Sunday, August 19, 2007

About Blogging

Today I turned off the air conditioner for most of the morning. Last night my wife actually put on a light jacket to go outside. Since I moved here, I'm always surprised, the seasons change like they're reading a calendar or something. Pools are open till Labor Day, and the day after Labor Day it is actually too cold to swim. Growing up in Phoenix, we didn't have anything like that; there're basically no seasons, just colder and hotter months. But now here I'm seeing solitary leaves falling when a breeze wafts through the trees, the yard is freckled with their yellow, you can feel the change coming, a couple of weeks before September hits, right on schedule.

I found it really kind of odd and startling that CNN Headline News quoted our web site to prove that the new MCPS curriculum is "advocacy." I saw the CRC's Michelle Turner give a talk once where she took some quotes from this blog and put them into a Powerpoint slide and showed them to people. They were mainly statements from the comment section, as I recall, I think somebody used a strong word or something, though some of it quoted me. It was one of those stupid ad hominen things, proving that I was unworthy to serve on the citizens committee or something. I'm no angel, I guarantee that, but the curriculum doesn't depend on my sterling character.

Luckily for all of us, it's not about me. I'm just a guy who says what he's thinking about what's going on. I just write my thoughts from time to time here.

This makes me think I need to state the obvious: this is a blog. We don't get together and vote on everything that's said here, and in fact if you look at the comments you'll see there are plenty of times that's own officers and board members disagree with me. The blog is a new, vaguely defined literary mode that allows a kind of spontaneous self-expression, unedited, an instantaneous response to anything that's going on.

When I first got involved in this controversy, two and a half years ago, I didn't know anything. I had never actually given much thought at all to gay issues, that's for sure, and didn't have any real position on any of it, beyond a basic sense that people should be reasonable and should not harass other people for being different from them. Mainly I just had a gut reaction when I saw that people who call other people "sodomites" and "perverts" were going to try to take over my county's school district.

This blog is not a place where I make ideological statements, it's a place where I tell you what I'm thinking. I don't even know what "ideology" I'd represent. Sometimes I describe myself as a "Goldwater liberal," but I'm not as excited about military solutions as Goldwater was. I'm sure I'm more rednecky than most of my colleagues -- I did spend a lot of years playing and singing country and Western music for a living, from Tucson to Kodiak -- and I'm probably more libertarian than most of them, as well as more understanding of ordinary people who just want to continue living their lives the way they always have. But that comes out of me, it's just how I am, it's not something that I was taught or anything I got from a favorite book or anything. I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy, I like to have a little room around me, to think about things the way I want, and I expect other people need that, too.

As this situation has evolved, the anti-MCPS forces have thrown up one kind of obstruction after the other, and it has been a kind of personal challenge for me to figure out how to understand the issues and respond to them. Usually this comes down a matter of asking myself what I really believe, in general, and then applying my general philosophy to a particular case. Sometimes this method reveals contradictions in my personal philosophy, which, because I write in this stupid blog every day, are exposed to the whole world. And there are people who have designated themselves umpires, who will point out the times when I have stepped out of bounds. OK, fine, that's a benefit I had not expected when I started this, everybody wants to help make me smarter.

Often, what I see in this controversy appears to me to be pure insanity. Some of the things that are said are so ludicrous that I can't imagine any mentally sound person saying them. But the other side seems to be made of people who function in society, and there are other people around the country saying similar things. So I can't really write it off as mental illness (though referring to them as "nuts" may seem to suggest that) (but come on, somebody has to say it). Here's how I understand this: it seems to me that they have decided they'll say anything in order to interrupt the deployment of the curriculum. The result is an unusual kind of discussion, where you aren't actually arguing with the content of their speech, but with their intent.

Take an example. The CRC wants to make a big deal out of the curriculum's use of the word "innate" to describe sexual orientation. They would throw out the whole set of five classes just because the word "innate" will be uttered twice. They can't really mean it, of course, you wouldn't find a one of them that would say their own sexual orientation was not innate. So you're not really arguing about whether sexual orientation is innate, you're arguing about whether the CRC should succeed in stopping the new curriculum.

This whole experience has been a good one for me, I've never been involved in public matters like this before, and I've learned a lot. But after seeing that on CNN-HN I just wanted to post this explanation to say, this is just a regular idiot sitting in his house typing on a computer. I could be right, I could be wrong, I don't know, I'm just saying what I think at the moment. The sex-ed curriculum isn't mine, I didn't write it, and it will be judged on its own qualities, not by anything that anybody in TeachTheFacts says about it.


Blogger Christine said...

For the record, here's my transcript of the CNN Headline News segment.

Mike: Tough subject. The Montgomery County schools insist this is about tolerance, respect, really, really understanding each other but some parents say "No, that's my job as a parent. I need to do the teaching here." Joining us now is one of those parents. She's the mother of six, has two kids still in the school. She is Michelle Turner. She joins us and so does Martha Kempner. She is with SEICUS the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States and supports this gay elective. All right Martha, let's start with you. At issue here is whether or not this curriculum advocates homosexuality. Does it? Does it advocate homosexuality to impressionable 8th and 10th graders?

Martha: I don't think that that's really what we're doing here. I think what we're doing here is explaining that this is a part of life. Sexual orientation is something that is a part of all young people's lives. Young people may have friends, family members, parents who are gay or lesbian. And remember this isn't just about being gay or lesbian. We all have to think about our own sexual orientation and so this is about teaching them facts, not about advocating a position.

Mike: Now you work with another group of parents, in crafting the curriculum, is that correct?

Martha: We didn't help them craft the curriculum but we did help them gain community support because there is a lot of support in Montgomery County and across the country for teaching programs like this. So we did work with other parents.

Mike: Let me read you something, this is from their website, the first page of their website. They say, "We support a new curriculum that recognizes that sexual orientation is not a choice, that homosexuality is not a disease," goes onto say that religious extremists are attempting to impose their beliefs. I read that, that sounds like to me advocacy. Is that what's at the heart here that if you don't accept homosexuality then you're intolerant?

Martha: I think what's at the heart here is that this is a part of every young person's life and we need to help them understand it, we need to give them information, and we need to give them an opportunity to discuss it. And one good thing about sexuality education is that it really does help young people go home and talk to their parents about what they learn. Parents are there to teach values but the schools can help them do that by providing a basic information background.

Mike: Michelle Turner, let's get you in on this. Again, a mother of six, you have a 7th grader who'll be in 8th grade next year, they're going to be going into that class. First off, what's your child saying about all this?

Michelle: She and I have actually talked quite a bit about this. She's not comfortable with the topic. It's not something that she wants to be discussing in a classroom with a teacher that she doesn't really know, with her peers whom she may not be too familiar with. She doesn't want to be in an uncomfortable position.

Mike: Do you feel that this curriculum is basically shoving values that aren't yours down your kid's throat?

Michelle: It's opening a door to them, that especially at the 8th grade level. these kids really do not have the emotional maturity to understand and to work through. This is a parent/family issue. If the schools are concerned about parents being able to discuss this with their students, then perhaps they need to have a class for parents to attend and give them the materials to go home and speak with their children.

Mike: Martha, what about that? I have a 10 year old and I'm the one that's going to be teaching it so why not.... I don't trust the public school to deal with this one. Shouldn't the public school get out of the way?

Martha: You know, I think that schools and parents really need to work together. And I think that what Michelle suggests, a course for parents to help them deal with this subject is a great idea because many parents aren't prepared to do it. But I do think that some students may not be able to have conversations with their parents, and really what the school is doing is augmenting what the community is doing in other places so there's a joint role here for schools and parents.

Mike: All right Martha Kempner. We have to leave it there, ladies. Thanks again Martha Kempner with SEICUS and also concerned parent, Michelle Turner. We appreciate your time, both of you and again Erica, classes begin – now there's an appeal under way from that group Michelle Turner's a part of. It's probably not going to stop the classes from going forward. Again, classes start August 27th.

And we'd like to hear from you what you think about this. Is this Maryland school district advocating homosexuality by offering lessons on it? Was it a good idea? Go to our website, and click on the link to email us. Can't wait to hear from you on this one.

Erica: I have a feeling we're going to get a few emails.

Mike: I'm sure of that.

Erica: Mike, thank you.


August 19, 2007 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To "mopey grape" Here's a perfect example of a "suggestion" that's a lie:

"Michelle: She and I have actually talked quite a bit about this. She's not comfortable with the topic. It's not something that she wants to be discussing in a classroom with a teacher that she doesn't really know, with her peers whom she may not be too familiar with. She doesn't want to be in an uncomfortable position.

Mike: Do you feel that this curriculum is basically shoving values that aren't yours down your kid's throat?

Michelle: It's opening a door to them..."

The CRC spokeswoman who formerly served on the Citizen's Advisory Committee knows very well that any parent whose child might be "uncomfortable" need not study this material because the classes are optional. The "door" only opens if the parent gives permission for that door to open. So the answer to Mike's question was "No, because any parent or guardian can easily withhold permission for their students to take the class."

August 20, 2007 7:58 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

I don't have cable, so I don't know: is CNN always this slanted to the right? This Mike character could have been a spokesman for CRC or FOF; who is he?


August 20, 2007 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which way CNN leans probably depends on who you ask.

Here's Mike Galanos' CNN bio

Christiane Amanpour (her CNN bio is at has put together a three part series that will begin airing on CNN tomorrow night on "the worldwide rise of religion as a political force." Tonight, Barry Lynn, Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State will be interviewed on CNN's Larry King Live.

August 20, 2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Thanks, Bea.

Dear friends, I had an interested and oddly disturbing experience this afternoon that I'm trying to make sense of.

The LDS missionaries have been coming around my apartment complex for several months, and I exchanged brief pleasantries. Somehow, I'm not sure how, I agree to have them come into my home and speak with me this afternoon. For some reason this meeting was important to me (I noticed myself cleaning the place; I waited about 40 minutes for them, since they were late. The original missionary was transfered, so he sent two other elders).

I started by apologizing that I was wasting their time. I explained that I'm an advocate for LGBT youth, that I understood that the LDS church doesn't accept queer people, and there was just no chance that I would join a church with such a policy. I think they were annoyed. They certainly were taken aback.

I talked a bit about reparative therapy and conversion ministries (not the really ugly details, of course; I share those with few people) and about how harmful it was too me.

They assured me that God loves me, that it's just the acts he disapproves of. They introduced the idea of atonement, as opposed to salvation, that Christ's sacrifice doesn't cleanse men of their sins, simply enables them to repent and cleanse themselves.

We talked a bit about my belief that openly, actively queer people can genuinely be saved. The more polite elder asked why I thought that, so I told him my story that y'all have heard of the pastor who told me God loves me the way he made me.

In the end, I succeeded in convincing them that they couldn't convert me to the LDS church. I did get a bit of a lecture about repentence from sin, God's commandment to Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply, that fruitfulness is a first commandment to people (which I suspect was originally used to justify polygynous marriages), and that the LDS church opposed anything that would disintigrate the family (by which I assume he meant my social life).

I got angry, which may be why I'm so disturbed by this. I told them that I have much more experience with this than they do, in fact they have only theory, no experience.

I think my hope was to convince them that queer people are OK by God.

I also know how vulnerable I am to fundamentalist religiouns.

Anyway, it was disturbing. We left it on a polite note, and I assured them that, while it may not happen in my lifetime, the LDS church would eventually change its policies, as it has on other crucial issues.


August 20, 2007 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those like Robert who don't have cable, here's an excerpt and the link to the transcript of last night's Larry King show about Christiane Amanpour's 6 hours of specials that begin airing tonight.


KING: Do the Muslim fundamentalists want to change regimes where they have power?

Do the Israeli fundamentalists want to change -- Jewish fundamentalists want to change Israel?

Christian fundamentalists want to change America?


KING: They do, right?

AMANPOUR: That is one of the unifying factors of all these segments of these religions. Yes, the Christian Evangelicals who we focus on want to change laws to make it a much more Christian country, which is a backlash against some of the Supreme Court rulings over the last 40 odd years, whether it be prayer in school or whether it be the other issues.

But, also, we found that there are some Christian Evangelicals, Christian conservatives, who actually are saying -- and we profile them as well -- that we are very committed to our faith. We are 100 percent fundamentalist, if you want to say that. But we don't believe that god and politics should exist. It's time now for us to step back behind our pulpit and talk about the other things that Jesus talked about, whether it's relieving poverty or the other things he talked about in the New Testament.

Another senior Christian Evangelical told us that, actually, our war is just -- is to save the planet, you know?

In other words, environmentalism Evangelicalism.

Well, people like Jerry Falwell completely dismiss that. You know, they say these people are heretics and they should, you know, be quiet.

But, in other words, it's not a monolith. But they are all committed to changing society.

In Israel, the settlers have had a huge political impact on the West Bank and, you know, the whole issue of peace and power and politics. And we have a fascinating, a really fascinating two hours on, really, the historic way that they actually went and settled and the whole view of it and the way it was done, through the eyes and the voices of the people who took part. And in...

KING: Do you...

AMANPOUR: and in Islam, they're trying to change society and they're trying to, in this -- the way we profile it -- their politics is through religion. And I've concluded that this is going to be an inevitable first step of democracy if it's going to happen in the Middle East, because there has been no opportunity for political activity in authoritarian regimes.

So where have they done it?

They've done it in the mosques. And it's not just about religion. In the mosques, they have cultivated grassroots support and they're winning in democratic elections there.


And here's the link to some trailers from Christiane Amanpour's 3 part series called God's Warriors. Each night's two hour special will cover one of the three major religions; Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

August 21, 2007 11:03 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Thanks, Bea.

August 21, 2007 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're welcome Robert.

I hope this afternoon is much rosier for you than yesterday was.

August 21, 2007 3:57 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Today was much more fun. I printed out a bunch of posters for my Latin classroom and went and laminated them. This afternoon we're having a stuffing party for our next LGBT youth event.

One more day of summer vacation left.


August 22, 2007 1:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home