Very Telling

Isn’t it interesting that virtually no Republican presidential candidates showed for last night’s debate in West Hollywood hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, and the only one who showed for the debate hosted by the NAACP a few weeks ago was Tom Tancredo? I really wouldn’t expect them to show up, I guess, but it only affirms in my mind that the Republicans really don’t care about civil rights for minority communities.

July Fourth Musings

On this national holiday, I find myself wondering why there aren’t more people in the streets protesting what is going on within our current administration, fighting to preserve our civil rights. I’m not just talking about a minority that is being treated unfairly. I am talking about the erosion of the Constitutional rights of all citizens. We should all be f****ing pissed! If you’re not sure why, take a look at this video:

The latest antics should make all of us alarmed and angry. I could go on about the various scandals and horrific actions of Bush Cheney & Co., but there is no need. We all know the litany of offenses and crimes they have committed. But this crap has been going on for so long now. During the entire time Bush has been in office I have often thought to myself “Well, this must be it. They’ver really done it this time. There is no way things will get any worse. They are really going to be taken to task, called on the carpet, have to answer for their bad behavior this time!”

But it hasn’t happened! Why aren’t people hitting the streets the way they did back in the 1960s? Or even at the beginning of this immoral war? Do we need every protest to be an organized event that features entertainment and T-shirts? These types of events are important cultural moments, but I really wonder what it is going to take for people to get really angry, angry enough to really effect change.

Meanwhile, Bush’s approval rating is in the toilet, at an all-time low, according to that ever-reliable source Fox News. And still, Bush has the gall to pardon Libby (and yes, I do mean pardon — let’s call it what it is. Libby is getting off easy, and Bush & Co. are a bunch of hypocrites). What will it take to stop them?

They never will until more of us start paying attention and getting angry! I think that many of us feel so depressed, disaffected, and powerless that we think nothing that we do will matter. So, what am I doing? Will marching down my quiet neighborhood street with a picket sign really make a difference? Maybe not immediately. Maybe my neighbors will think I’m a little nutty, but I know may of them are aligned with me politically, and those who are not or who maybe don’t care will stop and think about the erosion of their Constitutional rights.

Well, I’m not marching down the street exactly. I, too, feel depressed and disaffected and powerless. I’m not sure what to do, and in some ways I feel that my very survival is a subversive act. I do what I can, I speak up, and I pay attention, and I am outraged.

Today I’m quietly being patriotic in my blogging, relaxing with my wife as we grill our steaks, as she makes her fabulous Ceasar Salad and as I make strawberry rhubarb pie. Perhaps I’ll post the recipes later.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody! Exercise and fight for your civil rights while you still can!

Bigotry of the AFA

I subscribe to the American Family Association email alerts because I want to know what they’re up to. Mostly they send out emails about what companies you should boycott because they offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, and its a great way for me to know that I should write to thank Wal-Mart or the Home Depot for supporting their gay and lesbian employees.

Lately, the email alerts have been particularly disturbing because they are so blatantly trying to encourage hatred and intolerance for Muslims in the US. In the midst of everything that has been happening in the last seven years, this is very dangerous.

In November, I received an email telling me I should write to my representatives asking them to support legislation that would require that all elected officials take the oath of office on the Bible. This was in response to the announcement that Keith Ellison, the first elected Muslim in the US (go Minnesota!) planned to take his oath of office on the Quran.

I was livid. This is craziness. There are so many things wrong with this. First, what about the separation of church and state? Second, what about freedom of religion? Third, what about freedom of speech? I could go on about the fact that any oath that a Muslim would take on the Bible would be meaningless to that person, or how we should take a note from the Quakers don’t take oaths because they believe that they should be truthful all of the time. But this is like trying to have a rational argument with an irrational person.

This past week, I received a survey from the AFA on Islam. I’m sure they ramped up again because of all of the folks taking office in Washington this week, including Keith Ellison. Again, they got on their bandwagon of intolerance and peppered their constituents with questions about their opinion of Islam in America. The questions reveal an agenda to spread misinformation and hatred of Muslims, taking advantage of an already tense and fearful climate.

All of this scares, angers, and saddens me. It is so wrong, and I wish that it weren’t out there in the public sphere because of the hateful attitudes is espouses. On the other hand, I think its ultimately good that the AFA is revealing its blatant hate-mongering agenda. Let the people see it for what it is.

I identify as a Christian, a mantle I have reclaimed in recent years because I was tired of a small and hateful minority plucking my religious tradition out of my spiritual life. In the spirit of ecumenism, I do not begrudge the AFA from claiming its Christian identity. However, they are hijacking a peaceful tradition that is about unconditional love and radical social justice.

The AFA promotes bigotry thinly veiled behind a mask of Christianity that they claim gives them a moral high-ground. I am pleased that they are showing themselves more and more as the bigots they really are, making it clear that they alone are responsible for shaping the hateful attitudes they hold about those who are different from them.

Yesterday, Keith Ellison was sworn in as the first Muslim member of Congress using a Quran that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. I am proud that my home state of Minnesota elected him.

Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Gillian and I went with some friends today to see the Quilt’s of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit is leaving San Francisco soon, and we have been meaning to get there to see it for so long. I regret that we will not likely get back to see it again before it leaves. I am so glad to see these works of art receiving the acclaim and attention that they so deserve. It is interesting to see this “vernacular” folk art talked about in terms of art criticism.

On the audio tour, select pieces are introduced by a knowledgeable art critic who compares the works to more famous painters. This is followed by clips of the artists, women, all descendants of former slaves living in a remote and poor part of Alabama, talk about how they make their quilts. These narratives juxtaposed against each other is fascinating to me. These women humbly and yet proudly designed these quilts. They are all incredibly beautiful, all made with old clothes, rags, and scraps of odd materials, everything from flour sacks, worn work pants, to double knit leisure suits. Each quilt is clearly designed with heart and soul, some are indeed like abstract paintings. And yet when each woman spoke about her design she was very matter-of-fact about the simpleness of how it comes together: tearing the strips apart, sewing them together, taking them apart when it is not what she wants, and sewing it back up.

What I love about them is that as the generations go on and the tradition on quilting is passed down, each design pays homage to the designs that came before. You can see the references to the patterns of the earlier quilts, and yet each quilt is a unique expression of its designer, its own interpretation of a theme.

I also love that it is an art that was born out of poverty, necessity, frugality, and the legacy of slavery in America. These families were poor and needed these quilts to keep them warm through the winter. These families had nothing, so the women sewed together scraps and they made something useful and beautiful. Beauty and warmth in spite of hardship.

It is just funny to me to hear the language of art criticism being applied to this medium that came out of a completely unrelated context. Its an odd intersection of class, race, and art. And you can see in the newer quilts the self consciousness of the criticism, the response to the fact that the medium has been noticed by a class that wants to commodify these objects.

I’m glad these women are getting acknowledged as artists, and that these quilts are hanging in museums. They merit this kind of attention, and the artists should be compensated for the value of the work, however that is defined by the culture that wants to pay for it.

The fact is, however, that the consumption of these quilts as art objects has changed the medium and the tradition. It continues to pay homage to the quilters that came before, but the new patterns indeed reflect new influences.

Towards Marriage Equality

South Africa recently legalized same-sex marriage and declared the same inheritance rights of heterosexual married couples. Mexico just passed legislation supporting same-sex civil unions. In 2005, Spain gave same-sex couples the right to marry.

I didn’t used to care about marriage. I didn’t used to want to be like dysfunctional straight people. I didn’t want to emulate a relationship that was not natural to me.

I didn’t want to be married. Until I met Gillian.

Now I understand why I need the right to marry Gillian, and that this is really a civil rights battle. For me, marriage is not about fitting in or changing the paradigm of marriage. Plain and simple, for me marriage is about love, family, and home. We don’t want to redefine marriage, we just want to build a life together, and we want to make sure that we can take care of each other. There are people who would like to make that impossible, or very difficult at the very least. Gay rights is not all about being able to get married, but I do think that raising the visibility of this issue could be a way for the straight world to see us as more human and less “other.”

I live in a part of the world where Gillian and I are accepted as a couple. No one here questions who we are to each other. We have never had to fight or risk anything because people, even when they are homophobic to some degree, respect our relationship. Our family loves us and support us and celebrated with us when we got married. We are privileged in many ways that others are not, so Gillian and I feel a responsibility to fight for the rights of others who live in more dangerous places and truly need the protections we are fighting for.

We recently watched the documentary Dangerous Living, which is about people coming out in the Third World, and its really terrifying and inspirational. The film focuses on the 52 Egyptian men who were arrested in 2001 for being gay and out, as well as following the stories of gay men and lesbians, all activists from other countries, their decision to come out, and the danger they face as a consequence.

I remember hearing about the Cairo 52 on the news when it was happening, and feeling really distant from it, thinking “gosh, that really sucks, but what can I do about it.” It is so easy to do nothing when something terrible like that doesn’t impact you directly, or at least doesn’t seem to. Seeing those interviews made me see the human face of this terrible injustice. These were people just like me and my friends and family, trying to create a vibrant and loving community and being persecuted for it. Some are just trying to survive, which in some places is revolutionary in and of itself.

I really hope that most people, regardless of what they think about being queer, would agree that no one deserves to be imprisoned or beaten or terrorized or killed for being different. Is it such a revolutionary idea that all people, regardless of their differences, should be treated with respect?

We are gaining civil rights all over the world. I am thrilled and hopeful, and so happy that South Africans and Mexicans will now have the right to marry whomever they choose. I am also frustrated and enraged that this backwards culture that I live in won’t recognize our families or our love. We’re on the right side of history, as my friend Rebecca says, and that gives me the courage to persevere.