A Gay Dad Draws Protest from the Penguin Play School and Responds

Penguin school Evol eq

As writers and/or activists enter the public discussions, they tend to adopt a style and way of communicating that works for them. If you are Dan Savage, you devise clever definitions of words based on Known Homophobes, and start amazingly powerful video campaigns. For me, I am a gay dad who writes people letters in a very public way.

I am often asked if I actually send those letters to the people for whom they are intended, and the answer is “yes.” How I get the letters to them varies based on their accessibility but in all cases my intention is to communicate directly as well as through the public sphere.

Recently I wrote to a school and the community it serves regarding the cancellation of a play depicting a penguin family, a family of two males taking parental roles over an adopted egg. I wrote to them about the cancellation of a play about a family like mine. When I published it, I sent a link immediately to the school through its Facebook page messages. I got a response:

“Hi Rob, not ignoring. I will get back to you.”

Five days and four publications later, I did get a response from Jill Harry, “Mom, 7th-8th Grade Long Term Substitute Teacher, PR Manager, Lead Founding Member, former Board Chair, Sierra Foothill Charter School, sierrafoothillcharterschool.org”.

Jill stated, “I read and appreciated a lot of what you wrote in your May 1 blog. Unfortunately, not everything you wrote about SFCS and recent events is accurate… I do not have the time or energy to go line by line through your blog and point out all the places where you are incorrect in what you are reporting. Instead, I’m attaching clarifying statements from our principal and our board chair.”

I have attached those documents below. In the original blog, I also attached the school letter that outlined all the facts I discussed in my commentary. Since all the information I presented was from the school directly or quoting people that their local media had captured on camera, I was very curious as to what “inaccuracies” Ms. Hill perceived. After reading the principal’s letter, the main two concerns seemed to be that when he stated that the play “does cross the line for what parents think is appropriate for school,” that he was speaking only for the majority of parents who were against the play, not the whole population. I don’t think my quote of him indicated that all parents were in agreement, nor do I see that making a difference to the issue at hand.

The school seemed also intent on making clear that the cancellation had more to do with the disruptive controversy — that the play was meant to be “fun,” but was now, not going to be.

My response to Ms. Hill: “Thank you for your response, and especially for the follow up letters. I would happy to look at any clarification of details you would like to make. I find your “time and energy” comment insincere and suspicious since all of the facts I presented were taken from the school’s own letter on its Facebook page, and the quotes were directly from people filmed at the school board meeting.

The additional letters you just sent actually reinforce, rather than refute, the points made in my blog.   The only added piece of information I can see is that the intention of the play was to be merely frivolous fun. When it turned out to have any controversy whatsoever, the fact it was no longer frivolous became the issue.

I am sorry, but that rationalization is not good enough. If the play had not have been about a same sex couple, but a family of another race, and many of your school had reacted in a racist manner about it, I doubt (and dearly hope) that your reaction would not have been “gee we have to cancel because there was unintended controversy. ”

I can appreciate your administration was taken by surprise, and that their original intention was not to provide a learning platform for diversity. Once in that situation how you chose to handle it became the issue however. The school board member who was concerned about the message it sent to LGBT families and to the kids who are gay in your school but are hiding it in secret (And yes, statistically there are as few as five and as many as thirteen in your population.) was exactly right if not understated, that your actions have sent a horrific message.

You did not step up to educate those who were voicing ignorance about the families the play symbolized, but placated to that opinion simply because it was widely held in your parent population. My blog was primarily about one thing– and that is the point that my family, should it be in your community, would not be people, we would be a “controversy” and treated as “opinions” of which others were free to “disagree with”. If my sons attended your school, then a plethora of the other parents would want them silenced as to the nature of who made up our family.

The reading of “what we did over the summer” essays would then be a matter of school board debate. If you are under the misguided opinion that “it would not happen that way”, I will simply point you to the fact that you did not see the TANGO controversy coming either.

Yes, you were the unwitting participants that accidentally stepped into a contentious issue, but once there, attempts to back out of it is not an appropriate option. You found out that there IS hatred and ignorance in your community. Instead of dealing with THAT, you want to go back to your state where you were simply uniformed that it exists. Unfortunately endings like that only exist in fairy tales. In the real world it is the opportunity to do something noble or cowardly, and there is very little gray area in between.”

___

After I sent that note, there was one nagging detail that still bothered me, and had not been answered. There was a board member who eloquently, and accurately stated the message the cancellation decision would send to the LGBT community whether intended or not. Yet, the board vote was UNANIMOUS to cancel the play. I wanted to know why.

A moment later, I heard from that board member, her name is Carolin Frank, She wrote, “I am the board member who was concerned about the message. What ultimately decided my vote was the plea from LGBT families in our school to not go ahead and show the play right now. I know that this factored into at least one other board member’s decision.”

That led to the following exchange:

Me: “Thanks for that clarification Carolin! Can you clarify their plea? I can appreciate the sentiment as for an LGBT family in that environment, the whole discussion had to be humiliating. I felt that way as an LGBT family and I am just a fellow Californian. For LGBT families in the school itself, the public shaming and embarrassment must have been enormous.”

Carolin: “Yes I think they felt very vulnerable, and wished to take baby steps rather than fighting over this play right now. Yes, it has been very stressful.”

Me: “That I can totally appreciate. It is also why I speak up for other LGBT families because I am not vulnerable to the community members who are derogatory — they can’t go after my kids at school or glare at me across a supermarket. I can tell them how my kids came from fostercare and not only am I a good parent, but my kids would literally not be alive without me. Your local families should not have to reveal such intimate details to their neighbors, particularly with ones who will not treat their stories with respect. Thanks for sharing those details with me.”

Carolin: “Thank you for understanding. I completely understand your reaction to all this. It’s been horrible.”

Me: “And I appreciate all you have been trying to do to rectify it. If you wish to give some insight to other board members or community members on what an LGBT family is really like, feel free to share my family’s story with them.   I would be happy to answer any questions. This happened in another central California community where there were similar sentiments, and nothing was done to rectify it. Just some clarification as to why I care.

Carolin: “Thank you. I’m sure they have already seen it. You are doing an amazing job as a father.”

While I hope those at the Sierra Foothill Charter School feel better about clarifying details, there is a bigger picture issue that they are not grasping. They are not alone, the McGuffey High School in Pennsylvania did not understand it either. Thousands of schools across the country do not understand it.

It is in this point. While the Sierra Foothill Charter School and McGuffey High School proclaim with good intention that “bullying will not be tolerated,” and then go on to police specific one-on-one behaviors, they are missing the bigger issue, the oxygen on which the bullying breathes. They are missing the veil of homophobia that is an ever-present specter.

The question is not whether bullying will be tolerated. In my final not to the schools, I would say this,

“We know you will manage what you can see, and what you can document. What remains to be seen it how you manage the intangible which you are now fully aware is present. That intangible hate is not delivered in sword slashes of outlandish behavior. It is death by pin pricks, a million tiny pin pricks of looks, comments and slights delivering damage to their vicitims.

Sierra Foothill, you now know that a majority of your parents loathes a minority in your community. McGuffey High, you now know a percentage of your population has the desire to hate on and ostracize a category of people in your school.

The big question is—what are you, and schools like you, going to do about it?”

Sierra School Letter A3 board chair Sierra Foothill A2 Sierra Foothill A1

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Posted in Civil Rights, Family, Marriage equality, Prejudice | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Gay Dad Sounds Off on the Elementary School Mob That Cancelled a Play About a Gay Penguin Family

We are penguins

There was a significant hearing this week on Tuesday about same sex relationships and whether to ban them. You likely missed this one because you were focused on that OTHER hearing in front of the Supreme Court, the one on whether all states in the union should perform and recognize same sex marriages.

No, this hearing was smaller, with less attention and could have been held in what might be described as a wholly alternative universe.

This hearing was in front of a school board in Catheys Valley, Mariposa County, California. It was held in a place where same sex marriage legally exists without question.

Unlike the Supreme Court, which was surrounded by folks waving banners of equality, tolerance and the love that creates families, this hearing was full of people who wanted none of that and took offense against anyone who did not look and act like them.

The case before the school board was this: the Sierra Charter Foothill School was scheduled to host a performance of the play, And Then Came Tango, based on the true story of two male penguins who hatched and orphaned egg and raised the chick as their own. New York Theater Now describes Tango as: “Emily Freeman’s timely play for young audiences, shares the tale of six chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo — and the people who care for them. More specifically and touchingly, Freeman zeroes in on Roy and Silo, two males who form a penguin bond akin to their male-female-paired peers, engaging in mating rituals and trying to hatch a rock. Even more touchingly, Lily, the young Junior Keeper, convinces Walter, the zookeeper in charge of the exhibit, to let Silo and Roy incubate an orphaned egg – which they do to loving fruition.”

The booking of the play had been in place for a year with the Fresno State Theater Troup. The school regretted having missed out on the previous year’s performance of The Velveteen Rabbit, so put in their reservation early to get on the schedule for Tango.

Once the play’s synopsis was sent to them, the administration wretched over what they perceived as a “gay theme.” They immediately made attendance voluntary and sent out “warnings” to all their parents. This effort was not enough for many in the community who demanded that the ability to opt out was not enough. They insisted that the school needed to cancel the production all together or they would boycott it for the day.

The force of the vitriolic response shocked the administrators who then threw the decision of the play’s fate to the school board. Meanwhile, some of the students who wanted to see the play began passing out rainbow ribbon bracelets to those willing to wear them. This “radical” action was also quickly shut down by the administration. The school leaders took on a “road theater” of their own and went into classes to perform skits. Their theme was about how trying to inspire acceptance of others was actually a divisive act. I am not sure what the reviews of the “Divisive Act” skits were, but in any case, they successfully shut down the distribution of rainbow ribbon bracelets and the “perpetrators” apologized.

At the same time the first and second graders were putting the final touches to their creative writing and a story called “Hannah’s Adventure” which was headed to a writing festival in Meced. Hannah was undoubtedly “safe” because she apparently did not have two moms. So, full steam ahead.

Mariposa County life for And Then Came Tango was not so fortuitous. The school board voted conclusively to end its run long before it got started.

While the first and second graders of Sierra Charter Foothill wrote their piece, I wrote one of my own. Here is my open letter to the school and the community it serves.

Dear Sierra Charter Foothill School Community,

I was horrified to read of your recent actions around the play called And Then Came Tango, which depicted two penguins who loved each other and then saved, hatched and nurtured an orphaned egg. Your principal stated that the play “does cross the line for what parents think is appropriate for school.”

At the school board meeting, parents made comments like “It’s about two men.  They raise a baby and I don’t agree with that.”  Your community members described the family image in Tango as “social engineering” and “promoting” homosexuality. The consensus was “I want to teach my kids what I believe in my home that’s it.”

The family depicted in “And Then Came Tango” is mine.

We are not penguins, and my sons were not hatched, but aside from those set-decorating changes, it is us. My oldest son was born six weeks prematurely to a heroin-addicted mother. My younger son was found abandoned by his drug-addicted mother in a trailer where he had been uncared for two days. My spouse and I had so much love between us that we wanted to extend it further. We adopted these two babies who needed us.

The love I have for my sons is the most profound I have ever known.

That is our story, and it is reflected in the factual story of the penguins in the play. The penguin real life story occurred in 1999 at the Central Park Zoo, and they met with the same intolerant attitude that your community is exhibiting. Homophobic people rose up and demanded that the penguin family be broken apart. They felt what had happened naturally was somehow “sending the wrong message.”

The Tango story is about love. My family’s story is about love. We are people, we are not ideas or theories for you to “agree” or “disagree” with. My sons are not experiments nor are they part of some agenda to “promote” a brand of sexuality. I would never disrespect your children by characterizing them as “talking points of heterosexual sex acts” and I expect the common decency from you to not classify my sons similarly.

Just for the record, my family is not alone. There are thousands like us in the state of California. We are your neighbors. Just like the orphaned egg in the story, there are also thousands of kids who have been abused or neglected in our state. A Cambridge study found that there is only one parental profile family that chooses to create a family using foster care /adoption as its first choice — that profile is a two male led household.

My sons are both wonderful boys — bright, charming, caring — and have both been taught to be good citizens in their school community. Even though it is clear that they would not be welcome, your school would be fortunate to have two such as them within it.

All your kids are going to come to school and share with others about how they came to be in their families, LGBT kids do the same. My sons, like other kids from differing family structures, fully grasp the concept of mutual respect between families. It is the principle where we listen to each other and find common ground, not a focus on our differences.

It is a concept that you have just voted down. It is a lesson you have yet to learn.

As for Tango, theater arts are meant to illustrate, illuminate and shake their audience from pre-conceived notions and feelings. This play was brought to you not so you can judge and censor it, or the families like mine that it represents, but so you can watch and grow from finding out about us. It asks you to consider that a family is driven more from the hearts of its members than it is from their genitals.

Last year, your school was upset that it missed out on the road tour of a production of the classic The Velveteen Rabbit. I wonder if you would have caught the message of that play and how it too affirms the creation of families such as mine. I am sorry you did not see it, as you might have taken a glimpse of what it means to be a “real” family. You would have heard this:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once…You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Tango was not seeking your approval, it was a gift for you so that you could start to see things more broadly and appreciate the diversity in this world. It was ready to show you what is truly real, something like my family.

By your actions, you have shut down a great educational opportunity.

That opportunity was not for your kids, it was for you.

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Sierra Foothills school

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Posted in Equality, Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

A Gay Dad Take on New Books by Barney Frank and Michelangelo Signorile: Do They Make Up the New Bible for Our Movement?

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For years, the radical anti-gay movement has made a paranoid case that “the gay agenda” was an actual book published in 1990. That book was called After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s . It outlined a suggested plan for addressing America on LGBT issues. Much of its outlook was basic common sense and PR. It, in retrospect, looked directive since people with common sense actually acted accordingly in the years after it was published. They acted that way not because they read the book, or had even heard of it, but because, they too had common sense.

The idea that all LGBT people would have and follow a single manifesto , and that there was an actual “gay agenda” is of course, ridiculous.

Until now.

Two books that have just been released could, together, be looked at as creating a sort of “biblical” arc to our movement. The first, a memoir by out former Congressman Barney Frank, plays like an “Old Testament”. Frank deliciously charts his adventures from the closet to the center of the political stage. He tells the tale of LGBT people forging their way across the barren deserts of homophobia, and the political strategies needed to deal with good and bad kings of yore, otherwise known as Presidents.

Frank bookFrank is candid, and self critical on each step. He details compromises and pragmatic realities. His account of life during the Clinton years is particularly fascinating. Frank describes Clinton not as an “enemy who held out false promise, but as a friend who tried to help us but failed.” This description held particularly true not only with DOMA, a strategy conservatives used to trap Clinton (“Forcing Clinton to choose between signing or vetoing a bill against same-sex marriage was a delicious prospect.”), but also with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” debacle.

Frank’s harrowing tale of DADT, is one of the hapless hero, who sets off an unfortunate chain of events by means of a well intentioned bungle, but then comes through to help save the day just in the nick of time in the end. It was he who came up with a compromise idea to allow LGBT service-members to serve, but confidentially. He stood by in horror as his idea was then bastardized by the administration with terms that not only did not improve the situation, but made it worse. Years later, he was again in the center as he helped force the hand of a Democratic Senate to pass DADT’s repeal literally minutes before a Democratically controlled Congress would be gone for years to come.

Frank’s book, and the “old testament” rendition of the LGBT movement ends just as the brink of the “messiah-ship” of Marriage Equality is about to descend and change the tone of activism as we knew it.

itsnotoverEnter Michelangelo Signorile. Almost on cue, Signorile picks up the charge. As the win of marriage equality descends, he is the voice of what is to come. He is the “new testament” to Frank’s “old.” Where Barney Frank was solely about political process, Signorile is the voice for grass roots activism.

The core of the Signorile message is clear and important, and blazened across the cover of the book: “It’s NOT Over.” Just as the path of the Judeo/Christian movement did not end with the birth of its messiah in the Bible, so has the LGBT path not ended with the societal milestone of marriage equality.

In both cases, it is only the beginning.

Where Frank looked for legal and legislative victories, Signorile takes us further into a path towards winning the American psyche. He points out that positive opinion polls only tell a surface story. He cites psychological studies that show ingrained emotional homophobia has not eroded much at all. Just like racism, there is an intellectualism that has suppressed public displays, but the deeper problem still exists on a more secretive emotionally reactive level.

If conservatives thought some unread, unknown book of the 1990s held a movement changing agenda, their tongues should really wag now— Signorile’s book lays out an actual strategy.

We should listen to it.

He proposes a well researched outline of the forces LGBT will be facing. He describes the “Religious Freedom” strategy designed to chip away at LGBT gains and to increase marginalization. He points out the detriment of “victory blindness” which has already been voiced by celebrities like Madonna and Patricia Arquette, as well as media in general. He describes the danger of LGBT people ceasing to identity strongly with community and becoming invisible and less effective.

His prescription moving forward includes wider education on LGBT history and sociology, the breaking of glass ceilings, physical readiness against hate crimes and an assertiveness with the media that the “debate is over” — there is not longer a need to present bigotry as a counter opinion to every story about LGBT justice.

Mostly, he tells us to stay vocal and visible. “(Exposing homophobia) is in fact what many LGBT activists and bloggers have been able to do in taking on bigotry, from as far back as the vibrant AIDS demonstrations of twenty-five years ago and up to the stories that viral today on the Internet… Every chance we have to direct clicks and eyeballs to stories of LGBT discrimination and ugly incidents of rejection and bigotry is an opportunity to challenge the victory narrative, cut through victory blindness and lay the groundwork for the hard, necessary fights ahead.”

(That means you’ll be hearing more from me in the future.)

The Christian Bible ends with a cryptic, symbol-heavy vision of “end times.” It describes the ultimate judgment day. Neither Frank nor Signorile take us there in their chronicles, but I believe we can write the LGBT “rapture” ourselves, without them.

It is a vision that has been inspired by a modern prophet, Martin Luther King Jr, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism (and homophobia) and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word, “ and “one day (we will) live in a nation where (we) will not be judged by the color of (our) skin, (our sexualities, our genders)but by the content of (our) characters.”

Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

by Barney Frank

It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality

by Michelangelo Signorile

 

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Posted in Civil Rights, Entertainment, Equality, Marriage equality, Mixing religion and politics, News, Politics, Prejudice, US Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Open Letter to Dolce and Gabbana

D and G New Vision

Dolce and Gabbana are not Ben and Jerry. Ben and Jerry are straight. Dolce and Gabbana are gay. Ben and Jerry make ice cream fashionable, Dolce and Gabbana make icy fashions. Ben and Jerry are sweetly pro-LGBT and marriage equality. Dolce and Gabbana are rancid in their attacks on gay and lesbian families.

I buy Ben and Jerry products. To my knowledge, I have never bought Dolce and Gabanna. That is a shame, because now there is a boycott, and I would dearly love to throw my non-buying dollars at it, but, my cash never flowed that way anyway. I had a similar frustration when Huggies did its offensive “dad test” ad campaign. I would have stopped buying their diapers then, but alas, my boys were long out of them and did the stop-buying for me.

11060470_817751198308764_7845821340960910987_nSo when Dolce and Gabbana let loose their recent tirade on LGBT parents, (“The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed” and “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteri [for] rent, semen chosen from a catalog.”) as much as I would love to follow Elton John’s lead in calling for a boycott (#BoycottDolce&Gabbana), the reality is, I am a paper, or tweeting, tiger. I can’t really boycott that which I have never bought.

But, I do write letters.

Dear Misters D & G,

As a parent, I have resisted the temptation to place a label on my sons (you ARE familiar with the concept of labels, no?) due to something they have done. I don’t ever tell them they are “bad boys,” but rather, that they made “bad choices.” Likewise, I will refrain from calling you all the names that have temptingly come to mind since your poisonous interview.

I will chalk it up to a bad, very bad, choice on your part. I am unclear as to why you chose to lash out irrationally and arrogantly. You have of course, and predictably, issued a statement designed to mitigate loss of revenue (“it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices.”). My son’s have a similar out: “But, Dad, I didn’t mean to…”

The question is why make such a pronouncement at all? In the past, when not musing about creating children yourselves, you have declared opposition to same sex marriage, and gay parents. My guess is that we should not be surprised. Part of the genius of a gifted designer’s mind is to come out with the unexpected, the unpredictable. What could be more unpredictable than homophobic diatribes from two of the most famous and wealthy gay men?

Except that internalized homophobia is predictable, and as boring as, well, J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn. You’ve gone retro.

Without any basis other than my own life experience, I have often speculated about the seeming increase of creative talents in the per capita population of LGBT people. It would be nice to think that increased talent was tied to whatever sexual orientation instinct driver made us, but that seems unlikely. I believe that it is not “nature” but self-nurture. It has more to do with a deep consciousness within many of us that knew, due to our emerging instincts, that life was not as structured as we had been told in terms of our specific sexual/gender roles and abilities, and therefore, if we gave ourselves permission internally to see those aspects differently, that we could look at other things in the world differently as well. So many of us did, in art, in music, writing and other expressions.

Looking at things differently allowed us to make great accomplishments, as you should well know and acknowledge.

While creativity in some quarters of population of LGBT people may be a common thread, how that creativity expresses itself is as diverse as the millions of individuals that we are. For you, it was in shapes, angles, fits and fabrics.

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The D&G ad team had not gotten the memo from their bosses, or trying to get money from LGBT parents was seen as important even if they were going to slam them in the future.

For others of us, it is in the area of love, parenting and procreation. While heteronormativity cries out for a single process of fertilization, gestation and birth, those of us, who have known that we have parenting talents despite societal voices to the contrary, have found ways of bringing our spiritual children to us outside of old conventions.

You of new visuals, colors and ideas must understand this. If we applied the same critique of you that you made to LGBT parents, we would be advocating for the return of the corset and handle-bar mustaches.

In an ideal world, creativity would inspire enlightenment and evolution. It would push the human fabric into the next dimension and towards greater possibilities. It would look to the past only for structure, and ideas, not limitations.

Studies have implied that truly the only endangered children brought into the world are ones who are not wanted. These are children whose parents feel trapped and disinterested in actually being parents. The parents you attacked are not in this category. Your insults were directed to parents set to adore their children.

Your comments around traditional families ignore the realities of millions of kids in foster-care and adoption. Your theory of only a male and female led family’s capacity for a “supernatural sense of belonging” has failed these innocents. Who is stepping up to give them the love they deserve? LGBT parents in “non-traditional” families, that’s who.

I can tell you that for me personally, a “supernatural sense” is exactly what I experienced the moment I saw each of my sons for the first time. The oldest was born pre-maturely to a heroin addicted mother, the younger to an meta-amphetamine addict. Their background did not matter, the cosmic voice telling me that I was their dad — that was what mattered.

My family story, although creative in terms of the “traditional family,” is not unique. It can be matched by thousands of LGBT households that have saved millions of kids from lives of devastation, neglect and death. LGBT families by in large are giving hope and real chance to children already born, and unique life to others, like Mr. John’s, who would not exist otherwise. There is an innate generosity in all of it.

I only wish you felt a calling from a similar sense of spiritual giving and magnanimity.

I really don’t expect that you would understand this. To be fair, I don’t understand your world either. I am personally OK that I could not design something fashionable out of a paper bag, and that my fascination with the movie “The Devil Wore Prada” was that a fashion industry existed at all. I am also OK with you showing complete ignorance to the worldview required to be a gifted parent.

We don’t all need to be all things. Your creations are your designs, my creation is my family. My hope is it is that we both choose to respect and give each other our due.

There is one thing that I DO know about today’s fashion, however: Love is the new trend.

Bigotry and homophobia are out this season, and if I have anything to say about it, they won’t be in style again. This is to say that if I was Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly right now, I would be pursing my lips and glaring.

And you would be back to your drawing boards.

meryl

“That’s all….”

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Posted in Family, Marriage equality, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Gay Dad Sounds Off on the Homophobic Pediatrician and Florist Who Attempted to Humiliate LGBT Families

humil incA popular insurance company pays a great deal of advertising money to let everyone know that they are in fact “our good neighbors.” They populate commercial after commercial with cheery, miraculously at-your-service agents who care about their clients above all else. While I am sure their real agents are customer relations friendly, the reality is they are likely no more so than any other public facing company. The associates, employed by the company, who personify saintly best friend types the most, are the actors in the ads.

The truth is, customers are not important loved ones in the lives of service people. We are, at best, friendly, tip-paying, lucrative transactions. We don’t represent go-to shoulders to cry on, we represent income, and even the warmest heart moving gesture is a business decision.

Likewise, as consumers, we are not buying advice, approval or input from those serving us. The cashier at the local grocery store is not our equal partner in deciding how we feed our family and whether we are good parents or not. He or she does not get a vote in how we run our lives, instead, we look for that person to treat us professionally and with equal courtesy as they would all others.

Proponents of the conservative “Religious Freedom” strategy would have us believe differently. To them, a Christian business person is not only beyond a transaction based relation, they are an intimate who should have a personal say, and commentary on the lives of their LGBT clientele, lives in which most would say the business person has no stake. This “commentary” usually comes in the form of rejection, judgment and the refusal of service. It is rude, and it is humiliating.

In some of these cases, these behaviors are not only mean-spirited, they are illegal and go against local non-discrimination laws. Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington, just lost in her bid to discriminate against two gay men wanting to marry. Her flowers had been sentimentally important to them in their romance, and her rejection soured their betrothal.

Others are legal, but wrong. In a recent case a pediatrician, Dr. Vesna Roi, rejected lesbian moms and their baby as clients. She had been vetted and the couple felt protected and validated, then she shamed them for being who they were as parents. The family had no legal protection due to a failure in Michigan’s laws. Such actions are legal in most states. Arkansas and Indiana have recently made moves to not only make sure discrimination is legal; they have taken steps to encourage it.

Refusing service to LGBT families when it happens is cruel and demeaning. The couples it happens to are blindsided. The rejection seems to be rigged like stink bombs going off in the moments that should be positive milestones in the family’s experience.

My letter to two who felt it was their place to degrade LGBT families:

Dear Doctor Roi and Florist Stutzman,

At this point, you have each served dozens of individuals, if not hundreds. Some of those you feel personally about, and intimate — they feel like friends. Others, the doctor needs to check their file to remember details, and the florist knows no more about them than their credit card number.

Looking back to the day when you each decided to work with the public. I have to assume that you went into business to bring happiness, comfort and a high level of satisfaction to whomever stood before you.

Instead, you have gained infamy for doing the opposite. You both behaved in completely heartless ways, and worse, called on Jesus Christ to justify it.

Your rationalization is as disappointing as your actions themselves. You, Dr. Roi stated that you “prayed on” your decision to reject. It is sad that Christian theology has earned a reputation as being supportive of your lack of decency even though the Christ behind it dictated “loving ones neighbor as yourself,” and to do no harm to little children. He made these pronouncements in between the times he was admonishing people for judging others.

Ms. Stutzman, you claim that the act of selling a couple flowers for their commitment to marriage and declaration of life long love violates your “freedom to honor God doing what you do best.” You earned money from the couple as part of their romance and seduction (and presumably sex). That income did fit into your “deeply held” religious principles, apparently. About those transactions you say you “kindly” delivered and “would gladly continue to do so.” Your principles therefore are not against gay sex, they are against life-long love, commitment, honor and responsibility.

While I do hope you re-examine your “logic” behind your actions, I am asking here for something more. I am asking you, and service providers like you, to stop attempting to humiliate LGBT families at the moments that should be the most respected and wonderful of our lives. Quit trying to take away our precious moments.

The Declaration of Independence, as Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has pointed out, is about a principle that precedes our rule of law. He, of course, wants that principle to be about a God that Roy Moore defines, but his overall point is valid. We each have the human right to pursue happiness in our personal lives, and we do not have the right to attempt to disrupt it in others.

When the Supreme Court of Massachusetts became the first judiciary to declare same sex marriage a constitutional right, they did so by making a significant observation. They pointed out that in a person’s lifetime, the spouse that person chooses is one of the most profoundly, self-determing actions that an individual can take. Likewise, as we go through the process of bringing our families together, the decisions around the details of marrying including the right flowers, the right cakes, the best photography are all integral to the fabric of the memories we are creating. Those things may seem superficial, and in truth they ARE superficial to observers, and they have likely been so to YOU in most of your professional transactions. They are NOT superficial to the people involved. The young men wanted your flowers because of the role your arrangements played in their romance. Your flowers did not bring meaning to the men and their love, their love brought meaning to your flowers.

Likewise, Dr. Roi, every first event with a baby is golden to new parents. The first laugh, the first burp, and especially the first forays into parental responsibility, the first doctor visits. Both my sons were adopted out of the foster care system, and all our “firsts” were done with a back drop of pretty dire and dramatic events. Even with that, the moments were precious as we took on the profound understanding that these little lives were completely dependent on us, and the most important responsibilities we would ever have. A pair of lesbian moms came to you, screened you, and extended you trust in their journey of parental responsibility. Their coming to you did not validate their parenthood, their patronage of you validated you as being worthy of trust.

God did not bring these couples to you so you could judge them. His intention was for you to experience your humanity by serving them. He intended to give you the gift of bearing witness to significant moments in their lives. His intention was to enrich you,

He failed. And, in being the professional you intended to be, so did you.

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Posted in Bible, Civil Rights, Family, Hatred, Marriage equality, Mixing religion and politics, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, US Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Letter to Gay Teen, Austin Wallis, and the High School That Rejected Him

austin willis evol eq

The world of teens and tweens can be a treacherous one. As the dad to two 12 year olds, I see it as a world where childhood cushions and play have fallen away and new, somewhat complex challenges have emerged. It is a world where peer relationships and socializations are paramount. Independence is practically a life force and hormones seem to be pumping through veins previously filled with sugar and spice. It is a world where kids discover themselves and those discoveries can range from the thrilling to crisis, and sometimes both at the same time.

Adults standing on the sidelines to this whirlwind try our best to lead, nurture and inspire. We try to guide our young charges to being their best, and set themselves up to capture a destiny worthy of the love we cloak them in.

Some adults do this except in the cases where the child in question is gay as Austin Willis, a high school student in Texas, discovered this week. Austin has been on an affirming journey over the past year. He not only has discovered who he is, he has introduced the real him to his personal social circles and the public at large through a YouTube channel.

His videos are fun, silly, charming, and his relationships with teachers and friends are warm and mutually supportive. Life has been good, even granting him a handsome boy friend.

From my perspective as a parent, seeing my child find himself so progressively would be life affirming. The principal at Lutheran North did not seem to share that view of young Austin’s development. He categorized it instead as the promotion of sexually immoral behavior. His answer was not to guide Austin Wallis’s development, but to shut it down all together.

We tell our kids to be true to themselves, to nurture self-respect and live with respect to others. Lutheran North did not encourage Austin in any of those initiatives. Instead, they asked Austin to hide who he is, pretend to be otherwise — or leave. He chose to leave.

I am choosing to write them, and him, a letter.

To Mr. Dallas Lusk, Head of School and Austin Willis, Former Student:

Gentlemen. As a father and a Christian, I wanted to weigh in on the current controversy in which you both are active participants. As a parent, I take a sincere interest in schools and their efforts to establish principles for their students, guide them into the world and create the new citizens who will lead us into the future. Whether or not my sons attend a particular school is irrelevant. Their peers, others who may be in their world, will have attended that school and will influence the world in which they live.

This has already happened at Lutheran North. Austin, you have already emerged as its product onto the world stage. You have made yourself known, from your joys to your recent challenges.

Yes. Mr. Lusk had a rule. That rule reads: “Lutheran High North reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant and/or to discontinue enrollment of a current student participating in, promoting, supporting or condoning: pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity; or displaying an inability or resistance to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ-like lifestyle.”

I personally believe that “rules” are limited entities. They are based on bigger principles but address very specific situational elements. If the situation changes, the rule then does not have relevance. A city street might have a “rule” of 15 miles an hour due to high incidence of cross traffic. If all cross traffic is blocked, the “rule” needs to be adjusted and 40 miles and hour might be the appropriate limit to fulfill the bigger principle of public safety.

I am not necessarily saying that Mr. Lusk needs to throw out his rule, although its homophobia is evident, but I am suggesting that he needs to understand, support and advocate for the larger principle behind it. The fact is — there was a violation.

No worries, Austin. Neither the rule, nor its underlying principle were violated by you.

The rule states that students must not participate “in promoting, supporting or condoning pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity (emphasis mine).” It does not say that you cannot be gay.

In his videos, Austin, you were clear on your values. You stated that you did not intend to have sexual relations until after you were married. There was no advocacy for sexual activity of any kind, nor recommendations to view porn. You were demonstratively affectionate in the videos, but not sexual.

If the school somehow wants to take issue with the affection you share on camera with your boyfriend and classify that as “gay sex”, then they need to read their Bibles. Your level of physicality is reflected there. Here is the description of the affection between Jesus and St. John at the last supper: “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. (John) Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?”

I am not implying that the affectionate cuddling on Jesus’s chest by John was participating in, or advocating for gay sex. Likewise, your school cannot and should not be implying the same of you.

So, no Austin, you did not violate the rule. You also did not violate its principle to “to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ-like lifestyle.” You have been a model for the “golden rule.”

Mr Lusk, you, however, failed this principle in several ways. First, you bore “false witness” against Austin by using a regulation about sexual activity, when in his public pronouncements he specifically stated he has had none. Your punishment of him was not reprimanding him for something he has done, it is reprimanding him for who he is. That is bigotry, not a “Christ-like” lifestyle. Christ was not a bigot.

Second, his social media activity reaches out to encourage and send love to others and to save them from harm. Your own social media activity has been dishonest and self-serving. His is to make fun love-filled videos, yours has been to interact with the review site Yelp and fraudulently portray yourself as a consumer of your school’s services. You then bolstered your school’s online review standing by rating it the maximum of five stars, designed to influence its average total score. (See image below.)

yelp luteran north

Rubbing salt in the proverbial wound of your dishonesty was the statement you made in your self-review of the school. You stated, “The kids really feel welcomed and loved…” By your own behavior, they are made to feel loved and welcomed, unless they are gay. Then they are devastated.

This leads me to my biggest issue with your point of view and actions. As a parent, I deal with the holistic range of my sons. They are not perfect, despite what I might tell you on a given day. There are very few issues that would put them into a zero-sum game emotionally and spiritually however. They may do things that are absolutely wrong, but I help them find ways to do those things better, to make an improved choice, even if they cannot make it to a perfect one. For straight kids in your school, you follow this model. You work with them to be the best of who they are, to help them be the best they can be.

You have demonstrated there is no such scale for a gay student. He is gone, seen as worthless automatically. He has no chance, in your eyes, to better himself as a person, to achieve self-improvement. To you, if he is himself, he is worthless — period. The rest of his behavior could be saintly, or he could be a charlatan, it would make no difference.

To me, that is a travesty, whether it was from a parent, from an educator and most certainly from a follower of Christ.

I don’t mean to be completely negative about your school, however. I have to acknowledge that it has produced a man who does live up to the heart of Christ, who lives honestly and who I would be thrilled for my sons to emulate.

He is the young man you forced to leave, Mr. Lusk.

Mr. Willis, that man is you.

 

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Posted in Bible, Civil Rights, Family, Living, News, Prejudice, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

A Gay Dad’s Letter to the School Seeking to Censor a Mural of a Kiss

The mural evol equals

The kiss. For some reason, it, and the experience of giving and getting one, is a completely integrated aspect of the high school experience. While puckers may have been planted in earlier years, it is the high school ones that create the milestones to adulthood, the firsts we will remember our entire lives and in truth, the magic of our adolescence.

One depiction of such a kiss is not folding harmoniously into the tapestry of its school’s life however. It is causing controversy. Kaela Wilton is a 16-year-old student at Onoway Jr/Sr High School in Alberta Canada. As the subject of an art project, approved by her art teacher and the school principal, she depicted two young men in an affectionate kiss. After its unveiling and subsequent complaints, the school covered the mural and would not allow it to be seen.

They are now deliberating on what to do.

For me, I know what to do, I am writing them a letter.

Dear Onoway School Officials,

I am a gay dad, father of two twelve year old boys. Next year, they will be in a school such as yours. I dearly hope that in that school, there is a mural on the wall exactly like the one that Kaela Wilton has created for you.

I write that not as one who is wildly enthusiastic for public displays of affection, nor as one who is anxious to encourage potentially sexually inappropriate behavior amongst teens. I have set standards for my sons in both those areas, and my expectation is they will adhere to them.

Kaela’s mural is a gentle image of young affection and blossoming adulthood. While its depiction might make some feel it makes such gestures too visible, I would remind them that the audience observing it is participating in school dances, first dates, landmark crushes and unforgettable romantic moments on its own. The image from a purely sexual content level, stays appropriately underneath a PG-13 level.

The value of the image far outweighs any offense to even the most over reacting sensibilities.

When I was 17, I buried my instinctual longing for same sex affection deep inside myself. It was taboo to be gay, and even though my feelings told me that was exactly what I was, I consciously suppressed it. I suppressed it to the point where I reached a suicidal crisis point.

I will never forget first witnessing a same sex kiss. I was on a trip into Los Angeles to look at prospective colleges for the future, and parking on the streets of Hollywood. A man was saying goodbye to his partner, and without giving a second thought, gave him a quick affectionate kiss on the mouth.

My reaction? The reaction from a young closeted gay man? I laughed out loud.

It was not a laugh out of derision or condemnation. It was not a laugh because the kiss was funny. It was a laugh because it took me completely off guard, and even though my psyche was bombarded with same sex feelings, seeing it displayed was completely foreign, and I laughed in the shock of it.

The man shot me a look of disgust, and a sense of violation. He was right.

Years later, and on many streets with different relationships with men I wanted to kiss, I experienced karmic retribution for that laugh. As I wished to innocently reach out and kiss the person I was with, the homophobic world around me rose up and invaded my psyche. I could not give my innocent kiss because some would react badly around us, and many would react as I did, never seeing such a gesture before, with laughter. Or I could kiss my man anyway and make a statement, a bold move in the face of a disapproving public. As Panti Bliss pointed out in a recent TED talk, that option is fine for activism, but my desire to kiss was not to activate, it was to be romantic, and so even to take a bold move would ruin my intention. The romance would be gone.

The first kiss I shared with the man was not until I was 21. It was in a disco, hidden down a secret alley, and populated with only gay men. He was a lovely young british man with a perfect smile and a dancing glint in his eye. He put his arms around me, and gently kissed my lips, and no one around us made us feel ashamed. It was a beautiful experience that I deserved. It is an experience your gay students deserve, and they should not have to retreat to a secret and hidden enclave in which to experience it.

Whether they are LGBT or not, your students have been inundated with opposite sex kisses their entire lives. If not played out in front of them in person, such events are common place on all available media from commercials including children’s programming. They have likely not seen even a single same sex display of romantic expression.

This mural can change that. For your students who have same sex attractions boiling up within them, such an affirmation can be life saving. It gives them and others the opportunity to witness something warm, yet rare, as normal and accepted. It allows them to embrace the parts of themselves they have kept secret, and removes it as a dark excuse for self-harm.

For those who are shocked at the display, they can react to the unfeeling stone wall, so that in the future, when they are in front of real honest to goodness humans they can be un-shocked and react with appropriate support, or have rehearsed how to keep their disdain to themselves.

Ms. Wilton has created something of value, both in its intention and its execution. It should not be kept hidden, but unleashed to inspire hearts, love and acceptance. What could be more important than that?

My sons are on the brink of discovering who they are, and what deep instincts drive them. If they were going to your school and they were finding that their instincts were heterosexual, I am sure they could look around and see plenty of public displays of affection between other guys and their girl friends and feel, “oh yeah, that is me, and what I want.” If it turns out that one of them is actually gay, and he looks around and sees no one, I would hope that he could gaze upon a mural in one of your hallways and think, “Ok, there. There I am…” and walk on to class with hope in his heart, and a dream that a painting on the wall promised him was his to fulfill.

 

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Posted in Equality, Family, Living, News, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments