Monday, November 24, 2008

GOT HOPE?


In a few days it will be the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. This video is an excerpt from his 1978 speech "You Cannot Live on Hope Alone", given shortly before he was killed.

His speech and his life remind us of how far we have come in 30 years, but also of how much work there is still to be done. There are still thousands of gay and lesbian teenagers that are thrown out of the house, that suffer verbal and physical abuse each day at school, that take their own lives because they cannot change who they are. In more than half of the United States, a person can lose his or her job for being gay. In almost all states, same-sex couples cannot legally join together in marriage, thus depriving them of nearly 1,100 federal rights, benefits and privileges given to married couples. Some states do not allow gay couples or individuals to adopt children, and some do not allow second-parent adoption; which means that when a lesbian couple has a child together, the non-biological mother cannot be considered a legal parent to that child.

But what Harvey Milk's speech reminds us is that we cannot lose hope and we cannot stop working for what we know in our hearts is right. The message of hope that we have heard in this country over the past year awakened a nation and inspired millions of people who once felt disenfranchised and unempowered. Gay and lesbian Americans must keep Barack Obama and Harvey Milk's message of hope alive. We can have a different world.

In an op-ed piece on Prop. 8, the California amendment that took back the legal right of marriage for same-sex couples, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese gave a call-to-action alongside his own message of hope:

"In recent years, I've been delivering this positive message: tell your story. Share who you are. And in fact, as our families become more familiar, support for us increases. But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign—you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a "gay friend" when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights.

"Wherever you are, tell a neighbor what the California Supreme Court so wisely affirmed: that you are equal, you are human, and that being denied equality harms you materially. Although I, like our whole community, am shaken by Prop 8's passage, I am not yet ready to believe that anyone who knows us as human beings and understands what is at stake would consciously vote to harm us.

"This is not over. In California, our legal rights have been lost, but our human rights endure, and we will continue to fight for them."

He reminds us that we must both hope for and work for a better future. One thing that Proposition 8 and Initiative 1 (the amendment that voters in Arkansas passed, which prohibits adoption and foster care by unmarried, co-habitating individuals) taught us is that we cannot expect our rights to simply be handed to us. Throughout American history equal rights for oppressed groups have rarely been popular causes and have virtually never been handed over without the hard work and perseverance of those oppressed populations and their allies. Would integration have happened if it had been put to a vote? Would the voters in Virginia or Mississippi or Alabama have said "Yes" to interracial marriage had it been put to a vote years ago? Would women have earned the right to vote without the picket lines, the hunger strikes and the lobbying of countless suffragists? And had those issues been put to a vote, and had equal rights been denied, should those groups have thrown up their hands and said, "Oh well, the majority doesn't want it"? As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed."

As Joe Solmonese reminds us, our human rights still endure. We are still people of worth; we are not second-class citizens. And we must believe that, no matter what the majority is telling us. We cannot give up, even in the face of defeat. Let us be reminded that in 2000, Californians voted on the marriage issue with a margin of 61.4% to 38.6%. This time the vote was 52% to 48%. It is reassuring, but also reminds us that there is still work to be done, to change the hearts and minds of those who would vote to harm gay and lesbian individuals and families. We can remember these words also written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous letter. He reminds us that time itself is neutral and that, "Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men ... We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy."

It is important that the LGBT communities consider how this work is to be done. For, as Audre Lorde once said, the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. There has been much talk about the sexism, racism, transphobia, etc. that has kept the gay rights movement from being truly cohesive. There have also been criticisms of some of the violent tactics used by small groups of individuals protesting Prop. 8, etc. If we act in hate and violence, we cannot win. I believe that this is a cause that will win through love and understanding. But how can we expect the world to understand and love us, if we cannot understand and love one another? The coming together of LGBT individuals, as well as straight allies, following Prop. 8's passing was encouraging to me. But there is much change still needed within the movement if we ever hope to have victory.

And while we continue our struggle for equality, we must always maintain our hope. As Harvey Milk said 30 years ago, "You cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

UH HUH HER

Here's a rockin' new music duo with a great sound. Uh Huh Her (not to be confused with the PJ Harvey album of the same name) is made up of lesbian icon Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey, a musician who has contributed her bass and keyboard talents to artists such as Dr. Dre and Busta Rhymes. Hailey, best known for her fabulous acting in the role of Alice Pieszecki on Showtime's hit series The L Word, actually began her musical career years ago in the pop duo The Murmurs, which had somewhat of a cult following in the 90s. She left the music world after joining The L Word, but last year decided to make her comeback. She joined up with Grey and Uh Huh Her was born. They released an EP I See Red in 2007, and their first full-length album, Common Reaction was just released this past August.

Their sound has been described as "electropop" with one review stating, "Listening to the electronic-pop / neo-new wave sound of "Common Reaction" is like the feeling you have when drifting in and out of consciousness; the place in between being awake and dreaming. The ladies’ sweet, and sometimes haunting, vocals arouse your senses and leave your body fully stimulated." Says another reviewer of the album, "Remarkably well-versed in ‘80s sonic textures, the duo have crafted a tight-knit sound based on the interplay of Hailey’s breathy alto and instrumentalist Camila Grey’s angelic harmonies."

But it's not just the music on their album that's notable: apparently the two are something to see in concert. I guess I will find out for myself when I see them perform in Minneapolis on November 5th, after which I will report back with a personalized report on the live experience. Until then, check out their MySpace page or watch this video of them performing an acoustic version of one of my favorites ("Wait Another Day") on the AfterEllen vlog, Liz Feldman's "This Just Out."


Sunday, September 7, 2008

NO RIGHTS TO CRITICIZE

How does John McCain get away with criticizing the Bush Administration and "taking on" the GOP when he voted with them 90% of the time in the past couple of years and with the Republican party in general the majority of the time during his many years in the Senate. The way that he is creating this fake Maverick persona for himself just disgusts me. He has the "Straight Talk" express, yet he is anything but straightforward about who he is and where he really stands on issues. He is a CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN! On social issues, on economic issues ... he is NOT a moderate!! He says, "Change is coming", but let's not forget that it was only last year that the Democrats finally took back the House and Senate. For the better part of eight years this country has been completely controlled by individuals with the exact same values as McCain. Electing him would create no type of change in this country.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

ROCK ON KATY

I'm doing something that I rarely do (and I really, really mean that!) -- I am changing my position on something that I actually felt strongly enough to blog about! Back in May I wrote about Katy Perry's hit song "I Kissed a Girl", deriding it as exploitation of lesbian sexuality. Let me say right off that I still think that the song commercializes on the excitement and controversy surrounding same-sex lovin' without effecting any type of positivity about actual lesbian sexual orientation. It's made pretty clear that the song is about a straight girl experimenting, thereby ridding it of any real "gay pride" theme. But I'll say this for the song: it certainly has showcased society's overwhelming homophobia as well as some incredible double standards. In fact, I have experienced such a mixture of disgust, offense and amusement at some of the things that I have heard and read that I felt compelled to write something in support of a song that I only recently heavily critiqued.

Since the song is so popular and chart-topping, it is on the radio constantly. And this means that parents who listen to the radio with their kids have had to make some decisions. Option one is to change the channel, which a lot of people seem to be doing since it is apparently too "scarring" and "confusing" for their eight-year-old to hear another girl singing, "I kissed a girl and I liked it." The popularity of such a song might pressure their darling daughter into feeling like she has to kiss another girl to be cool!! God forbid!

Let's just examine this first concept for a moment. The idea here is that it is not appropriate to discuss "alternative" sexualities with kids at such young ages. If kids are allowed to hear an explicity "lesbian-ish" song, their parents will have to then explain to them about heterosexuality and homosexuality and clearly talking to kids about gay people is just too inappropriate. After all, telling your child that some people love people of the same sex, is basically the equivalent of drawing them a diagram of sexual positions, right? And if they know that this type of lifestyle is an "option" what's to keep them from trying it? A much better idea is to never bring it up so that when they are confronted with it when they are older, they default to fear and intolerance.

I find people's hysteria over their children hearing this song to be extremely humorous. I mean, the song is about kissing for god's sake! It's not about oral sex or anything actually inappropriate, which makes it perfectly easy to explain to a child who has been raised in a tolerant and understanding household. Let's take my little sister for instance. From the time that she was a toddler, she has been raised to understand that there are all types of families and that love comes in many different forms. This song is not so confusing to her. In her eyes it is no more sexual than a song about a girl that enjoys kissing her boyfriend.


Which brings me to my next point. It seems like many people have some type of paranoia that by listening to this song, their daughters will want to experiment with girls as well. Personally I say, big deal! There certainly are worse things to be experimenting with. Now I don't have children yet, but I am absolutely positive that if I had a daughter and she told me that she had experimented with kissing another girl, I would be happy that she was brave enough to explore who she really was. I know of people who after that type of experimentation have found the answers to a lot of questions regarding their sexuality. I know of lasting relationships that have evolved out of what one person thought was just going to be an experiment. We should
be encouraging our children to explore their sexuality -- not repressing their curiosities. That's how we wind up with a whole lot of self-loathing closet-case gays and lesbians.

If Katy Perry's song makes every girl in America go out and hook up with another girl that would be awesome. Why? Because here is what I think would happen: about 90% of those girls who be like, "Hmm that was (insert adjective -- fun/interesting/gross). Now I know what that's like." And they will never do it again. But maybe around 10% (or maybe more) will be like, "Huh. I've never felt that way before when I kissed (insert boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/etc.). This explains a lot." And maybe those girls will be set down a path of self-discovery that takes some women years -- if not their entire lives -- to go down.

And that is really scary for a lot of people in America who don't want little gay girls to realize their sexuality before ... well, ever. So they have aneurysms over fun-loving, innocent songs of experimentation such as Katy Perry's while completely ignoring the fact that the lyrics of most other "popular" songs are wildly more inappropriate and have the potential to do a lot more psychological harm than a tune called "I Kissed a Girl."

Therein lies the double standard. The most scandalous thing about the song in question is the gender of the two individuals doing the kissing. Let's look at some of the other songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Coming in at #2, after "I Kissed a Girl" is Lil Wayne's "Lollipop." Here are some of the genius lyrics of that song: Man she ain't never / Had a love like mine / But man I ain't never / Seen an ass like hers / That pussy in my mouth / Had me loss for words / Told her to back it up / Like berp berp / And I made that ass jump. Here's some of the words from #8 on the charts, "Bust It Baby Part 2": I juss gave her a nick-name it's wet-wet / Cause when we finish she mess up all the bedsets / She got sommin' to relax me when I'm under stress. Then we have the Pussycat Dolls song "When I Grow Up" (#13) which has lyrics such as Now I've got a confession / When I was young I wanted attention / And I promised myself that I'd do anything / Anything at all for them to notice me ... When I grow up / I wanna be famous / I wanna be a star / I wanna be in movies.

And it isn't just lyrics that explicitly objectify women, glorify violence, adovcat
e materialism and narcissism, drugs, promiscuous sex ... the majority of young female pop stars are singing songs about boys while extremely scantily clad -- sending out the messages that (1) women are defined by their relationships to men and (2) a woman's body is her greatest asset. If parents want something to get upset about -- THAT is something to be upset about. But instead they laugh when their five-year-old shakes her booty to Fergie's "My Lumps" and gasp while changing the station when they hear "Us girls we are so magical / Soft skin, red lips, so kissable / Hard to resist so touchable / Too good to deny it / Ain't no big deal, it's innocent."

Well I'm not changing the radio station and I will happily listen to the "Bicurious girl's anthem", not because it's catchy (although it is) and not because I think Katy Perry has some actual talent (although she does) but because FOX News thinks it's going to make girls kiss each other. I'm hoping. We could use a bit more gaiety in this world.

And Katy Perry, you may be just a straight girl finding fame through sexual ambiguity but bless you for throwing this issue in people's faces. You've made kissing girls cool and pissed off a lot of people while doing it. Keep on rockin!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

THE GOVERNMENT'S SPENDING PRIORITIES

Yesterday there was an envelope in my mailbox from the IRS. I got all excited thinking that it was my stimulus check. Despite my misgivings about the efficacy of the whole stimulus package, I'm still a poor 23-year-old. Anyway, it was not my stimulus check. It was a letter telling me that my stimulus check would be arriving in a couple of days.

WTF?! The government really needed to waste the paper and other resources to send letters out to tell people that their stimulus packages would be arriving in THREE DAYS?? I'm so delighted to see that while we can't shell out the money to pay for things like health care or better education, we can apparently waste money on postage and envelopes for several million people. It's nice to see how wisely money is being spent here in America.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

I KISSED A GIRL

The current #2 song on the iTunes singles chart is the new song "I Kissed a Girl" by up-and-comer Katy Perry (visit her Myspace page here). Now one might think that a song like this is one that the lesbian community can get behind. But, as popular gay blogger Dorothy Snarker comments, "Like everything else it’s all about the context. Are these two drunk girls surrounded by cheering frat boys? Yeah, no thanks. Or are these two women who are genuinely interested in each other." So one really needs to examine the lyrics of Katy Perry's song to determine precisely what kind of song this is. And as it turns out, Katy's song seems to be what AfterEllen writer Malinda Lo christens as a theme song for straight girls who get drunk "and make out with their straight girlfriends while they're out at a club (or in a hot tub) with their boyfriends."

At first the song doesn't seem so bad. It is catchy and upbeat and as Malindo Lo remarks, "The chorus, 'I kissed a girl and I liked it,' repeats often enough that it gives the song a kind of (fake) Gay Pride feel." Lo continues by analyzing the lyrics of the song:

This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It's not what I'm used to
Just wanna try you on
I'm curious for you
Caught my attention

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry Chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it

No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter
You're my experimental game
Just human nature
It's not what good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

As she says, the song is stereotypically bicurious. In the song Katy alludes to having a boyfriend, as though it isn't cheating to kiss someone else if that someone else is a girl. She furthermore says that "it's not what good girls do" and implies that she's only doing this because she's drunk. Like Lo states, it is implied that "kissing another girl is only something you'd do after you lose control of your decision-making faculties."

Just recently Katy released a music video for the song which pretty much confirms that this song is designed more for male titillation than for supporting the right of girls to kiss girls.



On top of all the girls lounging around in their fishnet stockings and lingerie, having pillow
fights, there is also not even any actual kissing going on. As Dorothy Snarker comments, this seems to be a strange omission.

Another popular song of Katy's is "Ur So Gay" which is described as "a bitchy
kiss-off to an ex-boyfriend, in which Katy derides him as a Hemingway-reading vegetarian who drives an electrical car, concluding, 'You're so gay and you don't even like boys.'" Some could argue that these songs of Katy's and her video are meant to be campy (play on stereotypes in a fun way). But Malinda Lo asserts, "I don't think 23-year-old Katy Perry has the right, yet, to make gay jokes. She needs to wear a lot more sequins and way higher heels for about a dozen more years. I mean, she's using a homophobic slur repeatedly, going so far as to explain that the word is actually meant as a slur and not as a description of homosexuality." It's not right for a young, straight woman to capitalize on the gay "lifestyle" by essentially poking fun at it.

Dorothy Snarker compared Katy's "I Kissed a Girl" to another song by the same name, the 1995 hit by Jill Sobule. Jill's song, unlike Katy's, actually portrays kissing a girl as somewhat of a sexual awakening. It could be used as a coming-out type song. It starts out with two friends discussing how their relationships with their boyfriends are not satisfying and then segues into the two girls realizing an attraction for one another. Then:

And we laughed at the world

They can have their di
amonds
And we'll have our pearls
I kissed a girl

I kissed a girl, her lips were sweet
She was just like kissing me
I kissed a girl, won't change the world

But I'm so glad I kissed a girl

Now that's more along the lines of a song that lesbians can get behind. Unfortunately songs like Jill's are not being promoted at the moment. Instead we get Katy's immensely popular bicurious anthem. And Katy is just the type of artist that is all the rage right now -- pretty (she looks sort of like the lovechild of Zooey Deschanel and Emily Blunt), fashionable (in a very hipster way) and what seems to be an authentically talented musician. I just hope that in the future she steers clear of further exploitation of lesbian sexuality.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

Back in January I wrote a defense of teen pop-star Miley Cyrus after some so-called "lesbian" pictures of her and a friend began to circulate the internet. This was after another entry from last July where I listed Miley as one of the young stars representing hope for Hollywood's future. Now I find myself eating my words after both her recent Vanity Fair photo shoot and more leaked photos of her posing provocatively.


I have heard the varying arguments on the Vanity Fair thing. I know that some people are saying that it's "beautiful" and "artistic". Okay. If we are speaking in the technical sense then, yes, it is artistic rather than pornographic or whatever. But whether it is an artsy photo or not, the fact still remains that she is a fifteen-year-old girl and the vast majority of her fans are under the age of 10. I know that she is supposedly wearing a nude shirt under the sheet or something like that, but it still gives the illusion that she is naked. In what world is it not erotic to be posing wrapped in what appears to be nothing but a sheet? Whatever the excuses, this is still so obviously intended to be a sensual photograph and I think it is wildly inappropriate.

I think that it is natural for a fifteen-year-old girl to express her sexuality. However, to me, owning one's sexuality means being comfortable with, proud of and aware of one's body. A fifteen-year-old girl expressing her sexuality should not come in the form of her body being sexualized in a way that promotes some type of weird voyeurism in a culture that seems obsessed with the infantilization of beauty. I don't want it to seem like I am trying to say that there is something shameful about the female body. There isn't. The female body should be celebrated -- a belief that I think I have pretty consistently advocated. But as my previous point indicates, I don't think this is an appropriate way of doing that.

I know that Miley has spoken out about this photo and said that she didn't realize, blah blah blah and that she is "so embarrassed." I don't believe that for one second, and Vanity Fair has said that Miley's parents and/or handlers were on set the whole time and saw and approved of the digital version of the photograph. Making Miley's statements even less believable are her newest leaked photos:

The excuse that they were "private photos" and were never intended for the world to see only really works once. By now I think this girl should be smart enough to realize that nothing she does is really ever going to be private. Yeah that sucks, but it's the truth. So why is she continuing to take provocative photos of herself when she has to know that everyone in the world is going to end up seeing them? I don't care what she does in private, but I do care about the image she presents to the world -- an image that millions of little girls are going to emulate. Little girls like my six-year-old sister. I don't think it's really appropriate for a fifteen-year-old to be a sex symbol under any circumstance, but I think it's even less appropriate for a fifteen-year-old girl to be publicly sexualizing herself when she is meant to be an icon for young children.

Furthermore, this all indicates a certain amount of hypocrisy in Miley's and her family's supposed values. In the past she has spoken out against sex before marriage, stating that she believes in "purity." She has also openly spoken about being a "Christian" (read: born-again Christian). Now I have a real problem with Evangelical Christian "values" to begin with, so I don't really care whether she is following them. But it is annoying for me to hear her say on the one hand that she wants to remain "pure" until marriage and then on the other hand to see her displaying her body for every pervert, pedophile and adolescent boy (or girl!). Is she trying to say that the only thing sacred about the female body is the hymen? So much for being wholesome.

The whole thing really bothers me because I wanted to believe that she really was a good role model and might actually make it through her stardom untainted. But I was wrong. But, you know, at least the other young women that I wrote about last summer still seem to remain good role models. Of course, Emma Watson and Raven Symone have never reached the legendary superstar status of "Hannah Montana". So, can a young girl really become so famous, so fast without making these types of mistakes? In our society can a girl really be under such intense scrutiny without eventually engaging in some type of exhibitionism? It seems like the answer is maybe no, but I really couldn't say. Miley seems to be one-of-a-kind in the way that things have happened for her.

But then again, all of this attention and focus on Miley and on "fallen" stars such as Britney and Lindsay really takes a lot of attention away from the fact that there are many young women who grew up on film or on TV and didn't make these types of mistakes. Those girls and women are too often forgotten, and certainly don't get enough credit. They really should be cited more often as evidence that fame is not a guarantee of dysfunction.

Hilary Duff, a young woman who never reached Miley's level of fame, but who has followed a similar career trajectory as the fifteen-year-old, was very diplomatic when speaking about Cyrus' Vanity Fair shoot: "People are pushing you to do something, and if you want to do it, that's your choice, you know? It's not what I would choose to do, but if she did then that's fine. That's her choice." The notable part of her statement being "It's not what I would choose to do." Duff, now 20, is no longer an icon for little girls, but from the ages of fourteen to sixteen she starred in the popular Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire, making her a household name among girls aged seven to fourteen. During her Disney years she also starred in a Disney Channel Original Film, Cadet Kelly, which at that time became the most watched program in the Channel's history. She went on to star in several films which, thanks to Duff's popularity among young girls, ended up being quite successful at the box office. In 2002 she began a music career, with her albums being popular within the tween and teen audience. In 2007 she was listed as #7 in Forbes "Top 20 Earners Under 25." She has also made it onto Maxim's Hot 100 list. Although I have a big problem with that stupid list, I guess it shows that guys think she's sexy.

Even during Hilary Duff's years of high popularity, she always managed to maintain a pretty wholesome image, even when she was dating Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden at the tender age of 17 (he's nine years her senior). Even now that she's no longer a minor, she has managed to be sexual while still leaving something to the imagination. Just take her Maxim photo shoot from last year. The cover is about as revealing as it gets.


But even if she had wanted to be more revealing, it doesn't matter anymore. She's 20 and no longer a Disney Channel star. The important thing is that when she was, she was never caught up in the type of controversy that Miley has found herself in.

There are plenty of other examples of former child/teen stars who managed to avoid controversy during their younger years (Natalie Portman, Raven, Mandy Moore, Emma Watson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anna Paquin, Christina Ricci, Melissa Joan Hart, Soleil Moon Frye, Scarlett Johansson, Jena Malone, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amanda Bynes, Tia and Tamera Mowry, and Reese Witherspoon. Even the Olsen Twins kept it clean during their early years). So let's give them some credit and remember that not everyone is doomed for failure.

Fame is not an excuse for bad behavior and poor judgment. As Mandy Moore says in reference to her own life, "
It’s a choice to put yourself out there in such a public way, and I really don’t thrive on that attention." I'd like to end by linking to an awesome article about Natalie Portman, which gives her "formula" for success. The writer of the article makes perhaps one of the most important points in point number one (Be Smart):

"Lots of starlets can say they did a hot photo spread for Maxim. But how many can claim to
have co-written a research paper that was published in a scientific journal? Portman did it — twice.

But being smart isn’t just about having a bachelor’s degree in psychology and speaking several languages. Portman is smart about her image. She traversed two minefields early on — she wasn’t just a child actress, she was a child actress playing sexually precocious roles in “The Professional” and “Beautiful Girls” — but came out unscathed.

How? Well, ta
ke a look at her behavior. Does she say moronic things to interviewers? No. Does she embarrass herself publicly? Never. Do you see much of her in the press when she’s not out plugging a movie? Are her personal habits and relationships analyzed and deconstructed throughout the tabloids? Nuh-uh. And that’s because you can avoid that stuff if you want to. But you have to want not to be photographed all the time. And that’s smart."

I couldn't have said it any better myself. If only Miley were listening.

Friday, May 16, 2008

CALIFORNIA TAKES A STAND

Yesterday California's Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. In a 4-3 decision, the Republican-controlled court decided that a law banning marriage between two adults of the same-sex was a violation of the equal protection clause of their state's Constitution.

The news was followed by many statements of support, including that of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that he would uphold the court's decision. Beloved talk-show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres announced on her talk show that she and long-time partner Portia de Rossi would he tying the knot now that marriage will be legal for them. With this new ruling, same-sex couples could be getting married as early as next month in California. However, anti-gay activist hope to put a hold on the ruling taking effect until November, when they hope to pass a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Gov. Schwarzenegger has said he will not support such a ban, but California voters are shown to be split on the issue. If a stay of the court's decision is not allowed, California will be only the second state in the country to have legal marriage between same-sex adults (at least until November).

Of course this is an awesome victory for gays and lesbians, but as usual it brings with it an increase in anti-gay rhetoric and hateful remarks. Reading through the comments on various blogs and news sites that have reported on this issue, I've found that I can pretty much ignore and roll my eyes at comments such as these: "
If you really understood what crap you fags have brought to this world, you would really cry. What a load of shit! Maybe you will unbreed yourselves out of existance. We can only hope!" (Because we all know that only gay people produce gay children). It's the comments from people who claim that they "aren't homophobic" but they just don't think it's fair to call a union between same-sex couples a marriage. Or that they don't think it's fair to legalize same-sex marriage if the people don't want it. One person said on a website, "I'm all for gay rights [but] what is baffling about this California ruling ... is that it was passed by judges after it was voted down by the people of Cali. Kinda scary that the votes of the people were pushed aside."

These comments bother me the most because they come from people claiming to be "tolerant", but they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding in regards to history, oppression, and America's system of government. It's funny how short our collective memory apparently is because if people will just allow themselves to look back a few decades, they might remember that it was a Supreme Court ruling (Brown v. Board of Education) that overturned interracial segregation in schools, basically paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act itself wasn't voted for by the people, but was passed through the legislature. In regards to marriage laws, it was another Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, that overturned bans on interracial marriage. The Courts have long been active in making historic decisions related to minority rights. If we had allowed popular opinion to be the decider on integration and interracial marriage, a huge portion of the country would probably still be segregated.

W
hat many folks seem to misunderstand is the exact nature of American democracy. We do not have what is referred to as a "direct democracy", where all decisions are made by whatever citizens choose to participate (vote). We have aspects of direct democracy within our government, in the form of referendums, recalls, etc. but as a whole America does not operate within a system of direct democracy. Rather we have what many refer to as a "constitutional republic." Here is Wikipedia's basic definition of a constitutional republic:

A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people, and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government's power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches, and the will of the majority of the population is tempered by protections for individual rights, so that no individual or group has absolute power. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government's power makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican.

John Adams, one of America's Founding Fathers, and the 2nd President of the United States explained our republic as a "government of laws, not of men." According to James Woodburn, author of The American Republic and Its Government, "
In a republic, as distinguished from a democracy, the people are not only checked in choosing officials but also in making laws." The type of government that exists in America was deliberately chosen to protect the rights of the minority and prevent what is referred to as a "tyranny of the majority". This concept has been written about frequently by John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville and James Madison.

Basically America's laws should represent the "interests of the majority" while still protecting the "rights of the minority." In America we do not have the type of democracy whereby the majority could decide to execute all left-handed citizens and that would be acceptable so long as the "popular vote" supported it. That is why we have a Constitution and why we have a Supreme Court -- to determine whether laws violate citizens' rights. If denying equal marriage rights to people violates their civil rights, it doesn't matter what the majority of Americans "want." Do we really want the type of democracy that will overturn individual rights and liberties at the will of the majority, a will that could easily be based on racism or xenophobia or homophobia or sexism? Don't people understand how dangerous that is?

I'm guessing that the people who say "let the people decide" on matters of gay rights might not be so eager to "let the people decide" when it comes to their own basic human rights to live and love freely and without fear.

Finally, I come to the issue of the individuals who say that they believe same-sex "unions" are entitled to the same rights and protections as a marriage, but the just don't want it called marriage. Because marriage is sacred and special and meant to be between a man and a woman blah blah blah.

This is what I have to say about that matter: Why is it that so many heterosexuals are so possessive of the term "marriage"? I mean, both sides here could say that it's all just a matter of semantics, but the gays are the ones that are being put in the "separate but equal" category. And I'm pretty sure that verdict has been delivered on that concept. The fact is, it is completely ridiculous to call a legal union between same-sex couples a "civil union" and a legal union between heterosexual couples a "marriage." Some might say that the difference between a "civil union" and a "marriage" is due to religion. Except millions of heterosexual couples are married by Judges outside of the Church. Their "marriage" has nothing to do with religion -- it is an entirely legal affair -- yet, I don't see anyone suggesting that those couples be denied the right to call their union a marriage. And there are many churches who are willing and happy to "marry" same-sex couples. Various Methodist, UCC, Jewish Reform, Episcopal, and American Catholic (not to be confused with Roman Catholic) congregations have willingly blessed same-sex unions. (Please note that the denominations listed will vary greatly by individual congregation in their willingness to support and/or bless same-sex unions). In 1984 the Unitarian Universalist Church became the first large denomination to "approve religious blessings on homosexual unions." So let me get this straight ... if a same-sex couple has all the legal rights of marriage and their union is blessed by a minister before God ... it still shouldn't be called a marriage? But if a man and a woman who are, let's say, atheists, go and marry at a courthouse, they get to have a marriage?

As you can see, the whole thing is sort of ridiculous. It is pretty obvious that the only reason people get up in arms about the word "marriage" is that it makes them uncomfortable. There is no other reason. They can't really believe that one couple's gay marriage is going to make their marriage somehow less sacred. In a great editorial (coupled with an equally not great one) from the May 1st issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the straight male writer says he doesn't "get why gay marriage is such a big deal." He says:________________________________

We are told, "We must protect the tradition of marriage," which Anne Coulter says goes back "10,000 years." Right. ("Do you, Ogg, take this woman . . . ? You may now club the bride.") The tradition that people seem to have in mind goes back only about as far as Ward and June Cleaver.

Defenders of "traditional" marriage seem to argue that it is primarily about sexual attraction. In Roman or medieval times -indeed, in most eras before today - marriages often were not about sexual attraction at all. They were about political alliances, property or continuing the family line. Noblemen kept mistresses for sex. Many cultures arranged marriages between very young people who sometimes had never met, so the idea of a pre-existing sexual attraction didn't enter into it.

How exactly does gay marriage undermine heterosexual marriage? Are straight people out there who are contemplating marriage going, "Honey, it says here that a gay couple is Massachusetts got married. Maybe we should reconsider our wedding plans?"
________________________________

At the end of his editorial, after citing divorce statistics and stories of quickie weddings and reality shows like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" he remarks "If marriage indeed
has become devalued, heterosexuals did it by themselves."

So don't tell me that you are "totally okay" with gay people, but you just believe there is something "extra special" about marriage between a man and a woman. And don't tell me that you think gay people should have equal rights only so long as everyone else thinks it's okay. Because when you say that, what you're basically saying is that gay people's rights are less important than straight people's opinions and that gays an lesbians are less deserving of protection and less deserving of happiness. And if you believe that then you are prejudiced. Maybe it's not your fault. Maybe you like being prejudiced. But let's call it what it is rather than mask it as some type of concern for either the well-being of straight couples or the maintenance of democracy.

Because anyone who really has absolutely no problems with gay people should have no problem with a same-sex couple committing themselves to a lifelong, monogamous and loving relationship.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

AND THE WINNER IS ...

I'm admitting it. My guilty pleasure is America's Next Top Model. For the record, I am not a regular viewer or reality TV. But my best friend, who I lived with throughout my college years, got me hooked on Top Model. I don't know what it is about the show ... the unintended hilarity, the fun of making snarky comments throughout, the eye-roll inducing drama ... I can't help loving it. Recently I canceled my cable subscription due to Charter's ridiculously high rates and also due to the fact that I am rarely home to watch TV. But my love affair with ANTM continued when I went to visit my former roommate in the Twin Cities and proceeded to watch nearly all of Cycle 10 (the newest season) on her DVR. And last night she called me to inform me that for the first time in Top Model history, the winner was a plus-sized model! Congratulation to Whitney for making ANTM history!



Whitney wasn't my favorite contestant. I liked awkward, punk-rock contestant Lauren because, well, I always like the unique ones.


But Lauren was cut right after the girls' arrival in Rome, and once it got down to the final two it was between Whitney and Hawaiian surfer-girl Anya (Who I swear to God I thought was originally from another country because of her unusual accent). Anya is gorgeous and had some great photos, even though I thought that the platinum blonde hair that they gave her sucked. (For that reason, posted picture is pre-ANTM)

But according to my friend who actually watched the finale, Whitney rocked the runway show and I was ecstatic to hear that she was the winner. People have long said that ANTM doesn't really produce "top models" and that is definitely true. (How often have you seen former winners actually in magazines or in commercials -- besides those done to promote the show?) But this is still awesome nonetheless. There have been plus-sized contestants on the show in the past, but they have never made it very far. In Cycle 3 Toccara Jones made it to the final seven. Cycle 8 was actually the first and only season to feature two plus-sized models. Diana Zalewski was cut in Episode 6 and Whitney Cunningham lasted only slightly longer, making it to the final seven. In Cycle 9 Sarah Hartshorne was cut in Episode 8 amid criticisms that she had lost weight and was losing her plus-size status (but of course wasn't thin enough to be a "regular" model).

By the time this cycle rolled around, I was starting to think that it was a mean joke to even put plus-size models on the show, since it seemed obvious that they were never going to really win. Amazingly I have been proven wrong! Some conspiracy-theorists have been saying that this cycle was rigged and that it was decided from the beginning that this would be the year for a plus-sized girl to win. Whether or not that is true doesn't really matter, although saying that does seem unfair to Whitney -- who actually did a good job in photoshoots and runway. Other rumors are flying around the internet as well after some alleged pre-ANTM photos of Whitney surfaced.


The circulating rumor is that Whitney was previously a size 2-4 when she was approached by ANTM casting agents. Supposedly she was told that she could be on the show if she gained 20 pounds and modeled as a plus-sized contestant. This rumor undermines comments made by Whitney throughout the season about how hard it was to grow up heavy and be made fun of, etc. In my opinion, this whole rumor seems far-fetched. Why on earth would the show ask someone to gain weight when there are plenty of beautiful, already plus-sized girls out there (as indicated by previous seasons)? The more likely explanation is that, like many women out there, Whitney has struggled with her weight and may have fluctuated in sizes over the years. I personally have gone back and forth between sizes 4 and 10 over the years and I know that just because you are able to shed 15 or 20 pounds doesn't mean that you will definitely keep that weight off.

Whether Whitney has gone from a size 4 to a size 8 or 10 doesn't make her story any less inspiring. In fact, in a way it makes it more inspiring that she "made it" now rather than before, when she was thinner. And here is something else that Whitney's story might make us think about: according to Wikipedia's page on Cycle 10, Whitney is 5'10" and 159 pounds. According to medical recommendations for someone of Whitney's height, age and gender, a healthy weight range is between 132 and 174 pounds. Whitney falls right in the middle, making her a very healthy and average weight. But when you put her next to girls who are 5'10 and 115 pounds, she looks like a big heifer. It is an extremely sad world when women like Whitney, of average weight, are labeled as plus-sized. If you go to this ideal weight body calculator, you can enter in information regarding weight, height, age and gender to find medical recommendations on weight as well as a category called "People's Choice Ideal Weight". This category shows what people think is the ideal weight for someone of a particular height, weight, age and gender. It is interesting to see that this number is typically unrealistically low, which is no big surprise considering our culture's views on body image. Last June I wrote about ad campaigns that targeted body image, and I also wrote about how overall our society has a dysfunctional concept of healthy bodies. On the one hand it is progress to see someone like Whitney win America's Next Top Model, but on the other hand it seems less progressive to see women of healthy weights being called heavy.

Perhaps someday "plus-size" will really mean overweight. Right now, that seems unlikely.

Friday, May 9, 2008

MASON JENNINGS ROCKS MY WORLD

From time to time I like to give shout outs to some of my favorite music artists, but I noticed that I have written mostly about female musicians, with the exception of Rilo Kiley (which is fronted by a woman, Jenny Lewis, but also has male band members). I'm not sexist, I just happen to listen to female artists more frequently than males. But as it so happens, one of my favorite musicians of all time is a fellow by the name of Mason Jennings ...

Mason is a Minnesota based artist and began his career right in good ole' Minneapolis! He produced his debut album in 1997 and has released five other albums since them, with his seventh album In the Ever releasing this month! While at one time his greatest following was in the Twin Cities (I was first introduced to him nearly five years ago by my roommate who was from Minneapolis), his popularity is slowly growing across the nation. In 2007 he toured with Guster and that same year he sang two of the Bob Dylan songs for the soundtrack of the film I'm Not There. This year he is touring with Australian artist Missy Higgins and later with Jack Johnson.

His music apparently falls into the genre of "pop-folk." His lyrics are often very intimate -- frequently connected very closely with his own life. The song "Which Way Your Heart Will Go" was based on his experiences with fatherhood. He also is known for writing son
gs with literary and historical themes. For example, one of my favorite songs of his "Adrian" was inspired by the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison. Another beautiful song of his, "The Ballad of Paul and Sheila" was written in memory of Minnesota's beloved Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila who were killed in a plane crash 2002. A crowd favorite, "Keepin' It Real" was written specifically for the hit movie Shrek but producers ended up using Counting Crows' "Accidentally in Love" instead. More information on his music and the songwriting, recording process can be found in an awesome interview from last year done by a woman in Colorado.

Going to a Mason concert is a truly wonderful experience. He is a warm, intelligent and talented man who completely draws the audience in. I have seen him three times -- once in Madison and twice in Minneapolis. Seeing him perform in the Cities is a great thing because he has such a huge and loyal fan base. When I saw him play last December, right after Christmas, it was his "Hometown show" and he brought his wife up on stage to sing with him, then later his father joined him and his brother. It was really cool!

Here are some clips of him playing in concert (unfortunately live bootleg clips were all I could find online ... guess he's not too commercial yet!). The sound quality is really good, however.

The first is a performance of the song "Jackson Square" from his album Boneclouds (2006).



Next is Mason performing the song "Sorry Signs on Cash Machines" from his 2002 album Century Spring.



Finally a very short clip of him performing the song "Adrian", also from 2002's Century Spring.



So go, check him out if you haven't already! Because he's not just a great musician, he's also one rad person! (I giggle every time I use the word "rad" by the way, but my California friend seems to have made it a permanent part of my lexicon). You can visit his website to get tour information, song lyrics, view videos (including an acoustic version of the aforementioned "The Ballad of Paul and Sheila"), and pre-order his new album!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A WORD ON THE GASOLINE CRISIS

Yes, the sky-high gasoline prices are getting me down just as much as the next person. I try to be an environmentally conscious individual and erase my "carbon footprint" as much as possible, but I just can't get around that pesky need to have a car. I live in downtown Madison, a calculated move on my part because it puts me close to pretty much everything. I walk to get groceries, to go to the bank, to go to the library, to go to coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc. But I can't walk to work. I can't even take the damn, complicated bus to work. And even if I could take the bus, I need a car once I get to work. I'm a nanny, so I spend a large portion of the day driving children around. And no matter what I do -- even though I rarely ever use my car outside of work -- I have to fill up once a week. And it sucks. A lot. Not just because it costs me a lot of my hard earned money that I could be putting towards graduate school, but because I know the environmental impact of so much driving.

But yet, even with the ridiculously high gas prices, for me driving is still cheaper than taking mass transit. To that I say, what the hell?! This past weekend I went to the Twin Cities to visit my former roommate/best friend. I took the Greyhound because I was sick of driving. From Madison to St. Paul, a trip on the Greyhound takes about 5 hours and 20 minutes and costs $95 for a round-trip ticket. Driving myself, the trip is pretty much exactly four hours and uses up about a full tank of gas on my Jetta (with current gas prices, that means it costs me a little under $80). And it isn't just the Greyhound that costs more than driving ...

This coming weekend I am planning a trip to my parents' house right outside of Milwaukee. Before I had a car, I always took the Badger Bus between Milwaukee and Madison. Let's compare the cost efficiency of taking the Badger Bus. A ride on the BB takes an hour and a half (not including the extra fifteen minutes required on each side of the journey to get to/from the bus stops) and costs $34 round-trip. Driving from right outside my apartment to right outside my parents' house takes an hour and fifteen minutes and uses a little under a quarter a tank of gas (so round-trip we'll figure about $20). Once more, it is noticeably cheaper and more efficient to just drive myself.

Here is my point: Many of the politicians (ahem, Hillary Clinton and John McCain) are talking about this gas tax vacation as a way of relieving the gas costs. Here's an idea: why don't we actually look at some ways that we can lower gas prices as well as gas usage. I don't know, maybe we could encourage mass transportation? In a country as developed as the U.S., our overall public transportation sucks and is really expensive. Some cities are much better than others. The D.C. area has the Metro System, Chicago has the El, New York has the subways, but there are so many huge cities that have nothing close to good public transportation. And intra-city travel is horrendously expensive, as I have just pointed out. Instead of easing the gas tax, thereby encouraging folks to just go on using as much gas as ever, how about subsidizing public transportation? How about making it so that it is cheaper to take the bus from Madison to St. Paul than it is to drive just yourself?

If it suddenly becomes much less expensive to take the bus or the train or whatnot, more people would want to do it and the bus companies might add more routes and more daily departures. Of course taking the bus or the train still uses gasoline, so we definitely still need to look towards using alternative fuel sources. And granted, a large Greyhound bus is less fuel-efficient than other vehicles. But even so, think how much gas is saved when you load fifty people onto one bus versus those fifty people each driving him or herself.

Naturally, there are many other things that can be done as well. But I find it absurd that in all this talk, the government hasn't tried creating incentives for people to use public transportation more often. No, instead the government talks about how to let people use just as much gas as normal. As Sen. Obama said on the issue, cutting the gas tax would save consumers little, while taking money away from needed things like road improvements. For those who don't know, the gas tax goes into the Highway Trust Fund. As with all tax money, those funds don't just magically disappear. They go towards things that we actually need. I have several friends who live in the Twin Cities and I will never forget that night last summer when the I-35W bridge collapsed during rush hour. We have already diverted enough money away from our basic infrastructure, and I am happy to pay my outrageously high gas tax if that means I will never have to live through a night of worry like that again. Temporarily cutting the gas tax will give short-term gains to consumers in terms of how much money they actually spend on gas, but we need to realize that the $30 we save is going to equal millions of dollars taken away from our infrastructure.

As Sen. Obama also said, a summer gas-tax holiday ignores the long-term issues. We need to move out of the current frame of thinking -- i.e., how to lower gas prices. That line of thinking will not sustain us. We need to start thinking about how we can make fundamental changes in the way that we live our lives. Few people want to do that because it requires energy and sacrifices on the individual level. I know that it just sucks to give up that big SUV in favor of a fuel-efficient car and it is probably a HUGE hassle to walk four blocks to get your morning latte rather than drive and an extra hour tacked onto a long trip is downright annoying, but these are sacrifices that we can live through. These are sacrifices that the government should start asking people to make. If Bush can stand up and say that it is patriotic to support an unjust and horrible war, then government officials can stand up and say that it is patriotic to support the survival of the planet.

So that was a sort of random, stream of consciousness on the issue (dammit, I said I wasn't going to do those!) I apologize and promise that I will try to be more coherent the next time I write. Maybe I'll stay away from political issues for a while, they bring out the "ranter" in me :)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ARE DEMOCRATS TRYING TO SELF-DESTRUCT?

The other day when I was listening to Air America (or, actually, Madison's local version -- The Mic 92.1) I heard a staggering statistic: apparently more than a quarter of Hillary Clinton supporters say that if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, they will not vote for him. The number of Obama supporters that allegedly will not vote for Clinton is a bit smaller. But still, the fact remains that a huge percentage of people are so stubbornly committed to their candidate of choice that they would apparently rather see another four years of Republican rule than concede defeat. What the hell is the matter with these people??

Do Hillary Clinton supporters really think that John McCain would be a better choice for president than Barack Obama (and vice-versa)? If that's true then they are completely deluded. Because McCain is the darling of the media, he has wrongfully been painted as some type of maverick, Independent when the reality is that in the past year his Senate votes supported the Bush Administration nearly 90% of the time. The same is true for his voting record since he took office. On most of the key issues that Democrats care about he is consistently conservative. He supports the repeal of Roe v. Wade (he was given a 0% rating by NARAL -- National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League), he has a strong anti-union voting record (he has a score of only 15% by the AFL-CIO), he has voted to continue the Patriot Act, to repeal habeas corpus for Guantanamo Bay detainees, he has no type of universal health care plan, he opposes restrictions on assault weapons, he supports NAFTA and all types of free-trade agreements that essentially support
shipping American jobs overseas, he does not support the Kyoto Protocol and thinks we should re-invest oil profits in nuclear power, his solution to public education problems is more charter schools, homeschooling and school vouchers, he thinks that we need more of the death penalty and more prisons and believes in prosecuting youth as adults, he thinks the solution for keeping jobs in America is to further cut corporate income taxes yet he voted against repealing a tax subsidy for corporations that move jobs overseas, he voted against adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes, he was given a rating of 0% by the ACLU (ZERO PERCENT!), 33% by the Human Rights Campaign, and 7% by the NAACP, he voted against outlawing job discrimination based on sexual orientation and finally he believes that the Ten Commandments would bring "virtue to our schools." Not to mention there are many other things generally wrong with him (like that he doesn't seem to really understand that Al-Qaeda is Sunni and not Shiite).

Do I need to say more to convince people that John McCain is not a friend to the Democrats??! Look, I voted for Barack Obama in the Wisconsin primary. It was a really difficult decision, as I have been a huge Hillary Clinton fan for years and years. (In fact, if only I had a scanner available I would post a picture of me gleefully standing outside her Senate office on my senior AP Government trip to D.C.!) However, I found myself feeling disgusted by some of her campaign strategies, such as the 3 AM phone call ad which I felt essentially said, "If you vote for Obama, terrorists will kill you." Some people think that Obama's lack of negativity shows weakness on his part, and maybe he should fight back sometimes and that
the "I'm a lover, not a fighter" thing won't do us any good in the general election. But for some reason I am really turned off by negativity, and so in the end it was Obama's positive energy that brought me to his side. That and the years he spent working as a community organizer. As someone with a degree in social work, I got really excited by that. But despite my current support of Obama, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, I will vote for her. If it ends up that she gets the nomination through some type of back room deal with the super delegates, I may have to hold my breath as I mark her name on my ballot, but I will still do it. Why? Because I am not interested in another four years of the Bush legacy.

So even if you are an Independent that has gone Democrat this year because you like Obama or you like Clinton, let me remind you that these two candidates are much more alike than they are different. If you are willing to support Obama's policies, then remember that Clinton's policies are not so different from his. McCain's on the other hand are a world away. If you are a Democrat and think you would be better off voting Republican than voting for the Democrat that you didn't support: SHAME ON YOU. You will be responsible for the Democrats losing what should have been a guaranteed victory in November. And when you discover that the next four years are just as bad as the past eight, you will have no right to complain.

Monday, April 21, 2008

PROPAGANDA SUCKS!

When I was reading through my initial entry on this topic, I realized that I desperately need to work on being more concise. So rather than regale you with my description of a lovely spring day at the Dane County Farmers' Market, I will jump right to the point. When I was at the Market on the Capitol Square this past Sunday, I noticed a large rally on the Capitol steps. Using my excellent detective skills, I determined that it was a Human Rights Torch Relay rally. There were hundreds of individuals there, many of them Tibetan refugees and Tibetan-Americans, protesting China's human rights abuses and occupation of Tibet. Speeches were given and statements by people such as Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Senator Russ Feingold were read. Some Tibetan children performed a dance.

There were also protests organized by the local Chinese embassy and Chinese student groups. One of these Chinese protesters gave me a pamphlet, which upon reading turned out to be straight-up propaganda about Tibet. A protester standing next to her was holding a board with photos, captioned "Smiles of Tibetans." According to the pamphlet I received, Tibet has flourished under Chinese occupation. Basically, Tibetans should be really grateful to the Chinese for bringing them into the 21st century. The last page shows a photo of a Tibetan protester attacking the torch bearer of the Olympic relay in Paris. Across the page it states, "Violence is NEVER a solution."

I don't even want to get into the laughable hypocrisy involved in that statement, but I can't help from noting a few points. First of all, human rights organizations around the world and the U.S. Department of State have condemned China's human rights record. In a measure by the U.S. House of Representatives, it was cited that China has killed, tortured, imprisoned, raped and savagely beaten thousands of individuals for their spiritual practices. China has no right to claim the moral high ground on issues of non-violence, especially when the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, strongly opposes all forms of violence and has spoken out publicly against any violence perpetrated by Tibetan protesters.


To claim that China's occupation of Tibet is acceptable because the country has been modernized is ludicrous. Who's to say that the country couldn't have modernized on its own? The propaganda sheet that I received invited foreigners to come and see for themselves the "real truth" about Tibet by visiting the country. Well, unfortunately that is currently impossible since China has banned tourism to Tibet -- including entry by foreign journalists. But as a matter of fact, I happen to know some people who have visited Tibet and they left the country with an intense hatred for what the Chinese have done. According to them (and this has been corroborated by real news sources), the number of ethnic Tibetans will soon be smaller than the numbers of Han Chinese who have infiltrated the country. The Chinese have moved millions of their own citizens into Tibet, and the basic infrastructure of the country has slowly been changed to cater to the Chinese. The woman that I know who visited the country said that she won't be surprised if pretty soon signs written in Tibetan will be removed, leaving up only the ones in Chinese. Tibetans are not allowed to openly practice their religion -- even photographs of the Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet. Most recently, China has ordered Tibetans to undergo "patriotic education" (i.e. brainwashing) in regards to the Dalai Lama an the Tibetan community in exile.

"Genocide" might seem like a heavy word for what China has done in Tibet, but it is accurate. According to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is,
"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Genocide does not have to involve actual killing (although thousands of Tibetans have lost their lives thanks to the Chinese), it is simply the systematic destruction of a culture. China has without a doubt spent the past fifty years trying to wipe out Tibetan culture and replace it with its own.

And people within China don't see anything wrong with it, because as far as they are concerned nothing bad is going on in Tibet. Thanks to the Chinese government's fabulous propaganda campaign. My best friend's cousin was in China and he did an internet search of the keyword "Tibet" and all that came up were government websites spewing pro
paganda. Many of us in the U.S. (myself included) complain about the Bush administration and the propaganda on the Iraq war, etc. But we really have no idea what it is like to live in a country where the press is truly censored; where citizens only have access to what the government decides is appropriate; where the types of rallies and open demonstrations and dialogue that we engage in all the time in the United States would land us in jail in China.

I know people who are Chinese. When I was living in Portugal, some of my fellow foreign students were from China and they were some of the nicest people imaginable. I have nothing against the people of China. It's not their fault that they have grown up in a country where the government tells them what to think about things like Tibet. When they come to the United States and to other countries, I can understand why they have a hard time accepting what we have to say about it. They have been told something else for their whole lives.

And that is why propaganda sucks!

And that is also why I will not be watching the Olympics this year.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

THE ETHICS OF OUTING

On a recent episode of The L Word, the character Alice outs a [fictional] NBA star after he appears on TV spouting some homophobic drivel. She posts on her website some secretly taken footage of said star and his boyfriend, and before she knows it the footage has gone viral. Shortly afterwards she is invited to appear on a news show where viewers are essentially posed the question: when, if ever, is it acceptable to "out" someone?

There are some who believe that celebrities or other influential individuals that are lesbian or gay have a responsibility to be open about their sexual orientation in order to set an example and increase acceptance. Gossip bloggers such as Perez Hilton have made a career out of speculating on the private lives of the famous. He is said to be responsible for the rumors that led to the eventual outings of both Grey's Anatomy star T.R. Knight and former Doogie Howser celeb Neil Patrick Harris. Many of these gossip bloggers, especially those that are also gay, seem to feel that stars who choose to remain closeted are living a lie and feeding into the homophobia that exists in both Hollywood and the larger society. Others have rightly pointed out the problems that a no-longer-closeted star faces.

For someone like Ellen Degeneres, for example, being out has ultimately not hindered her career. But for a younger celebrity, whose career has been built on sex appeal, coming out of the closet just might be the kiss of death. Another recent L Word episode explores this, when Alice sort of outs another character: the sexy young actress Niki Stevens. Tina, who is producing Les Girls, the new film Niki is starring in, is furious. She says to Alice, "
We want this movie to reach a large, mainstream audience, all right? And if everyone thinks the lead of our movie is gay, then that makes it a small, little niche film." Niki's agents are equally nervous about her being outed, saying that no guys are going to want to watch her on screen if they think that she's only interested in women. Applying it to real life, would all the young girls go crazy over tween sensations like Zac Efron or the Jonas Brothers if they thought that they were gay?

But beyond the issue of potential career damage, there is the matter of personal choice and integrity. Celebrities are human beings, not products owned by the public domain. It's true that being famous means being in the public eye and being scrutinized to a higher degree than the average person. But there comes a point when a line is crossed. Everyone, after all, deserves a degree of privacy, especially when it comes to family and loved ones. Do we really want to force someone out of the closet who is not ready? Doesn't that diminish both the importance of the act and the courage that is required to take that step? Ellen Degeneres is praised both for coming out at a time when not a lot of gay celebrities were openly revealing their sexuality and for the integrity surrounding her decision. Doesn't everyone deserve to have that kind of integrity surrounding what is likely to be the most difficult revelation of their life? Recently out former NBA-player John Amaechi says,
"I wanted to [come out] in a way that I could control to make sure that the message was confluent and coherent and that I was mentally, physically and emotionally resilient." Should not every person have that amount of control over something so important?

Then there is the matter of those individuals, such as Jodie Foster, who have already had long and successful careers, and who have been long-rumored to be gay. Many think that they should just come out already because they don't really have anything to lose at this point. This is a tough issue because, on the one hand, it certainly can be infuriating to lesbians and gays who are desperate for increased visibility. For them, it seems that someone who refuses to come out after so many successful years in the industry is only perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is something shameful that should remain a secret. But then again, does a person's age or the length of their career mean that they should have any less right to their privacy? Just because they have "nothing to lose" doesn't mean that they are necessarily ready to admit their sexuality to a still largely homophobic society -- that they are ready to be "out and proud" or be spokespeople for LGBT rights. It's unfortunate, of course it's unfortunate. And at times it might feel like a slap in the face to the many individuals who took tremendous risks and suffered huge losses by being open about their sexuality. But does the lesbian and gay community truly want to be represented by those who are uncomfortable with being out? A better and more honorable goal might be working towards ending the attitudes and the other reasons that are keeping celebrities and others in the closet. Or perhaps supporting and getting into the mainstream performers who have been out from the start, such as actors Leisha Hailey, Jill Bennett, and Michelle Paradise, comedian Bridget McManus, or musicians Tegan and Sara (among many, many others).

Finally, we come back to the initial question, which asked when, if ever, it is okay to out someone. Although I have touched upon some gray areas, I think mostly I have given scenarios where it is probably better to leave the outing up to the person who is coming out. But I still haven't explored Alice's situation -- namely, is it alright -- maybe even imperative -- to out those who are perpetuating homophobic hatred? On The L Word Alice thought so. When she made her appearance on the news show Hardline, the interviewer attacked her for destroying a man's family and career and for violating his privacy. Alice says:

"
No, I'm talking. I'm not finished. Listen. Gay people are bashed and harassed and killed every day. And then you've got this guy who's gay himself, and he's saying this garbage? It's disgusting! I totally respect someone's choice to stay in the closet. I do. If that's what they want to do, I get it. But I don't think it's OK to kiss your boyfriend one day and then go out and trash gay people the next. Especially if you're a public figure and you have people looking up to you. No, I don't feel bad. I do not feel bad about what I did."

Hmmm ... now here is where we come to perhaps the most ethically ambiguous area of the "outing" debate. Alice, while a fictional character, holds an opinion that is probably shared by many people. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, for example, holds that it is acceptable to "out" gay politicians who act in homophobic ways. He says, "
The fact is, yes, the Republicans do think [homosexuality] should be a crime. And I think there’s a right to privacy. But the right to privacy should not be a right to hypocrisy...people who want to demonize other people shouldn’t then be able to go home and close the door, and do it themselves," Still, others believe that even homophobic actions do not justify outing any individual because it implies that there is something wrong with being gay and because it is probably going to be harmful to that person's family. A 2005 article from Tacoma, WA's News Tribune explores this issue in further depth.

So is outing a homophobic individual justified? My opinion? I just don't know the answer. I definitely feel a certain level of satisfaction in seeing a bigoted individual get his or her comeuppance, but at the same time I would like to see less negative press surrounding homosexuality. Perhaps it is much better to focus on getting positive press for the LGBT community than to carry out some kind of vendetta against those who have harmed the community. Again I want to stress that I think the most important thing is to work towards creating a world where people
want to live freely and openly, and are able to do it without fear of negative consequences.