A Gay Dad’s Open Letter to Those Questioning Whether or Not Caitlyn Jenner is a Hero

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When I was ten years old, I remember waking up in bed, cuddled up in my sheet from the night before. As I lay there day dreaming, I tucked the sheet around me imagining it to be a flowing ball gown, elegant, sophisticated and completely feminine. The fantasy came from deep inside me and in the moment was overwhelming.

It persisted on into the next Halloween season at which time I proposed a “unique” costume idea to my mother. I would go as her. Creative thinker that she was, my mother went for the idea.

On the night of, I pulled it off extremely well. Dress, makeup, pumps and pearls. I was not a comic rendition of a woman, I looked like a younger version of my mother. Strangely, under the cover of “Halloween” no one saw my motives of self exploration, nor reacted with knee jerk misogyny, homophobia or transphobia. I went off in the night collecting candy.

I hated it. What I discovered conclusively was that I was not in the least transgender. I was, and am, a cisgender guy, a male in a male body. I probably had gone only a block and I began to loathe everything about the presentation I was in, not because it wasn’t working, it was, but because it was not me.

That walk down a city block in heels may have given me a glimpse into the disingenuous feelings a closeted transgender person has to feel every single day. I don’t know that for a fact, I can only imagine that to be true.

Was my walk down that street at that young age courageous? Was I a hero? Probably not. I was in no danger as I had managed the time and place conveniently, and I had played my experimentation as a gag, a lark, a creative idea.

Now we are in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Public tabloid discussion quickly morphed from whether Bruce Jenner might be transgender to a debate on whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. Presumably, the latter discussion has gained more momentum by Caitlyn being awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

My sons are 12 years old and we have discussed Caitlyn. They truly did not understand how she felt, and her need to emerge as her true self from a male body. The issues involved needed to be explained to them. I also explained to them why she is, in my opinion, a hero.

There are others who apparently need a similar discussion. HLN’s show Dr. Drew On Call assembled a panel to discuss whether Caitlyn was courageous and deserved an award. The panel consisted of Segun Oduolowu, Zoey Tur and Ben Shapiro.

As far as television goes, the panel and their interaction ended up being less like “The View” and more “Jerry Springer”. Oduolowu immediately drove the conversation to the Tur Shapirolevel of hyperbole by screeching that Caitlyn Jenner was “a fraud”. His misguided points never once explained how Jenner was not authentically transgender, but focused on lives lost to AIDS in the 1980s. The cranky Shapiro, who seemed anxious to throw transphobic barbs at Tur, seated next to him, interrupted Oduolowu’s train of thought quickly. The barbs hit their intended recipient and Tur threatened to send Shapiro home in an ambulance. She then shot pointed comments of her own attacking Shapiro’s lack of emotional maturity.

Meanwhile, as this demeaning slug fest was playing out in one medium, graphic memes were making their way across another. These images attempted to contrast Jenner with disabled veterans. Social media images presented the premise that heroism was a competition in which if one was heroic in one way, it detracted from another’s heroism in another.

I decided that it was time for a letter.

To The Dr. Drew Panel and Those Who Question the Heroism of Caitlyn Jenner,

What exactly is a hero? When I hear the word, the first thought is of my dad. He was a career marine who put his life on the line for his country. He was also a man who put his kids and family first in his life and let us know he loved us every day. He sought to spiritually enrich us, and everyone around us, to the best of his ability. He always chose the brave and right thing over the easy and least intrusive.

If you say “hero”, I think of him.

When you say “hero”, here is what I do not think about: Your attitude Mr. Shapiro. You, addressing the transgender state of Caitlyn Jenner, and of Zoey Tur, who was seated inches from you, was bold, brash and in-your-face, but it was not heroic.

Willful ignorance is not heroic. Reducing a person’s heart, soul and dignity to the physiological make up of their body cells is not heroic, especially when even the most perfunctory research would tell you that your assessment was factually incorrect.

You could not have cared less about enriching anyone, let alone protecting them, as you reduced all of humanity into your pondering of chromosomes in human cells as the criteria for extending dignity by stating that “every cell in Caitlyn Jenner’s body, is male, with the exception of some of his sperm cells,”

Nature, the International Journal of Science, refutes you. They state, “Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2. When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. “

A hero does not misrepresent easily accessed information to win a point.

Mr. Oduolowu, you faulted Jenner for not speaking up on behalf of AIDS victims in the 80s. Since I buried over 40 close friends at that time, I found your rhetoric almost as offensive as Shapiro’s. My friends who died of age when you were at best, a child, would not attack Caitlyn Jenner as you have. They would understand the closet in which she was trapped, as many of them were in a similar one. Their illness and subsequent deaths forced them out of hiding, and ultimately set an awareness in motion, an awareness from which you yourself are a benefactor. They , to a person, would not condemn Jenner for her own closet, but would be celebrating her ultimate break through.

A hero does not use the pain of others to shame others who had not caused that pain.

Ms.Tur, your behavior is the most familiar to me. It reminds me of my son Jesse’s. My son is a super personable, bright kid. He has an elevated sense of justice and right and wrong. He also has an innately quick temper. On occasions in the past where another kid has treated him badly, he has reacted and lashed out. Invariably, it would be he, and not the original offender who would get in trouble. It has taken a few years of reinforcement, but he finally has embraced that he did himself no favors by his previous choices. Our talks went like this:

Me:: Pal, what went wrong in this situation?

Him: I got mad and got in trouble.

Me: Did the other guy get in trouble?

Him: No

Me: Were you right that he harmed you to begin with?

Him: Yes

Me: Who did your reaction harm?

Him: Me. I got in trouble. Al l the attention got on me instead of him.

Me: Exactly. He harmed you, and then you harmed you.

Him: There has to be a better way

Me: I’ll help you find it.

Ms. Tur, I appreciate you were backed into a corner by an emotional bully. The choice to strike back at an even lower level was not only not heroic, it was not effective. He was the true bully, but managed to then paint himself legitimately under threat.

As this conversation was going on in the land of cable TV, a bigger one was on social media. Images of disabled veterans were being thrown against images of Caitlyn Jenner. These images had the intention of shaming Jenner for being considered heroic.

The energy behind this mob outrage seemed even larger than any effort to reward these and other veteran heroes for their sacrifice. Accessible benefits are apparently not the issue, exclusive use of a word is.

I am not addressing this letter to the people who put together the simplistic and superficial memes, however.

I wish to address the vast Mob that responded to them.

The hero questioning memes went beyond veterans to ones that even included other sports figures. One was a juxtaposition with Tim Tebow for example.

That image alone garnered 192 thousand “likes” against Jenner. It featured almost 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which were unintelligible but decidedly nasty.

The Mob attack brought forth thoughts about Jenner’s own words, “If you want to call me names, doubt my intention, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

So, to the Dr. Drew Panel and the Mob: What is a hero?

To me, and to my sons, a hero is someone who in the face of taunts, ridicule, and shaming speaks out not for herself, but for others first.

Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. She is one not for being transgender. She is a hero because she is standing up to you.

She is one, because YOU made her one.

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Photo: Flickr/Magazin Ekstra

This post is dedicated to Emma of Wipe Out Transphobia who has blazed a trail for Caitlyn Jenner and other modern heroes.

Posted in Entertainment, Equality, Hatred, Prejudice, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meet the Woman Who Strives to Save the Lives of Little Kids Who Feel “Different”

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Her work includes films about Americans standing up assertively for civil liberties to one about a romantic soul traveling the spectrum between the living and the dead. Sarah Feeley’s professional filmmaking career projects a theme of fluidity, and the assertion that one deserves personal dignity.

On March 17, 2015 CNN released her greatest work, an amazing short film called Raising Ryland.

The film features a little boy name Ryland who is six years old. From birth, Ryland had two pieces of information to impart upon his parents. The first was that he was deaf. The second was, in spite of displaying female characteristics, that he was actually a boy.

Sarah Feeley is on a singular mission to “amplify the voices we don’t frequently get to hear.” She herself knows what it feels like to grow up with the pang that she was not like others around her.

She recalls, “One of the ways that children learn about themselves and their world is through modeling. They look at the world around them and look to see themselves reflected in their environments. For an LGBTQ child, it may be difficult to find positive, affirming reflections of themselves in their families or in the wider world. This may weaken their sense of belonging and lead to feelings of shame. All children want to belong. No child should have to live in shame. I was a child who wanted to belong and struggled to fit in. Now I know that all the things that make me different also make me unique… but I didn’t know that then. Back then, being different felt like the worst possible thing. “

As an adult, she has found solace and safety in her life partnered with another woman. Allowing herself to be her own authentic difference has given her a space in which she could find herself. “My partner, Ali, inspires me every day. I am so grateful to have her in my life. We’ve been together for over 11 years. She’s taught me about love. About optimism. About who I want to be and about the person I am. I am a better person when she’s around… the whole world is a better place when she’s around. If you meet her, you’ll know what I mean.”

Still, she has not found that the world at large understands her fully integrated self. “I am a director, and I am a woman… I would like freedom from the assumption that these two things are incompatible.”

In the last few years, “voices we don’t get to hear” reached out to Sarah. They were the voices of LGBT kids who found they could not continue fighting the bullying and rejection and had ended their lives. Sarah felt driven to take action to both have them heard as well as to end the trajectory towards tragedy so many were on. “I believe that all people deserve to be wholly known and loved for who they are. I wanted to make this film because I was heartbroken by the rising number of LGBTQ youth who felt so hopeless and unloved or unloveable that suicide seemed like their best option. When we share our stories, we become visible and reduce shame,” she states.

Sarah set out to find her Ryland and to tell his story. “I wanted to share an LGBTQ-affirmative story so that more parents could learn how to create a safe and supportive space for their children, to try to find inspiring and positive stories that might give a struggling young person hope. I wanted to show that there are parents out there who love and support their children with no strings attached even when it means confronting their own fears and expectations. There is a challenge, while working on a film that focuses on parents and children, to find a family who is willing to open up and share their story on film. It takes time to build the trust a film like this requires. It also takes a special kind of courage on the part of the parents to share something as personal as how they parent their child. I feel a huge responsibility to create a safe space during the filmmaking process and to craft a film that honors this bravery in the editing room. Through this process, I met a number of amazing parents. One mother introduced me to another and another and another. That’s how I met Hillary. (Ryland’s mom).”

Through the process, Sarah also narrowed her scope to the specifics of the transgender journey. “I see gender as a universal issue. It plays a major part in how we relate to one another as humans. When transgender people are allowed to live authentic lives, we are all given permission to live authentic lives. I am really encouraged that more and more stories focused on transgender lives or featuring transgender characters (in fiction stories) are being told. In Western culture, gender is often understood as an absolute binary that comes matched to a person’s anatomy. While this is true for some people, it is not true for all people. Gender is a spectrum. Sharing stories is one of the ways that we become known as humans. I think it’s important to for transgender people (and all people!) to be represented in the story of humanity. It’s easy to dismiss people whose lives we don’t understand whose experiences seem far away from our own experiences. I started with the hope that sharing Ryland’s story would help to open minds and bring people closer together.”

RylandIn the short film itself, Ryland’s parents make it clear why they signed on to the project and answer critics of their participation, and their choices in parenting. “41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide. 41 percent. That’s what it comes down to, do we want a living son or a dead daughter. So that’s where we get pissed. That’s where we say, ‘people can go screw themselves.’ They can try living with that statistic. It’s not their kid, they are not forced to face it. So they can sit back and make judgments all day long,” they assert.

Ryland himself was an eager participant. Sarah reports, “Ryland is very happy to be part of this project. He wants to world to know that it’s cool to have two kinds of things, his cochlear implants and that he’s transgender. Behind the scenes, we worked with (and continue to work with) transgender youth, transgender adults, experts and organizations who work with families raising transgender and gender non-conforming children. The people who have worked on this project believe that sharing stories like Ryland’s helps to promote visibility and make the world a safer, more understanding place for families raising transgender and gender non-conforming children.”

Transgender activist and author Siobhán Patricia Lynch is not convinced such a film, which she considers “fluff”, is a good approach. “I have mixed feelings on a lot of this stuff – part of it focuses on privacy of the Trans kid. When I was young, I would have given anything to be identified as a girl and not any different – we don’t know how these kids will feel in their teen years after their parents have made the choice to “out” them to media ‘look at us – we’re great parents’ – it seems bizarre to me that this is what is so sensational it sells these days. Trans issues have become the new rights battle – but it comes at a price to all the individuals that are now front and center. I made that choice for myself – I feel this kind of news is at the expense of the child who is already experiencing enough in trying to figure out who, or what, they are.” She penned her concerns in an article called The Trans Reality, Not All Feel Good Fluff . In the article, she further states, “The reality is, that we don’t live charmed lives, we’re not fluff pieces, we’re the tragedy, and this increased visibility is going to make things worse for trans adults, before it gets better, and we have targets on our backs…I think the thing that annoys me is parents who accept who their children are, as trans, are not heroes; they are doing exactly what they should be as parents. This isn’t extraordinary, its the bare minimum I would expect from a good parent, yet we somehow hail them as heroes.”

Sarah Feeley on CNNSarah responds, “That’s interesting. I have not heard that reaction. I agree that violence, discrimination and depression are big issues that adult transgender people face. That’s another story that needs to be told. I hope that sharing Ryland’s story helps to promote a culture of understanding where all people are free to live authentic lives. The response Raising Ryland has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received notes of encouragement, gratitude and appreciation from people around the country and around the world. We’ve been contacted by parents who are desperate to find help in their local areas (and we’ve worked to connect them to those resources).There are families who have written in to share their own personal stories. Many people have let us know that they would like to see more of Ryland’s story because sharing his story has made a difference in their lives (or their children’s lives).”

At least one family who were forever transformed were Mimi and Joe Lemay. They had been struggling with their own 5 year old child who was in a state of constant misery. After seeing Raising Ryland, they told NBC, “The Whittingtons explained their process of transitioning him and clearly that little boy is so happy now, so adorable, so full of life and animation and we were very struck by that and we talked about it. And we said, what if we showed our child the video of this boy? When the video finished we asked him, what to you think about that boy? Do you think you would like to be like that? Have a new name? And have everyone know that you’re a boy? …He said ‘That’s what I want. I want to be a boy always. I want to be a boy named Jacob.” Now Jacob is happy, vibrant, engaged and alive. Mimi reports, “I realized how much he came out of his shell. He had never been a girl. That was a figment of my imagination.”

Sarah’s film is more than informative, it has become in itself, transformative. Sarah is not done, however. Up next is an expansion of the Ryland story into a feature film. “It dives deeper into Ryland’s story and the young transgender experience. Our film tells one family’s experience. They happen to be a white, middle class family. Lots of different types of families from lots of economic backgrounds are raising LGBTQ children. I think their stories need to be told, too. Really, there are so many stories that need to be told!  The rate of violence against transgender women, especially transgender women of color, is a big issue. LGBTQ youth homelessness and/or LGBTQ youth in the foster system is another big issue. I’d love to see more scripted stories include transgender characters (men and women). I’d love to see more roles being played by transgender actors— all kinds of roles, not just roles for transgender characters. We have had a very positive response to the short and people from around the country are donating to our feature film fundraising efforts. We still have a long way to go. Every donation, no matter how large or how small, helps moves us closer to our goal. For major donors, we can accept tax deductible donations through our fiscal sponsor. People can individually donate by visiting: www.raisingryland.com/donate.”

While facing critics and naysayers, Sarah has a personal center, and her own true north that her mission is the right one. She shares, “My personal connection is empathy. I think all people deserve respect My mother has given me so many great pieces of advice and one she’s given me that applies to life and to this project. TRUST YOUR GUT. I don’t know about your gut, but my gut can be a mumbler sometimes. Making a film is noisy. So it can be hard to hear your gut. Making a film is also a labor of love, it’s incredibly personal, and yet, you can’t do it by yourself. So you need a lot of trust. Trust in your team. Trust in your subjects. Trust to know when it’s working and trust to know when it’s not. I hope that sharing Ryland’s story helps people begin to understand what it means to be transgender and see that transgender children who are loved and supported by their families are more likely to lead happy, healthy lives. More than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. A study by Trans PULSE demonstrates that this number drops by 95% when children are supported by their families. The first statistic is so heartbreaking. The second statistic presents such a simple and beautiful solution: Love.

My gut tells me to love. Making this film is love, the outcomes from this film are love. Love is the mission.”

Raising Ryland is featured at OutFest in Los Angeles on July 16.

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Sarah on CNN:

Posted in Family, Living, Prejudice, Research, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Would You Invite a Homophobic Judgmental Christian to Your Same Sex Wedding?

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On the Friday of the Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling, the news hit like a rainbow colored Tsunami. As I woke up that morning, I got a message from my friend Kevin of Stop-Homophobia. As one of my marriage equality heroes, he was the one from whom I would have wanted to hear the news.

“We won.” I could barely breathe.

That day, for me, and many LGBT people I know, was a awash with shock, awe and wonderment. Everything was coming up dancing rainbows.

Waves are only temporary however, and the tide that thrusts them forward, quickly retreats them. That is what happened the next day. Some heads had exploded, and it was not pretty.

I began to realize that many people who had been long silent in this conversation were now engaged. On Friday, it seemed new participants in the debate woke up, the ones who had apparently been in a political issue coma for the past few years. Suddenly the anti-gay discussions were not the same ones we had been arguing about last week. It was like we were starting the conversation all over.

I guess that is to be expected. Patiently, I found myself in the old discussions about polygamy, gay pride parades and “sin”. The feeling of astronomical progress now felt like a reversal into retro thinking. Even if the points were old and worn out, there was something new about the conversations. Rather than exuding homophobia, these seemed to be more from a place of heterosexism. The opponents were not specifically looking to condemn and demean, but only to assert their own “obvious” superiority.

This tone played out in post after post, tweet after tweet, but it really hit home for me when someone sent me an article titled “Would You Attend a Gay Friend’s Wedding?” by Brian Orme. Mr. Orme presented a theory and then invited discussion: “There are two kinds of Christians in the world today—those who would and those who wouldn’t attend a gay friend’s wedding. So who’s right?”

His treatise was basically that, in his experience of Christianity, Christians might choose to love and not focus on judging the sin of the couple, and attend the wedding to which they had been invited. Or they might see their own attendance as an “endorsement of sin” and not attend. So to him, that was the only choice, that, in his words, the Christian guests would either be “humble sinners” or “bold witnesses”.

Nowhere in his discussion does it dawn on him that maybe, just maybe, the invitation to a couple’s wedding, a day they hold incredibly dear, might be… and is, a privilege.

I have officiated for three couples, facilitating their process into deeply felt and precious life commitments. In each case, we told their story of their lives coming together, their commitment, their evolvement into life changing love. In each case they wrote their own vows, showing their mate and all in attendance feelings, thoughts and desires they had revealed to no one before that moment.

These events were life changing, not just for the couples involved, but for the community that surrounded them. I wanted to respond to Mr. Orme’s discussion therefore, with one of my own.

Dear Mr. Orme,

Recently, you wrote a question to your Christian community asking individuals whether or not they would attend a friend’s “gay wedding.” In answering your own question, you state that you would attend. You say “I believe I could attend a gay friend’s wedding without explicitly endorsing the union… It is not to endorse a lifestyle but to love a person in hopes of seeing him or her become a disciple of Jesus. Would this tarnish my reputation? It might, but it’s a decision, I believe, I could make in clear conscience with the Spirit.”

No, Mr. Orme, you would not be tarnished. Upon receiving such an invitation, you should be honored. The couple that invited you did not do so for you to teach anything. They invited you so you could learn about, appreciate and revere the deep and abiding commitment that they feel for each other. They’re inviting you to come experience how they promise to be by each other’s side for life, to help each other grow more deeply than they ever thought possible. They are inviting you to come witness that they would die on the other’s behalf.

With what they are giving to you, if you can only think about yourself, I , if I were in control, would have you just stay home.

You see, the real question that should be asked is: “Should They Invite a Homophobic Judgmental Christian to Their Same Sex Wedding?”

If it were up to me, I would say “no” for all the couples I have married. These couples were stellar, beautiful, vulnerable, strong and inspiring. I would not want your arrogance to blot their light and love in any way.

But. here’s the thing. They, to a couple, would have invited you, even with your superior attitude, and would welcome you with open arms. In their hearts, they would hope that by witnessing their love, your own heart would open up. They would even be willing for that not to happen, just on the off chance that it might.

You see, in that moment of love and joy, they would be better vessels of Christ love than I am.

They are certainly better representatives of love than you are.

One of my fellow gay dads shared this with me. Brian Copeland reported, “I invited a woman who was anti-marriage equality to our 2008 wedding. She came because she loves me. When she returned to her work the following Monday, she told her co-workers about the wedding. She was subjected to the most horrible judgment. They condemned her, and treated her like crap. That completely opened her eyes to how she and others had made me feel throughout the years. From that day she was a changed person, asserting to everyone who would listen ‘You weren’t there to see the love like I was. All I know is that God and love were both in that wedding, and that cannot be wrong.’ She took more away from our wedding than anyone.”

So, if you get that invitation, be grateful that they did not ask MY question, or answer it with MY answer. Most certainly, YOUR question should not even cross your mind. Just check “yes” and notify your “plus one.”

Then go and listen. Go and let the feeling wash over your heart. At some point in that ceremony, God will reach you and have you understand what loving your brother really is all about, that it is not for the couple being married at all. It is for you.

In that moment you will not be humbled or bold.

You will be blessed.

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Photo: Flickr/erin m

Posted in Bible, Equality, Family, Gay Christians, Marriage equality, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged | 10 Comments

A Gay Dad Sounds Off on the Terror Threatening to Be Unleashed on California Families

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It is time to take the lunatics seriously.

I envision it will go something like this: I am exiting a restaurant with my two vibrant and happy 12-year old sons in tow. A pleasantly dressed young man stops us. “Would you mind signing my petition to get a proposition on the ballot?” he asks.

I am already apprehensive, as I know what is going on in the state, and dismiss him quickly, “No thanks,” and I try to move us on. My sons give me inquisitive glances. They know I am more accessible than this. They know I am usually willing to give even a stranger a minute to hear them out. Why am I now so obstinate?

He blurts out, “Please sir. It is so we will be able to execute the gays and save California from their evil sexual habits!” I have now gone from irritated to irate.

“Get away from my family immediately,” I snarl as I quickly move us out of his range. I see the horrified look on my sons’ faces. They and kids much younger than they would be able to pick up the direct meaning of what had just happened.

“Dad! What did that mean? They are working to make a law so people can just…kill you? Can they do that? Why do they hate you?” my son Jesse will barrage me with at once. My son Jason is much more introspective. While Jesse’s fears will be aired verbally and answered, Jason’s will lie dormant in his mind until I have the opportunity to try to ease them out of him at a later time.

They will not see that the measure is not likely to succeed. They will only see it as something people are “reasonably” discussing on our streets. They will see people using the legal process to humiliate and violate human dignity. They will see our family as so valueless that we will be the targets of this legitimized hatred. It will send the message that the question on whether to dehumanize gay people is actually debatable.

The suggestion that such a conversation is acceptable will be on every street corner, and on our public airwaves. While the messaging will cause pain to grounded self-assured adults, it will send devastating messages to the more vulnerable— our children, at risk LGBT teens, transgender people and more.

It will be with us because we thought an evil man was also stupid, when the truth is, he was one step ahead of us. We will have learned one of the realities of our modern age: that being evil and being smart are not necessarily mutually exclusive propositions.

Months ago, it was announced that a crackpot lawyer in Southern California had paid a $200 filing fee to propose the California “Sodomite Suppression Act” initiative. This proposition, if codified, would make it legal to massacre gay people. The reaction to the filing was shocked bemusement. The man was seen as evil and an idiot. “This thing doesn’t stand a chance,” cavalierly scoffs the New Republic’s Christian Farias. Even an alternate ballot initiative targeting his insensitivity was filed.

Make no mistake about it. The proponent of the “Sodomite Suppression Act” attorney Matthew McLaughlin is evil, but he is not alone. Unfortunately, the more likely scenario is that someone who is both evil and rich employs him.

Farias gloats that McLaughlin has not “done his research” because many of the things proposed have already been declared un-Constitutional. (Really? What gave you your first clue, the proposed shooting of other citizens in the head?) It is unthinkable that someone who knows the ins and outs of the legal process has not already figured out what the ultimate fate of this law, in a publicly passed form, would be.

I would suggest that passing the initiative is not the goal at all.

It is on this point that I don’t think McLaughlin is THAT stupid. As a gay family who lived through the humiliation of the Proposition 8 campaign, I can tell you that in many ways the bigger effect is not about the destination of an initiative, it is about the very public process and journey to get there—win or lose.

I don’t believe the McLaughlin objective is to ever see his proposal become law. I believe that he and those behind him are using the California initiative and justice system to run a legitimized hate campaign against LGBT people and our families. I don’t think the requirement to try to collect 365,000 signatures by the McLaughlin engine is being seen by them as a hassle, that it is exactly in what they want to participate—a legitimized, protected way to hit the streets of California to peddle hate and intimidate gay people.

McLaughlin has responded to Harris’s attempts to derail the signature gathering process by having the initiative go automatically on the ballot. If that occurred, it would save us street confrontations, but the hate machine would then be able to send homophobic violence incitement speech as a political message across the airwaves, one that media would have trouble suppressing.

It was bad enough during proposition 8 when we could see signature gathers asking people to sign up to disavow our family’s existence. It was painful seeing signs during the campaign that outright claimed we were less of a family. This however, would make that experience seem like a joyful walk in the park.

So is this an over blown fear on my part? Is it unthinkable that behaviors like the Nazis enacted at their very beginning might grow into something worse as they did in early 20th century Europe? Is Matthew McLaughlin a sole entity living out his 15 minutes of fame with depravity and zero chance of success?

Here are the things I would suggest considering as you make your mind up on how serious a threat he poses:

  • He has not sought the limelight as an attention seeker would. In fact, his public anonymity is masterful in its thoroughness. He was last publicly trackable in 2004 around another initiative campaign to put Bibles in schools. After that, he becomes literally invisible and untrackable. This indicates that another far bigger public impact is planned and pending.
  • Journalist friends I have spoken to theorize that he is a paid corporate lawyer since there have been no public legal motions on record from him since the 2004 campaign. This means he is under the employ of a private entity for whom he advises, acts, and has been unseen.
  • If he is merely the representative of something larger, the bankroll represented could be substantial. The anti-gay industry spends billions each year and fund raises through designated hate groups like the “Family Research Council” and others. Their most recent summits have engaged strongly in the rhetoric that LGBT people are Nazis and that Christians are America’s version of the persecuted European Jews. This verbiage has all but called for violent action against LGBT people.
  • Another evil, but legally informed entity, the Westboro Baptist “Church,” has always been more a group of subversive lawyers than it has been a church. They have given lawyers such as McLaughlin a roadmap on how to twist the US judicial system and use it as a shield to deliver hate speech and create terror and humiliation with the blessing of the legal system.
  • Organizing and collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, even just to be maliciously leveraging the process, requires a plan and a team. Is it a mere coincidence that Scott “Crimes Against Humanity” Lively, the man who worked with Uganda’s Kill-the-Gays intiative, is now moving operations to Riverside California, of all places? To quote Dana Carvey’s Church Lady… “How convenient!” Is it also a coincidence that there he is establishing a “coffee house” series of outposts building a “team of community missionaries to carry on” where he can’t be in California? Can you imagine the collection of kill-the-gays initiative signature gathering happening and Lively NOT being involved if he was here? Nor can I.
  • View the film Jesus Camp and contemplate the militia that has been hiding in the shadows in America for years looking for their call to “valor.”
  • Gun toting radicals like Steven Anderson are a short drive away from California. What effort do you think they would put into signature gathering once that part of the process hit a green light?

Kamala Harris is working with the courts to try to halt the proposed initiative from moving forward. Her justification is unfortunately weak. She states that the proposal would be unconstitutional and would divide the public. This is where McLaughlin’s knowledge of process would be sound — what controversial proposal to change the constitution WOULD not be at the outset “unconstitutional” and “divisive”?

The situation calls into discussion the very heart of terrorism at its worst. The horrors and atrocities are short-term effects. The worst that terrorism does is force us to bastardize our freedoms and liberties in order to fight it. By guarding ourselves from it, we give up part of our own democracy, which arguable is the ultimate goal of the terrorist, for us to do just that.

We have a process in California that is designed to put law making close to the hands of the people. Some evil people are now twisting the system that supports that to be able to unleash a campaign of threats and humiliation against our LGBT population. The effect will be volatile. People will strike back at a calm request to legalize their annihilation. The more volatile that retaliation is, the more martyred the Right will claim to be — attacked while exercising their due process.

I believe that the governor must ask the federal courts, or the justice department to step in to our system. We need protection that an election process cannot itself inflict civil rights violations and harm. It is an unprecedented move, but then, never in the history of the United States has an initiative to willfully murder a portion of the population been the open question.

Large organized religion, even the progressive sects, must be called upon to condemn and vilify all who support this atrocity in any way. Already, the complete silence is deafening.

At the end of this process, should it move forward as it is set, when the initiative ultimately does fail, as it will, what then? Will those who have roamed our streets and rationally discussed shooting us dead just calmly pick up their duds, call it a day, and head out of town? I doubt it.

For even though they will have been twisting and bastardizing our legal process against us, when it no longer serves them, they will remind us that THEY are not beholden to it. We have seen precedent how the leaders of social conservatism operate. They put out the rhetoric as they did with abortion issues, but when those who listen to them kill people in clinic bombings, they disavow any culpability in the actions of those inspired by their directives. After having conditioned themselves for months that their position is “reasonable’” and the kill-the-gays grass root workers get the news that our law system will not set them up to legally slaughter us, they may not take “no” for an answer.

They will remind us, as they aim their pistols, that theirs is a calling from a whole other mandate.

That is the scariest thing of all.

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Pic: South Vancouver CPC

Posted in Equality, Family, Hatred, Living, Mixing religion and politics, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, US Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Letter to the Australian Couple Who Threatens Divorce if Marriage Equality is Realized

Jensens evol pic

Something one learns as a parent is that children are often not rational in their behavior. When something happens that is not to their liking, they will strike out in a variety of fashions, many of which do not line up to a logical agenda of self-interest. Part of the challenge of parenting, in such situations, is to show them how by reacting differently they can make the situation better, not just for themselves, but for others.

Conservatives worldwide apparently need such a parental voice at times to help them see the same thing. A year and a half ago a young man in Utah proclaimed he would starve to death if Utah allowed same sex marriages to take place. I wrote a letter to him in an effort to show him that his actions were not heroic, they were immature. Same sex marriage became legal in Utah, and he avoided starvation.

Now a couple in Australia is doing their own version of a kid rant over same sex marriage. Nick and Sarah Jensen have declared that should Australia recognize same sex marriages, they will get a divorce. Nick states they married “as a fundamental order of creation, part of God’s intimate story for human history, man and woman, for the sake of children, faithful and for life. And so, if later on in the year the state does go ahead and changes the definition of marriage and changes the terms of that contract then we can no longer partake in that new definition unfortunately.”

He speaks of a “contract” that they had with the state which would guarantee marriage defined as being only between a man and a woman forever.

Of course, no such contract exists.

As a dad, this scenario is all too familiar. My sons were both adopted through foster care and are only four months apart in age. We call them “almost twins” reflecting that in many ways, they have achieved a bond that I have only seen in biologically born twins.

My son Jesse has always been the one to lead in their game playing. When they were about 6 years old, Jesse would create card games to play. After a while, Jason would become very frustrated and I would have to intercede. It was not difficult to see the cause of their conflict — the cards and rules of the game were literally stacked against Jason. As they were explained to me, I could see that the rules would only lead to the point where Jesse would win.

So I made him change the rules. As soon as that happened, Jesse, who is a bright kid, could see that things were not exclusive to him anymore and he immediately….quit. “I don’t want to play anymore,” he would bellow, and mind-bogglingly declare, “It’s not FAIR.”

The Jensens are having a similar meltdown. They see that the rules which favor only them are changing, and therefore, they want to — quit. I have written them a letter.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jensen,

I was sad to hear of your decision to divorce should same sex marriage become legal in Australia. It is indeed distressing that you would throw something away so cavalierly that others have worked so hard to try to achieve.

I kind of get it. You had something that you felt held you above others, and made you feel special and a bit elite. That really was not the case. Here in the US they allow convicted murderers to marry from prison, even ones who have slaughtered their families like the Menendez brothers. Those who are allowed to marry are not really as holy or special as you seem to regard. In any case, they do seem to be ranked, in your opinion, above the people you don’t want to marry — LGBT people.

In your declaration of your decision to divorce, you make clear that you want control over the “rules” or you won’t play by them anymore. I have had a similar situation with one of my sons who, in his young life, refused to play games that were not set up by rules he made himself. It took a little time, but I finally showed him that the things that are worthwhile are not the things that cause us to “win” no matter what, they are things that exponentially expand joy and love.

Rules are worthless if they are not based on principles. To make things really valuable, these principles should include equality, fairness, inspiration, nurture and positive development.

You are “quitting” not because of anything having to do with your own marriage or family, but because another family might be given the opportunity for security, honor and growth. Your rationale is not sound, it is not compassionate, nor would anyone on any side of it grow better because of it. Your proposed actions are, in a word … childish.

Such actions have no basis in the Bible, which only allows for divorce in the case of adultery. They have no basis in history, since traditional marriage was as polygamously oriented in ways you fear that marriage today might evolve.

Your actions are also inaccurate in terms of the intentions of others to marry. You have declared that it would now make “marriage … detached from children, [that it’s] just about love.” This makes no sense.

LGBT families have, and intend to have, children. Many times these children are rescued from life threatening or other dire situations. The vapid “every child deserves parents of specific biologies” argument falls very flat to kids who would give anything to simply be fed, nurtured and escape either neglect or abuse.

Many, many couples who wed today also do not intend to have children. I officiated for a lovely man and woman couple in their sixties. Both would faint dead-away at your assertion of my union of them was based on the fact they had to child-bear. They showed up “about love” and have been an inspiration in doing so, as the wife today stands firmly by her husband who is vehemently battling lung cancer.

LGBT couples are not coming together in marriage to spite you. They have no intention of affecting your marriage in any way. They have fought hard for this right, because it is something of great value in their own lives.

Last week, I officiated at the wedding of two beautiful men. The marriage’s meaning was clear to all when the first groom emerged from the wings, being walked down the aisle with his mother. His eyes were brimming with tears. It was evident that this moment was a pinnacle in his life, he was transforming into a further definition of himself and his identity as part of a family.

Whether that family is just he and his spouse, or whether kids will be added, I don’t know. It is none of my business.

Nor is it any of yours.

If you choose to divorce because of what this young man has achieved for himself and his life, that is your prerogative. Just as he did not blame you for his marriage, neither should you blame anyone else for your intended divorce.

If you choose to divorce because others might gain what you have valued in your life, you are not making a statement about marriage. You are not making a statement about love. You are not making a statement about family. You are making a statement about your own damaged egos.

And it is time to grow up.

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Posted in Bible, Equality, Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 150 Comments

Pray that it’s enough for now.

I haven’t written anything for quite some time, but today I felt an overwhelming need to say, “I think I can understand and appreciate what you’ve gone through”. I needed to say how I am in awe and inspired. How, with all the media coverage of Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn, my heart has felt an undeniable passion. A passion that is bound together through something everyone has experienced at some time in their life….. pain.

Let me explain.

As an adult I have had my fair share of pain, maybe more than my share. My first husband had the disease of drug addiction, was an IV drug user who died of AIDS. As I ( and our young son) watched him decline and suffer. Losing pieces of his mind and almost all knowing of who he or I were, I held tight to the fact that, even in this dementia, he always knew who his son was, his one true joy. When he finally was able to be released of this pain and suffering and passed on into peace, I was left with all the guilt. The guilt that the one day I didn’t go to the hospital to be with him, he passed, he was alone. My very soul was shattered as I thought of him, leaving us, this world, alone. Was he scared, was he in pain, did he need my hand to hold, to comfort him, as he had done for me, for so many years? In saving our son the trauma of seeing his father suffer, did I deny him his good bye? This is my pain, that I carry with me, still.

A short five years later, my father passed away, from another devastating disease, pancreatic cancer. I also watched him decline and struggle with not being able to be the strong, active man, who was always more than capable of achieving great feats of strength. He survived a fall from 25ft., breaking his back, to getting up and on with loving, caring and providing for the family he loved and going back to work as a carpenter, after 3 short months. He was the strongest man I knew, he was my hero. He had an ingrained honor and integrity that no one I’ve known has even come close to, until my son grew into a man, he has that same honor and integrity. So after a six month battle, and dying two times on the table during surgery to remove cancerous fluid from around his heart, and being in a coma like state for a month, he too, finally, was released from his pain and suffering into peace. But, after spending 2 1/2 days by his side in the hospital, I finally decided to go to my sister’s to shower and change. I told Daddy I’d be back in an hour or so ( even though he remained in a coma). As I stepped out of the car upon arriving at my sister’s, I was met by my sister telling me Daddy had passed not long after I left. All the pain and guilt I had felt with my husband came flooding back, only this time with my Dad. He was alone, ( my parents had divorced years prior), his girls, ( my sisters and I) were all he had, and we weren’t there. All the years he had so unselfishly given to us. The hours of lost sleep worrying, working through a double hernia for years because he couldn’t afford to stop to have surgery, the broken back, the endless lessons of honor, truth, integrity….the feeling that he could make everything right, and the one time I could give this back to him, he was alone. The guilt and pain overwhelm me still.

My two sisters, whose own pain and suffering, from abusive relationships and financial problems I can’t do more to alleviate. The guilt that I wasn’t and still aren’t able to protect them. My sister, (from my husband, who I will never call “in law”) who has never stopped being a constant source of love and support, who I feel I will never be able to give adequately, all she has given to me. And her husband, who I now see in the same light as my father, a hero, who can make everything right. The pain and guilt that I am not able to do and give all they have for me.

My children, who have sustained me through their laughter and tears. Have given me the strength and purpose to go on. When I’ve felt defeated and worthless for all I haven’t done, have shown me their love is enough. My son who has overcome the loss of a father, a grandfather, moving away from his friends, school, home…only to have become the most honorable, intelligent, compassionate, driven person I know. My daughter who has the innocence of feeling like she is a big shot while standing and holding onto the poles on her first subway ride. The pain and guilt I feel that I have left them to struggle with life while I nursed my own wounds.

And my husband now. Who has had a childhood that left him feeling less than, insecure and unloved. Who I’ve watched struggle with, not an addiction to any drug or alcohol, ( although those have been part of it), but an addiction to escaping the constant pain of feeling unlovable. Who gets up everyday and goes off to work to provide for his family, smiling and hiding all he truly feels. How he tries to make everything better, our home, our family, our finances. How he has always helped, no matter what I have asked of him, loving and caring for my son, sisters…. my family. How he brushes our daughter’s hair and looks up on You Tube how to do special braids, and then does them. How he picked up the slack when I went back to college. The pain and guilt I feel that I didn’t see the pain he was in. How my love wasn’t enough to erase all the hurt he felt and love he didn’t get from his parents.

So, when I say I understand and appreciate what Bruce Jenner has gone through, I mean the pain and suffering. But it is more than that. The overwhelming sense I have to acknowledge Caitlyn Jenner, but also my sweet loving Traci, my son and his partner, Mark and all those, I not only call friends, but family, (you all know who you are). Who, although I know the strength and courage it took for them to be their authentic selves, whether they are gay, transgender, bi, whatever. My awe, inspiration, love and compassion is for the thing we have shared, the pain we carry with us, the pain that isn’t always known or seen by those around us. The courage it took everyday to get up and carry on when they weren’t able to be their authentic selves. It’s that strength and courage that moves me to tears and breaks my heart, because I know it too.

My joy, for all those who no longer have to carry around the pain, because they now can be who they truly are.  My hope and prayer, that those who still share this pain will find their peace in themselves, who they truly are. The lovable, perfect, strong, awesome people they are meant to and have always been.

Lovers laugh and cross this way

They’re weaving out into the street

It seems we never were so young

Or it was never quite so sweet

But the world is always beautiful

 When it’s seen in full retreat

The worst of life looks beautiful

                    As it slips away in full retreat

                    Well God only knows that we can do

                     No more or less than he’ll allow

                    Well God only knows that we mean well

                     God knows that we just don’t know how

                      But I try to be your light in love

                      And pray that it’s enough for now      ( Joseph Lee Henry)

Posted in Prejudice | 15 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Letter to Michelle Duggar

michelle duggar evol

By now, unless your name is Rip Van Winkle and you have just awoken, everyone is aware of the Duggar scandal. Josh Duggar, the bright shining star of the anti-gay right, and a focal point of one of America’s premier reality TV families, was found to have (allegedly) indulged in sexual and incestuous molestation. The story implies cover up and manipulation by the Duggars including an intervention by an authority figure who he himself was later convicted on a child pornography charge.

To be honest, as a commentator, I have tried to stay out of the fray. I never watched their show. Since many of the victims are part of the family being scrutinized, I also would not want to stir up conversation that would create even more guilt, harm or shame.

Yet, there was still something missing in all that has been talked about. The Duggars were not just a benign family in which a horrific situation unfolded. They were advocates and proponents, not just of their own “lifestyle”, but in attacking various personas within the LGBT community umbrella, my family being one such target.

There is more to be said to them, and so I have decided to articulate it in this open letter to their matriarch, and one of the most homophobic voices in the family, Michelle Duggar.

Dear Mrs. Duggar,

I truly cannot imagine how you must be feeling right now, and the challenges you have gone through of late. I also realize that I am the last type of person you would welcome hearing from right now. I am member of the community you have made great efforts to reject and malign.

I am a gay dad, who with my male spouse, adopted two baby boys, and have raised them to become the upstanding 12 year olds they are today.

You were eager to defeat a proposed ordinance that would have protected families such as mine from discrimination. Your recording blasted out to thousands misrepresented it as a male predators in female bathrooms issue. You attacked transgender women and implied they were child molesters. You eagerly boarded a bus and traveled seven states to try to prevent families like mine from achieving legal and societal equality and protections. You and your family members have been vocal in declaring my family inadequate and intentionally withholding because we have not provided our kids with parents who are biologically different.

People have been calling you out for “hypocrisy” due to your current family situation, but that is not accurate. Hypocrisy is when you call people out for doing something that you are also doing. That is not what has happened. You have called out people who are innocent and have not done what has been done, and covered up in your family. That’s worse.

Through your current experiences, I am deeply hoping that you are able to have the humility to sit back and re-evaluate your stance, rhetoric and philosophy in terms of the real fabric of family and the unifying love required to keep it healthy.

Truly, you and I have little in common as parents. While you hold me in disdain for being a male who mothers his children, I have to admit, I have similar misgivings about your choices. The fact that you have given birth to nineteen children is heralded as wonderful thing, and something that many would like to see emulated. I don’t relate to that concept at all.

I have little argument against the idea that you have love for all nineteen. I highly doubt however, that you have enough bandwidth for the attention each really needs, and to use your word… deserves. I have only two kids. They are the center of my universe, and even with only two, I cherish all the time we are able to be together, and regret that I cannot increase its volume tenfold. I am eager to delve into who they are, their thoughts , insights, desires and experiences. To do that , I need to be with them, watch them, communicate with them as well as their teachers and helpers. I know that the time and focus I give them would not be possible to multiply out over seventeen additional children, especially if I were in a constant state of pregnancy.

I don’t doubt you have not done super human things, but to do what I am suggesting would require a metaphysical metamorphosis greatly expanding the idea of being in many places at once concept.

This ability to keep closer tabs on my kids makes me feel that should someone do something inappropriate to them, that I would have a greater chance to have a sense of it immediately. I raise my boys with a strong standard of morality, however, I watch to make sure it is not oppressive and stifling. I know that extremes can produce the opposite result to what I intend. I also sense that the shaming of sexual feelings and the suppression of those feelings may inspire the acting out through molestation. I would think there was a connection between what your family has experienced and the Catholic Church scandal over the last decades.

In short, I know as well as you that diving into parenthood in whatever way is a crap shoot. There is no easy path to what is the exact right methodology, because all kids are different and truly need different things. We as parents, develop our ideals and standards and hope to God that we are right about them. The truth is, sometimes we will be and others we won’t.

When we are wrong, we need to admit it. When our kids stumble, it is too easy to just surmise that they developed a flaw from some outside unrelated source. No, chances are, it was us, acting through an ideal we thought necessary but that in fact brought about an unforeseen consequence.

I am sure I will be admitting some of those when my kids become adults. I am equally sure that none of those will be because of my physical features, just as none of your physical attributes led Josh to do what he did.

I think it is time for you to do a similar reassessment now. There is deep healing needed within your family, and that will not be achieved until more accurate aspects of family life are acknowledged and addressed. You have stated that you are “not a perfect family.” None of us are, and that admission is not enough.

Outward attacks on others, my family included, need to be examined and retracted. There are things that we all can learn from others in diverse family situations that differ from our own. I can take notes from you on family schedule structure and organization, and I think there are things you could learn from me as a parent.

When you  campaigned against us, created falsehoods and demonized our genders and our families, you weren’t listening.

If you were able to take this moment to grow deeper insight and take this horror as a time to reflect, I believe it would lead you to say the words that have not been articulated in this discussion. They are the words the people you have held yourself superior to, that you have lectured and that you have tried to oppress, need to hear. The words you need to say are these:

“I’m sorry.”

Rob Watson discusses this article on The Last Word here:

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Posted in Entertainment, Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments