Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Su Casa, Mi Casa

Yesterday, President Obama welcomed a couple hundred or so gay “leaders” to the White House. His press secretary insists that it was nothing more than a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, others contend that it was another stab by the Obama administration at mollifying the gays, especially after its first shoddy attempt only succeeded in further aggravating the lavender mob whose anger had reached a fever pitch.

The president did acknowledge the LGBT community’s frustration.

I know that many in this room don’t believe that progress has come fast enough, and I understand that. It’s not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half-century ago. But I say this: We have made progress. And we will make more. And I want you to know that I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I’ve made, but by the promises that my administration keeps …I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.
Like many, many others, I have long lost patience with Mr. Obama, his administration and the Democrats who control both Houses of Congress. I realize that the president does not have a magic wand with which he could bring about the change and equality we lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders seek. I grasp the hard reality of politics and even have fun musing about strategy. Nonetheless, a pattern of neglect has been established (see reiterative news coverage) and concrete steps could have been and still could be taken if only the president chooses to expend some political capital on a constituency that has consistently provided him and the Democrats capital for their campaigns. But I digress and belabor a moot point. As I have concluded a while back, we are a dispensable constituency.

However, we should acknowledge that yesterday was a first. As Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson enthused:
The very fact that he would invite 200 LGBT leaders from across the nation on the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the gay liberation movement is just an astounding thing … Most people were standing around not believing they were actually guests in the White House.
Although the good bishop tends to be effusive about POTUS, fact is, President Obama is the first Oval Office occupant to officially celebrate gay pride in the White House. He not only had LGBT leaders over, he also invited spouses, partners and children. By commemorating a landmark event in LGBT and civil rights history in such a public manner, may it be belated and for pragmatic purposes, the president sent a very strong signal to all Americans about equality, freedom and justice.

And he also gave us more words to which we can hold him accountable.
So we are all witnesses to monumental changes in this country. That should give us hope, but we cannot rest. We must continue to do our part to make progress step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind. And I want you to know that, in this task, I will not only be your friend; I will continue to be an ally and a champion and a president who fights with you and for you.
We will remind you Mr. President. Again, and again, and again.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

No offense bro, but I’d sooner my son come to me confessing that he just got a girl pregnant than that he’s gay. That was my big brother years ago when we finally had an adult conversation about my being gay and how we were going to navigate it all with my young nephews and niece. They had just immigrated from predominantly Roman Catholic and socially conservative Philippines. Undeniably, he has come a long way and he treats my partner of 11 years like family. The kids receive cards and presents from Tito Erwin and Tito John. I couldn't be happier. Yet, no offense Kuya, I am certain he still dreads the possibility of homosexuality being genetic.

Oddly, or not, this exchange came to mind when Governor Sanford confessed his Argentine affair, right at the heels of Senator Ensign’s admission that he had been sleeping with an employee. Ensign was reported to have been applauded by his GOP mates upon returning to the Hill for having been, as Senator Corker of Tennessee put it, “very stand-up about it.” Just as the morally upright Republicans had done with the most righteous Senator Vitter after he was identified as a client of the D.C. Madam. It amazes me how these traditional family values folk could readily forgive cheating husbands but not allow committed people to marry just because they happen to be gay. What happened to good Old Testament anger and retribution?

An interesting thing though is the fact that Republicans were not as forgiving of Larry Craig, their wide-stanced colleague from Idaho, especially the momentarily shamed Ensign and Sanford. Ensign had argued that it would be best for the Senate and their party if Craig resigned. That is because Craig was caught soliciting another man – abomination! There’s the lightning bolt.

Edwin Washington Edwards, former governor of Louisiana, once quipped, "The only way I can lose this election is if I'm caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Apparently, conservative male politicians still believe that they can get away with sexual shenanigans so long as it doesn’t involve another man. Just suck it up, call a press conference, admit your mistake, perhaps shed a tear, and if possible, have the wife standing by her fallen (but nonetheless virile) man. After all, boys will be boys.

Wonder how these gentlemen would react to the revelation that one of their female colleagues left the kids with her husband, took a “walk” and met up with her boy toy?

*Tito means uncle while Kuya means big brother.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So Gay, So Lame

I recently posted on Facebook: Do not buy lame attempts at damage control - we want repeal of DADT, DOMA & equality. Nothing less is worth our votes and dollars. Stand up. This was in reaction to an announcement that the President was going to sign an executive order granting partial benefits to gay federal employees.

So I was rather surprised when JGM, a known liberal and peace & justice advocate responded with: I find the phrase "lame attempts" to be insulting. I thought that he was simply being such an Obama supporter that he found my criticism of POTUS offensive. How do you think we have been feeling lately? I countered. I had gone to bed when the conversation continued and apparently heated up.


JK, an LGBT activist, chimed in: I think calling the offering of federal employee partner benefits a "lame attempt" is being overly kind to the administration. The lame attempt itself is what's actually insulting in this situation, given the language in the DOMA brief.

JGM: As a person with a disability, I find that talk like that insults me. I try to be as open minded and inclusive as possible, and then this occurs. Sigh.

JK: I'm sorry you're insulted. I refer to myself as "gay," so when someone says something is "gay" in a pejorative sense, I get offended. If I (and millions of others) didn't identify as "gay," I wouldn't care if people used it negatively. But if you identify as "lame," then I'm truly sorry.

JGM: I am not lame, but have many friends and colleagues who have an impediment to their walking. I care when people use words pejoritively (sic).

Ah. I got it. While it is a pity that JGM took offense on behalf of his friends and colleagues, I am not sorry for my choice of words because “lame” to me does not identify or equate to a particular group of people. The word was a perfect adjective for the action being taken by Mr. Obama. “A lame excuse” for instance is a well worn expression. Thus my surprise at JGM’s reaction. Suspecting that we were not the only ones having this exchange, I googled “people with disabilities ‘that’s so lame’,” and the first link I got was to a thread on this very topic.

Apparently, someone had written:

… does anyone actually use “lame” as an epithet for the disabled? I understand offense toward use of the word “retard,” “cripple,” and lots of other offensive reductive terminology used exclusively toward people with particular conditions. But “lame” is a valid and, frankly, potent and important descriptor that does not merely attach to a class of people … lame has important connotations that have nothing to do with perception of disabled people. When someone says “man, that was so lame,” there is not even an intimation of: “I link that in my mind to someone with a disability.” Whereas in a phrase like “don’t be such a fag,” the original epithet, though arguably not the primary intent (and even if you don’t buy that defense, as I usually don’t, I believe people are genuine when they employ it), is still completely linked via a complex system of homophobic associations …“Lame” is too evocative and useful to be deemed off-limits for a “secondary” offense (toward disabled people) that simply has no powerful connection in the minds of people who use it to that particular target.

I’m disabled, and roll my eyes so hard at people (usually the able-bodied) lecturing people about using the word lame. According to the great internet dictionary, this is what lame means: disabled so that movement, especially walking, is difficult or impossible. That’s me. I’m lame, and no, I’m not offended if you say that Creed is lame. Or hell, even something that is good, like cake, is lame. I wish people would stop splitting hairs over minor (and kind of meaningless) things like this, and focus on the ways in which people actually do discriminate against disabled people.

That is so lame is not quite the same as that is so gay.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pride & Family

Happy Pride! Anyone? Pride? Yay?

I was looking forward to being with family but I was dreading the visit for some reason. After being in suburban Los Angeles for 34 hours and 47 minutes I now know why. As a gay person I am invisible again. Coming from progressive Northwest DC where Obama got over 9o% of the vote and where my partner and I are active members of the community, I understandably feel like a fish out of water in conservative Northern Orange County where many mourned and still lament McCain's loss.

As I surveyed the scene at my nephew's middle school graduation, I identified Korean, Vietnamese, South Asian, Filipino, Hispanic and some White families (even a Daughter of the Revolution oddly handing out certificates to three Asian girls), but no lesbian or gay families. I did spot a homeroom teacher or two who appeared gay, but I did not see anyone else with whom I could identify. At the Peruvian restaurant where we had dinner, I also spied a table of Asian gentle men but they were muffled by the din and distraction of families and partying teens that swarmed the place. When I was asked by a family friend why I moved to DC, I elicited a polite "oh" and not much else upon answering that my partner had gotten a job in the nation's capital.

It was like being back in Manila again where it is okay to be gay so long as you remain in the shadows and play the limited roles allowed queer folk such as the drag queen who entertains the masses, the fey designer who dresses matrons, or the butch dyke who takes care of the parentals. As Filipino gay activist Oscar Atadero reflected on the LGBT movement in the Philippines, “... homosexuality in the Philippines (is) being tolerated as part of the social structure, as long as that hidden part knows its place in society; working in salons, prettifying the wives of politicians or campaigning for political bosses at elections."

I guess I have been out and proud too long and too self-differentiated that the O.C. is simply a wee bit stifling. But I am glad to be with family even if I have to play the "bachelor" uncle for the weekend. And gladder still that my brother is looking East.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

To March or Not to March

Last Sunday, Cleve Jones announced a march in Washington to demand that Congress establish LGBT equality and marriage rights. "We seek nothing more and nothing less than equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states," the activist demanded. He pegged the event on October 11, National Coming Out Day.

Indeed the LGBT community and its allies have been growing restless, frustrated and simmering at the inaction of the President and the Democratic-led Congress on LGBT issues. As Rachel Maddow asks, what happened to Candidate Obama who claimed to be a “fierce advocate” of the community?

However, there are those who question the wisdom and timing of Jones’ march. Bil Browning in The Bilerico Project lists 10 major reasons why he thinks it is a horrible idea. He asks how such an event can be staged in short order and still pack a punch. The Mall is already booked; Congress will be not be in session; and in these difficult times, many can not afford to take a few days off and fly to Washington. More importantly, the event has not been coordinated with other leaders and groups, and marriage is not the only LGBT issue.

Admittedly, I have already blocked off October 11 in my calendar. I also think that a march in Washington is a good idea. However, I agree with Browning’s concerns. Perhaps, the many and varied players in the community should gather and plan better. A march in June 2010 that highlights our many concerns and grievances, while Congress is in session and right before midterm elections, might be a better and more viable alternative.

But can (and how) grassroots activists, issue-based groups, bloggers, national organizations, and LGBT “leaders” and gadflies get together and come up with a better considered and concentrated effort?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gadflies & Dissent

A guest blogger in The Bilerico Project writes

I'm not surprised at the recent Gallup poll showing that interaction with gay people affects public perceptions of a whole spectrum of issues from gay marriage to gays in the military. But I'm surprised at how oblivious people are to what it means.

Up to now, LGBT activists have used intimidation as their main tactic. When the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 last month, for example, liberal columnists went into overtime attacking the one thing Democrats never do: the government. LA Times' Tim Rutten called the decision "social and moral nonsense," and Andrew Sullivan decried Obama's non-committal Prop 8 position in "The Fierce Urgency of Whenever." Others blamed Prop 8 supporters. 5,000 people showed up in New York City and 15,000 more in Los Angeles - a lot of them wearing No on Prop 8 campaign's "No to H8" logo. Impressive? Yes. Effective? No.

As one Twitter friend put it, outreach - not condemnation - is the secret to winning over social conservatives, Republican and Democrat.

He continues by claiming that he is “a perfect example” of how LGBT activists ought to conduct themselves.

While there is no doubt in my mind that good can come out of a positive exchange with any one of us, I disagree that liberal columnists should not hold the government and its elected officials accountable. It is also quite a claim that Democrats never contradict or challenge the government.

Perhaps the tone and tenor could be modulated, but there is and should be a place in public discourse for gadflies. I think activists know full well what they are doing. They are not “oblivious” or unfamiliar with the adage that one can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. In any social or political movement, there are many players and various strategies. They all have their roles to play.

We have the right to hold up a mirror to the very ignorance, hate and lies that perpetuate our status as second class citizens. It is in our interest to expose man-made ideas passed as religious truth or “natural” law. We need to remind officials we campaigned for and elected that we are not a dispensable constituency. I dare say that we have the obligation to hold the President to his repeated promises of equality for all, precisely because a generation before him fought for racial equality, a legacy that has allowed his ascendance.

And I also disagree that our activism has been ineffective. It has been impressive AND effective.