Archive for October, 2010

Moving on from the City Council vote

 

This news is a couple days late, but the Omaha City Council failed to approve the LGBTQ anti-discrimination amendment at their Tuesday meeting. After hours of testimony, the vote was: 3 for (Ben Gray, Pete Festersen, Chris Jerram), 3 against (Jean Stothert, Garry Gernandt, Thomas Mulligan), and 1 abstention (Franklin Thompson).

 

 

Next Tuesday, the council will consider Thompson’s proposal to put the issue to a citywide vote (the reason he abstained). As Meredith Bacon noted at the meeting, that hasn’t been done for any of the other protected classes in the city code, and if Tuesday’s council meeting wasn’t a vote on a civil right, an all-Omaha vote sure is. Further, Thompson’s proposal doesn’t include language regarding gender identity and expression.

 

So there are two paths from here. One is to lobby Thompson and the other councilmembers (particularly Ben Gray, who introduced Tuesday’s amendment) to add gender language to the 2012 ballot issue. I don’t consider the omission acceptable; orientation and gender norms, and the concept that challenging one can threaten the other, are deeply tied together, and the effort so far has come from the entire LGBTQ community. To leave trans and genderqueer Omahans out does them a disservice and deprives us of their passion.

 

 

At the same time, opening the matter to a popular vote sets a definite precendent that rights are votable. It subjects the masses, all of whom are minorities in some way, to the tyranny of the majority — they came first for the Communists. Consider, too, that the vote was 3-3-1, thiiiiiis close. I think the community’s efforts are best focused on talking to Thompson in particular (who is for the principle if not the process of the amendment), and the opposing councilmembers. Tell them why a council vote is the best way to go about this, and tell them why it’s so important that their vote is “for” these protections. We only have to convince one more person; it’s not like the thing can’t be reintroduced.

 

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I haven’t had the time to view it myself, but the City Council posts video of their meetings, so you can watch the whole thing here; look for video from 10/26. I’ll dig through for quotes and analysis later, but the World-Herald quotes one in particular:

 

“I find it offensive that we would equate this with civil rights,” said Pastor Cedric Perkins of Pilgrim Baptist Church. “Those rights were based upon a person’s color of their skin, which they could not change.” (Emphasis is mine.)

 

Gender is at least not a choice, and more likely a construct of debatable significance. That sexual attraction isn’t a choice is old news; the APA recognized that when they took homosexuality out of the DSM in 1973. There’s the implication, sometimes stated outright, that the morality of acting on sexual attraction is the issue. As a big small-government fan, I hope I can find agreement in Omaha that the government’s duty to the citizens isn’t to legislate morality, it’s to protect us from external harm. The victimless “crime” of consensual homosexual sex is out of this scope; it’s a moral concern if it’s any concern at all.

 

I’d also remind Pastor Perkins that the presently-recognized civil rights include freedom of religion. It’s not like you’re born with your religion; people can and do change their affiliation. It’s foolish to argue that the only rights that ought to make it into the lawbooks are ones that reflect your right to be what, in being born, you didn’t choose to be.

 

 

There’s a lot of room for education in this town. If Omahans have a chance of enjoying these protections, especially if they do come up for a citywide vote in 2012, people need to be confronted with the facts. They’re out there. People don’t know them, won’t recognize them, or just don’t care about them. It’s obvious to the LGBTQ and allied community that orientation and gender have no effect on job performance. What’s not obvious to a large share of the population is that because, yes, some people say they do matter, these protections are worth fighting for.

 

Blacks don’t have the capacity for complex reasoning; women are too hormonal to be effective managers; Jews are greedy and can’t be trusted with our money. Gays and trans people spend their workdays peeking under the stalls in the bathroom. Which of the above are true descriptions of workplace behavior? Which of the above do we have laws for, to prevent idiots from using them to justify bigotry? Which should we?

 

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Religious exemption from LGBTQ anti-discrimination proposal

Suddenly there’s a lot going on about the proposal to include LGBTQ Omahans under our city’s anti-discrimination laws. The most recent development is that yes, there will be an exemption for religious organizations to try to minimize opposition.

My instinctive reaction is, “Religious exemption? Oh, okay.” There are already exemptions for hiring people of your faith to, well, teach your faith. If your faith happens to teach that gays are that big of a deal, you don’t want a straight Sunday school teacher who supports gay marriage, and especially not a gay Sunday school teacher (ignoring the conception that all gays are pedophiles, and if not they’re still recruiting).

That being said, as I wondered in my last entry, where do you draw an acceptable line? I am okay with the idea that public representatives and teachers of a faith should be chosen based on their adherence to their faith’s tenets. But while the social environment in such an organization will probably be hostile to queers/allies to begin with, we shouldn’t continue to allow an environment that’s legally hostile to people whose orientation or gender identity has precisely nothing to do with the execution of their work. Desk clerks, IT admins, groundskeepers, accountants, this means you.

One Mike O’Brien wrote to the World-Herald today:

Unless an individual is overtly gay, one cannot tell an individual’s sexual orientation by appearance. If individuals choose to present themselves as gay or lesbian, they are making the choice to limit their opportunities in life. It’s like tattooing our face, then crying when we cannot find a job.

But as I said on Facebook today: your bedroom and bathroom choices make no difference on the job. Certainly not those jobs out of the public eye.

I’m going to ask Ben Gray to consider this as he amends his proposal. If you’re interested in doing the same, please contact him. As noted before, if you live in Omaha, you can contact your own councilperson here; please do so, even if s/he already supports the amendment.

Finally, call the City Council offices and let them know you support it! The number is 402-444-5520. I called yesterday and it took all of 30 seconds:

Hi, my name is [ full name ]. I’m calling to say that I support Ben Gray’s proposed amendment to the city code, which would protect Omahans from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

A number of people are plugging that phone number on their Facebook statuses. I’m not saying you have to, but I did….

Omaha debate: Adding LGBTQ protections to the city charter

About a month ago, Ben Gray, one of Omaha’s City Council (and representative of my district), proposed adding sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination by the city code. If his proposal becomes part of the city charter, LGBTQ people could not be refused or removed from jobs for identifying as LGBTQ, nor could they be denied use of public facilities and services.

My first reaction: “Wait, he proposed this in Omaha?” (crosses fingers)

A vote on the proposal is coming up next Tuesday, the Council having decided to wait a month to judge the impact it would have on employers, religious groups, etc. As the vote draws near, of course, the controversy begins.

Religious groups such as the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha have asked for exemptions. In hiring, sure, it’s arguable that religious groups ought to hire people in touch with their doctrines for teaching and ministry positions. Would janitors, cafeteria workers, computer administrators have any redress, though? What about enrollment in parochial schools for LGBTQ children, or children whose parents are LGBTQ? (Not that I think that Catholic schools, in particular, appeal to either group, but let them have their “quality Catholic education,” especially considering the schools they’re closing as the student bodies shrink.)

The City Council itself seems ambivalent. Councilperson Franklin Thompson is of the opinion that the amendment is beyond the scope of the Council and it should be put to citywide public vote…when that comes around again, in 2012. Whether that’s a way of dodging the wrath of his constituents, I don’t know — WOWT says he would probably vote yes if it was a Council vote after all, but 65% of those he’s heard from are opposed to it. Meanwhile, according to an Omaha World-Herald article, Councilperson Jean Stothert says the proposal is “a solution looking for a problem.” I’m sure you all agree.

And of everyday citizens, a letter to the editor says, in part:

Inventing a new right is cumbersome and dangerous, especially when the so-called “right” is not in harmony with moral law. It is spurious, counterfeit and false. … Failure to gain a promotion in the wake of cross-dressing or mixed-gender identity cannot be called discrimination. … Why foist into the public realm immoral proclivities sanctioned by law?

I’m willing to infer that moral law means God’s law, means the law of a particular kind of God (certainly not the United Church of Christ’s God, or the Anglican Communion’s, or even the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s). Furthermore, this law from on high is received, interpreted, and enforced by people. Some of these people don’t understand that a transgender person is not just crossdressing, and a gay man doesn’t wish he were a woman. And although the law of common sense ought to protect people from discrimination against their race, color, creed, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, age or disability — the classes already in the city code — they aren’t protected enough. That’s why those classes are already in the code, and why the LGBTQ community needs the same protection.

 

Furthermore, what does being LGBTQ have to do with your suitability for a job? Is your Microsoft Office proficiency impaired by the fact that you were born male and no longer identify as such? Is your ability to make a presentation stymied by the fact that after the presentation you’ll go home and make dinner for another man? Should your kid have to go to public school because the religious schools don’t like that he has two moms? Some people perceive that this amendment is an endorsement of the “gay lifestyle.” It’s not, just as anti-discrimination laws concerning race aren’t a nod to Black Power.

It’s crucial that if you live in Omaha, you get in touch with your City Councilperson before the vote next Tuesday. Here, have a list of the Council and a map to figure out which district you’re in! Send an e-mail, leave a phone message, but let your representative know why these protections matter to you and to your friends and family.

And so you can keep up to date on the issue: Citizens for Equal Protection is quite involved, as is GOglbt, and here’s another pro-protection Facebook group.

Lastly, write to the newspaper (e-mail: pulse@owh.com), because the paper pays attention to it, the Council does, and so do the readers. Write for the people who are uninterested or on the fence. Let them know that this isn’t about “sanctioning immoral proclivities.” At worst, it’s getting people to leave other people alone.

Atheism in the house of God

One thing that still befuddles me, years after leaving the church, is when to go back and what to do while I’m there. That is, when friends or family are involved in serious events — basically weddings and funerals — ceremonies that tend to be religious in execution, but human in nature. (On a side note, if you’d like to invite me to your confirmation or bar mitzvah, I’ll gladly and personally congratulate you on your coming of age at the reception. I hope you have cake.)

But anyway, at the happy or somber occasions I find myself in church, there’s a lot of group participation that I’m not sure if I should participate in, or how much. Having attended many funerals as an altar boy, I remember how the priest, at communion time, would explain that communion itself (taking what they hold to be the body and blood of Jesus) was strictly for the Catholics, but everyone else was free to come up for a blessing. That’s about all the priest had to do to cover a mixed audience…of Christians…who could easily pray their own prayers, too, if their personal theologies differed from Catholic verse and creed. And to a certain extent this works if you’re Jewish, or Hindu, or believe in at least one deity.

What does this atheist do, though? Typically it seems acceptable to listen attentively and respectfully, and bow my head when directed; I’ll even try to make use of those moments to reflect on philosophy or religion. I felt better about some of my non-participation when I embraced the joke that the Catholics don’t sing, either; and they tend to murmur the prayers, if at all. Mrmm, hmmnnmrghm, amen. You can’t hear my silence in their quietude. I maintain my inconspicuity at Catholic churches by knowing when to sit, stand, and kneel (I usually sit for that, these days), and in other churches, I’m just another befuddled outsider doing my best to follow along. Ho hum, that boy must be Presbyterian.

There are situations this doesn’t really work, though. About a month ago I was a groomsman to one of my friends, who married his wife in a Catholic church. So I wasn’t the focus, but definitely was up in front of a couple hundred people, and wracking my brain to mesh my quiet nonbelief with flowing with the ceremony. Time to bow my head, I can work with that. Sign of peace, this hippie is definitely down with that. Um, the priest is asking us to say amen. Do I say amen? How loud?

I mostly mumbled. Imagine that, Catholic after all! Heheh.

Some amens, of course, are different from others. An amen can mean “Yes, heavenly father,” or it can be more of a, “Hear, hear,” in which case I’m pretty okay with echoing the enrobed MC.

If I have any readers yet, I have to wonder if someone already has a methodology figured out for times like these: How do you handle attending a service at a church of another faith, or, if you’re atheist, what do you do at a religious service, period? Where do you compromise (where do you draw the line?) and how much do you participate?

National Coming Out Day 2010

Today marks the 23rd annual National Coming Out Day! Quick history: NCOD is held on the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which included the first time the massive AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed:

 

 

NCOD is not, really, the concrete deadline to tell the world about your orientation or identity. Coming out — to yourself, to some, to everyone — is gradual, and it happens when it’s important; if you don’t have your speech prepared today, you don’t need to spend the next 365 writing and revising. Today is an occasion for LGBTQ people and their allies to congratulate the people who have decided to come out, to support those who someday wish to, and to make safe that first step out of the closet and into the world at large.

In Omaha, tonight we’re having a picnic in the park to celebrate the occasion. Tomorrow morning, UNO’s Gender and Sexual Orientation Student Agency (GSO) is bringing in speakers and sponsoring a simple open-mic event for people to share and listen to coming out stories. Obviously, participation is optional, but if you’re passing the student center’s Fireplace Lounge between 11 and 12:30, stop by and have a listen. I’ll be there, ’cause I’m skipping class. 🙂

There are lots of people who question the need to come out, to declare your orientation or your gender identity to the world. And some, I agree, really don’t “need” to come out, being comfortable with who they are, not considering it a big deal, not feeling hindered or silenced. Think of all the conversations we have about crushes and dates and spouses, though; if you’re a man dating another man, these simple conversations can be off-limits. Joining in means coming out to your social group; sometimes, not joining in makes them suspect your orientation, or at least a lack of sexual prowess. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Everyone who comes out — even as an ally — contributes to the realization that LGBTQ people, though a minority, are a valid one; it brings normalcy and respect to their social interactions and legal rights. And if you’re an ally, coming out also normalizes the idea that people can be LGBTQ allies without being LGBTQ themselves. This is important (think of the schoolyard). And right now, it seems very important.

Stealing Harvey Milk quotes:

Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene. (June 25th, 1978)

But if you’re queer, I don’t think you have a duty to your people to come out, and I don’t think you should unless you want to and you feel you’re ready. There are many people who have and are paving the road for you, so there’s no deadline and the consequences are fewer and more positive. NCOD is a time to cheer for the people who are out, for them and everyone to cheer for everyone who isn’t, and for a few people, it is their coming-out day. For everyone involved, good luck and enjoy it!

What pronoun do you look like?

Having somehow become the leader of a modest student organization, I like to have introductions or name games to start things off. It’s kind of important that people get to know each other in a social club, and without constant reinforcement, I really can’t remember names. You, meanwhile, don’t want to realize your club president can’t call you by name two months into fall semester.

To elaborate, my (awesome!) group is UNO‘s Queers & Allies, which welcomes the whole spectra of sexual orientations and sex and gender identities. To expand: lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, asexual, straight allies; transgender, genderqueer, gender-questioning, intersex, cissex allies, cisgender allies — and variations and combinations galore.

If you know anyone who’s come out as trans or genderqueer, you’ve probably rolled right along in a conversation about that person until you suddenly stopped to think — he, or she? This is such an unusual question when you’re used to just guessing pronouns based on names, looks, voices. When it comes down to it, though, it really is a guessing game, because one’s sex is out in the open, but gender is all in the mind — and not your mind, either.

Inquiring, “What pronouns do you prefer?” is the best way to get in his, or her, or zir, head. Sometimes you’ll even find out someone isn’t sure how to be called yet, or how to be called today, or tomorrow. Male pronouns? Female? Both? Neither? Strictly neutral? The common human will look at you funny for not knowing his or her nature, but for a not so small minority it’s polite and it’s appreciated.

This background aside, as the good little social matchmaker I am, I ask for and practice names, but I also ask for and practice pronouns. This is harder, because when I don’t know names, I’m just lost; but when I don’t know pronouns, my first instinct is to look and listen and judge from there. I have to override this instinct for my trans and genderqueer friends — which shows how silly it is to use your outside observation to conceptualize any other person’s gender.

The good news is that, just like the names, remembering the right pronouns comes over time. In the meantime (this is a tip), I talk about my friends, pronouns and all, in my head before a meeting or a meet-up. It takes work, but it’s less work than phrasing all my sentences so that I avoid any pronouns beyond “I,” “you,” and “they.” Sounds better, too.

For the record: My name is Jon, and male pronouns are fine, thanks for asking. Good to meet you.