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Dec. 15th, 2007

Rainbow Flag

New Years!

Dear Readers,

I know you probably feel like I have abandoned this journal but I truly have not.  I did get a bit distracted by my first semester of nursing school but I do feel that now I will be able to contribute regularly to this journal starting again in the new year.

I will try to post an article every month starting in January.  I do daily research on GLBT issues in news and entertainment, so I am current in our events.  I just need to get through the holidays and back into my routine. 

Thanks for sticking it out!

We'll be back to regular posts in the New Year!

I hope the holidays find you all happy and healthy and with the families that love you, whether they be the ones you were born to or the ones you have created for yourselves or a combination of both!

See you in the New Year!

Erin Hoagland
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May. 2nd, 2007

Rainbow Flag

Three States, Two Conversations, and One Simple Plan

With NH's and CT's recent decisions regarding same-sex marriage/civil unions making New England the first region in the US to embrace the possibility of equality for GLBT persons seeking legal recognition of their relationships and with WA following suit on the Pacific Coast, my mind has turned to the same-sex marriage movement and, to a lesser extent, my thoughts on the term "civil unions".

Let me be perfectly clear.  I want legal marriage rights.  I, personally, will not be satisfied with my citizenship until I am treated equally under the law.  And I abhor the term "civil unions".  That being said, I have had two conversations on this topic recently that have served to open my mind and allow me to see this challenge from an entirely different angle.

The first conversation, with a lesbian friend of mine, made me realize our GLBT leadership is banging its head against the proverbial wall by seeking federal marriage equality recognition.  My friend studied constitutional law and she reminded me of something that I had forgotten:  marriage is a states' rights issue and has always been a states' rights issue.  So what does that mean exactly?  It means that there will never be a Constitutional Amendment granting same-sex marriage rights OR denying them.  The individual states that comprise this great country of ours will not allow it.  Or rather, not enough of them will.  Doubt me?  What is the most famous part of any marriage ceremony--after, of course, "to love, honor, and obey"?  "Then by the power vested in my by the state of [your state here], I now pronounce you...blah blah blah."  The state confers the, well, state of marriage; not the country. 

So GLBT groups who are fighting for a Constitutional Amendment are wasting everyone's time. 

"But wait," you say.  I can hear you from here.  "But wait!  If that's the case, then why doesn't the federal government recognize the legal same-sex marriages from Massachusetts for tax purposes?  If the states confer the, er, state of marriage and Massachusetts says same-sex marriage is legal, why can't couples from that state file joint federal tax returns?"  Oh, my child.  I, too, wondered that very thing.  Until I remembered a little thing called the DOMA.  Yes, Bill Clinton's capitulation to the Right Wing has come back to bite us in the bum.

But fear not!  I am not claiming defeat!  Yes, we are banging our noggins against the Great Wall trying to get a Constitutional Amendment when we have zero chance of making that happen and we still have the DOMA in place, making sure that the federal government won't recognize actual legal same-sex marriages conferred by the states.  A second conversation I had on this topic, this time with my own lovely partner, proved even more enlightening.

When I began to whine discuss the revelations I had had, my partner said--almost off-handedly--something along the lines of "then we have to have the Supreme Court declare it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation...right?"  If we had been in the same room, I could have kissed her.  Unfortunately, I'll have to save all my thanks for our anniversary trip to Disneyland.

Her comment got me thinking, though.  We need the words "sexual orientation" added to the federal discrimination protection statutes/language.  

"But wait," you say.  You catch on fast, don't you?  "But wait!  Haven't we tried that?  Haven't we been trying that?  Surely someone, somewhere has tried to do that by now!" 

Yes, they have.  They've been trying since 1974, to no avail.

When I mentioned this to my partner, she noted that the attempts seemed to be centered on the furtherance of a bill.  She wondered whether or not it would be more successful if it were a suit brought by a GLBT person or group of persons, along the lines of Brown vs. The Board of Education.  A suit that would fail in the state of, say, Alabama, and would then be fought all the way to the Supreme Court.  Where, the Supreme Court (though admittedly not this Supreme Court, most likely) would have to say once and for all that discrimination based on sexual orientation is legally wrong.  This plan would require some very thick skinned GLBT persons to fight a very public, very vitriolic, very tiring legal battle.  But it could be done.  And once it was done, the other pieces would simply fall into place.

So let me present it this way; a different plan of action for our GLBT leadership.

Step 1:  Throw our entire weight against the DOMA.  Enlist the help of the state of Massachusetts.  Have Massachusetts point out federal tax rights should be afforded to all legally married couples.  Get the DOMA repealed.

Step 2:  Have a GLBT person bring suit against their state government (preferably a state where they will fail) for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  NOT a marriage case.  Something more general, more global.  An employment issue, a housing issue, an education issue.  Run it up to the Supreme Court--a different Supreme Court, obviously--and get "sexual orientation" added to the federal discrimination protection language.

Step 3:  Get GLBT couples seeking same-sex marriage rights sue their individual states for equality under the law, using the previous victory to bolster their cases.  Make sure every state (except MA, of course) does it.  Within five years, maybe ten, all 50 states will have equal marriage/civil union laws. 

And voila! 

Now I am no lawyer, no civics expert, no politician.  This is a very, very simplified outline of a set of complex legal battles.  But you have to admit, it reads like a plan that could work.  Unlike our leadership's focus on a Constitutional Amendment.

What do you think?  I admit every plan can be improved by further conversation, by further thought, by further consideration.  So I need your help.  Where are the flaws in this plan?  Where can improvements be made to it?  What holes need patching?  What have I overlooked?

We have to look at this problem from a different angle.  We have to try other avenues, other ways.  We are getting nowhere fast on this path. 

Erin M. Hoagland
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Good News

Fairy Tale Weddings Okay At Disneyland

Colorado Gay Rights Bill Advances

Gay Rights Advocates Rally in Albany, NY

    

  

Mar. 27th, 2007

Rainbow Flag

Moral is Just a Five-Letter Word

Last week, this article appeared in the Washington Post and it got me thinking about these two people (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) and their relationship with the word moral.  Which, of course, naturally led to wondering about the word moral in general.  Why would two people have trouble applying that word to same-sex relationships?  Why specifically these two people?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines moral in this way: 

Main Entry: 1mor·al
Pronunciation: 'mor-&l, 'mär-
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin moralis, from mor-, mos custom
1 a : of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ETHICAL <moral judgments> b : expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior <a moral poem> c : conforming to a standard of right behavior d : sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment <a moral obligation> e : capable of right and wrong action <a moral agent>
2 : probable though not proved : VIRTUAL <a moral certainty>
3 : perceptual or psychological rather than tangible or practical in nature or effect <a moral victory> <moral support>
- mor·al·ly
/-&-lE/ adverb
synonyms
MORAL, ETHICAL, VIRTUOUS, RIGHTEOUS, NOBLE mean conforming to a standard of what is right and good. MORAL implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong <the basic moral values of a community>. ETHICAL may suggest the involvement of more difficult or subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity <committed to the highest ethical principles>. VIRTUOUS implies moral excellence in character <not a religious person, but virtuous nevertheless>. RIGHTEOUS stresses guiltlessness or blamelessness and often suggests the sanctimonious <wished to be righteous before God and the world>. NOBLE
implies moral eminence and freedom from anything petty, mean, or dubious in conduct and character <had the noblest of reasons for seeking office>.

What is most interesting to me in this definition is the etymology.  The word moral comes from the word mos, meaning custom.  Even the synonyms at the bottom bear this out.  Moral implies conformity to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong.  But customs change.  Accepted notions of right and wrong evolve and mature.  And yet the two leading Democrats, one of whom gave a keynote speech at the Human Rights Campaign earlier this year, hesitated when asked about the morality of same-sex relationships.

Of course, within days both candidates released statements saying that they did not believe it was immoral to be gay but many in the GLBT community felt that the corrections were slow in coming.  I, myself, find that I am not surprised by the turn of events at all.  To me, it boils down to simple marketing.

Most people agree that opposite-sex relationships can be moral or immoral depending upon the actions of the couple involved.  Britney Spears' lightning quick Vegas marriage to a high school sweetheart is considered moral (though ill-advised, certainly) because it had all the components of a legal marriage, if only for a day.  Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky is considered immoral because he was legally married to someone else at the time and also because he was carrying out this affair in what is considered to be the most sacred secular location in the country, the Oval Office.

Same-sex relationships, however, are always immoral according to the marketing of Conservative Christians, the loudest opponents to GLBT rights.  It is successful because the average American citizen does not understand the word moral.  Clearly neither Clinton nor Obama did.  Clinton's first response was "I am going to leave that to others to conclude."  Morals are not decided "by others".  They are decided by society at large and, more importantly, are changed by society at large.  To whom was she deferring this conclusion?  The courts?  The churches?  Both have influence but neither can claim sole responsibility for our country's moral leadership.

In Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, he speaks of a discomfort with the concept of same-sex marriage after he, himself, becomes a Christian.  He assures the reader he still supports GLBT rights and equality under the law, but he cannot quite make the leap to same-sex marriage.  But why not?  What has changed?  Not same-sex relationships.  The only change is his adoption of the Christian religious doctrine, which expends a lot of concentrated effort in decrying GLBT people as ungodly.  He does not consider that he is a victim of this brainwashing rather than making an evaluation on what he knows to be true in his heart and in his experience.

When religious opponents to "the gay lifestyle" turn to scripture to support their intolerance, they usually head for to the Book of Deuteronomy, an Old Testament book which was primarily a listing of laws given to the Israelites by Moses shortly before he died.  Historically, the Israelites at that time were a struggling tribe.  Survival and establishment were their primary concerns and to that end, laws were made dictating a variety of mundane activities in the Israelite's lives.  Of course a tribal culture in a pre-industrial era would make laws regulating sexual activity because their goal was to increase their numbers as quickly as possible.  It was moral in that time to allow marriages to be arranged for girls as young as three-years-old.  It was moral for men to produce children with both wives and concubines.  And yes, it was immoral for men or women to engage in same-sex activity, largely because such relationships did not produce children.

Our morals now are necessarily different than the morals of the pre-Christian Israelites and yet modern-day religion still points to same-sex relationships and says, emphatically, "No!"  Do we, in this day and age, arrange marriages for three-year-olds?  Absolutely not.  Do we applaud the man who fathers children with a variety of women or do we allow polygamy?  No.  Our customs have changed and, with them, our accepted codes of right and wrong.  Therefore, like opposite-sex relationships, same-sex relationships should be evaluated on an individual basis for their morality and should not be broadly painted with such a misunderstood (or deliberately misused) word.

I congratulate both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for correcting their hesitance by clearly stating they do not believe same-sex relationships to be immoral.  That is a start for those two individuals.

I challenge the rest of us to explore our own understanding of the word moral and how we, as a society, misapply it in a variety of situations.

Once we do that, we can move on to the task of determining which morals we need to change to reflect our evolution and our maturity, as individuals and as a society.

Erin M. Hoagland
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In future posts, I will always follow my commentary with a section called Good News.  Here, I will celebrate stories gathered from mainstream media that are GLBT positive.

Good News

Texas home of the US's Largest Gay Church

Jewish Theological Seminary to Begin Accepting Gay and Lesbian Applicants (this item provided by quasiradiant)

GLAAD Awards Held

Mar. 25th, 2007

Rainbow Flag

Isn't this where The Who would sing the CSI theme song?

Well, it's time to get this show on the road. Even if only the skeleton is in place.

My name is Erin and I am a 37-year-old woman, writer, daughter, sister, aunt, theatre geek, sci-fi/fantasy geek, health care worker, lover, friend, and lesbian. I am in a long-term relationship with a beautiful young woman who identifies as bisexual. I have a loving and very supportive family who embrace my partner as they do my brother's wife: with love and welcome. I have been out to them and to everyone else since 1992.

I won't lie to you and tell you that coming out to my family was hard. It was, in fact, an event so easy that I have yet to find its equal. I graduated college in 1992 and as a graduation present, my parents helped me move to South Dakota so I could pursue an interest in Lakota, the language of the Plains tribes of that area. I lived there for six months and spent the majority of my time outside of school contemplating two things: Star Trek: The Next Generation and my sexuality. Though, strangely, not in conjunction with one another.

I lived in a small trailer home almost at the edge of town and for a long time, I had no phone. Since this was before everyone and their ficus tree had a cellular phone, I made weekly trips to a lonely pay phone outside the gas station nearest to my home. The glass was cracked and grimy. The booth itself had been painted a color I lovingly refer to as Institutional Puke Pink. Beer cans and other trash gathered outside the door. My mother called every Sunday at 1pm and we would talk for exactly an hour. If you can't tell, this was also before there was such a thing as "Flat Rate Long Distance".

When I came out to my parents, I did so after much slow, deliberate thought of all the possibilities and consequences this act could bring. I did as much research as was possible in a small village whose total population maxed out at about 1000 souls and where I only ever saw one computer other than my own and that was at the bank. I did not have an Internet connection. I did not have friends to call. The only book in the library of the non-accredited Native American college that I was attending that made any mention of lesbianism was a book of poetry from the 70's. So I had to rely solely on my own judgment. That was a scary place to be at the age of 22.


I finally decided on a course of action and I wrote a 14-page letter to my mother that meandered through such topics as "finding my self-esteem" and other vague references to me making a decision that was meant to be empowering and truthful and all those other earnest adjectives. And at the end of the letter, I told her I was bisexual. Which, of course, was a complete and utter lie. I knew when I wrote those words that I was lying. I knew I would never willingly pursue a sexual or romantic relationship with a man.  But--and as much as it pains me to admit this now--being "bisexual" was safer.  I could claim whatever I wanted--that it was a phase, that I was crazy, that I was only experimenting--if coming out left me in an untenable situation with my parents.  I have a tendency to look back at that choice as a cowardly one for myself.  I've grown in courage so much since then that it is embarrassing to know that I wasn't always comfortable with speaking the truth.  But another part of me, a maternal part of me, also sees this cowardice for what it really was: a survival technique. 

Which, fortunately, wasn't needed.

I waited at the Pink Pay Phone of Dread with my heart in my throat the Sunday after I mailed my letter to my mother.  I imagined every type of scenario except the one that actually happened.  I imagined that I would never hear from my family again.  That the phone would hang silently in that booth all day and into the night, with me sitting dejectedly in the dirt outside it until reality set in and I got on with my life.  I imagined my mother calling and screaming at me over the phone.  I even imagined my parents sending my younger brother to come get me.

Instead, the phone rang at 1pm on the dot and my mother laughed when my voice cracked on the word "hello". 

"Oh, honey," she said kindly.  "I've known this for a long time.  Can you come home now?"

"In that case," I responded, "I'm not bisexual.  I'm a lesbian.  I have no interest in men."

I used to jokingly tell people that I was bisexual for one whole minute but I don't anymore.  I find that insensitive to the people who identify as bisexual and who get so much flack for it, from both sides of the debate.  Let it be known, here and now, that I know bisexuality to be a real and valid self-identification.  It just wasn't my self-identification and luckily I corrected that lie quickly.

Other notable reactions to my coming out included:

  • "Duh."--The one word letter my younger brother and only sibling sent to me after I sent him my coming out letter.


  • "Have you told Christy yet?  Can I tell her?"--My best friend's then boyfriend (now husband), Myk.


  • "I'm so happy for you!"--My best friend, Christy.


  • "That's perfect!"--My then gynecologist, reacting mostly to the fact that I would not be getting pregnant while on a dangerous medication.


  • My father, a child of the 60's who marched for civil rights, found in my lesbianism another excellent reason to take up picket signs and march through the streets.  Which is exactly what we, as a family, did the summer after I came out at that year's Pride Parade in Charlotte, NC. 

    In the intervening years since I came out to my family and friends, I have also come out to every single employer (on one occasion I was outed by my supervisor in one of the most egregious violations of my privacy that I have ever experienced in a workplace) and honestly I have yet to hear a harsh word spoken to me regarding my status as an out lesbian.  I have worked in a variety of industries, too.  Financial planning, education, temporary administrative work, furniture and office supply, food service, performing arts, and now health care.

    I also live in the South.  In fact, except for the remainder of the 6 months that I lived in South Dakota and one year when I lived in Boston, I have spent every year since coming out in the Bible Belt.  Without a single reproach for being an out lesbian. 

    Which is why I am so confused by the political maelstrom that surrounds homosexuality in our country, a country that enjoys calling itself "The Land of the Free".  My personal experience does not match what I see in the media.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. 

    So I am starting this blog.  To help educate a wider populace on what it means to be gay or lesbian in a country that seems so accepting and so intolerant at the same time.  To give you the face of the Everyday Gay:  the man or woman who lives next door, who teaches your children, who takes your blood pressure at the doctor's office, who bags your groceries, who caters your office lunches, who drives the cross-town bus, who patrols your neighborhood in a police cruiser, who landscapes your garden, who prepares your Chai latte. 

    These men and women tend to every manner of occupation, pay taxes, and abide by the same laws as does the heterosexual community and yet they do so without equality under the law and without a clear voice to be heard above the falsehoods and slander said about them. 

    No more.

    I will speak up.

    It is my right, my duty, and my privilege to do so.

    Yours,

    Erin M. Hoagland     

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