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Family Honors on this Memorial Day

Though they knew not the family they would father decades and centuries later, they fought bravely — ensuring my freedom today and tomorrow. A grateful thank you to all those who have served and shaped this nation and its history in ways still untold.

 

Michael Easter II (abt. 1760-April 28, 1821) Revolutionary War, Infantry

 

Michael Easter (June 21, 1828-Feb. 6, 1914), Civil War, (2) Co. F, 29th Virginia Infantry, C.S.A.
Levi Easter (Oct. 15, 1830-Sept. 14, 1917), Civil War, (2) Co. F, 29th Virginia Infantry, C.S.A.

 

W.M. Comer (March 19, 1928- ) World War II & Korean War, Marines

 
(Re-posted from May 28, 2007)

Update (May 29, 2011, 3 p.m.): The Charlotte Observer has updated their story and replaced the phrase “civil disobedience” with “disorderly conduct.”
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“One person was killed and another wounded in an incident apparently related to a night of civil disobedience by large numbers of people in Charlotte’s uptown,” writer Steve Lyttle originally reported for The Charlotte Observer on Sunday, May 29.

Lyttle’s story on the unrest following the last night of Speed Street in Uptown Charlotte reveals disorder, mayhem, rioting and violence. Four actions that rarely go hand-in-hand with concepts of civil disobedience.

But Lyttle and The Charlotte Observer need to know, just in case they don’t already: Gang-related rioting and murder is not the same as civil disobedience, a concept so intricately and almost exclusively linked to ideas of non-violent resistance and grassroots protest and peaceable assembly that Lyttle’s use of the phrase here is dead wrong — it’s also telling of a city and its social, media and government establishment that has time and time again shown itself averse to progressive political change on race, socioeconomic issues and LGBT equality.

It is disappointing that The Observer chooses to link concepts of social justice with gang-related violence. The paper’s report comes just one day after a true show of civil disobedience in Moscow, where LGBT activists marched and were arrested in defiance of a mayor and government establishment that had prohibited yet again a Pride parade and festival in Russia’s capital. There, several activists peacefully faced down Moscow police and neo-Nazi protesters in order to simply take part in what is already inherently theirs: the right to peacefully assemble, protest and petition their government for a redress of grievances. In this instance and in nearly all instances of civil disobedience it was the peaceful protesters who were at the receiving end, and not the perpetrators, of violence.

Unfortunately, Charlotte residents who read our daily newspaper of record will now link in their minds the peaceful concepts and actions of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance with gun-fighting, gang rioting and murder. The two are not the same, have never been the same and will never be the same.

The media has great power and with it comes great responsibility — to report news fairly, to report news accurately and to shy away from implications in their reporting that will result in the further abasement of already vulnerable minorities, people who historically have used civil disobedience as a peaceful means to achieve lasting and meaningful social change.

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The Recession Can Aid in LGBT Equality

Freedom to Marry is touting today a World Magazine interview with Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, wherein the anti-gay leader admits the struggle for LGBT equality in marriage is all but lost for the religious right and their Republican bedmates.

“We’re losing on that one,” Daly says in the June 4 issue of the publication, “especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age – demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that.”

But it’s not just young folks who are increasingly being turned off by the seemingly sex-crazed politics and wedge issues of the right. Recent polls are finding new majorities of voters in favor of marriage rights – or, at the very least, some sort of legal relationship recognition for same-sex couples. And, with the economy still in turmoil – gas prices rising and the like – progressive and LGBT advocates might just find entirely new demographics opened up to their support.

Read the rest of my latest at The Bilerico Project…

 

Yesterday, Queerty writer Daniel Villarreal brought up some interesting questions on the new music video for Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” He writes:

Standing up for homos is becoming the cool thing to do. Taylor Swift champions this move gay-ward with a scene from her new video Mean. In it, she shows a Chris Colfer lookalike getting harassed by an entire football team and sings, “You, pickin’ on the weaker man… / Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” It’s a catchy song and a great message, but is she emblematic of a larger trend where companies and artists voice support for queers, but stop short offering anything other than talk?

Villarreal goes on to outline several ways companies and other public figures have begun, perhaps, to capitalize on gay-friendliness, though he cautions, “Don’t misunderstand us: We’re using Ms. Swift simply as a jumping off point for this discussion. In all likelihood, Ms. Swift may have simply recognized her gay fans and the need for anti-bullying outreach and included the GLEE-esque scene in her video because it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

For Swift, in particular, whatever the initial motives might be, the effect is a stunning and not-so-frequent breath of fresh air in Country Music.

LGBT people are for the most part invisible in the Country Music world. There is a gay history in Country Music. We are, after all, everywhere. But that history is short and largely unknown. Chely Wright’s coming out last year was the latest gay milestone in the genre, though The Week points out other important dates, people and issues.

Regardless, I have my doubts as to whether the Country Music family would be able to fully embrace an openly gay singer. kd lang never got much “street cred” at mainstream Country events. Wright, too, has felt the sting, effectively being snubbed from what had been regular appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.

The move toward more inclusive Country Music entertainment starts with symbolic acts like Swift’s (and Dolly Parton’s and Willie Nelson’s and Garth Brooks’). More friendly and forceful representations of our lives in song and video and more outspoken support from mainstream Country singers will eventually lead to more inclusion.

Perhaps, one day, gay boys and girls in cowboy hats and with guitars in hand will become regular staples at the CMAs, ACMs and on CMT. Unfortunately, the basic, grueling work of fair representation and inclusion must come first.

I don’t think I could have imagined last fall just how challenging and, at times, frustrating returning to school would be once I actually set foot in class this January. After nearly four years of absence, I decided last fall to finish that elusive bachelor’s degree I put off when in September 2007 I was offered and accepted the position of editor at Charlotte’s QNotes.

Belk Tower. UNC Charlotte. Photo by Andy Ciordia.

Excitement and anticipation ruled the day in January and it continued throughout the semester, even as school and professional work piled on to make my life more stressful than it’s probably ever been. While I’ve enjoyed the renewed college experience (though my experience of “college life” is mighty different now that I’m a little older), I have one major, frustrating regret: I closeted myself.

Yes, me: Big queer activist since the age of 14; gay blogger and citizen journo since college; editor of an LGBT newspaper; volunteer and grassroots organizer; the “most flamboyant, outspoken queer teen Winston-Salem had ever seen,” or so I wrote in my chapter in 2008′s “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.”

It wasn’t an intentional closeting by any means. LGBT subjects — save ancient Greek pederasty, and I don’t think that counts — never came up in class; had they, I’d likely have spoken out. I simply went to class, took notes, studied for exams and left campus to head back to my office or home when the day was over. But, seemingly out of no where, I was forced to face prejudice and hate I hadn’t experienced first-hand since high school, or, at least, my earliest days in college.

“That proctor guy is a faggot,” the boy sitting behind me said of the young male student assisting our professor that day.

I, along with about 200 other students, sat in an auditorium-style classroom awaiting our instructor and her assistant as they prepared to administer our exam.

“Who?” the boy’s friend asked.

“That guy. That faggot. He’s been staring at us since we sat down. He’s a fag,” I overheard behind me, each instance of the slur stressed, pointed and dripping with hate.

I froze. I did and said nothing. My heart began beating faster.

“Should I turn around and say something?” I asked myself. “What would I say? How would I say it?”

It didn’t turn out to be a very good exam day for me. I panicked — memories from high school bullying flashing back to my head. It wasn’t until later that evening, once I was home and had related the day’s events to a friend, that I came up with what I thought could have been a witty response.

“The next time you call someone a faggot, make sure the person sitting in front of you isn’t one.”

I thought about putting it on the back of a T-shirt and wearing it the next time I had the same class. But, I decided to ignore the comment.

“I don’t need a confrontation in the middle of a class full of students,” I told myself.

I was lucky enough to be working with Campus Pride last fall when they released their landmark report, “The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” The in-depth, first-of-its-kind study documents the experiences of some 6,000 LGBT students, faculty and staff across the nation’s institutions of higher education. Though much attention is often given to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination in K-12 schools, and campaigns like “It Gets Better” promises good days to teens who simply “stick it out” ’til college, Campus Pride’s report drove home a sobering point: anti-LGBT harassment and prejudice doesn’t magically disappear once a student crosses the stage to receive their high school diploma.

I found myself reflected in Campus Pride’s various key findings (emphasis added):

  • One quarter (23%) of LGBQ staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Almost all identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty, & staff reported experiencing harassment (39%) with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experiences by transgender people was more overt and blatant.
  • One-third of LGBQ (33%) and transgender (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate.
  • More than half of all faculty, students, & staff hide their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation.
  • More than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff (43%) and 13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.

Why didn’t I ever say anything? What was it that scared and intimidated me so much? Shouldn’t a 25-year-old, outspoken gay man like me have had the courage to enforce my own zero tolerance attitude toward anti-gay harassment?

What happened to me in class this semester reminds me of my friend Brian Murphy’s similar challenges when dealing with families, friends and other close relationships:

I do not do that which I know I should do. She says something insulting and I let it slide. He calls me Peter’s “friend” and I don’t correct him. They make jokes which aren’t really funny and I chuckle enough to not attract attention. It seems that family, friends, and closer relationships impede the cause of justice by compromising our words and actions, by elevating relationships over rightness.

Such insecurity and uncertainty, as I can attest, isn’t limited to personal relationships. In my case, complete and perfect strangers stopped me dead in my tracks.

As my first semester back at school wraps up, I’ve determined to make a new resolution. When the fall semester rolls around and I again find myself in class, I’ll not let my inner meekness get the best of me. I’ll take a chance, gulp down a shot of courage and confront the bigotry and ignorance that will (hopefully not) drift my way.

All-in-all, though, the experience served as a mighty important personal lesson. No matter how comfortable I think I might be. No matter how accepting or welcoming an environment I think surrounds me and no matter how much I’ve nearly insulated my daily work and personal life with LGBT or LGBT-friendly people and causes, I’m never truly comfortable. There’s still an awful lot of work to do — in high schools and colleges, in neighborhoods, in states and in our country and world. Silence can’t be an option.