Friday, February 15, 2008

Humanity Before Politics.

This have been kicking around for a while but tragic events of the last few days have put them in another perspective

An article by Wayne Besen titled "Where is The Gay Jesse Jackson?"

However, there is one more issue that is worthy of tears, and that is how few Americans could imagine a gay President of the United States. At the age of 37, if I proclaimed that one day I would run for president, people would offer patronizing or quizzical looks, before they suggested a random drug test. They would say, "We won't see a gay president in your lifetime."

However, if John McCain wins the prize he will be inaugurated at the age of 71. If I ran for president at the same age as McCain, that would mean I could count on 34 more years of social change, which may be enough time for a gay or lesbian American to be a viable presidential candidate.

If this sounds implausible, consider that it was 34 years ago that homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. The APA decision was only four years after the Stonewall riots. Since this time, we have lived though AIDS, passed a multitude of gay rights laws, have had openly gay members of Congress and witnessed same-sex marriage become a reality in Massachusetts.

Clearly, it is not inconceivable that in 34 years - 2042 - a gay person could theoretically become president. It is likely that our Barack Obama is now in grade school. This gifted gay individual will be charismatic and able to appeal to mainstream Americans to win the greatest prize in politics.

The question is, how are those of us who don't have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming president, paving the way for this young man or woman to achieve his or her dreams?

In order for our Obama to fulfill his or her potential, it is essential that the GLBT movement runs serious presidential candidates in the next election cycle. That's right, "candidates" in the plural – meaning we run a Democrat and a Republican.

The Democrat would play the role of Jesse Jackson – a trailblazer that will lose badly, but earn respect and lay the groundwork for the future. This sacrificial lamb will be known as "the gay candidate," so when our gay Obama is finally ready – he or she can transcend sexual orientation and win – or lose – on the merits.

It is also crucial we run a credible Republican, in order to articulate the case for gay rights in front of conservative audiences. This not only would make the other candidates uncomfortable in their gay bashing, but this candidate could serve as a role model.

However, as the old sports cliché goes, "if you stay on the sidelines, you aren't in the game." By not having a gay candidate run, we accede the field to all heterosexual candidates and we are therefore largely invisible. Now, I can understand not running a gay candidate this time around in the Democratic primary, since the field was already crowded with history makers. But in the future, this is unacceptable and we ought to aim for fair representation in the next election cycle.

The bottom line is, that until we first have our Jesse Jackson, we will never have our Barack Obama. Just having an openly gay person onstage allows young people to dream and imagine a world of unlimited possibilities.

The GLBT political groups ought to make it a priority to find the best Republican and Democratic candidates to run next time around. Aside from the historical aspect, it would be amazing publicity. Each time a gay candidate walked on-stage to debate, it would be worth millions of dollars of free advertising for the GLBT movement. I can't think of a better investment and use of our advocacy dollars.

There are three hundred million people in America, so no on can credibly argue that we can't find at least one gay or lesbian person up to the task. After all, you can't convince me that Rep. Barney Frank or former Human Rights Campaign leader Elizabeth Birch can't do a better job than Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes.

One stereotype is that gay people like theatre – so it is past time we come out from behind the curtain. By playing supporting on-stage roles in the next presidential election, our leaders can set the stage for our leading man or woman in the future.

As a counterpoint to Besen’s question and yearning for a “gay jesse Jackson” to hearld the coming of the gay messiah, besides mentioning the notion of waiting 34 years is an eternity in all spheres of life and basically surrender to the siren song of incrementalism and “in due time” here is a stunningly powerful State of the Movement address delivered by Matt Foreman (who thinks that perhaps Barney Frank is doing as lousy a job as a Gary Bauer would do )
(In short and my basic interpretation we need to unify and disregard the racism and other internal discriminations before we send out a unifying canidate that will heal external divisions- black people aren’t shouting down Obama because he’s half white and the son of a foreigner)
Excerpts below

Unfortunately, you and I know that, contrary to popular wisdom or wishful thinking, in spite of all we’ve accomplished and our great leaders, we have only taken a few steps down the road toward complete equality. We have laid only a few stones of the foundation of our equality, not the walls, not the doors, not the windows, and certainly not the ceiling.

So as we take rightful pride in all we’ve accomplished since we met in Kansas City and all we’ve accomplished in the nearly 40 years since Stonewall, we cannot forget that today, right now, discrimination against lesbian, gay and bi people remains perfectly legal in 30 states and in 37 if you are transgender or transgress gender roles.

Today, right now, not a single federal law acknowledges our existence, except the one that tries to count hate crimes perpetrated against us.

Today, right now, in spite of all of the supposed growing “tolerance” of us — up to 40 percent — yes 40 percent of all homeless youth in this country are LGBT. Why this grossly disproportionate figure? Because LGBT kids continue to be thrown out of their homes simply because of who they are.

Today, right now, more than 45 percent of African-American gay and bi men in key urban areas are infected with HIV, with a 33 percent increase in new diagnoses among our brothers under age 30 over the past six years. Today, right now, African Americans are nearly 10 times more likely than white people to be diagnosed with AIDS.

The response — internal to our community and external — is appallingly racist. Internally, when these numbers come out, the “established” gay community seems to have a collective shrug as if this isn’t our problem. Folks, with 70 percent of the people in this country living with HIV being gay or bi, we cannot deny that HIV is a gay disease. We have to own that and face up to that.

Even more disgusting is the response of our government. Of the 129 interventions developed and approved by the CDC to address HIV in the African-American community, only one has been designed for gay black men. Twenty-six years into the epidemic and only one out of 129 addresses the group of people most affected by HIV. And, on top of that, funding for meaningful and honest prevention programs has been systematically excised from the federal budget. If these things don’t prove that our government considers the lives of gay black men utterly expendable, I don’t know what does.

Today, right now, there are members of our community standing outside the doors of an emergency room, barred from seeing their dying partners of 10, 20, or even 50 years because they’re not “family.”

Today, right now, right here in the city of Detroit, the body of a young trans woman, labeled by the police as a “known prostitute”, lies in the Wayne County morgue — shot in the back of the head, her body having been thrown into an alley.

I have been working in this movement for a long time and with victims of violence for longer than that and how many times have we faced this situation — a trans person working the street, brutally murdered. Why are so many trans people forced to stand in the cold, putting their bodies at risk? Why? Because so many of them simply cannot get jobs because of blatant and pervasive discrimination. But they don’t deserve to be in ENDA?

Today, right now, what is known as the “gay” exception — I’m going to say the LGBT exception — remains a staple of public life, rarely acknowledged, let alone challenged. The LGBT exception means that it is still OK to do things to or say things about LGBT people that would be utterly unacceptable if said about virtually any other minority.

This year, yet again, the public will be invited to vote on whether we are entitled to the same rights and freedoms the majority sees as fundamental and takes for granted, or if we should be forever denied them.
Straight people can’t imagine anyone voting on whether they should have the freedom to marry. But that’s exactly what’s happening to us — again this year — certainly in Florida and most likely in California. When people in Arkansas go to the polls in November, their ballot will probably ask if queer people are worthy enough to adopt children like everyone else. But no outrage from political leaders or the public — another example of the LGBT exception.

Here’s another one: the death of Jerry Falwell. While absolutely acknowledging the sorrow I know his family and friends felt when he died, how is it possible that he was lauded as an American hero and the egregious things he said about us, the untold suffering he caused to people dying of AIDS were just brushed over? The LGBT exception.

We now have a candidate for the presidency who says that if we win the freedom to marry, the next thing you’ll know is that people will be marrying their dogs. Do candidates from either political party rise up and say, “How dare you!” “Outrageous!” No. The LGBT exception.

Until yesterday, there was another candidate for president who once said he’d do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy. But he then made protecting the “sanctity of marriage” and boasting about his attacks on marriage equality in Massachusetts central themes of his campaign, while claiming he’s not anti-gay.
And who can forget Larry Craig? Seriously, I don’t know if Larry Craig is gay, bi, confused or whatever — but I do know I don’t want to claim him. And yes, it’s delicious that he got caught in his own hypocrisy.

But, how does one explain the reality that when Craig came back to the Senate, he was shunned, but when Sen. David Vitter returned to the senate for the first time after admitting he’d used the services of the “DC Madam” he was greeted with a standing ovation by his GOP colleagues. The LGBT exception.

But while I’m on the subject of Larry Craig, what’s up with taxpayer dollars and scarce law enforcement resources being deployed in entrapment operations using undercover police officers to sit in toilet stalls tapping their feet hour after hour?

’d now like to address one of the defining moments in our movement’s history, the struggle this last fall to pass an inclusive ENDA. I’d actually like to just look ahead and not back, but given the significance of this struggle to our community’s future, and all the lies, misinformation and distortions put out there, I do need to say a couple of things.

First is this notion of “incrementalism” — meaning that we need to accept the fact that we can only win our equality in little pieces and we should be grateful for that.

I’d like for us all to recall that when the first gay rights bill was introduced in Congress nearly 34 years ago, it was a comprehensive civil rights bill. I’m very proud that the Task Force was a leader on that historic day in 1974 when the bill was introduced. Our founding executive director Bruce Voeller was sitting just to the right of Representatives Ed Koch and Bella Abzug.

That 1974 bill sought to cover discrimination in public accommodations, credit, education, housing and employment. Over the years, it was strengthened and made more explicit. In 1994, when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House, a decision was made to whittle that bill down to cover employment only, the thinking being that an employment-only bill — an ENDA — would have the best chance of passing the Senate.

In 1996, a deal was cut that — in exchange for an up or down vote on ENDA in the Senate — there would also be a vote on a version of the Defense of Marriage Act — DOMA — that Bill Clinton would have no excuse to veto. Well, we know how that deal turned out: ENDA was defeated; DOMA is the law of the land. Some bargain.

Fast forward to 2007 — at last — after years of hard work, we had an ENDA that covered not only discrimination based on sexual orientation but also gender identity.

But then, on Sept. 18 we were summarily informed by House leadership that we didn’t have the votes to pass an inclusive ENDA and therefore gender identity protections would be stripped out and as another sop to the right, ENDA would be amended to give all religious organizations unfettered ability to fire someone because they were gay, lesbian or bisexual, no matter what job they held. Think the janitor in a Catholic hospital or the cook in a Salvation Army kitchen.

So — just to be clear — over the last 34 years we’ve gone from a comprehensive bill, to an employment only bill, to a broken bill that doesn’t include gender identity and does allow blatant discrimination by religious organizations.

In what world can you call going from this to this incremental progress? We — who have been so overwhelmingly generous to the Democratic Party with our votes and our dollars — should be grateful for this? Bow down and say thank you kind sir? No.

The second issue I need to address is whether we had the votes to pass an inclusive ENDA in the House. Well, let’s be clear here: the only person who’d actually done a solid head count was Rep. Tammy Baldwin and she said we had them. She did the head count for the two votes on the inclusive hate crimes bill and she was right on the money.

People now try to say that "the votes just weren't there.” That's just not true. Rather, the concerns brought up at the last minute were about a hypothetical Republican procedural maneuver that never materialized. We heard the exact same concerns about the exact same hypothetical maneuver being tried when they moved the hate crimes bill, but it never materialized then either. And we passed transgender inclusive hate crimes legislation in both chambers of Congress. But when it came to ENDA — our "friends" decided to do our enemies’ dirty work for them, and take out gender identity protections before that was even proposed by a single member of Congress. Something wrong with that? You bet!

With a murdered trans woman lying in Wayne County morgue, I don’t think I need to tell anyone here why gender identity protections are so vital. But there’s also a principle here: We are one community, one people, period.

But more than that, the notion that there is some sort of bright line between gay people and trans people is not only patently offensive, it is crazy. Look at the people in this room, for goodness sake.

I believe, I am convinced, and I feel in my heart that we are — right now — and in the words of activist Beth Zemsky — at a critical movement moment — a point in time when you can feel the pendulum — after years of swinging against us and for the forces of intolerance — starting to swing in the direction of justice and equality. This is a moment when we can not only see the possibility of meaningful change, it feels like we can actually make that happen. You could feel it in the United ENDA campaign, and I can feel it in this conference. And given the unprecedented numbers of people participating in the primary elections, it’s clear that we are not alone.

The challenge for us is what are we going to do with this moment. Are we going to seize it or are we going to let it fade away? Is our movement going to be once again seduced by lofty words, invitations to fancy cocktail parties and government appointments, or are we going to insist on tangible deliverables? Are we going to be satisfied with a few crumbs, or demand more.

And equally important, if we do seize this moment, who will benefit from whatever advances come — the privileged few, as usual, or will we be advancing our vision of a transformed society for all?

Let me start by saying, yes, of course we must seize this movement moment. But let us not be seduced by grand promises candidates make to us only when they are speaking in front of us, or fall for the notion that the election of a more progressive Congress or president means our worries are over. We’ve done that before and suffered greatly.

Let’s not go hat in hand, like supplicants on bended knee and be ever so grateful if we finally get one federal law to protect us. Let me use ENDA as an example. As important as it is, it is not the be all, end all, Holy Grail of our movement. As I said earlier, it is only a piece of what we started out with more than three decades ago.

I am deeply concerned that if we don’t really work hard now and assuming we have a better Congress and administration in 2009 — that the broken ENDA will pass in the spring and there will be a fancy White House signing ceremony in June — in connection with Pride Month, of course — and powers that be will say, “We’ve taken care of those people for the next four years.”

And, I regret to say I can see people in our own community saying OK — provided a few of them have gotten good jobs with nice offices in the new administration. We’ve seen that before, too.

We have to say no. We have to say we need and deserve justice, and simple justice demands so much, so much more. We deserve and demand a complete repeal of DOMA and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” We deserve and demand federal recognition of our families.

We deserve and demand an end to any funding for abstinence only programs. We deserve and demand a renewed focus on HIV education and prevention programs, particularly for African-American gay and bi men. We deserve and demand a repeal of all the laws and policies that have been put in place in recent years to restrict a woman’s right to choose.

We deserve and demand that before any religious institution receives government funding, it must agree not to discriminate against us or anyone else, regardless of anyone’s religious beliefs. We deserve and demand that the ideological bigots who have infested the federal government over the last two terms and who have relentlessly killed any grant application or any funding stream targeting our community be immediately thrown out.

In reality, none of these things, is a heavy political lift and Congress routinely delivers far more for smaller constituencies and on issues with significantly less public support than ours. An administration with any commitment to us can get all of these things done quickly — and for those who say “not possible” or “wishful thinking” I say get off your literal and figurative knees.

But, as we seize this movement moment and push forward on our agenda, we can never lose sight of the fact that the things I just mentioned are the floor of our equality — not the ceiling.

If, while we are working on our community’s priorities, we don’t simultaneously work for a better and more just society — arm in arm with other communities — then will have squandered this moment and betrayed the vision of our movement’s founders.

Winning employment nondiscrimination laws won’t mean much to people who — because of their race or class or gender — still can’t get a decent job or could never risk filing a discrimination complaint for fear of losing the job they have.

What will dismantling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mean if we still have a Congress that allows presidents to waste the lives and limbs of our troops and the people of other nations through immoral and bankrupting wars for empire and economic interests?

How can we expect others to come to our aid when the right wing again scapegoats us and our families to divide America if we won’t take a stand as they now scapegoat immigrants, blaming them for all our nation’s woes?

How can we afford not to focus on Social Security or universal health care or benefits for older people with millions of us already old or nearing retirement and with the reality that seven out of ten of us are going to grow old alone?

Of course, winning the freedom to marry will be a monumental moral triumph and a huge, huge benefit to those of us who choose to marry. But, given that married couples will continue to be a declining minority of American families — gay or straight — shouldn’t we also be focusing on reforming the laws and systems that tie so many vital rights, benefits and protections to one’s marital status?

My point is that coming out of the energy and power we felt last fall and in seizing this movement moment, we have not only the opportunity but the obligation to think and act beyond the narrow confines of our own LGBT-specific interests and be part and parcel of a transformed America.

And in a more important and tragic and concrete counterpoint there will be no Gay Jessie Jackson of Besen’s yearnings, and we shouldn't focus on that until we change the whole mindset of generations of people, based on thousands of years on institutionalized and then internalized hatred, where kids aren’t shot in the back and killed at school for daring to be themselves and wear make up and be out and proud, And there won’t be a gay messiah, political or otherwise, until 10 year old trans children feel life is worth living instead of killing themselves because they can’t wear make up.
Let’s not concern ourselves with presidents and politics when there are children dying. Remember our dead and may God grant rest and peace to their souls.

Humanity before politics.

ok I'm off my soap box.

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