Sunday, October 31, 2010

What are you voting for?

On Tuesday, the United States will hold elections that will determine its political, economic and social trajectory. Over the weekend, Brazil had its citizens decide their collective future.

What strikes me is the difference in what Americans and Brazilians are going to the polls for.

Brazilians are electing the successor of their current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and it looks like his chosen heir, Dilma Roussef, will win. This confirms the desire of most Brazilians to continue in the path Lula (as he is popularly known) has taken his country - a socialist, big government experiment that has brought 20 million Brazilians out of poverty and addressed social inequity at little cost to the government and no impact on the nation's economic growth. It is a model some Latin American countries are emulating to improve their lot.

Americans on the other hand, will be voting into office members of the 112th Congress, and it seems inevitable that the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. It reflects how many Americans feel about the direction President Obama has steered the nation - one with an expanded role of federal government, a response in part to a devastating recession and an attempt to fix a broken health care system. Enough people feel overwhelmed and frightened by what they perceive as too much change too soon that they are stepping on the brakes.

During any election, the question is what are citizens voting for? For Brazilians, it is to lift up those at the bottom of society and bridge social and economic gaps.

What will you be voting for?

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Story Telling

Legislative progress for LGBT and immigrant rights after the midterm elections will proceed at a snail's pace at best or screech to a grinding halt at worst. I tend to think the latter, considering the current political climate and lack of leadership in Congress and the White House on civil rights and immigration reform.

As such, I think it is crucial that we all go back to the basics and continue chipping away at the ground level by changing hearts and minds one at a time. An effective way to achieve this is by sharing our stories as queer folk, as immigrants, or as both. This puts forth faces that challenge stereotypes thereby encouraging some fair-minded individuals to change their positions and take on seemingly intractable issues.

So when the Michael Eric Dyson Radio Show invited me to tell my story as both a gay man and an immigrant, I jumped at the opportunity. I was able to shed light on the unique challenges faced by same-sex binational couples like my husband and me, as well as point out the many problems that beset America's immigration system. My interview begins at the 13:30 minute mark.

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Husband, partner, does it matter?

You call John your husband? A colleague asked.

I was recounting a recent event I attended, which had me surrounded by card-carrying, gun-toting, anti-Washington conservatives. It was a business dinner and I was the guest, so I talked mostly about work. Until the conversation turned to families and children.

A woman across the table looked at me, pointed at her diamond encrusted ring finger and said, “I noticed your wedding band; tell us about your wife.”

Funny she should ask. Immediately after John and I got married last April, I enthusiastically embraced the term “husband,” after all, that was now a legal and lived fact. But lately, I have noticed myself weighing between using “partner” or “husband” when referring to my spouse. Often, my mouth would start to form a huh … but end up with a capitulated puh…rtner.

I would rationalize to myself that I was generously accommodating other people’s sensitivities. As my colleague points out, “husband” carries a lot of baggage especially when used by gay men like me.

Yet a clear small voice challenges – is that really all it is? Or do I carry the same baggage most in society still do? We’re just getting used to “partner” for heaven’s sake … can you gays please give us more time?

So when I was asked about my wife, I put down my fork, smiled and said, “husband.”

Surprisingly, the conversation didn’t turn awkward and I actually got to tell my dinner companions about my family just as they have been for the past hour. At the end of the evening the women hugged me and the men shook my hand. “This has been enlightening Erwin,” one man confessed.

“Husband” does carry some baggage but I believe that if it is used more often by married gay men, then the load would lessen.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Principles I can live by

An article about a rift among American humanists led me to the website of the newly formed Institute for Science and Human Values.

The group's mission statement easily resonates with me.
We are committed to scientific inquiry and the enhancement of human values. This combines both reason and compassion in realizing ethical wisdom. It focuses on the principles of personal integrity: individual freedom and responsibility. It includes a commitment to social justice, planetary ethics, and developing shared values for the human family.
They argue that in a rapidly changing global community with conflicting religious, ideological and nationalist value systems, we need to discover values and principles, which can be shared by all people and which transcend dogmas and ideologies of the past.

I strongly agree with the institute's principles for personal integrity. These principles truly transcend religious belief systems and political ideologies which tend to divide us and at worse contribute to prejudice, oppression, inequity and injustice.
1. The equal dignity and value of each person.

2. The right of each person to pursue one's own rights consonant with the social good.

3. The right of privacy concerning a person’s own beliefs and values.

4. Each person should be treated as an end and not as a means.

5. Each person is responsible for her/his own life and career.

6. Society should provide wherever feasible the right to education and health care, safety and protection, and the satisfaction of the basic needs.

7. Each individual should have equal opportunity where feasible to fulfill her/his own unique talents and potentialities.

8. Cultivate reason, moral and aesthetic values, to raise her/his level of taste and appreciation, to expand her/his horizons for growth, to achieve creativity.

9. The right to live with a partner or partners of her/his choice in equality, in a family and to raise children

10. It is important that every effort be made to cultivate empathic and compassion attitude towards others, and altruistic concern.

11. Every person shall have the right to participate democratically in society.

12. To develop the common moral decencies and the excellences of the good life.

13. To be concerned with an enlightened self interest and also the common good.

14. Hopefully she/he will express good will toward others and develop an optimistic outlook in life in which happiness and exuberance will be realized.

15. All individuals live in a common habitat, the planet earth, hence every individual has a responsibility to be concerned with environmental integrity and to avoid the pollution of natural resources.
Perhaps if we tried to live by these principles, we'd all be in a better place.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.