Dear Lee Terry, please stand for conservative values — reject H. Con. Res. 13

Comments are welcome but not expected. ^_^

(Part of this text was derived from the default petition provided by the American Humanist Association. Please do your part and send your representative a letter, too! They have a full template there if you don’t want to write a whole letter yourself.)

Dear Representative,

This week the House of Representatives will consider H. Con. Res. 13, which would reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and would support and encourage the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions. This resolution is likely to pass unless you vote and organize against this bill.

It’s my hope that as a Republican, one of the small-government ideals you share with me is an interest in keeping government out of private life. When the government affirms and propagates a phrase like “In God We Trust,” it is telling its citizens that there is a particular best religious position for them to hold. In this case, that position is belief in a single, probably Christian God. By mentioning a single “God” this resolution excludes respected faith traditions around the world and within our country. It excludes polytheists like Hindus; it excludes Buddhists who may venerate the Buddha but don’t consider him a god; it excludes Jews who consider it disrespectful to use their god’s name, and may refer to him as G-d instead; and it does, of course, exclude the millions of Americans who don’t believe in a higher power. And judging by the Congressional history of the resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Forbes, it’s fair to say that Rep. Forbes does not mean to affirm any and all monotheistic God-beliefs, but the particular Christian God.

This isn’t something that you should stand for — not as a representative of “one nation indivisible,” nor as a representative of a state whose motto is “Equality Before the Law.” In fact, affirming the use of “In God We Trust” runs counter to the values represented in our older, de facto motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” This is not uniting; this is dividing.

When government and religious belief remain separate, both benefit greatly. Please clarify your position on the matter, and put an end to this dangerous bill.

I got the feelin’

Why hello there, WordPress. It’s been awhile, but boy, do I have a story for you. You see,

Pastor Tom came to preach yesterday and today. The atheists came, and we brought our Bibles.

When I came home for dinner and laundry on Sunday night I had an awkward question for my parents. Well, the question wasn’t awkward: “Where are the Bibles I got for Confirmation?” The awkward part was what I intended to do with them. My more impressive Bible is a big, black Concordia Self-Study Bible (NIV) which is about 50% footnotes. My main ammunition the past two days has been dozens of page tabs, roughly color coded: pink for verses about women, green for the direct word of God, orange for acts of senseless violence, and so on. This Bible is a sight to see, especially when I wield it and preach the good news about why you should be stoned to death.

We won the crowd on Wednesday with preacher bingo. At times I took to the crowd to work it like a circus barker. If Tom says fabulous words like “homosexuality,” “Revelation,” and “fornication,” or if he just waves the Bible at someone, mark off that space; five in a row gets you a packet of delicious heathen Skittles! On the back of the cards was found (oh-so-coincidentally), the text: “If you can’t believe this preacher…” and shameless plugs for SSA, CHaT, and a couple of atheist websites. Today, a deep quiet settled over the plaza as a bingo player talked to Tom. “Do you want to ask a serious question?” Tom said. The guy nodded. “Do you want me to pray with you?” “BINGO!” He got double Skittles, a tangible Earthly reward.

Although we’ve had much fun by yelling out questions and criticisms we know Tom will never address, and a healthy share of snarky comments, we did listen to one person who asked us earlier to tone it down. One of Tom’s followers had convinced a world religions teacher to come out and talk, and she brought her dozens of students with her. For 45 minutes Tom was actually respectful enough to take questions from this teacher — after all, his usual behavior would surely turn the class off. And quite often, Tom was stumped for a few seconds; she was a pro. “Students, speak up if you have any questions!” Tom called desperately at intervals. When she had to leave, many of her students stayed, and I was sure to walk up to her and thank her for what she’d done. I’d call her a model of the opposite approach from mine.

When Tom was taking a question from a student, an older woman at the back of the crowd started trying to shout him down, saying “No, stop confusing this boy! You must testify, tell your own story! Stop quoting the Bible, this is the only way to show him the truth!” Even Tom took a shot at her when he’d recovered the crowd’s attention: “I didn’t hear most of what he said; I’m afraid I was kind of distracted.”

Let’s see, what did Tom and I talk about today? Like yesterday he mostly ignored me, but today was different. Our group’s most versatile asset has been a set of whiteboards and dry-erase markers. I alternated between writing evil Bible verses and writing questions for Tom and the crowd to consider. In the mid-afternoon, someone suggested, “Why are we giving him so much space and prominence in the middle? Let’s close the circle.” I decided, okay. I refreshed my whiteboard and stood about a yard or two away from him. Tom looked at me, looked at the sign, was silent for a good five seconds, and finally declared, “This guy really needs some help. Can someone find him a psychiatrist?”

The others (props to Matt, Greg, and the sunglasses guy) helped me tighten the circle, and we kept up with the whiteboards constantly for a couple hours with Bible quotes and Old Testament memes. Every so often Tom would pause and look and shake his head — at one point three of us each had a fresh sign and his thought process quietly derailed as he read each one in turn. One of his “toadies” (as John is so fond of calling them) was video recording him the whole time, and I’m sure we rendered a lot of footage unpalatable by standing behind and aside of him — but never in front — with our inconvenient signs. But what I’m most proud of is when I noticed that each time I threw up a Bible citation with “God says…” a couple girls on his side would start intently paging through their Bible and give the chapter and verse a good read. The portion of the crowd most likely to actually have Bibles on them, the portion I most wanted to reach, hopefully found something to think about. Just seeing this reaction was incredibly validating.

At one point Tom took a few steps away to try to regain some distance. “I’m getting out of the way for when the lightning comes, I don’t want to get hit along with these guys.” “Have faith, Tom!” I implored. “If God’s perfect, can’t he hit a target without collateral damage?” another asked.

It was funny, the conflicting advice I got from Tom’s crowd when they tried to distract me from the Atheist God’s work. “You just have to read the Bible without adding your external interpretation to it.” And when I did, I was asked “Have you read the verses before and after that? You’re not interpreting it properly within the context!” Here is the golden example and the capstone of the afternoon. Tom, talking to a student about why unbelievers can’t go to Heaven, began to wax about Moses. I grabbed my Bible and began to page through, finally finding him at Exodus 32. If you don’t know, it’s the chapter where Moses comes down from the mountain, Ten Commandments in hand, and finds the Israelites worshiping a golden calf idol in his absence. Upon finding this, Tom reminds us, Moses tells the people, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.”

Right as Tom is about to begin expounding on the relation of that verse to his point, right as he himself stops short of the “proper context,” I raise my Bible and project my voice as from the pulpit:

Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.” (Ex. 32:27-28, NIV)

Tom stared at me with such a look on his face. Seconds passed. Finally he mustered himself and said, “You know, you don’t have the right to read the Bible.” The crowd erupted! It was at this point that Tom, his facade cracking, decided it was time to close up shop with a prayer circle. He’d come at noon, and after I arrived at 1:30, my group of newfound friends stayed there with him and his group until just past 6 — twice as long as scheduled. As the rest of us chatted and they began to pray loudly, I snatched my Bible one more time and bounced up the stairs to preach over them the last verse I had saved:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. …But when you pray, go into your room, close the door… And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matt. 6:5-7, NIV)

What have we accomplished?

  • UNO SSA/CHaT have gained massive campus exposure for taking on Tom. We thanked him (some more mockingly than others) for helping us gain probably a dozen members over the past couple days.
  • Tom’s critics were shown they’re not alone. When some individual from the crowd came forward to ask Tom a question, the asker could expect backup when Tom employed slippery logic and topic-jumping. Better yet, Tom knows he can expect to endure this from us whenever he comes back.
  • Tom got stumped, Tom got angry, and the crowd got to see it. Perhaps our best work was to compel him to discredit himself. This is only a rumor, buuuuut a friend of a friend heard him say he wanted to “draw his sword” while in his closing prayer circle. Wow, we’re good!
  • We not only challenged his beliefs, but we got some people to begin to take that challenge. I saw people carrying our fliers, and besides the Exodus incident, nothing was more satisfying to me than seeing people from Tom’s section reach for their Bibles because of me. We didn’t argue for Tom’s sake; we argued for the undecideds in the audience — if not to convince them, to inoculate them against his particular god-virus by getting their minds working. That is the best and only reason to confront someone like Tom in a public forum.

I will be the first to admit: the past two days have been an astounding rush. I prepared for Pastor Tom’s arrival with no small amount of trepidation. Even thinking about a confrontation with someone will tend to send me into the shakes, so you can imagine how I felt about planning to directly engage Tom. But I was inspired, particularly by folks like the “mild-mannered” JT Eberhard who argue for the necessity and value of challenging believers about the beliefs they hold. There is no more appropriate time to do so than when someone like Tom comes around to get in everyone’s face. It was great to sharpen my skills on Tom and his folks, to see what works and what doesn’t (and to know when nothing more will help).

While I have much to improve, I urgently want to be able to convince everyone to start down the never-ending road to reason. And I intend to jump headlong into these situations again and again, because I know that no matter how badly I tremble beforehand, when I’m in my element, my voice is strong and my mind is as clear as a bell.

Bad arguments

Because I haven’t written in awhile, I’m going to take it easy on myself and evaluate a simple bad editorial. The hard part is resisting the urge to throw my head against the desk as I address points that should have been put down years ago, but are still constantly repeated and uncritically accepted.

Katherine Kersten’s opinion piece, “Gay marriage supporters opt to intimidate,” was published on Saturday in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.  The Minnesota legislature, unfortunately, just decided to send a measure before the voters that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. (Minnesota state law lacks marriage equality anyway — and apparently the legislature should have been fixing their massive deficit to avoid a state government shutdown.)

Text from Kersten’s piece, in which she calls for “a few ground rules to ensure a fair and open exchange of views,” will appear in blockquotes.

Same-sex-marriage supporters’ constant mantra has been that Minnesotans who support one man-one woman marriage are motivated by bigotry. Gay-marriage proponents make this claim even about people who merely support letting Minnesotans vote on the issue.

… But people who support one man-one woman marriage are not bigots. They argue, very reasonably, that marriage is rooted in nature — in male/female sexual complementarity — and that children need both a mother and a father. They say that’s why it has been the bedrock institution of procreation and social order in virtually all times and places.

Claim: It’s unreasonable to say that supporters of one man-one woman marriage (which I’ll abbreviate to 1M1WM for simplicity) are bigots.

Response: Supporting 1M1WM is fine. The problem is that the 1M1WM crowd doesn’t stop there, but seeks to actively deny the same privilege to others they disagree with, without real justification. Forget acceptance, that’s definitely not tolerance — and so, it is bigotry. For that matter, letting the law stay as it is also qualifies as intolerance. Yes, when you passively ignore an injustice you can fix, you are actively committing injustice. “We won’t pass any more laws against you!”

My second recommendation: We know the precise constitutional amendment language the people will be voting on, so don’t distort it.

… The “ban” language [in opinion polling regarding measures like this] also casts traditional marriage supporters in a negative light. It compels them to say they are against something, rather than allowing them to articulate what they are for.

Most important, people often hesitate to tell a pollster their true beliefs about marriage when traditional marriage supporters are routinely demonized as bigots and haters.

Claim 1: Marriage-related opinion poll wording fails to predict voter behavior.
Claim 2: The way these polls are worded is biased and unfair.

Response: Kersten makes one good point. At least some polls should ask how voters will respond to the exact language appearing on the ballot, because we need to know how people will actually vote. Kersten points out that polls in California and Maine had predicted that voters would reject 1M1WM measures.

Is fairness an issue, though? It’s nice to know what you support. But it’s not unfair to ask you if you would, in fact, actively deny something to others. Coming back to Kersten’s first claim, the attempt to frame opposition to marriage equality as (only) support for 1M1WM marriage is so absurd I marvel that so many people continue to parrot it. See also: “I’m not opposed to interracial marriage; I just support marriage exclusively between people of the same race.”

One last point: In the coming debate, we must have zero tolerance for intimidation tactics. Bullying has become standard operating procedure for many same-sex marriage activists. Their attack last year on Target Corp. is now held up as a national model by those attempting to silence same-sex marriage opponents.

In California, support for Prop 8 has cost some people their jobs. The latest casualty is Olympic gold medal winner Peter Vidmar, who resigned as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team on May 6, after his support for Prop 8 became public. McCarthyism of this kind threatens to undermine Americans’ cherished freedom to engage politically without fear of personal reprisals.

Claim: Marriage equality activists have used bullying to produce results in their favor.

Response: This is a tough one, because Kersten summarizes a variety of incidents involving different people and organizations in different contexts.

Let’s start easy. Is it inappropriate for someone to use a position or organization to advance opinions on issues that are irrelevant to that particular pulpit? Absolutely — for example, if my state attorney general used his letterhead to announce his faith (or his atheism!), I’d expect him to be disciplined. (I hope he doesn’t get to prosecute himself.)

Is it inappropriate for someone who commands public influence to advance opinions on hir own time? The public and media interest ze enjoys is in this case unrelated to the issue at hand. However, this person is not just the Nebraska attorney general, or a Chase bank teller, or a Staples associate; even a public figure is entitled to a private life and mind. It’s not unfair to use one’s “social network” to the fullest, even if one’s famous or constantly making new friends. Just stick to the issues and don’t invoke irrelevant connections.

But what if a public figure’s private speech impacts the perception of an organization ze participates in? If what ze says suggests that ze not only disagrees with, but will fail to live up to the organization’s expectation of hir, that is something that both parties should be mindful of. If my boss were to disagree with my lifestyle or viewpoints, as long as that wouldn’t affect my treatment as an employee, I would have no right or reason to complain to hir superiors. A person should be penalized only if ze fails to perform the job ze was hired to do, or if the person was explicitly hired to embody the personality or personal opinions the organization values. From what I’ve read, there was no good reason to remove Vidmar from his position on the 2012 Olympic team: he represented a delegation to an apolitical event, was doing his job properly, and wasn’t speaking against marriage equality as the US chief of mission.

Last, we come to the fairness of the pressure placed on Target by equal rights activists, and similar situations. Is it reasonable to ask organizations we deal with to support our values, and is it reasonable to expect at least tolerance from them? Absolutely, because although here we are concerned with impersonal entities, these entities employ and affect the lives of real people, and promote and lobby legislators who affect the lives of these real people. When we buy, our obvious concerns are price and quality, but so long as companies can choose how to treat their workers and can affect the political process, our purchases really are votes. Whether it’s absurd that it works that way is irrelevant to the here-and-now where the inviolable freedom of the voter is invoked.

Or if you don’t want to get that deep into the philosophical, isn’t the buyer’s freedom of choice, however unwisely chosen, simply called…capitalism?

GLAAD responds to the World-Herald on Brandon Teena

GLADD contacted the Omaha World-Herald after the publication of the article that referred to Brandon Teena as a woman, the local response I participated in, and the subsequent “compromise.” Like me, and like various others, GLADD didn’t think the World-Herald’s changes to the article helped as much as they could have. From GLAAD:

The reporter and his editors heard from local transgender advocates as well as GLAAD, and determined that they should “compromise” on the article. The paper updated the online version to remove all pronouns, refusing to replace female pronouns with male. Instead, the paper replaced “she” with “Brandon” used as a surname.

At GLAAD, we feel this is insufficient. It isn’t a “compromise” to neuter the story from any reference of gender. The editor argued that using male pronouns would be “confusing” for a reader. Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t hold – because many responsible journalists use appropriate pronouns and names for transgender people, in an effort to accurately represent the person, and their readers/viewers/listeners aren’t confused.

Two responses, including one from GLAAD’s Adam Bass (senior media field strategist), were  published in the World-Herald’s Public Pulse section saying much the same. As far as I know, while the online edition was edited to reflect the “compromise” relatively quickly, the World-Herald didn’t see fit to make a notice of correction in the print edition, nor otherwise publicly comment.

I received a response from Mike Reilly, the executive editor, who I had e-mailed before the online corrections were made. His response seems to have been about identical to what he sent to a few others in the community, so I feel I can print it in its entirety here:

Dear Jon,

Thanks for writing and calling this to our attention.

As a result of the concern you and other have expressed, we changed our handling of references to Teena Brandon’s gender in later editions of this story, including the online edition. We also will will be mindful of your concerns in future stories.

Our goal is to be clear and honest with all of our readers as well as being sensitive to and respectful of transgendered people.

So we have specified that she was a woman in a “biological” sense and avoided using the female pronoun.

We will not change her name to her alias, as some have asked us to do today. Use of an alias is a separate matter and using it again and again years after her death would, in my opinion, only serve to confuse readers.

Same goes for use of the male pronoun in this particular case. I think it would be confusing, given that Brandon’s rape and murder stemmed from a heinous reaction to the discovery of Brandon’s biological gender.

Thanks again for writing.

Sincerely,

Mike Reilly

It’s also my understanding, despite this particular article and the awkward editing that followed, that the World-Herald’s policy on referencing transgender people is the same as Associated Press style:

Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.

So I’m hopeful that future World-Herald articles involving transgender subjects will be handled better.  Still…even Mike Reilly’s response seems to indicate some confusion about trans issues; the phrase “biological gender” in particular sticks out.

Thus I replied back; although I didn’t receive a response, I’m hopeful it at least got read, and I’m sure he had other people flooding his inbox, too. I’m by no means an expert, but I think I adequately addressed the most important issues at hand:

Mr. Reilly,

I was pretty surprised (and pleased) that the you and your staff responded to our concerns so quickly. I understand that aliases can be tricky to navigate, and appreciate the quick revision of the article to reflect Brandon’s biological status, and to address the pronoun issue.

That being said, I think the use of pronouns still needs to be addressed — I can say personally that the importance of it is hard to grasp until one becomes involved with transgender issues. That you used the phrase “biological gender” is what prompts me to focus on this, because “biological gender” is self-contradictory. Sex is biological: male or female, based on chromosomes and other physical traits. Gender is essentially psychological: how people feel and act in relation to what are considered masculine and feminine feelings and roles. (In a nutshell, sex is the body, gender is the mind.) It’s a distinction I don’t see most people realizing outside the medical field, and I and others notice it when writers say “gender” when they mean “sex.”

But returning to pronouns: Transpeople, regardless of their biological sexes, face a continuing conflict between their actual gender identities, and the genders attributed to them by others. This is why pronouns are important — they show either the perception or acceptance of one’s gender. While my transgender friends generally shrug off a stranger referring to them by an improper pronoun — the person is just making a judgment based on apperance, not acquaintance — they’re deeply hurt when someone who knows how they identify insists on the wrong pronouns. Yes, Brandon’s rape and murder centered on his (biological) sex, but his female sex is important because his gender identity didn’t correspond to it in the way it usually does; and it was exactly the denial that this can happen that enabled Lotter, and others before and after him, to excuse their actions toward their transgender victims.

When we use pronouns, we’re not referring to a person’s biological sex, but to that person, and his/her personal identity as s/he choses to express it. So while it’s entirely accurate to use terms like “biological female” or “female-bodied” to refer to Brandon’s physical body, because he presented himself as a man, it’s more accurate to refer to Brandon the person as a man, and with male pronouns. (The phrase used in the revised article, “biological woman,” was a good attempt, but again, it’s the distinction of male or female sex, versus gender identity as man or woman.) While using pronouns like this may be “confusing” to the general public, obviously the journalistic concern should be accuracy; I hope you’ll take this opportunity to demonstrate to the public the PROPER use of pronouns instead of simply defaulting to the most familiar, misconceived use.

In talking to a couple others about the article, I was asked to pass on that if you do correct the article in that way, and people call or write in and say they were confused by the pronouns, it’s really an opportunity to share that learning experience with your readers. And if not as an editorial unto itself, a note in the revised article online stating how and why it was revised would be appreciated by a lot of us, at least to indicate that it WAS changed from the originally-published version. (The original article URL seems to have become invalid since the revised one came online.)

Once again, thanks for responding; I’m glad that the OWH and the readership have a dialogue on this issue. Since referencing transgender people is (obviously) complicated or at least counter-intuitive, I’m more than happy to keep answering questions or addressing misconceptions.

Jon

*shrug* We’ll see if anything more comes of it.

(Once again, thanks to Aarron Schurevich for bringing this issue up.)

World-Herald misrepresents Brandon Teena’s gender identity

Credit where credit is due: I found this story thanks to a Facebook note posted by Aarron Schurevich.

Edit: The World-Herald has modified the article (changing the article URL in the process; I’ve updated my links). The piece now uses the phrase “biological woman” and now refers to “Brandon” (i.e. Brandon Teena’s legal last name) where it had used female pronouns. It’s significant that the OWH has responded this quickly, but disappointing that they continue to insist on the legal name. One doesn’t tend to see articles phrased like this:  “the musician Gordon Summer, who has been living under the name Sting.” I think this is still worth writing in to the World-Herald about.


There was an article today in the Omaha World-Herald, my newspaper, about John Lotter’s ongoing appeal of his death sentence for the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena, a young transman. (The case inspired the movie Boys Don’t Cry). The article, unfortunately, consistently uses female pronouns, refers to Teena as Teena Brandon (his birth name), and is phrased such that it ignores and invalidates Teena’s publicly-expressed gender identity:

Lotter was convicted in the 1993 slayings of Teena Brandon and two others in a farmhouse near Humboldt.

Brandon, a woman, lived as a Richardson County man by the names Brandon Teena and Charles Brayman. Mutual friends introduced her to Lotter and Thomas Nissen. Both men eventually discovered Brandon was a woman. In their rage, they drove her to a rural area and raped her on Christmas Day 1993.

Nissen eventually testified that he and Lotter decided to kill Brandon after they discovered she reported the assault to police.

(Emphases mine.)

It probably goes without saying on a queer blog that perpetuating the idea of transfolk as “deceivers” will only perpetuate the idea, in some people’s heads, that violence is an acceptable response to being “deceived.” Brandon Teena was murdered because he was trans – the article phrases it as if he was murdered because he was a woman pretending to be a man. The World-Herald faces a fundamental issue of accuracy by ignoring how closely trans and gender identity issues are linked with this case.

Much of what I want to say has already been written to Mike Reilly, the World-Herald’s executive editor, so I’ll just give you the majority of my letter to him:

There are ways to write about this case and what happened to Brandon Teena that both accurately report the details (that Teena was transgender and Lotter and Nissen murdered him in reaction to this), and respect how Teena presented himself and preferred to be referred to. I’m not aware (though I would like to be) of the World-Herald’s internal policy, if any, for referring to transgender individuals — I’m writing to you instead of to Mr. Perez because reporters and copyeditors necessarily hew to the organization’s consistent style, and I don’t presume to know if Mr. Perez would have phrased his article any differently. However, the Associated Press stylebook has standardized how to refer to subjects who have undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS):

“Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics (by hormone therapy, body modification, or surgery) of the opposite sex and present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”

Of course, Brandon Teena never underwent SRS — the procedures are universally expensive, and due to female body anatomy the results are limited compared to the surgeries available to male-bodied transgender people. Regardless of biological sex, many are unable to or elect not to have SRS, yet they present themselves in accordance with their gender identities; despite the threat this poses to their personal relationships, employability, and even lives, it’s often the only way they can live. (The transgender suicide attempt rate is frighteningly higher than the general population’s. Transgender individuals cannot be counseled into gender identities that match their biological sexes, so living as they identify is the only route proven to let them live happily.)

We know that Brandon Teena bound his breasts, and for years presented as a man using a traditionally masculine first name — and particularly because the rejection of his gender identity was the reason he was murdered, I find it staggering that the article today continues to perpetuate the idea that he was a woman who was “found out.” It not only conflicts with Teena’s public identity; the concept of transgender people as deceivers is what leads to disproportionate violence against them. Teena’s misrepresentation deserves an acknowledgement in the World-Herald, and a correction of the online publication to accurately report his gender. Additionally, the World-Herald should include in its internal style manual guidelines for referring to transgender individuals accurately and according to the gender identities they present to the public. (GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide includes a useful overview of transgender-specific terminology and pronoun usage: http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender)

In writing this letter I represent only myself, but I write with others in mind. … I, my friends, and the students I have the pleasure of working for, would like to see the transgender people in our community represented for who they are — especially by journalists and the World-Herald, which for the most part I’m happy to read daily. I’m sure you’ll hear the same from other Omahans who read Mr. Perez’s article today.

I encourage you to send an e-mail or phone call, even a short one, to the World-Herald to drive this message home:

  •  The reporter who wrote this article: Juan Perez Jr., johnny.perez@owh.com, (402) 444-1068
  • The executive editor: Mike Reilly, mike.reilly@owh.com, (402) 444-1277
  • The public relations director: Joel Long, (402) 444-1493

Thanks again to Aarron Schurevich for writing his original post, and for finding the names, e-mails, and phone numbers above. Spread this story (and our reaction to it) as far as you can — the World-Herald needs to know its readership cares about accurate queer-issues reporting!

Crazy evangelical protester at the American Atheists convention

Here’s a video of the entertaining protester from yesterday outside the AA convention. Props to the guy with the dreadlocks!

Edit: Chris (of the wicked hair) linked me to exactly the kind of picture I wanted!

I beg to differ.

With the American Atheists

I’m in Des Moines for the weekend, at the American Atheists national convention! I was born in Des Moines but only lived here for a few weeks, but it seems to have worked hard in the interim to impress me for my triumphant 20-years-later return. Beautiful downtown, same-sex marriage, atheist convention…

The great thing about this con is that there are about 700 people in attendance (as of Friday night) — I’ve been able to actually meet a lot of big names in the online atheist community. Last night I was talking to a gentleman and realized it was Darrel Ray (author of The God Virus); today I attended PZ Myers‘ talk on positive atheism, and was mildly disappointed that the crotchety, vitriolic, militant polemicist is really a nice soft-spoken older guy who I want as an adoptive grandfather. Tomorrow I swear to God(!) I’ll get all fanboy with Matt Dillahunty.

And for comic relief, there are of course the protesters. The last thing you want to do at an atheist convention is to announce at the end of a session, “There is a provocative fundamentalist Christian protesting outside, DO NOT GO TALK TO HIM.” This means that half of the attendees will rush outside until Jesus returns.

To be fair, the protesters basically made our case for us…

A couple protesters outside the American Atheists convention

"Women should not be allowed to vote"? How very retro of you.

My only regret is I don’t have a picture of the sign that says “Godly men do not have long hair.” Especially a picture featuring the dreadlocked guy who went to stand next to him. I’m not sure if it was he or I who the protester called a lesbian, but he went on about sodomites, too, so me and my rainbow wrist band were pretty well covered.

And what do you know? Jesus really did come again:

Jesus standing under the "You KNOW it's a Myth" banner

And Jesus put on a really good show, too, especially considering he followed up an appearance last night by George W. Bush — both of whom appeared courtesy of the excellent comedian Troy Conrad!

Incidentally, next year’s American Atheists convention won’t be placed so provocatively on Easter weekend; it’ll instead coincide with the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. (date TBD). Depending on when that is, I and the other attendees from UNO’s Secular Student Alliance are gunning for a road trip. :D

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