The Raleigh Rant
Disasters and national tragedies create havoc, but at the same time they seem to bring out the best in Americans: our compassion, generosity, willingness to help others, and reaching out beyond absorption with self-interests that seem to plague us in normal times.
From the comfort of my apartment in Raleigh, I watched the non-stop TV coverage of the slow crawl of the hurricane across the southeastern portion of the state. It is too soon to assess the amount of the damage or to compare it with Matthew in 2016. North Carolina has great natural resources and beauty, but hurricanes are part of the cost of living here. Most people are not aware that the damage is often not limited to the coast.
The uplifting point to me is that in these times people put aside their differences and work together toward a common goal. When things are just rocking along, we tend to focus on ourselves and look at others with suspicion as though they are somehow a threat to us that we must fear. I think that one of the goals of the LGBT community has been to try to project the idea that we’re “just folks” like everybody else so why can’t we just get along?
Some people think that we threaten the established traditions and norms of the majority, so they feel that we must be ostracized, punished, or even killed. They justify their beliefs and actions because they fear our differences even though we can do nothing about who we are. We are not a “lifestyle” nor a choice, we simply have a different sexual orientation that is ingrained in us. Of course, some of the right-wing nuts blame us for everything bad that happens and use us as a bogeyman to support their diatribes. Let’s not even consider the so-called Christians who spew hate instead of love.
In the United Methodist Church, we’ve been haggling for 46 years about church doctrine and homosexuality, and the debate isn’t over yet. We’ve got a special called General Conference scheduled for next year. The various factions already are lined up with their position statements that we call resolutions. Can you imagine what might happen if only a portion of that time and money had gone to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)?
We tend to lift up as heroes those people who respond in exceptional ways in times of emergencies, but we tend to ignore the many acts of kindness and self-sacrifice of ordinary people in daily life. We should be challenged by these people who lift us up emotionally by their examples of heroism. We should apply that energy in our lives to help meet the common good every day. We’re not gay or straight; we’re all God’s children. God bless America.
In many aspects the double speak of George Orwell’s 1984 book has arrived, but none is more flagrant than the actions of the U.S Department of Justice. Our founding fathers wanted to preserve our nation from the religious wars that dominated Europe for centuries and so proclaimed “freedom of religion” in the U.S. Bill of Rights. In reality, they proclaimed a “freedom from religion,” i.e. a state-imposed religion that required everyone to not only accept that religion but also to pay taxes to support it. That is still the case in some European nations.
The intent was to allow citizens to practice their individual beliefs and to organize different churches, or denominations, to express those beliefs. There was no one state religion in the United States. In fact, that is what we are reverting to with the recent actions of the Office of the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice via various memoranda, legal opinions, and public statements. In a continuing effort to weaken the non-discrimination clauses of both legislation and case law, they have established a precedent of stating that any person is exempt solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. That would not stand up in court if a person refused services or public accommodations to a person because of their race or national origin, but they claim it does apply if the issue regards sexual orientation. They claim we are not a “protected class,” in legal terms. Thus, they are promoting a special exemption just for this one category solely to mollify the religious fundamentalists who form the base of the Republican Party. It is an exemption based on partisan politics rather than religious freedom.
Using an obscure 1993 Law, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administration has targeted the LGBT community and claimed that we alone can face discrimination because some people hate us because of those people’s personal religious beliefs. First, the DOJ issued a series of memoranda, and this week the U.S. Attorney General stepped up the pressure by appointing a task force (made up of himself and three others in the DOJ) to enforce these memoranda on the various departments and agencies of the DOJ. Waving the banner of “religious liberty,” they are in fact granting the privilege to discriminate by using religion as a weapon. The DOJ is establishing the religious practices of one minority group as official government policy. That is, in effect, state religion.
A lengthy op-ed in The Daily Beast, a Capitol Hill newspaper, blasts Jeff Sessions for his blatant cynicism and double speak of what constitutes religious liberty. When words are so twisted and mis-used, they lose their meaning and sometimes assume the opposite of the original meaning or intent. This is what we are dealing with regards the Trump Administration’s practice of propaganda (look it up!), lies, and misinformation.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold the Trump Administration's ban on travel from certain Muslim countries on the basis of a narrow definition of national security expands the policy of discrimination against immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. The Dept. of Justice, which should protect our civil rights and liberties, has chosen for political reasons to establish a series of policies that discriminate against all of these categories.
Public demonstrations about police brutality against people of color and transgender folks, draconian measures against immigrants crossing the Mexican border, and reversal of a policy protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community have had limited impact in changing these policies. The clear intent is to spread fear and division in the country as a calculated appeal to the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. The blatant callousness is so appalling that most people don't know how to respond it. Public expressions of anger and frustration have limited effect on the autocratic form of government that now rules the nation.
Our Constitution established a balance of power among the three branches of government that has apparently been breached by the complete deference to the Executive Branch. Our founding fathers were particularly concerned about the potential of a dictatorial President who might assume unlimited power and rule as a King. We are facing that possibility now as our President has publicly expressed that would be his preference.
The euphoria about of ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the prior criminal laws against homosexual sex and the recognition of same-sex marriage may have lulled the LGBT community into thinking that we had won our search for civil rights. Yes, we have made significant progress in recent years through court cases, but we've had little success in passing legislation. We had a sympathetic administration for eight years, but that attitude has been completely reversed into total hostility. We're lumped into the category of "the others," i.e. the people that the WASP power structure that has dominated political and economic power for generations has chosen to attack.
And so Pride Month this year seems not so much as celebration as time to renew our vigilance to protect our civil rights. We still have a lot of economic power, and we can choose to assert it. The repressive legislation of the North Carolina General Assembly has threatened economic development as well as the civil rights of minorities, and that has had an impact. They reversed one of the most egregious sections of one law, but it only papered over its intent.
Clearly the only logical response to dealing with all of these issues is to get out and vote this fall and to change the political landscape at all levels of government.
Hymn to the Fallen
On the afternoon of Memorial Day, I was listening on WCPE to John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen from the score of the film Saving Private Ryanwhen I was moved to tears by the music. The haunting music struck a chord of memories of violence in this country. The media headlines today are focused on gun violence that has killed more people than all the wars since WWII. We see reports of shootings in the schools and of shootings in the streets. We are learning day by day of the intransigence of the National Rifle Associations that dwarfs that of the tobacco companies in their fight against regulation. Violence is all around us every day so that we become so numb to it that it doesn't even register anymore.
Over that weekend I read a book Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre that told the stories of Britain's Secret Special Forces units that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war. Their tactics were adopted by the U.S. Delta Force and the U.S. Navy Seals in later years. Although their stories recalled a lot of derring-do bravado and the glory of war, they also revealed a surprising lot of personal stories of the individuals as human beings and how they accommodated to the nature of war. In our minds, murder is justified in pursuit of a "just" war. Of course, much of the past three decades has been enveloped in controversies of how "just" the wars have been in which the United States was the leader. But that's another story.
I wore my Navy hat to the Memorial Day luncheon of SAGE at the LGBT Center to demonstrate that I was a veteran and proud of it. Of course, I didn't have the time to tell everyone my story of how an intelligence spy was sent onboard my ship to have sex with the sailors and then report on them so they would receive a dishonorable discharge. At that time the Navy was extremely homophobic and regularly engaged in illegal entrapments to justify their actions about maintaining the purity of discipline and order. Those guys weren't physically attacked or murdered, but they were rendered virtually unemployable.
Of course, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks now can serve openly in the military and even get married at West Point. (By the way, the couple were later attacked after they left.) That doesn't mean that hostility or bias have gone away; it is openly practiced in the highest level of the U.S. Department of Justice. Apparently most of the abuse in the military now is applied primarily against women.
On Memorial Day again I was drawn back to the recollection of the cost not only in our wars of the past 100 years, but also to the wounded who continue to bear the scars of war not only on their bodies but also on their minds. We have a lasting legacy of wounds from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan that our veterans have borne selflessly and with honor. Unfortunately, we have not chosen to honor them by providing the services they need.
At the same time, I was struck by the hate crimes of racism and homophobia that are being promoted by our President, who is supposed to serve as Commander in Chief. Prior to writing this, I read several reports on the statistics on hate crimes. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs data reveal that a substantial proportion of hate crimes, including those based on sexual orientation, are never reported to law enforcement authorities and thus are not reflected in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. This violence includes not only homicide, but also rape, and physical assault on persons. Some data also include attacks on property. If you burn someone's home, is that less serious than assaulting them?
If we are truly to honor the veterans of foreign wars, then we must do more than just salute the flag. We must honor them by coming to terms with the plain facts that we are a nation of internal violence fanned by division and hatred that only seem to be growing. We can become reconciled with each other, or we can let this nation come apart at the seams by our indifference.
People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender do not have a lifestyle, a choice, nor are guilty of an unforgivable sin. People who judge us solely on the basis of our identity use a false premise as the basis of their arguments. They interpret a few verses of scripture and social traditions to cast us out and insult us as being "the other."
I was accosted by a sincere young man at OutRaleigh who was convinced that it was his mission in life to save me from my sin. He did not invade my personal space at first or make broad condemnations. His manipulative plan was to engage me in conservation and slowly wind towards his statement of judgment. Unfortunately, my years of discrimination triggered a hostile reaction when he brought up the fallacy of "love the sinner but hate the sin" and got in my face. He claimed to love me but used his interpretation of the Bible to slander me with hateful statements of condemnation.
I can understand his belief. That was the way I was raised. It took years of Bible study, prayer, and life experience for me to accept myself for who I am. I also have come to realize that the great divide we have in this country today along the lines of sexuality, politics, religion, nationality, and race cause us to split into a mindset of "us" versus "them." Rather than unite as Americans to try to solve the real problems we face of drugs, inequality of opportunity, greed and immorality, we debate our differences. Our differences are what made us a great nation, the melting pot of the world.
The LGBT community is as diverse as the heterosexual community, and we do not seek special privileges or rights. We simply want to live as who we are without discrimination, hate, and violence imposed upon us by those who fear us. Yes, we're different than the majority in this country, but the majority of the people in this world are not white. If they were to impose their majority privilege upon those of us who are white, where would we be?
The United States was created out of division among the states and formed on the basis of democratic compromise. Our founders found a way to learn how to live together without killing each other about differences in religion that plagued Europe for centuries. Unfortunately, they did not address the issue of race, and we fought a great war over that issue, It was the only war within our borders even though we've fought many wars across the world.
When are we going to learn how to live together?