July 24, 2012

Not exactly news: I know brave and wonderful people

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:06 am by chavisory

Two things:

1. A little over 12 years ago now, I was about to graduate from high school.  And my church’s brand new pastor, Brian, thought it would be awesome if, for a spiritual rite of passage or something, me and the other graduating seniors–my childhood friends Jess and Nicole–had to plan an entire Sunday worship service and give the sermon.  And I’ve never been reticent about saying “hells to the no” to things that I really, seriously don’t want to do…but I’d been in acting class that year past, and so this idea was not as petrifying to me as it might have been only a short time previously.  In fact, I’d been half-wondering whether I felt a calling to the clergy myself, and so I thought this might actually be a good, challenging experiment.  And so I said okay.

I wrote my sermon on how trusting in God often means being open to unexpected possibilities, including unexpected discoveries about ourselves.  I remember sitting outside on the front steps of the church on a warm spring evening for a planning meeting, Brian approving of our sermon outlines and hymn selections, joking about what more humorous though inappropriate choices might have been.  It wouldn’t be so bad.  There was an order of worship; I knew how it went.  I only had to actually speak for five to seven minutes, from prepared text; I’d done scenes longer than that.  Jess and Nicky had to do it, too.  If I could act, I could do this.  And it would tell me something about myself.

And I did, and it was actually pretty awesome; even though I was fairly sure I wasn’t meant for the ministry, I wasn’t sure at all that I wasn’t destined for some kind of life in performance.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my father when he asked whether I’d gotten Brian’s resignation letter in the mail.

WHAT?!?! I said.  No, I had not.  What was going on, what happened?!

But the news was good.  Brian was leaving to become the executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a national organization working to encourage better welcoming and inclusion of LGBT people in the church.  And he’d been in a committed relationship with his partner, Troy, for the past nine years.

Given my own past couple of years, I know what it takes to decide that being open about who you really are, whatever the fallout may be, is just worth it.  I don’t think I ever imagined that one day I’d get to be so proud of someone who I already liked and respected a lot and who had been a gentle and encouraging influence in choosing to do something immensely difficult all that time ago.  I’m fairly sure I cackled for joy when I got off the phone.

******

2. This has already made the rounds of Facebook, and now it’s up on BoingBoing: earlier this week, my high school friend Chris returned his Eagle Scout medal in protest of the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to continue the organization’s ban of gay, bisexual or transgender scouts and leaders, joining a growing number of men who have done so.

I’ve always had a visceral dislike of the Boy Scouts on multiple levels, but the Eagle Scout award is the culmination of years of incredibly hard work, of which men who achieve it are rightfully proud.  I didn’t realize until today that only 2.1 million scouts have earned Eagle Scout status…since 1911.  So it’s, to say the least, not a trivial decision to give up the award, in order to uphold what it’s supposed to teach.

“Gay scouts and leaders have the right and obligation to be true to themselves. Homosexuality is not a moral deviance, bigotry is,” Chris wrote.

Maggie Koerth-Baker’s article and Chris Baker’s and several other men’s entire letters are here.

******

I think I agree with a friend who said this week that I clearly have good taste in friends. ; )

September 13, 2011

Reason to consider unschooling, #374

Posted in Cool kids, Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling tagged , , , at 12:29 pm by chavisory

In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying of Gay Students  (New York Times, 9/13/11)

It seems that teachers and principals in Minnesota aren’t totally, completely, 100% sure about protecting kids from bullying based on their sexuality.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

….

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

School officials say they are “caught in the middle.”  Between allowing students to be hounded–occasionally to death–by abuse and misinformation, and stepping in to stop it.  Somebody here missed a lesson on what it means to be an educator.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile.

I have no words.

July 23, 2011

The Christian case for marriage equality

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by chavisory

Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality.  While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.

What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.

What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right.  Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.

We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do.  We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.

We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans.  It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them.  We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.

I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”

Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well.  We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families.  We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion.  We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral.  We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral.  We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.

We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.

November 16, 2010

Confronting bigotry in the classroom

Posted in Cool kids tagged , , , , , at 12:33 pm by chavisory

One of the latest video messages to have gone viral in the last few weeks’ public fight against anti-gay rhetoric is of openly gay 14-year-old Graeme Taylor speaking at a school board meeting in defense of a teacher who had apparently ejected from class two students who said that they “did not support gay individuals” during a discussion, on Anti-Bullying Day, that erupted after he’d asked another student to remove her Confederate flag belt buckle.  The teacher was then suspended without pay for a day.

Sound like a First Amendment quagmire yet?

Graeme eloquently defends his former teacher, saying he was driven to a suicide attempt at age nine in large part by anti-gay slanders by classmates that long went accepted and unchallenged by teachers.  The teacher says that he ejected the students for being disruptive, not for their stated opposition to supporting gay people, and I tend to believe him.

But…suppose that the students were telling the truth, that they only expressed their personal opposition to support for gays, calmly, non-threateningly and non-disruptively.  Would their ejection have been a violation of their free speech rights?  How should the teacher have handled the discussion?

Doesn’t the First Amendment protect even–especially–the most unpopular of speech?

Yes, I would say, IF the students in question merely expressed a position, as vile and unfortunate a position as I find it, then the teacher did wrong to punish them rather than guiding the conversation to a useful and potentially enlightening conclusion…even though he was right, doubtless in the eyes of some of his most vulnerable students, to oppose the sentiments as strongly as he was able to in the moment.

As much as I despise the opinion that gay people (or black people, Gypsies, Muslims, whoever) are morally inferior, in my understanding, the right of free speech applies equally to these sentiments.  We don’t allocate the First Amendment’s protection based on the popularity of the content of the speech.   So long as the speech does not constitute an explicit or implicit threat, well, people have the right to dislike whomever they dislike, whether or not their reasoning sucks.

But students also need to learn that the right of “free speech” does not mean the right of unchallenged or consequence-free speech, that just because their prejudice may be a religious belief doesn’t disallow opposition to it, and that if they choose to express their bigotry, they should expect to be strenuously challenged.  Banning or punishing such speech (again, as long as it’s not actually a threat) will only give the bigots confirmation for their whine that they’re being oppressed by the fascist liberal homosexual agenda or something.  Simply suppressing it doesn’t allow us to openly challenge it, to reveal its ugliness and violence for what it is, to discredit it with facts, or to show that the positions of acceptance and respect are stronger.  Teachers are in an optimal position to do these things, and more importantly, to show their students how to do them.

Graeme Taylor has eloquence, grace, and self-possession of which I could only be passionately envious at his age; there will be no one more suited to take up the task than he will be.  I’m sorry that he’ll have to.  I shudder for his opponents to think of what he’ll be like to oppose in debate in a few years.

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