Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marriage Mine Field

Comments on my latest Washington Blade post highlight how fraught marriage - the word, the act and the institution - is to LGBT individuals. For some, marriage has come to symbolize the cause of our marginalization and oppression. It embodies heteronormativity, how being straight is the right and "normal" way, as well as heterosexual hegemony, how everything is dictated by the lives, mores and norms of the straight majority. It also stands for a patriarchal system that vastly favors heterosexual men and disadvantages women and sexual minorities.
MRD: It's funny how much the gay marriage movement people sound like the conservative marriage movement people.

veeblefetzer: This marginalizing of anything other than a hetero nuclear family is ridiculous. Traditional families are multigenerational, with child-rearing responsibilities shared by grandparents, older siblings, and perhaps a gay uncle and a bisexual aunt or two. The nuclear family is a recent invention, and its glorification as the ideal arrangement for raising children is pure mythology.

stephenclark: Interesting topic, but the conclusion was trite and flippant. Are heterosexual norms so superior in every respect that the wholesale adoption of them by gay couples is unquestionably good? Funny, heterosexual marriages hardly seem like the ideals of love and stability that you romanticize them to be. Can't we have equality yet preserve some of our own norms if we think they're superior? I personally find lots of straight relationship norms dysfunctional, starting with the gendered division of labor.
Marriage is loaded. But it can mean what we'd like it to mean. It could simply be a legal arrangement that ensures privileges and protections the straight majority already enjoy. It could signify a relationship based on love, commitment and mutual respect where no one dominates.

And it could also be a choice not made. But a choice that should be available to all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Redux: Gay immigrants

Originally posted on Washington Blade, October 16, 2009.

Images from last week’s National Equality March shared and posted on the Internet feature the energized and bright faces of the next generation of activists - the Proposition 8 generation. Not as prominent, if visible at all, are the faces of immigrant members of the LGBT community. As a participant in an Asian Pacific Islander Welcome Event and Summit pointed out, “Many of us are barely out of the closet – getting political is the last thing in our minds.”

I do recall my own experience as an FOB (“fresh off the boat”), trying to survive in New York City while fast-forwarding my emotional, psychological and social development as a young gay man. However, I was luckier than most, as I spoke English and had resources, friends and a decent education which, to some degree, put me on par with most Americans. I also acquired some chutzpah early on, and was soon on my way.

Most LGBT immigrants are not as lucky. Most arrive in the United States armed with dreams, resolve and not much else. Many barely speak English and do not have the education or social capital required to achieve middle class status. Not only do they have to struggle for economic stability and jump through hoops to secure residency or citizenship, they also have to wrestle with coming out to their families and ethnic communities and figure out how they fit into the LGBT community. Often, these women and men are alienated from their own because they choose to live openly. Others feel insurmountable familial, cultural and religious pressures to remain in the closet and thus lead double lives. All this can last for years, even decades. Understandably, marching in Washington is something of which many LGBT immigrants cannot afford the risks.

However, like generations before them, LGBT individuals from all over the world come to America to pursue the promise of freedom, equality and opportunity. Some are escaping political turmoil or personal persecution. Others come to seek their fortune to take care of family back home while building their own future here. Most are drawn to the ideals upon which this nation was founded. We come so that we might live and love freely. In time, with hard work and some luck, many of us integrate into American society and the LGBT community.

We can help gay newcomers by welcoming them and by continuing our efforts to pass legislation that benefit us all. The Uniting American Families Act and the Respect for Marriage Act will allow binational couples and families to stay together in the United States. The repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" will keep gay immigrant soldiers fighting for their adopted country and eventually allow them to be proud and loyal citizens.

Moreover, reforming our health care and education systems; creating jobs; addressing the widening economic gap; and promoting gender and racial equity will also benefit foreign-born LGBT people who tend to lack access to health care, earn less than most Americans and are at the margins and lower rungs of society.

Those of us who are native born or have integrated can reach out to LGBT co-ethnics who are still trying to find firm footing. Within the Filipino American community, for instance, a friend points to the wall that stands between Fil-Ams (Filipino Americans) and Fil-Fils (Filipino newcomers), which has to be taken down. We can also educate our respective racial and ethnic communities about us, their LGBT sisters and brothers. Sadly, homophobia and transphobia are prevalent in African, Asian Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino and other immigrant communities.

Our strength comes in part from our diversity as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; it also comes from our varied and multiple stories, origins and heritages.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Redux: Now what?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade, October 12, 2009.

It was a beautiful sight - over 100,000 lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender individuals marching by the White House and toward the Capitol demanding full equality and civil rights for all Americans. Yesterday was a perfect fall day, complete with a rainbow that formed in the sunny sky as we were about to start.

It is undeniable that this was a successful grassroots effort organized mainly by people under thirty through Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. I could not help but be buoyed by the energy, passion and determination of the college students walking next to our church group. Like the tens of thousands of young people that descended upon Washington, there was no doubt in their minds and hearts that all people are created equal and that all citizens should enjoy the same privileges and protections.

But in the throng were also women and men from earlier marches. A few were present during the Stonewall Riots forty years ago. The National Equality March was called by activist Cleve Jones and encouraged by civil rights activist David Mixner. Those of us sandwiched between the Stonewall and the Prop 8 generations came together in full force.

Yesterday’s event created an amazing image of power, diversity and unity which we need to take with us to inspire our struggle for equality.

There are those who pit one generation against another as well as argue that one form of political action is better, even more righteous, than the next one. The march was a waste of time – we should focus our energy and resources on state and local fights. HRC is in cahoots with the administration and its fancy black tie dinner is a venue for rich white gay men to dress up and feel political – we should not cooperate with the establishment. Incrementalism is no longer acceptable – we should have all or nothing now. For some, it is either you’re with Cleve or with Joe. There is only one right way.

I believe that there is no one way. Last Saturday, I attended a gathering of small and fledgling Asian Pacific Islander organizations trying to have their faces seen and voices heard in the largely white cacophony which is the LGBT movement. That evening I attended HRC’s annual dinner, as did a number of women and people of color. Yesterday, I proudly marched under the banner of my Episcopal parish in Woodley Park.

There is a lot of work to be done and we need as many people on all fronts - energized youth knocking on doors and stopping folks on the sidewalk; bloggers agitating and needling; talking heads arguing with opponents; insiders working the system; LGBT of color showing up; religious leaders challenging their congregations and denominations; elected LGBT and fair-minded officials aggressively pushing legislation; African American, Latino and Asian leaders fighting homophobia in their respective communities.

In the meantime, the rest of us can help and give as much as we can in crucial civil rights battles, like those going on in Maine, Washington State and soon, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York. We can support and vote for pro-LGBT candidates in local and state races. We can donate time and money to LGBT organizations. We can and should come out and tell our stories to our families, neighbors and colleagues.

The reality is, in spite of our showing this weekend, not much has changed. Yet. But the tide is turning and this country is definitely going in the right direction. But we need to keep working and stop harping at one another. We have to realize that this is how democracy, politics and social movements work. We have to accept the fact that there are many voices and valid ways of working for change.

So let us celebrate this success, support each other and keep fighting the good fight. The finish line is up ahead. Look.

Monday, October 12, 2009

No Surprises

I was not the only one who anticipated that the President would not say anything new at HRC's annual dinner last Saturday. As I posted on the Blade (full text below), I knew that he was going to reaffirm his unwavering support for the gays and for equal rights for all Americans. Sure enough he also touted his upcoming signing of the Hate Crimes Bill. Anyone who has been following the administration's actions on behalf of the community could have predicted all this.

I still remain grateful to Mr. Obama for showing up and mentioning lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in speeches to larger audiences. However, I no longer have any expectations of the Nobel laureate, at least when it comes to LGBT rights. He and his administration have set out their priorities and while we can all argue about what should or shouldn't be in their agenda, fact is, they have made their calculations and are moving accordingly.

We should get over it, roll up our sleeves and start working. Daddy's not going to join us.

Saturday Surprise?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade, October 9, 2009.

This Saturday, President Obama will address our community at HRC’s annual national dinner. While I welcome and appreciate the gesture, I wonder if this is a good idea. Who advises him on all things gay, anyway?

The administration has disappointed us from day one, from the choice of Rick Warren to lead the invocation during the inauguration to the decision to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In spite of candidate Obama’s promise to be our “fierce advocate,” the White House has been at best tepid on gay issues, opting for inaction glossed over by private gatherings, meetings and photo-ops with the LGBT elite.

As such, Mr. Obama needs to deliver more than sweet words this weekend if he is to retain whatever credibility and support he, his administration and the Democratic Party have, particularly among those who don’t get to party at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or have pictures taken with him.

So what might he announce? What concrete action can he tout? His choice of a gay ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa? Progress on hate crimes legislation? The repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (or at least a stay on dismissals of out lesbian and gay soldiers)?

An openly gay ambassador is nothing new. In 1999, President Clinton appointed James Hormel to be our Ambassador to Luxembourg and two year later, George W. Bush made Michael Guest our chief diplomat in Romania. And with all due respect to New Zealand and Samoa, they are not exactly G20 material, like France, Brazil or India.

As for hate crimes legislation - it's been in the pipeline for some time now, so the president can’t really take much credit for that other than signing it into law when it gets to his desk.

That leaves "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and actually doing something about the insidious law other than musing about it. Among all the things Mr. Obama can do for us, action on DADT will cost him the least political capital. This is a bone he can easily throw us on Saturday.

But considering that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act might actually make it to the finish line within the coming weeks, I think Mr. Obama will (a) reiterate his commitment to full equality for all and (b) use the hate crimes measure as his administration’s good faith deposit to us. There will be no (c). I will be very surprised if he decides to be proactive on DADT.

But it is what it is. I have no doubt about the president’s progressive heart, but I am also aware of the realities of politics and policymaking. He does have a whole lot on his plate. Health care reform. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The growing unemployment rate and widening inequity.

I am grateful for the president’s decision to show up this weekend, whether it is out of sincere solidarity with our community or out of political expediency. Whatever the reasoning of his advisers, the fact remains that every time he mentions us or is seen with us, he bolsters the case for equality for all Americans. It is up to us to continue the struggle after this weekend.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Redux: Who's coming to D.C.?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade, October 2, 2009.

“Who is coming to DC to march with us?” tweets @DCgay. With the National Equality March just around the corner, many are asking how many are coming to Washington “to let our elected leaders know that now is the time for full equal rights for LGBT people.” Will there be 10,000? 100,000? Perhaps even 1,000,000? Or will we have to go the way of Beck and his teabaggers, photoshopping images and declaring that over a million of us protested? If one were to go by the number of fans the National Equality March has on Facebook and followers on Twitter, I think we just might have to consider the revisionist bent of the right wing fringe!

Seriously though, folks have reason to be concerned about how many will show up on the 11th, as it will speak to the cohesiveness of the LGBT movement and reveal its strength. At the very least, a good showing will prove to us more than anything else that our movement is more grassroots than top-down. On the other hand, a smaller crowd than earlier marches in Washington will somewhat reveal that we have become too fragmented, protecting and acting within our silos. Certainly a few would be tempted to say "I told you so," and remind us that they blogged this was a bad idea in the first place.

Aside from wondering how many will come, it might be good to ask who else will come. Who have we individually and collectively invited?

Will there be visible numbers of LGBT African Americans? Asian Pacific Americans? Latinos? Will there be gay and trans immigrants from Central America and South America among the demonstrators? From East, Central, South and Southeast Asia? Will African newcomers be part of the crowd? Will LGBT people from Middle America and the Deep South be represented? Will our families and seniors show up?

What about straight allies? Will friends from the labor, immigrant, and women’s rights movements walk with us? Will members from the wider African, Asian Pacific and Latin American communities come to support and cheer us on? Will religious communities lift us up and not scream condemnation?

It would indeed be a stunning image: diversity in our community and among our supporters. But more than forming an inspiring tableau that sharply contrasts with the 912 protestors’ anger and hate, the presence of those among us who are often left out of the LGBT table will speak to how far we have come as a community. The presence of straight and progressive friends will reflect how much we have changed minds and hearts.

The National Equality March is not ours alone. We need people to understand that our struggle for equality is their struggle as well. We need Americans to see that the promise of freedom and equality for all has yet to be realized. This is the philosophy behind the march. “As members of every race, class, faith, and community, we see the struggle for LGBT equality as part of a larger movement for peace and social justice.”

I don’t know how many will come. But regardless of how many or few do show up, this is just the beginning. The march that began with the Civil Rights movement and passed by Stonewall will continue long after October 11. We will have many opportunities to reach out to our families, neighbors, coworkers and others in our communities, to those different from us, to let them know who we are. Yes, we are queer, we are here and you will get used to it.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Redux: "Glee" - It's so gay!

Originally posted on the Washington Blade, September 30, 2009.

What’s not to like about the television series "Glee"? It seems like a lot of people like the show, especially Twitterati who tweet approval during the telecast or later, as they view it online or in Hulu. The morning after this week’s episode, "Glee" was a top ten trending topic in Twitter. And why not?

Fox touts their new offering as “a new comedy for the aspiring underdog in all of us.” It tells the story of an overly optimistic and naive teacher, Will Schuester, who tries to save a high school’s glee club from extinction and in the process, rekindles his own dreams and lifts up the usual misfits – the nerd, the gay, the goth, the overweight, the disabled. Along the way to redemption, he and the kids face hurdles set up by the scheming cheerleading coach and Mr. Schuester’s own aspirational wife.

Glee’s got it all: hit songs, dance, laughs, intrigue and gays.

And there’s the rub. The gay protagonist, Kurt, is effeminate and quick at the retort: “A soprano who hits a high note in fashion,” according to the program’s Web page. In other words, a stereotype. The other gay character, the former glee club moderator, is also straight out of a mold: a bald headed, middle aged man dressed in preppy pastels and fired for inappropriate behavior with a boy. Both are default media images of the homosexual male. Although the cheerleading coach is not outed (yet), she is aggressive and abrasive and a phys ed teacher. Flamboyant. Old and lecherous. Butch and rude. These characters are one-dimensional clich├ęs. Depth and substance is reserved for main heterosexual characters.

Although Kurt is endearing, he does not give a real picture of our diversity. In any given school, not all gays are like Kurt. There are those who appear and act just like any other teenager. There are gay overachievers, leaders and yes, athletes and cheerleaders. LGBT youth need to see more than the hackneyed “role models.” They have to realize that being gay does not mean having to be fey and fashion forward, or that being lesbian means acting masculine and not caring for skirts. We need to let them know that in this day and age, they can rest in being themselves.

A gentleman I follow on Twitter also points out another issue: “Glee puts a gloss on high-school homophobia.” He was reacting to the relative ease by which Kurt joins the football team to prove to his dad that he is not gay. Indeed, the over-the-top, unitard and headband-clad boy is treated with kid gloves by the football players and for that matter, the rest of the fictitious youth of McKinley High. The ugly truth is that in the real world, Kurt would have most likely been bullied mercilessly, possibly beaten and conceivably driven to suicide.

However, "Glee" is a television show, and meant to be an escape. I doubt its creators ever intended it to be a documentary showcasing the joys and angst of teen life, gay or straight.

Although I still object to LGBT stereotypes propagated by the show and wish that more writers and producers would look around them, their families and communities for inspiration and material, I applaud the show's inclusion of gay characters and themes.

It gives us more visibility and underscores the fact that we are part of society with a rightful place in it. One of its main characters is played by Jane Lynch, an out and proud lesbian. The more people get to know us and get used to us, the more they will realize that we are not that different.

"Glee" also promotes the positive treatment of LGBT people. Although it's be expected that girls would like Kurt and run around with him, it is refreshing to see the popular jock befriending the gay boy. In a way, the show reflects the changing dynamics among today’s youth. More and more teens see LGBT peers as they would any other. But there is still a long way to go, and shows like this one can only help change minds and hearts.

Finally, the show documents the fear, loneliness and pain felt by Kurt - how he has to deny who he is out of fear of rejection. He defensively utters, “I’m not gay!” as many of us have way too often. In the last episode, Glee offered catharsis and hope to many of us, young and old, when the boy finally admits to his father that he is gay. Who didn’t tear up when his dad said it was okay and that he loved him? Who didn’t smile at the thought that it can only get better?

You can follow Erwin on Twitter: @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Just Read: What's Killing Conservatism

In the current issue of the American Prospect, Carl T. Bogus reviews Sam Tanenhaus' new book, The Death of Conservatism.

Bogus begins by recounting a conference he attended four days after Barack Obama's ascendance. Organized by the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the participants sought to figure out what's next.
... although the intellectuals on the program seemed to take for granted that conservatism as we know it is dead, none of them ventured an opinion as to why it died, whether it deserved to die, or what was, or should be next.
Tanenhaus offers his postmortem: "the conservative movement finally imploded because, in its senescence, it abandoned the conservatism of Burke, who highly valued prudence and civil responsibility."

Bogus disagrees however.
The modern conservative movement abandoned Burke at its inception. Its ideology has not changed. What changed was that the movement finally came into full power under George W. Bush. Its ideology has not changed. What changed was that the movement finally came into full power under George W. Bush. Its ideology was well-suited for political growth but incapable of governing. A movement disdainful of government believes it does not matter who heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A movement convinced it alone possesses the wisdom and virtue believes it patriotic to mislead Congress about reasons for taking a nation to war. And once in power, when decisions have consequences, a movement that cherishes ideology so much that it will adjust facts to fit philosophy, rather than vice versa, will eventually find reality impinge with volcanic-like force - and be buried in the ash.
Apparently, current conservative "leaders" are more than happy to continue the conflagration and bury their own party deeper in the ash.