Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sodom and Gomorrah

The fundamentalist preachers are almost self-immolating with rage at the SCOTUS ruling that marriage is legal for everybody in all 50 states.  One common rant is "They have turned this country into Sodom and Gomorrah!" Well, folks, here is a picture of Sodom and Gomorrah, or as I like to call it, my wife and I with our marriage license. This is what their terrifying stories really look like: a couple of happy old ladies and a piece of paper -- a very dear and wonderful piece of paper that was won by the blood, sweat and tears of many who went before us. That little bit of metal you see in the lower corner of the picture is my wife's walker. She has Parkinson's and severe arthritis and can barely walk. We're a real threat. Watch out!

We were already married by our rabbi several years ago, but that wedding was not recognized by the state. The preachers are also yelling a lot about people disrespecting their religion, but are not at all concerned that ours was disrespected. Ho hum. The usual argle-bargle of children who didn't get their selfish way. The rest of us, the adults in the family, both straight and gay, are happy as can be for everybody.  The whole country is lit up in rainbow colors. As one of our granddaughters said, "The whole world is excited!"

I can't begin to tell you how beautiful people were to us yesterday. We didn't know what we'd walk into when we went to get the license. This is the south. Some people have very fixed ideas about what can constitute a family. To our delight and amazement, everyone involved -- from the beaming with happiness for us security people in the parking lot who helped us find the handicap-accesible way in, and even walked with us, and found us a better parking place closer to the door,  to the employees in the county clerk's office, who could not possibly have been more welcoming or helpful or genuinely happy for us -- everybody, was as kind and helpful and wonderful to us as could possibly be. I would never in my wildest dreams have expected it. This southern city knows how to be a welcoming place.

All the couples applying for a license when we were there were older and had clearly been together a long time. Some of them appeared to be very frail. Some were using walkers. If this is Sodom and Gomorrah, it's a very slow-moving version of it. I was so happy to see these couples had survived, as we had, to see this day. Another Shehekianu moment. I forgot to say that prayer yesterday when our friend Micah married us! Thank you for sustaining us and letting us live to see this day!

I don't for the life of me see how Sodom and Gomorrah connect with loving couples who have been together in a committed monogamous relationship wanting to get married. If people really wanted that kind of wild sexual licentiousness, they would certainly not be getting married! Some of the people getting marriage licenses had been together and waiting for this moment for 30 or more years. I wonder what kind of marriages those preachers must have to make that connection? Some of the stories they make up about who we are and what they think our lives are like are so outrageous, I can't even imagine anyone coming up with those ideas outside an extremely kinky porn film.   Maybe their own lives are so dull, they have to make up bizarre fantasies about the lives of others to spice things up.

Anyhow, blessed be, we're married! Now I'll shut up about it.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Love Wins

When I saw this image, I cried. What's even better, the actual White House was lit up last night in rainbow colors. Painted with light. Glorious, the rainbow, the sign that the storm is over and we can make landfall safely. 

And yet, the religious right is predictably screaming that their rights have been trampled, that Christianity has been trashed and will lose so much, that gay people are such a tiny minority, their rights should not even be acknowledged. "They have made this country a Sodom and Gomorrah" one woman cried. Quite clearly, she is no biblical scholar, because scripture points out in very clear language that Sodom's sin was mistreating the poor. Ezekiel 16:49 -- "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy."  So far as I can see, if anyone is turning this country into Sodom, it's the Republican congress, which has conspicuously fattened itself while slashing money from programs to help the poor like there is no tomorrow.  

Another thing they are ignoring (or maybe unaware of): many if not most gay people are their brother and sister Christians. Christianity is the largest religion in the country, and gay people are notoriously religious. Monasteries and Convents are full of gay people. Some (if not most ) of our favorite saints were gay. Have you read the poetry of St. John of the Cross? Seriously? A majority of the Catholic priesthood is gay. How many fundamentalist preachers are exposed as or have come out as gay? It's commonplace. The louder they preach against it, the more likely they are to eventually admit it's themselves they're yelling about. Gay people aren't out to destroy their own primary religion. Take a breath, folks. They're your brothers and sisters in the church, not your enemies.

Some legislators are trying to make it illegal for a gay person to force an anti-gay clergy person to perform a wedding for them. Now seriously, people! A wedding is a joyous thing, a time of great celebration and love -- the forming of a new family, a time of blessing! Why would anyone want a hostile person to officiate at, or attend or have any part in their joyous simcha? The odds of that happening are zero. About the same as gay guys wanting to serve pizza at their wedding... I would rather wrestle an alligator in my underwear than have a hostile fundamentalist preacher do my wedding. Such a nutty idea, it gives you some idea of how deranged these people have made themselves over this. Of course, it is a huge temper tantrum for not getting their way. If we had lost that case, I would be the one having the tantrum. 

So in spite of cries of disaster from the right, there won't be a disaster. The US just joined the world community that has already recognized same gender weddings, like Argentina, Ireland, the UK, Uruguay, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Iceland, France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Greenland, and the list goes on. Love is winning all over the world. People are people and love is love. 

And the world is richer for it. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Marriage Equality is the Law of the Land

I started this day in tears, weeping for joy. Never did I ever imagine that in my lifetime, the law of the land would include me. 

I have written here many times about the need for marriage equality, but today, it is reality in the entire United States. 

The little girl who stood beside her best friend back in 1951 and realized, in complete horror, that she was a lesbian is no longer hiding her very being. I thought then, as another girl passed a love note to my friend, "That's stupid! You never let anyone know, and besides, she's already mine." Those thoughts, so loud and clear, scared me out of my wits -- I had been hiding this even from myself. I was so afraid -- it was against the law to be LGBT in those days and it could mean being put in a mental hospital and given shock treatments, or being jailed, besides being completely ostracized by friends and family. I simply could not be that person. I was barely 13 at the time. I had a genius IQ, but I didn't have an adult's ability to analyze this and deal with it rationally. The shame that enveloped me was crippling, but there as no one to talk to about it. I had to hide this monstrous truth, regardless of the cost. And the emotional cost was enormous.

Little by little, over the years, I came to accept myself. I began to understand how this denial had cost me so much, and one day I looked at myself in the mirror and said "I am a lesbian", and "I love you." I cried a lot, and then I came out to everyone. I was never in the closet again after that. But I had been on the closet a very long time. I was 61 years old. 

And now, at 76, I am a full citizen of this country, thanks to the SCOTUS ruling. You may have to be gay to fully feel the impact of that, but I believe compassionate people of all stripes can understand this pretty fully. The full faith and credit of the constitution has made me a whole person.

I have 12 grandchildren. Odds are strong that at least one of them is gay, though none has said so. That child will not have the barriers I faced when I realized this truth about myself. I am so happy for all the kids in this country who are just becoming aware that they are gay and are now able to stand tall in the understanding that the Constitution protects us all, speaks for us all, that we are not "less than" any more. You can fall in love, marry, and have a family just like your straight brothers and sisters, in every state in the US. Even Louisiana. Even Mississippi. Even Tennessee. 

Thank you, SCOTUS. As the president said this morning, "Today, our union has become a little more perfect." He said this was the "consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents — parents who loved their children no matter what. Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts and stayed strong and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love."

Can I get an Amen? 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Rachel Dolezal/Jeb Bush Commonality

Am I the only one who thinks Rachel Dolezal and Jeb Bush have more than a little in common? Dolezal is the former NAACP leader who was recently exposed as claiming to be black, but is actually 100% caucasian. Bush is the son and brother of presidents who is currently running for president himself who has been known to identify as Hispanic, though he is 100% Anglo. He even admits to having checked “Hispanic” as his race on a voter registration form at one time. https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1710373/bush-registration-application.pdf Both of them have immersed themselves in the cultures with which they identify and both married people from those cultures. 

I had a patient at the methadone clinic in San Francisco who did pretty much the same thing Dolezal did. She was a blonde caucasian woman who was married to a black man and totally involved in the black community. I heard her answer one day, when asked where her husband was, "He go he mama house." The people to whom she was speaking were not using that idiom. It was startling to hear it. I always think of her odd Ebonics phrase when I hear about people like Jeb Bush or Rachel Dolezal. It's an odd, but not uncommon phenomenon. "He go he mama house" syndrome. 

This adoption of another’s ethnicity may be more common than you might think. Pew Research says: 

     “…researchers, who included university and government population scientists, analyzed census forms for 168 million Americans, and found that more than 10 million of them checked different race or Hispanic-origin boxes in the 2010 census than they had in the 2000 count. Smaller-scale studies have shown that people sometimes change the way they describe their race or Hispanic identity, but the new research is the first to use data from the census of all Americans to look at how these selections may vary on a wide scale”

That's roughly one-sixteenth of the population. One sixteenth! According to Pew, University of Minnesota sociologist Caroline A. Libeler said that millions of Americans change their race. Who knew?

I think both Dolezal and Bush became so deeply involved in the ethnicity they identified with that they began to believe they were a natural part of it. Dolezal attended a black college and married a black man. She has lived and worked in and with the black community for a long time. Bush has lived and worked in both Venezuela and South Florida and he married a Mexican woman he met on a school exchange trip to Mexico. He has been described as “one of the most prominent members of the Hispanic community” in Miami newspaper profiles.

Rachel Dolezal is an outcast and Jeb Bush is believed to be the front runner among Republican candidates for president of the United States. So, why is Dolezal an anathema and Bush a golden boy? Why is one a fraud and the other a favorite? Are our judging criteria skewed in some odd way? Is it rich white male privilege? Do we favor one culture over another? Both did good work for their causes. Both seem sincere in their identifying with another culture. 

Some things are harder to understand than people changing their ethnicity. 

Sources: Pewresearch.com; NPR

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Our Closeted Racism

The massacre at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina was a shocking act of racial terrorism. A young man joined others at a bible study, and after an hour of prayer and study in which he was warmly welcomed, he stood up, said he had come there to kill black people and proceeded to shoot 9 people in cold blood with a pistol he had recently bought with birthday money from his father. He was wearing a jacket decorated with the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa. He was a self proclaimed white supremacist who, he said, was out to start a race war. 

That he was 21 years old might have been a surprise — we have come to expect older white men to be the biggest culprits in racial hate groups, but we would be wrong. Hate knows no age limits. Racism is present everywhere.

Most whites are racially complacent. We often believe racism is a thing of the past and everything is fine now. We have a black president, right? Isn’t that proof that we have overcome?

Consider the amount of hate and death threats that have been directed at that president, and the volumes of racist jokes aimed toward him and his family. When people get caught doing it, they laugh it off and say they were only making a joke, or that they didn’t realize a picture of the White House lawn planted in watermelon vines was offensive. Or comparing the First Lady to a gorilla. Yeah, right.

But nearly all of us are harboring some deeply closeted racism. It is so ingrained and cleverly  hidden, we don’t even know it’s there. We have a fear of "otherness" that is very primitive. Its comes out in fear of other races, or people who look or act or believe differently than we do. It is by all means to be gotten rid of as soon as we become aware of it. It has no place among adults in civil society. 

A man I know made some very racist statements about the people of Ferguson. When confronted with the racist bias of his remarks, he protested that he worked with black people every day and they were his friends. He said he would willingly lay down his life for them and he was as far from a racist as it gets. I don’t doubt that he sincerely believes that. He has compartmentalized the black people he knows and works with (in his mind, the good black people) and separated them out from the everyday citizens of Ferguson who are strangers to him (in his mind, the bad, lazy, no-count welfare-collecting black people who will rob and loot and burn down stores and wreck their own community for no reason). He is completely unaware of the centuries of frustration, powerlessness, deep hurt and anger that boil over into such destructive behavior. He sees it as willful misconduct by people who have no sense of pride. 

How many of us compartmentalize our racism? I have a mixed race son, and even I can be guilty of racism. We were coming out of the eye clinic at Vanderbilt University Hospital the other day and our car was parked next to the door on the other side of a railing. There was a young black man with braids sitting on the railing next to the car, probably a student waiting for his next class at the clinic, but I felt a twinge of fear. So did Laura. I confronted it immediately for what it was and made myself drop it, not unlike making your dog drop some bad thing he picked up in the yard — and it works in both cases. The sudden awareness of my own racism shocked me. It is so culturally ingrained that no matter how free of racism we might think we are, if we dig, we can find some. 

The mixed-race daughter of a friend of mine used to wear tennis shoes with the word “white power” written on them.  The cognitive dissonance of that phrase on the shoes of a half-black child used to make us laugh, but it isn’t really funny.  It’s a sad commentary on our society.  We saw it as the child being color blind, but it was really the strong denial of a major piece of her ethnic makeup and identification with slave owners and oppressors. That child needed a serious history lesson, stat. 

There is a whole segment of our society that is not made up of closeted racists -- their racism is right out there in the open. Much of that is in the south, but a surprisingly large amount of it exists beyond that region, hidden away in both urban and rural areas all over the country. (Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Group map link here: http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map#s=NE) Racism is based on ignorance and often acquired by being brought up by racist parents. We may see overt racists as a lunatic fringe, but if we are going to avoid another Emmanuel AME massacre, we had better start looking at them as a terrorist threat worse than any from middle eastern foreigners. 

I don’t know how to change them, but I do know how to change myself. It’s like the old adage about peace: ending racism begins with me. Face it, confront it, change it. There can be no solution so long as we are deeply in denial that a problem exists. Confront it wherever you see it or hear it spoken. Speak out. Racism thrives in being tacitly accepted. Let's make it known we don't accept it at all.