Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Equal Than Others

As is custom, media puts out recaps of the year past. The Washington Post gave us The Year According to Toles, a selection of editorial cartoons by Tom Toles. Meant to summarize 2008's highest and lowest points, it includes illustrated comments on the bailout debacle, China's clamp down during the Olympics, Hillary Clinton's emotions, the McCain-Palin-America mismatch, Bush's gross ineptitude and failure, and of course, the next president, the inspirational, the one and only Barack Obama.

This panel is right in the middle, where it ought to be, considering the nation's turbulent and fraught history of race relations. The election of America's first president of color is momentous and marvelous. However, it would be naive or disingenuous to claim that Obama's ascendancy has ended racism and proved that all Americans are equal. Many citizens of color remain less equal than their White counterparts. Take income inequality, for instance. African Americans and Latinos earn less than White individuals. Women are paid less than men. Contrary to the myth of gay affluence, LGBT women and men have lower incomes. More so if they happen to be non-White.

Ah yes, the gays. As Toles sketched out a couple of days after the one above, homosexuals remain less equal than ever. Californians, by voting for Proposition 8, gave chickens the right to some comfort, while simultaneously stripping lesbians and gays of their fundamental rights. Recently, the president-elect himself, whom the gay community and its allies loyally and royally supported, did a Bill Clinton even before setting foot in the White House. While promising Change for LGBT Americans, Obama has already disappointed by palling with bigoted celebrity preachers and denying competent, willing and able gays a seat in his Cabinet. His cavalier attitude towards the outcry from gays, their allies and other fair-minded citizens is disheartening and reeks of hubris.

As we look back at 2008 and look forward to 2009, we do have cause to celebrate. The election of America's first Black president forced a much needed paradigm shift towards equality for all minorities. But whether it be a seismic shift or a mere few inches remains to be seen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Other Cheek

A whole lot of attention has been given to Rick Warren and the president-elect after the latter honored the homophobic pastor with center stage at the upcoming presidential inauguration. Little attention however has been paid to the fact that Obama has further repaid gay loyalty and hard work with another slap on the other cheek by not appointing an LGBT person to his Cabinet, by making it very clear that gays are not welcome at the big table.

Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, brought this to the attention of the Washington Blade.

As we talk about either keeping or renewing America’s promise, which the president-elect has been talking about, apparently it does not yet extend to gay and lesbian people in the Cabinet of the president ... Not only do you not find a qualified LGBT person to serve in your Cabinet, at the same time, you announce publicly that the person who is going to lead the nation in prayer during the inaugural is a person who does not believe gay and lesbian people are equal in the eyes of the country. So you’ve now sent how many signals to gay and lesbian Americans that they are not equal?
Apparently, gay activists had been lobbying Obama to select Mary Beth Maxwell, a lesbian and founding executive director for American Rights at Work, to become the next labor secretary. Instead, the next president chose Rep. Hilda Solis of California for the last available cabinet-level position. This effectively slammed the door in our faces.

Wolfe clearly remembers having being told by Obama's transition team that we would be happy with Obama's appointment. But as he said, "I think it’s clear that they were either not telling us the truth or somebody misinterpreted what happy would mean."

Indeed, Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, who was present at the meeting recalls team officials appearing attentive and very clear about recommended policy changes, including the appointment of a gay person to the Cabinet.

They were taking notes, they were listening, they were responding, they were asking questions, they were a very, very engaged transition team and that bodes well for our community moving forward.
To date, there is only one LGBT individual joining the next administration: Nancy Sutley, a lesbian who currently serves as deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, and who will head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Hers is not a cabinet-level post but rather one of the many assistants to the president. Indeed, gays do run Washington, confirming what a homosexual technocrat once told me. In supporting roles, hidden in the background.

In his remarks at the meeting with Obama's transition team, Wolfe pointed out that

President-elect Obama promises a diverse administration filled with talented individuals from all walks of life ... This must include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Anything less is not fully inclusive, and that could be seen as an indication that our community is little more than an ATM for campaigns.
We hear you loud and clear Barry!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fool Me Twice

In reaction to the outrage spawned by Obama's pick of Rick Warren to lead his inaugural invocation, Melissa Etheridge wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post, a message to her gay sisters and brothers "who have fought so long and so hard for gay rights and liberty," "elected Barack Obama as our next leader," and "were jerked back into the last century as we watched our rights taken away by prop 8 in California." While admitting that there is cause for anger and disappointment, that "we felt another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration," she remains hopeful, even conciliatory to the man who considers her and her family an abomination. She explains her forgiving and magnanimous stance to her personal encounter with Warren.
On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine. When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
Aw schucks. Did she then walk hand in hand with Pastor Rick into a fake Hollywood sunset? Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid!

Was Etheridge that flattered she forgot what people like Warren love to say? Love the singer, er, sinner not the sin? So he bought her CDs. He probably loves KD as well. But he still thinks they'll burn in hell.

If Warren believes in equal rights for everyone and that every loving relationship should have equal protection, why did he lustfully support Prop 8? If he sincerely regrets his message to his congregation and equating all of us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, why has he not released another video to his flock and the whole world admitting his mistake and apologizing for the hurt and suffering he has caused? How could he honestly claim that that is not how he thinks about gays?

All rhetorical, yes, but Etheridge? How could she have been so easily seduced? When she expressed sympathy for Warren's wife, did she point out to him that many of our loved ones have cancer too but could not share health insurance like straight married people? That some of us could not visit our dying partners? That supporting Prop 8 and institutionalizing bigotry has everything to do with it?

What kind of bridges does the singer think could be built with folk like Warren? If Warren is truthful about everything he told Etheridge, then he should repeat the same words in front of everybody. Unlike Richard Cizik, the former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, Warren has not publicly expressed any change of mind and heart. Unlike Cizik who in an interview on National Public Radio, made brief remarks about same-sex civil unions and gay marriage that cost him his leadership position, Warren remains the powerful celebrity pastor of a mega church. His widly popular book continues to sell and all this publicity will get more people buying into his misguided and dangerous beliefs about women and men - like Melissa Etheridge - who only want to be happy just like everyone else.

When Cizik was asked, "A couple of years ago when you were on our show, I asked you if you were changing your mind on that. And two years ago, you said you were still opposed to gay marriage. But now as you identify more with younger voters, would you say you have changed on gay marriage?" Cizik responded, "I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say that I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think." The man took a leap that cost him much.

Warren might have invited lesbians to his home but he has not taken the risk and publicly changed his stance against homosexuals and their civil rights. But now he can brag that he has more gay friends - an Academy and Grammy award-winning, multi-platinum selling rock star even!

Like Melissa Etheridge, I am hopeful that in time we will win our civil rights. But I remain dubious of Warren and his ilk. How many times must we be fooled by sweet words? Religious leaders like Warren might invite you to their place but you will never have a place at their table.

Counting Blessings

The New York Times reports:

NZVERE, Zimbabwe — Along a road in Matabeleland, barefoot children stuff their pockets with corn kernels that have blown off a truck as if the brownish bits, good only for animal feed in normal times, were gold coins.
This image has haunted me since I saw it and read its story. It frustrates me that I could not do much. It concerns me that even if I were to buy these children a goat or a share in a cow through Episcopal Relief and Development or Heifer International, the much needed food would not get to the children and their families soon enough or not at all due to Mugabe's mistrust of international aid organizations. This picture has made me count my blessings. And this in turn makes me squirm.

The thought that god has blessed me leaves me ill at ease because (1) at some level, I am saying better them than me, and (2) I am implying that god for some reason has bestowed good things upon me while denying some one else.

During this time - Hanukkah and Christmastime - a lot of us are grateful. For our families, our health, and whatever else we might deem precious. Rightfully so. However, I see a danger in the idea that undergirds these celebrations and some faith traditions in particular. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire. It reiterates the belief that Jews are god's chosen people. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the messiah who was sent for god's new favorites.

This concept of being god's chosen people is not unique to Jews and Christians. Muslims, Mormons, Brahma Kumaris, Rastafarians, Reverend Moon's Unification Church, and many others claim such entitledness. And the discord this idea has fomented along with the suffering and pain it has inflicted is not isolated. Daily bigotry and hatred attest to this. History recites its extreme: crusades, pogroms, internecine conflict, terrorism, and genocide.

There is nothing wrong with being grateful to god. But it might be worth pausing and considering ideas that lurk whenever we consider ourselves blessed.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Politics Stupid

In response to Dispensable Constituency, M, who had labored long hours for the Obama campaign emailed, "... pretty crappy ... I just don't understand."

And it seems that a gay political operative who has played this game for many years thinks I don't understand either. "It's just politics Erwin," he patronizingly smiled. "Just wait. Obama will take care of us." He may as well have patted me on the head.

But I do get it. That has been my point. Admittedly a part of me chose to believe for a second that Obama and his people would do what is right and speak truth to power. But he is a politician and it is all about power and influence.

What my operative pal does not seem to understand (or is in denial about) is that he and other gay conspirators to power will always be at the margins, even if gays do run Washington as a technocrat once told me. Men like these remind me of an Englishman I met who had served Queen Elizabeth. He proudly displayed photos and signed royal stuff and intimated that he used to take "the young Prince Charles to the movies" and even got to zip up the back of some royal's dress. But he was still a servant. Servants run households. That is what they do.

Homosexuals might have their photos taken with Hillary, Obama and McCain but they had to pay for it with a lot of money. What have they gotten in return? Another picture to hang on their power walls? The chance to brag and drop names? A tiny bone perhaps? They remain second class citizens. They still do not have their civil rights.

A retired gay man and former politician wrote:
I have a more optimistic opinion, namely that the new President will move quickly to have Congress approve anti-hate legislation, and some time in the Spring will accept the recommendations of a "special" military commission (chosen by him) that will end the "don't ask, don't tell" Clinton/Bush policy. He will point to the Warren invocation as the balance to these far more important acts. Watch what Obama does, not what Warren says!
I hope he is correct. But I share N's sentiments:
In the end, it is about politics and the need to keep the fight for our civil rights. At the same time, don't pretend that things would been better if McCain had been elected; we might have had James Dobson giving the invocation, I suppose. But perhaps we would have expected that, when in the current case it wasn't something we had expected.
Yes, we expected more from Obama. But duh, it's politics stupid!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Responses to Dispensable Constituency

A friend emailed:
I know that you are very active in gay issues, and this has been hurtful to you and hard to swallow. I am very cynical about politicians and the relationship of power to their egos. I see Obama as probably one of the cleaner Chicago pols, but essentially a pragmatic guy who will only throw a few bones to the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.

My Republican husband is raging at him too because, in Arthur's opinion, he conducted his campaign as a lie promising change and delivering a centrist cabinet, which is not going to show much change. It seems you and he have a common cause. Arthur is not opposed to gay rights issues. I think it won't be long before the black constituency is also going to complain about the bones they get thrown.
Is this an issue of wanting too big a tent? It would be groundbreaking indeed if the next President were able to bring factions together and solve some of our country's more intractable problems but is he running the risk of trying to hard?

Another wrote:
Interesting. I was shocked, myself, to hear this. But in the end, I also think that the editorial was correct. He's a politician.
J. reminds us what it is we are hoping and struggling for:
Thanks. We had read the Solmonese op-ed, but I think the better part of this piece that you sent us is the commentary, reminding us of just what this game is. The Rick Warren flap will pass, and gay people will not be hurt by it. It seems that we hope for (I'm not saying expect) better or best things from our politicians as far as our issues are concerned, and that can lead to disappointment unless we finally realize that a politician is a politician. I am still a staunch Obama supporter, mostly because I will never lose hope for the future of anything I believe worthy and worthwhile.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dispensable Constituency

How appropriate that Prickly City considers the possibility of an ardent Obama fan getting disappointed at the same time Obama's most loyal allies are let down by the President-elect, to put it mildly, over his choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at next month's Presidential inauguration.

In his Washington Post editorial Obama's Inaugural Mistake, Joe Solmonese speaks out.

It is difficult to comprehend how our president-elect, who has been so spot on in nearly every political move and gesture, could fail to grasp the symbolism of inviting an anti-gay theologian to deliver his inaugural invocation. And the Obama campaign's response to the anger about this decision? Hey, we're also bringing a gay marching band. You know how the gays love a parade.

Yes, the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of the humongous, evangelical Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., has a sound message on poverty. And certainly, in the world of politics, there is a view that Barack Obama owes Warren for bringing him before fellow evangelicals, despite fierce opposition during the heat of the presidential

But here's the other thing about Warren, the author of the bestselling book "The Purpose Driven Life": He was a general in the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8, which dissolved the legal marriage rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.

For that reason, inviting Warren to set the tone at the dawn of this new presidency sends a chilling message to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. It makes us uncertain about this exciting, young president-elect who has said repeatedly that we are part of his America, too.

Solmonese also complains about Warren and the larger issue about the place of religion in determining public policy.

He told his parishioners and reporters alike that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn't think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships." But civil marriage rights for same-sex couples had nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

More recently, he even compared same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. He may cloak himself in media-friendly happy talk that plays well on television, but he stands steadfastly against any measure of equality for LGBT Americans.

The LGBT community, their supporters, progressives and other fair-minded thinking individuals are upset because Obama is holding up a powerful best-selling celebrity bigot.

Then again, should we be surprised? Barack Obama was never going to be the messiah a lot of people were hoping for. Barack Obama is a politician. A politician born out of hard ball, old-style Chicago politics. Yes, he is about to become the president of all Americans and yes, he speaks inspiring words, but at the end of the day, it is about power and influence. Warren has that over Obama, gays do not. We are a minority. We are dispensable. He already got our votes.

So what are we to do? First, get over it and accept the reality that it is all about politics. Time to lower expectations. A lot. It is about power and influence. We need to continue fighting and getting our voice heard. We need to persist in reaching out, changing minds, and building coalitions. We need to play hard ball with our money and votes. We need to remind the next president that we're here, we're queer, and we ain't going nowhere until we get our civil rights.

Related Post: High Hopes, Low Expectations

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Yesterday, Katherine Jefferts Schori, leader of the Episcopal Church, spoke at the National Press Club on the role of religion in the public square. As an Episcopalian who holds a strong opinion about religion in public discourse, I was anxious to hear what she had to say.

The Most Reverend Jefferts Schori addressed the issue at the outset:
... what I'm going to assert is the proper role of religion in the public square - diagnosis, linked with both challenge and encouragement ... grows out of a particular worldview, a weltanschauung, if you will, that has an idea or ideal of what the world is supposed to look like.
That world view is rooted in divine revelation, both in a scriptural tradition and in later encounters with the divine. The prophetic role is to point out the discrepancy between that sacred vision and what the world around us actually looks like, and then to go on to challenge the status quo and to encourage movement toward that dream.

A religious tradition asserts that divine warrant and/or transcendent reality trumps any merely earthly philosophy.
Ah, and there's the rub. To whom is divine revelation privileged? Which scriptural tradition bears ultimate truth and who can claim with certainty encounter with the divine? Toward whose dream ought we be encouraged? Isn't religious tradition a product of earthly philosophy itself?

Later, the moderator followed up with a question I had upon hearing Dr. Schori's assertions. "How do we know when god is speaking to us? One person's voice of god could be attributed to Satan's deceit by someone else. And another person says, much in the same vein, 'You spoke of the prophetic voice. How do we know when the voice is authentic?'"

The primate responded:
How do we know when that inspired or apparently inspired voice is authentic? Is it congruent with a long tradition. And that is why we look back to foundational documents of faith. Is it congruent with a prophetic biblical tradition? Is it congruent with the prophets of our own day? Is it congruent with at least some portion of the community? If a prophet is crying lonely words in the wilderness and there's no one to hear, maybe not. Maybe not. Is the prophet's voice continuous? Does it continue to pique people? If it's a one-shot flash in the pan, maybe not.
But what if it is congruent with a long tradition of oppression and sin, such as slavery and ownership of women? Who are the prophets of our day? The reality is that there are many prophets in the commons, espousing divergent and opposing messages, who are heard and who do more than irritate and provoke.

Or are the true prophets those who speak on behalf of the poor, the powerless and the marginalized? Perhaps. For she also claimed that the
... sacred ideal in the Abrahamic faiths looks like a peaceful society where no one is in dire want, where all have equal access to justice, where each is truly free to seek her or his highest purpose in this life.

The religious role in public life is to continue to challenge the larger society on behalf of all who do not yet live in a world like that. And because there are some who don't have access to that world, none of us can be assured of living in peace.
She summarized:
I would argue that there are appropriate and inappropriate roles for religion in the public square ... When the religious voice argues for a narrowly sectarian view, it belies its identity and its transcendent origin, and becomes no different from the dairy lobby or an earmark request for a new bridge. They may be important causes. They may be concerned for some of the least and lost and left out. But they don't challenge the whole society to a more transcendently compassionate future.
The proper role for religious diagnosis, challenge and encouragement has something to do with offering a larger view of reality, with challenging a politics of the individual to consider and care for the needs and rights of other individuals and groups, or, in other words, understanding the well being of the whole as having some higher call on public consideration than a narrowly individual concern.

We're talking about a public policy that pays attention to the well being of the whole community.
While it is easy to quote these words and say, see, Katharine is on our side and she is telling everyone to welcome lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, she is not. At least not in an absolute and unequivocal way. She may very well be telling the LGBT community to put aside their agenda and consider the wider community. This would be consistent with her continued appeal to gay Episcopalians and their supporters for patience with the wider and more reactionary Anglican world.

Invariably, the moderator does ask if god wants same-sex couples to formalize their unions or commitments. Or does he care? Do the biblical institutions for marriage apply to same-sex couples?

With a faint and patient smile, Katharine answered:
Oh, which biblical institutions for marriage? Solomon's many, many, many wives? The concubines? The slaves who bore children for their male masters? There are some very odd images of family life in the Bible. And when people talk about family values, I want to know which ones.

When I look as the challenges that the gay and lesbian community, and their supporters have brought to the church over the past several decades, I have heard a prophetic voice crying, that has gathered a community of support and has asked that community of the whole church to look at its own tradition, to critique its present reality on the basis of that tradition. Do we consider some members of the body more equal than others? Do we consider that some rights of the church are available to some and not to others? We're at least asking the hard questions. The church as a whole hasn't reached a conclusion on this. But we're asking very challenging questions.
Thank you Jesus! Thank you Katharine for hearing the voice in the wilderness and asking difficult and painful questions.

Related Posts:
Public Discourse
Separation of Church and State

Image from the National Press Club.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Picturing Equality

In Road to Freedom, I wondered if things might be different if there were more images of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement. Eric comments that there are images out there alright!
It's interesting that you bring up the power of images. One thing I've noticed(and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that many of the images associated withLGBT are sexual, which completely misrepresents what the LGBT community isabout. Because these images are so prevalent and are linked to the LGBT community, I feel like that is unfortunately how the majority of people develop stereotypes of LGBT, even if its is inaccurate. You can try searching "gay" or "LGBT" or "homosexuality" on Google images and many of the images will contain pictures with kissing, partial nudity, or even full nudity. It doesn't seem to be that way if you type in "African American" for exampl. Anyways, I know this isn't directly related to the point of your post. Since you mentioned "there are no images of lesbians and gays...", I thought what kind of images are there of lesbians and gays.
I googled images using the keywords "gay," "lesbian," "homosexual," "LGBT," and "heterosexual," and my unscientific study seems to bear this out. Of a hundred "gay" pictures, 27 were sexual (includes partial nudity, suggested sexual acts & kissing) and 73 non-sexual. Of a hundred "lesbian" photos, 44 were sexual and 46 non-sexual. Among the "homosexual" ones, 21 were sexual and 79 non-sexual. In contrast, only 11 "heterosexual" images were sexual. While it might seem surprising the there are more sexual images of lesbians, I suspect that some images are products of heterosexual fantasy. As for "LGBT," mostly logos came up. Only 1 in 100 was sexual.

Eric is correct that sexual images of lesbians and gays are out there. He is spot on about the common perception of the gay "lifestyle." As prim and proper Pat Boone puts it, "hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly selfish" and now "homegrown sexual jihadists." While we all know that most lesbians and gays lead normal, responsible and loving lives, the fact remains that negative stereotypes prevail and need to be countered and replaced. This will not be easy, considering that people, particularly those who protest too much about shameless homosexuals are inexplicable drawn to images of man-on-man or woman-on-woman action and will persist in pointing them out and wagging their fingers. Hank Stuever attests to this fascination in his Washington Post article about men kissing in movies.

Perhaps it is like driving by a car wreck where people slow down to have a look, hoping to catch a glimpse of gore. Disgusted, yes, but. In the Post article, Corey Scholibo of Advocate magazine explains, "Everything in culture is rooted in the idea of masculinity, patriarchy . . . hegemony. You have to be disgusted by two men kissing, otherwise there goes [your] masculinity. If an actor were to say he enjoyed a scene where he kisses another man, then he's somehow less of a man."

Or perhaps God-fearing and nation-loving citizens uphold these perverted gay images to compare and contrast with their perfect lives (never mind the fact that more evangelical teenagers get pregnant out of wedlock and the fact that divorce rates among conservative Christians are significantly higher than other faithful folk).

Bottom line is we need to show that we don't prance around decked in patches of leather with our tongues stuck in one another's throats. We need people to see us as no different from their next door neighbors. So my gay sisters and brothers, start posting pictures of your "wild" lives. Start with the one visiting grandma on Thanksgiving.

Image from American Pollution.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fostering Families

Over our year end team building lunch (formerly known as holiday staff lunch and in ages past as Christmas staff lunch), foster parenting came up. T shared his involvement with The Martin Pollak Project, a child placement agency which serves more than 150 children and adolescents in the Washington DC and Central Maryland region. Since its founding close to 3 decades ago, the nonprofit has focused on girls and boys with the most intensive needs and challenging life circumstances. T told heart-breaking stories of children he encountered as well as heart-warming stories of lives changed.

P in contrast, vented her frustration over the DC foster care system and animus towards her case worker. Apparently, the gentleman took issue not much with the lead based paint on P's walls but with my colleague's dedication to her church. God forbid she forces a foster child to attend a service with her! P, who has been her niece's surrogate mother for a decade, has seen firsthand the overwhelming need for foster parents in the DC area and is eager to take in another child. Sadly, bureaucracy has denied some girl or boy a stable and loving home.

This is incredible considering the number of kids without families. P told us of a recent visit to her caseworker's office. Sprawled along the lobby were five children who did not have anyone to care for them. As the Freddie Mac Foundation reports there are more than half a million children in the foster care system across the United States and over 5,000 children in the Metropolitan Washington DC region.

The situation gets all the more ridiculous when lesbians and gays are banned from being adoptive or foster parents. As Mother Jones blogged:
... it's up to states to recruit and evaluate potential foster and adoptive parents, and most states turn away viable parents who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Currently three states—Florida, Mississippi and Utah—have outright bans on adoptive parents who are homosexual. Several other states have or are considering policies that would restrict LGBT couples and individuals from fostering or adopting a child. Florida forbids "homosexuals" from adopting; Mississippi bans "same-gender" couples, and Utah bans all unmarried couples.

Some states: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington DC, actually protect potential adopters by prohibiting sexual orientation from being used as a basis to prevent a prospective applicant from being a adoptive or foster parent.

But throughout most of the country LGBT folks face all kinds of barriers to adoption. This, despite the fact that they are already raising children in significant numbers.

Furthermore, the Mother Jones post points out that lesbians and gays:

have many of the traits states specifically seek out in foster and adoptive parents: They are, on average, older, more educated and have more economic resources than other foster and adoptive parents.

If states enact laws that prevent such adoptions children currently placed with existing LGBT foster parents would be removed from those families. Nationally, an estimated 9,300 to 14,000 children would be displaced.

I understand that systems and processes are in place to ultimately serve and protect girls and boys. I also am aware that caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. However, when financially and emotionally stable individuals offer to take in and love a child who desperately needs a home and is denied for some inane reason, it just doesn't make sense.

Image from PoliGazette.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Road to Freedom

After viewing the exhibition Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968, I thought, I got it. I get why some people do not see the LGBT movement as a civil rights movement. How could gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals possibly compare their "struggle" with that of Blacks? Where are the pictures of separate facilities and entrances? Of kids being taunted for going to school? Of Americans with placards that read "segregation forever?" Of men in robes burning crosses and intimidating communities? Of brutal encounters with armed police? Of men beaten and lynched because of who they are? Of people united in protest against injustice? Of strong and proud women and men?

Instead, what people see most are images of privileged white men who decided to live an "alternative" lifestyle and rub their choice on everybody's noses.

It is too bad that there isn't a Road to Freedom: Photographs of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement. An exhibit that chronicles the struggle and injustices suffered by women and men who chose to be honest with themselves and society. Images of brave and patriotic soldiers who were discharged for being homosexual. Of young women and men who are not allowed to fight for the country they love. Of children bullied day in and day out for acting and dressing "differently." Of Americans bearing placards supporting Proposition 8 and the continued discrimination of minorities. Of religious leaders using the Bible to preach intolerance and hate. Of drag queens and other "deviants" battling police. Of men beaten and women raped for not being straight. Of Matthew Shepard's bloodied and limp body tied to a fence. Of straight and gay Americans demonstrating for equality for all. Of strong and proud gay women and men.

Might things be different if these images were part of our civil rights meme?

Pictures are powerful. Images of African Americans treated like second class citizens affirm and remind that theirs was and is a civil rights movement. There are no images of lesbians and gays treated as second class citizens in our collective memory. Perhaps if there were, then people would understand that ours is a civil rights movement too.

Image from PFLAG, of Jeanne Manford marching with her gay son at New York's 1972 Gay Pride Parade. Manford was enraged that her son had been beaten up two months earlier while the police did nothing. She carried a sign that said, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children.” Her act started an international movement.

Related Posts:
Equality, Marriage & the Union

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Worker Bail Out

Is it me or is there nary a word on bailing out workers from mainstream news and cable outlets and their talking heads? Chatter is all about whether the big three automakers - Chrysler, Ford and GM - and their valiant CEOs, who have selflessly abandoned their private jets for environmentally friendly cars, should be rescued with taxpayer dollars. And the sacrifices these men are willing to take to salvage the companies they and their fellow executives have run aground ... a dollar a year compensation! What about stock options and compensation packages? What about all the money they "earned" while mismanaging their firms?

I am not keen on giving money to corporations and rewarding obscenely overpaid executives. After all, their downfall is part of the beauty of the free market and surely these men are uncompromising laissez faire capitalists. I am aware however that ordinary Americans will be negatively affected by the demise of the car manufacturers. They already are struggling under worsening economic times as are millions of other hardworking women and men.

As such I think that there should be more talk about bailing out workers. In particular, government policies should promote industries that provide alternative manufacturing jobs. President-elect Obama has talked about a “Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund.” Such a fund would help finance companies involved in the alternative energy sector thereby creating several million jobs. This should not take long to jump start. There is a growing number of solar and wind power enterprises. There is also discussion about WPA-like infrastructure projects.

Concurrently, safety nets such as unemployment benefits, health coverage, child care, adult education and skills training should be expanded. I am not talking socialism. Rather I am arguing fairness. Safety nets in their present condition are too narrow and have too many holes through which people are falling. People who would like to earn their keep are unable to and their government would rather bail entities and executives who have enough to live on a hundred times over if they were to lose their jobs.

Amitai Etzioni, a George Washington University professor, comments on Freep.com:
The main counter argument is that GM et. al. are too big to fail, that allowing them to decline will trigger a domino effect that would bring down many other manufacturing industries that make parts for autos, process the raw materials they need, and so on. First, these secondary industries also must either find new products to make or go the way of the car makers. Second, the way to greatly curtail the side effects and pain of the transition to new industries is to bail out the workers but not the plants.

Rescuing the workers should take the form of paying for their retraining, relocation, and extended unemployment benefits, and even assuming responsibilities for their health insurance and retirement funds, now paid for by the Big Three. The costs of bailing out the workers are much smaller than keeping them afloat by bailing out the plants. The reason is that in such “rescue” plans, part of the funds go to maintain and modify the obsolete assembly lines (and more generally the plants)—as well as to pay high salaries to executives and dividends to share holders.

So enough talk on bailing big industry and big men. Let's talk about Joe the autoworker.

Image from Boycott Norwich Bulletin.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Our Thanksgiving gathering was, I imagine, no different from many others all over the country. The 10 year old boys were inseparable, watching anime, playing video games and running all over the yard. They were born a week apart and see each other during holidays and shared family vacations. The toddler alternated between mimicking the big boys and charming the adults gathered at the kitchen table. The newly minted teen didn't quite know where to place herself, spending half the time babysitting the littlest one and the other half texting her girlfriends. The grown ups slipped into roles with ease, as cooks, dishwashers, storytellers, photographers/videographers, and spouses that wisely kept out of the way.

We were like so many other families yet look more closely at photos taken and discover that we were not your Norman Rockwell clan. None of us were related. We were all friends of the hosting couple. Gather basic information and realize that neither were we ordinary. There is the gay couple and their adopted boys who welcomed the rest of us to their table. There is the gay couple's oldest friends, an American woman, her Spanish husband and their son. There is the middle-aged widow, another long-time friend and Sunday School teacher to the men's sons. There is the interracial couple and their daughter. And there is John and me, the homosexual, interracial pair.

Many would argue that we were not a family gathered for Thanksgiving. But I beg to differ. The abundance of stories, laughter, dancing, warmth and affection attests to our bonds. We were a family by choice and circumstance much like many other "alternative" families that are more common than some people would like to think. And we are grateful for each other.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

During the Marcos regime, Filipinos had their own Thanksgiving Day: September 21. We were to be grateful for having been saved from the Red Plague. As Alan Robles explains:
... Ferdinand Marcos not only imposed a brutal dictatorship on the Philippines, he also forced the people to celebrate their loss of freedom. He declared September 21, the date he proclaimed martial law, a "national day of thanksgiving". Ostensibly, the holiday was to commemorate the country's deliverance from communism. But the regime which Marcos created was dedicated to only two things: feathering the nests of the ruler and his cronies, and snuffing out all opposition. From 1972 until 1986, when the dictator was finally chased out of the country, his infamous "New Society" murdered, tortured and robbed as it pleased. The Philippine poverty rate, 24 per cent in 1974, jumped to 40 per cent in 1980. The Marcos family looted the national coffers of billions of dollars. While it is true that Philippine politics was already corrupt before Marcos arrived, his dictatorship rewrote the rules and perverted all the country's institutions.
All over the country, family and friends gather to celebrate America's Thanksgiving Day and yes, this is a challenging time. One in ten Americans are on food stamps. Over one million people have lost their jobs thus far. During the first half of 2008, more than 1.2 million homes have been foreclosed. More families with children are becoming homeless. Life has become so difficult for many that beloved pets are being abandoned at animal shelters. It is so easy to be anxious. Not so easy to be optimistic and hopeful.

But we can remain American in that way, optimistic and hopeful. Unlike the Philippines I knew growing up, we have freedom. Freedom to speak our minds, to criticize the government and those in power, to worship the god of our choosing, to live true to our selves. We have a working democracy, rule of law, and hard as it is to believe, a functioning albeit faltering economic system. We have a broad middle class. Now we have leadership we can trust, believe in, and work with. We have a future.

My parents, brother and I, along with hundreds of thousands of other Filipinos finally rose up against the Marcos regime because we no longer had hope and little to thank for. We immigrated to the United States because it offered opportunity, freedom, equality and hope. It still does. And we are thankful indeed.

Related Post:
People Power

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You'll Never Walk Alone

Joy. Amtrak now offers you a free copy - take it, they'll replace it - of Travel Mall, the land version of Sky Mall, the catalogue chock full of useless and semi-useless stuff. Now we can add perusing it to our list of diversions en route to wherever we're headed, along with yakking on our cell phones, listening to Ipods, watching DVDs and playing games on laptops, and on occasion, working on spreadsheets. And on really rare instances, reading. Newspapers. Books.

The Holiday 2008 cover has a grinning man in his jammies sporting Geordi La Forge like eye gear. Page 5 explains:
Worn like regular eyeglasses, the iWear AV310 Widescreen and AV920 from Vuzix connect to almost any video-capable mobile device including iPods, iPhone, portable DVD players, digital cameras, and cell phones. Simulating a high-resolution large screen viewed at nine feet, you can now have an incredible movie watching or game playing experience anywhere, anytime.
Starting at only 249.95! Now who wouldn't want to have that? A simulated movie and gaming experience trumps the Chesapeake bay or Hudson river any ole day.

I do enjoy thumbing through these magazines when I first board a plane and now a train, but do we really need all the gadgets and objects - stuff - offered? Do we really need to be so distracted by all these toys? For that is all this is: distraction.

While I do not mean to be glib about the emotional and physical insecurity wrought by a free falling economy, perhaps one good thing that would come out of it is that we would no longer waste our money and time on wares peddled by Travel Mall. We would no longer afford such silly distractions and be forced to face, brace yourselves, silence and being alone.

We would not be able to purchase item no. 74067J.
The Animatronic Singing And Talking Elvis.

This is the animatronic Elvis, a singing and talking robotic bust adorned with The King's trademark leather jacket, sideburns, and pompadour, recalling the musical icon's performance during the highest-rated television event of 1968--Elvis Presley's Comeback Special. The device sings eight of Elvis' most acclaimed songs including Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, and Jailhouse Rock, and the mouth, eyes, and head movements are synchronized with the music, replicating his unique facial expressions (including the curled upper lip) and baritone voice. Integrated infrared sensors in his jacket detect ambient motion, prompting Elvis to say "Bring it on back now" or another famous Elvis remark as you walk by, and the device has 37 monologues recorded from interviews that play at a touch of a button, each reflecting on the life and career of The King. A karaoke feature allows you to sing along with Elvis and the device has an audio port for connecting an MP3 player or another audio source, allowing you to play your own music through Elvis's 10-watt speaker. Includes a remote control, 1/4" microphone jack, and an AC/DC adapter. Remote requires three AAA batteries. 20-1/4" H x 13-3/4" D x 21-3/4" L. (10 lbs.)

For only $199.95! Oh, but there is that mortgage, car payment, credit card bills, utilities and food to pay. Thank goodness.

While a high tech visor and Elvis homunculus might be fun, adult toys and stuff hawked by these travel "malls" betray our desperate need to be diverted and avoid what is before us. Undeniably, for our mental health, mindless amusements are sometimes welcome and needed, but I suspect that those of us who actually call the 800 number or log in to www.SkyMall.com have more that one item from the collection. Plus other objects of distraction.

Are we really that scared of silence and stillness?

It really isn't that bad. I suggest dumping our diversions once in a while and learn to enjoy their absence. It can be liberating, calming and can bring about a smile. For only $0.00.

Image of Sky Maul from Doobybrain.com.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's Talk

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all sit for tea, discuss the latest and gravest issues civilly and come to some consensus about how we ought to proceed? Yes, that would be lovely.

A panelist at this week's Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Associations conference is confident that this is possible. The gentleman was presenting his findings during a session entitled "Democracy, Citizen Engagement and Advocacy." He shared how deliberative polling was successfully used in engaging citizens, changing minds, and resolving dispute over a municipal policy initiative.

As the Center for Deliberative Democracy explains, the problem is that
Citizens are often uninformed about key public issues. Conventional polls represent the public's surface impressions of sound bites and headlines. The public, subject to what social scientists have called "rational ignorance," has little reason to confront trade-offs or invest time and effort in acquiring information or coming to a considered judgment. Deliberative polling employs television and public opinion research to address this problem.
And it is a straightforward process:
A random, representative sample is first polled on the targeted issues. After this baseline poll, members of the sample are invited to gather at a single place for a weekend in order to discuss the issues. Carefully balanced briefing materials are sent to the participants and are also made publicly available. The participants engage in dialogue with competing experts and political leaders based on questions they develop in small group discussions with trained moderators. Parts of the weekend events are broadcast on television, either live or in taped and edited form. After the deliberations, the sample is again asked the original questions. The resulting changes in opinion represent the conclusions the public would reach, if people had opportunity to become more informed and more engaged by the issues.
Could this truly be the way to resolving pesky issues like gay civil rights once and for all?

As a matter of fact, a statewide deliberative poll was conducted last September in Pennsylvania by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy. Entitled “The Issue of Marriage in America,” the study's goal was to determine opinions regarding a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution which would define marriage as that between a man and a woman and would not recognize any civil unions.

It turns out that nearly 7 out of 10 Pennsylvania voters support the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, either through marriage or civil unions. At least among those who participated in this particular poll. But of course, it is nuanced.

Among those who support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, participants split with approximately 35 percent supporting same-sex marriage and 35 percent supporting a version of civil union. Moreover, data also showed that about half support a marriage "protection" amendment which limits the legal status to one man and one woman . What is hopeful for lesbians, gays and fair-minded folk is that the median age of participants is 54. Younger Americans tend to be more tolerant and open-minded.

Yes, it would be nice if we could sit and talk. But the sad reality is, rather than consider grown-up dialogue and engage in rational and fair deliberation, the forces of darkness and light are gathering their troops, ready for the next battle.

Image: The Tea Party by Frederic Soulacroix

Friday, November 14, 2008

Equality, Marriage & the Union

This weekend, lesbians, gays, supporters and other fair-minded individuals in over 100 cities worldwide and in the United States will hold marriage equality protest rallies. California and New York already started theirs. This movement is spurred by passage of anti-gay measures in California (gay marriage ban), Florida (gay marriage ban), Arkansas (gay adoption ban) and Arizona (gay marriage ban) last week and organized by 26-year-old Amy Balliet through her blog JoinTheImpact.com. Balliet was not going to wait for someone else to organize a national movement to challenge the unfair and discriminatory propositions passed during the national elections. Clearly, thousands of others - gay and straight - feel the same way. These civil actions belong to the greater fight for LGBT equality.

But is LGBT equality possible?

In the short term, full equality for lesbian and gay individuals remains a dream. Under a new Democratic administration and legislature, some rights might be won, but these would be minor steps toward parity with heterosexuals. Nonetheless, LGBT people and their straight allies should not be discouraged and lose sight of the goal. They need to continue the struggle with full vigor and tenacity.

However, they also need to be pragmatic and realize that some form of inequity will always exist in society. There will always be insiders and outsiders, those on top and those on the bottom, haves and have nots. The aim should be to lessen the gap, widen the middle, share power and yes, spread the wealth. We have to bring and welcome more into the commons. Let us keep the ideal of Equality in mind and march together towards it.

And we get there in increments, in steady steps, sometimes large but very often small. Just as African Americans started their journey with the Abolitionist Movement, waited an ungodly while for the desegregation of public spaces, suffered and prevailed through the Civil Rights Movement, and to this day labor for their rightful place in American society. Just as Asian Americans, Latinos and other people of color keep on the path, frequently pushed back but still moving forward from mere factors of production and suspected traitors to full citizens. It does not culminate with the ascendancy of Barack Obama.

So it goes with gay women and men who have had enough and started their long trek with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and now find themselves demanding equality. Three steps forward, one back. More visibility and tolerance, big celebrities, leaders in congress and business, victories in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but still discriminated against at work and in neighborhoods, still not enjoying full benefits of citizenship, still attacked for being honest and loving.

An important discussion within the LGBT movement, particularly in terms of marriage equality, is whether we should insist on the term "marriage" or settle for "civil unions," which seem to be a wee bit more palatable to the general population. While this might seem like a minor point and a matter of semantics, for many it is not.

On principle, there are those who refuse to go with the term "civil union" even if the same federal benefits and protections were accorded gay couples.* They correctly point out that agreeing to civil unions is just another case of separate but equal. Others like myself argue that it does not matter who gets to keep the word "marriage" so long as we get the same 1,138 federal benefits, rights and privileges heterosexual couples enjoy. If compromising on what to call a legal status does the trick, then I am for it. People can call it Shirley for all I care. At the end of the day, married, civil union-ed or shirley-ed, we will be considered married by most. As the four-year-old daughter of friends recently declared, "Mister Erwin and Father John are married, just like mommy and daddy." While we are still not allowed the same legal rights and status as her parents, she senses that our love and commitment are no different than mommy and daddy's.

This goes back to being pragmatic and accepting the reality that injustice and inequity are sad facts of human existence. But as humans, we also have ideals we fight and strive for. Equality. Justice. Love. We might never achieve them fully but we keep at it, one step at a time.

Photo: The New York City Independent Media Center

*Clarification of terms. Civil unions were established to extend rights to same-sex couples but only within the state where the couple resides. States with civil union statutes include Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire. While states like Massachusetts and Connecticut currently permit same-sex marriages, the benefits and rights afforded same-sex couples end at state lines. Only a federal law permitting same-sex marriage OR civil unions will give same-sex couples the same privileges as straight couples.

Friday, November 07, 2008

High Hopes, Low Expectations

While I remain buoyed by Barack Obama's win and firmly believe that fundamental changes are afoot in our nation's core values and governing philosophy, I am realistic about what is possible in the short term, particularly in terms of policy. In The Newshour, Mark Shields was asked what his expectations are of the president-elect and his administration. Shields replied, "I have more hope than expectations."

The reality is, the next administration and congress face daunting challenges: a fallen economy and broken financial institutions; an alarming and growing number of unemployed citizens; an expensive and patently inefficient health care system; exploding entitlement programs; a failing education system; decaying infrastructure; two wars and counting; cantankerous and dangerous adversaries; the list goes on. And priorities have to be made.

It should come as no surprise that Obama's answers to our many problems will be "more of the same" than anything new and innovative. For instance, contrary to McCain's prediction that an Obama presidency will turn America Socialist, the country will remain firmly Capitalist.

David Leonhardt wrote in his article Obamanomics,
With Obama, there is vast disagreement about just how liberal he is, especially on the economy ... Some of the confusion stems from Obama’s own strategy of presenting himself as a postpartisan figure ... “My core economic theory is pragmatism,” he said, “figuring out what works.”
Bottom line is, when tackling the economic issue, Obama and his team will adhere to mainstream liberal economic solutions. I expect that answers to other challenges will also fall within the range of acceptable and prescribed remedies.

Where does this leave issues that have not made the top ten list such as LGBT civil rights? Sadly, while we have taken a great leap forward by voting into office our first president of color, we have simultaneously stepped back by denying equal rights to a minority group in California, Arizona, Florida and Arkansas.

While Obama and some legislators might be sympathetic to the plight of LGBT individuals, they are beholden to the electorate that put them into office. As with any other policy initiative, they can only go so far. They need to be attuned to how voters think and feel if they are to succeed in making legislative changes. Again, more of the same. This is how the system works.

And this is why gender minorities need not despair. As Andrew Sullivan points out, the tide of history is behind us, in spite of the passing of Proposition 8 and other anti-LGBT measures. In a May 2008 Gallup Poll, 55% said that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal. An encouraging 57% feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Most of all, hope is with the next generation which holds more progressive and enlightened views. LGBT people and their allies simply need to keep the course, on the ground by changing minds and hearts one at a time and in the halls of power by reminding politicians that we are a constituency as well.

So while I might have low expectations in the short term, I have high hopes for our future. Obama warns us, "the road will be long and the climb will be steep," but I do see the promised land.

Photo: ABC News

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Response to People Power

A family member emailed:
Hate to blow your bubble, but I am a die-hard Republican. Being a Chicagoan for almost 30 years, I am aware how dirty politics are here. I find Obama, an extreme liar, he lies about his associations and remember how it works - you are who you associate with ... I don't want to say more, but I guess it would take a lot to convince me who he is. Let's see how he works, remember that Kennedy was well loved and he was assassinated, that is not far from probable. More power to him and his cronies.

People Power

I am very fortunate to have been part of breathtaking movements for Change - the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines and the election of the first African American president.

On Saturday night, February 22, 1986 my parents woke me and my brother up. Quickly - get dressed - we're going to EDSA. I didn't pause to question whether I was dreaming or not (a few days earlier I had gotten into major trouble for joining one of the many street demonstrations against the Marcos regime). I jumped into my jeans, pajamas and all, put on a t-shirt, grabbed a baseball cap and joined my family. En route to the highway where hundreds of thousands were converging to protest a stolen presidential election, and to demand Tama Na - Enough! to 14 years of dictatorship, I asked my mom what made them decide to take action. She said we'd like you and your kuya (big brother) to have a future. We'd like to hope again. So when Cardinal Sin called upon Filipinos to barricade the rebel camps, we came. A few days later, Ferdinand Marcos was whisked away by American forces and Corazon Aquino became president.

For the past year, my partner and I have followed and supported the campaigns of Hillary Clinton then Barack Obama. We realized, along with millions of others, that it was time to change the course on which the Bush administration, the Republican party, fundamentalist theocrats and their allies have steered the nation. A path that has drastically veered away from the American ideals of freedom and equality. We joined in chanting yes we can. Yes we can work together for a better future. Yes we can hope again. Last night Barack Obama won the White House.

More than two decades after the nonviolent uprising in the Philippines, sadly not much has changed. While democratic institutions have been established and freedom of the press flourishes, gross inequity and rampant corruption prevail. Income inequality is one of the worst in Asia and close to 30% of families live below the poverty threshold. Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index gives the country a score of 2.3 (10 being highly clean and 0 being highly corrupt as assessed by business people and country analysts). Cameroon, Iran and Yemen garnered the same mark.

So, where will America be four years from now? In a decade? Will race and gender still matter? Will there still be two Americas? Will lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangendered individuals be treated as full citizens entitled to the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals?

It is up to all of us. This is not about Barack Obama. This about doing what is right and just and true for all. This is about keeping the American Dream alive.

Related Posts:
A Better America
If You Love Me

Monday, November 03, 2008

Li Tim-Oi

Last Sunday, for an adult forum class, I shared the story of Li Tim-Oi, an inspiring Chinese woman who quietly went about doing God's work and unwittingly opened the doors to the priesthood for women.

She was born May 5, 1907, as China was transitioning from feudalism to modernity. In the fishing village where her parents lived however, the old way of life persisted as it had for centuries. At that time, baby boys were highly prized while girls were not. A bowl of ash could be at hand to smother unwanted new-born girls.

Tim-Oi was fortunate as her father was a Christian convert, doctor and headmaster, who challenged prevailing notions. Mr. Li was determined to show local farmers and landowners that a daughter could and should be cherished. He gave his infant the name “another much beloved girl.” Tim-Oi had two sisters.

In 1931, at the ordination of a deaconess at the Cathedral Church of Saint John in Hong Kong, Tim-Oi heard and responded to the call to ministry. The preacher, Rev. Mok Shau Tsang declared, “Here today we have an English lady … who is willing to sacrifice herself for the Chinese church? Is there a Chinese girl who would be willing to the do the same?’ Tim-Oi recalled kneeling down and mouthing the words of Isaiah, “Here I am, send me.”

She then attended Union Theological College in Canton. In her third year at seminary, peace was shattered by war with Japan. Along with her fellow students, she served thousands who were wounded and displaced by incessant air raids. Li Tim Oi experienced the horrors of war.

In response to the great need at the time, she was made deacon in 1941, and was given charge of an Anglican congregation in the Portuguese colony of Macao, which was overflowing with refugees from war-torn China. When a priest could no longer travel from Japanese-occupied territory to preside for her at the Eucharist, Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong asked her to meet him in Free China, where on January 25, 1944 he ordained her "a priest in the Church of God.” In his mind, Bishop Hall was merely confirming what he and many others witnessed - that God had already given Tim-Oi the gift of priestly ministry.

Li Tim-Oi continued the work she had started as a deacon, tending to the spiritual and physical needs of her congregation and neighbors. But along the halls of power, there was furor over her ordination. Simply, the Anglican leaders clung to the antiquated idea that women were not worthy to be priests. That women were not equal to men. To this day, this sentiment still prevails in many churches within the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches. Women are not good enough.

After World War II, Tim-Oi tried to diffuse the controversy by surrendering her priest's license, but not her Holy Orders, the knowledge of which carried her through Maoist persecution. Along with others belonging to the intelligentsia, she suffered hard labor and humiliation under the Communist regime. She lived in obscurity and deprivation for over 30 years.

The Bamboo curtain eventually lifted and Tim-Oi was finally permitted to reunite with her family in Toronto, where she resumed the practice of her priesthood. Li Tim Oi died on February 26, 1992.

Since Tim-Oi's ordination, women have been ordained priests and some consecrated bishops. The primate of the Episcopal Church is Katharine Jefferts Schori, a beneficiary of Li Tim-Oi's legacy. These women have long proved that they are worthy, that they are equal to men. I suspect God had known this all along.

For more, visit my knol, Li Tim-Oi.


"Li Tim Oi's Story" and "Memories of Li Tim-Oi," The Li Tim-Oi Foundation.
Florence Tim Oi-Li with Ted Harrison (1985), Much Beloved Daughter, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Role Playing

One thing in particular stood out for me during my cousin's nuptials last weekend - how traditional gender roles were emphasized and celebrated. Not that there is anything wrong with such roles, as we all have the freedom to abide by them or not. But I did find the language and ritual jarring and anachronistic, my cousin's choice to include such rubrics surprising. It is 2008. Is a woman still expected to subsume herself to her husband?

That might not have been her intention. Perhaps, she simply wanted to continue and honor traditions important to her immigrant Filipino parents and to her husband's immigrant Chinese parents. She just might be proud of her heritage.

During the wedding service, the coin bearer (a little boy), brought forth arrhae, "earnest money" in the form of 13 coins. For Filipinos, it signifies the groom's "pledge of his dedication to the welfare of his wife and children (source: wedthemes.com)." Man as provider.

After, attendants or "sponsors" flanked the kneeling couple and lit a candle on each side. A second set of sponsors then draped and pinned a veil of white tulle over the bride's head and groom's shoulder. Finally, another couple laid a cord in the form of a figure eight on the couple's shoulders. While the veil (and cord) symbolizes the bond of marriage, the presiding deacon* emphasized the bride's vow to be be faithful, pure and obedient to her husband. Woman as chattel.

During the reception, the couple had the Chinese wedding tea ceremony where they served the groom's elders. The elders, beginning with the oldest, were "invited" to drink tea. They sat on chairs while the bride and groom, bowing, offered them cups. In exchange, the couple was rewarded with red envelopes stuffed with cash. A relative or two gave the bride jewelry.**

It may very well be the case that my cousin is simply proud of her heritage. Judging by the toasts, it became apparent that those closest to the couple knew who wore the pants in the relationship. Clearly, her husband does not own her.

However, there is power in ritual and language in that it perpetuates roles and rules that may no longer be appropriate for our time. Moreover, such traditions enshrine inequity and power within relationships. These proscriptions stifle and stunt individuals.

A few years ago, I was sitting in church when it occurred to me that I was nearly forty, not married, gay, heavily in debt (student loans), with no house in the suburbs or 2.5 kids - thank you Jesus! I was and am grateful that somewhere along the line I realized that I did not have to be or follow a certain way. That I was free to choose how my life would unfold. Free to be happy.

How many people regret not having pursued their dreams, not listening to their call, not being true to themselves because they bought into roles and rules imposed upon them? The photographer who became a doctor because it had been his parents' dream. The traveler who is tied at home because her pastor says that is her place. The woman who remains biologically male because she had married.

A day after the wedding, I was surprised again by people's adherence to traditional roles and rules. Even by gay individuals. Over brunch, an older gay priest was taken aback that I did not drop everything and "support" my partner. That I did not play the perfect minister's wife, serving tea and standing behind him. I think he expected this more from me as I am Asian.

I don't think so.

*Since the groom refused to convert to Roman Catholicism, the catholic service did not include holy eucharist and a deacon was assigned to officiate.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Public Discourse

In an op-ed piece, George Will wrote:
The Episcopal Church once was America's upper crust at prayer. Today it is "progressive" politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety. Episcopalians' discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church's doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an "inclusiveness" that includes fewer and fewer members.
He was doing his bit as a pundit, expressing his opinion. As a well-known conservative columnist, journalist and author, he is able to influence the minds of many, indirectly sway public policy, and affect our very lives. In this case for instance, he questions the value of tolerance and inclusivity.

In my post about the place of politics in the pulpit, I expressed my opinion that a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or any kind of religious minister should not attribute any policy or candidate as God's. However, they are free to lend their voice to public discourse particularly when their church or religion is the topic of discussion. Especially when they do know, more than most of us, what they are talking about.

Responding to Will's piece, the leader of my congregation (and my partner), wrote:
After a wonderful and typical 16-hour Sunday workday, I came home from church and read George F. Will's baffling op-ed, "A Faith's Dwindling Following."

Will's impressions of the Episcopal Church are very different from my own, perhaps because he has chosen to view my church through the complaints of a former bishop who has led his diocese out of the mainstream and into a place of fear and fanaticism.

Mine is a "typical" Episcopal parish, filled with old and young, rich and poor, with several races, and with heterosexuals, lesbians, gay men, bisexual persons and transgender persons. I spend much of my time explaining the basics of the Christian faith, coordinating programs and visiting those who are planning baptisms, marriages and funerals. I pray with those undergoing knee replacements, mastectomies and just about every other surgery or procedure one might imagine.

Unlike the Rev. Robert Duncan, I don't spend my time forming alliances with those who agree with me; rather, I try to follow the hard way of Jesus Christ, welcoming all people and perspectives.

Will should visit our church, All Souls. Shame on him for stepping into territory about which he seems to know very little. Shame on Duncan for refusing to do the hard work of a faith that welcomes and frees.

His comment is published in the Washington Post.