Archive | August, 2012

Sometimes it really does get better.

23 Aug

This is something that’s already been shared all over, but I couldn’t help but post it. Too frequently we speak about things that make us angry. Now here’s a little something about people doing the right thing.

Virginia college student Jordan Addison had been tormented by classmates and had his car repeatedly vandalized with anti-gay epithets and “DIE” keyed into his door. Being a college student, Jordan simply couldn’t afford to get his car fixed.

That’s when local business owners stepped in. Check out this video and break out the kleenex.

The best thing you’ll read today.

17 Aug

In April of last year, I got a call from my friends at Freedom to Marry. They frequently ask me to come take photos for their events and this time they had a special request.

They were going to be interviewing an elderly gay couple that had been together for 60 years and couldn’t be married. They wanted me to come take some portraits of the couple while they were being interviewed.

This adorable elderly couple spoke at length about their war stories (and I mean literally – both men served in World War II). As they were both singers and voice teachers, they also treated us to a couple songs.

I’d write more of their beautiful story for you, but it’s been done – by the New York Times. Check it out.

The purpose of us going there was to get their story out. This was a few months before New York would pass the marriage equality law and Richard & John didn’t want to leave the state to get married. Their romance was a New York romance and they believed they should have the right to tie the knot in the state they called home.

Well, last Friday after 62 years, Richard Mace and John Dorr were married. In New York. We want to congratulate the happy couple whose only advice to me was to “Never go to bed angry.”

You can watch the Freedom to Marry video that was shot that day here:

Walking A Mile In Gay Shoes: A Straight Man Imagines What Being Gay In Nashvile Must Be Like

17 Aug

Eric Stuart

I met my friend Eric Stuart while he was directing me in a cartoon and XBOX360 game called “Viva Pinata.” Eric, who most of you might remember as the voice of “Brock” on Pokémon, made a move from NYC down to Nashville a few years ago. Since then, his frustrations have led him to lots of Facebook chats with me. A New York jew with a whole lot of gay friends, it’s needless to say that he’s had some challenges in his new environment. That being said, If the Kinsey scale is accurate and 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual, then Eric is a -4. I asked Eric to write a little something about his experiences for the blog and I’m thrilled to share this with you all.

Walking A Mile In Gay Shoes: A Straight Man Imagines What Being Gay In Nashvile Must Be Like

By Eric Stuart

The other day I was given an assignment by a good friend. Being one to never back down from a challenge, I was asked to write an essay the subject: Being a straight man, what I thought it must be like for a gay man to live here in Nashville.

Wow. Well first off, I think to be fair, all I really can to do is imagine. Without walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, I really can’t tell you. That being said, I will give it a try.

Let me give you a little of my background before I give you my thoughts. I am born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, the son of a dancer and a defense attorney (sitcom material, right?). My family taught me to accept everyone. Being around my mother and her profession, it would be safe to say I grew up around a lot of gay people. That is not to say all dancers are gay (they are not), but I will go out on a limb here and say many I knew were. Anyway, it was just a part of my upbringing. Because of that, I’ve always been supportive of gay rights and equality among all people. Additionally, I am a singer/songwriter and voice actor, so I also work in the arts.

Now you know a bit about me.

When I first moved to Nashville, I knew that I would run into people who didn’t necessarily think the same way I did. Now, I do not believe everyone should agree, what I do believe is that everyone should respect what makes us different and engage in respectful conversations and debates. Ignorance is the root of so much hate and hate really takes much more energy than love. So I like to hear where people are coming from and expect the same in return. For the most part I have found that here. Many of my neighbors feel that since we live in the same area I must have the same political beliefs, far from it. We tend to talk about music and sports more now.

Back to my assignment. Nashville is a unique southern city. In the heart of it (maybe because it is the center of an entertainment industry), there is a bit more acceptance and open-mindedness. There are universities here and with that comes educated people. And with all that, I’ve heard that there is a strong gay community here. It’s not quite like New York — not as out in the open as I am used to, but it is still here. But if you stray a bit outside of the city, you’re certain to find less of a ‘gay friendly’ environment.

What if I were a gay man here? Would I feel safe to be ‘out’? This is the bible belt. If I walked into a restaurant holding my partner’s hand, would people stare and would I be comfortable? I want to say here in Nashville it would be ok the majority of the time. I do think Nashville would do the right thing.

I do not want to generalize the South or southerners. I wouldn’t want them to do that to this Damn Yankee (a northerner who doesn’t leave). I have met loving, kind people here. I love living here and there is a sense of community that many places could learn from. There is, however, a certain image one has of what makes you a ‘man’ here. That would be very intimidating should someone not quite fit the mold. I think I would be very concerned. I would fear how my classmates, friends, co-workers would treat me should they find out. In school, would I be bullied? I think so, or at the very least, I think I’d spend a lot of time afraid that I might be.

The message of ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ was a real wake up call for me. I was thinking to myself, “when the kids in school are asked to draw a picture of their family and one kid has two fathers, if he draws that picture, will he be told that’s not allowed? That his family is not ‘normal’ so we cannot talk about it? That really doesn’t send a very accepting message to any gay people growing up here. This seemed to me like something I would read about in history books pre-civil rights. A kind of narrow-minded thinking that is truly ignorant and potentially dangerous. When so many states are making huge strides for equality, to see my new home state support this was like a knife in my heart. It makes you shake your head. If I were gay and my state passed this bill, I think I would leave, but not before yelling ‘Have a nice Gay!’ to every person I met (just because I am like that).

When people are not exposed to people who are different than they are, they develop their own stereotypes and prejudices. Nashville is laid out in such a way that you really don’t want to interact with people who might not be exactly like you, which is pretty easy to accomplish. This is my problem with a lot of the world. I think growing up in Brooklyn, a real melting pot, I was exposed to so much. I learned things about people and I learned to live side by side with them. Not always loving it, but never hating it, or better yet, never hating them.

It’s odd for me not to have any gay friends here, or should I say, openly gay friends. What I really wish for is that one day I wouldn’t even be paying attention to what category my friends fell under. They would just be my friends.

Maybe if more people realized that love is just love and that everyone should have the same rights, we would get to that place. That place sure seems far away sometimes living here in Tennessee.

You can find out more about Eric Stuart on his website. Also, go buy some of his recordings – he’s great!

Jury Awards HUGE Settlement to Gay U Mich Student

16 Aug

Remember Andrew Shirvell? He’s the former Michigan Ass’t Attorney General who stalked University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong because he was openly gay.

We covered the whole controversy here, here, here and again here. This was a purely brilliant story. This guy had videotaped Armstrong at his home in the middle of the night, had a blog all about Armstrong and would show up and stage one-person rallies against Armstrong because he was gay. And brilliance happened:

Andrew Shirvell’s the bald, older one. Chris Armstrong is on the far right.

Well, it turns out Shirvell was using government time and resources to fund his little hate Chris Armstrong blog and was fired after an outcry from the LGBT blogosphere.

Shirvell’s writing, attacks and harassment was ENDLESS. Armstrong demanded an apology from Shirvell and said he would drop a pending harassment suit against Shirvell if he would only apologize for what he’d done. Shirvell refused.

Armstrong proceeded with his lawsuit seeking $25,000 in damages. A jury today found in favor of Armstrong and ordered Shirvell to pay him…wait for it…$4.5 MILLION!!! This is what happens in the court system when you spread vicious lies about gay people. This is hatred and this is what it was worth to a jury in Michigan.

Is it Christian to be Anti-Gay?

15 Aug

Between Chick-fil-A and today’s shooting at the Family Research Council’s (FRC) offices, there’s been a lot of discussion about something called a “Hate Group.”

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins

Groups such as FRC, the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, Public Advocate, American Family Association and many others frequently refer to themselves as “Pro-Family,” “Pro-Marriage” and sometimes “Christian” organizations. And when asked, the leaders of these groups will be the first to tell you they hold nothing against the gay community. It’s their actions though, that you need to take a look at. As I’d mentioned in some discussions last week, Richard Nixon can say “I’m not a crook” all he wants, that doesn’t mean he’s not one.

While these groups may do some excellent work with Christian charities, their primary focus is on fighting to have the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people denied. But over the years, they’ve been able to frame what it is they do with those “Pro-family” and “Christian” modifiers. It’s a frustrating fight for those of us seeking nothing more than equal treatment under the law, when these incorrectly-identified groups can lie by claiming they are being attacked by people who are “Anti-Christian” or “Anti-family.” Even today’s attack, though details are still not complete – it’s become clear that the suspect was angered over FRC’s anti-gay policies. If it was an organization that was simply hosting soup kitchens, running orphanages and caring for the poor, I can almost guarantee he wouldn’t be driven to opening fire in their offices.

That’s where the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) comes in. According to their website, “SPLC is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, we work toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.” One of the ways they do this is by exhaustively researching the work of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis, racist skinheads,  black separatists and border vigilantes and identifying them as “hate groups.”

Identifying an anti-gay group as a “hate group” is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups. 

While identifying themselves as “pro-family” groups, they are actually fighting against more than 1 million American families with more than 2 million kids who are being raised by LGBT parents. Without marriage protections, some of these families are legal strangers to one another. Anti-gay adoption laws, which were lobbied for and won by these organizations keep kids from ever finding forever homes. And anti-gay marriage laws assure that these families will suffer from a crippling lack of legal protections. There is nothing “pro-family” or “Christian” about allowing families to be ripped apart or seeing children raised by a foster care system when there are thousands of loving couples ready to adopt.

In addition to the work of these groups in the U.S., some of them have been linked to anti-gay legislation in other countries. The Ugandan “Kill the Gays” bill would penalize acts of homosexuality with life imprisonment or in “aggravated” cases, gay people could be put to death. While the US Congress was preparing to pass a condemnation of the Ugandan legislation, FRC spent $25,000 on lobbyists to stop them from denouncing the law. They claim that they were only trying to change the language of the denouncement, but in prior lobbying documents from FRC, they’d indicated they were attempting “to amend” legislation, whereas the tax documents for this action contained no such itemization of amendments.

National Organization for Marriage’s        Brian Brown

These groups have painted themselves with bright colors to make people think they are fighting for tradition, for family, for morality and for freedom. But the truth of the matter is they don’t fight for anything. They are only fighting against LGBT people so that we can’t experience the same freedoms they do. How else can you explain the National Organization for Marriage, whose mission statement is “to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it,” attacking things like bathrooms for transgender people, gender identity in children, or children being taught that gay people even exist. They’ve even worked to falsely link gay people to pedophilia. None of those things have anything to do with “protecting marriage,” so why are they fighting them? Because they are not pro-anything, they are anti-gay.

Folks, none of this is about marriage and none of this is about “protecting” anything. These groups have spent years weaving a myth shrouded in flowery and false “pro-Christian” memes. Today’s attack on FRC is something that was perpetrated by a man who was clearly out of his mind. And just as these groups’ motivations have very little to do with marriage, I don’t beleive the shooter’s motivations did either.

Despite Family Research Council’s lobbying against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, we believe that what happened today was a hate crime and should be investigated as such. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community understands all too well violence against people based on their political beliefs and personal lives.

And while nearly every group pro and anti-LGBT, took time today to condemn the shooting and call for sanity and non-violence in this debate, one group made the active decision to politicize the discussion. The National Organization for Marriage released statements and blog posts (long before anything was known about the shooter), to attack SPLC for identifying Family Research Council as a “hate group.” At a time when many people’s thoughts are with the victim of the shooting, NOM is once again spending their time on something other than marriage. If there was ever a question about their true motivations, that question has been answered.

These are the vocal organization who are out in the media every day claiming to represent Christians and Christian morality. If you are a Christian and know that what they are doing is decidedly against the things you’ve learned, it’s up to you to speak up. Tell them and tell your religious leaders that the bigotry being taught is not representative of you.

In closing, I wanted to share my own motivation in writing this. A comment from someone named Leslie McLafferty on my previous post about today’s shooting:

Guard Shot at Anti-Gay Hate Group DC Offices

15 Aug

Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins

Hours ago, according to news reports, someone walked into the offices of the Family Research Council in Washington DC and opened fire on a security guard. According to Fox News, “the suspect ‘made statements regarding their policies, and then opened fire with a gun striking a security guard.’”

Already, politicizing has begun with Tweets & Facebook posts from either side making vicious accusations. The bottom line however is that someone was shot and our thoughts are with him and his family as he recovers.

Whether or not the shooting suspect was a gay activist, we must remember that as much as our community is beaten and sometimes killed for who we love, we cannot respond to such atrocities with more hatred. As stated in a post earlier this week, “Be pissed, be hurt, but let your desire for change be stronger than your desire to scream at someone.”

While none of us can condone this kind of violence against another human being, it cannot be left unsaid that Family Research Council has been at the forefront of some of the most hateful anti-gay legislation and sentiment we’ve ever encountered. The following is Southern Poverty Law Center‘s (SPLC) rundown of some of Family Research Council’s history. In 2010, SPLC designated FRC as an anti-gay hate group for “propagation of known falsehoods — claims about [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated.”

Started as a small think tank in 1983, the Family Research Council (FRC) merged in 1988 with the much larger religious-right group Focus on the Family in 1988, and brought on Gary Bauer, former U.S. undersecretary of education under Ronald Reagan, as president. In 1992, the two groups legally separated to protect Focus on the Family’s tax-exempt status, although Focus founder James Dobson and two other Focus officials were placed on the FRC’s newly independent board. By that time, FRC had become a powerful group on its own.

Headed since 2003 by former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins, the FRC has been a font of anti-gay propaganda throughout its history. It relies on the work of Robert Knight, who also worked at Concerned Women for America but now is at Coral Ridge Ministries (see above for both), along with that of FRC senior research fellows Tim Dailey (hired in 1999) and Peter Sprigg (2001). Both Dailey and Sprigg have pushed false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia: Sprigg has written that most men who engage in same-sex child molestation “identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual,” and Dailey and Sprigg devoted an entire chapter of their 2004 book Getting It Straight to similar material. The men claimed that “homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses” and similarly asserted that “homosexuals are attracted in inordinate numbers to boys.”

That’s the least of it. In a 1999 publication (Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys) that has since disappeared from its website, the FRC claimed that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order,” according to unrefuted research by AMERICAblog. The same publication argued that “homosexual activists publicly disassociate themselves from pedophiles as part of a public relations strategy.” FRC offered no evidence for these remarkable assertions, and has never publicly retracted the allegations. (The American Psychological Association, among others, has concluded that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.”)

In fact, in a Nov. 30, 2010, debate on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” between Perkins and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok, Perkins defended FRC’s association of gay men with pedophilia, saying: “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children. So Mark is wrong. He needs to go back and do his own research.” In fact, the college, despite its hifalutin name, is a tiny, explicitly religious-right breakaway group from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the 60,000-member association of the profession. Publications of the American College of Pediatricians, which has some 200 members, have been roundly attacked by leading scientific authorities who say they are baseless and accuse the college of distorting and misrepresenting their work.

Elsewhere, according to AMERICAblog, Knight, while working at the FRC, claimed that “[t]here is a strong current of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. … [T]hey want to promote a promiscuous society.” AMERICAblog also reported that then-FRC official Yvette Cantu, in an interview published on Americans for Truth About Homosexuality’s website, said, “If they [gays and lesbians] had children, what would happen when they were too busy having their sex parties?”

More recently, in March 2008, Sprigg, responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, said: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on, last February, to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied. At around the same time, Sprigg claimed that allowing gay people to serve openly in the military would lead to an increase in gay-on-straight sexual assaults.

Perkins has his own unusual history. In 1996, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican State Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins of Louisiana, Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 (reduced from $82,500) after Perkins and Jenkins filed false disclosure forms in a bid to hide the link to Duke. Five years later, on May 17, 2001, Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.” Perkins claimed not to know the group’s ideology at the time, but it had been widely publicized in Louisiana and the nation. In 1999, after Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was embroiled in a national scandal over his ties to the group, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson urged Republicans to quit the CCC because of its “racist views.” That statement and the nationally publicized Lott controversy came two years before Perkins’ 2001 speech.

One more thing about Bailey Hanks

11 Aug

It’s a long one, bear with me. I’m so very torn right now. I have put something out there on the internets and people have reacted to it. Some more strongly than others.

I wrote a few days ago about how fascinating it is that the Chick-fil-A debacle has brought people into the equality discussion more than any single thing since California’s Prop 8 in 2007. Back then, a whole new generation of activists was born. People took to the streets by the thousands. This time, people are taking to Facebook and Twitter by the millions. I’m still not sure if people actually value their deep-fried chicken so much as to debate it or if this was just the tipping point for something larger? What is it about this that has people taking such definitive sides?

Since posting the other day about Bailey Hanks, I’ve seen the entire spectrum of responses – everything from vitriolic, horrible things being said to and about Bailey to the same being said about me. What I’ve learned is that people are mad. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out when you’re told you’ve created an “internet coliseum” where Christians are being thrown to the lions.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. I don’t hate Bailey Hanks. I don’t hate Christians. I suppose I can say I love the sinner but hate the sin when it comes to anti-gay Christians. Wow, it’s kinda fun to flip that one. I don’t hate the people who have anti-gay beliefs. I hate when they act on those beliefs by supporting, funding or voting on the denial of my rights as a human being.

I don’t believe Bailey Hanks is a hateful person – as many posting on her Facebook have claimed. I think she is someone who has been carefully taught something that’s hard to unlearn. Bailey walked into that Chick-fil-A that day, fully aware that it was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. That much can’t be denied despite some of those defending her. She “liked” the event on Facebook prior to it happening and I simply will not buy that she didn’t know what was going on. That kind of willful ignorance is extraordinarily rare. Is it possible that she somehow missed ALL media surrounding this? In this day and age – a girl with a private and public Facebook page as well as a twitter account – it’s just hard to believe, despite what she says in her first apology that has been posted for more than a few minutes:

“I have decided to delete this page, it will deactivate in 14 days…but before I do I would like to share my heart to those who do not know me and only seen or heard things from other people. At the time the chicken was only chicken to me and while in rehearsal and shows at the time I was not properly informed on what was going on. I was unaware of the BIG picture. With that being said I had poor timing. But I am a Christian, but a Christian to me is not a religion or a denomination, it is a relationship with my lord and savior Jesus Christ. And my Lord said to love everyone even those who hate you. And that I live by. I have my beliefs as a Christian and I hope you can accept that, as I accept you! If you want to marry whomever you want… Who am I to stop you? Go! Live! Be merry! I have friends who are married and they are gay, friends who are gay and engaged and I couldn’t be more happy for them and they know that. These ppl have reached out to me and know my heart. My intentions are never malicious, and I have never rooted for others unhappiness in their life. I hope this clears up any unanswered questions, and I hope you can please step back and let this all go and let me live a peaceful life without hate…. As I want the same peace for you!

Thank you for hearing me out! Much love to everyone!
Xoxo
Bailey

Bailey is unapologetically Christian. From birth, she had the idea drummed into her little head that we are all sinners. It can sometimes be a tough and damaging lifestyle that when so ingrained into you from such a young age, can build barriers to you learning anything else. That’s being proven around the country right now with “Creationism” being taught in schools, with science - things we know to be true via actual research, being thrown out the window.

My point is, I believe Bailey went to that Chick-fil-A because she thought she was doing something “Pro-Christian” and not “Anti-Gay.” Unfortunately those two things are not inseparable in this particular instance. She does not see or comprehend that the things she is told by her church are “hateful,” it’s how some can look you in the eyes with a huge smile on their face and tell you that you should not have the right to marry or adopt children. They have been convinced for generations that since Christians only know how to love, everything they say or do is only ever said or done out of love. I’m here to say that contributing money to anti-gay groups directly or via Chick-fil-A is not something done out of love. I’m here to say that voting against another person’s right to start a family is not something done out of love. And I’m here to say that just by saying you are doing something out of love, does not mean that you are.

Bailey, I am not letting you off. An action you’ve taken has hurt a lot of people. And now you have the opportunity to fix it. I would love it if you would use this situation to make a real effort to educate yourself on the things your friends, colleagues and young fans are going through. I’m calling to you Bailey to read up on the hundreds of LGBT kids in this country who take their own lives because their Christian families reject them. I beg you to read the book “Prayers for Bobby.” It’s about a devoutly Christian mom who took the time to learn about her gay son after it was too late. And have some real conversations with your gay friends, ask them what it was like to grow up gay or about how they came out to their parents. And then take it a step further. Use the information you find to educate your own family and community on the idea that voting for and funding any kind of discrimination against gay people is wrong and is never done out of love.

And to those who’ve responded to what you perceived as hate with more hate: I don’t believe this is how we’ll win our equality. As a young gay kid, I grew up thinking there was something wrong with me. Churches, politicians and everyone I looked up to told me that I would never have that happy ending I’d seen in the Disney movies. Then I started doing theatre, and surrounded myself with that wonderful, creative safe place. Finally I’d found a world where I didn’t feel judged and in fact felt completely supported for who I was. I moved to New York City and stayed holed up in that community of support for 12 years. And outside that little ten-block radius, the world didn’t exist. The hatred outside wasn’t affecting me because I was blissfully unaware of it. Then Prop 8 woke me up. I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

The hatred had penetrated my safe little circle, and I was pissed. I chanted, screamed and organized in the streets. I was activated. I was almost more angry though that the rug was pulled out from under me – this community was no longer safe. Many of you had that same rug pulled out from under you when you saw one of your own supporting a hateful corporation. I get it. I get your anger and you have every right to it. But don’t think for a second that it’s going to change anything. It may activate you like it did me, but you need to find a way to focus it on changing people’s minds. And when someone comes at you swinging, I promise you your mind’s not going to be very quick to change. Be pissed, be hurt, but let your desire for change be stronger than your desire to scream at someone.

In closing, since this all stems from a conversation about a musical, please read and take these prophetic words to heart from Oscar Hammerstein II:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

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