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 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

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 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.