Friday, February 23, 2007

Republicans in Wyoming revolt and defend gay equality.

It was a Republican revolt that hardly anyone noticed. It was a revolt against the intolerance of the Theopublican movement. It was a revolt in favor of equality of rights and individual choice. It wasn’t huge. It wasn’t earth shattering but it was important.

In Wyoming the Republicans rule. Theopublican Owen Peterson had introduced a measure that would have barred Wyoming from recognizng equal marriage rights for gay couples legally married in other states. It was the sort of bill the Religious Right would assume would sail right through the legislature. Peterson said Wyoming law recognized marriages from other states and that would mean recognizing gay marriages from Massachusetts. Horrors! Hide the children in the storm cellar it’s the end of the world.

And while the Theopublican movement is strong in the Republican Party across the country the West is not the brain-dead American South. The West is the home of old fashioned small government Republicans -- a kind not found in the authoritarian South.

The first anti-marriage amendment to fail a popular vote was in Arizona, the Goldwater state. Even though Republicans are a majority of the voters, and most major elected officials are Republicans, the measure was defeated. It was that libertarian sentiment, something Reagan once said was the real heart of conservatism, that was the final nail in the coffin of that bigoted piece of legislation.

In Wyoming the measure was being debated in the House Rules Committee. It needed to pass here or die. Dan Zwonitzer, a young Republican legislator stood up. He says he had heard all the remarks made by the proponents of the bill and he got angry. He said: “when one of the proponents of the bill said some very infuriating things, it triggered something in me and I went a bit overboard in my off-the-cuff speech, but so many people came up to me afterwards to than[k] me.”

He hadn’t planned on speaking and had no prepared notes but he wrote down later, as best he could what he remembered saying. Here are most of those remarks.
I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.

It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.

Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.

In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn’t until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I’ve read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.

Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society.
I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.

And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.

I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.

I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won’t because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.

That’s the pre-theocratic Republican Party reasserting itself. Read what these words carefully.

He says he wants to speak about history and philosophy. Republicans don’t do that anymore. They speak about “the base” and God and the Bible. He spoke about “the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights”. What! These kinds of words have been missing from the Republican Party ever since Ronald Reagan retired.

He recognized the immorality of “one segment of society trying to restrict rights and privileges from another segment os society” and he called that “wrong”. Wrong? Republicans gave up the morality of equality rights for the morality of theocrats long ago. But I guess there was always a Remnant of Republicans clinging to the old ideas.

And what politician, in either party, tends to say things like “If standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it.” I mean say it and mean it! Not many.

And it had some impact. Republican Pat Childers spoke out about his lesbian daughter and said that she was born gay and that bills like one “would be violating my daughter’s rights.”

House Speaker Roy Cohee, a Republican, spoke on the bill as well. “Is it a responsible thing of government to say that, OK, as a government, we’ll provide certain benefits, and entitlements and rights to the people of this country and of this state, unless you are this or that? Is that our responsibility to do that? I don’t think it is.”

And Cohee cast the tie-breaking vote defeating the measure. Even one Republican supporter of the bill seemed to be having second thoughts before he cast his yes vote. Tom Lubnau said: “Maybe the right thing to do is stand up for tolerance.” He didn’t in the end but it seemed to be on his mind.

Carrie Evans, the local representative of the Human Rights Campaign, which purports to support gay rights, but is really a lobbying group for the Democratic Party, admitted that conservatives in the state are not quite the same as elsewhere in the country and said the state is of a “special few states that doesn’t already deny recognition to same-sex unions from other areas.” She says that Wyoming is “not very reactionary in terms of social issues. There’s no horrific anti-gay laws on the books, but they also don’t have any laws banning hate crimes even after Matthew Shepard’s death.”

Good! While I can’t watch The Laramie Project, the film about the Shepard case, without breaking down, I vehemently oppose these ill considered hate crime laws. What was down to Shepard was already a crime. Hate crime laws don’t ban the crimes, they are already crimes. Murder is murder no matter the reason it is committed. Assault is assault no matter the thoughts of the criminal.

These laws do not punish people for assault or murder. Other laws already do that. They punish people for having the wrong thoughts. Additional penalties are applied because of the values and views of the criminal. Now I happen to think those values and views are wrong. But we do not punish thoughts in America -- at least we didn’t used to. We punish actions and we should only punish actions that violate the rights of others. The boys who cruelly and viciously killed Matthew Shepard are in prison. They got the punishment they deserved.

Evans said: “There will be a discussion that probably won’t happen for decades about whether it is legal or not for the full-faith-and-credit laws to extend to marriages between same-sex couples.” Well, I think she was wrong. That debate took place. Apparently she missed it.

People need to understand that the Republican Party does have an old-fashioned conservative wing that actually does believe in limited government. And that reflects a lot of the Western values of “live and let live” or “leave us the hell alone or we blow a hole through you” attitude. It is in conflict with the Southern Bible-thumpers who are Johnny-come-latelys to the GOP. And the more the Republicans make the Theopublicans happy the more unhappy they make the West. That is one reason that the Democrats made gains in the West.

The Theopublicans have already made California a fairly safe Democratic state. Now they are seeing states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada becoming hard and harder to win. So the Republican Revolt in Wyoming does have some national significance. It symbolizes the bigger conflict within the Republican Party between the more libertarian wing and the socialists of the soul like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.

Photo: The photo is Don Zwonitzer.

Oh, Danny boy!

We knew it was only a matter of time and here it is. By the way the reviews of Radcliffe's acting in Equus have been very, very positive. It is a demanding, draining role and everyone says he is doing it brillantly. I think this is the smartest career move he could make for his own future. He is free to pursue any role he wants and won't be stereotyped by directors or the audience. And we can see why he was not hesitant to do the role. He has nothing to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gay rights pioneer dies.

One of the pioneers of the movement for equality of rights of gay men and lesbians, Barbara Gittings, has died. She was 75 years of age.

In the 1950s she helped found the lesbian rights group Daughters of Bilitis and edited the publication The Ladder for a few years in the 60s. In 1965 she helped organize the gay picket line at the White House.

A half century ago she met her life partner Kay Lahausen, who with Gittings wrote The Gay Crusaders. Lahausen and Gittings recently moved into an assisted living center and it was there Gittings went into a coma and then died on Sunday.

She was born July 31, 1932 in Vienna, Austria where her father was an American diplomat. She is survived by her partner Kay, age 77 and by a sister.

Photo: Gittings (left) and Lahausen.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fundies distort facts on Scottish report to smear gays.

The story is going about the internet that the British National Health Service has put out a report stating that using words like “Mommy” and “Daddy” is offensive to gay people and homophobic. An outfit called “Family First” (it’s always a dangerous sign when any political group says it is “pro family” since that almost always is code for “we hate gays”) claimed “Use of ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ Too ‘Homophobic’, Scottish Nurses Told.”

Family First repeats the story from LifeSiteNews, another Religious Right bastion of distortion, bias, and inaccuracy. And LifeSiteNews claims to get the story from one of the most anti-gay groups in the United States, Americans for Truth. These are people so anti-gay they ought to wear pink sheets and burn Lamdas on the front lawn. They said this new report was “a revolutionary assault on sex and gender norms”.

Sounds scary. Except I actually went and read the report that has the fundies in such knotted knickers. And I don’t think it’s all that scary or wrong. In fact it doesn’t really do what has been claimed. Surprise, surprise, Religious Right groups lie! They certainly know how to exaggerate and distort. They are masters at that skill.

Consider what is being covered here. This is for health care professionals who are dealing with the public without knowing lots of things about these people. Say that you are a nurse and a woman has brought her child to you because of a medical problem. Do you know if the woman is in a relationship or not? You don’t. If in a relationship do you know if she is married or not? You don’t. And do you know if the partner is a man or a woman? You don’t. In light of a lack of knowledge the wisest policy is one that doesn’t presume because such presumptions can cause discomfort for the person you are treating. It simply isn’t necessary. It's bad customer service.

At no point does the report say that terms like “mother” are homophobic or offensive. That was the spin put on the report by some religious extremists. The report is suggesting that people realize that they are making presumptions about others that may not be true and which may cause discomfort to them. Nothing more.

There is no blanket condemnation of using the word mom or dad. The problem is if make assumptions which often happens and which can often be uncomfortable for the patient.

It used to be widely practiced to refer to a person’s first name as their “Christian name” which was discomforting to anyone who was not a Christian. To ask someone who is Jewish or Hindu or an atheist what their “Christian name” is would be inconsiderate. It isn’t a sign of bigotry just a sign that you aren’t considerate and cognizant of the situation.

This is basically the point of the material in the report. And they note that if a health care worker does this it “is also inclusive of all heterosexual couples regardless of their marital status.” That disarms the claim that they are saying the word is “homophobic”. That is not their point at all. They say such terms exclude people and is uncomfortable for them and suggest ways to avoid this. Since when was it a revolutionary assault on gender to suggest to health care workers methods which help their patients feel more at ease in what may be a stressful situation.

They also mention the term “next of kin” and advise language to avoid problems with this term. I’ve been asked for “next of kin” on forms and have left it blank. I’ve been told I had to fill it in but I had to tell them I had no next of kin that I wished listed. I could do something like list an elderly aunt but since she has been living thousands of miles away from me for much of my adult life that would be silly. I would replace the term with “emergency contact”. When it was insisted I list someone anyway I usually list a friend. What they really want is someone to contact in case of an emergency not someone who is literally your closest living relative. Again the manual says using other more neutral terms includes all couples including straight couples who are not married. Consideration is not revolutionary. (Well maybe it is in certain Right-wing circles.)

The final recommendation the report made concerned talking to children. I think they are on the right track but don’t know how to handle the problem. They suggest: “When talking to children, consider using ‘parents’, ‘carers’ or ‘guardians’ rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’.”

One in five of Scottish gay people have children. But more importantly we also need to realize that some children don’t have fathers, or might not have a mother, or have no parents at all. My father died when I was young. I regularly had people asking me about my father when I was a kid. It actually was painful to constantly have to tell people he was dead.

Some children are raised by grandparents or by older siblings. Now I can see why the term “parents” makes some sense and the child would understand that. But “carers” and “guardians” are silly. A child wouldn’t necessarily know what “guardian” means. I think a better way of handling the problem would be to ask the child right off: “So tell me where you live and who you live with?” A few quick questions like this will elicit the information needed. If he says “I live with my mommy and daddy” you know those terms are fine to use. If he says, “I live with mommy and mom” you know what terms make the child comfortable. He might say, “I live with my gran” or something else that gives you some idea what terms are correct and make the child comfortable.

That is what is key here. You are working with children and you use terms that the child is comfortable using. But suddenly helping children feel comfortable while being treated at hospital, or the doctor’s office, ---which is a scary time for many children--- is another revolutionary assault by gay radicals. Please!

Nowhere does the manual say that the words “mom” and “dad” are homophobic or offensive. What it said was that in many, many cases they are inaccurate and not indicative of the situation of the people who are being treated. And it suggests terms which don’t exclude people needlessly.

I can relate easily because I was raised by a single mother after the death of my father. I know what it’s like being asked for “next of kin” without really having a next of kin that it would be useful to list. I know what is like being asked my “Christian” name when I’m not a Christian. I know people who were raised by grandparents or older siblings. Asking them about their “mother” or “father” is possibly painful to them. This isn’t about homophobia or political correctness. This is about being a good nurse or doctor, treating people well and not causing them undo discomfort of pain.

This is really what the small section on language is about. It is rather disgusting that some anti-gay groups would distort that sort of issue to create a political football so they can do some anti-gay propaganda on the net.

And to illustrate the point and annoy these groups here is a music video from a Dutch television show. The boy singing is a regular on the show and he's being rased by "two fathers" as he sings about here. There are subtitles in English if you don't speak Dutch. And the kid can actually sing and I like the tune. I know this will give the Right something else to bitch about. I can hardly wait.