Sea Change/See Change

Momentum and Impatience for Marriage Equality

During the last week in March, like many others across the country I was focused on the Supreme Court hearings about same-sex marriage. The cases they heard stand to have enormous impact on my life personally, so I was eager to follow the tweets and the Facebook posts by friends who were at the hearings and on the steps of the Supreme Court on those days, as well as to see how the story was playing out in the press.

During that news cycle, the meme seemed to be that same-sex marriage has “already won,” that there is a sea change in public opinion, and everyone acknowledges that eventually one day same-sex couples will be able to get married legally. I was practically blinded by all of the bright red in my Facebook news feed that week as all of my friends changed their profile pictures to express support the Human Rights Campaign. For a while there, politicians and public figures seemed to be stepping over each other in order to publicly declare their support for marriage equality or civil rights. Indeed it really does seem like folks are starting to truly recognize the bigotry for what it is, and realize that they are going to look ridiculous in the history books. I’m encouraged by the so-called “sea change” in public opinion. Indeed, we seem to have some real momentum in terms of popular support for LGBT civil rights.

While I gladly welcome this change and momentum, I also wonder what is taking so long, especially for those in public office. I’m pleased that Rob Portman, the GOP Senator from Ohio, has done some soul searching to come out on the right side of LGBT rights, particularly marriage equality. What bothers me is that he made the decision for personal reasons instead of considering how this discrimination impacts LGBT citizens that he represents. When Portman’s son came out as gay, he challenged his father to rethink his position on the matter. When he was able to see how discrimination impacted his own son’s life, he had a change of heart.

I know that this is how it this sort of evolution and revelation works for many people, and it makes sense. Once you know someone personally, a family member or a friend, the issue becomes personalized for you. You feel the impact yourself. It becomes about you and your community. This is how progress has been made in the LGBT rights movement.

However, Portman is a public servant, and he has a responsibility to represent ALL of his constituents. I feel compassion for him personally, and I applaud his efforts to evolve his personal beliefs about the issue of same-sex marriage. He stands as a role model for other parents of gay children. But when it comes to policy, I hold people in public office to a higher standard, and I expect them to understand fairness and justice. It is irresponsible for elected officials to legislate based on how those laws are going to impact the lives of their family and friends.

This incremental change, though ultimately moving in the right direction, is really hard to endure at times. The  recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to accept gay kids into its membership, though to keep the ban on gay scoutmasters seems to some like progress. But truly this policy continues to send the message that being gay is wrong. It seems that some think I should be happy about the decision, but in fact it really hurts. Likewise, the public debate on the marriage equality vote in MN was really painful to hear. The anti-gay folks who testified spewed such hatred and bigotry that I had to turn the hearings off. I just don’t want to subject myself to that any more. I know that change is gonna come, and we’re on the right side of history. My right to exist is not a matter for public debate, so it is hard for me not to feel some resentment about the level of public discourse about public policy that impacts my life.

Twenty years ago it never even occurred to me that marriage equality would happen in my lifetime. But now it’s becoming a reality state by state, and now that I am building a life with the love of my life, I have grown impatient for it. I have glimpsed what a world with respect for my spouse and me will look like, what it will feel like to me and to us. Once you are used to living with an injustice, you get used to it, and you almost don’t notice how uncomfortable you are after a while. After the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA, after all of the shows of public support for marriage equality, I was suddenly aware of the additional confidence I felt just walking down the street with Gillian. I hadn’t even been aware of the self-consciousness I feel each day, the worry that people will stare or be uncomfortable because we are two women together. I like to believe that I don’t have to worry about what people think, but the fact is that I do.

The truth is that we couldn’t be more “normal,” whatever that means.

So as we celebrate marriage equality in my home state of Minnesota, and we eagerly await the decision of our former home state of Illinois and the Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop 8, we continue to live out our days here in on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia. I go to my 9-5 office job, we make dinner together at night, walk the dog before bed, maybe go to the movies with friends on the weekend, or stay in for a flick with a bowl of popcorn. We’re building our little nest egg, saving to buy a house, saving for retirement, and just hoping that we will soon have fair tax laws,  inheritance protections, and hospital visitation rights that will be respected everywhere.

Response To A Lakeview Bully

Yesterday at church I learned of an incident that happened earlier in the week that is nothing less than bullying. An individual placed handmade fliers making false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church. In the flier, the bully suggests that people should let Alderman Tom Tunney know how they feel about what Broadway is doing in the community. This is what I wrote this morning:

Dear Alderman Tunney,

I am writing to offer a voice of support for the important work that Broadway United Methodist Church and other community organizations are doing to help homeless youth in Lakeview. I understand that this has become a point of controversy because people are misplacing blame for the recent spate of violence in the neighborhood on the presence of the youth who have nowhere to go. Individuals are responsible for this, so it is not right to blame an entire population of people.

Organizations like Center on Halsted, Night Ministry, and the Youth Lounge at Broadway United Methodist Church are critical to serving these youth who are struggling to survive. They are members of our community, and we have a responsibility to help them. Shutting down the social services that benefit them is not going to solve the problem of violence in our neighborhood. Indeed, I believe it might just contribute to the problem.

It would be a grave mistake for the leaders in the neighborhood to stop supporting these organizations. I hope that you don’t give in to the pressure of a vocal few who are filled with anger, fear, and hatred, and are simply looking for a scapegoat to place some blame for the ills in our community. The problem is larger than this, and requires solutions that are longer term and address its root.

Recently, an individual placed hand-made fliers on windshields in the Lakeview neighborhood that contained false accusations about Broadway United Methodist Church supporting drugs, prostitution, and violence in the neighborhood. Individual acts like this add fuel to the already burning fire of fear and hatred that is misdirected at the innocent people that Broadway UMC, The Center on Halsted, and the Night Ministry are trying to help. I hope that as a community we can have respectful public dialog. Acts like this do not facilitate that. I realize that people on all sides of this fight have contributed to the unhealthy dynamic. I hope that leaders like you will not respond to disrespectful rhetoric like this, but rather will lead the community in respectful civil discourse.

Don’t be distracted by hate and vitriol. And please don’t succumb to the pressure of those who seek to shut out the most vulnerable members of our community.

Respectfully,

Sarah Conner-Smith – Uptown resident, member of Broadway United Methodist Church

#Gratitude and the Silver Lining

In Light of the Midterm #Election

After last Tuesday’s brutal election results, it has been slowly sinking in what this means for progressives like me and our movements for civil rights, social and environmental justice, and feeding hungry people. The results of that day do not bode well for us.

I take solace in the persistence of all that we do every day in my community of friends and family. Everyone I know is in their own small way determined to make the world better for everyone. So we get up in the morning, make our coffee, and get down to the hard work of living. Simply taking care of ourselves and each other in some cases is a radical act.

We are determined to build communities that thrive, families that raise healthy children, provide homes for wayward animals, get married and commit to loving each other, volunteer at our local libraries and food pantries, build our spiritual communities, plant gardens, support local businesses. All in all we are simply taking responsibility for the way we live every day to make life a little sweeter for ourselves and our loved ones, leave a lighter footprint while enjoying the blessings of this life.

My Dad sent out an email to the family on Wednesday morning, encouraging all of us to think of everything positive in our lives in the midst of this unfortunate outcome. We have a lot to be thankful for, so let’s remember that and share our good news with each other.

Yes, Tuesday was a bad day, but as a result of that outcome, nothing is going to change for me in terms of the way I live my life. Our opponents may throw obstacles in our path, but that is not going to stop us from building our vision of a more just and kinder society. The outcome of the election might make things a little harder in terms of the social climate and the very real limits and disadvantages that the radical right would like to impose on me and my family.

I know I am privileged and blessed, and to the extent that I am able I will use that privilege and blessing to make my life and the life of my community better. For all of that I am grateful.

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Priorities: Love over Hate

#LGBT

In light of the rash of gay teen suicides and anti-LGBT violence, I am feeling little patience for those with the “Religious Right” who are preaching from the pulpit and from high-profile public platforms that homosexuality is a sin. They have a right to preach and teach that, but I seriously question their priorities as Christians.

What would Jesus do?

He would prioritize expressing love over expressing views on sexuality.

Is it not more important to speak the word of peace and love, and the right for all kids to attend school in safety? Whatever your views on homosexuality, at this moment it is hard for me to understand how Christians of any political persuasion are not speaking out more loudly about the morality of violence against any human being for any reason.

It is appalling and shameful.

Bottom line: anti-gay violence is wrong, and the church has a responsibility to speak out against it. Speak your mind about sin and sexuality, but if you do that and speak from a Christian point of view, you must also say something about anti-gay violence.

The pastor at my church this past weekend preached that the Church has blood on its hands. Indeed. By not speaking out  more vehemently, people of faith are condoning this violence.

Paradox: August 23, 2010

How do we respect the points of view of ourselves and others with whom we disagree as our boundaries bump against each other, and yet be open to challenges with our differences?

The only way we are going to have constructive public discourse is if  each of us is willing to listen to each other with compassion and openness, while maintaining our own integrity and self respect.

To Boycott or Not?

@Target’s Support of Anti-Gay MN Candidate Disappoints

A shiny new Target has opened in my Uptown Chicago neighborhood. I have been looking forward to this anchor business here, having high hopes for convenient access to affordable household goods that we need and like. Also, this neighborhood is struggling economically, and while I have a penchant for supporting mom-and-pop stores (or in some cases around here, mom-and-mom and pop-and-pop), I have hopes that Target will bring new foot traffic and customers to the family-owned shops and restaurants that I love and want to see thrive around here, not to mention the fact that the new store will be an injection of jobs for the neighborhood and environs.

Within days after the store opened the news broke about Target supporting the campaign of Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, notoriously anti-gay and associated with a local band that has openly condoned the killing of gays and lesbians.

Target has done the right thing by its gay and lesbian employees over the years, having received the highest employer rating from the Human Rights Commission. But by comparison, supporting Tom Emmer’s campaign hurts LGBT people more than all of Target’s pro-gay corporate policies.

Many straight people don’t fully understand the impact on our lives of the lack of protections and the lack of access to resources that LGBT folks endure, not to mention the run-of-the-mill bigotry and prejudice that many of us experience every day. Yes, there are some things that are simple inconveniences, like the fact that we have to file new documentation for our partnerships each time we move to a new state or change jobs.

But the discrimination that we face can also be catastrophic and downright heart-breaking, like Janice Langbehn, who, with her children, was prevented from visiting her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond in a Florida hospital. Pond ended up dying alone. And this happened even after Pond and Langbehn had done everything in their power to prevent exactly this type of situation from happening.

Even when we do everything right in terms of filing our paper work and declaring power of attorney, LGBT families still face the very real possibility that any institution or bigoted employee can decide that they want to disregard our relationships to each other, can fire us from our jobs, and can intimidate and harass us for being who we are.

The reality is that politicians like Tom Emmer pose a real threat to the well-being of LGBT people and our families.

Committed same-sex partnership is not less-than, it is not a separate, distinct institution from committed opposite-sex partnership.

We are family.

Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target, issued a response that was a litany of how Target has supported its LGBT employees and the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival. For all that they have done, I am truly grateful. But this gift to Emmer’s campaign pretty much negates all of that. Emmer’s policies, if he is elected, would most assuredly have a far greater negative impact on the LGBT citizens in Minnesota than any of the good Target has offered its LGBT employees.

When are corporate executives going to recognize that supporting anti-gay policies in any way is not good corporate citizenship? It hurts employees and customers, it is offensive, and it is equivalent to supporting segregation laws. There is no excuse for supporting a candidate who advocates for discrimination against any class of people.

When they do recognize it, they will be ashamed of ever having supported politicians like Tom Emmer. Hopefully Steinhafel will have the presence of mind to see that Target should put its money where its mouth is and give a greater or equal amount of money in support of an LGBT civil rights organization or candidate who supports our community and interests.

Meanwhile, do I shop at Target, or not?

I’m torn because I have liked shopping at Target over the years, and this neighborhood really needs this business. I have believed for a long time that its opening here would improve the quality of life in Uptown. However, I feel hard-pressed to patronize a company that supports a candidate who is actively advocating discrimination against me and my family. I know that it probably isn’t likely to have much effect, but on principle alone I find it hard to stomach giving them my money.

Disappointment

As the second same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004, which we followed up with a family wedding celebration in Minnesota the following August, Gillian and I are disappointed by the latest news coming out of my home state. Governor Pawlenty has vetoed the legislation that would have given some rights same-sex couples when a partner dies.