A Letter to the Midland Superintendent

•October 27, 2010 • 1 Comment

Dear Mr. Stanley,

Words cannot accurately describe my feelings of outrage right now at the comments made by one of your school board members, Mr. Clint McCance. I was made aware of his defamatory, demeaning, and degrading comments toward the LGBT community earlier today. His words not only show a complete lack of tolerance and understanding, but also a total disregard for his position in the community. He was elected to the school board with the intention that he would have the best intentions for our children at heart, and what he has written shows a deep-seated hate which can only harm the youth of Arkansas.

In the last few weeks the nation has become aware of the tragedy that is LGBT teen suicides through unprecedented news coverage, and in response those who wished to show their support for these struggling youth wore purple on October 20th. This was done in remembrance of the teens, many of whom were as young as thirteen, who have died and in an effort to make sure that lives like theirs would not be lost again. These children took their own lives because they faced bullying and hatred in their schools. Places where they should not feel afraid. Mr. McCance’s words show that he does not oppose this kind of intolerance in our schools, and while he is on the board for the Midland Schools I fear for the safety of the students there.

His absolute lack of respect for these children’s lives illustrates that he should not be allowed to be in a place of authority over the education of our next generation. He went so far as to say that he revels in the deaths of LGBT people, disregarding the intrinsic worth of a person’s life. Each and every life is precious – no matter their creed, color, race, ethnicity, orientation, sex, or gender. We are supposed to promote tolerance and understanding in our schools and in our lives so that our children will not have to inherit a world filled with hate and death, and the message that Mr. McCance is sending only contributes to an environment filled with fear.

I want you to know that I am an Arkansan – I have lived here my entire life. I also want you to know that I am someone’s son and someone’s brother. I want you to know that I am gay. I have lived all my life hearing people like Mr. McCance, and I grew up in fear of being who I am. I feared being victimized based on nothing more than who I love. I want you to know the profound effect that these words, from a grown member of our community, have on our children. And with each death there is not only the tragedy of that person losing their life, but also the tragedy of parents losing their child or a sister losing her brother.

If you do not act, you are implicitly condoning the actions and the words used by Mr. McCance, and that you too share the responsibility for them. We as Arkansans – as Americans – must act to preserve life and insure that our children are cared for and loved. We as Americans have a fundamental right to our thoughts and our beliefs, but we do not have a right to hate others because of who they are. I ask you, please, take action now by calling for Mr. McCance’s resignation from your school board; otherwise this would be an outrageous miscarriage of justice.

Sincerely,
Spencer Smith

Waiting To Be Understood

•July 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

THERE are a lot of people who are always up in arms about marriage in this country. In particular there are a number who are constantly having conniption fits, throwing their hands in the air, and lamenting that marriage has “lost its sanctity.” And this is all because Ron and Evan down the road wanted to get a piece of paper that gives their union legal legitimacy. Well, I am almost positive that little piece of paper is not going to change a single solitary thing about marriage in general, except the fact that more people like Ron and Evan can get married.

People all over this country were fairly sure that when the “Divorce Revolution” began in 1953 that the world was going to end, and yet the world continued to turn. Then in 1967 when the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage people were sure that the world was heading toward hell in a hand-basket. But, as surely as I am sitting here now, the world is still intact. And I am willing to bet my life on the fact that one day when same-sex unions become legal across this country, that the world will keep on going.

I am tired of hearing that two men or two women marrying would somehow irrevocably harm marriage. I have asked repeatedly how exactly this could be, and generally I get one of two sputtering responses. Either it will ruin the sanctity of marriage or it will harm “the children.” These two separate entities have never really been fleshed out for me; they still have no established meaning. Talking to one person here will be completely different than the answer I received talking to another person last week. As a result it has all become very confusing for me.

I know a number of gay people who have been in long term relationships and either are married or consider themselves married. They have beautiful relationships and a love which I would dare anyone to challenge. Sactity is something that resemblesor has the qualities of godliness, and, since I believe God is love, then there is sanctity in their union because it is filled with love. It has been a grievous miscarriage of justice for this country, who is supposed to regard all men as equal, to not recognize this fact. At this point the law is not preventing people from being gay or stopping people from forming loving relationships; the law is simply discriminating against people who want nothing more than to live happy, fulfilling lives.

The second point – “the children” – is treated like there is an eminent danger to any child that would be raised in a household with two same-sex parent. I will ignore the fact that not all gay couples that want to get married want to necessarily raise children and move onto the underlying fear of what would happen if they did. Many of the people who fear a child in a loving household with either two dads or two moms also believe that every child should be raised in a fifties nuclear household with a mom, a dad, a dog, two-point-five kids, and a white picket fence. Many of these people are opposed to single parents too; a belief which I believe is untenable.

Think about Arkansas for example. In 2008 the people of Arkansas feared same-sex couples adopting children from foster care that Initiative Act I was passed. This law sated that no childe could be raised by a single adult or cohabitative parents. Rather than risking a child be placed into a home that would love and raise them, people chose that a child should be remain bouncing from foster homes and orphanages. To put it in plain terms, a child with no home and no family is better off than a child with two dads, two moms, or one of either. Because THIS is a representation of social justice in the American household.

Only through experiencing the Rockwellian ideal of the formulaic household will a child gain the skills needed for life and be well adjusted. This is tantamount to telling people who grew up in single-parent households that they are somehow broken or incomplete. Something that I can assure you is not always the case. Some of the strongest people I know come from single parent households because their mother or father did all she or he could for their children, and they grew up watching this. On the flip side I know a lot of kids who come from two-parent households and their family life is in a far worse state of affairs. You can’t make sweeping generalizations about the American household when every one of us comes from a unique and different background.

I think people should stand back and think long and hard about what they are arguing about before they commit to it. When someone tells me that I can’t get married because marriage is between one man and one woman, I would like to know where that believe came from. I get two answers usually, which are really just two variation of the same answer. The first is that God intended for marriage to be that way. It is Adam and EVE, not Adam and STEVE. The second is a little more evasive but often times have the same origin, people tell me that being gay is just not natural. I have been lectured on the square-peg-round-hole logic, if it can be called that, and still it just does not hold water.

Regarding the argument about what exactly God intended, there are a number of things that I have qualms with. I will briefly put here my first problem and that is the separation of church and state in this country. It is one of our founding principles and I am sure that our patriotic fathers put in the first amendment to the Constitution. But, moving past that bump in the road, there are some ideological problems I have with this kind of argument. First, I believe that I was born on this earth just as gay as I am now I however cannot prove this so it is a moot point. Second, is that in the Bible there are multiple-multiple cases of polygamy being endorsed by God. Solomon, for example, had over a thousand wives and he was loved by God above other men. Men in biblical times also stoned their wives, beat them, and sold or bought them like commodities. We have moved past these things in our modern society, and I am sure that most people would agree that this is a good thing.

The second argument is that being gay “is not natural,” which I will again point back to being born this way briefly then move on. I will have to say that I am thankful that we as a country are not big on natural things, because otherwise we would be an Amish colony on steroids. I am willing to bet that you love your new iPhone4 too much to part with it because it is unnatural to talk through light waves bounced off of satellites in space. Because that is just plain weird. So it is clear that your problem is not that it is unnatural, it is that you think that gay people are –icky– and that is about it. Well deal with it. If our biggest problem with R. Kelly urinating on an underage girl on camera was the fact that the girl was underage, then I am not sure what the deal is with what to consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home.

As hard as it is to accept for some people, change happens. It may be one of the few things that have defined mankind for our entire existence. We are constantly changing and evolving. The general trend of change in society is that it is for the better, and every time society makes a change for the better it is harshly opposed. The key is to look past your own personal feelings and look at society as a whole, look at the lives that are around you and ask yourself what is truly right and charitable. What is the right thing to do? Just because something is different that does not mean that it should be feared or oppressed, it means that it is waiting to be understood.

The Times Are Changing

•July 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So today something special happened – the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed.

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with what DOMA is, I’ll briefly explain what it does. The law circumvented the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Basically the law said that no state had to recognize same-sex unions performed outside of the state (so if I got married in Massachusetts and moved back to Arkansas I would be out of luck) and the law also defined marriage as between one man and one woman on the federal level. That is basically the gist of it – a big screw-you to the LGBT community.

This is just one of three big things moving through the courts regarding LGBT issues, the other two being Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Proposition 8 trail in California. We are still awaiting the decision of Judge Walker on the Prop 8 trial and for the conclusion of what is to be done with DADT. Both have potentially very favorable outcomes, like DOMA. This means that 2010 can potentially be one of the biggest years, legally speaking, for the LGBT community.

Beyond violating the FFCC in the Constitution, there are a number of reasons that since the law passed in 1996 (before Lawrence v. Texas) it was waiting to be challenged. Among them DOMA violated the 10th Amendment (which is a bit of Federalism that separates state and federal rights), violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. Essentially the bill was filled with all kinds of wrong and it has been fourteen years for this to finally be rectified.

All-in-all this means that if you are legally married in either of the five states (MA, CT, IA, NH, & VT) or the District of Columbia that allow marriage between same-sex partners your marriage would be recognized by any other state that you enter. The thousand-plus rights that same sex couples are often not afforded are now open to them, granted that they make the trip to one of the states that allows them to be married. Which is really a small hassle in the overarching scheme of things, I would think.

This said, there are a lot of people in the LGBT community who are anti-marriage. This is a concept that makes no sense to me. If you do not like the idea of marriage, then simply do not get one. I personally want one – I want to be married. That is correct; when I am with Mr. Right I want to get all the benefits that I should be afforded from my government. Not only that I want the government, the society which I am part of, to recognize and acknowledge my relationship.

When I hear people in my own community telling me that marriage is “heteronormative” or some kind of dribble like that it honestly royally pisses me off. Mostly for the main reason that they illustrate that they misunderstand the concept of what heteronormative is. When I get married there will be two men standing before god and the government. How exactly is that heteronormative? I would honestly believe that it is quite the opposite, that I am thumbing my nose and heteronormative and saying “deal with it.”

On the other side of the fence are the people who oppose marriage because it will destroy the institution or the ideal of the American family. Yeah, I’ll believe that coming from someone with a fifty percent chance of being divorced. Or after I read a report from the Associated Press that details a longitudinal study of lesbian parents that shows that their children are more well adjusted and perform better in school.

This is no longer the fifties when women stayed at home and vacuumed for eight hours a day then made dinner before listening to what their husband did at work. Black people have rights, women can actually function autonomously, and, yes, gay people can get married. The world is changing and, heaven help us, I think it is for the better.

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

•July 1, 2010 • 2 Comments

Let’s have a sit down chat here for just a moment because there is something that I want to discuss. Today’s topic of discussion is “People That Don’t Make Sense.” There are a lot of folks out there that would just call them “Republicans” or “Conservatives,” but I would rather not stick a political label on people that are just stupid. To be honest there are a fair number of Republicans and Conservatives who do in fact have the ability to use both halves of their brain, and there are certainly Democrats who should walk around town wearing a helmet and oven mitts.

However, that caveat aside, Republicans tend to say more illogical, bigoted, or downright inane things overall. Take the party platform from Texas for example. The state where Lawrence v. Texas originates, i.e. the Supreme Court case that struck down all sodomy laws in this country, is trying to criminalize sodomy…again. Which would mean an end to blowjobs in the Lone Star State all together, and I am pretty sure would piss off most men in general. However, I am also pretty sure that is not how the law would be used. It would be used specifically against homosexuals to abridge our rights as American citizens.

But no, they did not stop there. The GOP of Texas also thought it rad to include another little bit of silliness in their platform. They want to also criminalize the act of performing a marriage ceremony for a same sex couple as a felony. Something which is absolutely absurd to consider because felony crimes include assault and battery, rape, vandalism, robbery, drug use/sale and arson … the common thread between all these is that they either harm or could harm someone gravely. Now take a moment to hold up performing a marriage to rape … not quite the same is it?

Well, the Grand Old Party feels like they are right about on par with each other. When I heard this I was dumbfounded that this would ever come up in the first place since it has been over seven years since Lawrence v. Texas.

But the fun does not stop there, for some unforeseeable reason Montana wants to also criminalize “homosexual acts.” (Whatever the hell that is. When I mow the lawn it is a homosexual act, but I digress.) I have no idea how you could even enforce such a statute. Would it be like the McCarthy era except this time call it the “Pink Scare?” Will they search for us with bloodhounds trained on the scent of our favorite hair-care products.

More than just this, there is something else that has been developing recently that has been bothering me more. The same people who are working to get this legislation passed are also the same people who are trying to portray homosexuals as bogeymen out to scare fine upstanding Christians. Honestly, I do not know which of these two things bothers me the most.

There was an article recently in the Huffington Post about how one of the new memes among Christian conservatives is that we – the big, bad, terrible homosexuals – are badgering and hounding people into silence. Indeed the groups of people who have been fear mongering and lobbying against equal rights for years are in fact now the victims of liberal bias. Now I am sorry, but I am going to have to call bullshit on this argument.

Gay people are not trying to rewrite laws to specifically hurt or imprison Christians, at least when I last checked we were not. You can check for yourself, but I am pretty sure you will find the same thing. The closest thing we argue for is to keep Church and State separate, which, according to everything I’ve ever read, is something that our founding fathers agreed on well before the gay parade even joined in on the political bandwagon.

America is not a theocracy, and Christians are not the victims. No one in this country has ever been beaten to death because of “Christian-panic.” Gay people are victimized on a daily basis by physical and verbal violence, discrimination, and oppression. To even pretend that it is the other way around is like slapping us in the face. We are beaten and killed and in many states the law simply looks the other way. It is just not feasible for Christian conservatives to lay claim to the word “victim.”

There is an old adage, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” You can’t stand on one side of the fence trying to enact laws that would do irreparable harm to the gay community in defense of the “moral right,” while at the same time calling foul on the gay community for playing to rough. I don’t think that when people say things like this that it is our very way of life at stake. To them it is just some cross to bear or something you always grew up believing but never took the time of day (or night) to ask why. As hard as it is to believe we only want to live peacefully and happily with all the rights that everyone already has.

Southern Pride

•June 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Southern Pride is something that you do not hear a lot about because it is really not generally discussed. Mostly because when I say “Southern Pride” you are probably thinking that I mean something more along the lines of celebrating Robert E. Lee Day, after all it is still a holiday for some rural schools. But when I am talking about Southern Pride it is not a rebel flag that I am talking about waving but a rainbow one.

I live in Arkansas which one of the poorest of the southern states (consistently ranking only above only Mississippi and West Virginia), and as most people can tell you – being gay in the south is very different than being gay in the north. This is nothing new. We are more likely to be the victim of intolerance, hatred, and assault overall. I myself have a friend who was nearly beaten to death in rural Arkansas for being gay when he was only sixteen. This is a harsh reality that we have learned to live with.

But in spite of this, we are not afraid to show our colors. There are LGBT organizations all over the state in local high schools, colleges, and through non-profit organizations. Though almost all of them face resistance at their inception or continually, they still do their best to fight for equality in this state. It is a battle that is not always easy, but definitely worthy of our time.

Here this last April we actually tasted some tangible success when a circuit court judge in Pulaski County overturned the adoption ban which was passed in 2008 on the election ballot. This does not mean that we can let up our efforts because we have to be ever vigilant against those who first put the initiative on the ballot in the first place. People like Jerry Cox and the Arkansas Family Council. There are so many more thing that we have to keep on working towards before we can rest.

This is all the more reason that visibility is important in the south. As long as people see us as a faceless, immoral entity we will never be equal. We have to come out as people – As friends, neighbors, sons, daughters, parishioners, clients, students, and teachers.  Yes, it is easier to survive when you are not out. It certainly has less direct risks, but, at least for me, it has none of the rewards.

This is where I am finally getting around to the main point of what I am writing about – Southern Pride. June is National Pride Month, and everywhere, even here, people are celebrating. On June 6th I went to my first ever pride celebration. Conway Pride is a small gathering compared to other pride events, but it meant a tremendous amount to me. The celebration has been going on for a few years now and has been largely orchestrated by John Schenck and Robert Loyd who own the Pink House there in town.

A few years back the small parade made national news when a man attempted to halt the parade by dumping manure in the road. But the people kept on marching, and they have been marching for six years now.

Well, this Saturday I am going to NW Arkansas Pride in Fayetteville which has received some “bad” press for being too family friendly. The grand marshal for the parade this year is going to be Will Phillips, the ten year old from West Fork, Arkansas. If you remember him from the news, you would recognize him as the boy who refused to recite the pledge of allegiance until all men were treated equally.

His selection has started a media firestorm on both sides bombarding the Fayetteville’s Mayor’s office. So much so that it has been reported by the Advocate, FOXNews, CNN, and even PrezHilton.com. The American Family Association (AFA) is calling it “child abuse,” in spite of Will repeatedly saying that no has put him up to this. He is not the “balloon boy” for god’s sake.

I am waking up bright and early Saturday morning to drive two and a half hours to Fayetteville to do my part add myself to the numbers who will be congregating there. I am doing my best to get as many people as I know to go as well, or at least tell people that it is going on.

Yes, we do not have the flash and the bang of the parades in the larger cities. We are lower key and family friendly, but that does not mean we are any less important or that we should not be talked about any less. I think that the pride events in places like Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia are more important than the ones that happen in New York or San Francisco. It is one thing to celebrate the freedom that you have been given, but it is something entirely different to celebrate the freedom that you are making for yourself.

Big things sometimes happen in small places, and little people can do some great things – Just ask Will Phillips. And here’s my piece of Southern Pride.

Joining the Conversation

•June 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, as you may know this June marks the second annual Gay & Lesbian Pride Month, and I guess I am mentioning this a little late to the party … but who does not love being fashionably late? Speaking of being fashionably late, have been out for a couple of years now, and, honestly, it feels great. I have been getting involved in activism and involvement in the community and all that fun jazzercize. Anywho, I have always believed that if you want to be a part of anything you have to know what is going on, you have to one ear to the ground and one eye toward the sky (difficult position to be in, so pardon the mixed metaphor). I try to keep on top of the news and aware of all the political going-ons because in the end it does actually affect me. As an old philosopher once said: There is a conversation going on all around us, we just have to take the time to listen and have the heart to speak up.

So here last week we heard the closing arguments in the Prop 8 trail from the District Court of Northern California, presided over by Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. Representing the defense was Charles Cooper, who, as pointed out by Ted Olson, made a number of legal gaffs that the court would be hard pressed to overlook, and for the prosecution there were both sides of 2000’s Bush v. Gore case – Theodore Olson and David Boies.  Both came to the agreement to represent disenfranchised same-sex couples over a friendly game of golf based off and off-handed comment by Boies. That small comment would later become what I believe to represent one of the true examples of bipartisanship currently in this country.

More information on the David Boies and Ted Olson team up HERE and HERE.

Now, prior to hearing the closing arguments Judge Walker had this to say:

“I was hoping that we could get this case in before present. But it may be appropriate that the case is coming to closing arguments now. June is, after all, the month for weddings”

That certainly sounds very promising, especially considering that Judge Walker is one of two openly gay federal court judges; however his feelings on the matter have never been clear. Judge Walker is known in the court as having a fast wit and a peculiar sense of humor, but he is also known for separating his own personal feelings from his work. In my opinion I would go so far as to say that he has actually ruled in some cases against homosexuals to prevent being accused of bias, even when those decisions were later overturned. Nancy Pelosi and over two dozen democrats actually opposed his nomination based on the belief that he was too harsh on the poor and, ironically, homosexuals.

But placing all that aside and looking at the case merely upon its legal merits, I still believe that Boies and Olson have made a superior case. Cooper at one point in the trial actually said that he did not know how same-sex marriage would affect marriage as a whole … but at the same time he was sure it would not be good. Yeah, sure. Also, Cooper said that he did not have to prove anything to the court … which, if I read the how-to-be-a-lawyer manual correctly you kinda do have to prove something.

But simply not proving things was not enough for the pro-Prop 8 constituency, they wanted to figure out time travel as well. Petitioners have asked Judge Walker to retroactively eliminate the 18,000 marriages that were performed in the period which it was legal in California. In effect they are petitioning explicitly for the destruction of nearly twenty-thousand marriages. I it is impossible for the “moral majority” to any longer lay claim to the idea that they are protecting marriage and families when they are the ones who are attacking couples who have in cases waited their entire life to marry (just look at Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon).You have to ask yourself who really is destroying marriage now?

 
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