This Primary Day, Democrats Can Control Who Runs the New York State Senate. The Future of Progressive Social Causes is at Stake

Posted in Editorials on August 13th, 2014
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September 9th is Primary Day in New York State. While primaries have lower turnouts and generally receive less media scrutiny, they are often very significant races that determine the policy direction a party takes. In some cases, as in the June Congressional primary between Rep. Charles Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, it determined the person who will ultimately serve in the next Congress.

Next month’s primary is an important one for Democrats. Conventional wisdom holds Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, Eric Schneiderman and Tom DiNapoli will all be serving in Albany next year. What’s less certain is who will control the State Senate.

Some are surprised to learn that the Senate is currently in Republican hands when one considers the lopsided advantage that Democrats hold in party registration in our state. As of this past April, there were 5,873,844 Democrats and 2,785,773 Republicans. Yet Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, controls the Senate, in part due to a power-sharing agreement made with Jeff Klein, a senator from the Bronx who defected from the Democratic caucus to form the “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC). Joining Klein to form the IDC were Malcolm Smith of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida, and David Carlucci of Rockland. Sen. Smith was forced to leave the IDC after he tried to bribe his way into the New York City Mayor’s office.

Smith was soon replaced by Sen. Tony Avella, who joined the IDC earlier this year. While Avella acted like he was joining the IDC for benevolent reasons alone, his staff got raises as a result, Avella himself became Chair of the Social Services Committee, and his campaign was given $50,000 by other senators for his good will.

Albany works different than real life, it seems.

On February 26th, Avella told the New York Daily News:

“Under Sen. Klein’s leadership, the [Independent Democratic Conference] has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families.”

Odd that he didn’t feel that way before the raises, chairmanship, and 50 grand. Details…details.

This statement, though, makes September 9th so important for Democrats in New York.

Leaving the Democratic Caucus, led effectively by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, in order to best promote a “clear, progressive agenda” is like Michael Bloomberg saying he could most effectively support gun control legislation by writing a check to the NRA. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe if the NRA offered Bloomberg’s staff raises and made him chair of a policy committee he’d reconsider. That would be benevolent, right?

No greater proof is needed to rebut the claim that the IDC and its alliance with the Republicans is promoting a “clear, progressive agenda” than three bills which never saw the light of day thanks to the “power-sharing agreement”: the entire Women’s Equality Act, GENDA and a ban on conversion therapy.

The Women’s Equality Act, all-encompassing legislation that would have ensured equal pay, cracked down on human trafficking, and safeguarded reproductive health was apparently deemed “extreme.” As was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The third bill, to ban conversation therapy, would have made it illegal to try to “cure” children of homosexuality, a “treatment” that has increased depression and suicide rates. In fact, Gov. Chris Christie helped ban it in New Jersey and is quoted saying he

believe[s] that on the issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards…I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.

All of these bills should have passed, reflecting the substantial registration advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in New York. But they weren’t even given a vote on the floor. The reason they were not given a vote is clear: because Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans would not allow a vote.

Why do Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans have this say? Because they were given it by members of the IDC who were given plum committee posts and financial benefits in exchange for their allegiance.

As a result, any chance of progressive social policies passing in New York came to a halt.

You see, according to the “power-sharing” agreement, both “co-leaders” Skelos and Klein need to approve bills that go to the floor.

Democracy has a different definition in Albany.

What many people don’t realize is that the Senate Republicans have a second master: the New York State Conservative Party. Many of their members could not win without the backing of the Conservative Party, and rely on it for votes, GOTV and fundraising. The Conservative Party has been openly hostile to women, to minorities and to the LGBT community, and doesn’t hesitate to punish those who run opposed to its dogma. The party is closely aligned with the Catholic Church, including its belief on the role of women in society, the rights of said women, and its narrow interpretation of the Bible to meet its own agenda – regardless of who is harmed.

This can be remedied on September 9th, though. Many members of the IDC face primaries. Two races in particular can have a significant impact on the future of the IDC and the State Senate. In Queens, Tony Avella is being challenged by John Liu. In the Bronx, Jeff Klein is facing Oliver Koppell.

If the Democrats can regain control of even one of these seats, it will send a clear message that Democratic voters didn’t go out and vote on Election Day 2012 so that Dean Skelos could be left in power.

If you want the chance for a true progressive agenda on social issues, you need to express yourself on Primary Day.

The alternative is a State Senate that is to the right of Chris Christie.

FAMILY VALUES FOX: Spitters are Quitters!

Posted in Editorials on May 12th, 2014
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Over the weekend, the right wing social media circuit became very upset about not only Michael Sam’s drafting into the NFL. He then had the audacity to kiss his white – male – boyfriend.
The horror.

Apparently this was an affront to “family values”. To “manliness”. To football. To black people. Or white people. Or maybe both.

Don’t ask me to understand the minds of the right wing trolls.

I just have to say that I’m so glad that Fox set us straight and showed us what they mean by “family values”. It can all be so confusing!

So you all know, giving good head – often – is paramount to family values in America – at least according to Fox.

Don’t believe me? Well then check out this column on its sports website.

So you all know: in order to have real family values – if, and only if, you are a woman – you must give your man a blowjob at least once a week, step up your sex game, stop using your kids an excuse, and for the sake of Jesus – SWALLOW. I mean, that’s why he suffered and died, right? I’m sure I heard Rick Santorum say that spitters are quitters!

If only Michael Sam had a woman going down on him instead and digesting his semen instead of kissing his boyfriend who had cake on his face, then he would be truly worthy of the NFL.

Of course, after only after first meeting the qualifications of dogfighting, murder-suicide, and rape – essential to any true family values football player.

God Bless America.

“That’s some training to give to girls.” The criminalization of female self defense

Posted in Editorials on May 9th, 2014
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If you asked people to sum up Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, you’d get responses like “It’s about a Jewish guy who is neurotic about sex.” But people tend to look over the fact that the book ends with (Spoilers!) a “funny rape scene.” Portnoy is smitten with an Israeli soldier who is not interested in him, so he tries to force himself on her.

And when she tried to leave I blocked the door. I pleaded with her not go out and lie down on a clammy beach somewhere, when there was this big comfortable Hilton bed for the two of us to share. I’m not trying to turn you into a bourgeois, Naomi. If the bed is too luxurious, we can do it on the floor.

Sexual intercourse? she replied. With you?

Yes! With me! Fresh from my inherently unjust system! Me, the accomplice! Yes! Imperfect Portnoy!

Mr. Portnoy, excuse me, but between your silly jokes, if that is even what they are-

Here a little struggle took place as I rushed her at the side of the bed. I reached for a breast, and with a sharp upward snap of the skull, she butted me on the underside of the jaw.

Where the hell did you learn that, I cried out, in the Army?

Yes.

I collapsed into my chair. That’s some training to give to girls.

That’s some training to give to girls. I mean, who in their right mind would ever teach a girl to fight back? How dare they? The military should put the interests of men’s desire to assault women unharmed ahead of national security. Obvs.

But Portnoy’s Complaint is, or at least is supposed to be, satire. No one really thinks that a woman who knows how to physically defend herself is a bad thing, right?

In May of 2012, I wrote about the NYPD’s repulsive crowd control tactic of grabbing women protesters by their breasts. The tactic was thought to both humiliate women, and enrage men, provoking them to violence and creating more arrestable offenses. One of those women, Cecily McMillan now faces up to seven years in prison for elbowing a police officer in the face after her grabbed her by the breast from behind. She had no way of knowing he was a police officer in the moment, and caused no permanent harm to the officer.

This week, I have heard the story of a transgender teenage girl who is in prison because the state of Connecticut cannot find a home for her. Jane Doe has a history of being sexually abused by people who were supposed to care for her. She was removed from a state institution after striking a guard who grabbed her from behind. The guard claims to have only wanted a bear hug, but the girl said she had no way of knowing it was not a sexual assault.

That’s some training to give to girls, indeed.

Religion’s Optical Illustion

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on July 18th, 2013
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Vernal Falls, Yosemite California Image credit: Author

A friend forwarded to me this heartbreaking article about a young man who died of a drug overdose after “ex-gay” “reparative therapy” failed to make him straight.

This sentence jumped out at me:

“And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. “

And it made me angry. Their ignorance and stubbornness and refusal to question their faith until it was too late resulted in the death of their son, although I’m sure that they know that.

I started thinking about what I have touched on before, that putting distance between myself and the church, only makes me angrier about the injustices and evils carried on in its name. And I think I finally understand why. I thought that distance in time, and in emotion and in physical space would calm me, and soothe my conscience. But the farther away that I get, the more damage I see to innocent people.

I imagine myself in a rowboat, pushing off from a small oceanfront cabin, built into the bottom of a hill. And as I row, I see that the hill is in fact a mountain. And no matter how far I row, I can’t see all of it at once. My distance is only serving to emphasize how big it really is. And I can only conceive of the mountain as it is today. I cannot truly imagine the span of it’s history across centuries. I row harder and harder, yet still it grows and grows. If I had a camera, I would not be able to zoom out far enough to capture it with any panoramic lens.

I do not know if it is possible to get so far away that it will appear to shrink.

When Bill Donahue Is Right

Posted in Editorials on May 20th, 2013
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Nicholas Coppola married his husband in October 2012. He is also Catholic and was active in his parish as a lector, a Eucharistic minister who visited ill and housebound Catholics, a member of the consolation ministry, a member of the St. Vincent DePaul society, and a religious educator.

In January, the pastor at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside stripped Coppola of his jobs as a religious education teacher, lector and visitation minister. A top aide to Murphy had conveyed concerns to the parish after the bishop received an anonymous letter pointing out that Coppola wed his partner under New York’s new gay marriage law.

In response, 18,500 people signed a petition on the website of “Faithful America” a progressive Christian organization – asking for Coppola to be reinstated. How did the Diocese of Rockville Centre respond?

The diocese rejected his reinstatement request, saying Coppola was fired because “by marrying under New York State’s same-sex marriage law, he took a public position against church teachings.”

“The Catholic Church recognizes that all persons share equally in the dignity of being human and are entitled to have that human dignity protected,” Diocese spokeman Sean Nolan said in a statement last week. “This does not, however, justify the creation of a new definition for marriage, a term whose traditional meaning is of critical importance to the furtherance of fundamental societal interests.”

Bill Donahue from the Catholic league called the 18,500 people who are loving their neighbor, “bullies.”

The American people respect the autonomy of religious institutions to craft their own rules and regulations, and they do not look kindly on bullying.

Charming.

Here’s the problem. Bill Donahue is wrong that the people who signed the Faithful America petition are bullies. They’re not. They are misguided people who for some reason think that the Catholic Church is a democracy or cares about public opinion. And that’s where I am inclined to agree with him.

The internal affairs of the Catholic Church are not the business of the public, and this includes outside advocacy groups as well as government agencies. Among the internal issues of the Church are employment decisions. Just as it is the right of a yeshiva to insist that its employees abide by Judaic strictures, it is the right of a Catholic school to insist that its employees respect Catholic teachings. Regrettably, GLAAD, Dignity and Faithful America show nothing but contempt for this verity.

I would disagree that Coppola is an “employee.” He’s not, he’s a volunteer. I also have a different view on the “contempt” that GLAAD and Fathful America are acting upon. They are not acting out of malice. I would call it righteous anger. I think that they are right to support Coppola, and to be outraged on his behalf. He did a lot of work for many years for his parish and he was cast aside for no other reason than bigotry based on a deeply flawed religion. But if they think that the Catholic Church can ever, or will ever be changed, they are sorrily mistaken.

The Toolbox of Justice

Posted in Editorials on January 29th, 2013
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This post is modified from a talk I gave at my UU Congregation. I have been thinking about this idea for a long time, but it was most recently influenced by “Dear Liberal Allies” by Trung Nyugen.

What I mean when I talk about the toolbox of justice is that social justice movements, like civil rights and anti-racism, feminism and the women’s movement, the GLBT rights movement, the movement for the rights of the poor and disabled are both political and social movements to create change in people’s every day lives, but also tools to understand how we interact with each other and how society works on a personal and on an institutional level.

For example, in 2010, an anthology was published called “Click: When we knew we were feminists” edited by Courtney Martin and J Courtney Sullivan. The book is an anthology of the “click moments” that women of all ages and backgrounds have had that made them realize they were feminists. These moments weren’t always about sweeping political or social change, like fair pay, but rather when they realized that their experiences made more sense through a feminist lens than without it. In my own toolbox of justice, feminism is like a pair of glasses through which so much becomes clear. I remember watching the winter Olympics with a group of friends and one woman asked, “Why are the women’s costumes so much skimpier than the mens?” “Because women’s bodies are decorations!” I blurted out. I could only see that through my feminist glasses.

Men can wear the feminist glasses too. In 2008, my brother remarked, during Hillary Clinton’s concession speech to Barack Obama, “It must be very strange for you. None of the presidents have been women. Does that make you feel weird, or excluded?”

There are all kinds of glasses and goggles and prisms and magnifying glasses in the Toolbox of Justice. And as Trung Nyugen reminds us, they work differently depending on whether or not we are using them to understand our own oppression or our own privilege.

There are hearing aids and decoder rings and Rosetta Stone like primers inside the toolbox of justice as well. These help us understand the sometimes hidden or invisible ways others are excluded, oppressed or discriminated against.

After sparring for years with her atheist son-in-law, my mother walked away from a Memorial Day commemoration wondering aloud why the Catholic priest giving the invocation spoke so specifically about his beliefs Jesus and the trinity. “When you talk in public like that, the prayer is for everyone,” she said. “Who knows if anyone in the audience is Jewish or atheist? “

When I was knocking doors for a political campaign I was volunteering for, I went out one day with an acquaintance from my local Democratic Club – a tall, African American man. He asked me, “Would you please go back to those two houses for me?” I knew he was asking because he had the feeling that the people who lived there might open the door for a white woman, even though they hadn’t for a black man.

The toolbox allows us to hear the bigotry sometimes referred to as “racist dog whistles” like when politicians immediately decide that their top priority is immigration once they know their opponent will be Latino, or to understand why well meaning organizers sometimes ask my brother or my father or I how they can “get all the Hispanics to help them.”

The toolbox helps us to understand seemingly nonsensical news stories – like why the University of Notre Dame has spent more resources talking about their reaction to Manti Teo’s imaginary girlfriend than the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg, a 19 year old student who alleged that she was raped by a member of the Notre Dame Football Team.

The toolbox of justice is what connected Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall in President Obama’s inauguration speech.

Sometimes you find tools you didn’t know were there. A friend of mine from graduate school has Cerebral Palsy and she has done a lot of research on accessibility for people with disabilities in public parks or historical sites. I nodded along with moderate interest until last summer. My mother was suffering from tendonitis in her foot after a knee replacement surgery and I was spending Fourth of July weekend pushing her wheelchair around Atlantic City. It will be no problem at all! I thought. Lots of older people vacation there who have trouble with mobility, and after all the Americans with Disabilities Act was over 20 years ago! For the most part I was right. But when we were trying to get into a theater to see a show we had bought tickets for that was starting in 5 minutes, and the elevator wasn’t working, and the phone number on the elevator just lead to a busy signal, I felt totally helpless and angry, and I wasn’t even the person in the wheelchair. Luckily a security guard came to help us – there was another elevator just a little of the way down the hall. We thanked him profusely and I asked him to add a sign to the elevator explaining how people could access the theater. I enjoyed the show, but when I reflect on that experience I find myself thinking about all of the people for whom this type of frustration is a daily occurrence. We might see a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of a building and think everything is okay. But if we think that one ramp is enough – we are not using all of our tools.

The toolbox of Justice is a way that we can live our principles.

The inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Privilege is, in part, not having to notice the attacks on the dignity or the injustices done of others who are not like us. But if the toolbox allows us to recognize them, then we can take steps to support our brothers and sisters in fighting them

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

It’s important to hear the lived experiences of people who are different than we are. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why someone feels excluded or hurt but we must make an effort not to be defensive or to make assumptions – we do this by listening with open hearts.

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The toolbox of Justice allows us to see the truth of others lives.

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

The toolbox of justice is one of the ways in which we can build that world.

The Angry Feminist, “TERFs,” Tone Arguments, and Punching Down

Posted in Editorials on January 8th, 2013
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Last week, I had a comment of mine deleted from /r/feminisms by a moderator. Someone had posted a link to several blog posts by Natalie Reed of Freethought blogs about transfeminism. Several commenters showed up who appeared to be “TERFS” (Trans* Exclusionary Radical Feminists). They suggested the ridiculous and bigoted notion that trans* women are trying to usurp feminism.

The discussion also touched on the following tweets by Julia Serano:

Rather than seeing Serano as calling for inclusion, they saw her words as an attack on feminism itself. It strikes me as sadly ironic that they cannot see their vitriol toward trans* women as being comparable to the racism and homophobia of feminisms past.

In response to a comment that:

feminism at its core is about the oppression of women as a sexual class by men.

I responded:

That’s generally accepted to be the definition of radical feminism.

Colloquially, feminism is a movement for the equality of people regardless of sex or gender.

Reproductive justice is a concept that arises out of feminism, but it encompasses more than just access to abortion, and people other than cis women. It overlaps with movements for racial justice, workers rights and yes, trans* issues.

reproductive justice is a concept that links reproductive rights with social justice. The reproductive justice movement arose in the late 1980s as an attempt by these organizations to expand the rhetoric of reproductive rights that focused primarily on choice within the abortion debate and was seen to restrict the dialogue to those groups of women they felt could make such a choice in the first place. In addition to advocating as do traditional reproductive rights platforms for the access of women to birth control, reproductive justice provides a framework that focuses additional attention on the social, political, and economic inequalities among different communities that contribute to infringements of reproductive justice.

a social justice movement rooted in the belief that individuals and communities should have the resources and power to make sustainable and liberatory decisions about their bodies, genders, sexualities, and lives.

So go be an angry TERF and fade into obscurity. Or join the 21st century, and realize that while cis women are oppressed because some people think of us as incubators – that’s not the only way women are oppressed and it shouldn’t always be the center of feminist discussion at all times and places for ever and ever until the heat death of the universe.

She called me “disingenuous.” And then my comment was deleted. Because:

there is never a need to invoke the “angry feminist” derailment, and it’s extremely disappointing to see a self-avowed feminist use it.

I replied that I was extremely disappointed to see /r/feminisms so friendly with trans* exclusionary radicals.

Yellowmix, the moderator, said I was being “antifeminist.”

I contacted her in private message and offered to revise my comment to get rid of the part where I said the that other commenter was “angry” if she really cared that much about not having tone arguments. She replied that I would also have to remove the terms “TERF,” “fade into obscurity,” and “join the 21st century” because they were “marginalizing.”

In saying that the other commenter was an “angry TERF,” was I making a tone argument? I don’t think I was. My favorite definition of what a tone argument is comes from The Unapologetic Mexican but there are other good ones too. A tone argument is when you stick your fingers in your ears and saying “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU WHEN YOU ARE SO MAD. MAYBE IF YOU WERE NICE TO ME I’D GIVE YOU WHAT YOU WANT” to a person who is righteously angry about their own oppression. Generally, there’s also a power differential, and the person making the tone argument is privileged as to not experience the harms the less privileged person is speaking out about. That was not the case here. I was saying that if you want to be exclusionary, you will be passed by. Feminism is a big tent, and must be so. She could still keep her righteous anger at the patriarchy, at anti-choicers, at people or institutions standing between her and her rights. The problem is her misidentification of trans* women in general and Julia Serano specifically as being somehow responsible for her oppression as a woman. Serano said she felt alienated by the current discourse. That is in no way a threat to anyone’s rights.

There is also the matter of how to interpret people who are punching down instead of punching up. That is, whether or not the person you are attacking as more or less privilege than you do. It would be unreasonable for someone to say that referring a group of racists as “Angry White Men” is making a tone argument. When I made the comments I did, I wasn’t making a sexist claim that anger isn’t ever appropriate for women or denying that there are legitimate reasons for feminists to be angry. I was making an argument that her energies would be better spent elsewhere, and that her position that trans* women are a threat to feminism is blatantly false, complicit in the greater harms of transphobia, and has no place in the future of the movement.

Finally, I want to emphasize that the reason I wrote this post was because I want to draw attention to questionable moderating policies on /r/feminisms, and to explain the comments I made that were deleted. I’m thinking a lot about what Natalie Reed wrote about the difference between call-out culture and genuine discourse:

When someone says something transphobic or cissexist, that presents an opportunity for discussing that with the person, pointing out how/why what they said was messed up, and hopefully, slowly, gradually, helping steer that person (and those within earshot, and communities and cultures as a whole) towards greater trans awareness and sensitivity.
….
Rather than treating instances of transphobia and cissexism in your communities as an opportunity to show off what an ally you are, and exercise your internet smackdown skills, and hurt someone who “deserves” it, treat it as an opportunity to bring genuine trans discussion into the space, and strategically work towards improvement.

I think I fell short of this standard. I didn’t resort to name calling or slurs, and I wasn’t trying to show off. But I probably could have been more patient.

Newsbusters Targets Children

Posted in Editorials on June 10th, 2012
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Recently, Ellen hosted Rainer and Atticus – two charming red-headed children who know a lot about the Presidents of the United States. (Disclosure: In real life, I am acquainted with Rainer, Atticus, and their parents.) Apparently their age and their cuteness do not shield them or their mother from attack by the right wing media.

During the clip, Ellen asked Rainer what was happening this year. He said he thought that Barack Obama should win reelection because,

“Barack Obama said that men and men can marry each other and woman and woman can marry each other and I think that’s right.”

You can watch the whole thing here:

Newsbusters, a conservative website touting itself as, “the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias” published a post in response to the clip. I don’t see why this was necessary. Young Rainer was simply stating his opinion; “I think that’s right” – even at the age of six he knows not to phrase an opinion as a fact.

What’s more disturbing is the way the post attacked the boys,

Rainer and Atticus are liberally raised by their literary parents Matt Pasca and Terri Muuss. (The little fact they use their mother’s surname signals the feminism.) Muuss is a survivor of incest and travels with her own stage show called “Anatomy of a Doll.”

Let’s count the layers of this attack:

1. There is something wrong with having parents who teach children their own, liberal values.
2. There is something suspect about a woman keeping her name when she gets married, or naming her children after herself instead of her husband.
3. There is something wrong with being a feminist.
4. If a woman is open about being an incest survivor, she is an unfit parent.

I contacted Tim Graham, the author of the post on Twitter, wondering how someone mean-spirited enough to write a shallow hit-piece on small children would respond.

Elizabeth: “Nyah-nyah your mommy’s a feminist!” You dont have to respond to children as if you were one yourself.

Tim: I’m merely stating that Ellen put on cute little kids who just happened to tout Obama and gay marriage. My, what an accident.

Elizabeth: I doubt families opposing Obama or same sex marriage are beating down the door to have their children on Ellen.

Then it got weird.

Tim: As if they had the chance?

As if they had the chance? What family who opposes same sex marriage would want their children to appear on television with a lesbian? Conservatives frequently attack any positive portrayal of GLBT people in the media. Why would they want to expose their children to people they think are depraved and evil? Is there some kind of conservative group I haven’t heard of – the Million Moms Who Want Their Kids On Ellen?

Elizabeth: All people teach their children values, be they liberal or conservative.

Tim: Yes, I acknowledge my kids would have been cute little Catholics at that age. I haven’t really drummed my politics at them.

This is ignorant at best, but I think it’s plain intellectual dishonesty. Catholicism is a religion first and foremost, but the teachings of Christ, especially as explained by the Catholic Church are deeply political – even at the level a child could understand them. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a conservative tell a story about how they explained to children why they shouldn’t give money to homeless people. I was a small Catholic when I was Rainer’s age, and I wanted to help poor people – because of what my family, my Sunday School teacher and the priests at church had told me about Jesus!

Chatting with Tim on Twitter was illuminating in that it revealed two additional assumptions – firstly that Ellen was somehow “biased” in choosing Rainer and Atticus to appear on her show. Ellen’s website asks anyone to submit a show idea or to make their case as to why they should be a guest. But Ellen is in no way obligated to include homophobes on her show. The idea that this is necessary for “balance” is ridiculous and hurtful.

Secondly, Tim draws a distinction between values and politics. A family’s religion might be a part of their values, but somehow their politics cannot be. Politics and policy are the way we transform our values into reality – be they power, liberty, charity, lower taxes, freedom of speech, or anything else.

As the public increasingly supports same sex marriage, conservatives have the choice to accept this, or to be left behind. Their exaggerated reaction to a child who believes differently than they do reveals the weakness of their argument.

Unpacking Catholic Outrage Over Barbara Johnson

Posted in Editorials on March 7th, 2012
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Last week, a story broke about a Catholic woman in Maryland who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because she is a lesbian.

I read comments about this on social, media and saw many outraged Catholics criticizing the priest in question. While I think it shows how far the LGBT movement has come that this is a huge news story and so many people are outraged on Barbara Johnson’s behalf, it frustrates me. I think it’s a good sign that so many people are feeling compassion for this woman – even religious straight people. But this whole controversy is at the heart of why I left the church, so it touched a nerve for me.

In 2004, the Archbishop of St. Louis publicly stated that John Kerry could not receive communion in his diocese because he is pro-choice. This was the last straw for me. I knew that it would only be a matter of time between denying communion to pro-choice public figures and all pro-choice parishioners. Not every bishop denied communion to Kerry, but Archbishop Burke was not reprimanded in any way – his behavior was fine with the hierarchy, and there would be nothing to prevent similar actions from taking place in the future. I felt sick – I was no longer welcome in my own church. And a few years later, Pope Benedict was elected, the man who wrote memos in favor of pro-choice politicians being denied communion. This was evidence that people like Benedict and Burke showed the true direction of the church, not more moderate leaders who wanted to put as many people in the pews as possible, regardless of their disagreement with church doctrine.

The situation with Barbara Johnson is sad on many levels. It’s sad that her mother died. And it’s sad that a priest, who was supposed to comfort her rejected her in such a public way. Receiving communion is a big deal for Catholics. To be told that you may not do so can feel like a devastating rejection. This is why so many Catholics are outraged. It’s not just the denial of communion, which people seemed ambivalent about in John Kerry’s case. It’s that the rejection happened on a day when Johnson was mourning her mother’s death. This outrage comes from the compassion people are feeling for any person who is suffering because a loved one had died. If this had been on any other Sunday, or if Johnson had gone to the press because her priest had refused to marry her and her partner, this story would not have made such a splash. To me, this signifies that the outrage is not over denial of communion or the churches position on homosexuality, it’s that the priest publicly humiliated a woman who was mourning the death of her mother.

There are some Catholics taking the position that “a no-sin rule would bar all from Communion” but this misses the point. Most of the people who make the news for being barred from communion do so because they disagree with the church’s position on divorce, choice, or gay rights – that is their positions on sexuality. No one is barred for being a crooked businessperson, for supporting the Iraq war or the Death penalty – the first of which is a violation of the Ten Commandments, and the latter two the church could not be more clearly against. This is entirely political and it’s entirely the politics of sex and patriarchy. Being outraged that the church has turned the Eucharist – the rite most scared and holy to Catholics into a political weapon is the reason why I left the church. The hypocrisy of proclaiming it to be essential to spirituality and a relationship with God, and then denying it to people because of their personal sexual choices or opinions is the utmost hypocrisy.

The Archdioceses of Washington has issued a weak apology, but it misses the point. I find myself in solid agreement with this Catholic blogger who states that the preist was “thrown under the bus for following Canon Law.” I don’t think that homosexuality is a sin, of course. But I do think the this Father Marcel Guarnizo was in fact, simply following the rules of the church. And that is the source of my frustration with the Catholic response to this story. These people who attend Mass, give money and time to the church find themselves outraged that the church is following it’s own rules. This is nonsensical. If you are outraged, why are you still Catholic?


There is no way for any average parishioner or even priest to change the course of the Catholic Church.
You can stay, seething in outrage, you can complain – as if you were complaining to a brick wall, or you can leave, and free your conscience from the burden of supporting an institution that treats people so cruelly. *
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*Exit, Voice and Loyalty

Archie Comics CEO Imagines A World Without Bigotry

Posted in Editorials on March 1st, 2012
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You might have heard that the “One Million Moms” have proposed a boycott of Toys ‘R’ Us because they are carrying the issue of Life With Archie that depicts the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character, to another man.

I’ve read this issue – being a fan of Archie Comics since I was a kid, and all sexuality is written out of the gay characters. Kevin loves his husband, that is clear – but they do not even kiss, at their own wedding. This is in contrast to the straight characters who are frequently depicted hugging and kissing. I understand why Archie Comics left out even a chaste smooch, as it still shows their wariness about the storyline.

However, any doubts I had to the commitment they have made were gone when I read this statement:

“As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone,” he wrote. “It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday. We’re sorry the American Family Association/OneMillionMoms.com feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people.”

I love this because he’s both standing up for what is right, and pointing out the ridiculousness of getting so upset about a cartoon. It delights me to know that he’s holding it over their head that they can’t hurt Kevin Keller – because he’s a fictional character and that they would rather tell his story than ever depict people as hateful as the American Family Association. The AFA are the people who do not belong in idyllic Riverdale, not Kevin and his husband. This is a beautiful message to send out to everyone, especially any young LGBT fans of Archie – You matter, and we see you as an important part of our community.