Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cool Organization: Rural Organizing Project

Cool Organizations is a feature of EBinVC highlighting the work of groups in other places that inspire us here in Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rural Organizing Project (ROP) is a statewide organization of locally-based groups that work to create communities accountable to a standard of human dignity: the belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice, and the right to self-determination.

Starting in 1992, ROP's challenges to the anti-democratic right have earned ROP a national reputation for being an effective grassroots organization that takes on the hard issues. The catalyst for ROP was the Oregon Citizens Alliance and their outrageous Abnormal Behaviors Initiative, which targeted gay and lesbian Oregonians for legalized second-class citizenship.

Oregonians in small towns across the state were mobilized, many for the first time, as basic tenets of the Constitution were at risk through this ballot initiative. ROP stepped into this organizing opportunity to fill a niche the radical right was trying to claim.

ROP is not your typical organization. We work with an organized grassroots base, not just a passive dues paying membership. Our analysis is multi-issue, our activities are multi-tactic, and we strategically coordinate our statewide organizing with key partners that counter the Right on every front in rural Oregon.

Our lean mean coordinating machine of five staff is backed by hundreds of volunteer leaders and thousands of supporters spanning the 10th largest state in the nation. As Left Turn magazine reported in February 2006, this structure enables and requires ROP to focus on organizing and grassroots leadership development to maintain the depth and breadth of movement building work.

Today, ROP works with 65 member groups to organize on issues that impact human dignity and to advance inclusive democracy.

Check out the Rural Organizing Project HERE.

Progressive Faith Groups Now Trying to Shift Debate

Activists Optimistic That Obama Will Back Causes

By Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein for the Washington Post:

With a president they view as more sympathetic to their causes, progressive religious activists are pushing the new Obama administration for aggressive action -- on poverty, the environment and social justice issues -- that would mark a significant shift in the faith agenda that dominated the Bush years.

Many faith groups close to President George W. Bush focused on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. But now, liberal and centrist evangelicals and other activists say they are getting a voice and trying to turn the debate.

"The last administration showed no interest in talking to a large chunk of the religious community," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "We're already seeing change. . . . This administration, so far as I can see, is not making a similar mistake."

The change, however, represents more than a new agenda. It also sets up potential conflicts for President Obama, who has reached out to religious activists across the spectrum. He runs the risk of alienating supporters and detractors alike as his administration attempts a dialogue on a host of issues and begins new policies, such as his decision this month to lift the ban on federal funding to international groups that provide abortions and abortion counseling.

Faith groups praised the administration's outreach during the transition. Between the election and the inauguration, Obama's staff held more than 20 meetings with a diverse mix of religious groups that included mainline Protestant organizations such as Lutheran Services in America as well as the Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Those attending said administration officials were seeking advice on how the new White House can work with faith organizations through Obama's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The meetings also focused on such issues as the environment, AIDS worldwide, Middle East policy, detainee interrogations, criminal justice reform and the economy.

High-level Obama staff members attended the sessions, which were held at the transition headquarters or by teleconference. They included Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Heather A. Higginbottom, the council's deputy director; and Michael Strautmanis, Obama's director of intergovernmental relations.

On Thursday, Obama named Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal pastor who ran religious outreach for the campaign, to head the White House's new office for faith-based programs, a White House aide said. DuBois is close to the president, and faith leaders see his ascent as a sign of the importance of their causes to the new administration.

While the progressive groups are emphasizing social justice, many also are urging Obama to help reduce abortions. The fight over the issue has always been complex and is likely to become even more so. While many liberal groups say they want abortions reduced, other antiabortion groups remain adamant about seeking a prohibition.

Catholic bishops, for example, will find Obama a "mixed bag," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute and a professor of politics at Catholic University. While many of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' positions on social justice align with those of the Obama administration, the bishops' firm opposition to abortion and embryonic stem cell research will put them at odds with the president.

"Clearly for the bishops, first and foremost, are these life issues," Schneck said. "While they're certainly willing to work with the Obama administration on everything else, for them the key to a long-term relationship with the administration has to revolve around abortion."

Other areas of dispute also are becoming clear.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture praised Obama's decision to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end harsh interrogation techniques, but it criticized his creation of a task force to study whether the CIA should be able to use additional interrogation techniques. "We cannot afford to risk a return to the secret abuses of the past," said a statement from the group, which represents 257 religious organizations.

Many have also expressed concern about Obama's stated desire to reverse the Bush policy of allowing religious groups to hire only people of their own faith in federally funded projects. When Obama announced his plan for an office for faith-based initiatives, he said that groups receiving federal funding could not discriminate in hiring. Obama officials have been largely vague on this point since.

Religious hiring rights are a priority for many religious groups.

And even groups more ideologically aligned with Obama may find themselves squaring off with him as he attempts to balance their competing interests with his agenda in other areas, such as the economy.

Sojourners, a liberal evangelical group, intends to keep the pressure up with a march in April, the Mobilization Against Poverty, that will call on the president to cut the poverty rate in half within 10 years.

The organizations say they are only attempting to help Obama stay on the course he has promised.

Said Sojourners organizer Jim Wallis: "We're trying to help him fulfill his commitment and hold his administration accountable at the same time."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Announce Your Equality!

In cities and small towns all over the country, communities are seeing the lives of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) family members, friends and neighbors reflected in their media outlets. These stories will spur the kinds of everyday conversations that will change hearts and minds.

GLAAD first launched the Announcing Equality campaign in 2002, after working with The New York Times to open its weddings/celebrations pages to lesbian and gay couples. Six years later, the number of inclusive newspapers has jumped from 70 to 1049, and nearly 72 percent of all daily newspapers in the United States now accept wedding and/or commitment ceremony announcements for same-sex couples.

Unfortunately, most of these papers haven’t had a chance to run an announcement – that’s where you come in!

We’re urging you to share your stories by recognizing the celebrations and milestones in your life, and to share your story in other forms of media, from office newsletters and union periodicals to church bulletins, Facebook and YouTube.

Submit a wedding announcement. Start a blog. Share your story on a radio call-in show.

Use GLAAD's Share Your Story tools to Announce Your Equality!

The Oil City Derrick ran a gay marriage announcement in 2004. Check out a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the controversy HERE.

Dolores Huerta: Si Se Puede!

The 21st National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change got off to a rousing start Thursday night in Denver when legendary social justice and labor leader Dolores Huerta gave a powerful call for justice for all in the opening plenary.

Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), is a strong advocate and leading Latina voice for full equality for LGBT people. Speaking about how progressive groups, including those in the LGBT, labor, immigration reform, women and economic justice movements, need to work together, she told the crowd: “We need to educate each other’s movements to create change. ...

“We have to get out there and talk to those who even disagree with us. To paraphrase Gandhi, sometimes conflict is good because if there’s no conflict, there won’t be any change,” she continued. “This movement is about people saying, ‘I’m going to fight for my sexuality and who I am.’ It’s talking about truth but also talking about justice.”

Huerta reminded the audience, “We have a mandate to remove the ignorance from society until we get the human rights that we all deserve.” While quoting the first president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, when he famously said, “The respect of other people’s rights is peace,” she finalized with a passionate call for the coming together of the human race. While assuring that we will achieve equality and justice for all, she invited participants to join her in the chant that was made famous in her the struggle for farm workers: Si se puede!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Religion, Hate, and State

Prop 8 - Did Mormons Go Too Far?

By Steven Greenstreet for the American News Project

Activists claim that money from the Mormon Church was the deciding factor in passing Proposition 8 in California - banning gay marriage. The church claims to have only spent a few thousand dollars on the campaign, but ANP has uncovered evidence that may expose a gaping hole in that claim. Also, the IRS forbids religious organizations from "substantially" lobbying for political legislation. Did the Mormon Church violate this law?

Venango County-based Extremist Organizations Push The "Ex-Gay" Myth

Over the past weeks and months, "Christian" radio station WAWN and Fishermen's Net, a ministry of Lighthouse Ministries of Franklin, all based in Venango County, have been promoting the "ex-gay" myth on radio and Internet broadcasts.

These misinformation campaigns, rooted in ignorance and religion-based bigotry, put GLBT people at risk and give Venango County a bad name.

Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization that counters right wing propaganda, exposes the “ex-gay” myth and educates America about gay life.

Truth Wins Out is resolute in its belief that "ex-gay" programs are a politically motivated fraud designed to exploit vulnerable clients for financial gain and pass anti-gay legislation. Attempts to change sexual orientation are patently offensive, discriminatory by definition, theologically shaky, uniformly unsuccessful and medically unsound.

Truth Wins Out firmly believes that ex-gay programs can damage families, lower self-esteem, generate guilt and shame and sometimes lead to suicide. The organization holds as self-evident that the world would be a better place without "ex-gay" programs, which are an unnecessary and destructive hindrance to the natural coming out process.

Truth Wins Out aims to end the dangerous practice of "ex-gay" therapy in all of its injurious forms. The organization tirelessly advocates against such programs, vigorously disseminates educational material, and doggedly pursues actions that help undermine the "ex-gay" myth.

Truth Wins Out firmly believes in the principle that leaving the “Big Lie” unchallenged invites prejudice to prosper, falsehoods to flower and fiction to be confused with fact.

Truth Wins Out stands for the idea that education will overcome ignorance and truth will one day triumph.

For more information, see Truth Wins Out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For Decades, Right-Wingers Have Pushed Paranoia and Xenophobic Politics and Called It 'Moral Clarity'

Conservatives live in a world of seething aggression that most progressives can't even fathom.

By Sara Robinson, Campaign for America's Future:

As he was prepared to slink off into the history books as arguably the worst president in American history, I actually sat down and watched George W. Bush speak.

There was one passage, in particular, that rang in my ears long after his final goodbye. It probably went over most Americans' heads -- but it went right to the heart of Our Problem With George:

As we address these challenges -- and others we cannot foresee tonight -- America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.

That phrase "moral clarity" -- conservatives use it a lot. And it always sounds absurd to progressive ears, coming as it does from members of an administration that shredded the Constitution, deprived people of due process, committed horrific acts of torture and lied the country into the worst military debacle in its history.

It's always bewildering to listen to such people lecture the rest of us on "moral clarity." What in the hell are they talking about?

They keep using those words. It turns out that they don't mean what we think they mean.

This was brought home to me over the holidays, when I devoured J. Peter Scoblic's U.S. Vs. Them as part of my vacation reading. Scoblic's book looks at the way the conservative penchant for "othering" (a word I coined to describe their perpetual need for someone to project their own demons onto, and then hate on) has shaped U.S. foreign policy from the beginning of the Cold War through the Bush administration.

Throughout the book, Scoblic traces the roots of this recurring phrase -- "moral clarity" -- and discusses the very specific and narrowly defined meaning it has to conservatives.

The phrase first appeared in describing the Manichean worldview of the anti-communist right in the 1950s. To William F. Buckley, Frank Meyer, Whittaker Chambers and other National Review writers, "moral clarity" meant fully understanding and accepting the essential good-versus-evil nature of foreign affairs.

People with "moral clarity" recognized the ultimate existential evil of Communism and were constantly on guard against its unceasing efforts to bring down the capitalist world by any means necessary.

To these early movement conservatives, having "moral clarity" meant that you weren't the kind of weakling who would be deceived into negotiation with the Commies, or consent to arms control, or be duped into merely containing their relentless march across the globe. It meant that you had the intestinal fortitude (or pure enough vital bodily fluids, as you wish) to do whatever had to be done to permanently exterminate America's implacable enemies -- whether it was to send in the Marines or drop the bomb.

This definition of "moral clarity" has been a major factor in U.S. foreign policy ever since. From that day unto this, the conservative movement has never been without a demonized Other to focus its vaunted "moral clarity" on.

"Moral clarity" is why conservatives hate summit meetings; why they've scuttled every attempt at arms control and nonproliferation; why every problem in the world can only yield to a military solution; and why defense is the only valid government expense.

To people with "moral clarity," these choices are obvious. Those who disagree (like those progressive pantywaists who refuse to acknowledge the threat or are willing and eager to coddle Pure Evil by parleying with it) are, perforce, inherently weaker and less morally serious. If you've ever marveled at the depths of conservative moral self-righteousness, now you know the deep well from which it springs.

When the Soviet Union crumbled to dust, it looked for a few years there like this brand of "moral clarity" was going to fade away with it. Finding a new boogeyman became Job One for conservatives in the early '90s; and they quickly seized on the entire Muslim world (all 1.5 billion of them certifiable terrorists, they assured us) as the best possible candidate. Dick Cheney updated the old anti-communist definition for a post-9/11 world when he said:

We cannot deal with terror. [The war on terrorism] will not end in a treaty. There will be no peaceful coexistence, no negotiations, no summit, no joint communique with the terrorists. The struggle can only end with their complete and permanent destruction and in victory for the United States and the cause of freedom.

Whenever you hear a conservative go on about "moral clarity," this is precisely what they're saying. There is always an enemy. They are always out to get us. They will stop at nothing. You cannot coddle them or negotiate with them; you can only survive by annihilating them. And people who see the moral world clearly will not waste time or breath questioning these essential truths.

It's pretty stunning stuff when you read it that way. It really makes you realize that conservatives live in a world of paranoia, xenophobia and seething aggression that most progressives can't even fathom. And their entire moral universe has been twisted to serve their externalized fears; to take that will to project their own demons onto someone else and then destroy them and elevate it as the highest possible moral good.

It's a definition of "morality" that renders the rule of law meaningless but readily justifies genocide and torture as moral acts of self-preservation.

Once we understand what they're really saying, it becomes pretty obvious that one of the first things we're going to need to do in this new era is challenge this horrific definition of "moral clarity" and overwrite it with one of our own. Fortunately, on the same day Bush gave his final speech, attorney general candidate Eric Holder appeared before Congress and gave the country a cooling blast of what real progressive "moral clarity" might look like.

According to Holder:

1. The president is not exempt from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

2. Guantanamo will be closed, and its prisoners remanded to appropriate courts for due process.

3. Waterboarding is, unequivocally, torture.

That's what moral clarity looks like when progressives run the show. We believe moral clarity is defined by the Constitution, embodied in the rule of law and on display wherever the dignity of other people -- including those whose interests oppose ours -- is upheld. And, in case there's any question about where the real moral clarity lies here: Ours is the morality America was founded on. Theirs is one that almost put that light out forever.

The next time a conservative starts talking about "moral clarity," let's not just stand there scratching our fuzzy liberal heads. It's not a joke, and not a piece of idle cant. Their use of the phrase to is a fundamental challenge to our entire view of society and government and to everything we value.

We need to call them out on this murderous and hateful "morality" and challenge them to reconcile it with the values of Enlightenment humanism. The conservatives have cherished this belief for nearly 60 years, but it has no place in the 21st century. It should have died when the Berlin Wall fell. Now that we understand what they're really saying, let's show some true "moral clarity" and bury this toxic idea for good.

Sara Robinson is a 20-year veteran of Silicon Valley and is launching a second career as a strategic foresight analyst. When she's not studying change theories and reactionary movements, you can find her singing the alto part at Orcinus. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and two teenagers. This column is an edited version of an original published by Campaign for America's Future.

PUSH: Portrait Of A Lesbian In Black Cinema

Out director Lee Daniels claims Sundance's Grand Jury Prize for Push, the tale of one girl's struggle for survival in 1980s Harlem -- and one of the most moving portraits of a lesbian in black cinema.

By Corey Scholibo for The Advocate:

Lee Daniels's second feature as a director -- Push -- premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and last weekend picked up the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Films in Competition as well as the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic Films in Competition. Daniels is the director of Shadowboxer and the producer of such films as Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman.

Push, based on the novel by Sapphire, is about a young girl's struggle to survive in 1980s Harlem. Unable to read or write, physically and sexually abused by her mother and father, Sapphire “Precious” Jones finds salvation with the help of a lesbian teacher (Paula Patton) who takes her under her wing, teaches her to read and write, and ultimately teaches her the meaning of love and family. The film has an unusual cast, including Mariah Carey, who plays a social worker, and the breakout performance of the festival and perhaps the year -- from comedian Mo'Nique, stepping out of her comfort zone to play Precious’s mother.

The film is a gritty and poignant look at life in impoverished black America, but interestingly, it provides one of the most positive views of homosexuality found in films about the black experience. Out producer-director Daniels sits down with to discuss the harrowing experience of bringing such a painful story to the screen and how he got Mo'Nique to go to some really harrowing places. Mo'Nique, I think, could win an Oscar for this film. Was it difficult to get her to go there, or was it just like she always had this in her all the time?
Lee Daniels: No, it was very hard to get her to go there. She was not that person. I had to jump into her world immediately after each take, to take care of her since she was playing such a beast. When I said, “Cut,” I’d say to her, like, “OK, all right, bitch, sit down, sit your fat ass over there ... don’t move ... get her some chicken wings now and ... ” We had to connect on a very, like, “our talk” level so she could snap out of it. I had to make her laugh. So I played the comedian to her and Precious so that we could come out of it because it was very, very, very painful.

I didn’t like doing the movie, because it was too much. Like, oh, my God. I loved the book, like, love the book. I love the portrayal of the lesbian in it. I love everything about it. Everything is sick. Sapphire wrote something ... we’re at a time right now where for African-Americans it’s not cool to be gay. You know? It’s just not cool to be gay. And I take such pride ... and it’s hard for me to tell the truth.

Is it?
Yes. Because I have to look my family members and my church and my peers in the face and say, “Hey, this is what it is.” And black people don’t like that gay thing. It’s not cool. It’s not machismo; it’s really, really difficult. Sapphire was, like, at a time where it was even harder being black, being gay. She wrote about this lesbian woman who is her savior. It’s just so politically incorrect that it’s fabulous.

Yeah, that’s one of the most interesting aspects of the film, actually.
Oh, my God, she’s a lesbian! ... [Laughing] And she’s actually very nice people.

In the wake of Prop. 8, there’s a certain tension going on right now between being black and being gay in America. Do you think your film is adding a voice to that?
Yeah. It’s so upsetting. My boyfriend told me that -- this is before we saw Milk, before we knew about this whole thing up at Sundance too -- he was like, “You’re so up into your fucking film-world ass that you’re not realizing what’s going on out here. And that you have a voice and you should be using your voice to do something.” And I said, “Honey, you know what, I have two kids, I have you, I have my work, I’m not a political activist. I don’t have time to go out and ... I wish I did, but you know, when? In between wiping my ass and fucking brushing my teeth? When?” Then I saw Milk. And I realized that drag queens took bullets for us. It was like my mom, when I was in college once, first year of college, and I was really being defined and I didn’t vote and my mother called me up and she said, “Did you vote to today?” And I said “Oh, no, I didn’t have time.” And she started crying -- “I don’t have any front teeth so that you could vote.”

And there you are.
And she said, “Nigger, you need to get your ass up and vote.” And it was that same sort of thing when I watched Milk, that I realized how important it was and how timely the push is right now for African-Americans who think that being gay is bad. Because we’re tricked in the film, we don’t know until three fourths of the way through the film that she’s gay. She’s like the beautiful diva, savior, light-skinned, pretty, savior. Guess what? No-o-o.

It seems to me people are going to go see this movie to see the black experience, to see this particular black experience at this particular time. And then they’re going to learn something unexpected about being gay. I can’t think of another movie like this that goes in and sort of, you know, in the side door kind of thing. It’s really going to capture an audience and then do it.

I mean, I love that I’m able to make this statement. That I’m able to make African-Americans know that it’s OK. On another completely different level, we’re dealing with HIV, and when I do my studies and I had to go in and deal with the Gay Men's Health Crisis -- I’m thinking I’m going to be talking to gay men, and [the social worker] is telling me that two thirds of their clients are African-American women. And why? I mean, straight women. Because black men are caught up with this DL shit and are going out and infecting our people, our women. And gay men are now smart enough, I would hope, they know what time it is. We’ve been educated. How sad is it for African-American women that they are trusting these men that are on the fucking DL?

AIDS is on the rise again in young people, even educated young people, so in another interesting way, your film is dealing with AIDS in a way that I think people have forgotten about it.

It’s almost like we were going to tell it in modern times, and I thought it was important to tell it during modern times ... I thought it was important to stay in the time period.

Do you think it would happen in the exact same way now that it happened then?
Yes, yes. “Did you get yourself tested? No, we never did it up in the ass.” That quote from the film is something that my cousin would say. I showed it to my family over the Thanksgiving holiday. And my little nephew who I’ve taken under my wing, he’s 21 and he’s been HIV-positive since he was 14 and he laughed from beginning to end with this film because ... and I was crying as he was laughing. Like, I can laugh sometimes, I think we all can laugh, but ...

Yeah, but not through the whole thing…
He laughed because he’s like Precious, you know what I mean? “I ain’t got time to think about dying, I gotta think about how I’m gonna raise these kids.” People with HIV, they don’t think about death. Mortality is ... you don’t know of your mortality. You think you’ll live forever.

What about the scene where Mo'Nique sort of calls her out to “take care of Mama” and she says ... and, I mean, I interpreted it one way.
You know what it is. Don’t play, you know.

I didn’t anticipate that of all the things in the movie, that was the one where I was like, “Whoa, that’s even more out there than being raped by your father.” But it makes sense because the mother had a relationship with her daughter based on submission, but I was really surprised by that scene for some reason. It would never occur to me to be sexually abused in that way. And to have her called up to voluntarily do it.
The book is very graphic, so here it’s very lightly hit upon, very lightly hit upon. Because I couldn’t deal with it. But that book. Honey. That book ... she’s eating pigs' feet ... and that’s what made me do the book. This is what made me option this book and go after it. This was the most graphic scene in the book. She’s eating, the mother is eating pigs' feet, you smell the stench of her vagina, of her unwashed vagina. You have pigs' feet juice slobbering from her mouth. And she says, “OK, you took my dick, now it’s time for you to be my dick. Get over here.” There’s no way to show that on-screen. There’s no way ever to show that on-screen.

Why not show it at all?
The mother?

I just think that ... poor Precious, you know? It’s the ultimate. It’s just the worst.

Do you have any trouble as a gay man in the black world? Does it make it harder for you to go into these communities? And do you think that your being a gay man within that community discredits you in any way in their eyes or makes it an issue for them seeing a film by you?
I know what you mean. I think that what it does is that ... Obama’s president, and I think that says it all. It’s changed. And that’s a wake-up call for everybody. I feel fearless, I feel like I can go right into those streets where I got my ass whipped with this movie and say, “Take this, pussy,” you know what I mean. I’m so proud of it that I was able to go and show my homophobic classmates the truth and that they were able to learn from it. And that they were able to embrace it. And whether or not they were able to embrace it because they perceive me to be sort of famous, I don’t know. I think it gives hope to young, especially minority and impoverished Americans, because they have a different mentality about the gay man. And it’s OK, kids, it’s so fiercely OK to embrace and be proud of it. I hope that’s it. That’s one of the messages in the film.

I remember saying at the end, I live the most privileged life ever. I think that is one of the most interesting parts about the movie, to watch people go through what she had to go through, it makes the audience thankful for what they have.
And what’s cool about Precious is that she’s OK ...

And I mean her, like the person who’s playing her, Gabourey "Gabby” Sidibe, because she doesn’t take off a fat suit when she’s getting off the set. When she gets off the set, she has to live with that. I had so many prejudices, personally, about someone ... I mean, here I am, gay, black -- how dare I be fucking prejudiced against someone that’s pitch-black? How dare I be fucking prejudiced against someone that’s obese? Who the fuck am I to be prejudiced? But I learned that I was. And it was so fucking unsettling. It was like such an educational experience to know that I had that prejudice in me. That preconceived notion that she was slovenly, she smelled. All these things that were not true. That she was dumb. You know? And I learned that she’s smarter than me. Like I would say, "Well, I want your room tidy and clean because Precious ... just because she’s black doesn’t mean she can’t keep her room tidy ... I want her clothes clean." She goes, "Lee, here’s where it’s at. I can’t get my fat ass under that couch to clean. So how do you think Precious is going to get her fat ass under that couch to clean?" And I said, "Word, bitch. OK, Got it.”

And are you finding distribution companies are coming forward for this film?
They’re at me ... I don’t know. I think that it crosses into black world, it’s commercial, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s going to be hard to find truth. And I said this to Halle [Berry] when we were filming Monster’s Ball, you know, every 10 years we’re blessed if we are. And I think it all came from being told I was nothing. I’ve always got my bar and my standard is so high because I was told I was going to be nothing. By my father, by my uncles…

The hardest part of that movie, more than anything else, is watching her not have any self-esteem. You know from that, nothing can come. How are you supposed to survive that?
You don’t. That’s why I specifically told my agents that I don’t want to know what people really know about the film because if it were negative, it would only reinforce a very fragile sort of place ... what my dad told me, what my uncles told me. When I was walking down the stairs in high heels at five and he’s playing poker and I’m in my mother’s high heels and they’re going “click clack click clack,” and he’s just like, “ahhhhhh.” I was in my mother’s shoes coming down the stairs, and that did not stop me two weeks later ... the ass-whooping I got did not stop me, and I think that shit makes me more of a man, because the bar is higher for me. I think that’s the case with most gay men. We are perfectionists.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prayers for Bobby on Lifetime TV

Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Sigourney Weaver stars in this emotional true story about a 1970s religious suburban housewife and mother who struggles to accept her young son Bobby being gay. What happens to Bobby is tragic and causes Mary to question her faith; ultimately this mom changes her views in ways that she never could have imagined.

Learn more about the film and the true life story that inspired it at

A-C Valley Elementary to begin anti-bullying program

from The Derrick:

FOXBURG, PA — Allegheny-Clarion Valley Elementary School students and staff will start a new bullying prevention program this week that was made possible through the Center for Safe Schools.

Lori Kersey, who is coordinating the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at A-C Valley, said students will be participating in a weekly meeting with their classroom teacher to learn the effects of bullying, what to do if they are bullied, and how to work with adults at school to put a stop to bullying even as a bystander.

Program funding was provided by the Highmark Healthy High 5 Initiative.

A special kickoff event is planned for Friday.

Officials say the Olweus research-based program is the best-known bullying prevention program available in the nation and has been used successfully not only in schools across the United States but also worldwide.

Schools and communities that have implemented the program have reported a 20 to 70 percent reduction in bullying.

“This program is about changing the school climate as a whole to make it a safe, more positive place to learn,” Kersey said. “It is difficult for a child to concentrate in school if he or she is afraid or if others are bullying them.”

This program is not a curriculum in which students participate for only several days or even weeks.

Rather, it is a daily coordinated effort by all adults in the school to supervise and intervene when bullying is seen occurring.

A certified Olweus trainer instructed a 23-member core team committee of volunteers during a two-day training.

This team consists of the elementary principal, elementary guidance counselor, classroom teachers, instructional support teachers, special class teacher, bus drivers, a member of the First Program, and parents and community members.

The core team then trained the remainder of the entire elementary school personnel to prepare them on how to implement the program with students beginning this month.

Exposing Hidden Homophobia

Students learn to spot bias in their culture —and confront their own homophobia in the process.

from Teaching Tolerance:

Sarah Arnold was in a bind.

On the surface, the students in her 11th-grade English courses seemed to have their act together. Like so many people their age, Arnold's students saw open homophobia as uncool.

On the other hand, when Arnold listened to her students talking before the bell, she often heard an anti-gay undertone that disturbed her. Students might utter the phrase "that's so gay," or crack jokes about anything that defied gender stereotypes. And Arnold had to wonder why so few gay people in Elkhorn, Wis. were out of the closet.

"Some people would say we don't have a wide demographic variety here," Arnold said of the 94-percent-white Elkhorn Area High School. "It's more accurate to say that we have demographics that aren't acknowledged."

Arnold took on the problem directly in "Exposing Hidden Homophobia," a 37-day unit in which her students examined electronic media, short fiction and finally a novel of their choice to find the covert and overt ways our culture sends demoralizing messages to gay people.

She got them started slowly. Their first assignment: spend a class period writing an essay about one thing that makes you different from other people. Students would return to that essay again and again throughout the unit, as they conducted an in-depth exploration of depictions of the GLBTQ community in the mass media.

Students watched the film Trevor (about the struggle of a gay teen in the Bible Belt in the 1970s), viewed a PBS special about the anti-gay murder of Billy Jack Gaither, did Internet research on the nature of homophobia and, ultimately, selected and read a book from a short list of young adult works about gay issues (including Rainbow Boys, Getting It, A Tale of Two Summers and The Laramie Project, among others).

Her students resisted at first. Many didn't want to be seen carrying gay-themed books around school, fearful of how they'd be perceived by others. Some parents also balked: many people in Elkhorn attend churches that interpret the Bible as condemning homosexuality. In addition, administrators fretted about devoting more than a month of instruction to a single theme.

Still, Arnold had done her homework. When parents or administrators questioned the plan, she was able to show how it supported higher-order thinking skills. She had each student assemble and present, in a professional manner, a portfolio on their research. Students had to define sociological and literary terms used in the unit, analyze examples of gay themes in the media, do qualitative research to examine the changing culture within their schools and in the world outside, and write a letter explaining what they learned from the unit. Ultimately, the unit met almost every one of Wisconsin's state standards for writing.

Arnold made the unit optional, but despite initial discomfort on the part of some parents and students, all of Arnold's students chose to complete the portfolio.

The climate in Elkhorn didn't change overnight, but membership in the school's newly-formed Gay-Straight Alliance grew, and students' portfolios showed small but significant shifts in attitude. One student, who self-identified as "against gays and lesbians" at the beginning of the unit, later wrote: "Gay people cannot help how they feel and that is OK, I understand, I am just not for it. Most importantly, when people use that phrase 'That is so gay,' it hurts everyone, not just gays."

You don't need 37 days of class time to broach the topic of hidden homophobia, Arnold notes. Short nonfiction works such as "A Rose for Charlie" take only a few class periods to explore and are easier to work into a schedule.

By keeping an eye out for current events related to gay issues, teachers may find opportunities to start a discourse. Arnold recalls how she sparked a lively discussion by simply providing her students with a copy of a newspaper story about a hate group that protests at the funerals of gay people and soldiers killed in the Iraq war.

"All you have to do is bring it up, and the kids launch into a conversation," Arnold said. "They say, 'can you believe people would say these things?' And that's a chance to talk about what we ourselves are saying, and the effect our words have."

Teachers and administrators who have seen Arnold's work have been inspired to incorporate it into their own curriculum. Colleen Rafter, principal of Raritan High School in Hazlet, N.J., said that after seeing Arnold's approach, she encouraged her English department to adopt a similar curriculum.

"We really want to make a change in how people think and act," Rafter said. "I will try to be more brave on these issues myself."

Exposing Hidden Homophobia: Support Materials
Sarah Arnold's unit on hidden homophobia inspired her students to take steps toward a more tolerant worldview – and it met her state's academic standards by challenging her students to think critically about the media.

You don't have to set aside an entire unit to make a dent in your students' anti-gay biases. Many of the lessons in Arnold's unit will work as stand-alone lesson plans.

Arnold shared her lesson plans and resources with us. We hope you will use them as source material for your own efforts to help students spot hidden homophobia.

Unit Plan

A full outline of the Hidden Homophobia Unit.

How I'm Different

Arnold began her unit with an essay prompt that got students thinking about the ways they don't fit the dominant "norm" – a concept they would revisit throughout the unit.

Homophobia Quiz

Students take a quiz to assess their level of homophobia – and then judge the fairness of that quiz.

Ten Ways Homophobia Affects Straight People

A guide to help straight students think about the cost of homophobia in their own lives.

"A Rose for Charlie"

A nonfiction account of an anti-gay hate crime.

Final Project Outline
Instructions for the unit's culminating project and a rubric for grading it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Venango Digital Film Festival

The Venango Digital Film Festival is a great opportunity for those working for fairness and equality for all in Western Pennsylvania to tell their stories.

Organized in 2006 to promote Western Pennsylvania digital filmmaking and filmmakers, the festival has attracted entries from as far away as Vermont.

Subjects and genres have ranged from a documentary history of iron furnaces in Venango County to a short video about a gay teen who had the courage to stand up to bigotry and intolerance in Franklin high schools – and the determination to tell his story to the world.

For festival purposes, Western Pennsylvania includes any place in the Commonwealth west of Harrisburg. If you have lived in Western Pennsylvania at some time in your life, or if you have produced a video about a Western Pennsylvania subject, your video is eligible for the Venango Digital Film Festival. Videos are previewed by the organizing committee and winners are selected by the audience.

For competition purposes, the videos must be from 10 to 30 minutes in length.

The organizing committee planned the festival on a very short time frame the first year and is learning as it goes.

The second year saw a third venue, the Crawford Center in Emlenton, added to The Latonia in Oil City and the Barrow-Civic Theatre in Franklin.

The committee will soon have a Web site with information for the 2009 film festival. Stay Tuned.

Here's a selection from the 2007 festival:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"It's About Giving The Young Folks Out There In The Altoona Pennsylvanias Hope"

575 Castro St. - Part Of The Gay Movement - May It Continue And Grow

575 Castro St. from FilmInFocus on Vimeo.

a film by Jenni Olson
(2008) USA 7 mins. HD

575 Castro St. reveals the play of light and shadow upon the walls of the Castro Camera Store set for Gus Van Sant’s film Milk. These mundane shots are almost bereft of movement and sound. So quiet, so still. All the better to showcase the range of emotions evoked by Harvey Milk’s words on the soundtrack. The audio track is an edited down version of the 13-minute audio cassette that Harvey Milk recorded in his camera shop on the evening of Friday, November 18, 1977 (a few weeks after his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors which made him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States). Labeled simply: “In-Case” the tape was to be played, “in the event of my death by assassination.”

The sensibility of 575 Castro St. hearkens back to the style of the dozens of Super 8 gay short films of the ‘70s that passed through Harvey Milk’s hands to be processed and developed at the Castro Camera Store.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

How Long Until We See Such A Call For Human Rights in Venango County and/or Pennsylvania?

Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, nonetheless, this editorial, titled "Human Rights," recently appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune:

New grass-roots groups. Marches. Benefits. Service projects. A rally at Delicate Arch.

Utah's lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community, with support from a consortium of more than 30 organizations known as the Common Ground Coalition, is finding its voice and speaking up for its rights. And its message sounds just fine to a majority of Utahns, according to a pair of public opinion polls conducted this month.

Separate polls by the gay-rights group Equality Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune indicate that the public supports expanded legal protections for gay and transgender couples and individuals. And the Utah Legislature, when it convenes Monday for its 2009 general session, will have the opportunity to give the people what they want.

A package of five bills, sponsored by House and Senate Democrats and known as the Common Ground Initiative, will be on the agenda. And, in the name of fairness and decency, the measures should be approved.

The bills include protections against discrimination in housing and employment for gays, coverage for domestic partners in health insurance plans, extending the right to sue to financially dependent members of non-nuclear families in the event of a wrongful death and a statewide domestic partnership registry to help determine insurance eligibility, rights of inheritance and hospital visitation rights.

A fifth and final bill would give the electorate the opportunity to amend the Utah Constitution to allow for all of the above.

A poll commissioned by the Tribune of 500 registered voters found that 56 percent of respondents favor legal protections for same-sex couples, such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights and employment protections.

The Equality Utah poll, conducted by the independent research firm Information Alliance of Ogden, sampled 600 Utahns and found support for making it illegal to fire workers (62 percent) or deny housing (56.5 percent) to persons because of their sexual orientation, while 63 percent favored providing gay and lesbian couples with hospital visitation, health insurance and inheritance rights.

Rev. Russell Baker of the Bountiful Community Church said it best in support of the Common Ground initiative. "This is not a gay agenda. This is about human rights."

We echo that view, and praise Common Ground supporters for speaking out loud and clear. Lawmakers should listen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Western Pennsylvanian Makes Film About Life Under The Grip of Fundamentalist Religion

BORN AGAIN is the story of Director Markie Hancock’s evangelical upbringing and her 20-year struggle to get out. Excerpts from Hancock’s journals, home movies and student films reveal the strong grip of fundamentalist religion. As a child, she revels in the security that promises of eternal salvation bring to both her and her family. Hancock only slowly begins to question the narrow path she has fervently followed when she falls in love with a woman. It is in Berlin when she finally begins to free herself from religion and from the family she loves. Ultimately, BORN AGAIN asks, at what price do we believe what we believe and how do we live with others who believe differently?

Director's Statement:

I spent my first 20 years steeped in religion as a born-again Christian. It took me the next twenty years to fully get out from under it. I loved my family, I loved God and I believed that Jesus was my personal Savior. Born Again reveals how difficult it is to untangle the ties of religion, especially when mixed with family and early childhood experiences. Each step I took away from "approved" doctrine and beliefs was accompanied with guilt and self-doubt. Was I betraying my family? Was I betraying God? Would I go to hell? The act of separating from parents, church and friends to lead a "sinful" life apart from God and eternal salvation was very painful and would take years.

I return to each of the places in my life that were seminal to my development away from religion. I use journal entries, photographs, home movies and my student films as evidence of my journey out of religion. I retrace my steps back to Wheaton College, Princeton Theological Seminary, to Berlin, Chicago and New York. It was first in Berlin where I was finally free enough (and far enough away) to consider the possibility that I didn't believe in the Bible, in salvation, or possibly in God.

Finally, no longer an evangelical, I am shocked to discover that religion has divided not just my family, but the whole country. As the country tilts to the right, I am astounded to observe the transformation of my parents' religious beliefs into the reigning politics of the day. The film ends in New York City where I reside with my partner and witness the rule of conservative, "Christian" Republican politics in Washington, D.C.

As an integrated person, the divide now exists outside of me and while the split in my family is painful and the divide in the country is troubling, I have emerged from the holds of religion hopeful, secular and resilient.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boy Gets Boy, Saves Earth: A Gay Christian Writer’s Plan to Change the World

Perry Moore, ardent Christian and author of Hero, believes that the time has come for the younger generation to supplant the older generation of bigots.

by Nick Street for Religion Dispatches:

“What the hell do you care for the people of this planet?” a powerful savior-turned-villain bellows at Thom Creed, the eponymous teenage superhero in Perry Moore’s Lambda Award-winning novel, Hero. “They hate you, they call you names and they’re ashamed of you,” the bad guy says as he prepares to unleash a terrifying monster known as the Planet Eater. “You know I’m telling the truth. You’re all so stupid, and you’re killing this world anyway. I’m just giving you a little nudge, a gentle push.” Perhaps it’s not giving too much away to reveal that Thom, a young gay man whose sexuality is only one of several special gifts, manages to save the Earth and find true love by the novel’s last pages.

That dramatic arc may be unremarkable in a story where a boy-hero wins the heart of his ladylove, but as the scion of a literary genre—comic books—in which gay characters tend to meet a gruesome end, Hero is nothing short of revolutionary. And as Moore puts the finishing touches on the serialized small-screen adaptation of his novel for Showtime, it appears that the revolution will indeed be televised.

“Look at these tent-pole gay movies like Milk and Brokeback that straight people get behind,” Moore said in a telephone interview from his home in New York City. “The heroes die terrible deaths or endure terrible tragedies. And the characters like us that we see on TV are often the gay version of the Stepin Fetchit stereotype. Mine will be the first show where the gay character is a true hero and he isn’t doomed.”

Moore’s novel, a “Best of 2008” selection by the young-adult division of the American Library Association, is part of an impressive array of fiction for queer youth that has appeared since the beginning of the decade. Boy Meets Boy and Wide Awake by David Levithan, Brent Hartinger’s Russel Middlebrook novels and Rainbow Boys and The God Box by Alex Sanchez are some of the most popular entries in this cohort, and all have benefited from the high production values and marketing budgets that come with contracts from the likes of Knopf and HarperCollins.

But for Moore, an ardent Christian who is also executive producer for the ongoing series of film adaptations of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, there’s more at stake in the appeal of young Thom Creed than simply a royalty check and a green-light from Showtime.

“I feel the Spirit with me if I’m really disciplined,” Moore said. “When I was writing the book, I tapped into that, and I’ve definitely felt Him with me as I write this Showtime series. I’ve learned to be very respectful and humble and let these characters tell their stories through me.”

If Moore’s spiritual passion enlivens his storytelling, then the narrative forms that have captivated him since childhood—comic books and Lewis’s multilayered mythology—provide the framework in which Hero’s story takes shape.

“The novel’s largely an allegory of me growing up with my father,” Moore said. “It’s about a father and son who don’t fit in for obvious reasons but who long to find their place in the universe.”

Moore said his father, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, was as traumatized by the hostility that greeted him when he returned from the front as he was by the brutality of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Hal Creed, Thom’s father in the novel, is a disgraced superhero who was blamed for the deaths of the thousands who died the first time the dreaded Planet Eater threatened the Earth.

And just as the 36-year-old Moore did when he began his coming-out process two decades ago, Thom must struggle to honor both his distinctive way of being the world and his deep connection to a damaged but loving father.

“Hal Creed is just a heartbreaking figure,” Moore said. “He’s angry and confused about what’s happening with his son, but the truth is Thom has a ton in common with his father.”

Father and son have a tough time finding those commonalities, but their path to reconciliation leads them—and the reader—through a quirkily re-imagined American landscape that includes a special training program for would-be superheroes who can fly, peer into the future or heal at a touch. Though it may initially strike the reader as odd that being gay would still be a big deal in a place brimming with such queer creatures, Moore’s appreciation for allegory allows him to use that conceit as a mirror for our own reality.

Is it any less absurd that prejudice of any kind persists in a world where the only constants are endless variety and ceaseless evolution?

“I know what it’s like for people to distrust you because of your differences,” the alien leader of the League of Superheroes says after Thom chooses to reveal his sexuality rather than allow one of the League’s adversaries to be punished for a crime he didn’t commit. “That happens when you’re from outer space, too.”

“God has a really big mission for me,” says Moore, who’s producing the Showtime series with Stan Lee, the former head of Marvel Comics who has supervised the development of successful crossover storylines like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and the Hulk. “A younger generation needs to supplant the older generation of bigots—that’s why Thom’s story is important.”

Moore won’t say when the TV version of his novel is likely to premier—shooting for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the next film adaptation from the Chronicles of Narnia, starts next summer, and the casting strategy for the series is still in the early stages.

“I would love for the two leads”—in the roles of Thom and his superhero boyfriend—“to be gay,” said Moore, who sees that prospect a necessary corrective to Hollywood’s reluctance to venture beyond tragic gay characters played by decidedly straight actors. “We need to put an end to this industry of fear. None of us was put on God’s great Earth to ride in the back of the bus.”

Nick Street, Religion Dispatches' LGBT editor, studied Christian ethics at Oberlin College and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. After a decade as a religion editor in the world of academic publishing, he returned to graduate school at the University of Southern California, where he completed an M.A. in print journalism.

His writing has appeared in Science and Spirit, The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and The Revealer. He is also an ordained Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Venango County Needs Its Obama! Where Is S/He?

A Call for Change -- Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values

by David Sanger for The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address on Tuesday was a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush and the ideological certainties that surrounded it, wrapped in his pledge to drive the United States into “a new age” by reclaiming the values of an older one.

It was a delicate task, with Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney sitting feet from him as Mr. Obama, only minutes into his term as president, described the false turns and the roads not taken.

To read his words literally, Mr. Obama blamed no one other than the country itself, critiquing “our collective failure to make hard choices” and a willingness to suspend national ideals “for expedience’s sake” — a clear reference to the cascade of decisions ranging from interrogation policies to wiretapping to the invasion of Iraq.

Yet not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a “restoration” of American ethics and “action, and action now” as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor’s path.

When Mr. Obama looked forward, however, he was far less specific about how he would combine his lofty vision and his passion for pragmatism into urgently needed solutions.

Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “restore science to its rightful place” and to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” But he never acknowledged that his agenda would eventually have to be reconciled with towering budget deficits or spelled out what “unpleasant decisions” he would be willing to make in the service of a renewed America.

At times, Mr. Obama seemed to chastise the nation, quoting Scripture to caution that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” It seemed a call to end an age of overconsumption and the presumption that America had a right to lead the world, a right that he reminded “must be earned.”

The chiding, if most resonant of the last eight years, also harked back to an argument he advanced early in his run for the White House: that the nation had been ill-served by the social, cultural and political divisions of the generation that included Bill Clinton as well as Mr. Bush.

Every time Mr. Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly signaling a commitment to remake America’s approach to the world and to embrace pragmatism, not just as a governing strategy but also as a basic value.

It was, in many ways, exactly what one might have expected from a man who propelled himself to the highest office in the land by denouncing how an excess of ideological zeal had taken the nation on a disastrous detour. But what was surprising about the speech was how much he dwelled on the choices America faces, rather than the momentousness of his ascension to the presidency.

Following the course Mr. Obama set during his campaign, he barely mentioned his race. He did not need to. The surroundings said it all as he stood on the steps of a Capitol built by the hands of slaves, and as he placed his own hand on the Bible last used by Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Obama talked, with echoes of Churchill, of the challenges of taking command of a nation beset by what he called “gathering clouds and raging storms.” As a student of past Inaugural Addresses, he knew what he needed to accomplish. He had to evoke the clarion call for national unity that Lincoln made the centerpiece of his second Inaugural Address, in 1865, married with Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that the market had been allowed to go haywire thanks to the “stubbornness” and “incompetence” of business leaders. And he needed to recall the combination of national inspiration and resoluteness against new enemies that John F. Kennedy delivered in his Inaugural Address, just over six months before Mr. Obama was born.

As his voice and image resonated down the Mall, Mr. Obama spoke across many generations stretching to the Washington Monument and beyond.

Mixed in the crowd were the last remnants of the World War II generation, led by the all-black Tuskegee Airmen for whom Jim Crow was such a daily presence that the arrival of this day seemed unimaginable.

There were middle-aged veterans of the civil rights movement for whom this seemed the crowning achievement of a lifetime of struggles. And there were young Americans — and an overwhelming number of young African-Americans — with no memory of the civil rights movement or of the cold war, for whom Mr. Obama was a symbol of an age of instant messaging, constant networking and integration in every new meaning of the word.

For those three generations, for the veterans who arrived in wheelchairs and the teenagers wearing earphones and tapping on their iPhones, Mr. Obama’s speech was far less important than the moment itself. Many of those who braved the 17 degree chill to swarm onto the Mall at daybreak had said they would not believe America would install a black president until they witnessed him taking the oath of office, even if they had to see it on a Jumbotron a mile from the event.

By the time Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered that oath (and stumbling on a few of the words, leading the new president to do the same), Mr. Obama’s ascendance was so historic that the address became larger than its own language, more imbued with meaning than anything he could say.

And yet what he did say must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Bush. No stranger to criticism, over the past eight years he had rarely been forced to sit in silence listening to a speech about how America had gone off the rails on his watch.

Mr. Obama’s recitation of how much had gone wrong was particularly striking to anyone who had followed Mr. Bush around the country, especially during the re-election campaign of 2004, when he said it was his job “to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.”

Yet Mr. Obama blamed America’s economic peril on an era “of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some,” and talked of how “the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” It was an explicit critique of an administration that went to war in the Middle East but rejected the shared sacrifice of conservation, and reluctantly embraced the scientific evidence around global warming.

When Mr. Obama turned to foreign policy, he had a more difficult task: to signal to the world that America’s approach would change without appearing to acknowledge that America’s military was dangerously overstretched or that its will for victory would wane after Mr. Bush departed for Texas.

Mr. Obama never rose to the heights of Kennedy’s “pay any price, bear any burden.” Instead, he harked back to the concept that gave birth to the Peace Corps, noting that the cold war was won “not just with missiles and tanks,” but by leaders who understood “that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

The new president skirted past the questions of how he would remake American detention policy, how he would set the rules for interrogation and how he would engage Iran and North Korea, beyond promising to “extend a hand” to those willing “to unclench your fist.” He simply promised to strike the balance differently, as America tries to hew to its ideals while pursuing a strategy of silent strength.

Whether he can execute that change is a test that begins Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson's Invocation at the Presidentail Inauguration's Opening Ceremony

Following is a video and the text of the invocation given by Bishop V. Gene Robinson at the opening ceremonies of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration Sunday, January 18. Robinson delivered the prayer at the base of the Lincoln Memorial while facing a crowd nearly a million people strong that filled a stretch of the National Mall all the way to the base of the Washington Monument.

Good afternoon.

Before this celebration begins, please join me in pausing for a moment to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

Oh God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears, tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die a day from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger -- anger at discrimination at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants; women; people of color; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy simplistic answers we prefer to hear from our politicians instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon and the understanding that our next president is a human being, not a messiah. Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s god judges us by the ways we care for the most vulnerable. And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of the president of the United States. Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain. Give him stirring words; we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership there will be neither red nor blue states but a United States. Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods. And please God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents and we’re asking far too much of this one; we implore you, oh good and great God to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand that he might do the work that we have called him to do. That he might find joy in this impossible calling and that, in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace.


Monday, January 19, 2009

It Really Isn't Hard To "Get" The Transgender Issue

Dr. Phil's Poison Pill

from Wayne Besen:

In 38 years, I've only once dressed in drag.

It was my senior year of high school and my friend Alex's father was out of town. While gone, he placed Alex in charge of his clothing shop, which was in a small hotel mini-mall. I swung by one evening to keep him company. Business was slow and we were looking for creative ways to pass the time.

Finally, one of us had the harebrained idea to replace the female mannequins stiffly posing in the large plate glass window -- with ourselves. Dressed in women's clothes, we stood completely still and patiently waited for unsuspecting customers. When they unassumingly meandered in front of us -we came alive, startling these poor window shoppers.

This evening of adolescent mischief was the extent of my dabbling in the world of the opposite sex. Although this path was not my destiny, I never found drag queens at gay bars or transgender people weird or threatening. To anyone paying attention, it is clear that we live in a world of infinite and wondrous natural diversity. There is an obvious spectrum of human possibility that is in front of our eyes. Yet, supposedly educated people still act surprised and unnerved that transgender Americans exist. The truth is, it would be far more shocking to not have such people, considering the literally billions of prospective combinations and potential outcomes for each individual.

I'm confused as to why people are still "confused" about transgender Americans. For years, they have said that the birth sex on the outside does not match the opposite sex they believe is on the inside. Modern science confirms that sexuality has as much to do with what is inside our heads as what is between our legs. This concept is not rocket science, nor is it difficult to understand. There is nothing homogeneous about our species, and this includes sexuality and gender.

Unfortunately, talk show hosts are still using this issue for cheap laughs or to boost ratings. The latest example is the annoying and supremely talentless Dr. Phil. The talking (very large) head had an opportunity to educate the public by presenting the latest science. Instead, he shamefully chose sensationalism over professionalism by offering a platform to notorious anti-gay activists who used his show to promote quack theories with no scientific standing. Dr. Phil actually had the nerve to refer to Glenn Stanton, who is affiliated with Focus on the Family, and the laughable Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, as "experts" on gender and homosexuality.

Dr. Nicolosi
is the same "expert" who believes gay men can become more masculine by drinking Gatorade and calling friends "dude." Stanton is tied to Focus on the Family, an organization that has been accused by scientists throughout the world of distorting their work.

Of course, none of this mattered to Dr. Phil. Instead of exploring this issue in-depth, "the mouth of the south" sunk to new depths. On the show, he exploited Toni, a loving mother of a transgender child, by ambushing her with the aforementioned disreputable hacks.

Toni explained how she and her husband reluctantly decided to let her son transition into a girl after unsuccessfully forcing strict gender roles on the child. Such efforts backfired and her son tried to jump out of a window. Even after hearing such a real life story, Nicolosi and Stanton argued that Toni should have continued a "treatment" that nearly lead her child to suicide.

Dr. Nicolosi tried to humiliate Toni on national television, blaming her parenting skills for causing her child to be transgender. Nicolosi said that her child was transgender because the father was detached and Toni was overly "enmeshed." But, Toni's response undermined Nicolosi's unproven and dubious hypothesis.

"Dad wasn't there after the son, I wasn't close to at all," Toni replied. "I wasn't enmeshed with him, so I think your theory sucks."

Having their bizarre and outdated ideas effectively rebutted, Stanton chimed in to save face, glibly stating, "No human being is cookie cutter."

The truth is, the entire program of Nicolosi and Stanton is predicated on baseless cookie cutter ideas that support their extreme beliefs. It is disingenuous to say otherwise when the very heart of their work is confusing stereotypes with science.

I question why Dr. Phil offered a platform to men so at odds with every respected medical and mental health association in the country? And why didn't Dr. Phil inform viewers that these men were considered fringe religious figures with peculiar views on sexuality?

It really isn't hard to "get" the transgender issue. But, for your average American, it can be difficult to get accurate information, when real experts are juxtaposed with jokers who offer rubbish as genuine research. I suggest Dr. Phil dress up as a female mannequin if his goal is shock value. He'd hurt less people and would not come across as Jerry Springer when he sprung nasty surprises on innocent guests.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Out In Iran

Inside Iran's secret gay world, we see where religious fundamentalism leads ...

from CBC News:

He is followed by secret police. His friends are routinely whipped. Some are executed. His name is Mani Zaniar and he is the leader of Iran’s secret gay rights movement.

It is the most dangerous civil rights movement in the world. And for the first time ever, Mani, and many others, have risked their lives to come on camera and tell their story.

In this startling and unique documentary, Out in Iran, we go to Iran and get the world’s first look at life inside Iran’s persecuted gay community. We meet an astonishing group of courageous people with heartbreaking stories.
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Utahns Back Gay Rights

As incredible as it sounds, "Utahns Back Gay Rights" was the big headline in Saturday's Salt Lake City Tribune.

While the poll from which that position was determined does not offer all good news, in fact some of it is pretty depressing, it is still demonstrative of the enormous progress that has been made in one of the county's most die-hard conservative states.

How long 'til we see such a headline in The Derrick about public opinion in Venango County?

The Utah story can be seen HERE

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Map of Pro-Prop. 8 Donors Causes Controversy

This interesting blurb from The Advocate makes one wonder how we should engage these issues here in Venango County:

An interactive map that allows one to locate where people who contributed money to pass Proposition 8 live and work is causing a stir.

One of Andrew Sullivan's gay Atlantic readers who was raised Mormon wrote that finding out one of his aunts in California donated to the cause was like "a gut punch."

"And that is surely one useful element of the map," Sullivan writes in response. "It helps one see whom to engage. And I don't get the fear. If Prop. 8 supporters truly feel that barring equality for gay couples is vital for saving civilization, shouldn't they be proud of their financial support? Why don't they actually have posters advertising their support for discriminating against gay people -- as a matter of pride?"

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gay but Equal? A Pennsylvania Voice for Reason and Justice

By MARY FRANCES BERRY for The New York Times:


As the country prepares to enter the Obama era, anxiety over the legal status and rights of gays and lesbians is growing. Barack Obama’s invitation to the Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who opposes same-sex marriage, to give the invocation at his inauguration comes just as the hit movie “Milk” reminds us of the gay rights activism of the 1970s. Supporters of gay rights wonder if the California Supreme Court might soon confirm the legitimacy of Proposition 8, passed by state voters in November, which declares same-sex marriage illegal — leaving them no alternative but to take to the streets.

To help resolve the issue of gay rights, President-elect Obama should abolish the now moribund Commission on Civil Rights and replace it with a new commission that would address the rights of many groups, including gays.

The fault lines beneath the debate over gay rights are jagged and deep. Federal Social Security and tax benefits from marriage that straight people take for granted are denied to most gays in committed relationships. And because Congress has failed to enact a federal employment nondiscrimination act, bias against gays in the workplace remains a constant threat.

Gays are at risk under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And people who are only assumed to be homosexual have been subject to hate crimes. José and Romel Sucuzhañay, two brothers, were attacked in New York City last month by men yelling anti-gay and anti-Latino epithets. José Sucuzhañay died from being beaten with a bottle and a baseball bat. Yet the effort in Congress to enact a law that would increase the punishment for hate crimes against gays and lesbians is going nowhere.

Only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, permit gay marriage. New York acknowledges marriages from those states and from other countries, despite the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which was meant to allow other states not to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire permit civil unions, which provide gay partners the rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage. On the other hand, a referendum that just passed in Arkansas goes beyond banning gay marriage to prohibit the adoption of children by unmarried couples. Mississippi, Florida and Utah have similar bans. And many Americans believe their religion forbids gay marriage or even civil unions.

In the 1950s, race relations in America generated escalating tension and strife. As Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told President Dwight Eisenhower, other nations vilified us for our treatment of “negroes” as less-than-first-class citizens. It was in this context that Congress, in 1957, granted Eisenhower’s request for an independent civil rights commission to “put the facts on top of the table.”

The commission conducted interviews and public hearings, prepared detailed reports and recommended new protections that would ultimately be passed in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These laws embodied the goals of the protestors who marched, went to jail and died to end racial discrimination.

The commission became what the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who was the chairman from 1969 to 1972, called the “conscience of the government” on civil rights issues.

There is no need to analogize the battle for the rights of gay and lesbian people to the struggle of African Americans to overcome slavery, Jim Crow and continued discrimination. But as Coretta Scott King said to me as she tried to imagine what position the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would take on “don’t ask, don’t tell”: “What’s the yardstick by which we should decide that gay rights are less important than other human rights we care about?”

The Commission on Civil Rights has been crippled since the Reagan years by the appointments of commissioners who see themselves as agents of the presidential administration rather than as independent watchdogs. The creation of a new, independent human and civil rights commission could help us determine our next steps in the pursuit of freedom and justice in our society. A number of explosive issues like immigration reform await such a commission, but recommendations for resolving the controversies over the rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people should be its first order of business.

Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004, is the author of “And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Continuing Struggle for Freedom in America.”