not to state law as a whole? Why be happy with a little PR victory and the fact that we got Micah Clark to gnash his teeth in public when he felt he lost?

Our foot is in the door and now the ball is in our court, what are you gonna do, brothers and sisters? Are you just gonna be happy with what you got and have a cocktail over it? Or are you gonna say, “You know what? Fuck half the loaf, we’ve been getting that for too long, it’s time we got a whole loaf for once, goddamn it!”

The national press can move on to another story and the Gay Inc. groups that leeched themselves onto this cause can put out their press releases and raise a glass of champagne to their “victory” in Indiana. But this is one journalist that ain’t moving an inch, this is my home, I got my foot in the door and now I’m gonna push the door wide open.

Who amongst you is gonna stand alongside me? Who else is gonna demand nothing short of full equality in the state of Indiana and the total dismantling of RFRA?

Stand up and be counted, brothers and sisters, Indiana still needs you.

Hoosier Hospitality: Notes from the Anti-RFRA Rally in Indianapolis, IN

Hoosier Hospitality

My governor, Mike Pence, managed to make our state the laughing stock of the whole damn country earlier this week when he signed SB 101, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Celebrities and companies quickly managed to make their outrage known with calls to boycott the state and calls to remove Governor Pence from office. My Facebook wall and messages began to run hotter than hell by Thursday afternoon, mere hours after Pence signed the bill.

I had heard there was a demonstration going on downtown on Saturday at the statehouse through some activist friends and immediately made plans to attend. The first order of business was to hook a ride, then get the signs and Colors ready. Getting a ride was no problem, I called my buddy Dave who had stood the line with me when we protested against Westboro Baptist Church when they came to our fair city on the occasion of the Super Bowl (I guess God hates the NFL?). He was anxious to get on the lines again and we immediately set up a 10:30 AM rendezvous on Saturday morning to go into it and kick ass.

Unfortunately, when I called Dave as I was driving home from work on Friday, he sounded sick and was out for the weekend. It took some scrambling on my end and a few panicked phone calls, but finally I contacted Kathleen, a fellow worker from the Indiana IWW. I knew she would be going to the rally. She agreed to pick me up at 11:15 in the morning after she finished up some union business down in Bloomington.

I got up around 9:00 AM and turned on the coffee maker. After about an hour, I called Kathleen to make sure things were still on. She assured me they were, but she was running just a wee bit behind. I said that was no problem, we would still have plenty of time.

She was running a bit more behind than planned; we finally hit the road to Indianapolis at 12:30. She apologized profusely, but I assured her it was alright. We would be cutting it razor’s edge close and unfortunately for my friends who wanted to tag along they would be on their own. We lit a cigarette and sped off.

We hit the picket sight at around 1:15, we missed the opening blast; apparently the Indianapolis Gay Men’s Choir came out and sang some songs. But that was it as far as what we missed.

We hooked up with Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie. I gave them picket signs to hold as they requested. I tied my flag around me cape-style and then called Brother Tom from Ohio. He said he was gonna be there and wanted to meet up. I told him I was by the big statue with the guys. Soon he sauntered up, holding his GetEQUAL clipboard. We had known each for years online through mutual friends in the activist community and now we were meeting in the flesh on a picket line. Christ, how much more poetic can you get?

We were at the back edge of the crowd and couldn’t hear a thing; Tom said he knew a way to get closer so we followed him to a spot in the thick of the crowd. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t hear anything; the sound system wasn’t powerful enough to carry the calls for revolution through the crowd.

And Jesus, what a crowd! I’ve been doing queer related pickets throughout the state for the last twelve years and I had never seen anything like it. Here in Indiana, if you get a couple hundred folks, it’s a big event. There was probably 2,000 Hoosiers standing on the statehouse lawn, waving signs, waving flags, united in the voice that our governor sucked and this “religious freedom” bill was a load of bigoted horseshit.

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, it was the mix; there were mothers, fathers, little children, there were stone obvious street activists like Tom and I, there were college students getting their first taste of action, there were atheists and preachers (one group held up the flag of the Episcopal Church, the local diocese had just issued a press statement against the bill). It was beautiful, a wide mix of folks who wanted to show the state and the country that the bill was a complete affront to the Hoosier Hospitality our state was famous for.

Bad sound system or not, the crowd roared, cheered, sang, and chanted. I continued to run into old friends on the picket line, college buddies, fellow union members, comrades in the Socialist Party, I even ran into Suley, an old counselor friend from the Krietenstein days. It was great to see so many buddies out on the line to stand up for equality in our home state.

The rally came to an end shortly before 3:00 with a call to keep up the fight and meet up again on Monday for another action. The news cameras got their footage and the newspapers got their photos, the message was clear, we weren’t gonna let Governor Pence get away with this bullshit without a fight.

One thing that really struck me about the rally was the lack of a counter-demonstration. If you listened to Governor Pence and his cronies, it was only a small minority that was against the bill, most people supported it. Well gee, if the RFRA had such broad support, I didn’t see it anywhere on the lawn of the statehouse that Saturday afternoon. There was supposedly one guy standing off to the side holding a sign against us, but I didn’t see him.

After the rally fizzled out, with a few stragglers still singing some songs and jawjacking about the next event; my group agreed that we needed to get some lunch. Tom said he would give me a ride home since Kathleen had to get on to Terre Haute to hash out some union related business. I waved bye to Kathleen, then myself, Tom, Tiffani, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie walked off to get some chow.

On the way to Tom’s car to drop off the picket signs, this lady came up to us and asked if there were any signs laying around. She was with the Indianapolis Public Library and wanted some signs for a display to mark the event. We directed her towards the statehouse lawns where there were still a few stragglers, but before she left, I gave her one of my signs for her display.

We ended up at this joint called Sahm’s (pronounced “psalms”) just a block from the hotel Tiffani was staying at. We managed to find a table big enough for our group and then sat down. The waiter came around for drink orders and while everyone else stayed dry, ordering Cokes and tea, I ordered a shot of Wild Turkey. The rally was finished and the stress was starting to seep out of my head, a shot of bourbon would be the perfect toast.

Sandwiches soon arrived and we spent the next hour or so gorging ourselves and telling war stories from work and picket lines. I suppose to some it may have seemed like we were agitated, but it was a table of six militant queers, unwinding from a demonstration and letting their hair down.

After lunch, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie went to their car to drive home and I went with Tom and Tiffani to get a ride back to Avon. On the way, Tiffani got a phone call from another coordinator in GetEQUAL. I didn’t catch the whole bit, but from the tone of it, it sounded like Tiffani was pleased with how the demonstration went. I smiled a bit inwardly, feeling pretty proud that my home state’s action against bigotry would impress somebody from Texas.

Tom and Tiffani hugged me goodbye and got on the road at around 6:00. It had been a long day and I needed desperately to unwind. My brother knocked on my door, brandishing two bottles of Thunderbird wine. We gorged on the gutter hooch and I passed out shortly before midnight.

I woke up the next morning nursing a wino headache and ABC’s This Week on the TV. George Stephanopoulos was interviewing none other than Governor Mike Pence. Pence was supposedly on the show to “clarify” SB 101, instead he ended up making a total ass out of himself on national television. Stephanopoulos asked him point blank if the law was discriminatory, if the law was designed to be used against LGBT folks and Pence kept giving him the run-around. Stephanopoulos grew increasingly flustered and said straight-up “Governor, it’s a yes or no question.” Pence still gave him the exact same run-around, accusing opponents of the bill of misreading it, of not understanding it. If Pence wanted to clarify the bill, he did a piss-poor job of it and left George Stephanopoulos even more confused.

The appearance on This Week wasn’t the only media clusterfuck the Governor caused that weekend; he was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star on Saturday and with several thousand people standing right outside the statehouse, he said he didn’t anticipate the backlash of the bill. Well gee, Governor, you signed a piece of legislation that opens the door to discrimination hardly a year after a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Indiana (an amendment you supported) failed in the statehouse. You and your supporters have been looking for revenge against LGBT Hoosiers and you wonder why everybody’s so upset with you?

I love Indiana, I grew up here, my friends and family are here, my life is here; I’m proud that my state had a reputation for hospitality. Unfortunately, my governor unzipped his fly and took a long steaming piss on the legendary reputation of Hoosier Hospitality. Thanks a lot, Governor Pence; you turned our state into the laughing stock of the country.

Show about Zombies Ignites Hatred Over Eight Second Kiss

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“The rights and freedoms of all People should be Mainstream.” Quoted by Greyson Orlando- fighter for equality.

Everyone be warned! Be very afraid! Something most horrific has happened that may destroy us all.  I’m not talking about the zombies that may be lurking in your closet, or the ones who may be creeping up behind you as you read this. I am talking about a kiss. Beware the two men who show affection.

It sounds pretty silly doesn’t it? This is exactly how many viewers of the popular show The Walking Dead reacted only a week ago. During an episode, there was featured an 8 second kiss between two men who were just happy they were alive. Only moments after the episode ended, the media flooded with homophobic remarks that were full of hatred. The amount of rage against this short lived moment on television was utterly jaw dropping.

For those that have not seen The Walking Dead, it is basically a show put on by AMC that centers on a massive, zombie apocalypse. It is widely known for its intense action, violence and gore. There is a lot of cannibalism, among other disturbing elements. The show has actually featured a lesbian, who is one of the main characters, but suddenly when two men who aren’t even regulars on the show share a small smooch on the lips it had gone too far, when no one blinked an eye when everything else happened, like the gore and rape. There are people right now who are calling for the shows cancellation because producers and directors chose to show a small, affectionate kiss between two men.

The scene takes place in an old abandoned warehouse where the two men have sought refuge. One of the men is wounded and can’t walk, and is sitting on the ground lying up against his duffle bag with his injured foot propped up. The man, who is obviously his romantic interest, walks in and discovers he is alive. The man walks over to examine him and becomes overwhelmed with joy and gives him a heartfelt, comforting kiss. And that is what the whole uproar was over.

I decided to challenge this and I showed the video clip of the kiss to eight selected straight friends of mine. They did not know what they were watching when I showed them. What they saw didn’t offend them, it didn’t turn them gay, and those of them who watch the show can’t wait for the next episodes. This blog goes to them. This time my straights will take the stand with their statements in support of a very sweet gesture the producers and directors of The Walking Dead created with a simple yet moving scene of love.

Note: The statements you are about to read are opinions expressed by each individual and are their own. The credit goes completely to them. None of them have been edited and will appear as they were quoted.

Nick Jaramayo– All I saw were two people showing affection. This level of hate shows how the world really is.

Amanda Personally, this doesn’t bother me because I have seen this in the media periodically my whole life.

Michael Napodano– Condemning a show because of two guys kissing, but condoning a worldwide flood that killed every living thing, including innocent animals, women and children, just doesn’t make sense to me.

Robby Headley– It is hard for me to engage in a serious debate with people like this, because their opinion isn’t important to me, nor does it matter to me. This is 2015, and this level of silliness and hatred won’t stand.

Kaitlyn– There has been homosexuality since the beginning of time. One simple kiss on a television show shouldn’t cause such a dramatic amount of chaos. This is not the first show to feature two men kissing. People need to realize that love is love. Just because some people don’t agree with it, that does not mean it isn’t going to happen. Everyone is equally entitled to their happiness. A man should be allowed to show his love and affection to another man. If you don’t want to see it, don’t look. Maybe they feel the same way about you.

David Stevens Kudos to the Walking Dead for showing a moment of genuine, non-exploitative affection between two gay characters. While one rarely has to wait longer than a few minutes to see two straight people kiss in any movie or TV show, it is refreshing for a major show to give some screen time to a display of love from a same sex couple. It is high time that such scenes become part of the entertainment norm, and no longer such a rare phenomenon. Our LGBTQ sisters and brothers have sat through enough hetero kisses; it’s time that we straighties return the courtesy.

Kelly Digges There’s a quote I really like from author Mary Robinette Kowal: “It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity; it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.” In other words, the reason to have characters with a wide variety of backgrounds is that real people have a wide variety of backgrounds. Your stories (and worlds, in the case of science fiction and fantasy) will be deeper, more realistic, and more engaging to a wider group of people if they reflect the diversity that the real world has to offer. Despite the diversity of the real world, there’s very little pressure on media to be inclusive. It is always safe for your characters to be straight white males. Diversity in media doesn’t just happen–it takes work. So when media creators make sure their cast of characters covers a broad spectrum of humanity that deserves recognition. Hopefully someday a gay kiss or a majority black cast will be totally unremarkable. But we’re not there yet. The thing is, though, whether I–a straight white man–commend those creators is actually not very important. Sometimes when creators make sure their fictional world is as full of different kinds of people as the real world is, I see people (almost always people who don’t belong to the represented group) say that it’s “forced,” or “pandering.” But what they’re really saying is that it didn’t speak to them–it was clearly meant for somebody else. And that’s how “everybody else” feels almost all the time: like they’re reading and watching and listening to things that are made for somebody else. And when creators take the time to tell stories that speak to those people, it can have a huge impact. (Just as an example, Whoopi Goldberg was inspired to become an actress in part by seeing Nichelle Nichols’s character Uhura on Star Trek–a black woman in an important role on television at a time when that was virtually unheard of.) So that’s really the important part: making sure that a broad swath of people sees themselves and their experiences reflected in media. I am always in favor of that.

Greyson Orlando– I have been watching The Walking Dead since season 1. It is an excellent show, well written, and with a diverse set of characters. It is also intensely violent and gory. It showcases some of the best and a lot of the worst sides of humanity. That’s what makes it so compelling. And now there are calls for cancellation over, of all things, a kiss. It was a kiss between a man and his partner who is just happy to see him alive. This is a show that has featured adulterers, racists, murderers, psychopaths, and the undead. And yet, when two men kiss, there is an outcry. Suddenly it’s gone too far. The reason for this, I think, is fear. It is the fear from those who oppose gay rights that they will no longer be able to pretend that gays do not exist. It is the fear that society will “accept” homosexuality. This is exactly why scenes like this gay kiss in The Walking Dead need to exist. Without scenes like this, these people will be able to continue to pretend that sexual orientation is not a real thing and that gay rights is something that needs to be stamped out before it goes “mainstream.” The rights and freedoms of all people should be on the mainstream. The more society looks at homosexuality as a normal part of humanity, the faster we can eradicate prejudice and oppression of gays. I commend the creative team for The Walking Dead in taking us another step in that direction.

“On behalf of the show and its cast, we commend the directors, writers and producers for making this sweet yet simple kiss. Thank you.”

An Open Letter to Conservative Christians

Open Letter
Walter Beck
Picket Lines
Drag Bars
Queer USA

March 18, 2015

The Family Research Council
American Family Association
National Organization for Marriage
Bryan Fischer
Scott Lively
Tony Perkins

Dear Conservative Christians,

I am a young American queer activist and I have been on the front lines since I was a teenager. It’s been a long, thrilling twelve years in the trenches. And of course, you gentlemen and your constituents have been my opponents throughout this time. As you are well aware, the Supreme Court is set to rule on the marriage issue in June and the smart money says that the ruling will go our way; which is why I’m writing to you.

You have no doubt been thrown into a panic by the slew of legal rulings in our favor and the changing cultural dynamic. And believe me, on a certain level, I sympathize with you, you gentlemen have been power brokers in American politics for the last thirty years and it can be hard to give up that sort of power without a fight.

So in a last ditch effort to maintain a semblance of control and power, you have been sponsoring, calling for, and lobbying for so-called “religious freedom” bills in various states throughout the country, claiming these bills are necessary because you have been viciously persecuted by us queer folks. To double down on the PR panic spin, many of these bills have been rushed through as “emergency” legislature.

Well, we have spent the past decade or so trying to play diplomatically with you gentlemen, trying to allay the public of all the fears you pump into them. We have maintained a strictly squeaky-clean, non-aggressive image, even shunning some of the more radical elements of our community in a vain attempt to maybe convince you to tone it down on the paranoia.

Our efforts have failed on that level and this is one queer activist who’s taking the gloves off and is done lathering on the soft soap with you bastards. You continue to speak of us in the most degrading language imaginable, comparing us to people who practice necrophilia and bestiality; you continue to compare us to child molesters, reiterating long debunked claims of “recruitment”; and a few of you have openly compared us to Nazis, trying to blame us for the Holocaust, one of the most horrific events in human history.

And now you’re the ones who want to claim that you’re “persecuted”, yeah well, listen up, cupcake, you self-righteous hateful bastards don’t know the first goddamn thing about persecution! You don’t. Who do you drudge up to offer proof of such persecution? A few local businesses that were found guilty of violating civil rights laws? A couple of reality TV stars who got put through the media shredder for speaking bigotry? That’s all you have? Please! Those who were so “persecuted” seem to be making a pretty decent living on the conservative speaker circuit, raking in thousands of dollars in speaker fees, and getting more free publicity than they could have ever dreamed of; seems to me like “persecution” was the best thing that ever happened to them.

You assholes wanna know about persecution? While that phony redneck Phil Robertson was whining to Fox News about how persecuted he was for comparing us gay folks to people who practice bestiality, I was reading obituaries and articles about young brothers and sisters such as Leelah Alcorn, Zander Mahaffey, and Ash Haffner who were murdered by society because they felt they weren’t loved enough, that nobody cared if they lived, died, or grew mushrooms in their crack.

Those young brothers and sisters certainly weren’t the first that we had to bury way too soon, we’ve also had to lay to rest brothers and sisters such as Tyler Clementi, Ryan Halligan, and Jamie Hubley. In the aftermath of tragedy, we tried to make things better by urging states to pass stricter anti-bullying laws and what did you do? Hmm? You tried to eviscerate such laws by making sure there were “religious protections” in them. Yep, that’s exactly what you did. Before these young brothers and sisters were even cold in the ground, you were testifying before state legislators claiming that if a student beats one of our young brothers or sisters in the face with a Bible, that it should be excepted from such anti-bullying laws. That’s right; you went out of your way to protect the bully.

And it ain’t just in the legal realm that you have pissed on the graves of our fallen brothers and sisters, your shock troops, your street preachers seem to delight in the death of another one of ours. I remember when I was a student at Indiana State University and we were holding a candlelight vigil for the fallen, there was a street preacher by the name of Brother Larry who just had to come to the event, waiving his Bible and yelling his bigoted rhetoric. I’ve seen similar reports about other street preachers doing the same thing. Hmm, seems like there’s not much difference between you guys and the Westboro Baptist Church, does it? You can’t even let us mourn and bury our dead in peace.

But it’s more than death, isn’t it? You go out of your way to make our lives a living hell even as we walk the streets. Your politicians that you bought and paid for will whine into the nearest microphone about it’s “a hostile environment for people of faith” out there, but let’s cut the shit, alright? It’s still a hostile environment for us and it’s one that you created. You got a story for me about a kid who was kicked out of his home because he told his parents that he was a Christian? You got a story for me about an employee who was fired because her co-workers found out that she went to church on Sunday? You got a story for me about a state where Christians can’t get legally married simply because they’re Christians? Hmm? You got any of that for me? Nope, I didn’t fucking think so.

The old die-hards of your movement may fall for this phony PR spun “persecution” bullshit that you gentlemen are slinging, but the American public isn’t. The raw, naked truth is out and open for anyone to see, you’ve been kicking us in the groin for the last fifty years and you’re trying desperately to get a few more shots in before you’re shuffled off to the graveyard of American politics. Our bloody and bruised bodies have fought too long and too hard to let you get away with it anymore.

But you know what I think really burns you guys up? It’s all the battles you’ve lost over the last decade. The hundreds of thousands of us that you didn’t get to see in the grave or in the hospital. We repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, even though you howled at the top of your lungs about how it would “destroy” the military. Shit, guess what? That didn’t happen. Our military is doing just fine and now our service men and women can march without fear or shame. No more will they face the hell of denying themselves to serve their country. And while we still don’t have marriage equality on a national level, Federal judge after Federal judge has thrown out various state statutes and state constitutional amendments, doubling the number of states with marriage equality over the last year from 18 to 36 (and more states added all the time); we now have happy couples in over half the country raising families, just as happy as clams in high tide. Oh man, that just has to fry you, doesn’t it? All those gay and lesbian couples raising kids and being all-American families. I know, you swore up and down that “God’s wrath” would be upon this country if we were allowed to get married. Well gee fellas, we’ve had marriage equality in some parts of the country for over a decade and I ain’t seeing any plagues yet. As Tom Waits once said, is God away on business? Or maybe God decided you guys were full of shit from the get-go and doesn’t really mind that we’re becoming more free and happy with every passing day. Maybe God saw you for the con artists and hucksters you really are. Ever think about that?

Welcome to the end game, gentlemen. It’s D-Day, the writing’s on the wall. As the Good Doctor once said “the fat is in the fire”.

I’ll see you on the last front of your culture war,

-Walter Beck

The Pink Panthers Movement