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Gay Rights

A Matter of Human Rights

A few nights ago I had a terrible dream, so real and so intense it woke me up. In that dream I found myself living in a land where I wasn’t allowed to decide who I could love, or how I could express that love – no one had such a right. The people in that benighted place were only allowed certain choices, their options limited by what a majority of their fellow citizens would allow.

When I awoke from the dream I couldn’t go back to sleep. It was early in the morning, probably around 4:00 or 4:30, and I laid there in the dark, thinking about the dream and how it made me feel – and how it would make anyone feel. And I came to realize that I do live in such a society, a place where the quality and strength of anyone’s love is not so important as the choice of whom that love is for.

You think I’m wrong? Let’s consider a few things: If I choose a partner who has a different religious background than mine I’ll certainly face opposition and criticism. If I choose a partner who has a different cultural heritage the same sentiments apply, and it would be compounded if that partner were from a different ethnic group. If you have any doubt about that contention think about how most people react to a racially mixed couple, especially an African American man with a white woman – at best there’s a very thin social veneer of politeness covering discomfort with such a pair, and until recently several states had laws against “interracial” marriages, putting the official stamp on bigotry.

“But those laws are all gone now – we aren’t allowed to discriminate against people because of race, religion or creed. And you can’t change people’s opinions just by changing a law.” I’ve heard all that many, many times. Some very bad laws have been repealed and other laws have replaced them, new laws that ban discriminating against me if I love a woman from a different religion or who has a different level of skin pigmentation. But what if I love another man?

There is a growing movement in the United States, a movement that condemns and calls for discriminating against homosexual men and women. An increasingly loud and determined percentage of Americans would deny to gays and lesbians equal protection under the law, and encourages discrimination in employment, housing, health care and many other areas. Some of the more extreme voices in that chorus condone, implicitly or even explicitly, open, violent hatred against homosexuals. It is these voices of hatred and intolerance that have caused a rapid increase in crimes committed against people perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Many gay-bashers claim that “only” one percent of the American population is gay or lesbian. That one percent is two and one half million people, or roughly the equivalent of the populations of Houston and Dallas combined. There would be no moral authority for telling everyone in Dallas and Houston that they could never have a job teaching children because they would “recruit” children into the Texas “life-style”. There would be no right to deny those same people equal access to health care because being from either of those cities is an “offensive and unnatural” way to live to the majority of us who don’t live there. The gay and lesbian percentage of the population of America may be as high as ten percent and, if so, what’s going on is the equivalent of telling everyone from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana that they are diseased, undesirable and contemptible simply because they were born in one of those states or choose to live there. What is immoral, plain and simple, is to deny anyone the right to love whom they please as best they can simply because some people don’t understand, approve of or accept that choice.

The issue is not one of “gay and lesbian” rights or “homosexual” rights – it is an issue of human rights. Each of us individually and all of us as collectively must be concerned that we live our own lives to the best of our abilities and give others the right to do the same. If I choose to love another man it’s no one’s concern but his and mine, and if my neighbor loves another woman, she must be given the absolute right and the unwavering protection of the law to do so. Love is not so cheap a commodity that any honest expression of it should be denied simply because the bigoted and judgmental among us don’t understand it.

It doesn’t matter if twenty-five million people or two and one half million people or only two people are gay or lesbian – it’s time to end the nightmare for everyone who is guilty of nothing more than loving another human being.

Freedom of (and from) Religion

Free to Believe

Going to church was something I looked forward to when I was a kid. My mom’s family was Baptist and my dad’s family was Assembly of God, and for the most part I liked both churches. By and large, church was a nice place to go on Sunday mornings. First came Sunday school, then the sermon, then hanging around with people. Church provided a nice sense of community, of belonging to something that other people were a part of. Then, when I was eight or nine years old, something happened to change that.

We’d been attending a Baptist church. It was close and convenient, and had a large congregation. I can remember hearing my parents talking about how much they liked the church and its pastor, but that changed. Somehow the issue of baptism came up, and my dad and the preacher got into an argument about the relative merits of baptism by sprinkling versus baptism by immersion. My dad had been baptized one way and insisted that he need not be baptized again, but the preacher insisted that the only valid way was the other. I really don’t remember who advocated what, but I do remember that the argument became very heated over the course of a few Sundays.

The argument escalated to the point that one day I thought the pastor and my dad were going to come to blows. Here were two men, both of whom I respected, though obviously in different ways and to different degrees, who were so rigid in their beliefs that there was no room for the other’s opinion. I’d been going to church long enough that I felt I knew that the most important thing was to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. Both men had done that, and both men, as far as I could tell, worked very hard to live their lives according to what Christ taught. And both were unyielding in their positions. We never went back to that church again.

I began to question the beliefs I had been told were the unquestionable word of God – both sets of beliefs. It was and remains an ongoing process, but at a very early age I came to the conclusion that whatever relationship I have with God is between me and God. When I hear intolerance about religious differences, when I see judgment passed on faith of a “lesser” quality, I feel the anger start to boil within. Over the past several years, that anger has been a more and more common companion of mine.

At the 1992 Republican convention Pat Buchanan gave a speech wherein he proclaimed that this nation is in a “religious war.” He’s right – and he’s one of the primary instigators of that war. Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Robert Simonds, D. James Kennedy and an ever-growing list of fanatics, liars and hucksters are leading ambushes on religious freedom in America. They and their followers are out to convert you and me to their beliefs, and they have vowed to take no prisoners. They decry the separation of church and state, sometimes claiming that it has never existed, other times calling out to “tear down this wall.” They want obligatory religious faith, legislated religious conformity and mandated piety, with severe penalties for those of us who might waiver.

The legislation they demand cannot create faith, it can only coerce shallow and insincere lip service to faith. Government cannot codify and define God in a way that everyone will accept, and it has no moral authority to attempt even that. When I consider issues of faith and conscience, something I’ve done very often for more than forty years, sometimes in the dead of night, I know that I have the absolute and inalienable right, and I would argue a responsibility, to come to terms with my own relationship with God as I see that relationship and that God. I allow for no government stamp of approval or participation in that process, and I will not submit to a “litmus test” of faith to judge my worth as a citizen, a person or a man. I am free to condemn myself to hell or seek salvation by any means my mind and soul can devise, and I will do so without the intolerance and condemnation of the zealots who are currently seeking political influence in the name of God – their god.

Copyright 1997
All rights reserved

Break the Silence on Domestic Violence

BREAK THE SILENCE

If you take a couple of minutes to read this, maybe while you enjoy a Sunday morning cup of coffee, you should know that while you’re reading and sipping, thirteen women will be physically abused in America. Two of those women will be raped, one or both of them by a man she knows. Eight or more of those women will resist the attacks, verbally and/or physically.

Half the women in America will be in abusive relationships during their lives. Women are nine times more likely to be attacked at home than on the street, and they’re more likely to be raped by someone they know than by a stranger. When they know their attackers they’re more than twice as likely to suffer injuries as they are when they don’t know them. Many of those injuries will be so severe the victims won’t be able to drink coffee for a long time, if ever again. Put your cup aside and I’ll tell you how I know these statistics: I have had the pain and the awakening of seeing the Clothesline Project on display.

The National Clothesline Project was started in 1990. It consists of t-shirts created by women who have been the victims of violence, or by their surviving family or friends. There’s a color scheme to the shirts, though it’s not rigidly followed: yellow or beige is for women who have been battered or assaulted; red, pink or orange is for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted; blue or green is for women survivors of incest or child sexual abuse; purple or lavender is for women attacked because of their perceived sexual orientation; black is for women who have been gang-raped; and white is for women who have died as a result of violence.

The Ventura County Clothesline Project currently has fifty-five shirts, all made by local victims, or by their families. I assure you that every color and category listed above is included in the display. I have never in my life experienced a more moving, more haunting, more shaming feeling than what I felt while I stood before the silent cloth witnesses to what is happening to women and girls in this nation. In fact the point, the purpose of the Clothesline Project, nationally and locally, is to “Break the Silence” and put an end to this cycle of cruelty.

More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War. During that war 51,000 American women were killed in the U.S. by men who supposedly loved them. We built a wall to honor those who died in Vietnam, a long, black slash across the national conscience, so that we would not forget those who gave their all. But we have built no such wall, no monument, to the women who died and continue to die in such awful numbers, or to so many more women who suffer emotional and physical injuries yet somehow survive. We hope that as a nation we learned something from Vietnam, but there is no indication that we have learned what a price we all pay when we continue to allow this epidemic of violence.

Stand before the clothesline, read the stories the t-shirts tell. They’re all graphic and compelling, regardless of the words used to describe what their creators went through. Those women, and all the women who have created shirts, all the women who have been victims of violence, are as courageous as any decorated combat veteran, any soldier who stood before an enemy, any Medal of Honor winner – they were all those things and more, because they too often had to stand alone.

One definition of society is “The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group.” We are certainly a society, markedly so when we realize that the institutions and culture with which we surround ourselves seem so intent on perpetuating violence against women. But no society can rightfully call itself a civilization, civil being the operative part of the equation, so long as it allows such violence to continue, or depends on the victims of that violence to stop it. It’s time to “Break the Silence” and become a civilization. You can help do so by seeing the Clothesline Project, and by supporting it. For information on how you can do both, or if you need help with this issue, contact a domestic violence hotline or the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Make a difference, and your coffee won’t taste as bitter as it does right now.

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Copyright 1994, 1994, 2015
All rights reserved