Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Me and the Hubby

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Separation of Church & State as an LGBT Issue

I have been sitting here for days, wondering what I would focus on for my next post. Fate stepped in when a friend sent me a link to a wonderful piece by Patricia Nell Warren, entitled "Why America Pretends To Separate Church and State" Her article reminds me why I am deeply committed to the separation of church and state.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I see the separation of church and state as one of the most important issues the LGBT movement must tackle. They assume that I will say the issues of marriage equality or hate-crimes legislation are most important. While these issues are important ones on which I work, I have come to realize that it is critical to keep the wall between church and state strong and intact if we want to create a just society for all people, regardless of gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Before I start, I would like to make this caveat: I know that not all people of faith are homophobic. In 1964, several liberal ministers in San Francisco became concerned with gay rights and formed one of the first ally organizations, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). The strong support from some liberal religious tradition notwithstanding, much of the fight against LGBT rights comes from religious sources and religious groups. Those who oppose justice often use verses from their holy scriptures to deny equality to LGBT people. In this country, freedom of religion is a bedrock upon which our society stands. That means we are free to practice or not practice any religion we choose. It also means we are free from the government making laws based on the beliefs of any particular religion and enforcing them upon everyone. It is simply wrong for the government to base its public policies on the tenets of one faith or the tenets of several faiths operating in coalition.

There are those, however, who are trying to tear down the wall between church and state. Religious Right groups use shrill anti-gay rhetoric with an extreme political agenda that would institutionalize discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgneder people. Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian Coalition and their politician allies want to impose their fundamentalist viewpoint on all Americans.

The most visibile religious campaign against gay people are marriage amendments. Religious Right groups and their allies are spearheading well-funded drives to enact state and federal constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage as well as taking away the ability of same-sex couples to get married in the few states in which it is allowed.

This crusade raises serious church-state concerns. Some religious denominations perform same-sex unions, while others do not. These constitutional amendments are designed to take the doctrines of the groups that do not and enshrine them in our nation’s foundational governing documents. If conservative religious groups succeed, LGBT Americans will be relegated to permanent second-class citizenship.

Civil law should be based on the democratic principles of individual freedom and equality. The wall of separation between church and state was erected to ensure that civil law and religious law remain separate. Religious groups would not be forced to marry anyone they do not want to (just like they are not forced to now) but civil society would be able to legally recognize the love and commitment of all couples.

The campaign against marriage equality is not the only one where right-wing religious organizations have been involved. Over the past few decades, evangelical Christian groups and the Catholic church have worked against the repeal of sodomoy laws and the passage of non-discriminations that include sexual orientation. These groups have also spearheaded censorship campaigns against any work they deem “offensive.” These crusades often target books about human sexuality or works of fiction that deal with LGBT themes.

The separation of church and state must remain strong if the LGBT community's goal of equality and justice are to be realized. If this wall is intact, policy makers will not be able to use religious texts and beliefe to disenfranchise us. While other oppositionwill remain, a big part of the movement against us would be ineffective. Those of us who work for LGBT rights must defend the separation of church and state in order to actualize our goals.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

So this is what you think of Latinos and Latinas?

I am speechless (which does not happen often) by this "photo of the day" found at Fresh Loaf, an Atlanta news and politics blog. The picture is from the Festival Peachtree Latino, an annual celebration of Latino culture in Atlanta. This image
plays into the hyper-sexual stereotypes of Latinos and Latinas. As you can see at the blog, there were other images from the festival. But they chose this one. Hmmm, wonder why?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Walking A Fine Line: Satire, Stereotypes and 'Single Asians'

A video showing members of the Mixed Company of Yale University singing group dancing to their adapted version of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” entitled “Single Asians” is forcing people to ask an age-old question: should we or shouldn't we use stereotypes to challenge oppression? While I do not think there is a definitive answer to this question, I think it is important to have the conversation.

If we are trying to laugh at stereotypes to debunk them, what happens when some of us are laughing in agreement with the stereotypes? While stereotypes can be used in a satirical manner in order to try and reveal to the audience that their ways of categorizing the world are not only laughable, but dangerous, most popular culture bolsters stereotypical thinking rather than subverts it. As Harry Allen asks: "does Yale’s 'Single Asians' debunk or traffic old stereotypes?"

Recognizing the difference between comedy that attempts to shine a light on negative aspects of society in order to encourage those laughing to examine the faulty beliefs we are taught about certain groups versus comedy that highlights those stereotypes merely to suggest “ha, ha, aren't those stereotypes funny?” can be tricky. This video could be an empowering opportunity for Asian women to use these stereotypes to foster a dialogue about the place of Asian women in US society. On the other hand, it could merely be yet another chance to laugh at Asian women. Does this video critique racism and sexism or does it merely bolster it?

I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whose Community Is It Anyway?: White Privilege in the LGBT Community

“But you all have the same issues we do! I mean, why are we even dividing ourselves, race doesn’t matter—we are all gay.”

Fifteen years ago, a white gay male friend said this to me after I asked him how responsive the LGBT group he ran focused on issues affecting people of color. He truly did not understand that LGBT people of color might have unique needs or that we may have different priorities than the white LGBT community. Since that conversation, I have worked diligently in the LGBT community to help my white brothers and sisters understand the privileges they enjoy as white people.

White privilege is a difficult concept for many whites to understand. As Peggy McIntosh contends in her seminal piece "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", Whites are not taught to recognize how their status as white people confers on them many privileges. Hopefully, this piece will try to break the layers of denial that whites have about their privilege and that work to protect, prevent awareness about, and entrench that privilege.

White privilege is a set of advantages that white people benefit from on a daily basis not afforded to people of color. White privilege can exist without white people's conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country. The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege teaches whites that only one's own standards and opinions are accurate to the exclusion of all other standards and opinions. Because Whites generally view their beliefs and actions as normative and neutral, they fail to identify Whiteness as a racial identity and do not realize they are racialized as well. Though Whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, average, and ideal, their perspective is not “objective” or neutral. By not confronting their privilege, Whites as the racially dominant group maintain that dominance.

Whiteness in the LGBT community is everywhere, from what we see, what we experience, and more importantly, what we desire. Media images in television and film promote a monolithic image of the 'gay community' as being overwhelmingly upper-middle class if not simply rich, male and white. Even the most cursory glance through gay publications highlights the scarcity of images of people of color. If we are represented, it seems that we only exist to serve the needs of the largely gay white population seeking an 'authentic' experience of some kind, either through sex, music or travel. To the white LGBT community, our existence as LGBT people of color, is merely an afterthought, an inconvenient fact that is thought about in the most insignificant and patronizing way.

In the LGBT political world, this shows up as White people thinking that the issues of importance to them are the only ones that matter. Many White LGBT folk do not realize that LGBT people of color have different perspectives and may think we as a community should focus on other issues. White privilege obscures the fact that LGBT people of color may frame a particular issue in a different way. Moreover, people of color who are attracted to the same sex may not even use the terms “gay”, “lesbian” or “bisexual.” However, the white framing of our issues is the only one allowed in our political discourse. The voices of LGBT people of color are generally not included unless the white LGBT group wants to reach out to communities of color. If LGBT people are included, they are often only done so as tokens and only if they agree with the white LGBT narrative.

We must continue to grapple with the ways invisible whiteness and white privilege permeate the LGBT community because they undermine our movement. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, released a report aimed at gaining a deeper understanding about the complexities at the intersection of race, sexual orientation and gender identity. I applaud HRC for this study and the subsequent blog conversations and online town halls they are holding. I hope, though, that HRC discusses white privilege as a part of this work. If they do not, the work will be incomplete. Paula Rothenberg, a professor who specializes in studying whiteness, reminds us that white privilege is the other side of the racial oppression coin. HRC, and other groups that are attempting to be more inclusive, cannot truly look at why people of color are not involved in the larger movement if they do not examine white privilege. It's time for white LGBT folk to challenge their own privilege, listen to all voices and take on the issues that matter to all of us.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why I Love Black Women

Last year, I interviewed for the chief student affairs position at a Black women’s college in the South. During my interview, people kept asking me “why do you want to be here?” I knew that the seemingly-innocuous question obscured the one they really wanted to ask: “why do you—a Latino/Jewish man who will be seen as white down here and is also gay—want to work with and for Black women.” In my meeting with the all of my potential supervisees—all of them Black women—I told the group “you do not have to be a Black woman to care about and want to support Black women.” I commented that few people who looked like me had historically cared about Black women so I assumed there might be mistrust. In fact, men who looked like me had often been the source of great pain and oppression. However, I explained, that mistrust would not stop me from working on behalf of Black women.

I love Black women—personally, professionally and politically. I realize that this surprises many people. Some wonder if I am simply fetishizing Black women as sassy, “keepin’ it real” sistas, sort of a 21st century Sapphire. Unfortunately, many gay men—white men particularly—love to conjure this stereotype when meeting Black women. Personally, Black women have played a critical role in my life. I have known too many Black women to ever pigeon-hole them. I know too well that Black women are as diverse as any other group. No, my love comes from a keen understanding of the role Black women have played in my life and in American history.

During my college career, it was a small group of Black women who helped me be comfortable with myself as someone with multiple subordinated identities. As a biracial gay man from a working-class background, I often felt schizophrenic in a society that could only see in one-dimensional terms. Most importantly, my friends helped me survive at a college where I was the only openly gay man on campus. These friends taught me how to hold my head high while walking through groups of people throwing slurs at me. These women introduced me to the work of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and other Black feminists/womanists to help me work toward my own liberation by understanding the systems that oppressed me. These works helped me understand that I was not the problem, society was.

Black women have also shaped how I see the world. Since college, I have been a student of Black feminism and womanism. `Black feminism` argues that sexism, classism, racism and other forms of oppression are inextricable from one another. Social change movements, including other forms of feminism, that only focus on single dimensions of identity will always exclude large groups of people it purports to help. Black feminists argue that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.

Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLoed Bethune, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Rose Parks, Ruby Dee, Betty Shabbaz, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ellen Brown, Faye Wattleton, Dorothy Height, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. All of these women—and many more—have worked to create a more just society for us all. Contemporary Black women such as Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Julieanne Malveaux, Barbara Lee, Valerie Jetter and Carol Mosely-Braun among many, many others continue the work of creating a more equitable world. Not enough thanks are given to Black women who have historically fought for the dignity and well-being of all people.

As a social justice activist, I know that white men and women are often the face of an issue, even when Black women are disproportionately affected. During the fight against the military ban against gay men and lesbians in the early 1990s, the people highlighted who were discharged were mostly white men with a few white women shown. This image hid the fact that Black women were kicked out of the military for being homosexual at a higher rate than whites of both sexes and Black men. How did an issue that impacted Black women the most, like the military ban on gay people, get seen as a white man’s issue?

I have also seen Black women’s concerns be ignored. Lupus is a disease that affects Black women in large numbers but does not get the attention it deserves. It is seen as “merely” a Black women’s disease and thus not important. Black women have fought for the rest of us and it is time that we fight for Black women.

For that reason, I follow the leadership of Black women and listen to the words of Black women. As I mentioned earlier, Black women are a diverse group. Thus, I will not necessarily agree with the things all Black women say. But as a progressive who is committed to a more just world for all people, I know that Black women’s opinions, research, and voices are integral to ensuring that our politics are inclusive of all people. This commitment includes the projects I support financially. I donate regularly to the Black Women’s Health Initiative, a national organization that's committed to devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America's Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. I donate to this organization because too often the lives of Black women are not considered in health care research. Moreover, I know from a standpoint of enlightened self-interest that if healthcare is better for Black women, it will be better for all people.

Although Black women are seen as selfless and never needing assistance, Black women are not the emotionless rocks of strength that society paints them as. While I appreciate the strength that Black women have needed to have over the centuries, I insist on seeing Black women as human, not as stereotypes. Black women have been demonized, abused, and ignored for too long. Black women have been maligned as castrating, too angry and even the source of the oppression of Black men. It is time that we stand by your side and defend you, love you, thank you and listen to you. You have given me so very much as a human being; I shall always be there for you.