“Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free.” – Donny Hathaway
After watching Paul Ryan give his speech at the Republican National Convention, I went online to learn about his position on gay rights — which is really, if you think about it, his position on human rights.Â I wasnâ€™t shocked to discover on PoliGu.com that while in office he had voted in favor of the Marriage Protection Act, twice in favor of an amendment to the Constitution that would legally define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, and against the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I was surprised, however, by something else: Paul Ryan and I are the same age.
Ryan is a young politician.Â To achieve the career milestone of vice-presidential nomination is an exceptional achievement, regardless of oneâ€™s political party.Â And as a conservative, I didnâ€™t exactly expect him to be handing out pink triangles at gay rallies.Â Yet the longer I sat there reading his record on gay rights, the more rage I felt. Â This wasnâ€™t the usual anger and disappointment I feel towards Republicans; this bitterness had a different taste.
At first, I considered whether it was just jealousy.Â I mean, at 42, Iâ€™m nobodyâ€™s vice presidential pick – the last office I held was student congress in high school, and our biggest decision was the theme for the homecoming dance.Â After awhile, however, what infuriated me about Paul Ryan became quite clear.
Ryan is the new generation of politicians, and yet, like so many before him, heâ€™s using his political power to deny me my civil rights. Â Yesterday, September 14, 2012, he gave a speech at the Values Voter Summit.Â Although several human rights groups asked that he decline the offer because of the anti-gay politics of the event, he attended anyway. Â As he spoke, a display of theÂ organization’s sponsors, known for their positions against gay teachers, gay adoption, gay marriage, and for encouraging “ex-gay” therapy to â€œcureâ€ homosexuality, formed a backdrop behind him.
What might have just been an irritating disagreement on gay rights in a high school debate class, or inspiration for a college rally, is now a quality of life issue, my life, as we approach â€“ gulp — middle age.Â (Being African American Iâ€™m approaching it faster than he is â€“ according to some statistics, I may even have already passed it.) Â Â If politicians like Paul Ryan keep coming fresh off the assembly line, with the same stale views and prejudices as their predecessors, I could die and never see the equality Iâ€™m entitled to as a gay man, as an American. Â This shit is not funny anymore.
Ryan and I are both children of the Seventies.Â We may have caught only the tail end of the Sixties, sitting contentedly in the womb, as our mothers waddled from room to room, too hot, and adjusting pillows on couches to watch television, craving pickles and ice cream.Â It would have been hard to escape the national conversations on black power, womenâ€™s rights, gay rights.Â Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been dead two years, Malcolm X five. Â There was Stonewall.Â And even if cynicism was settling in – the protracted war in Vietnam, Watergate in a few years – the potential for equality was in the air we breathed, in a country that had been on fire with liberation movements.
And yet Ryan disregards this completely, inviting us back to a time when gay people, terrorized by social violence, could have their bars raided, their civil rights ignored, because of their orientation. Â And I donâ€™t care that he voted in favor of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, as his supporters like to remind us: itâ€™s just not enough. Â In fact, in some ways itâ€™s worse. Â He gets to stay the â€œnice guyâ€ who just â€œagrees to disagree.â€ Â As he flashes his golden boy , “Richie Cunningham” smile, our fundamental rights are denied, good-naturedly, of course — business as usual.Â In the game show of life, we may not win the new sports car, but, hey, we do get the Teflon pan set and a lifetimeâ€™s supply of soup! Concessions, booby prizes, but never full equality. Â This is the strategy that allows evil to flourish.Â Like college administrators who know that the kids protesting on their campuses, taking over buildings and being a general pain in the ass (as some of us were when I was at the University of Michigan in the late Eighties and Nineties) will be gone in four years, Ryan doesnâ€™t really have to confront the effect of his voting record on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, or the message it sends to others who wish to harm us. Â Itâ€™s basically a waiting game. And one day heâ€™ll step down, his son will run for office, and weâ€™ll hear the same speech, see the same damn grin, another generation will wonder when it is their turn, and another gay woman or man, another family, will be unprotected by the law and left out.
Thinking about Paul Ryan gives me the same sinking feeling that I felt when I watched an episode of CBSâ€™ Two Broke Girls months ago. At first, I was exhilarated by the relationship between the two female leads, and particularly the dark-haired, hard-boiled survivor from Brooklyn named Max. Â The two women work as waitresses, selling cupcakes on the side, hoping to earn enough money to open up their own bakery.Â In the episode I watched, Max and Caroline are in a store fighting with a black couple over a sale on cake mixes. One box gets ripped open, and the dark-skinned black man stumbles back, a shelf falls down on him, and he sits on the floor, buddha style, covered head to toe in flour.Â Blinking in bewilderment, heâ€™s a tar baby for 2012.
Entertainment in America is power.Â Michael Patrick King, one of the creators of the show, continues to defend the show to journalists, immune, it seems, to criticism, calling 2 Broke Girls â€œhighbrow lowbrow.â€ Â In its initial prime-time slot of 8:30 and now 9:00, another generation of black children is going to have to untangle the humiliation of degrading images from television.Â We really should be past this, we should be better than this by now.Â As an African-American gay man, I can attest that the marginalization hurts equally, it damages equally.Â People who would be appalled to be called racist, as Iâ€™m sure Ryan would be, have no problem being on the wrong side in the fight for gay equality. Â He should be an anachronism; a politician from another era, marginalized today for his discriminatory views, not brought to the front of the line in a major election.
It was one thing when this crap came from the politicians my parents watched on Face The Nation.Â Crotchety rich white men with power who seemed to own the world, men we allowed ourselves to feel superior to because they probably couldnâ€™t dance, or fuck, to save their lives.Â Men who seemed to come from a starched, conservative universe where their only pleasures were greed and denying otherâ€™s happiness; reproductive freedom for women, affirmative action for blacks, and for gay people everything from anal sex to hospital visitation rights.
Those men were remote, restless, men who stood awkwardly beside their wives at parent-teacher conferences, who checked their watches, who always seemed to have important business, men who stood together in conspiratorial clumps outside their churches on Sunday.Â The fathers, the football coaches, the Boy Scout leaders, men who made the rules in the community.Â Maybe Paul Ryan had a father like that.Â I imagine him watching his father shave and putting shaving cream on his face too, pretending to shave with his finger. Â His father adjusts his own tie for church, and then bend downs and adjusts his sonâ€™s.Â Maybe he got yelled at for making too much noise in the back seat on car rides. Â He saw the way his fatherâ€™s jaw would clench when he was stressed, and wondered what it was like to be a man, with a family, and what his would look like someday. Â Some things are the same between boys and their fathers whether you are white or black, gay or straight.
Once upon a time, Paul Ryan and I might have been friends. We might have ridden the bus together.Â He is old enough to remember school field trips to the planetarium, stopping at McDonaldâ€™s on the way backÂ – which kids had money for food and which didnâ€™t.Â Eating an exploding candy called Pop Rocks that made your throat tingle. Â Did he listen to Marlo Thomasâ€™ â€œFree to Be, You and Meâ€ in the school library â€“ thereâ€™s a land that I see, where the children are free?Â I imagine him walking down the halls in his elementary school, running his fingers over the pumpkins and turkeys made of construction paper for Thanksgiving, sitting restlessly through the same boring school assemblies, and watching girls trade Dr. Pepper and 7-UP Bonnie Bell lip smackers at the back of the class. (Well, maybe he doesnâ€™t remember that part.Â There were some differences between gay and straight.)
I know he has them somewhere – the plaid-collared, shaggy haired, nappy-haired school photos with the blue sky background that almost no one from our generation escaped.Â Did he wear Toughskins pants from Sears?Â He must remember the year that someone was putting razor blades in apples on Halloween, so our moms had to check our candy when we came home from Trick-or-Treating.Â Someone put cyanide in Tylenol, too, and for a while it wasnâ€™t safe to buy things in bottles anymore.Â We were ten, and there was a new disease called AIDS; the news said that having sex might kill you. Â Just as we were on our way to the sexual party, it seemed the party was over.Â That same year, black children were being killed and kidnapped in Atlanta, snatched off the streets and later found murdered. 30 victims. I was in Michigan, but still I was scared of slow-moving cars, scared to walk home alone.
Maybe he came back from school to an empty house, using his house key worn around his neck, because his mom worked, as mine did. He entertained himself with The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island reruns over a bowl of cereal, helped make dinner until someone came home. Ryan could have been in my fifth grade class in 1980 when we had a mock election.Â He probably would have voted for Reagan and won, as I voted for Carter, and we both stared in amazement at the kids who were for Anderson. We might have played â€œSmear the Queerâ€ during recess â€“ the game where all the kids line up against the wall as if they’re facing a firing squad and you throw a ball at them.Â Whoever catches the ball wins.Â If you get hit then youâ€™re a queer.Â Maybe he got called a faggot if he dropped the ball or couldnâ€™t run fast enough in gym class.
Paul Ryan certainly looks like many of the boys I grew up with, boys I had crushes on before I even fully realized I was gay. Â Michigan isnâ€™t that far psychologically from Wisconsin. Â There was the same pressure to succeed.Â To go beyond our parents.Â To make them proud. Â To achieve but not too aggressively.Â The Midwestern humility. I locate Paul Ryanâ€™s betrayal in these years.Â Even if we did grow up with the same homophobic fear our parents were raised with, even if we were exposed to the same prejudice, our generation was supposed to be different.Â He should know better.
When your 80-year-old grandpa grumbles, â€œThose damn faggotsâ€ when he sees two men kissing on TV, and trundles off to his room in his bathrobe to take his meds, his age doesnâ€™t excuse him, but may put him in a context for you.Â You might dismiss him as being old and his thinking as being from â€œthat generation.â€Â Or when you see those fascinating public service announcements from the Fifties and Sixties on You Tube, you know the ones, where white mothers in starched aprons bake chocolate- chip cookies into eternity, and handsome white dads carrying briefcases, walk in and say, â€œHoney Iâ€™m home.â€ The ad begins in bold white letters on a black background, â€œBOYS BEWAREâ€ and tells the story of Jimmy or Billy (Jimmy and Billy always look like Paul Ryan) catching a ride after baseball practice from a stranger named Ralph.Â The avuncular voice-over says,
â€œWhat Jimmy didnâ€™t know was that Ralph was sick.Â A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious.Â A sickness of the mind.Â You see, Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of the their own sexâ€¦(so) be carefulâ€¦one never knows when the homosexual is about, he may appear normal.â€Â
You cringe, laughing at the gay paranoia, and the way they thought â€œback then.â€
But when Paul Ryan says that marriage should only be between a man and a woman in 2012, and uses the full thrust of his political power to enforce that, itâ€™s not back then, itâ€™s right now, and it isnâ€™t those ugly depictions of gay men looking for young boys to corrupt, itâ€™s me and my partner of twenty years not being protected by the federal government if we choose to get married, even though we pay our taxes like everyone else.
Ryan sits in a photo with his wife and boys, and his family, like his clear blue eyes, sparkles. Â And although he lost his own father at sixteen, he’s now the father at the parent-teacher conferences, standing outside the churches and ice cream socials, adjusting his sonâ€™s tie after heâ€™s finished his own, shaving together in the mirror, Daddy and son. Â While I am happy that he loves and appreciates his children, the kid in me wants to whine to the great Teacher in the Sky, like weâ€™re in kindergarten and heâ€™s gotten seconds on graham crackers at snack: Â â€œWhy does Paul Ryan get to have federal benefits for his family and I donâ€™t!â€ And the fact is, if Paul Ryan doesnâ€™t agree with gay marriage because of his religion, fine. Â As has been said many times before, if you donâ€™t like gay marriage, donâ€™t go to gay weddings. Just donâ€™t vote to deny me my motherfucking rights.
We try to make it more complicated, bringing in religion and â€œupbringing,â€ because if we reduce it down its basic components, itâ€™s just plain ugly and embarrassing. Denying gays and lesbians full equality in this country is no different from having separate bathrooms for colored people.
In other words, I canâ€™t dismiss Paul Ryanâ€™s good-natured homophobia as anything else but what it is, a hatred of gays. Â I canâ€™t blame a generation gap, or that heâ€™s from some other country that isnâ€™t â€œfreeâ€ like us, or any of the bullshit excuses that would let him off the hook.Â Heâ€™s just like me. Only he has privileges that I donâ€™t, because heâ€™s heterosexual.Â Itâ€™s that simple.Â We try to make it more complicated, bringing in religion and â€œupbringing,â€ because if we reduce it down its basic components, itâ€™s just plain ugly and embarrassing.Â Denying gays and lesbians full equality in this country is no different from having separate bathrooms for colored people.
Come on, Paul Ryan: youâ€™re old enough to remember Billy Crystal on Soap, you must have watched at least one or two episodes of Will and Grace in a hotel room and laughed once.Â Wasnâ€™t there a gay guy on your floor in college that you said hi to, despite the rumors and when no was looking, because he was basically a nice guy?Â Donâ€™t you feel any compassion at all, given the tragedies weâ€™ve seen in recent years? The suicides of Jamie Rodemeyer, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown – all teenagers.Â And these are the names we know. Tyler Clementi would be alive right now if heâ€™d been straight. In order for filming him secretly to be interesting to anyone, Clementi had to be a â€œfreakâ€; otherwise everyone would have called his roommate Dharun Ravi the pervert.Â When I think of these dead boys, I remember being their age and how hard it sometimes was; the humiliations that you take for granted every day, that can break you down slowly.Â When I was twenty, I ran into a teacher who had been a very important mentor to me as a child.Â We were in an airport and, having not seen her in a while, I mentioned to her that Iâ€™d recently â€œcome out.â€ Â I watched as she shook her head as if sheâ€™d tasted something bitter and asked me, slightly horrified, â€œWhy?â€ Several months later, a family friend whom I valued had the exact same reaction. Â It was painful, but you move on.Â My point is, coming out ainâ€™t easy, and in some places in this country, depending on where you live, itâ€™s pretty goddamn heroic. Â These are Americans we should be admiring for their courage, not putting in early graves.
Despite the strides, despite the advances here and there, we havenâ€™t come far enough.Â And donâ€™t be lulled into thinking things are okay because you may have pals in Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud, who raise their hands from the back of the Republican class and say, â€œHey, donâ€™t forget about us,â€ reminding you that while what they do with their partners in the dark may be unsavory and ungodly in your eyes, white supremacy trumps gay rights, (and, evidently, their dignity.)Â The fact is gay kids are still getting their asses kicked, and they need your help.Â I went to an event recently where I needed statistics about violence against gay people in the U.S.Â I looked on Wikipedia, expecting a paragraph or two, and watched as page after page came through the printer.Â Gay hate crimes perpetrated all over the country because someone heard a politician say, â€œIâ€™m against gay marriage,â€ which is code for, “This person doesnâ€™t deserve our protection.”
Our children are watching, watching, watching. Gay children and those who bully gays see the same channels, and eventually there is violence, perpetrated or self-inflicted, against a gay person as a result. Often itâ€™s the entertainers that are the worst. Kirk Cameron can get on TV, using his star power to make it clear: he doesnâ€™t hate gay people, he just loves Jesus Christ.
Whatâ€™s getting really boring are the political figures and entertainers who go on TV saying they donâ€™t hate gays, they just donâ€™t want them to be equal.Â Our children are watching, watching, watching. Â Gay children and those who bully gays see the same channels, and eventually there is violence, perpetrated or self-inflicted, against a gay person as a result.Â Often itâ€™s the entertainers that are the worst. Kirk Cameron can get on TV, using his star power to make it clear: he doesnâ€™t hate gay people, he just loves Jesus Christ. Â He, Paul Ryan and I are the same age.Â We tickle Cameron under the chin and remember how cute he was on Growing Pains, letting him get away with murder. Â A spoonful of sugar helps the cyanide go down.
My first boyfriend committed suicide three years ago.Â We met when I was in college.Â I found out he was dead when I went to look him up on Facebook and saw a memorial page for him. Â Iâ€™ve gotten so used to the stories of gay teen suicides, I forgot the heartbreak of homophobia can still reach us, even in our forties.
Iâ€™d be lying if I said we were a perfect match. There were lots of fights, and we both hurt each other.Â But there was also kindness.Â Iâ€™ve tried to forgive myself for the mistakes I made.Â It was a messy time. Â Iâ€™d never had a boyfriend before, so I didnâ€™t know what two men did.Â I didnâ€™t even know what to do to prepare for anal sex, and I wasnâ€™t sure whom to ask.
Months before, Iâ€™d had my first official date with a man from a coming-out group of which I was a part on campus. He was a graduate student. Weâ€™d known each other for weeks and had become friends.Â I remember getting ready for that first date and wondering, Who pays? Who opens the door for whom?Â Who makes the first move? He picked me up in front of my dorm. There were kids in the common area and sitting out in front, laughing, smoking. As I walked past them I wondered, Is there some tell-tale sign that says Iâ€™m going out with another man right now? If they knew, would they laugh at me and think I was gross?
My date had a car.Â We had dinner in an Italian restaurant off campus and afterwards went back to his apartment.Â We sat on the couch and talked about school and at one point he kissed me.Â We started to take off our clothes to have sex, but when I reached for his tee shirt, he said he wanted to keep it on.Â I think it was because he felt fat.Â That was the first time I realized that men could hate their bodies, or be embarrassed by them, like some women I knew.
He told me he loved me, which a man had never told me before, at least not like that, but when I tried to go down on him, he stopped me and apologized.Â He said he was sorry he had to stop and moved to the other side of the couch.Â Â He told me a story about how his stepfather used to beat him with a hose when he was a kid.Â One time he got beaten for not getting up early enough to do his paper route. Â I didnâ€™t know what that had to do with having sex, but I told him I was whipped by my dad too when I was five.Â He cried for a moment and said he needed to take me home.Â I went back to the dorm confused, not sure exactly what had happened.
I hadnâ€™t been out of the closet that long then; I was only nineteen. Â By the time I met my boyfriend, I had a bit more experience.Â We met at a bar when we were both home from school on break, and I ended up giving him a ride home.Â It was winter and we sat in the car in his driveway, with the heat on, listening to Mariah Careyâ€™s first album (the one with only her head on the cover, before she felt she had to take off all her clothes to sell a song) and holding hands. We said goodnight, and said weâ€™d call each other, and two days later he called me, and called me again.Â I asked him after our third phone call if we were really dating, and he said yes, we were, and that as far as he was concerned, we were boyfriends.Â Boyfriends! Â I was so excited and told all my friends that I finally had a boyfriend!
We got into a few fights, and broke up, and got back together.Â Weâ€™d get drunk in bars – the well drinks in gay bars are always strong and â€œon specialâ€ — and one night I got tired of his being so controlling and jealous and I flirted with a total stranger, and made out a little with the guy in the bathroom.Â When I came back out, he told me he knew what I did and called me a whore.Â I couldnâ€™t admit it then, but I was embarrassed because we were an interracial couple and I felt people were always watching us, that my political friends would think because I was dating a white boy I was â€œsleeping with the enemy.â€ Â He scared me once when he lost his temper and threw something across the room in anger, and so we broke up again.
At times, I think we sabotaged the relationship because we were still very homophobic inside, despite â€œcoming out.â€ I wanted a boyfriend, I just didnâ€™t want to be a faggot. And just because two men are gay, it doesnâ€™t mean they stop being men; there is still the competition and fear.
It may seem like pop psychology but sometimes pop psychology is true.Â At times, I think we sabotaged the relationship because we were still very homophobic inside, despite â€œcoming out.â€ Â I wanted a boyfriend, I just didnâ€™t want to be a faggot. And just because two men are gay, it doesnâ€™t mean they stop being men; there is still the competition and fear. Â But I know he trusted me.Â When he remembered later in our relationship that heâ€™d been sexually abused by his half-brother, which heâ€™d forgotten and which had contributed to his inability to trust, we found him a therapist together.
(Iâ€™m afraid to tell you about three gay men who were abused, who dealt with violence in their childhood, physical and sexual.Â Iâ€™m afraid youâ€™ll assume that thatâ€™s what â€œmade usâ€ gay. But Iâ€™ve held the straight men in my arms who were abused too, physically and sexually, by the men and women they trusted.Â Sexual abuse isnâ€™t about being gay or straight, itâ€™s about being a child.)
When I found out my first boyfriend was dead, seventeen years after Iâ€™d last seen him, I realized we hadnâ€™t been friends after those years, even though Iâ€™d hoped we would be one day.Â And even when a relationship goes badly or ends, and mistakes are made, there was that day when you ran out of the movie theater together in the rain laughing, or he surprised you with a picnic after work, some time when you both got it right. In the dark, making love, hands reached out and offered comfort, you slept in his arms in a safety that felt like forever; taking in his smell, taking him inside you, the rare moments when you were able to turn off the world, and experienced the closest thing youâ€™d ever known to grace.
I submit these men to you, Paul Ryan, gay men Iâ€™ve known and loved — men who were mangled, wrecked, heroic, courageous, loving, broken, and brave — I think of their crimes and their moments of glory, because we all have both, and how their lives canâ€™t be summed up or dismissed in a soundbite from the campaign trail. Phrases like â€œMarriage is between a man and a woman,â€ “Reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” or “I’m for civil unions,” donâ€™t begin to cut it, donâ€™t have any soul, donâ€™t make you think about the people whose real lives are at the end of those words. Â The gay people Iâ€™ve known, men and women, deserve better than that from you as a fellow American, not to mention what you owe them as a public servant.
I see your beautiful boys in your campaign photos, Ryan, and wonder: what happens if one of them has to one day tell his father that he is gay?Â Maybe theyâ€™ve heard you speak or seen you on TV, know your voting record, and they wonâ€™t even bother to tell you. Donâ€™t ask, Donâ€™t Tell. Â Maybe they will hide it inside, something that hurts, but only them. Boys often hide what hurts from their fathers. They want them to be proud. They wonâ€™t cry when you beat them, or when they cut their finger.Â See, Dad, it doesnâ€™t hurt.Â I can take it. Â Your little men. Your brave little soldiers. Until the day when a cut finger become a slashed wrist.
The world is upside down right now.Â I turn on the Republican Convention and watch Clint Eastwood talking to a chair.Â Clint Eastwood, who has worked for years to prove to us heâ€™s an artist and to distance himself from the racism, fascism, homophobia and cruelty in his vigilante â€œDirty Harryâ€ movies. He blows away villainous, faggoty- looking guys who cross him, a cinematic version of Smearing the Queer. Â One woman screams out and the crowd encourages Eastwood to say his iconic phrase, â€œMake My Day.â€ Â He makes it a singalong, asking them to join in like Madonna extending the mike to the audience while sheâ€™s singing â€œHoliday.â€ Â It seems in exceptionally bad taste.Â The tragic events in Aurora, Colorado arenâ€™t that long ago. I wonder if James Holmes, sitting bewildered in court with that ridiculous red hair that made him less like The Joker from The Dark Knight and more like Ronald McDonaldâ€™s illegitimate son, was thinking of that reference as he pulled the trigger on innocent people.Â Something is very wrong in America at the moment, if you hadnâ€™t noticed. There is one shooting after another; we can barely catch a break. Â Iâ€™m thinking of the potential James Holmeses, sitting in their living rooms, watching Eastwood and the convention.Â Make My Day.
The only reason Clint Eastwood is up on the stage in the first place is because heâ€™s an actor, and actors have almost as much power in our country as our politicians. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have both in one, and we get a Ronald Reagan. When I heard about Holmesâ€™ spree, I recalled seeing The Dark Knight in London. I was distracted by a seven-year-old sitting in the seat behind me.Â Parents who bring very young children to violent movies anger me, but in this case, I felt for the father.Â He knew there would be violence, but he hadnâ€™t expected what was on the screen.Â His son kept hiding behind his hands and whimpering, anticipating the next act of mayhem, and finally his father decided to remove the boy from the theater.Â I was relieved, and was grateful the kid didnâ€™t witness the scenes that followed; in one, a manâ€™s head was thrown forward onto a pen driven through his skull, to the audienceâ€™s laughter and delight.Â Good olâ€™ PG-13. Let two homos in a movie smile at each other across a crowded room for too long and itâ€™s an instant R, but with violence, you pretty much have to rip off the top of someoneâ€™s head and munch their brains for it to be restricted, especially if itâ€™s a summer â€œblockbusterâ€; and especially if it costs a ton of money to make.
And now Clint Eastwood is leading the crowd at a national political convention in â€œMake My Day.â€ The following week, at the Democratic Convention, Gabrielle Giffords heroically recites the Pledge of Allegiance, still recovering her ability to speak and walk after being shot during a public meeting in a supermarket parking lot in 2011.
In addition to the disproportionate number of black people The Joker was killing, the filmâ€™s moral balance was off; by the end I was convinced The Joker was the hero of The Dark Knight â€“ he was the only character I could remember when I went home.Â Heath Ledgerâ€™s performance was great, but the movieâ€™s framing of the Jokerâ€™s sociopathology was in question, his killings presented gleefully. Â I thought of the boy in the theater, and how more and more movies include extended scenes of sadism, someone begging not to be killed, how weâ€™re becoming numb, losing our reverence for human life.Â And now Clint Eastwood is leading the crowd at a national political convention in â€œMake My Day.â€ Â The following week, at the Democratic Convention, Gabrielle Giffords heroically recites the Pledge of Allegiance, still recovering her ability to speak and walk after being shot during a public meeting in a supermarket parking lot in 2011.
As I watch the Republican National Convention, one speaker after another pulls out their poverty credentials; Mom worked day and night to give us this, Dad was so broke we couldnâ€™t afford that; then they turn around and cancel all that goodwill, with no real empathy or solutions to help the working class or the poor.Â I adjust the sound on my computer when Chris Christie says, â€œThey believe in teacherâ€™s unions.Â We believe in teachers.â€ What the hell does that mean?
I marvel that when I look at the convention floor, everyone looks the same.Â Where are the black and Latino faces?Â I want to ask the Latino speakers who support the Republican Party, do they feel truly integrated?Â What do they feel when their fellow Republicans want to build a wall to keep out others who look like them? I hear the speeches, but they are all slogans, they donâ€™t seem to connect to anyoneâ€™s real life. The words and ideas are abstract, the suffering is real.
We sit in history class as kids, as the teacher reminded us again and again:Â â€œAnd we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.â€ And so I wonder, for a politician like Paul Ryan, or Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin, who talk about America, America, America, every chance they get, who wave to crowds standing in front of our beautiful flag; what America do they belong to and is there room for the rest of us? Disgraced presidential hopeful John Edwards went on and on about â€œTwo Americasâ€; they may have been the only truthful two words he said in his entire campaign, but he was right.Â For most people, this usually refers to class, or race, but sexual orientation is in there too. Â And itâ€™s easier for everyone if you stay in your lane.Â Black.Â White.Â Gay.Â Straight.Â Republican. Democrat.Â Veteran.Â But the lines are blurrier than ever before, and Â it’s just not that simple anymore.
As the Convention ends, I remember the disastrous conversation Mitt Romney had during the primaries with a man in a New Hampshire diner named Bob Goran. Â Goran was enjoying a meal with his husband, when Romney noticed Goranâ€™s hat, which identified him as a Vietnam vet.Â Romney joined them and discovered through their amicable conversation that he and Bob were the same age. Â Romney thanked the man for his military service.Â Goran asked him about the legislation at the time to repeal the New Hampshire law allowing same-sex marriage and whether or not he supported it.
Romney: â€œI believe marriage is between a man and a woman, thatâ€™s my view.â€
Garon: â€œOkay, that means that if you are in the White House, you will not support any form of legislation that would change that, so that servicemen would be entitled to benefits like a man and a woman.Â If two men get married apparently a veteranâ€™s spouse would not be entitled to any burial benefits or medical benefits or anythingâ€¦the serviceman has devoted his time and effort for this country.Â And you just donâ€™t support equality in terms of same-sex marriage.â€
Romney: â€œI believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.â€
Romney: â€œThe Defense of Marriage act that exists in Washington today defines benefits, whether for veterans or for non-veterans as between married spouses and for me thatâ€™s a man and a woman. And we apparently disagree on thatâ€¦itâ€™s religionâ€¦â€
Garon: â€œItâ€™s good to know how you feel, that you do not believe that everyone is entitled to their constitutional rights.â€
Romney: â€œNo, actually I think at the time the Constitution was written it was pretty clear that marriage is between a man and a woman and I donâ€™t believe that the Supreme Court has changed that.â€
Aide: â€œGovernor, weâ€™ve got to get on with Fox News right now.â€
Garon: â€œOh, I guess the question was too hot.â€
Romney: â€œNo.Â I gave you the answerâ€¦
Garon: â€œI appreciate your answer. And you know I also learned something and New Hampshire is right.Â You have to look a man in the eye to get a good answer.Â And you know what, Governor? Good luckâ€¦Youâ€™re going to need it.â€
Romney leaves looking harassed and ambushed.Â Clearly it hadnâ€™t occurred to him or anyone on his staff that a Vietnam vet in his sixties could also be a homosexual.Â When asked by reporters how he felt after Romney left, Goran said, â€œHeâ€™s not getting my voteâ€¦.He told me Iâ€™m not entitled to constitutional rights.Â I think a man and a woman, and a man and a man should be treated equal.â€ When then asked why he felt so strongly about it, he exclaimed, â€œBecause Iâ€™m gay! And I happen to love a man just like you probably love your wife.Â I think that he or she (is) entitled to the same rightsâ€¦I went and fought for my country, I did my thing, and I think my spouse should be entitled to the same entitlements as if I were married to a woman. Â What the hellâ€™s the difference?â€
A friend of mine and I have a conversation outside the gym.Â He says thatâ€™s heâ€™s sick and tired of Americans being so stupid.Â Heâ€™s American himself, born in Brooklyn, and while I consider myself to be a New Yorker after 20 years, he has the effrontery that I associate with New York, the confrontational swagger, the impatience with nonsense; he is, at once, grandiose, angry and fully engaged. Exasperated, he tells me heâ€™s been talking to a friend who is against Obamacare, but who hasnâ€™t bothered to take the time to read about it or find out what it means; his friend is just â€œagainst it.â€ Â He mentions an article he read where a man in the South, in desperate need of an operation for a tumor in his leg, and without insurance, is still dead set against Obamacare. Â The man is white and poor.Â My friend asks, â€œHow do they do that? With people going bankrupt over hospital costs, and families uninsured, how do you brainwash someone into voting against their own best interest?â€ After this conversation, I am surprised when Jeff Danielsâ€™ character, Will McAvoy, a TV anchor on HBOâ€™s The Newsroom asks the same question of a political pundit, and humiliates the man when he has no answer.Â Clearly it is a question many of us are asking.
I donâ€™t know how to answer my friend, except that I know it has something to do with race, and people who are too proud, or closed minded , or whatever, to accept anything from a black man who has been advertised as a â€œMuslimâ€ with a dodgy birth certificate. Â It has to do with a fear of â€œcommunismâ€ and other big, bad wolves hiding in the closet, and not wanting to create a â€œwelfare stateâ€, i.e. to show any solidarity with other poor people, who happen to be black.Â As long as a poor white man in America feels more allegiance to a man like George W. Bush, (just because they share a racial background, even if that man cares nothing for his economic situation and may work to defeat him,) than he does with the black man who was also laid off at the same plant theyâ€™ve both been loyal to for years, America will never move forward.
When I see First Lady Michelle Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention, it feels like a dream fulfilled.Â People still try to play bullshit games about whether Barack is really black; I was at a friendâ€™s party last year and a huge argument ensued because the host insisted that Barack wasnâ€™t blackâ€¦he was â€œmixed,â€ as if people were able to vote for the white part and reject the black.Â Â No one questions whether Vanessa Williams or Terrance Howard is black, both much lighter than Barack, but Barack isnâ€™t black because of his white mother.Â And yet Barack Obama grew up in the United States, and when youâ€™re black in this country, and youâ€™re trying to get a job or catch a cab, nobody stops to check if your mother or father was white before they discriminate against you.Â It isnâ€™t part of the Obama brand to show it, but Barack has known black pain, as a boy, as a man. Â There are certain altitudes you can reach where you really are alone â€“ one mogul might be able to call another if he faces bankruptcy, but Barack canâ€™t call â€œthe other living black American president.â€ When he meets resistance from his colleagues, he must wonder if he would have these challenges as a white president, people willing to disrespect the office in order to disrespect the man.
But Michelle is a stone black woman, no oneâ€™s questioning that birth certificate!Â And even as I watch her, I can feel the political manipulation that is de rigueur, the speech that politicians always give about the everyday Americans they have encountered on the political trail; I am pinching myself, even four years later, that there is a sign projected above the stage that says â€œFirst Ladyâ€ — with a black woman underneath it.Â Black women havenâ€™t always been protected in this country, to say the least.Â And no matter what people think of the Obamas, the image of Michelle Obama on that stage is iconic â€“ the most protected woman in the United States is black.Â It means something that perhaps canâ€™t be articulated in words when the First Lady of America talks about the choices she makes to assure her daughtersâ€™ future, or, as she said in her speech at the 2012 convention, as â€œMom-in-Chief.â€Â Even for those who have the most cynical view of politics, this is quite a chapter in the American story; a black woman in the White House, drawing her daughters close as she looks back through history at the black mother who could never claim her daughters because they belonged to someone else, who watched her daughters on the auction block, sold away from her like so much furniture, like cattle.Â Â This enslaved woman, building our country with her bare hands, raising its white children, never sees her own daughters again, but dreams of the women they will grow up to be.Â Â And although she may not know how the story will end, she survives so that it will continue, and now a black woman whose address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can have the audacity to claim what was she was once denied: the use of the possessive with her own children.Â My daughters.
I am grateful to the President.Â Whatever the motivation or timing, by coming out in support for gay marriage, President Obama has created a wonderful dilemma, and sent shockwaves through the religious black community.Â And I believe â€œmorallyâ€ conservative African Americans who now have to make a Sophieâ€™s Choice whether to support a black president or hold onto their prejudices, will vote for him, and put that prejudice aside.Â And that is going to save lives.
So, before I step down from this soap box, letâ€™s stop acting as if the motivation for this hate is politics or family values, and just come clean: the reason why people want to deny anyone civil rights, or equal pay, or love, is because everyone basically needs a loser; someone who is inferior so you can feel as if God likes you a little bit better.Â Weâ€™re addicted to being special.Â Women are too stupid and emotional and were denied the right to vote because men are smarter than they are; blacks were dumb enough to get enslaved, so they must have deserved it on some level, and besides they did get to travel for free (very close to what one history teacher told me). Gay people are sick and inferior and donâ€™t deserve happiness, which means that when I, insert generic politician here, get in my â€œstraight, family valuesâ€ bed tonight, my wifeâ€™s vagina is that much tighter, my penis is that much bigger, our family stays that much more intact, and the boogieman wonâ€™t get us.
Sorry to break it to you, but heâ€™s gotten us.Â Because the result of all this benign cruelty and divisiveness on the political stage is the random acts of violence everywhere.Â And this boogieman is going into supermarkets and movie theaters and heâ€™s shooting; because itâ€™s the tenor of our times, unfortunately, not to give a shit.Â If people really felt empathy – the kind that matters anyway – not the misty, sentimental eyes of people standing at political podiums talking about the common man – Paul Ryan would be fighting for me as a gay man, not because he approves of gay marriage, but because itâ€™s the American thing to do.
History isnâ€™t very kind when we look back on who stood in the way of human rights; it may be embarrassing, for example, if youâ€™re white and find your grandmotherâ€™s letters where she grumbles about that â€œtroublemakerâ€ Martin Luther King, and how he keeps getting â€œour Southern niggers all riled up.â€ Definitely not something little Missy is going to bring to her first grade class for Show and Tell.
So this is where weâ€™ve arrived: if you are truly pro-America, you canâ€™t be against gay marriage, or federal rights for gay couples.Â Period.Â What part of â€œAll Men Are Created Equalâ€ is negotiable?Â Where is the asterisk, the footnote, the missing gag reel where the founding fathers got drunk after writing the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin turned to Thomas Jefferson and whispered, â€œChild, please! Do you really think anyone is going to buy this shit?â€ Or, â€œYeah, right, everyoneâ€™s create equal, except for them.â€ When it comes to equality, itâ€™s either all or nothing. Â That’s not politics, that’s third grade math.
The problem with America right now is not the Us, weâ€™ve got that part down; itâ€™s the Them. Â And if we are under threat from Iran, or China, or the James Holmeses of the world, then weâ€™d better start realizing that we canâ€™t afford a Them anymore. Â Which means gay Republicans have to care about the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.Â Black religious conservatives have to care about gay white teenagers who kill themselves.Â Sometimes it seems as if only in the face of tragedy do we remember what American really means.Â It brings out the best in us.Â We stand together, as the black father did in the Aurora, Colorado theater, over his white daughter-in-law, protecting her life with his because she was â€œfamily.â€ Â Thatâ€™s America.
When you looked at the pictures of those we lost on 9/11, the faces of those who were missing or gone, you saw the beauty of our countrymen and women.Â And on that day, there were no distinctions between the Latina mother of two who was an administrative assistant, the black man who cooked in the cafeteria, the lesbian police officer, the white firefighter from New Jersey, the gay lawyer from Queens.Â America is divided, by race, by class, by sexuality, 365 days of the year, but on that day it didnâ€™t matter.Â The black stockbroker never thanked (or even saw) the Mexican man who made his lunch every day; the black woman who cleaned the bathroom and met the glance in the mirror of the white female executive never had a conversation with her; the homeless white man who begged outside for help as the Asian businessman adjusted his watch and walked past him, never knew each others names.Â But that day we became one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Â Â Ashes know no race, no political party. Â Â We claim each other, whether we agree or not, because we have to.Â Our survival depends on it.Â And because we are American â€“itâ€™s who we are supposed to be, itâ€™s who we are.
I come from a people who were a source of free labor in this country, people whoÂ belonged to someone else, as a mother watched her daughters on the auction block, sold away from her like so much furniture, like cattle.Â I come from a people who wore pink triangles in concentration camps, who were stigmatized because of who we loved.Â I come from a people whose blood littered Southern dirt roads, hanging from trees like limp Christmas angels, because we wanted economic freedom or the right to vote. I come from a people who couldnâ€™t use a public bathroom or drinking fountain, no matter how desperate we were, if it said, â€œWhite Only.â€Â I come from a people who knew their bars could be raided at any time by police, with no rights to privacy. I come from a people who sat in psychiatristâ€™s offices to be cured of our â€œsickness,â€ who still go to special religious camps to fix our â€œproblemâ€ with Christ, as those who claim to love us smash us in the name of God. I come from a people who can receive the death penalty in some countries for what God made us. I come from a people who are sometimes driven to suicide by self-hate. Â I come from a people who kill each other on the streets because of self-hate.Â America, I wonâ€™t choose sides, I canâ€™t choose against myself and neither can you.Â I will not make it easier for you by going away, by staying quiet, by resolving this for you â€“ this, our wonderful dilemma.
â€œâ€¦.If women could be dragged to jail for seeking the voteâ€¦if a young preacher could lift us to the mountain with his righteous dream, and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American dream.â€
— Michelle Obama, Democratic National Convention Speech, 2012
Max Gordon is a writer and activist. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos (University of Michigan Press, 1991), Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction (Henry Holt, 1996) and Mixed Messages: An Anthology of Literature to Benefit Hospice and Cancer Causes. His work has also appeared on openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally.
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Ethics Complaint Against Sinema Urges Investigation Into Staffers’ Duties and Her Possible ‘Abuse of Taxpayer Dollars’
If you are hired to work in Senator Kyrsten Sinema‘s office on Capitol Hill there is a 37-page memo you’ll want to read detailing all the responsibilities her staffers are required to perform, from getting her groceries, calling Verizon and going to her D.C. home to wait for a repair person if the internet goes out, scheduling massages, and ensuring her very detailed airplane requirements are met.
“It is your job to make her as comfortable as possible on each flight,” the memo says, as The Daily Beast first reported in December.
But now a group of 13 non-profit organizations have joined to file an ethics complaint against Senator Sinema (I-AZ), a new Daily Beast report reveals Friday, including details from that 37-page memo which the newly-independent lawmaker directed to be drawn up. Dated Thursday, the complaint is titled: “Letter to Senate Ethics Committee Regarding Reports of Sinema Abusing Taxpayer Dollars.”
“Senate Ethics guidelines stipulate that staff should not be asked to perform personal errands for members. This is an unambiguous ethical boundary,” the group’s complaint reads.
It also points to that 37-page memo, which it says, “indicates that staff are required, as a condition of their jobs, to carry out numerous tasks that are outside the scope of public employment, including doing personal errands for the Senator, carrying out household tasks at her private residence, and advancing their own funds for her personal purchases. It makes unreasonably precise scheduling demands, and former staff have confirmed some of the allegations.”
The allegations continue.
“And, most troubling, it calls on staff members, who are employed and paid by the public and explicitly barred from campaign activity, to schedule and facilitate political fundraisers and meetings with campaign donors, presumably during the workday while they are on the clock and physically on federal property.”
“Senate staff are prohibited under your guidelines from engaging in political activity ‘on Senate time, using Senate equipment or facilities.’ While you have not prohibited campaign activity outside work hours, the plain language of the memo clearly implies that Sen. Sinema expects her staff to carry out these scheduling tasks during the workday. And these tasks may separately violate Senate Rule 41.1, which explicitly prohibits Senate employees from ‘solicit[ing]’ campaign funds.”
The complaint also alleges that “Sen. Sinema required her staff to schedule three physical therapy and massage sessions a week related to her training for athletic competitions, and to tightly manage her dietary schedule — while allotting only a 30-minute period on Wednesdays for meetings with the constituents she represents.”
The carefully-worded complaint adds, “the allegations paint a picture of a Senator who is not only unresponsive to her constituents, but also disrespectful and even abusive to her employees and wholly unconcerned about her obligations under the law.”
The Daily Beast has posted a copy of the complaint here.
You can read The Beast’s full report here.
Santos May Owe Thousands in Unpaid Traffic Violation Fines and Fees Across Two States: Report
When he left for Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. George Santos also appears to have left a string of unpaid traffic violation fines and fees in two states, including red light, double parking, and overtime parking citations totaling thousands of dollars.
The embattled serial liar and freshman New York GOP lawmaker “may owe more than $3,400 in unpaid citations, according to records from New York City and Florida,” CBS News reports.
Included in that total is $1,299.10 from Florida for toll violations that “racked up late fees and were ultimately sent to collections agencies.”
It appears that in November of 2016, as soon as he got his New York driver’s license after having one in Florida, a car previously ticket via a red light camera whose plates match one registered to Santos “began piling up citations in New York City — 29 in the next two and a half years, according to city government records, which do not identify the drivers of vehicles being ticketed.”
“More than $1,800 in payments were made for 17 citations, but another 12 remain unpaid, with $2,142.61 still due, according to city records.”
CBS News also points to a New York Post report from January revealing “a Nissan Rogue driven frequently by Santos in recent months had been issued speeding tickets at least five times since he was elected on Nov. 8, ‘including four times in school zones.'”
Santos is under numerous state and federal investigations that span the gamut from campaign finance to allegedly stolen charity funds donated to save the life of a veteran’s service dog. The dog died after the vet could not afford to pay for the operation.
‘Bioweapons? FFS’: House Oversight Chairman Mocked for Pushing Unfounded Balloon Conspiracy Theories
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer is pushing baseless conspiracy theories about the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon floating over the United States – currently, over Montana – that the Pentagon is tracking, and he’s being widely mocked for his unfounded fear-mongering.
Fox News host Harris Faulkner set the stage perfectly for the far-right Republican from Kentucky, declaring the balloon is “the size of three buses” and that “China says was taken by wind – wind that we can’t substantiate.”
The Kentucky congressman who has falsely described President Biden as “compromised,” and stated he is going to target and investigate him, told Faulkner, “I have concern this is going to be another example of the Biden administration’s weakness on the national scale.”
Comer, 50, a former agriculture commissioner, lamented about Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, claiming it hurt the reputation of America’s military and Commander in Chief.
The balloon, he said, should “never have been allowed” to cross over into the United States.
“My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” he asked, pushing unfounded theories while echoing the far-right’s false claims the COVID-19 virus was developed as a bioweapon and escaped the lab in Wuhan, China.
After suggesting it might have bioweapons, he then said it was “very concerning” the balloon was not shot down before reaching the U.S. – which could have spread the alleged bioweapon.
Faulkner, seen by some as a propagandist, then jumped in to exhibit her surprise that “people on Capitol Hill were not briefed” about the balloon.
“Calling for the president to ‘shoot down’ the craft,” The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona adds, “some in the GOP called the president ‘Beijing Biden’ while claiming this is further proof that ‘Communist China’ doesn’t ‘fear or respect’ Biden.”
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer to Fox News: “My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” pic.twitter.com/0r9JmBl4zo
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 3, 2023
“Honestly,” communications strategist Doug Gordon noted, “just surprised he didn’t find a way to include Hunter’s laptop into that conspiracy theory.”
“Actually, he did later on,” Baragona replied.
National security expert Denver Riggleman, the Republican former U.S. Congressman from Virginia who assisted the Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, tweeted: “Bioweapons? FFS”
Referring to Comer’s unfounded bioweapons claim, one Twitter user observed, “Isn’t that more reason not to shoot at it? I’m not saying I know what to do, but logic would dictate ‘don’t shoot at balloons full of bioweapons.’ Right?”
Another noted that the Oversight Chairman should have been listening to the Pentagon’s briefing “taking place now instead of running to get on Fox to talk about something he has no expertise in.”
Another, mocking Comer, noted: “If they were sending a bio weapon, why would they park it over sparsely populated Montana? *rolls eyes*”
Watch the video above or at this link.
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