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If Not Now, When? October 12, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Gay Marriage, Gay Rights, National Politics, Politics, Racism.
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ebay_link_gaySometimes life imitates art, and sometimes art imitates life.  This weekend, as thousands of gay rights advocates marched in Washington to push the administration and the Congress to get started on their promises toward gay civil rights, I caught two things on television that got me thinking again about all this.

On Saturday, I watched comedian Wanda Sykes perform her stand-up special, “I’m A Be Me” for HBO.   Wanda’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love her.  She’s sharp, sarcastic, and a keen observer of life.  Sykes is also a gay woman.  She came out last November after marrying her partner of a few years in October 2008.  Sykes, in her public coming-out, stated that she never felt that she was in the closet – she was just living her life.  In her comedy special Saturday, however, she spoke about how liberating her public coming-out was.

“Being gay,” Sykes said, “is harder than being black.  You don’t have to come out as black.”  She then did an extremely funny bit about sitting her parents down to tell them that she was black – along with a hysterical imitation of her mother hearing the news. 

Though the bit was very funny, it made me think about the mere fact of being gay in America.   Sykes is 45 years old.  She has been with her wife since 2006; she had been married to a man for 7 years, divorcing in 1998.   So sometime between her divorce and remarriage she had to have come out privately to her family and friends.  So, until this woman was thirty-five or maybe older, she was living as a heterosexual – denying her basic human nature. 

Then, last night’s episode of “Mad Men” on AMC, wove together the struggle for civil rights in the black community with character Sal Romano’s closeted homosexuality.  Set in 1963, “Mad Men” is often looked upon with a nostalgic fondness for when “men were men”.  Last night’s episode was a reminder that the good old days were not so good for some people.  After Sal rebuffs an amorous male client’s advances – protesting that he is a married man – the client goes ballistic and requests he be fired.  And of course, Sal is fired, with his boss Don Draper making a sneering reference to “you people”.   At the same time, Betty Draper encounters her African-American housekeeper – her “girl” – listening to the funeral for the four girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing.  She sympathetically asks her housekeeper if she needs a day off because of the tragedy, then continues to tell her that things like this make her think that the time isn’t right for civil rights.

Is the time right for gay civil rights?  Many would say “no”.   While our gay brothers and sisters marched for marriage equality and the right to serve their country openly,  there were people – including openly gay Congressman Barney Frank – who advised them to slow down, to “work through the system”.   They caution that the President has too many other important items on his agenda to rush into a gay mine field. 

What is more important than the right to live as any other human being has the right to live?

President Obama can change “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with a stroke of a pen – by Executive Order.  It might not be politically popular – but it is the right thing to do.  And let’s face it – the people who would be craziest about that action are people who wouldn’t vote for or with him anyway.  

Sixty-five years after those little girls were murdered in Birmingham, we still have not overcome the spectre of racism.  Indeed, since the election of Barack Obama, it seems as though a lot of overt racism has been crawling out of the grave we assigned it to.  We should absolutely reject the idea that our gay community needs to wait half a century or more to achieve equality.


(Miss) California Dreaming April 30, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Gay Marriage, Gay Rights, National Politics, Politics, popular culture.
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ca-usa-2009I really thought that the dust-up over Miss California Carrie Prejean’s same-sex marriage comments during the Miss USA pageant would settle and fade away in time.  I mean, really, does ANYBODY think that ANYTHING a beauty queen has to say is that important?  (Think Sarah Palin!)

Apparently, they do.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, “celebrity blogger” and Miss USA judge Perez Hilton – who is openly gay – asked Miss Prejean about her opinion of same-sex marriage.  Miss Prejean answered that it was her opinion that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, “no offense” to anyone out there that may believe differently.  Miss California did not win, but instead finished as first runner-up to Miss North Carolina.

I, to be certain, did not watch the pageant – but I did see the crowning as I was flipping channels.  I had no idea that there was any controversy, but on the following Monday’s “Morning Joe”, Joe Scarborough asked Willie Geist (who was also a judge) if Prejean’s answer was what kept her from the crown.  Geist hemmed and hawed and said that he “hoped not”. 

Well, since then, this story got legs.  Miss California became the latest right-wing darling.  Miss Prejean has given her opinions on the issue again and again.  She was in Washington, D.C. today to appear in anti-gay marriage advertisements by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) – the organization behind the anti-gay marriage “gathering storm” ads.  Apparently, the Miss California-USA organization is none too happy about Miss Prejean using the pageant platform to espouse political and religious views.

“In the entire history of Miss USA, no reigning title holder has so readily committed her face and voice to a more divisive or polarizing issue,” the organizers said in a statement issued to the media. “We are deeply saddened Carrie Prejean has forgotten her platform of the Special Olympics, her commitment to all Californians, and solidified her legacy as one that goes beyond the right to voice her beliefs and instead reveals her opportunistic agenda.”

Carrie Prejean was Matt Lauer’s guest on the Today Show this morning, talking about the controversy and her new role with NOM.  If you watch the interview, perhaps you will be as struck as I am by the number of times she says, “I’m just here to protect marriage, Matt.”  Lauer even reads her the statement by the pageant officials and she can only reiterate, “I’m just here to protect marriage.”  (see the interview, below)

Can she answer protect it from what?  See, that’s the answer that anti-gay marriage people can never give you.  When asked directly how Adam and Steve getting married would devalue my marriage or place it in danger, they can not answer.  According to their “talking points” on their web site, the reason gay marriage should be illegal is because it deprives children of a mother and a father.  Huh?  Doesn’t single-parenthood, deadbeat parents, and parental death deprive a child of a mother and a father?  This is a little bit of a stretch, people.

Frankly, a few years ago, I was where all these folks are.  I was adamantly opposed to gay marriage, but when pressed for a reason why, I just couldn’t come up with anything more than, “It’s what I believe”.  Some people think that is enough – remember we used to believe that slavery was A-OK.  But just believing in something isn’t enough if it serves to deprive a good portion of citizens their rights as citizens.  It really forced me to rethink my position.

Right now, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Canada have legal gay marriage and surround my state of New York.  Soon, New Hampshire will follow.  Governor Patterson has introduced legislation to legalize gay marriages here in New York.  Iowa just approved it, and the California courts are likely to declare Prop 8 unconstitutional.  Since all these measures have been taken, I do not know of a single heterosexual couple whose marriage meant less because gay people married.  I do not know of a single heterosexual divorce because of gay marriage.  I do not know of a single church that has been forced by the governments of states where gay marriage is legal to perform one.  I do not know of a single religious group forced to provide their facilities for gay marriages. 

And as far as the NOM talking point  –  “If courts rule that same-sex marriage is a civil right, then, people like you and me who believe children need moms and dads will be treated like bigots and racists.” – goes….you ARE bigots and racists.