Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chapel Hill News: My Article Against the Constitutional Amendment

A gray, gauzy veil suddenly covered the state of North Carolina on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011.

The edges of the shadowy cloth started to edge its way over the state on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. On this day, the N.C. House of Representatives voted 75-42, with point-person N.C. Rep. Paul Stam encouraging this vote to amend the constitution of the state, dictating that marriage between one man and one woman be the only domestic legal union recognized in the state.

This amendment, if passed, would not only affect lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) people, but straight couples who choose not to marry.

All North Carolinians would feel the gravity of this veil if this amendment were to pass. The amendment is oppressive of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. The following day the N.C. Senate, fulfilling the long-held dream of state Sen. Jim Forrester, finished the necessary work, guaranteeing that the amendment would be on the ballot before state voters in May 2012. The Senate vote was 30-16.

On that very day, my partner and I were among the hundreds who rallied against this amendment while the N.C. Senate quietly voted.

Ironically, there was a story in the News & Observer that ran that day about local senior couples who are choosing not to get married but be in significant domestic partnerships, in which their benefit plans will not be hurt.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Cheney voiced support for marriage equality on ABC television's "The View" on the day the N.C. Senate voted against marriage equality, showing how out of step N.C. Republicans are with the rest of their party nationally. And U.S. Sen. Richard Burr voted for the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" only a few months earlier, making it possible for out-LGBTQ people to serve their country openly in the U.S. military.

Never mind what progress is being made outside the state for equality for and among all. These legislators wanted to be sure that North Carolina would be ready when 1959 rolled around again. I got my rotary phone out for that day.

The corrosive effects of this veil are already being felt not only across the state but locally as well. After all, it is not like we were living in a state of equality in North Carolina before this.

The federal and statewide Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) guaranteed that my partner and I could not legally wed in this state.

If we were married in another state or country, our marriage or civil union would not be recognized.

We are second-class citizens, even though we pay taxes, are conscientious workers, vote, participate in civic life and communities of faith, and, like all gays, renovated our home and surroundings, raising the value of homes around us.

Being second-class citizens, my partner and I, along with our children, are already treated as lesser-thans in Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

Some friends of my daughter were not allowed to sleep over in our house because some parents were leery of their daughters staying in a home with two gay men, but they were allowed to go on sleepovers in her mom's house. And my son was teased and bullied by other boys at Carrboro High for having an openly gay dad.

If it passes, this constitutional amendment will further solidify the suffocating oppression LGBTQ people feel in this state daily, infecting our relationships with others in our families, among our friends, at work, in faith communities, in our businesses, and in civic and public life daily.

As other states quickly move towards equality, from coast to coast, many of us will leave North Carolina.

For our own health and well-being, if the veil descends fully and engulfs the land and the people, families like ours will no longer be "goin' to Carolina in our mind" (with apologies to James Taylor).

Carry on, for we will be gone, as will countless others, leaving the state poorer economically, educationally, culturally and in spirit.

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Q Notes: Being a Parent of a Gay Parent

This is my latest on Q Notes:

While it would’ve been helpful at times to have an operating instruction manual in raising children, it simply did not come with the arrival of my children. I hunted for it in all kinds of places, but never did find it. And, while my parents often seemed to raise my brother and I effortlessly at times, I now know that most parents do what we do as parents with our children from the seat of our pants. In performing arts terms, parenting is all about the art of improvisation, day in and day out.

Coming out is a similar process: there is no operating instruction manual in the art of coming out of one’s closet as an LGBTQ person. I still find it fascinating that those of us who are LGBTQ have gone through the process of coming out at one point or another — or often in different contexts — even though there is no step-by-step plan, ritual, ceremony or party to celebrate such an achievement in one’s life. I’ve yet to find a holiday card for such an occasion, though I’m sure some entrepreneur has already thought about this niche market. When I came “out” of my “closet” to my family (though the metaphor of armoire is a better description in talking about the closet’s portability) my family network included not only my former wife and children, but my mom and dad as well. As a fan of family system theory used in the therapeutic community (I’ve used this theory in both academic and church contexts), I watched in awe as news of my being gay hit the watery surface of my family, with a ripple effect carrying news of my self-revelation and identification far and wide, catching the ear of various extended family members in my family of origin and my former wife’s family. Soon, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and second cousins were “in” on the hot gossip of the day. Once the gay was out of the armoire, there was no longer a secret about who I was. After all, the quickest way of killing a secret is telling everyone what the secret is.

One of the unexpected results of baring my soul and stepping out of my armoire is that my mom has become a point person for other older parents of out-LGBTQ adult-children who are in the process of coming out. Gossip sometimes works for the good of all. (The root of the word “gossip” is “Godspell” or the “Good News.”) The gossip in my mom’s community in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, is that her son is a parent of two young adult children, book author and Presbyterian minister who is gay. Lo and behold, neighbors — some of whom she has said little more than “hi” to — stop her on her daily walks around the community and simply said, “Liz, can I ask you a question? My 40 year-old daughter just told me she is a lesbian, and I don’t know what to make of this news.” My mom — who is by vocation and self-identification a nurse — then simply shares her experience of learning that I was gay. She is quick to let others know, first, “it’s going to be OK,” or in her own way to let the other older parents know “it gets better.” She has spoken up and out at our home Presbyterian church and other churches in the area, encouraging them to become part of More Light Presbyterians (an LGBTQ and straight ally in the PCUSA). One of my friends in her home church calls her his favorite fruit fly. “What’s a fruit fly?” she asked me. “And, is that good?” “You’re fine,” I assured her, chuckling to myself that my mother was called a fruit fly.

While an operation manual would’ve been helpful at certain stages of this “coming out” journey, my hope is such stories like mine, like our families, provide a map for others who would like to know what may be coming their way. It is an open-ended adventure that continues to amaze me, each and every step of the way. : :

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Monday, October 17, 2011

The "We Do" Campaign in Buncombe County, NC

A toast to modern day heroes in Buncombe County (Asheville) NC, and the "We Do" campaign, which is for marriage equality:
The Campaign for Southern Equality launched its WE DO Campaign Oct. 3, through which same-sex couples will request marriage licenses from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds. The purpose of the campaign is to resist state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage, and to protest the proposed amendment to the North Carolina constitution that would ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Buncombe Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger upheld state law Oct. 3 by denying a marriage license to a number of same-sex couples, including Rev. Kathryn Cartledge and Elizabeth Eve, her partner of 30 years. They were joined by a group of supporters including state House Rep. Patsy Keever and Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith, both of whom Reisinger supported in their respective elections. Later that day, Reisinger posted the following thoughts on his Facebook page:

A few years ago I decided to dive head-first into the world of politics, because I thought I could help make the world a better place. I wanted to do more than stand on a street corner in Boone holding up a protest sign.

I worked hard to help elect Barack Obama, Patsy Keever and Gordon Smith so that they could help move our country, our state and our city in the right direction … and they have. Now that I have become a public official, I find myself in a role that requires me to uphold the law of the state of North Carolina. While I am proud of what I have accomplished, there is more work to be done. Because today when I was asked to give a friend of mine, who happens to be gay, a marriage license, I had to deny her and her partner of 30 years the joy of marriage and it broke my heart.

In order to create change and be a part of a world that equally recognizes all people, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, we need to work hard to elect leaders who will stand up for equality.

Here's the link to their video:

Act up!

Act out!

Not time for the weak and tamed!



Saturday, October 8, 2011

Frank Bruni in Portugal: They Like Us

Frank Bruni's article/essay on marriage equality in Portugal: Lessons to be learned:

WHEN she turned 38 last month, Brenda Frota Johnson got a sweet surprise: a formal “happy birthday” from her longtime partner’s mother.

It wasn’t a gift or even a card, just a succinct text message, but even so, it had no precedent over the 10 years that she and her partner, Isabel Advirta, 39, had been making a life and a home here together.

Why this birthday? The two women share a theory.

“Brenda’s now officially a part of the family,” Advirta said recently as they watched their 3-year-old daughter, Salomé, play in a leafy Lisbon park.

Johnson agreed. “It’s because we’re married,” she said. That legal blessing — that loftiest of imprimaturs — has changed little between them but a lot around them.

With minimal international attention, Portugal — tiny, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Portugal — legalized same-sex marriage last year. Although the country is hardly seen as a Scandinavian-style bastion of social progressivism, it’s one of just 10 countries where such marriages can be performed nationwide, and in this regard it finds itself ahead of a majority of wealthier, more populous European countries, like France, Germany, Italy and Britain. In the United States, only six states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. How did that happen? And what wisdom do the answers offer frustrated supporters of same-sex marriage here and elsewhere around the globe?

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"The Way" by Emilio Estevez

Wonderful review of a new film on the Camino de Santiago de Compestelo.

“The Way” takes place on the Camino de Santiago, a thousand-year-old pilgrimage route across France and Spain. Sheen’s character, Tom, is a doctor living a comfortable life in California who decides to make the trek after his son is killed in a freak storm while on the pilgrimage.

“I think that the film is a reflection of where I’m at on my spiritual path,” said Estevez, who wrote, directed, and co-produced the film, and makes a few cameos as Tom’s unlucky son, Daniel.

Sheen described himself as a “declared Catholic,” but he and his wife did not raise their children Catholic, and have let Estevez take “his own personal quest.”

Estevez said he grew up hearing arguments about religion, but never about spirituality. “It’s religion that divides us,” he said in an interview with his father, “and spirituality ultimately brings us closer together.”

In the film, Tom starts out as a lapsed Catholic. Along the pilgrimage, he meets others who slowly draw him out of his tight-lipped despair and help renew his sense of spirituality. None of these main characters is overtly religious and all have their own issues with God, but by the end each seems to have made some kind of pilgrim’s progress.

Estevez said he intentionally avoided “bludgeoning the audience over the head” with a religious message, although the film is filled with shots of churches and crucifixes.

“You couldn’t point a camera anywhere without seeing religious iconography, Catholic iconography,” Estevez said. “We highlighted it when we needed to.”

Read the review and enjoy:



Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Response to NC State Sen. Jim Forrester (R): The Mysterious, Magical Act of Being Household

My young adult children are slowly coming to understand that their childhood was unique and pretty-darn good. Granted, like most young children, they weren’t sure of what was going on or who had the most power among the three adults who were “parental units” (my daughter’s term). My partner was slow to embrace his role and function as a parental unit since he came into the process of raising my children after they were born and well on their way in life. Like many LGBTQ people who decided they did not want to have children and later find themselves in relationship with those who already have children, it is a serious life-changing adjustment. This is because the presence of the one entering a significant relationship with another adult will not only leave his or her mark on the other adult, but will be either a significant or fleeting memory in the lives of a parent’s child or children. Because my partner resisted being the other “dad” in the relationship (at first), my children had great fun finding him a name: “uncle” did not work for him, so they settled on “the gay nanny” or simply “Dean.” But make no mistake, he has been fully “Dad” to them in the many expected and unexpected ways we who are biological parents try to be “moms” and “dads” with children we love and who love us.

North Carolina state Sen. Jim Forrester recently raised the problem he has with the way an increasing number of children are being raised around the world during the floor debate on the constitutional amendment banning marriage equality: “Two dads don’t make a mom. Two moms don’t make a dad. Children need both a father and a mother.” In other words, two dads or two moms is “new,” “weird” or maybe even “unbiblical” (thus sinful). What Forrester fails to understand or appreciate is that he is promoting a liberal, contemporary understanding of the American family, dubbed the “nuclear family” in the 1950s, which is equated wrongly as “the traditional family.” Time and again we need to be reminded that the “nuclear family” of “a father and a mother” is not the “traditional family” system prior to the 1950s. Instead, the traditional family pattern of raising children, before this time, was bringing up children in a household, where a child had more than a mom and a dad. Instead, there were many moms, dads and other parental units (godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a faith community, close friends) who raised children in multi-generational households, a pattern well-established throughout time around the world. In other words, my family system is more of a household, in which we are hearkening back to a more conservative, traditional way of raising our children rather than the sterile, unhealthy, contemporary, liberal position of Forrester.

For example, my father grew up in a house in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1920s, with his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They lived together in a four-story house where each family had their own floor to call their own, but my dad was raised by the generations of his extended family system, like most other children his age. In 19th century rural American farming communities, households raised children and grandchildren, a practice that was largely killed off by people moving into a city as they partook in the contemporary rise of the Industrial Revolution. Biblically, in both ancient Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, the word “family” is not to be found. The Apostle Paul writes about “households” in his Epistles, in which generations of family members lived with one another in a single abode, farm or village. Jesus was raised in a household, since that was the common Jewish practice in his days. And, don’t get me going on King Solomon and his 700 wives, 300 concubines and kids, for a discussion of unbiblical biblical family practices.

As for me and my household, we live in a more traditional, conservative way of being household for and with one another, with two dads, a mom, two young adult children, two dogs, two homes, constant communication, care, compassion, worry and joy. My children are ever so fortunate that we chose the more old-fashioned traditional messy household way, because they have had three sets of adult, parental eyes, watching their every move with love, concern and a spirit of celebration, come what may. After all, it takes more than “a father and a mother” to raise children these days, and always has. : :

Here's a link to the article in Q Notes: