Monday, November 24, 2008

The Upside of 8

Prop 8 (and the other antigay initiatives that passed in the election) were horrible, of course, but there are some good things that have come out of all the hullabaloo.

Wedding Rings

The first thing is that we actually had hullabaloo. We've had protests, locally and nationally. This surge of antigay legislation seems to have catalyzed some previously torpid activism.

We had several protests here in North Carolina, including ones in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Wilmington. The current LGBT movement hasn't been nearly as energized as it was earlier in the heyday of gay days (think Stonewall and ACT UP), and maybe, hopefully, we seeing a new generation of activism begin.

Now that the protesting has passed, though, it's important that we keep the momentum going. A rally shouldn't be the end. Instead, it should be the beginning. You don't take to the streets and then settle back down in your living room – you take that indignation and anger and energy and transform them into action. You activate. You bring it forward into ongoing action and lobbying and education.

The public response and outcry has brought a lot of attention to the inequities the LGBT community faces, as well as the discrimination. It easier to ignore unfairness when it's not being talked about by every major media outlook. The more marriage is talked about, the more obvious the disparities in rights become.

In addition to creating some positive conversations for the gay community, the publicity has also brought some negative attention to some of our opposition groups. When a church uses its money to fight gay marriage instead of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, people begin to question how charitable and non-political it is. Casting a ballot takes on the appearance of casting a stone.

And finally, there were some great (tongue-in-cheek) protest slogans by gay protesters:

  • “Do you really want me to marry your daughter?”
  • “More gay marriage means less gay sex. Isn't that what you want?”
  • “My gay friends deserve to be unhappy too!”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Conference

Equality NC Foundation's second annual Equality Conference and Gala convened this past Saturday at Duke, and it was a resounding success. We got great reviews on the evaluations, many people told us directly that they were very happy with the program, we had good numbers at both the conference and gala despite the collapsing economy, and we raised thirteen thousand dollars(!) for our educational efforts. It took a lot of time and energy and the efforts of a bunch of people, but it was all worth it. Now that we're in the aftermath, I've had a few random thoughts and observations:

  • We had a great number of students and transfolks in attendance. These were two audiences we'd been wanting to cultivate since last year, and it's great to see that we did. I understand the trans summit from Sunday also was well-attended and well-received.
  • The food this year was great. I mean, Cafe Parizade did a super job last year and I thought the food was good, but this year it was simply delicious.
  • I had never actually been in a gender-neutral bathroom that was being used by multiple genders before. It was cool, and the best part was I didn't even think about it until after the fact.
  • ENC has great interns. They were intrinsic and invaluable parts of the conference and gala this year, and several people specifically commented on them. (I also learned one of them is straight and two of them are Jewish. ENC is even more diverse that I initially thought!)
  • ENC has great staff. Rebecca is the quintessential community organizer, being dynamic and engaging even while fighting off a cold. Ian is smart and visionary, always thinking ahead and strategizing ways to advance the movement forward, always presenting his case in a calm and cogent manner. Kay throws herself heart and soul into her work, pulling off feat after feat of fundraising and programming.
  • ENC has great supporters. I've helped behind the scenes of many, many conferences, and the folks who come to ours are easily the most enthusiastic, friendly, and easy to work with. It's our community that drives the movement, and our community is simply amazing.

We were fortunate to have had so many great people at our conference, both attending and presenting. Given how well things went this year, it's exciting to think what the next year will bring.

-T. Shawn Long

Monday, November 3, 2008

Supreme Education - Teaching Reality

Back in early October, there were two cases that the US Supreme Court ruled on that were significant to – and positive for – LGBT families. Odds are that you never heard anything about either of them.

blackboard graphic

Both of these were instances where the court declined to examine a ruling, i.e., they let stand a lower court ruling. By doing so, even though the Supreme Court did not issue a decision based on the merits of the cases, they tacitly affirmed the lower court's decisions.

Both of the initial cases came from Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, and both dealt with a family objecting to their kid being taught something about gay families.

One family objected to their child reading books in kindergarten and first-grade that included diverse families, including families with same-sex parents. Another family didn't want their son's second-grade teacher reading the class a book that celebrated a gay marriage.

Both families made their objections based on religious grounds.

Both families lost their cases locally, and each time the statewide rulings had a good quote from the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. Regarding the case on diverse families, the court said “There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations.”

In the gay marriage case, the court said, “Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas,”

The US Supreme Court declined to hear the cases without comment.

These were good legal decisions, albeit pretty obvious ones. The idea that someone can use their religion to opt out of their children being taught something is pretty crazy and unbelievably burdensome, as well as counter to the entire concept of education. (Just imagine the patchwork of teachings we’d have if teachers had to individualize their lesson-plans to censor out bits to each student. Madness!)

The simple truth is that our families (gay families) exist, and while opposition groups might want to deny our existence, they can't, or at least they can't in the school systems. And the natural anodyne to ignorance is education – the more people who learn about our families and how normal we are, the less they fear us as 'unknown' and the less they see us as 'other.'

These rulings set a good precedent, and it's always nice to hear something positive come out of our liberal/conservative split Supreme Court. Decisions like this circumscribe our rights and legal status, and every affirmation is a step forward for us. It’s also good for us, as gay families, to know about things like this, so that we can better advocate for ourselves and educate others on our issues.

-T. Shawn Long