Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just How Racist Is the Tea Party Movement?

The activists behind the Tea Bag movement in Venango County are the same extremists fighting against the rights and visibility of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people here and everywhere. And they are, you guessed it, the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania, "Christian" Radio Station WAWN, Fishermen's Net, Lighthouse Ministries of Franklin.

By Bill Berkowitz for IPS:

Are the openly-racist elements within the Tea Party movement an aberration, or are they more firmly entrenched than tea partiers would care to admit?

It began with Apr. 15 Tax Day protests as thousands rallied in a number of cities across the country.

It continued on into the summer with raucous town hall meetings and gun-toting anti-Barack Obama demonstrators, and appeared to reach its apex with a Sep. 12 march on Washington, which drew nearly 100,000 participants.

Now, however, some in the so-called Tea Party movement are turning their attention toward becoming a force during the 2010 congressional elections.

Several reports on the Sep. 12 event noted it was a nearly all-white crowd and some demonstrators carried an assortment of "homemade" anti-Obama posters, declaring that "The Anti-Christ Is Living in the White House", and calling the president an "Oppressive Bloodsucking Arrogant Muslim Alien".

Despite the fact that it doesn't have a clear identity, and serious questions about the movement's character remain to be answered, the Tea Party movement has been one of the most intriguing political developments of the past year.

Is it a grassroots movement, or has it been organised and funded by Washington-based conservative groups? Could it be both? Is it mainly concerned with economic issues (government spending, taxes, deficits) or are the Christian Right's traditional social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) of interest to tea partiers?

Are there several -- possibly competing -- ideological tendencies within the movement?

While tea partiers made a lot of noise this past summer, doing their best to put the kybosh on health care reform, is there a future for the movement?

A recent Rasmussen Poll suggests that there very well might be.

In theoretical three-way congressional races between a Democrat, Republican and Tea Party candidate, the Tea Party candidate outpolled the Republican. Democrats attracted 36 percent of the vote; the Tea Party candidate received 23 percent, and the Republican finished third at 18 percent, with 22 percent undecided.

(According to the Rasmussen Reports website, "survey...respondents were asked to assume that the Tea Party movement organized as a new political party. In practical terms, it is unlikely that a true third-party option would perform as well as the polling data indicates. The rules of the election process - written by Republicans and Democrats - provide substantial advantages for the two established major parties.)

Interestingly enough, in an effort to build the movement, some Tea Party organisers have taken to "studying the grassroots training methods of the late Saul Alinsky, the community organizer known for campus protests in the 1960s and who inspired the structure of Obama's presidential campaign," the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported.

Tea Party groups are also using "Tea Party: The Documentary Film" as an organising tool. In a pre-premiere press release, the filmmakers claimed that the film would deal with the "allegations of racism".

And that indeed appears to be the issue that could stymie the movement's growth.

While Tea Party events have become a safe haven for people carrying racist anti-Obama signs, people of colour have stayed away in droves. Members of white nationalist organisations openly participate in Tea Party events and view the movement as a fertile recruiting ground.

Questions about the overlap between tea partiers and anti-immigration activists might be answered when an immigration reform bill is taken up next year.

Are the openly-racist elements within the Tea Party movement an aberration scorned by most Tea Party participants as John Hawkins, who runs a website called RightWingNews, insists, or are they more firmly entrenched than tea partiers would care to admit?

"The tea parties themselves are made up of a diverse bloc of different political elements, and white nationalists have chosen to make a stand inside the tea parties," one expert, Devin Burghart, told IPS.

For the past 17 years, Burghart has researched and written on virtually all facets of contemporary white nationalism. He is currently vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, which monitors and publishes on the activities of white nationalist groups.

"The exact extent of the racist element inside the Tea Parties is difficult to quantify, because they are not a static phenomena, and it depends on who shows up," he explained. "That said, it's enough of a factor to attract the attention of a significant portion of the white nationalist movement."

"It's not a matter of how many African-American or Latino/a folks show up at these tea parties, it's about the content and character of the arguments made at them," Burghart added.

Not only have "tea partiers have turned up with overtly racist signs and slogans" at rallies from coast to coast, he said, but also many participants "cling to the belief that our first African-American president is not only un-American, he was not even born in the country".

Unfortunately, Burghart noted, "There's little evidence to indicate that tea party leaders are doing anything to address the racism in their ranks."

Burghart said that he was not surprised that "tea party activists would deny their racism". After all, "racists have been denying their racism even before pro-secessionist bigots couched their arguments in bogus claims about states' rights".

However, he added, "To anyone with any degree of sensitivity to the issue, the tea parties have clearly shown themselves to be racist, in the lineage of George Wallace - who when he campaigned up North eschewed talk of racial segregation in favour ranting against 'elites.'"

In an article at the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights' website, Leonard Zeskind, the organisation's president and author of the recently published "Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream", pointed out that the anti-Obama "opposition" contains "many different political elements".

These include "ultra-conservative Republicans of both the Pat Buchanan and free market variety; anti-tax Tea Party libertarians from the Ron Paul camp; Christian right activists intent on re-molding the country into their kind of Kingdom; birth certificate conspiracy theorists, anti-immigrant nativists of the armed Minuteman and the policy wonk variety; third party 'constitutionalists'; and white nationalists of both the citizens councils and the Stormfront national socialist variety."

If Tea Party activists can ferret out racists and white nationalists from their ranks – and not become a mouthpiece for Christian Right ideologues - it could become a legitimate force on the U.S. political landscape.

Meanwhile, a host of groups, operating under assorted Tea Party banners, are working to influence the 2010 mid-term elections.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Out In The Country

What is life like for young gay men and women who don't live in the city?

NPR affiliate KERA Dallas found out in an interview with Mary L. Gray, author of the book "Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America" (NYU Press, 2009).

Listen to the Podcast HERE.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Icon of Right Wing Traditional Values Divorces Second Wife - Pathetic

Karl Rove, the "architect" of the George W. Bush presidency and strategist behind dozens of same-sex marriage amendments in the 2004 elections and Bush's ill-fated fated attempt at a Federal Marriage Amendment, wants us to respect his "privacy" because he just divorced his second wife of 24 years. The job was just too stressful, reports The New York Times:

When Mr. Rove resigned from his senior position at the White House in 2007, he said he owed it to his family to return it to a sense of normalcy that was impossible to maintain in his high-pressure, high-profile job. A friend, who spoke about the Roves only on condition of anonymity out of respect for their privacy, said the couple maintained an amicable relationship but the rigors and challenges of Mr. Rove’s time at the White House had clearly taken their toll.

Former White House press secretary Dana Perino—who recently claimed there was never a terrorist attack under Bush—released this statement: "Karl Rove and his wife, Darby, were granted a divorce last week. The couple came to the decision mutually and amicably, and they maintain a close relationship and a strong friendship. There will be no further comment, and the family requests that its privacy be respected."

Gay Students Are Bullied More Than any Other Group

Schools are full of all kinds of students - smart kids, popular kids, athletes - gay and lesbian students too. And experts say they are targeted by bullies more than any other groups.

See the interview excerpt with Louie Marven, Director of the LGBT Center Coalition of Central Pennsylvania:

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Tireless Crusader For Justice

"We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers." -- Bayard Rustin

A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi's protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions, largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. Five years in the making and the winner of numerous awards, BROTHER OUTSIDER presents a feature-length documentary portrait, focusing on Rustin's activism for peace, racial equality, economic justice and human rights.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Small Town Sissy Boys

The documentary Sissyboy captures the short-lived gender-bending drag troupe that thrived for three years in mid-1990s Portland, OR. Not your traditional drag queens, and hardly drag queens at all, the members of Sissyboy strived to bring humorous but always challenging social messages to their audience. The Sissyboys wrote original songs about topics like abortion and Matthew Shepard and created lavish staged shows where their unique esthetic of drag-meets-punk-meets-circus-performance found a loyal audience and made them a Portland institution. Sissyboys follows the troupe for their final year of performances and firsttime director Katie Turinski delves deeply into the personal lives of the performers, which makes for a compelling documentary about an important piece of LGBT history.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Spirit of Catholicism? Erie Diocese Donates To Fight Marriage Equality in Maine

by Deb Spilko for the Erie Gay News:

The National Catholic Reporter notes that the Erie Catholic Diocese was one of 50 Catholic dioceses in the country that contributed to the campaign to strike down Maine’s law extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples. In the Nov. 3 referendum, voters rejected marriage equality 53 percent to 47 percent.

Bishop Malone of the Portland Maine diocese had called on bishops from dioceses around the country to contribute to fight marriage equality. Bishops contributed a total of $550,000 to the campaign.

The Erie Times-News contacted Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who replied in an e-mail. “Bishops have the responsibility to teach, to shepherd and to sanctify, and as any top administrator, I do have access to resources that can be used as I see fit,” Trautman said.

“We believe marriage was created by God as a sacrament between one man and one woman.“ he said. “The church in America exists in a democracy. We have not only the right, but also the responsibility to be active citizens, to participate in our democracy and to make our views known to the legislators who represent us.”

Through Bishop Malone, the Portland Maine diocese contributed $286,000,even though it has been experiencing dire financial difficulties for the past several years. The bishop made the decision to donate $ 180,000 of the Portland diocese’s money, and then took up a second collection.

Boston Skeptics blogger Maggie wrote in September, “The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Maine is gambling that you won’t bother to express outrage at this tax-exempt religious body dabbling in politics — despite this being something they are explicitly barred from doing. . . Changing, influencing or creating laws are political actions. And IRS code 501(c)(3) governing tax exempt organizations expressly forbids this.

“If the church wants access to our government, there’s a price. If not, then their best move would be to return that money to their parishioners or donate it to a wholly unrelated charity. This is our government, not the Pope’s.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

!! Lima, Ohio Adds Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity As Protected Classes !!

If It Can Be Done In Lima, It Can Be Done Anywhere, Including Here In Venango County!


LIMA — Finishing what cropped up in the city’s review of its charter, City Council approved Monday an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.

“I think this is exactly the right thing to do,” said Councilman Tom Tebben. “In a perfect world, this legislation wouldn’t be necessary, but it isn’t a perfect world.”

Tebben said during the charter review process that there was no provision that included sexual orientation as a protected class. Initially, an addition was going to be included in the charter changes, which were put before voters in November. But in June the council decided to take up the issue as an ordinance instead.

It passed by an 8-0 vote.

In addition to sexual orientation, the ordinance prohibits the city from favoring or discriminating against employees or potential employees because of race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, military status, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry.

Tebben said he was glad to see government catching up to what has been done in the corporate world for quite some time.

Brett Shingledecker, who has been a vocal proponent of the changes, said he was pleased with the outcome.

“This is a big step in the right direction and a proactive and inclusive measure that will serve the city and its employees well,” he said.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Moving the Agenda: Expanding Gay Rights in Pennsylvania

2009 Pennsylvania Political Leaders Fellow Brian Sims Leads the Road to Greater Equality for the LGBT Community in the State

When you first meet Brian Sims, you see the all-American “guy’s guy”: a handsome, popular, well-mannered former football star from a military family. What you may not know, however, is that he was the first openly gay captain of an NCAA football team and a passionate outspoken advocate for gay rights.

Brian’s story isn’t the typical story of coming out as a young person, especially as a star athlete, but it is the uniqueness of his story that makes him an incredible advocate for LGBT rights and equality.

A Not-so-Likely Story
While Brian was a student at Bloomsburg University, he led his football team to a championship victory as their starting defensive tackle and team captain. Midway through the 2000 football season, Brian chose to tell the rest of his teammates that he was gay. At first, Brian was worried about how it would affect his friendships, fearing that he’d be ostracized by his team. To his surprise, his teammates accepted him and his sexual orientation, and for the rest of the year did not hear one negative comment about his sexuality. He found unlikely supporters in his teammates and colleagues, making his story very different from the coming out stories many people may be familiar with.

“I didn’t come out to my team,” Brian says when reflecting being an openly gay college football player in a recent article. “My team came out to me.”

Brian’s story is not one of defeat but one of hope. “I don’t have a story [that involves] being ostracized or wronged,” he says, which is a common thread in many facets of identity politics. “When I talk to people about LGBT issues, my story allows me to go into a room advocating for equal rights under the law because it’s the right thing to do. If my team was able to rally behind me, then imagine how I can influence other groups.”

Protecting Gay Rights in Pennsylvania
A 2009 CPL Political Leaders Fellow, Brian is now a lawyer, serving as general council of the Philadelphia Bar Association. He first became actively involved with LGBT issues when Dan Anders, a 2006 candidate for the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, asked him to serve as Finance Chair for his campaign.

Anders went on to become the first openly gay elected official in Pennsylvania, and Brian became more involved with LGBT advocacy, becoming an active member of Gay Democrats. But Brian’s main motivation for becoming more involved was the power gap he observed in many facets of LGBT leadership. “When I first started, there weren’t very many young people fighting for gay rights,” he explains. “[LGBT] issues needed someone [my age] involved, and that person was not in the room.”

Brian now serves as President of the Board of Directors at Equality PA, the only statewide organization that works to achieve equal rights for LGBT Pennsylvanians through policy reform.

Along with the campaign to pass anti-discrimination legislation in the state, Brian is leading the way in expanding the base by opening new offices and building the capacity of LGBT organizers and smaller advocacy groups across the state. “We’ve been very active in Harrisburg and the surrounding areas,” he said. “We held a summit to bring together LGBT leaders and volunteers to teach them how to contact legislators and push for municipal anti-discrimination bills in their cities and townships.”

As the President of the Board of Directors, one of Brian’s main responsibilities is identifying board members that are reflective of the state of Pennsylvania. “I have a devotion to racial and ethnic diversity, so I’m hoping to build a board that includes men and women of color and transgendered people as well,” he says. “People deserve to hear from other people who know them—who understand their struggle and share the same background that they do.”

Brian believes in the strength of the “unexpected ally”—a spokesperson for an issue who many may not believe is affected by the same oppression they are trying to fight. In many cases, banning gay marriage is painted as an issue that only white gay males care about. Because of this, Brian makes finding a diverse group of leaders a priority to send the message that discrimination against gays affects everyone regardless of ethnicity, class, or gender.

Finding His Voice

The Center for Progressive Leadership has helped Brian become comfortable with telling his story and connecting it to his values—an important part of a successful progressive political campaign. “CPL really helped me figure out what my message is better than ever before. I can speak from my heart and my head and I now know how to do that in a room of experts.”

Brian gained more as a CPL Political Leaders Fellow, including skills he can take with him as he continues his political career.“We have a need for gay rights laws in Pennsylvania, But in order for that to happen we have to have LGBT people in its state legislature who will fight for us.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Erie Peace Initiative Vigil in Meadville - Sat., Jan. 2

Join the Erie Peace Initiative as we travel to Meadville to support the Women In Black-- "a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence."

Date: Saturday, January 2, 2010
Time: 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: Diamond Park (Meadville)

The Erie Peace Initiative is a gathering of people from Erie and Crawford counties who are concerned that the US war on terrorism has become a permanent global war. We are committed to education and action to stop this "War on Terrorism." We want to stop the escalation and spread of such war and to work for true justice and peace.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Intellectual" Architect of the Extreme Right

This article echoes many of the questions and concerns that swirl around the activities of local Venango County anti-gay extremists like Diane Gramley of the American "Family" Association and Jane Richey of "Christian" Radio station WAWN and the Fishermen's Net "ministries."

from Truth Wins Out:

A feature article in this week’s New York Times Magazine refers to Princeton professor Robert P. George as the “intellectual architect” of the extreme right. This is hardly an honor, considering the main competition for “Values Valedictorian” is Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Mike Huckabee. One also has to consider admiration comes from the likes of George W. Bush and FOX instigator Glenn Beck, who calls George “one of the biggest brains in America.”

George’s primary accomplishment has been denying gay couples the right to marry, by forming an unholy political union between conservative Catholics, like himself, and Evangelical Christians. He is the chairman of The National Organization for Marriage, the group that most recently worked to strip marriage rights from LGBT couples in Maine.

Quite frankly, I’m hardly impressed with George’s cognitive abilities. If one looks at the numbers in Maine, his allegedly intellectual arguments against same-sex marriage failed miserably in cosmopolitan Portland and in Orono, home of The University of Maine. His primary talent, it seems, is to trick the unschooled and easily fooled. Given this reality, George is more back woods propagandist than deep professorial thinker.

Indeed, one of the simplest ways to succeed in America is to rabble rouse and scapegoat. It takes no brains to peddle belligerence and play the gay card by pandering to people not playing with a full deck. George exploited an undereducated constituency and fed them red meat, which is no more than a cheap shortcut for those incapable of the more difficult task of bringing Americans together. In a diverse nation paradoxically frightened by diversity, demagogues such as George are a dime a dozen and unworthy of praise.

What George offers is sophistry disguised as scholarship. For example, his opposition to gay people having sex or marrying rests on his version of “natural law”, allegedly based on “practical reason.” In the Times Magazine article, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali parrots George’s idea of “natural law” at a press conference, with George at his side, cheering on his protégé.

“Sexual relations outside the marital bond are contrary not only to the will of God but to the good of man,” said Rigali. “Indeed they are contrary to the will of God precisely because they are against the good of man.”

The “good” of which men (and women) might Rigali and George be referring to?

Is it the teenage boys who were molested in the Catholic Church because such conservative ideologues insisted on turning gay men into sexually repressed and emotionally stunted shells and then placing them in the priesthood?

Is it “good” for the gay youths who commit suicide in disproportionate numbers because men like George and Rigali tell them their love is inferior?

Perhaps, they can illuminate how such “practical reason” was “good” for Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas who came out of the closet this weekend after hiding his sexual orientation for two decades.

“Sometimes I felt so alone and depressed,” said Thomas. “I’ve stood on so many cliff edges. I used to go to the cliffs overlooking the beach near our cottage in St Brides Major and just think about jumping off and ending it all…I was like a ticking bomb. I thought I could suppress it, keep it locked away in some dark corner of myself, but I couldn’t. It was who I was, and I just couldn’t ignore it any more.”

Maybe George can explain how his philosophy was somehow “good” for Gareth’s wife Jenna, who is about to be divorced?

If “practical reason” has proven one thing, it has shown the closet, particularly for the Catholic Church, to be destructive on so many levels. George has demonstrably failed to articulate how openly gay people harm heterosexuals or how living a lie helps homosexuals be more productive members of society. His entire presentation is a ruse meant to rally the rubes.

Interestingly, George believes in restricting marriage because, in his view, only a husband and wife can experience, “comprehensive unity” and become a “one-flesh union.” He blatantly ignores that millions of people can achieve this state only through homosexual relations. By forcing GLBT people to conform to his views and presumably marry the opposite sex, he is creating the conditions to achieve the polar opposite of what he claims is necessary for a healthy marriage.

George is equally disingenuous in claiming that marriage is based on procreation. These days, the vast majority of people marry for love. Many couples choose not to have children, while others are unable to. To suggest otherwise is to proffer an incoherent and intellectually dishonest view of modern marriage.

George is an intellectual lightweight without an original idea in his head. His claim to fame is organizing like-minded conservatives and providing a veneer of education to mask his goal of discrimination. This is not the pride of Princeton, but a paean to prejudice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Make The Yuletide Gay

Our Christian friends are often quite surprised at how enthusiastically we Pagans celebrate the 'Christmas' season. Even though we prefer to use the word 'Yule', and our celebrations may peak a few days BEFORE the 25th, we nonetheless follow many of the traditional customs of the season: decorated trees, carolling, presents, Yule logs, and mistletoe. We might even go so far as putting up a 'Nativity set', though for us the three central characters are likely to be interpreted as Mother Nature, Father Time, and the Baby Sun-God. None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who knows the true history of the holiday, of course.

In fact, if truth be known, the holiday of Christmas has always been more Pagan than Christian, with it's associations of Nordic divination, Celtic fertility rites, and Roman Mithraism. That is why both Martin Luther and John Calvin abhorred it, why the Puritans refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it (to them, no day of the year could be more holy than the Sabbath), and why it was even made ILLEGAL in Boston! The holiday was already too closely associated with the birth of older Pagan gods and heroes. And many of them (like Oedipus, Theseus, Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Dionysus, Apollo, Mithra, Horus and even Arthur) possessed a narrative of birth, death, and resurrection that was uncomfortably close to that of Jesus. And to make matters worse, many of them pre-dated the Christian Savior.

Ultimately, of course, the holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the Winter Solstice that is being celebrated, seed-time of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God -- by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, 'the dark night of our souls', there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.

That is why Pagans have as much right to claim this holiday as Christians. Perhaps even more so, as the Christians were rather late in laying claim to it, and tried more than once to reject it. There had been a tradition in the West that Mary bore the child Jesus on the twenty-fifth day, but no one could seem to decide on the month. Finally, in 320 C.E., the Catholic Fathers in Rome decided to make it December, in an effort to co-opt the Mithraic celebration of the Romans and the Yule celebrations of the Celts and Saxons.

There was never much pretense that the date they finally chose was historically accurate. Shepherds just don't 'tend their flocks by night' in the high pastures in the dead of winter! But if one wishes to use the New Testament as historical evidence, this reference may point to sometime in the spring as the time of Jesus's birth. This is because the lambing season occurs in the spring and that is the only time when shepherds are likely to 'watch their flocks by night' -- to make sure the lambing goes well. Knowing this, the Eastern half of the Church continued to reject December 25, preferring a 'movable date' fixed by their astrologers according to the moon.

Thus, despite its shaky start (for over three centuries, no one knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born!), December 25 finally began to catch on. By 529, it was a civic holiday, and all work or public business (except that of cooks, bakers, or any that contributed to the delight of the holiday) was prohibited by the Emperor Justinian. In 563, the Council of Braga forbade fasting on Christmas Day, and four years later the Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from December 25 to Epiphany as a sacred, festive season. This last point is perhaps the hardest to impress upon the modern reader, who is lucky to get a single day off work. Christmas, in the Middle Ages, was not a SINGLE day, but rather a period of TWELVE days, from December 25 to January 6. The Twelve Days of Christmas, in fact. It is certainly lamentable that the modern world has abandoned this approach, along with the popular Twelfth Night celebrations.

Of course, the Christian version of the holiday spread to many countries no faster than Christianity itself, which means that 'Christmas' wasn't celebrated in Ireland until the late fifth century; in England, Switzerland, and Austria until the seventh; in Germany until the eighth; and in the Slavic lands until the ninth and tenth. Not that these countries lacked their own mid-winter celebrations of Yuletide. Long before the world had heard of Jesus, Pagans had been observing the season by bringing in the Yule log, wishing on it, and lighting it from the remains of last year's log. Riddles were posed and answered, magic and rituals were practiced, wild boars were sacrificed and consumed along with large quantities of liquor, corn dollies were carried from house to house while carolling, fertility rites were practiced (girls standing under a sprig of mistletoe were subject to a bit more than a kiss), and divinations were cast for the coming Spring. Many of these Pagan customs, in an appropriately watered-down form, have entered the mainstream of Christian celebration, though most celebrants do not realize (or do not mention it, if they do) their origins.

For modern Witches, Yule (from the Anglo-Saxon 'Yula', meaning 'wheel' of the year) is usually celebrated on the actual Winter Solstice, which may vary by a few days, though it usually occurs on or around December 21st. It is a Lesser Sabbat or Lower Holiday in the modern Pagan calendar, one of the four quarter-days of the year, but a very important one. This year (1988) it occurs on December 21st at 9:28 am CST. Pagan customs are still enthusiastically followed. Once, the Yule log had been the center of the celebration. It was lighted on the eve of the solstice (it should light on the first try) and must be kept burning for twelve hours, for good luck. It should be made of ash. Later, the Yule log was replaced by the Yule tree but, instead of burning it, burning candles were placed on it. In Christianity, Protestants might claim that Martin Luther invented the custom, and Catholics might grant St. Boniface the honor, but the custom can demonstrably be traced back through the Roman Saturnalia all the way to ancient Egypt. Needless to say, such a tree should be cut down rather than purchased, and should be disposed of by burning, the proper way to dispatch any sacred object.

Along with the evergreen, the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe were important plants of the season, all symbolizing fertility and everlasting life. Mistletoe was especially venerated by the Celtic Druids, who cut it with a golden sickle on the sixth night of the moon, and believed it to be an aphrodisiac. (Magically -- not medicinally! It's highly toxic!) But aphrodisiacs must have been the smallest part of the Yuletide menu in ancient times, as contemporary reports indicate that the tables fairly creaked under the strain of every type of good food. And drink! The most popular of which was the 'wassail cup' deriving its name from the Anglo-Saxon term 'waes hael' (be whole or hale).

Medieval Christmas folklore seems endless: that animals will all kneel down as the Holy Night arrives, that bees hum the '100th psalm' on Christmas Eve, that a windy Christmas will bring good luck, that a person born on Christmas Day can see the Little People, that a cricket on the hearth brings good luck, that if one opens all the doors of the house at midnight all the evil spirits will depart, that you will have one lucky month for each Christmas pudding you sample, that the tree must be taken down by Twelfth Night or bad luck is sure to follow, that 'if Christmas on a Sunday be, a windy winter we shall see', that 'hours of sun on Christmas Day, so many frosts in the month of May', that one can use the Twelve Days of Christmas to predict the weather for each of the twelve months of the coming year, and so on.

Remembering that most Christmas customs are ultimately based upon older Pagan customs, it only remains for modern Pagans to reclaim their lost traditions. In doing so, we can share many common customs with our Christian friends, albeit with a slightly different interpretation. And thus we all share in the beauty of this most magical of seasons, when the Mother Goddess once again gives birth to the baby Sun-God and sets the wheel in motion again. To conclude with a long-overdue paraphrase, 'Goddess bless us, every one!'

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Soulful Power

Author, therapist and spiritual guide Christian de la Huerta recently sat down with Rick Borutta to talk about gay "archetypes" or roles that we as LGBT-identified people play in our lives today, and have played throughout world history among many of the Earth's cultures. Christian's book, Coming Out Spiritually was a breakthrough for many of us who needed an eye-opener to our sacred and honored past in order to reclaim parts of our inner-selves that we had ignored

Christian has a new website: Soulful Power and soon, a new book entitled The Soul Of Power, which he says will focus on women, empowering women, but also empowering the divine feminine in all of us, male and female, gay or straight. He believes that the male hierarchy has been out of balance for far too long and that LGBTs play a special role in helping the Divine Mother regain her footing to realize the Tao, or balance in all things, of yin and yang.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Solstice Celebration In Oil City

On Monday, December 21st at 7pm in Oil City's beautiful National Transit Building there will be a celebration of the Solstice with light yoga, music by Me and You, and artwork.

This is a Free and LGBT-friendly event. Please Join Us!

The National Transit Building is on the corner of Seneca and Center Streets in Oil City, PA. The National Transit Building was built in 1890 across from the bustling Oil Exchange at a cost of $90,000. The building housed John D. Rockefeller’s subsidiaries of Standard Oil Company, one of the most powerful corporations of its time. Its features include oak paneling, marble floors, a circular wrought iron fire escape, pneumatic messenger tubes, vaults on all floors, Civil War cannon ball doorknobs, newel posts, wrought iron and brass fixtures and a hydraulic open-cage elevator. In 1978 the National Transit Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1997 a non-profit agency, the Institute for Civic Renewal, donated rent and utilities for the first floor of the building toward the creation of Oil Valley Center for the Arts. Using grant funds and hundreds of hours of donated labor, The building has been restored to its original splendor.

Check out the Oil Valley Center for the Arts!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Welcoming Conversations

Shelby Knox Redux, by Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, profiles a high school student who, despite her deeply conservative Southern Baptist upbringing, advocates comprehensive sex education and gay rights. Five years after her controversial activities and now living on her own, she returns to Lubbock, Texas to check in with her friends, her supportive parents and a local church that "welcomes" everyone. An epilogue to the 2005 film The Education of Shelby Knox, Shelby Knox Redux takes viewers on a journey of personal awareness, family, faith, and transformation.

More info on Shelby Knox Redux.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Be A Straight Talker For Equality

Straight talkers are young people dedicated to helping their LGBT friends and fellow citizens achieve full equality in the United States. It’s not just their fight – it’s ours, too. Get involved by taking a moment over the holidays to hold straight talks with your family and friends. Follow the simple steps on this website to get started.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Religion and Other Supernatural Beliefs

Survey finds complexity in U.S. religious beliefs - Americans often mix traditional faith with other spiritual ideas

by William Wan for the Washington Post:

Can you believe in Jesus and in astrology? The answer is a resounding yes, according to a study that shows Americans' beliefs to be more complex than might be expected.

The survey -- one of the first by a major polling group to tackle Americans' belief in such things as "the evil eye" and "spiritual energy in trees" -- was conducted in August by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The goal was to explore the complexity of faith in the modern world and the overlap between religions and other supernatural beliefs.

According to results released Wednesday, the overlap is considerable. Researchers found that 24 percent of U.S. adults sometimes attend services of a faith different from their own. (That figure doesn't include people who go for special events such as weddings and funerals or attend services while traveling.)

The study also found Americans' personal beliefs often combine aspects of major religions such as Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation and astrology.

For example, 25 percent of about 4,000 U.S. adults surveyed believe in reincarnation, the rebirth of the soul in another body. Among Christians, the number drops only slightly, to 22 percent.

"We know that religion in U.S. society is quite complex and diverse. What's interesting is this data shows that even at the individual level, a single person holds that same diversity and range of beliefs," said senior researcher Gregory Smith.

Researchers asked specifically whether people believed in or had experience with the following: reincarnation, spiritual energy located in physical things, yoga as a spiritual practice, the evil eye, astrology, being in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, encountering a ghost. About 65 percent expressed belief in at least one of them.

For most of the questions, researchers had little previous data for purposes of comparison. But two questions -- "have you ever had a religious or mystical experience" and "have you seen or been in the presence of a ghost" -- have been asked before, and in both case, there was a significant increase in the number of people saying yes.

Nearly half of those surveyed in August said they have had a mystical/religious experience, compared with 22 percent in a 1962 survey. The percentage who said they had interacted with a ghost doubled from 9 percent in 1996 to 18 percent this year.

"We don't have hard data to explain what's behind this," Smith said. "But you look at popular culture -- the TV shows and things that are popping up nowadays -- and it could be that expressing this kind of belief is just somehow more socially acceptable today."

Clement Akoto, 52, a D.C. resident who participated in the study, said he does not see a conflict in his wide-ranging beliefs. Akoto, a Catholic who attends Mass every week, said he believes in astrology and communication with the dead and ghosts.

People have complex backgrounds, which translates into complex beliefs, Akoto said. Born in Ghana, he was taught to believe in drums and spirits but became Catholic while attending a missionary school.

"I can swing with both sides. I believe in God and in what my parents taught me," he said. "And why not? Even in the Bible, you have ghosts, you know the Holy Ghost. And with astrology, didn't Daniel mention astrologists? Didn't the Three Kings follow a star to Jesus?"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Traditional-Style Family Values

Anti-Gay Republican Leader's Safe Word: 'Green Balloons'

from The Gawker:

Former Missouri Speaker of the House and opponent of "deviate sexual intercourse" Rod Jetton is facing felony charges for an S&M session gone horribly wrong, because a drunk lady never said "green balloons," allegedly.

The conventional wisdom on Jetton was that he'd go down for corruption, since he ran a political consulting biz while he was still in the state legislature. (All it took was a felony arrest to get him to quit that gig to "spend time with his family.") So this is an unexpectedly depraved turn:

Detective Bethany McDermott's affidavit says Jetton went to the woman's home around 9 p.m. Nov. 15 with two bottles of wine, which he allegedly opened alone in her kitchen. After drinking some of the wine and watching football, the statement said, the victim "began ‘fading' in and out and remembered losing consciousness several times."

The affidavit says Jetton and the alleged victim agreed on a safe word - "green balloons" - that could be used to stop sexual relations during the evening.

Instead, the affidavit says, Jetton hit her on the face and choked her before engaging in intercourse. Jetton allegedly said, "You should have said ‘green balloons,' " before leaving her home the next morning.

Point of query: Isn't the point of a safe word that it's easy to say? "Green balloons" is awfully cumbersome.

Luckily for Jetton (unluckily for humanity) he is not alone. Two other Jefferson City bigwigs recently faced charges for depraved sexual crimes during their tenures as leaders of the Show Me State (which, by the way, is going to need a new nickname if this doesn't let up)

* Rep. T. Scott Muschany's extramarital affair was no biggie until his mistress' 14-year-old daughter said he came into her room completely naked and forced her to touch him. Luckily, a jury decided that the girl made up the touching part, and since "standing naked next to a 14-year-old girl in bed is not a crime," Muschany was found not guilty.

* Chief of Staff to the Lieutenant Governor Eric Feltner went to jail last year after a local To Catch a Predator-like sting caught him sending porn to what he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How The Religious Right Stole Christmas

Every holiday season, Christian conservatives moan about a "war on Christmas." Not surprisingly, this is tied to massive fundraising campaigns.

by Sandhya Bathija, Church and State:

Last holiday season, Bill O’Reilly was fuming a little bit more than usual.

The bombastic Fox News host declared that Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire had "insulted Christians all over the world” when she "allowed” a Winter Solstice display to stand next to a Christmas tree and a Nativity scene in the state’s capitol building.

But what O’Reilly failed to acknowledge in his op-ed for The Washington Times was that Gregoire was just doing her job. She was enforcing a court order that stemmed from a case between the state and O’Reilly’s friends at the Alliance Defense Fund.

The ADF, a Religious Right group, had represented a local man who wanted to erect a Nativity scene in the state capitol rotunda, forcing the state in 2007 to broaden its policy on displays.

That meant that when the next holiday season rolled around, the capitol rotunda had to be open to an atheist sign that stated, "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Even if he was aware of those facts, O’Reilly’s rant came as little surprise.

Every year during the holiday season, right-wing pundits and Religious Right groups rally their followers by claiming there is a "war on Christmas.” These groups are outraged annually by holiday displays, parades, music and anything else that has to do with the December holiday – unless a large dollop of Christianity is included.

Last year, it got so bad in Olympia that protestors began gathering outside the Capitol demanding that the Solstice sign come down. The demonstrators attacked Gregoire, carrying signs that portrayed her as the Grinch.

The Rev. Ken Hutcherson, a Religious Right leader in the community, announced at the protest that the governor had "led the state of Washington to be the armpit of America. And I’m afraid that our governor is the one adding the offensive odor to the armpit.”

After last year’s debacle over religious symbols in the capitol rotunda, state officials have issued new permanent rules barring all nongovernment displays inside the Capitol campus building.

The Washington Department of General Administration signed off on the policy after listening to testimony at hearings in September. Dennis Mansker, Americans United’s South Sound Chapter president, supported the proposed changes and provided suggestions for how the state should handle temporary displays on Capitol grounds.

"We do not need a repeat of last year’s holiday display embarrassment,” he said. "Though we support free speech, we all learned the potential hazards of an open public forum. Our Capitol building should be used to carry out the people’s business, which includes allowing people to petition their lawmakers. But space is limited, thus a prohibition on unattended displays makes perfect sense.”

Despite the ban on displays inside the Capitol rotunda, the new policy still allows religious displays outside the Capitol campus buildings, which could move last year’s dispute to the outdoors, Mansker said.

"As far as the new rule goes, I think it hasn’t really solved anything,” he said. "Now there will be Nativity scenes outside the Capitol building, which I think makes the problem worse. Outdoor displays are by their nature more visible and therefore much more likely to give the impression that the state is supporting religion.”

Situations like this are not isolated. As early as October this year, a Michigan resident claimed religious persecution because the government would not permit him to erect a stand-alone Nativity scene on public land.

John Satawa claims he has placed the crèche on the median of a public road in Warren, Mich., for decades. Last year, Warren’s road commission rejected the Nativity scene because Satawa had not requested a permit. This year, when he asked ahead of time, he was officially turned down because the tableau "clearly displays a religious message” and would violate the First Amendment.

Satawa, represented by the Religious Right’s Thomas More Law Center, filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision.

"Every Christmas holiday,” said Richard Thompson, Center president and chief counsel, "militant atheists, acting like the Taliban, use the phrase ‘separation of church and state,’ – nowhere found in our Constitution – as a means of intimidating municipalities and schools into removing expressions celebrating Christmas, a national holiday.

"Their goal is to cleanse our public square of all Christian symbols,” he continued. "However, the grand purpose of our Founding Fathers and the First Amendment was to protect religion, not eliminate it.”

Over the years, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged government officials to remember the Constitution when dealing with holiday displays. AU’s legal department has sent letters to numerous city and county overnments advising them on the law regarding crèches on public land.

Expert advice about Nativity scenes is important because the law governing such displays is far from straightforward thanks to two U.S. Supreme Court decisions: Lynch v. Donnelly and City of Allegheny v. ACLU.

The 1984 Lynch case involved Pawtucket, R.I., which erected a Christmas display in a park. It included a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, candy-striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, some cut-out shapes of a clown, elephant and teddy bear, colored lights and a large banner that read "Seasons Greetings.” The city also included a depiction of the birth of Jesus within this display.

City residents and the local ACLU filed a lawsuit to challenge the inclusion of the crèche, which consisted of the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men and animals. The high court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the Nativity scene as constitutional. Because the display was accompanied by other secular holiday symbols, the court majority reasoned, it did not constitute a government endorsement of religion.

Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for the court, said the city had "principally taken note of a significant historical religious event long celebrated in the Western World. The crèche in the display depicts the historical origins of this traditional event long recognized as a National holiday.”

The Burger court’s decision was praised by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who said, "This ruling portends good things for the future.”

Falwell’s then lieutenant, Cal Thomas, echoed that sentiment, claiming the high court had removed "religious Americans from second-class citizenship.”

Civil liberties groups were disappointed but received some better news five years later in the Allegheny decision. For the first time the high court stated definitively that religious symbols standing alone at public buildings violate church-state separation.

The court considered two religious displays: a freestanding Nativity scene on the steps of a Pennsylvania courthouse and an 18-foot menorah outside the nearby city-county building, which was part of a display that included secular holiday symbols, such as a 45-foot Christmas tree.

The justices upheld the menorah. Writing for the court, Justice Harry A. Blackmun said, "The necessary result of placing a menorah next to a Christmas tree is to create an ‘overall holiday setting’ that represents both Christmas and Chanukah – two holidays, not one.” (See "When Symbols Clash,” September 1989 Church & State.)

But the crèche standing alone took things too far, Blackmun held.

"There is no doubt, of course, that the crèche itself is capable of communicating a religious message,” he wrote. "Unlike in Lynch, nothing in the context of the display detracts from the crèche’s religious message.

"Lynch teaches that government may celebrate Christmas in some manner and form, but not in a way that endorses Christian doctrine,” he continued. "Here, Allegheny County has transgressed this line. It has chosen to celebrate Christmas in a way that has the effect of endorsing a patently Christian message: Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ.”

These leading Supreme Court rulings have led to confusion about whether a Nativity scene can stand on public land.

That’s why almost every year, disputes over crèches are inevitable.

But it doesn’t just stop with religious symbols. Religious Right groups find any means possible to stir up controversy over Christmas, trying to push "Christian nation” propaganda and arguing that civil liberties groups are censoring religious speech.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue issued a press release on Nov. 3 of this year headlined "War on Christmas Commences.” In the release, he cited several instances, not just those regarding crèche displays, showcasing how "cultural fascists” have tried to ruin Christmas 2009.

One of those instances involved a tree on the Capitol lawn in Frankfort, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear initially dubbed a giant evergreen there as a "holiday tree,” instead of a Christmas tree, angering some Christians in the state.

The Rev. Jeff Fugate of Lexington said changing the tree’s name offends Christians, and Republican Senate President David Williams said the governor was putting political correctness above Kentucky values.

In response to Religious Right criticism, the governor issued a statement inviting people to a "Christmas tree” lighting ceremony. A spokeswoman said Beshear always meant for it to be a "Christmas tree.”

A similar dispute over a parade in Amelia, Ohio, has also angered Religious Right activists this holiday season. For 28 years, the Amelia Business Association had sponsored the parade, but this year, the organization wanted to hand over that responsibility to the village government.

Village Solicitor Laura Abrams said that since the parade was being put on with government funds, it could no longer be called a Christmas parade and changed the name to "A Holiday Parade.”

Churches told the village they would boycott the parade because of the name change and some people threatened to hold demonstrations. A local township even said it would not participate in the parade and would close a portion of the parade route that ran through the township.

"Understandably,” said Donohue, "this dishonest scheme created a furor, the result being – just to play it safe – there will be no parade.”

In the past, this anger over "censoring Christmas” has led to massive fundraising campaigns for right-wing organizations. In years past, the Alliance Defense Fund sold "Christmas Packs” for $29 apiece, each consisting of a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins.

Liberty Counsel, an adjunct of the late Jerry Falwell’s empire, and the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association provided a "Help Save Christmas Action Pack,” selling buttons that say, "I ♥ Christmas.” The buttons are available again this year through the group’s Web site.

Liberty Counsel, now headed by Liberty University Law School Dean Mat Staver, has also put together a "Naughty and Nice” list of retailers, based on the language stores use in their holiday marketing materials. The group recommends boycotts against stores that use "Happy Holidays” rather than "Merry Christmas.”

After so many years, it comes as no surprise that every November, there is bound to be a new tactic put forth by the Religious Right to "save” Christmas. A California woman has come up with the latest.

Merry Susan Hyatt, a 61-year-old substitute teacher, has proposed a California ballot initiative that would require public schools to offer religious carols at Christmas. The measure states, "Each public elementary and secondary school shall provide opportunities to its pupils of listening to or performing Christmas music at an appropriate time of year.”

Hyatt said she was shocked by a holiday celebration at a school where she was a substitute.

"We were having Christmas without Jesus,” she told New America Foundation, describing her surprise that a school can prohibit the singing of religiously themed music at school performances, including winter recitals.

Hyatt said she isn’t much concerned about people of other faiths who may take offense at the Christian music. As a substitute teacher, Hyatt said she primarily works in heavily Latino, largely Christian neighborhoods in Southern California.

"I don’t think I’ve ever had a Jewish child in one of my classes,” she told The New York Times. "If so, they never said anything.”

Hyatt will need 434,000 valid signatures by March 29 to put the initiative on the November 2010 ballot – meaning, the Religious Right has a new project to play up.

In the meantime, these groups are sure to keep fighting for unconstitutional religious displays on public land, as well as complaining about the use of the word "holiday” instead of "Christmas,” among other grievances.

In response, AU will continue to keep church and state separate during the holiday season, just as it does throughout the year.

"Christmas and the Constitution can easily co-exist,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "We are simply urging government officials to follow the law, which bars government from promoting one religious faith over others.

"If officials decide to put up holiday decorations at Christmas,” he continued, "they must do so in a way that does not give government support to Christianity. America is an incredibly diverse nation, and government should never send the message that one faith is the officially preferred one.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth

A Christmas Eve Call To Catholic Action

Will you please consider sending this call to Catholic action to all your Catholic friends and relatives?

from Father Tony of the Farmboyz:

Did you know that the mistreatment of women, married men and gay men by the Catholic bishops is really the same issue?

I began to realize this while thinking about why the struggle for gay equality in America seems to be failing.

Recent losses in California, Maine and New York have left gay activist leaders arguing about what exactly went wrong. Those battles have, however, made clear the identity of an aggressive enemy of the gay community, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

To please the Pope, the American Catholic bishops have pooled financial resources to overcome marriage equality. They have threatened the cessation of social services and have bound their flock to the belief that God demands that marriage be exclusively between one man and one woman. They have mandated the taking up of collections to support their battle against marriage equality.

These bishops also believe that women are not good enough in the eyes of God to be ordained priests. These bishops also believe that married men are not good enough in the eyes of God to be ordained priests. These bishops also believe that gay men are not good enough to be ordained priests (a particularly curious belief given the huge gay portion of their own ranks).

Now is the time for Catholic women, married men, gay men, and all their Catholic friends and relatives to band together and to end this nonsense. You have the ability to gain your rights if you will realize that these bishops no longer speak for God in this matter. They have gone astray and are misleading you. In your hearts you know this to be true.

You can rectify this situation by holding back your financial support until women, married men and gay men all have equal access to the Catholic priesthood. Do you understand how critically important your financial support is to the life of the Roman Catholic Church in America? Do you understand what would happen if, as a group, you turned off the financial faucet? There would be a panic among those bishops and soon they would find a way to announce that the Holy Spirit has revealed a new truth; that women and married men and gay men deserve equal places in the church and are all worthy of the priesthood. The threat of bankruptcy can be a fast route to holy wisdom.

I am suggesting that on Christmas Eve, all Roman Catholics in America refrain from giving money when the collection basket is passed, and that you continue that restraint until your God-given rights are granted.

I am also suggesting that you consider placing a small pebble in the collection basket as a clear message to your bishops. Your priests who are torn between believing in your equality and their sworn obedience to the bishops might send those pebbles to those bishops just as they do a good portion of the money you routinely give them. And remember, those bishops have already cast the first stone. All you would be doing is politely returning it to them.

The Roman Catholic Church in America is at a crossroads. There will soon be either a healthy enlightenment or a rapid withering. Catholic women, married men and gay men who understand that their bishops are speaking for the Pope rather than for Jesus Christ in this matter will save their Church if they act together. Christmas Eve is the perfect time to start.

I am urging you to refrain from financial support as an act of love for your church. I do not want to see the Catholic Church destroyed by a generation of bishops who are confused and in need of your intervention. They will someday thank you for doing what they could not do.

Will you please consider forwarding this call to Catholic action to all your Catholic friends and relatives?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Study: LGBT People Suffer More Anxiety, Depression In States With Fewer Gay Rights

from LGBT News:

A study in this month’s American Journal of Public Health found that LGBT people in states that don’t have LGBT-inclusive employment or hate crimes protections suffer higher rates of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymia (depression).

The study concludes, “Policies that reduce discrimination against gays and lesbians are urgently needed to protect the health and well-being of this population.”

Pass The Employment Non-Discrimination Act NOW!

Focused On Bigotry and Hate

Anti-Gay Group Attacks Santa Play In New York

from Truth Wins Out:

Under the leadership of James Dobson, Focus on the Family was infamous for distorting the work of researchers, earning it the nickname, “Focus on the Fallacies”.

Then, the organization was labeled, “Focus on the Foolishness” after Dobson suggested that Sponge Bob was gay. (Yes, the cartoon sponge that lived in a pineapple under the sea)

We must also remember, “Focus on the Fairytale”, the name given the organization after I photographed its “ex-gay” leader John Paulk in a gay bar.

With Dobson retiring, however, it is clear that Focus on the Family is adrift and searching for a new mission. It may have found one in its blistering attack on the play “Santa Claus is Coming Out”.

Instead of helping real families in a time of economic upheaval, the right wing organization is in a tizzy over this comedy that poses the serious question: “What if Santa Claus were actually gay?”

By using an imaginary icon, we can explore how people would react if a real superstar, such as a politician, athlete, or leading man in Hollywood came out of the closet. Given the stereotypes and prejudice against GLBT people, this is a legitimate subject well worth exploring.

Unfortunately, Focus on the Family provides the answer by exploiting this issue for political gain and distorting the essence of the production. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network (GLSEN) will also benefit from a charity performance of “Santa Claus is Coming Out”, giving Focus on the Family further reason to misrepresent the play, as they did in its bigot blog Citizenlink.

In a story headlined “GLSEN Fundraiser Sexualizes Santa”, the group claims that the comedy, “perverts the innocence of Christmas and sexualizes the longtime, child-revered icon of Santa Claus.” The group went on to claspongebobim that the goal of Santa Claus is Coming Out is to, “desensitize kids and attack parents’ God-given rights to protect their innocence.”

Interestingly, Focus on the Family had no such concern about “innocence” when it heedlessly and needlessly “outed” Sponge Bob a few years ago to millions of youth. Until Dobson spoke, who knew that Bob’s pineapple was a gay bar that made divine tropical drinks?

The charges leveled against Santa Is Coming Out are ludicrous, if not libelous. In an interview with Instinct Magazine, Playwright Jeffrey Solomon rebutted Focus on the Family’s bogus charges.

“We have not marketed this play with sex,” said Solomon. “The play is not about sex. The play simply asks a hypothetical question: ‘How would the world react, if Mrs. Claus were revealed to be a beard, and that Santa Claus was actually a gay man?’ The very mention or the image of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is not automatically sexual, unless you are viewing them with sex-tinted glasses.”

Solomon is correct to say that Focus on the Family is choosing to sexualize a non-sexual comedy in order to rile up its batty base. What the group means when it says parents have “God-given rights to protect their (childrens’) innocence,” is that fundamentalist Christians are superior to the rest of us. That they have the unique “right” to censor and silence people who disagree with their “Valuless Traditions” disguised as “Traditional Values”.

Sorry, but in America GLBT families are a positive reality and they will not just disappear or hide because hate groups are opposed to their very existence. Indeed, it is poor parenting to instill prejudice in young people and preach intolerance in the name of religious belief. America’s youth should be taught to respect all people and be presented with a realistic view of our nation’s diverse families. To do otherwise is irresponsible and a failure to prepare a child to succeed in the world.

Isn’t it time that Focus on the Family take its huge budget of more that $125 million and help real families stay together? Has this group done anything substantive to address the divorce rate in America? Has it stopped child or spousal abuse? Has this wealthy organization increased living wages so families can afford to stay together?


Instead it wastes precious time and money on petty, media-friendly pet issues that play well to frothing fundamentalists who get worked into a lather and then donate what little money they have left over from their paychecks.

By attacking this play, Focus on the Family has earned a new nickname: “Focus on the Frivolous.”

I applaud Jeffrey Solomon and director Joe Brancato for producing a play that will make people think, which is a heck of a lot more than Focus on the Family is asking of its followers.

If you are in New York City, “Santa Claus is Coming Out” is running until Dec. 20 at the Kirk Theater (410 West 42nd Street). Tickets can be ordered by calling 212-279-4200. (

Friday, December 11, 2009

Quebec Announces Anti-Homophobia Policy

This news from Canada is something we can aspire to here in Venango County and throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. All it takes is a little organizing, education, and action and we'll get there.

from LGBT News:

The provincial government is hailing it as a first in Canada and North America.

Friday morning Quebec's Justice Minister Kathleen Weil announced an official provincial policy against homophobia, with a wide-reaching series of measures to fight anti-gay discrimination.

They include recognizing the equality of sexual minorities, promoting the rights and wellness of the gay and lesbian community, and making the fight against homophobia a priority in public institutions.

However this policy is not an action plan, and does not contain any concrete steps for enforcement.

Weil announced that a ministerial committee will be formed by the end of January to deal with those issues.

PFLAG Northwest Pennsylvania Meeting on Monday Dec. 14 in Erie

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.

PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights.

Hope you can make the meeting on this upcoming Monday, December 14, 2009. 7:00pm-8:30pm.

End of year wrap up, membership renewals, socializing, and support.

Your Local PFLAG Chapter meets:
Every 2nd Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie (UUCE)
7180 Perry Highway
Erie, PA
Local Contact:
(814) 454-1392 (John)
Visit PFLAG National's Website:

Keep Pennsylvania Kids In School

By Harold Jordan, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Yesterday, the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) released its National Resolution for Ending School Pushout. What is "school pushout," and why is it a national problem? Many students are pushed out of schools by harsh disciplinary practices that favor exclusionary strategies like the over-use of suspension and expulsion, and create unwelcoming environments for students. When young people — often those who need the most support — are pushed out of school, they essentially lose their right to an education.

The resolution is a call to action for our school systems. It is an attempt to reframe the debate about school climate and discipline from one that favors the punishment and exclusion of children to one based on human rights.

I don't normally get too excited by bold statements about social problems. This one feels different, though. The National Resolution for Ending School Pushout is not an empty statement, but a call for a real change in our schools. The resolution goes beyond decrying the trend toward pushout to propose positive steps that can be taken to help make it possible for young people to remain on track to complete their education.

For those of us deeply engaged in work in Pennsylvania's schools, the resolution could not be released at a more critical moment. In October of 2008, the school district of Philadelphia adopted a "zero tolerance" policy under which expulsions have escalated dramatically.

Across the state, approximately 30,000 students are placed in more than 600 "alternative education for disruptive youth" programs each year. Relatively little is known about these individual programs and the experiences of the students in them.

In Philadelphia, many students are transferred to alternative schools without an opportunity to contest the charges against them. Many wait for up to six months for a decision to be made about their future. Some are ultimately exonerated, but by that time, they have been out of their regular schools for so long that catching up is difficult if not impossible. In the 2008-09 school year, 193 expulsion hearings were held, up from zero in the previous year; 166 students were ultimately expelled by the School Reform Commission (our school board). The current school year began with 90 students in limbo awaiting hearings from last school year.

The resolution calls for a different approach to creating peaceful and respectful environment in schools. It urges schools to adopt proven alternative disciplinary approaches such as positive behavior supports and restorative practices. Furthermore, it urges that the rights of students, parents and guardians be treated with respect in all school processes.

Finally, the resolution calls on public officials and school administrators to provide teachers and school staff with the support needed to bring about these changes.

One thing is certain: keeping young people engaged with school is the best thing we as a society can do.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Story Behind "Curing The Gays"

Mark Benjamin, national correspondent for, describes for MSNBC's Rachel Maddow what he learned reporting undercover on the "ex-gay" movement.

Here in Venango County, Jane Richey and her "Christian" radio station WAWN are fervent proponents of the crackpot, dangerous, sometimes deadly, "ex-gay" theory.

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