A Place at the Table

Like my queer sisters and brothers, I am very disappointed in the choice of Rick Warren to lead the invocation at the  presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. Indeed, he has said things about us that are extremely ignorant, hurtful, and prejudiced. For our civil rights agenda, Warren was the absolutely wrong choice. But I disagree with those who claim that Obama’s choice of Warren is any sort of signal to us that he isn’t leaving a place at the table for us.

Indeed, he has, more than anyone who has come close to holding the Office of the President, sent signals to the gay community that we do have a place at the table. It may not be exactly in the way that we want it, but we have an opportunity to move our civil rights agenda forward in a way that we never have before.

Now I learned today that Geoff Kors, the Executive Director of Equality California, is literally giving up his place at Obama’s table. In a purely symbolic gesture to protest Warren’s invitation, Kors is giving up an opportunity to represent queers and the #1 civil rights issue of our time at one of the most historically significant events ever. This accomplishes nothing positive for us.

We have every reason to be outraged at Obama’s choice, and it is right to point out Obama’s flawed decision. But, it is a mistake for us to squander any of our precious resources on a futile effort to convince Obama to rescind the invitation.

We have been fighting for a place at the table for so long, and now that we finally have one, Geoff Kors is trying to make his attendance conditional with nothing to leverage. The only ones who lose out by his decision to turn down this opportunity is the LGBT community. We can get the message of our disapproval, hurt and anger across without sacrificing this opportunity to represent ourselves and our cause.

Finally, I urge Geoff Kors to ask himself what Jesus would do. The answer is that he would make a place at the table for everyone, including the likes of Rick Warren. We need to do the same.

Protesting True Ugliness

I woke up this morning to find an email on Facebook regarding an action here in Chicago. Fred Phelps was in town to protest the Center on Halstead, and local LGBT activists were organizing to show our strength in numbers. The sign-making was already under way by the time I read my email, so I decided to get down to the Center in time for the protest.

We all kind of waited around for a while, and I ended up making awkward small talk with strangers. The organizers weren’t entirely certain whether or not Phelps was actually going to show up. Regardless, they decided we were going to make a show of force, sending a message to Phelps and the world that hate isn’t welcome here.

We all filed outside to stand infront of the building. Because it was pretty cold out, we walked in a loop in the sidewalk infront of the Center, many of us holding signs or rainbow flags, chanting alternately “Hey hey! Ho ho! Homophobia’s got to go!”, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Marriage is a civil right!, or “Gay! Straight! Black! White! Same struggle, same fight!”

Eventually, someone spotted the Phelps clan in front of the police station down the street, so people strated moving towards them. No one was sure where we were going until we got there. There were at least 200 of us, and there couldn’t have been more than four of them in the Phelps group. I was standing towards the back of the crowd, and I could hardly see them. But I couldn’t mistake their signs: something ugly about “Fags”, and a picture of Obama with horns with the word “antichrist.” One of them was holding a very young child who looked terrified.

They were clearly intimidated. I almost felt bad for them. People in the crowd were really angry, and I think the message was conveyed: Hate is not welcome here.

My fear about this action is that there were many in the crowd who have as much hate in their hearts as Fred Phelps does. As I watched the goings on (and yes, I was glad to see them retreat), what kept running through my mind and heart is “God loves everyone.” I hope that my LGBT brothers and sisters, while they express their anger and their pain at the acts of hate perpetrated by Phelps and his ilk, can find enough room in their hearts to love, forgive, and feel compassion for these most misguided people.

Eyes on the Prize

I want to write some words of encouragement to my friends in California and across the world who experienced, like me, the very personal defeat of the passage of Proposition 8 last week. While I am disappointed in this result, I remain encouraged in the overarching victory of the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States. While we may have lost some battles that night, including Prop 8, Obama’s election bodes well for LGBT folks. Let’s take the long-term view.

Prop 8 succeeded in large part because of the final ugly push by the pro Prop 8 bigots that preyed on people’s basest fears and prejudices. The Prop 8 folks organized a last-minute effort of robocalls aimed primarily at African Americans and some Democrats who they knew would be supporting Barack Obama. I received one of these calls on Election Night on my cell phone which has a 415 area code (they must not have had in their notes that my wife and I were the second couple married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004). The calls featured an audio quote from Barack Obama where, in his own voice, he says that marriage is between one man and one woman, followed by another voice urging voters to vote yes on Prop 8.

Obama did not give permission for them to use his quote for this purpose, and he adamantly opposed Prop 8.  In response to the robocalls last week, Obama issued this statement:

As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law…And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states. For too long, issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us. It’s time to move beyond polarization and live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. This is no less than a core issue about who we are as Democrats and as Americans.

When has any other candidate seeking the Office of the President came out with an unequivocally supportive statement of gay rights like this? And for the first time in history, a President Elect said the word “gay” out loud in his acceptance speech.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It is a new day, and I am ever hopeful that we will have equal rights one day soon.

Freeheld Wins!

So, as usual, Gillian and I watched the Oscars as we always do, feeling really out of it this year because we just haven’t had the bandwidth to keep up with the movie season. We’ll get there with our Net Flix subscription, but we just haven’t had the time, energy, or money to keep up with the contenders.

Or so we thought. Sure, we missed Juno, but we managed to watch Away From Her before the show yesterday afternoon. And a few weeks ago we got out to see There Will Be Blood. I love the Coen Brothers, but I have to be in the mood to see something like No Country for Old Men (it looks scary!). Oh, and earlier in the fall we got to see Michael Clayton (I heart Tilda Swinton).

So, as they were announcing the best documentary short subject, I turned to Gillian to ask “How do we get to see the shorts?” to which she replied “Film festivals, of course.” And then Freeheld was announced the winner. We were just assuming that we hadn’t had the opportunity to see any of the films, so we weren’t really paying attention. But then the winners started talking about same sex couples and inheritance rights and stuff, and we realized that we had indeed seen this film! We saw Freeheld at the Reeling Film Festival during our first weeks here in Chicago.

Freeheld is the story of Detective Lieutenant Laurel Hester, who, after a 25 year career with the Ocean County, NJ police department learned she had terminal lung cancer. She was denied the right to leave her pension to her partner Stacie Andree, a right she would have had if she had been in a heterosexual marriage. I don’t need to go into the details. See the movie. It’s amazing and inspiring and hopeful.

In one moment I felt so many emotions: Smug that I had actually seen the winning short documentary; sad at remembering the tragic story of love and loss that the movie told; grateful that Lieutenant Hester was brave enough to fight and generous enough to open her life during the last most intimate and painful moments of her life to fight for her partner and for the rights of others; proud that the battle for civil rights for same-sex couples has been brought to the forefront of popular culture in another way; and delighted that this important film won the Oscar.

It’s cheesy, I know, but this is why I watch the Oscars.