RSS

Tag Archives: Gay rights

What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear*

flower

Fifty years ago, on November 22nd, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a nationally televised horror that marked the start of turbulent times. The years that followed were tumultuous to say the least. Three and a half years later both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were gunned down. During this time the Vietnam War escalated, the civil rights movement gained momentum and carnage, and all of it was televised. In families rooms across our nation the evening news showed people burning in an obscure Asian country and American cities burning. It was a chaotic and troubling time in which the status quo (those over 30, non-minority and male) lost their footing. The world they helped to build and were promised by their parents was slipping away.

Throughout the devastation, or maybe even because of it, good things began to grow. Tiny saplings such as ecology, feminism, and reproductive rights began to appear amongst the ruins. The civil rights act did get signed, after a shamefully long wait and unforgivable amount of violence. There were strides in the women’s rights movement, though not a passage of the E.R.A. (Equal Rights Amendment.) The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Act) went into effect in 1970 (as did Earth Day.) There was enough momentum to assume that the tide had turned somewhat. This progress happened in a very visible and even audible way. Fashion followed what was happening on the streets. Shirts and home decor featuring “protest posters” were for sale. Slogan T-shirts began to appear. All of this to the background of some rockin’ protest themed music. Even the softer rock songs were dotted with anti-war or anti-establishment themes. Their sound told you there was something going down.

It seems (from the distance of 50 years) that it all stopped as suddenly as it started. It’s tempting to look to Watergate as what doused the fire. Leaders being assassinated in their prime causes hurt and fear, leaders abusing power and lying causes disgust and apathy. The equation was probably a bit more complex than that. Those who were directly impacted by the events of the early 1960s (and of an age to take it to the streets) had gotten older and perhaps had moved on. Some, no doubt saw their fights as having been won and moved on. Others kept up the fight but within the system and off the streets and out of the spotlight. Whatever the exact formula the result was that the counter culture dissipated and the protests petered out. Nothing of that fevered pitch can last. But isn’t it odd that it’s never returned?

Surely there has been enough horror and inequity to stir rebellion. A 10-year war in Iraq? How about protesting that unlike Viet Nam it’s never been televised? The erosion of reproductive freedoms, the rise of poverty and unemployment and racial unrest (which is what the immigration debate really is) seems suitable for protest. We’ve never had more tools for organizing and yet we seem so disorganized. There are energetic and impactful demonstrations that happen all the time. But they are fragmented and you’d be hard-pressed to identify leadership by name. You’d have to really strain to come up with a popular song with political themes. There have been great political strides made, most notably in gay rights, in recent years. But that victory was over 40 years in the making. Trends come and go, life ebbs and flows, but do people really change? There has been so much violence, corporate corruption and political deceit in the last decade to spark something, no? Or was the outpouring of political engagement and protest of the 1960s a moment in time? Was it tantamount to the Industrial Revolution or the Roaring Twenties? It’s something to think as we approach a dark anniversary.

*For What It’s Worth (1966) – Stephen Stills

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World*

Judy&Mickey

We are all creatures of our environment, often to a degree not realized until we step out of that environment. It is tempting and predictable to assume that one’s small sliver of the world is an accurate sample of a larger reality. It is only when we step away, even briefly that we have a “Yowza!” moment. If you’ve ever spent time in Times Square you’ve seen the “Yowza” expression synchronized on hundreds of faces. Many of those people have never seen anything so brash, so bright and so ludicrous in one place. They will go home & tell their friends how overwhelming New York City is. And they’d be right; for them NYC is overwhelming. For a New Yorker the equivalent experience would be traveling anywhere that is not NYC.

For many the disorientation starts with food. We all know that seafood should not be eaten in landlocked areas, and that Chinese food is best prepared by those who’ve eaten it. A decent bagel or thin crust slice of pizza can be challenging to find between coasts. However seeking something as mundane as skim or soy milk for a good cup of coffee can also take on mythic proportions. (The holy grail of morning beverage can become all-consuming and sometimes it’s best to just switch to tea for the duration.) Familiar foods are very important to people; it’s why there are McDonald’s and TGIFridays in Times Square. But eventually a traveler adjusts (an average adult can go for three weeks without food) and can take a good long look around.

Much of what we know about the mood of the nation is through what we read or watch. We might be tempted to cherry pick stories and developments that suit our own political agenda. We might be lulled into thinking that people think as we do (a dangerous and narcissistic assumption if there ever was one.) It is by traveling out of our comfort zone that we discover how discomforting the world really is. It is embarrassing to discover how ignorant we really can be about our fellow Americans. There are few issues in America that are as topical a gauge as race and gay rights. It is tempting to assume that we’re rounding a corner and headed towards a finish line of sorts. Popular culture and media would have us believe that gay is the new, well, the new black. And black? Well black has been beautiful for almost fifty years, no? No.

One person’s experience in a Midwestern area (right outside of a major city) is hardly scientific, but it is illuminating nonetheless. Walking through downtown areas, socializing at large events, dining out and taking in culture, I was struck by the racial divide. Beyond the staff & entertainment there were few if any faces of color. I saw only heterosexual couples (which is barely anecdotal let alone scientific.) Far more telling were the conversations I overheard. If any reference was made to homosexuality it was in regards to entertainment. (Some readers might recall a time when African Americans were often only discussed in terms of entertainment.) I overheard an educated woman discuss attending a Halloween party in black face. It was so popular amongst the party guests that she did it again the following year. Twenty years ago Ted Danson, at the very height of his popularity, almost lost his entire career because of a similar antic. Twenty years ago.

I’ve no doubt that many of the people I encountered would find my way of life confusing if not abhorrent. Without question people are entitled to live the way they wish. It is imperative however that we all realize there is a larger world. We may choose to live amongst people who are like us (i.e., of like mind, religion or skin color) but we must stay conscious of the bigger picture. We cannot lose sight of the fact that not everyone views human rights as progress. We cannot discount what may very well be the majority sentiments of this country. It is far too tempting to look around our mini universes and slide towards complacency. Yes, it’s comforting to be surrounded by what seems “right” to us. But it’s important to keep in mind the larger reality. Taking that decaf cap with skim for granted is one thing (we can always get tea) but we should never take progress for granted.

*Once In A Lifetime (1981) – Talking Heads

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Let The Games Begin

photo by Lefteris Pitarakis

photo by Lefteris Pitarakis

When people join forces & lift up their voices attention is often paid. The volume of the outcry has a direct correlation to the media coverage, and that is how it should be. For the past few weeks people have begun to rise up in response to Russia’s propaganda law (enacted in June 2013.) This law is meant to curb public talk of homosexuality. The fact that Russia has a propaganda law is not only not surprising, it almost seems intuitive; for those of us of a certain Boris and Natasha age. The other 50% of the population is a bit gob smacked, and why not? The last few years have been a freight train of gay rights momentum. We are living through one of the most radical civil and human rights transitions this country has ever had. It’s little wonder that we expect Russia to get on board.

The timing of all this is a delicious; direct to film, perfect storm of brouhaha. What exactly were the conversations Mr. Putin had with his advisors? “How do we put our Olympic hosting on the map? You know, Mr. Putin, the Queen parachuted into the London Olympic stadium. What can you do?” It’s a very odd choice to make for a country that repealed it’s law against “gay” sex in 1993 (the U.S. did not abolished sodomy laws until 2003.) It’s a bizarre law in its nature and its timing; but a great windfall for a movement. Calling for a boycott of an international event is a great way to make some noise. Actually boycotting the event is a horse of a different color.

Politics and/or human rights records are not a factor in participating in the Olympics. It is not an event designed to bring like-minded countries together, but to bridge those gaps through shared interests. Where the Olympics are hosted seems to create an unavoidable focus on the misdeeds of a country. The United States participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics(!) and boycotted the 1980 Moscow (summer) Olympics. But the host country is such a minor concern to the athletes and all participants. Thousands of people (of all backgrounds and orientations) have worked their entire lives for these games. A boycott will mean that they, and the necessary attention to this issue, will not appear at the games and on televisions across the world.

Calling for a boycott may put sufficient pressure on Mr. Putin to repeal his shiny new anti-gay propaganda law. If not, let the noise reach a fevered frenzied pitch! Encourage athletes to visibly show their solidarity. Show up to the games in droves and wave the rainbow flag, the whole world will be watching. Plan colorful protests in cities across the land to coincide with the opening ceremonies; attention will be paid. Making a collective noise is the most powerful of civic endeavors. We can capture the eyes and ears of the world without breaking the hearts of the athletes.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Eyes On The Prize

Joey

Most people don’t have lengthy attention spans or an endless capacity or thirst for data. There’s an awful lot of information to process on a daily if not momentary basis. So we can be forgiven for grasping at headlines as if they were articles (or “reading book reviews like they was books,” to quote Madame Rose.) Quite frankly a lot of what’s buzzing around us doesn’t warrant more than a cursory glance; quinoa’s in, bulgar’s out, cycling to nowhere is in, aerobics is out, and so on and so on. But then there are those big & important things that may be too large to ponder or tackle on a regular basis; issues that mercifully may not affect us on a daily basis.

Until your life and home are threatened by nature you might not get too riled about climate change. And even then, quite frankly, the most pressing (and perhaps only) issue is reclaiming your equilibrium. If you don’t experience prejudice and/or marginalization on any kind of regular basis you might not give biases all that much thought. When a story reaches media blitz proportion you may find more school gate/dinner party conversation about racism/sexism/bigotry than you would ordinarily. But when the headlines ebb and the talking heads shift their focus to another bright and shiny topic, the volume of those conversations probably lowers. It’s tempting (and completely understandable) to look at our biracial president, our recent strides in gay rights, and think “right, well I’m glad all that’s done with.” And that would be wrong.

There is far more danger in assuming things are okay and consequently turning our attention elsewhere than there is in not recognizing a social ill as a problem. Thirty or forty years ago mainstream America was (generally speaking) accepting that perceptions needed to change. In the 1970s civil rights began to find its mainstream footing. It no longer was acceptable to use certain words in public (at least in the Northeast.) This is hardly the hallmark of equality but it is a very strong indication of the public’s embarrassment at their overt bigotry. It would be another couple of decades before a similar semantics change occurred in regards to the gay community. One need only pour through some pop culture to confirm that “gay minstrel” was alive and well during the Reagan years. You’d be hard pressed in the 21st century to see African Americans or gay men and women as punchlines. Rest assure however, there are still plenty of ethnicities, religions and orientations that are ridiculed or “minstrelled”.

When it comes to the black or gay experience you might just think that all is mostly well. That is, if you weren’t affiliated with either of those groups. Most of us, no matter where our head is in proximity to our rear end, suspect that racism is alive and if not exactly well, at least on some form of life support. You can’t live anywhere (except perhaps off the grid) and not know (or at least suspect) that the color of one’s skin affects the perceptions of others. Simply turning on the television or picking up a magazine will confirm this. You may (that’s may) see male celebrities with a rich dark skin tone, but you rarely will see a woman with anything darker than a mocha skin tone. Pop culture may not be good for much, but it does paint a picture of our collective taste/desires.

You might also think that all is great on the gay front. People are marrying; coming out all over the place and letting kids know it gets better. But they’re also getting arrested in Louisiana for agreeing to have sex with undercover police officers. And the California federal appeals court is deciding if gays can be barred from a jury. This issue has come up because a drug company (defending a drug used in the treatment of AIDS) wanted to bar a juror who seemed gay. Clearly a gay man could not be neutral about drug companies, corruption, unethical medical practices or corporate greed. After all, are such “gay” issues. The assumption that a gay man (versus anyone with an ounce of compassion or a shred of decency) would feel strongly about AIDS and our storied history with the disease is absurd. But there you have it. Our legal system (that system we rely upon more and more to make very important decisions for our society) can view people as nothing more than their most visible characteristic.

We have come a long way baby, no one can reasonably argue that. But there is a danger in letting our guard down now. Things have changed enough on the surface that we can slip into a complacency that hinders progress and may in fact turn time back. We are so close to what we can be. Just consider how far we’ve come in only forty+ years. In 1967 interracial marriage was so rare as to be the entire story line of a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie. It was a serious and moving message movie. There was a little bit of levity of course; like when the “Negro” groom offers proof of the naivety of the Caucasian bride: “she feels that all our children will be president of the United States!” A laugh line has become a wonderful reality. But we must be very careful to not see that and other equal rights strides as an end point. Our work is not done here.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Pious Doth Protest Too Much

There’s an awful lot of talk about equal marriage being incompatible with religious beliefs.  The president has even been speaking with religious leaders to alleviate their (and his) fears.  I’m not entirely sure I buy it.

I believe that people have found comfort in defending their stance with their religious convictions.  I mean who would argue with someone’s religious convictions or even suggest that religion, by its definition, is a way to exclude people who are not like us?  Not I.  But does anyone, even the most pious of Americans, believe that legal civil rights have anything to do with religion?  I can’t begin to understand how.  I’ve heard people claim a fear that their religious institution will be “forced” to perform marriages.  How?  They are not forced to perform marriages now.  I can’t walk into a religious institution with a willing heterosexual accomplice and force clergy to perform a marriage ceremony.  Religious institutions, again by their very definition, are allowed to exclude whomever they please.  (If you don’t believe me, just try getting married in a conservative synagogue without paperwork verifying your worthiness.  Even then it will be up to the discretion of the rabbi whether to cue the chuppah.)  So no one is going to be forced to do anything.

Then does just the idea that people are doing something that you believe your religion does not celebrate send a person ’round the bend?  Maybe.  People are entitled to interpret their religious doctrine anyway they please.  Whether I think intolerance has never been the teaching of any religion is immaterial.  But ya know what?  It turns out that church and state are in fact separate. There are several religions that ban pork from the human diet.  Yet the U.S.D.A. gives legitimacy to pork producers, manufacturers and distributors.  What would help anyone feeling that the United States government is on the verge of offending his or her religious sensibilities is to cease from seeing marriage as a religious rite, and see it as a civil right and legal construct.

Consider that in many religions the birth of a child is celebrated in a house of worship.  Not all babies are welcomed into that house of worship.  They must be of proper lineage and deemed worthy.  Yet, our government issues all babies birth certificates.  Why?  Because we have chosen, as a people, to have a government that ensures basic rights and freedoms of every citizen.  It all starts with the birth certificate.  Having a birth certificate is not a ticket to the alter/bihma it is a ticket to; social security, public education, voting and, with any luck, a marriage license.

 
 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,897 other followers