Saturday, December 20, 2008

No Unalloyed Joy

For many queer people and our allies, November 4th was not a day of celebration. For brief moments, sure, when the presidential race was called for Obama and as he gave his victory speech. In the latter, there was an entire 20-minute period when I was able to focus almost exclusively on that galvanizing moment in our country's history and witness a new page turning in American politics.

The glow faded back into anxiety within 30 seconds. The results of Prop 8 - by far harder to predict - were yet to come.

When the first vote tallies did come in, the news was bleak. The gap would narrow slightly before exhaustion drove us home (we'd been up since 5:00 that morning working on No on 8 visibility), but I felt isolated from the crowds of revellers we passed cheering in the streets.

As the passage of Prop 8 became official, I couldn't access much excitement about Obama's election. Relief I had big-time - McCain would've been disastrous - but sadness and grief were my constant companions. Having married my sweetie for yet a third time just weeks earlier, I took Prop 8 very, very personally. Not only had its passage snatched away my rights, but I also felt robbed of the joy that was rightfully mine on the occasion of Obama's historic election.

That's a big part of why Rick Warren's presence at the inauguration is so painful - once again, I can't simply celebrate Obama's victory. But this time, the joy thief is Obama himself.

I never expected our new President to be perfect, nor did I have any illusions about him being more progressive than he is. I just thought...for a few brief months...that this time, LGBT people wouldn't have to live with our dignity and hope and humanity in a lockbox for safekeeping.

You've wounded us deeply, Mr. Obama. I'm not sure you even understand how much. You've taken our sacred trust and shoved it down the back of our throats. You've sucker-punched us in our souls.

I was ready to heed your calls for sacrifice, and step up my public service even more, and give you enormous leeway because the mess left by your predecessor is unfathomably deep and wide.

Instead, I now feel I've pretty much done my part sacrificing on behalf of my country. I live openly as a bisexual woman with my openly bisexual wife - our very lives are a public service to this country, even before you get to all our other do-gooder work. And clearly, anti-LGBT bias is the one form of discrimination that's still acceptable (no proud anti-Semite or racist would ever have gotten the call Warren did), so we have our work cut out for us as it is.

Mr. Obama, the LGBT community was poised to stand by you as one of your staunchest allies. I understand all your reasons for inviting Mr. Warren (reaching across divides, you're everyone's President, etc.), but you could have expressed those same ideals with a far less divisive, hate-filled man. How does anyone win by you standing up and saying, "Even virulent homophobes have a place of respect in this country"?

Let me be clear: this isn't okay. A batterer may feel genuine love for his wife, but it's unhealthy for her to stick around after the first smack. The only way she'll return (assuming her self-respect was intact enough not to believe the abuse was acceptable) is if he does some serious soul-searching, gets help, demonstrates genuine remorse - and never, ever, ever treats her that way again.

Consider yourself being held accountable, Mr. Obama.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Modest Suggestion

I really like Heather Gold's take on how to deal with Rick Warren (of Yes on Prop 8 infamy) presenting the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Her basic thesis is that while it sucks that queer folks always have to be the "bigger people" in terms of practicing inclusiveness, ultimately we should do it because it's who we are. If we truly believe in the little-d democratic principle of making room for everyone, then that also means the people we virulently disagree with get to enter the big tent, too.

Yes. And.

I also think Obama could signal his willingness to be that Big Tent President while not simultaneously slapping his queer supporters on the way in. Was there no other Evangelical pastor in the entire country available that day? One who hadn't been quite so visible and active in taking away marriage rights from same-sex couples? Someone who exhibits his/her Christian faith by, y'know, actually treating all human beings with dignity?

I have a suggestion. I know it's extremely unlikely that Warren's invitation will be revoked. So be it. Why not counterbalance him, then, by having Melissa Etheridge perform at the Inaugural Ball? Or some other highly visible proponent of LGBT rights?

Make the tent as big as you can, Mr. Obama. I know our country needs to come together in a big way right now. But if elbows are going to fly, at least give us a little padding. Our community has already taken far too many hits as it is.

UPDATE: 12/19/08
An Even Better Modest Suggestion

If Obama really wants to demonstrate how he's going to bring people together across great divides, he can start by inviting a queer pastor to co-invocate the inauguration with the rabid homophobe Rick Warren.

There are plenty of candidates to choose from, even before you start counting the closet cases. A few names to get the transition team rolling: Troy Perry (MCC founder), Gene Robinson (Episcopal bishop), Yvette Flunder (Ark of Refuge), Phyllis Zillhart and/or Ruth Frost (awesome Lutheran pastors who are also a couple). I know there are many, many more.

The brilliance of this move is that Obama doesn't have to disinvite Warren. The moment becomes both more balanced and even MORE symbolic. (I'm a big believer in the power of symbolism, but the transition team seems to snort it for breakfast.) BONUS: We get to see Rick Warren wring his hands over whether or not to participate. Would a Christian right-winger, for once, have to be a big enough person to accept the honor for what it is and meet the LGBT community halfway?

Of course, if they had Rachel Maddow emcee the event, I'd also accept that in lieu of apology.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Allies

I've been quite moved by the way straight allies have stepped up to support same-sex couples in the fight over Prop 8, both before and after the election. Something feels monumental in how this is happening -- the tide is turning, but this time, it's not going back.

I know there are thousands of examples out there, but I wanted to mention two people in particular:

Keith Olbermann. His November 10 Special Comment had me sobbing. Here's this straight guy (down to the major sports fan stereotype) who totally got it. He truly didn't understand why anyone would feel compelled to stamp out someone else's love. It was all he could do to contain his own emotion enough to get through the words. His heart was broken on our behalf, and as his voice quivered, it released some of my pain.
    Olbermann also had a segment on December 5th about "Prop 8 - The Musical", with spot-on comments from straight allies Jack Black and John C. Reilly (as well as nelly queen Mark Shaiman, who composed the brilliant piece).

Jon Stewart. In the second half of his December 9 interview with Mike Huckabee, he completely undercut the former Governor's position on same-sex marriage while managing to keep his tone completely respectful. The moment that stood out for me, though, was when he took Huckabee to task for saying that same-sex couples need to make our case to the American people in order to have our rights. Jon Stewart wasn't having it.

Olbermann's Special Comment and Stewart's "make their case" moment share a theme for me -- at a fundamental level, they stood up for my humanity. They spoke of my life and my love as worthy of respect. They accorded me the dignity that every human being deserves simply by virtue of being alive.

That's what it gets down to, and it's really not much to ask. We just want to be treated with dignity. Unfortunately, humans are remarkably bad at it -- a recent article argued quite persuasively that this one-up-one-down dynamic (which the authors dub "rankism") lies at the root of all "isms."

What Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann have done is reminded me that my inherent worth will never hinge on a vote -- it's nothing I ever need to argue for, and no one can take it away from me. By affirming our dignity in such a high-profile way, they've not only influenced potential allies who'd never given the issue much thought, but also sent a life preserver to queers like me. We're not in this struggle alone.

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