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

11091287_10205536681604150_1773856865_n

“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

Guerrilla Warfare: The Splintering of the Fight for Equality

Guerrilla Warfare
“Strength and muscle and jungle work…” –Warren Zevon

We’re coming up to a crossroads on the equality front, brothers and sisters, and I don’t think we’re quite ready for what’s ahead of us. For nearly the last decade, we’ve depended on a united national front to secure marriage rights for all across the nation and very soon, I believe we will reap the rewards of that long hard battle when the Supreme Court bangs the gavel in June. I’ll write about that when the time comes.

It’s not just on the marriage front; we also depended on national organization when it came to the repeal of DADT and the seemingly endless fight to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (the battle still rages). We’ve learned to unite as one and so far, it’s paid off pretty well, even if some of the best street fighters don’t always get their due.

While we’ve been reaping the rewards of a united movement, the backlash has begun to hit us. It started in Arizona, with the attempts to pass bills barring trans folks from using public restrooms (failed) and an attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill which would allow folks to dodge anti-discrimination laws by claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” (also failed).

Many of us, me included, thought that was the end of it, Arizona is one of the most conservative states in the country and if they couldn’t get such bills passed, no state could. They tried a state approach and it failed, the battle was over, chalk another one up to our side.

But other states are more hard-headed than Arizona, in the year since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the Religious Freedom Bill, other states have taken up similar bills though few of them have succeeded.

In North Carolina, Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples if the magistrate had a “sincere religious belief” objecting to such licenses. The bill would also allow registers of deeds and deputy registers to opt out of issuing marriage licenses. Within the text of the bill, there is no definition of “sincerely held religious objection”. None, no legal definition of what such an objection entails. Senate Bill 2 remains in the North Carolina Statehouse and has not been made law yet.

Arkansas tried for more subtle language with SB 202. The bill became law just a little while ago and it prohibits local towns and counties from protecting classes not already covered under state anti-discrimination law. The bullet of the bill reads “A county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” Guess who isn’t covered under Arkansas anti-discrimination laws? LGBT folks.

West Virginia has virtually copied the text from the Arkansas bill in their own HB 2881; “No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.” The West Virginia bill has not been made law yet.

The most maddening state of the bunch has undoubtedly been Oklahoma, where Representative Sally Kern has introduced two bills directly attacking LGBT citizens. There is no coded language, no attempt at double talk; the bills say it in black and white.

House Bill 1599 states “No taxpayer funds or governmental salaries shall be paid for any activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage. No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pensioner other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state. No taxes or public funds of this state shall be spent enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license.” And if a state judge decides to issue a marriage license anyway, the judge will be dismissed on the spot “If a judge violates this act, the judge shall be removed from office pursuant to Section 1 of Article VII A of the Oklahoma Constitution.”

House Bill 1597 is even more insane, and serves to directly attack us: “No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Under this bill, a business owner wouldn’t even have to claim a religious belief; they could straight up say “We don’t serve queers, now fuck off” and they would be fully protected under this bill.

Neither of these bills has become law yet.

So where does that leave us? Well as you can see, while we’ve been fighting as a united national front for our equality, our state legislators have been trying to slip a fast one on us by introducing bills to undo our efforts of the last ten years. They’re realizing that there’s little hope of winning on a nation level, so they’re trying to do it piece by piece, state by state.

We’re gonna have to learn how to do it locally and grassroots again, brothers and sisters. I’m in Indiana; I won’t be able to help a sister in Oklahoma fight against Sally Kern’s bigoted insanity. Likewise a brother in Arizona won’t be able to help me if my state legislation decides to pull this bullshit (which by the way, they have). Sure, we can still offer each other moral support, but the hard fact is, the backlash is occurring locally, so it must be fought locally. We’re gonna have split up into the jungle and do it guerrilla style.

But how? Many of us have forgotten how to fight locally since we’ve gotten used to fighting nationally. The first point is find your local allies, your friends, your classmates, your co-workers, hell, it could be your favorite bartender. Find people in your area who are just as tired of this crap as you are, organize them, have a discussion group, a meeting, whatever you wanna call it. Start scoping out your state’s legislation website and find bills related to this cause, usually they are related to “religious freedom”, anti-discrimination, or marriage. Local news is also a prime resource for this, they will often report on legislation being considered before an official bill is drafted.

The second point is finding your local legislator; they’re certainly more answerable to you than your congressional representative or senator. Go on your state’s website and find the contact information for your local legislator, there is usually an email address and phone number listed. Call them, email them, and let them know that you give a damn about LGBT folks in your area and that you won’t stand for them being treated as second-class citizens. Just as a personal note, I prefer a phone call, it’s harder to ignore than an email.

If you need some handy information on how to organize locally, I recommend Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. It’s not LGBT specific, but it’s a pretty good field manual and should help you on your way.

Remember, our Revolution started with a local fight. The Stonewall Riots were sparked based solely on a local issue, the NYPD raiding gay bars. A group of locals got fed up with that and said “Enough!” And well, you know the rest of the story.

Community organizing and grassroots street work are the only way we’re gonna roll back this backlash against us. It’s gonna take some good local sweat and muscle here, you’re gonna have to get to know your neighbors and know your local laws. Roll up your sleeves, brothers and sisters, and let’s show these bastards that we ain’t finished by half yet.

Thoughts on the Oscars 2015

oscars     In general I’m not a big fan of Hollywood and celebrity status. Although I love a good horror, documentary or animation.

Often I’m often turned off just by the concept of celebrity alone. People who make their living pretending to be one of us average folk in society.

     Thin and beautiful millionaires convene once a year for the Academy awards and give each other gold trophies, thank god and advocate world peace.
There is no doubt in the potential power of celebrity in concept of platform and audience alone but too often I am disappointed. When I
think about world problems and celebrities I wonder why there are so many stars with so much money, resources and platforms that
go unused? Why aren’t celebrities more of a driving force for social change?  Of course as a gay man I’m happy to see an out gay man host
the Oscars. It’s a cultural shift in our society in visibility alone.  For too long Hollywood erased gay men. Rock Hudson, Robert Reed and Liberace come to mind. All gay male celebrities that died in the closet from HIV.  So yes I was content with Neil Patrick Harris. Although I’ve never been a NPH fan or watched his work I was excited about the possibilities of a gay man, live with an audience of 37.3 million at his feet and a room full of money.  However I was only to be let down by poop jokes and a half naked NPH standing in his briefs; amounting to what some on twitter described as desperate. Tegan and Sara, lesbian sister singers whom I usually enjoy, performed a horrible song called “Everything is Awesome” the sound was funky and it’s just an untrue statement in these times because everything is not awesome. The awful sound and swirling, plastic legos dancing around the stage and audience was appropriately fake, and plastic just like that song.  One of the lego dancers gave Oprah a fake, plastic, Oscar award. All performers knowing of the ire the Oscars were drawing over race. All knowing not a single acting nominee was a person of color. Giving Oprah a fake Oscar felt too staged and desperate for blackness. At one point Neil Patrick Harris put the microphone in the faces of two random blonde, white women, sitting in different sections who both turned out to be ‘seat fillers’ NPH seemed horrified the two people he picked were seat fillers. I was interested in why his subconscious chose two, white, blonde,thin women? Even more interesting knowing the controversy around the Oscars, Why were the seat fillers white, blonde, thin beautiful women?
     Openly bisexual singer Lady GaGa for whom we have long depended to bring the edge and a beat performed a slow, classical like tribute to The Sound Of Music. A musical, A movie not every gay man enjoys believe it or not. A musical shot before my time, I struggled to understand why GaGa whom is way younger than me would choose such a number but I was weaned on techno, dance, and rock. For me, musicals are like a joke that I’m not in on. I struggle to enjoy any aspect of them and have never understood the almost cult like following The Sound Of Music has with some gay guys. Likewise people often don’t understand my bias towards musicals.  I have a hard enough time paying attention, combine any slow music with the long night and long speeches and it becomes a job. If I was directing the Oscars I would insist on upbeat, happy, or energetic musical numbers to offset the long night, long speeches and to wake people up at home.  If I was in charge of the Oscars I might request Oscar winners say their thank yous to 25 different people via twitter or press release, after the show.
     German Playwrite Bertolt Breecht once said “Art is not a mirror to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it” and Austrian writer Ernst Fischer once wrote “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful must also reflect decay”.  I don’t know about you but I was born and raised in the city in a post segregated school and neighborhood. My playmates, classmates and teachers were often black. At no period in my 40 years alive have I lived anywhere where blacks sing, dance and deliver gold gifts to rich white people.
     There was supposed to be a red carpet protest but regrettably it was cancelled at the last minute per request of the Director of Selma.  On twitter I pushed the boycott organized by black twitter where I was met by comments like “blacks have to earn Oscars on merit” But how can you be nominated if there are no roles for you?  Why was Selma the only black movie? And consider the budget difference in black movies. Selma was only budgeted for $20 million while American Sniper had $60 million to work with. And why are there black movies to begin with? because traditional, white Hollywood refuses to portray the reality that many of us live in racially diverse neighborhoods.
     Neil Patrick Harris didn’t perform poorly but I wasn’t razzle dazzled. I can’t help but wonder, does NPH, a rich white gay, famous since childhood have any idea what it is like to be a gay youth homeless on the streets as I was and thousands of lgbt youth are now? Does Neil Patrick Harris have any idea what its like to struggle with food insecurity as many of us do?  Why does it seem like if every rich, famous, connected gay could organize with Cyndi Lauper at the FortyToNone Org we could start to put an end to homeless LGBT youth? And while we are on the topic why was Cher the only celebrity to say anything to Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas about SB202? How many movie tickets, t-shirts, books, recordings etc do we have to buy for everyone in Hollywood to tweet Arkansas?  Why don’t celebrities care about us? Why aren’t they all hopping on a plane to defend the lgbt community riding off into the sunset to save the day together? I mean if they really wanted to; they could do that, but seriously a tweet would of been nice.
     “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850 — Bravo John Legend.  2,266,800 people are in US, federal, state and private for profit prisons.  1 in 31 people in the United States is in the grips of the criminal justice system. The highest rates in the world thanks in large part to the war on drugs. Many of these prisoners are in for non-violent crimes and 1 in 31 also potentially represents 1 in 31 families that are shattered by the government due to our national twisted obsession with punishment.
     Depression and suicide is rampant. According to the World Health Org approximately one million people per year are dying of suicide.  An increase of 60% in the past 45 years. Suicide did get a shout out from best documentary short subject, producer Dana Perry. Her film is Crisis Hotline.
     3.5 million people are homeless in the United States, many of whom work at least part-time if not multiple jobs just to stay alive. 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty now, the highest the poverty rate has been in 54 years! The creative ways people are coping with their situations deserve Hollywood’s attention.  If you believe in listening to the message and not the messenger, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to equal pay for women but her comments were overshadowed by backstage comments about gays and people of color finally helping women for a change of pace. And again she is a millionaire complaining about her pay but hey, at least she got a conversation started!
     Activism is alive and thriving in LGBT rights, marijuana and #BlackLivesMatter among other movements. Washington DC is divided. Many people are angry. The country is polarized, black and gay power is palpable, these are very exciting times we are living in where things are rapidly changing.  If Fischer or Brecht are correct about art reflecting society good and bad, Hollywood is doing a miserable job in my opinion. Academy membership is 94% white and 76% male. These numbers are totally unacceptable. However these conditions are producing some amazing and resilient people who will help shape our countries landscape. It may not be pretty, romantic or funny but these are the conditions millions of us are living under. But it’s the truth and people like the truth and what’s familiar. People like to see their lives reflected back in the arts. I can only guess but it’s probably why reality television is so popular. Even though most people know that reality tv is often scripted or staged people are clinging to the hope  that some moments are real and authentic.
     The arts and the movies may sometimes have the power to change hearts and minds by storytelling but not if that story is placed too far out of reach. We can’t all be lawyers and Doctors and that movie has already played. The only thing close to reality drama in my book is Empire. A new, groundbreaking show on Fox that reflects, angry, black, gay, homophobic, and violent America. It’s an urban jungle out here and people want something real they can hold onto. Something that represents them and their struggles.
     In the end the Oscars were punished with their lowest  viewership since 2009 and a decrease of 17% from just last year.  To make matters worse; despite her lengthy career in show business, Joan Rivers, Queen of the red carpet itself was left out  from the death roll montage. Perhaps the academy knew it would be controversial and felt that controversy was Joan’s calling card.  The twitter outrage was one final controversy in the life of Joan Rivers. The culprit most likely, unfortunately is the Hollywood boys club. Johnny Carson locked her out of any recognition as a serious, legendary entertainer and in a final dig of disrespect so did the academy. Something you would expect from an academy that is 94% white and 76% male.
     The Academy Awards have the potential to change, evolve and diversify becoming something people of all backgrounds can enjoy but only if movie makers themselves have the courage to take those steps so that Hollywood’s future is diverse, bright (and dark) and symbolic of the actual times we live in.

An Ex-Christian Sounds Off on the So-Called Christians Who Drove Him Away

exchristian

(As I write this, another article about the churches in a small town refusing to allow the funeral of a young man, simply because of his sexual orientation crossed my feed.  I had to stop and take a break, in order to avoid allowing anger to colour my writing.)

Before we begin, let me start by saying this is NOT an attack on Christianity.  If I was more versed on other religions, I would include them in this blog.

How, exactly does an ex-Christian human rights activist respond to “Christian love?”  By putting those two words in quotations, I’m talking about the vitriolic hatred and bigotry thrown out so may by Christian extremists like Mike Huckabee, the American Family Association, and their former mouthpiece, Brian, (who we definitely haven’t heard the last of.) and of course our buddy Pat Robertson, who hates everyone who’s not an old, ‘Murican, Christian man, like him.  I’m not going to waste anyone’s time, or brain cells quoting these “loving” individuals, we all know what they’ve had to say, and continue saying.

First, some personal background.  I grew up in a Christian family, I counted myself as a believer for the vast majority of my life.  Sadly, I watched the faith I grew up with, one that taught Love, change to a religion that preached that anyone different was to be treated with distrust, and even to be hated.  This was one of the major reason I turned my back on faith, and religion as a whole.  When Canada’s Supreme Court was hearing arguments about Marriage Equality, more than ten years ago, pastors, ministers, priests, etc., were shouting from their pulpits about how gay people were out to destroy Canada.  The “sanctity” of marriage was being threatened.  Read the headlines in states where Equality is being debated, they’re the same tired arguments that we had here.  Extremists have claimed ownership of an institution that vastly predates their religion.

Throughout my life, I was taught to treat others the way I would like to be treated.  This has stuck with me.  It’s my conviction that everyone deserves respect, has value, and has a reason to be here, on earth.  I give to, and support others, not because of a promise of reward, (eternity in heaven) or the threat of punishment if I don’t, (eternity in hell) but simply because it’s the right thing to do.  This is the only life I’m going to get, I want to make the best of it.

So, how do we answer them?  We do it by picking up the weapon they throw at us, and using it as a shield.  For every one of the six bible verses that speak (in certain interpretations) against homosexuality, and Equality, there are a number of verses that speak of Love.  Let’s look at a few.

John 13:34   “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

I’ve spoken about this verse in a previous blog.  In my opinion, this means unconditionally loving each other.  Jesus didn’t say “Love one another, except people whose lifestyle you don’t like.” He simply said “love each other,” wholly, completely, and without condition or exception.

Mark 12:30  “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Again…wholly, completely, and without condition or exception.  Yes, admittedly, there are things about ourselves we may not “love” completely, but as Christians, you are commanded to Love your neighbor.  You’re not allowed to pick and choose which neighbor you love, just told to love them ALL.

John 8:7 “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

Who, among the huge number of “Christians,” is without sin?  No body.  Not one.  ‘Nuff said.

Matthew 7:1-3 “1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Who are you to judge?  Who are you to decide what is and isn’t a “sin?”  How dare you?  How can you put yourself in the place of the god you purport to follow, and decide the fate of another person?  If you’re looking for something negative in people, look no further than the closest mirror.  You have no qualms about calling out other people’s differences, yet you can’t even see the faults in yourself.  This is a verse about karma.  That which you give out, will come back to you.  Try to remember that.

Matthew 25:40 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This is the big one.  This is the one that these Christian tyrants seem to forget.  He’s not just talking about the good things you do for people.  This isn’t just about how you lift people, about what sort of, in any, charitable work you do.  This is also about the damage you do.  If you belittle, degrade, or harm another person, you’re doing the same thing to the one person you claim to follow.  So for every LGBT church member, or the members of their family, you bar from your churches, for every gay or transgender whose funeral you refuse to allow in your church, for every kid you force into “conversion therapy,” you’re doing the same thing to Jesus. Is that what you mean to do?

These verses are in my opinion, the real definition of what it is to be a follower of “Christ.”  The people that truly live by them are to me, what Christians should be.  On the other hand, people who use their translation of the bible as a weapon, deserve no respect.  It infuriates me to read that women should be kept in their place, their reproductive rights should be decided by a male dominated government, that LGBT people are “less than” and don’t deserve the same rights as straight people.  (Comments like these have been stated by a number of “men of God.”) What inspires me, is the (slowly) growing number of people of faith that are openly supporting Human Rights. (of all kinds)

Cory Booker said it best:  “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show me in how you treat people.  Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”

My addition to his quote:  “Show me you DESERVE to be called a Christian” and someday, I might want might want to be called one again, too.

Ken

Bible Belt- Let’s Be Friends

10965634_10205211253228644_1932738547_n

It is coming, the war is almost over, but the battle has just begun. The right for same-sex couples to have the right to marry is finally here. I am gay, and I live in the South at the very center of the Bible belt. Just over three years ago, or even two years ago, I would have never thought two, same-sex people who were genuinely in love would be able to get married, especially in a church. Too my glorious surprise, they are getting married, and yes, inside churches in the South. I am thrilled to know that one day I could walk down the aisle and recite my vows to the man that I choose to marry. Although many people across the nation are turning cart-wheels over this major breakthrough, I know and understand that there are a group of people who feel threatened by this. Having lived in the Bible belt for as long as I have, I know that the idea of same-sex couples getting married scares allot of Christians. In some ways I can understand. I was once in the same boat. I was scared of the LGBT’s just as much, in fact, realizing the gripping truth that I was gay use to literally be my worst nightmare come true, but that only lasted for a season. Now I couldn’t be happier, and I am truly happy for both gays and straights who have been able to find peace and true happiness in their lives.

Still I know that this is a very confusing time for all religious people who still hold on to their ancestor’s traditions, expectations, and standards of how they want the world to be. It is very hard to embrace something that is very foreign too you, and it is even harder to let go and let love in. I know there are a good number of you that may even have gay children. For you that could mean your worst nightmare has come true. You wake up one day to find out that even your own child is one of them. You are obviously very scared, hurt, and confused at this point. I want you to know that your child telling you that he or she is gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or maybe they might not feel like a boy or a girl on the inside, and they have chosen to tell you, that this is a very big step in their life. They have chosen to give you their complete trust. They love you enough to be truly honest with you. I know it’s not what you expected. From the very moment of birth too he or she, you had the perfect vision of what they would be like and become. Many nights while you were rocking your child to sleep you probably envisioned what he or she would look like as an adult, and often wondered what type of husband or wife they would end up with. “Mom, I’m gay… Dad, I’m a lesbian,” is definitely not what you were anticipating hearing come from your own child’s mouth.

I’m not here to judge, and I’m not here to gloat. I just want a small portion of your time to share with you that just because your child is gay or lesbian, or bisexual or transgender, or marriage doesn’t seem fair to you anymore because it’s taking a strange turn, doesn’t mean your life ends there. You are entering a journey that if approached with open arms, could be an amazing adventure. My hope is by sharing with you our side of the scale, that you can be able to find a common ground. All I ask is that you read with an open heart. In the end your decision to embrace what you’ve read in this blog will be of your own choosing.

You’ve heard about us, you’ve read about us in the newspaper, watched us on the television, but I’m sure very few of you have ventured out away from your homeland and into our turf. I want you to know you are more than welcome. In fact I cordially invite you into our humble abode. I have no doubt that you are scared. We must seem very strange to you. A man and a man that are in love? A woman and a woman with a baby How is that even possible? Well, Bible belt, fasten your seat belts, and I will answer all of your questions, and if you will allow me, put your fears to rest.

We all have something that we are afraid of. I know that the LGBT’s right to be married is a major fear for you. You’ve heard so many horror stories, and you feel as though somehow we are trying to take your rights away and convert you all into homosexuality. Right now you are probably very tense and on the verge of getting angry, so, I want you to close your eyes for a moment and re-open them. Now, take a deep breath, as much as your gut can handle, and slowly let it out. Relax all those tight muscles and calm your thoughts, and if you are still reading this, good for you. I want to start by telling a simple childhood story of mine.

When I was a boy, I use to be extremely afraid of escalators. I would only take elevators wherever I went. Escalators were not an option. I saw other people riding them, but they were very strange to me. I thought those people were crazy. Stairs that can move? What if I trip and fall? What if something bad happens when I get to the top? Every time I entered any place that had moving stairs the excuses to condone my fear would begin. One day my grandpa (who has been dead now for 8 years) came for a visit. He wanted to take me to see my first movie (Stewart little). My grandpa didn’t know his way around the city, and the mall was the only place I knew how to direct him that had a theater. We saw the movie and after that I wanted to go to the toy store. The toy store was on the second floor. Normally, I took the elevator, but that day it was out of order. My legs began to tremble when I heard my grandpa’s chilling words. “Well Alan, looks like it’s the escalator for us.” Immediately I started crying. My grandpa was very tender and he quietly and gently took me over to a bench close to my greatest fear. At the angle we were sitting I could see both the escalator and the elevator. I felt his gentle hand on my shoulder and he began to calmly speak to me. “Alan, do you see that elevator?” I looked at my grandpa very strangely. Respectfully I said yes. He smiled at me with his tender blue eyes. “Alan, that elevator you walk into every time has only a single cord holding it. If that cord were to break the elevator would fall, yet you trust in it every time you enter and every time that faithful cord holds you and pulls you to safety. If that elevator can do that don’t you think the escalator will do just the same?” I shrugged my shoulders not really knowing what to say. After that my grandpa took me to the foot of the escalator. I took a deep breath, all the while my grandpa was whispering “you can do it.” I lifted my foot, and one after the other I was on the moving steps. Instantly my fear was squelched. It left me like a swift traveling vapor. I didn’t trip, I didn’t fall, and nothing bad happened when I got to the top. We had a great time at the toy store, and I got the pink power ranger I wanted so badly with my allowance.

For those of you who know nothing of what we are like, or how we live, I imagine we are quite similar to the escalators. You are traveling into a world of the unknown. Although it may seem like storm clouds raging, the sun can shine again if you would allow it. The big secret about the LGBT society (bomb shell) there is no secret. We are really not that much different then you, only we are attracted to the same-sex, or for some, both sexes. I work in the animal field, and I have come across clients who are gay. They are actually quite normal. They get up and go to work just like you do. Their dogs love them, and the people around them who are straight care and trust them entirely. I have a close gay friend right here in Houston, Texas who has just become an Uncle a couple of weeks ago to a beautiful baby boy. His sister and husband trust him completely, and he is a great uncle, and makes his little nephew giggle so much. We all laugh and love, striving so much for the good times. We don’t want to be coddled or be the center of everyone’s conversation, or roll out the red carpet every time we come around. We just want what you all have. Bible belt, I think it is wonderful you all can get married to the person you love. I wish you all the joy in the world, but we would like to share in the joy that you can experience. We simply aren’t wired your way. We didn’t have the same marriage visions you had growing up. We were born into this world just like you were. We didn’t wake up one day and decide to make our life difficult and almost unbearable. We are simply like the escalators. We aren’t elevators; we are a different walk of life. We don’t want you to be gay, we are not pounding on your door with old Cher tapes and Elton John albums saying “here listen to this.” I want you, just like all the wonderful LGBT people I have come to know, too be happy. All we want is to share in your happiness.

So with that being said, on behalf of all of us here at the LGBT club, you are happily invited to pay us a visit. For once put down the Bibles, put down the picket signs (not saying you all do that) and just have an engaging conversation with us, laugh with us, play dress up with us (laughs) you don’t have to do that. Just be yourself when you’re around us. Take a deep breath and just say hi, shake our hand. We want to be your friends if you will allow us.

Suit and Tie Picket Line

Suit and Tie Picket Line
“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down…”
-Buffalo Springfield

There is a different world in our activism these days, a world where woe unto those who dare to cross the line of the high-rollers, you better look perfectly acceptable to white bread America if you want them to back you up.

Welcome to the world of suit and tie activism.

Dig, this is a true story. Back in January 2014, we were facing HJR-3 here in Indiana. It was the latest attempt by our statehouse in enshrine marriage discrimination into our state constitution. They had been trying it for the last ten years or so and this looked like their last realistic chance to do it. Anyway, they were having a public hearing about the matter there in the statehouse chambers and the call went out to the brothers and sisters through the vine to show up and support equality in Indiana.

So I showed up, decked out in a red Hawaiian shirt (we were told to wear red to show our support) and of course, I had my Pride Flag wrapped around me. I don’t go into a fight without the Colors, you dig? And this young man in a suit who looked like he stepped out of the pages of GQ stopped me and looked at me a bit oddly. He was with Freedom Indiana (the “official” group on our side) and he said to me “I appreciate the enthusiasm, but is there another way you could hold your flag? We don’t want our opposition taking a picture of you looking like that and using it against us.”

I didn’t look like white bread America; I was a flat-out stone-obvious freak, a street activist with the weight of many picket lines around my eyes and this young man was worried how such an image would play out in the papers. Never mind the fact that I was there to show my solidarity, I didn’t meet up to the dress codes standards, so there was no room for me to show my dedication.

That incident really lit a fire under my buddy Mike Shipley. He’s connected with the Outright Libertarians, so he decided to investigate a bit and called the folks at Freedom Indiana and he got this explanation from Megan Robertson (one of the campaign managers), “Freedom Indiana has become a brand in and of itself, while the rainbow flag certainly has a place in this overall movement, our campaign is currently focused on a very small constituency. It is great to have these allies step up, some even to the level of contributing $100,000 to our efforts.”

You hear that, brothers and sisters? This wasn’t a fight for equality, nope, this was a “brand” and all folks like me were good for was ponying up the cash to keep the brand going.

But is this sort of squeaky clean activism without precedent in our history? It is not, many of the early movements in the pre-Stonewall days of the 1960’s were absolutely insistent at marching in conservative suits and ties with the women in respectable skirts. Their demonstrations were completely civil, nothing dangerous, nothing outrageous, just a group of LGBT folks and their supporters marching quietly with their picket signs.

For the time, it was radical in and of itself to march for support of LGBT people, what those people were doing was risky on its own, they believed if they kept it clean and conservative they would have a better chance of making their point. While admirable, they were ultimately ignored by many in the political establishment. It wasn’t until the streets burned in NYC on that hot night in June of ‘69 that people started to take us seriously.

Looking beyond history and even beyond what’s been happening in my home state of Indiana, the corporate activism of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) is a major part of the national movement. One of our other national fights right now, outside of marriage equality, is the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1994. In 2007, Congressman Barney Frank introduced a version of ENDA known as HR 3685. Many LGBT groups pulled their support from the legislation due to its absence of protections for transgender folks. The HRC didn’t, they continued their support of the legislation. They considered the opportunity too great to pass up and if it meant throwing our transgender siblings under the bus, so be it.

So why did they throw our transgender siblings under the bus? I believe it was basically for mass appeal, to reach the greatest number of potential donors and supporters. We are at a point where gay and lesbian folks can be presented in political advertising as all-American couples, no different than your neighbors next door. Our transgender siblings are not in so great a position, they still strike fear into the hearts of Main Street USA (for whatever reason), and thus they are politically expendable.

It’s a sad thing to see as we march closer to the mountaintop of equality and liberation. The voices on the streets, the vanguard of our revolution, are being told to quiet down, don’t upset the neighbors, don’t make the donors anxious. The HRC are always quick to claim the victory when we win, always quick to pat each other on the back and send out another donor email asking for money to continue the fight.

Who’s gonna ultimately win this war, brothers and sisters? Who gets the party at the end? Is it gonna be the suit and tie folks who use us as bartering chips with donors and legislators? Or is it gonna be those of us who do more than just cut a check, those of us who pick up the signs and banners and march in the streets when the drums roll?

It’s up to you, whose faces will we ultimately remember?

The Stonewall Riots, Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, ACT UP, Queer Nation, landmarks in our history, tales of bravery by countless brothers and sisters armed with nothing but their identities and a sense of right and justice; nothing pretty, nothing fancy, pure unadulterated street action, a bold and desperate move to proclaim our rights and humanity.

Or, some company that puts up a meaningless “workplace equality policy” that shines on paper and soon has high-rollers of the HRC pop the cork on a bottle of champagne and raise a toast to the CEOs and bosses. The high-rollers who brown-nosed a few folks in local government, maybe even scored a congressman or two (er, not in the sex scandal way), and soon, they had those elected officials in their back pocket and the lavender vote locked down for that candidate.

The latter should not be the faces of our legacy. The face of our legacy should be the ones that had to get sweaty and angry and unkempt. Faces like yours and mine.

Revolution for Sale: Pride, Community, and Advertising

forsalepride

By the time I was twenty-five in the summer of 2012, I was certainly a certified radical queer; I had been a veteran of many picket lines both in my hometown of Indianapolis and in Terre Haute where I went to school, I had seen my name splashed across local newspaper headlines and even racked up a few appearances on the evening news for my activism. Pride was something I believed in heart and soul, a high-octane rock n roll sort of pride, the kind of pride that drives a person to say “Enough!” and take to the streets. But despite all my experiences up to that point, I had never made it out to a Pride Festival.

In June of that year, I finally made the pilgrimage to the Pride Festivities in Indianapolis. I hadn’t been able to do it before due to my job as a camp counselor, being at camp during June and all. But that job was over after nine years, so I could finally go. I put on my black beret with all my street buttons and ribbons on it, wrapped my Colors around me and headed downtown.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, I think I was looking for an oasis, a home in a sense if you can dig that. I figured I’d run into other like-minded young radicals and maybe even score a new gig or two. I had been out of street activism for several months and was looking for some action.

Well sadly, I didn’t see any of that. Instead I saw tents and booths hawking cheap merchandise emblazoned with rainbow colors. The closest thing to any activism I saw was the booth of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign). I saw cut lean pretty boys strutting around shirtless, teasing the crowds in hopes of scoring at least a free drink. I saw corporate feces being smeared with our rainbow colors, like a bank or a beer brewery was really gonna be on our side just because they decided to hoist our Colors for the day.

This was Pride, this was our celebration of the Stonewall Riots, our time to embrace each other and keep up the fight. Instead it seemed we had allowed our forefathers (and mothers) vision to be turned into a den of corporate thieves and there was no Christ to drive them away from our temple.

It was a revelatory experience for me, no doubt. But maybe not in the way I had planned. I went in expecting to find like-minded activists; instead I left the events feeling isolated, too heavy and crazy for even my own community. Later that night I went to Rocky Horror and found a haven of radical queers, activists, and just plain weirdos.

This isn’t just a question of advertisers taking over my hometown’s Pride festivities; this is a national campaign of injecting corporate smack into our celebrations.

Consider Oreos campaign in 2012, in “honor” of Pride month; the famous cookie posted a picture to their Facebook page consisting of a big Oreo with six layers of cream, each a different color, forming the famous Rainbow Flag. The text simply read “June 25 Pride”. A Kraft foods spokesperson was quoted in the Huffington Post in regards to the ad campaign saying “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness.”

Or Burger King, in 2014, the fast food chain unveiled a special Whopper available only at their San Francisco locations. It was wrapped in Pride colored wax paper. Customers were initially baffled, wondering what the Pride Whopper had on it. Turns out it was just a regular Whopper, a reflection of the company’s then current marketing campaign “Be Your Way”. A senior vice president of marketing told TIME magazine “We felt that [the Proud Whopper] could bring to life a message of equality, self-expression, authenticity and just being who you are.”

While the Pride Whopper was released only during Pride Week and only in San Francisco, images of the burger’s wrapper quickly spread to social media, attracting many reposts and calls of support, claiming that the burger chain was on our side.

Of course, both companies marketing campaigns also attracted a small amount of protest, with many taking offense and claiming that both companies had “abandoned moral values”. Needless to say, there were also calls for boycotts which promptly went nowhere and were ignored. I’m still not sure what moral values these people had attached to their burgers and cookies, but apparently those values had been violated.

These ad campaigns and the prevalence of big corporate advertising in our Pride Festivities mark a strange watershed in our movement. Companies don’t generally like to gamble with their advertising and pissing off a large potential customer base definitely constitutes a gamble. Think about it, would Burger King or Oreo have run such a campaign say ten years ago when the culture wars were reaching their zenith? I doubt it, back in 2004 we were still a viable threat and the conservatives were exploiting people’s fear of us for all the votes they could get (the conservatives were ultimately successful in that campaign, Bush got another term and many states outlawed marriage equality in their state constitutions).

We have struggled for over forty years to be accepted into mainstream America and being a target audience for major corporations counts as a form of acceptance, what’s more American than consumerism? But is this the sort of acceptance we want? Have we wadded through rivers of spilled blood and hail storms of nightsticks and fists just to become corporate mascots of consumerism?

That’s a question we have to ask ourselves at this crossroads and for me personally, it’s not the sort of acceptance I want. I’m not fighting like hell just so that in five or ten years I can see stores offering big sales on Harvey Milk Day. In a capitalist society, one of the tools at the disposal of any activist is the power of the dollar and I say we use that power. We use that power to tell these big corporations to back off. We use that power to tell them that if they really support us then they will cease splattering their corporate vomitus all over our parties and they will cease zeroing in on us merely to line their pockets with our dollars.

Pride Festivals were born out of a sense of community, a chance for us to proclaim to the world that we are here, we are mighty, and we ain’t going anywhere. Corporate advertising has no place in our parades, we are a family, a network forged in the struggle for liberty and justice, and we don’t need our parties to have banners proclaiming “Welcome to Pride! Sponsored by the Big Corporation”.