Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lifestyle -- Huh?

Yesterday a hate group from Kansas visited a school in our county. They protested at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda because the poet Walt Whitman might have been gay. It's a dumb thing to do, no matter how you feel about sexual orientation, for one thing the guy's been dead for a hundred years. And nobody even knows if he was gay, some people think he was, that's all. Never mind the dumbness of protesting anybody's sexual orientation.

Daniel deVise at the Washington Post had a good story about it, written right after the protest happened, and The Post had a video that showed the whole thing and interviewed people. It was worth watching if you like to follow the news in our area -- I quote from it in the blog post right under this one. The headline was Opposing Students Overwhelm Anti-Gay Protest, and that made sense because, well, there were seven protesters and hundreds of students. The students support their gay friends and they overwhelmed the Baptist hate group. Politely, they simply overwhelmed them with numbers.

But I see this morning's paper has the same story on the front page of the Metro section, and now it's called At Whitman, A Protest Over Poet's Lifestyle. Wha?

Poet's lifestyle? What kind of lifestyle did Walt Whitman have? My impression was that he held several kinds of jobs in his life and wandered around New York yacking with people and observing things that he could write poems about. In Leaves of Grass he described himself as "Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest," and I could imagine some Baptists objecting to that kind of lifestyle, but that wasn't why the "God Hates Fags" people came to Montgomery County. They came to Walt Whitman High School because they thought Walt Whitman was gay.

Being gay is not a "lifestyle." Especially since I got involved with the sex-ed curriculum in our county I have come to know a lot of gay people, and I can't see any "lifestyle" that they have in common, even any two of them. Some live in mansions and some live in tiny apartments, some eat gourmet food and some eat Big Macs. I know gay people who wear suits and gay people who wear jeans and tennis shoes with holes in them. I know boyish lesbians and foxy dainty ones and ones who look like any other lady walking around. Any gay person can have any lifestyle they like, it's not like they get kicked out of the Gay Association if they don't act a certain way.

Sexual orientation isn't a lifestyle, it's just a way people feel. Do you think The Post would mention a straight person's heterosexual lifestyle? No, it doesn't make any sense. There are all kinds of straight people, too, in fact if you're straight then the concept is obvious to you. The only reason you would think gay people have a certain lifestyle is if you don't know any of them, if you think of them as "others" who are different from you.

Our society has shifted its attitude a lot, especially in the last few months. People are thinking about this subject a little more clearly now, and realizing there really isn't anything in particular to dislike about gay people. You'll see marriage equality opening up over the next few years, and other things, making fun of same-sex relationships is just something that is going away. It really is time for somebody at The Post to have a talk with the headline writer who composed this gibberish and the editors who let it pass through the process.

Sorry, I was just getting ready to go to a band rehearsal and I saw this headline and it got under my skin a little bit.

25 Comments:

Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Thanks for clearing that up so nicely Jim.

April 25, 2009 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

uh, Priya...

maybe you might wanna delete that post and restate your case a little bit

just a suggestion

April 25, 2009 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

""A group of seven congregants ... set up outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda today to protest the sexual orientation of the dead poet for whom the school was named.

The police presence -- 40 officers, five horses, blocked-off streets and a football field's length of yellow tape -- seemed comically disproportionate until the counter-protest arrived.

At 2:10 p.m. dismissal, 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up, several students deep, along the police tape, across Whittier Boulevard from their foils. They alternately chanted the school name and "Go home!" drowning out voices from across the street.

at Whitman, the protesters arrived to palpable excitement. Faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson.

Principal Alan Goodwin helped choose the slogan and hoped students would see its wisdom.

Indeed, no one was injured, and no property damaged.

Susan Russell, 17, a junior, said she hoped publicity stirred by the protest would "highlight how ridiculous they are""

Well, Susan, your statement doesn't make any sense. You hope to cause publicity so everyone will know how ridiculous WBC's message is but no one would have even heard of it if you hadn't come out and drawn attention to it.

Truth is, when you look at this objectively, the whole incident is scary.

A tiny group of people, not known for violence, gather to protest a government decision to name a school after someone of disreputable character.

The government response? A grossly disproportionate show of police force and government employees (principal and teachers) organizing a large group of hundreds of teens under their supervision to intimidate this tiny group.

Happens all the time in places like Iran.

This is part of a pattern of behavior on the part of the local government to suppress dissent by intimidation.

This is the worst incident of its kind since an employee of a city councilman tried to squelch a petition against her boss's bill by driving around and telling the petitioners that she was a government official and they were acting illegally. She also tried the same intimidation against business owners to scare them into throwing the petitioners off their property.

The government should tolerate dissent not try to intimidate it.

April 25, 2009 7:37 PM  
Anonymous David Fishback said...

Jim,

Thank you for expressing so well precisely how my wife and I felt when we saw the headline.

I am so glad to live in Montgomery County. What the Walt Whitman High School community did was beautiful.

April 25, 2009 9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists
And I did not speak out -
Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out -
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me -
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) 1938

Mr./Ms/Mrs. "Anonymous":
The students at Whitman High School are fully cognizant of the destructive thinking and advocacy of groups like the folks at Westboro Baptist Church (unlike you, apparently). They grasp the significance and necessity of speaking out against hatred and bigoty and fear and intolerance when it shows its ugly face in our society, because they understand the destructive nature of these evils to a democratic society.
Had you lived in Nazi Germany in the 1930's, no doubt you would have been one of the citizens who would not have spoken out against the policies of the Nazis in the belief that "they have the right to speak their hatred".

Yes...the folks from Kansas do have the right to speak their hatred. But the students at Whitman High School also have the right, and civic responsibility (which they exercised with decorum and dignity), to speak out against these purveyors of hatred and the destructive bigotry so prevalent in our communities today. They understand what you apparently do not understand: Not to do so gives credence to evil.
R.T.

April 25, 2009 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But the students at Whitman High School also have the right,"

Yes, they do. I'm fine with that.

My problem is the role of government employees in organizing a counter-protest of a dissent against the government.

Let's flip the situation to see if we can help you comprehend this threat to your constitutional rights.

Let's say MCPS passed a law that says gays weren't allowed to teach in public schools.

Let's say you and six of your friends decided to picket the school to protest this policy.

What would you think if the county government blocked the street, sent 6 police officers to watch each one of you and organized hundreds of teens to come out and yell at you to leave?

Might you feel the government was trying to intimidate you?

Call the ACLU and see what they think.

April 25, 2009 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Had you lived in Nazi Germany in the 1930's, no doubt you would have been one of the citizens who would not have spoken out against the policies of the Nazis in the belief that "they have the right to speak their hatred"."

You have a confused sense of history.

The Nazis regularly went around and tried to intimidate anyone who protested against them. The activities were conducted by a known gay who was a friend of Hitler and ran the SS.

April 25, 2009 10:29 PM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

Anon complained:

“This is part of a pattern of behavior on the part of the local government to suppress dissent by intimidation.”

Help! I’m being repressed!!(“You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!... Did you see him repressing me?! You saw it didn’t you?!)

Have a nice day,

Cynthia

April 25, 2009 11:51 PM  
Anonymous svelte_brunette said...

Anon stated:

“Let's flip the situation to see if we can help you comprehend this threat to your constitutional rights.”

Indeed, let’s do that. Let’s imagine that the county council has just passed a bill that protects people based on their religious beliefs. Let’s then imagine now that another group of people have organized themselves to “protect innocent women and girls” from predators who will now dress up like the newly protected religious girls and prey on them. Given that very few people know much about this particular religious group, it’s easy to marginalize them by saying that people who have such strange beliefs are “mentally ill” and “confused” and they don’t deserve such “special” rights that would allow them to live and work in society just like everyone else. I mean, if they were “normal” they wouldn’t go around wearing those funky hats, would they? Or walk around with ashes on their forehead on one particular Wednesday a year.

Now imagine that this group of people put up a website where they manage to collect every negative quote they can find about people who share your religion. Now imagine that these people go around the county collecting signatures using a bunch of misinterpreted medical information and fear of molestation to try and get your newly protected rights rescinded.

What are you going to do?

Have a nice day,

Cynthia

April 25, 2009 11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, Cynthia, if this misguided group of 7 were to go protest at a public school, I sure wouldn't want the government to block the road and send 40 policeman and horses and encourage hundreds of teens to scream at them

but I'm funny that way

I believe in the Constitution

April 26, 2009 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

A MoCo school and its students oppose a rabidly anti-gay hate group and anonymous objects. Should we be surprised? Good for WWHS and its students.

The police always defend WBC with overwhelming numbers. Their hatred is so vile that they need excessive protection. They decided not to go to Finland a couple of years back because the Finnish government wouldn't pay for the excessive protection they would need while they spouted their poison at the Finnish president. They like costing us a lot of money, I suppose because of their little mean-spirited hearts.

April 26, 2009 5:00 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Well, Susan, your statement doesn't make any sense. You hope to cause publicity so everyone will know how ridiculous WBC's message is but no one would have even heard of it if you hadn't come out and drawn attention to it.

Your statements are the ones that don't make any sense. Ignoring a hate group like WBC and hoping "no one would have even heard of them if you hadn't...drawn attention to it," is unwise. Silence is assent and most of the residents here most certainly do NOT agree with WBC's views or tactics. If the KKK came to town to protest at Martin Luther King Middle School, would you advise keeping quiet and letting them have their protest without counter-protesting it too?

IMHO it is much wiser to expose and deal with hatred appropriately than to brush it under the rug and ignore it. A peaceful demonstration that included the words of the true American poet WBC was protesting against was a perfect counter-demonstration to the WBC intruders and their hateful words. And it's good that MoCo prepared for their visit with a show of strength, which was visible to both sides of the issue. Better safe than sorry when it comes to our kids and WBC protesters too.

Check out this video. A member of a militia group is calling for a million armed militia man march on our nation's capitol on the Fourth of July, right here in our backyard!

He says:

A peaceful demonstration of at least a million - hey, if we can 10 million, even better - but at least one million armed militia men marching on Washington. A peaceful demonstration. No shooting, no one gets hurt. Just a demonstration. The only difference from any typical demonstration is we will all be armed.

What do you think about that? Should we ignore a call for a million "peaceful" armed Timothy McVeigh types to march on DC? Absolutely not! Ignoring even an handful of armed sore losers would be a mistake and I want our government officials to prepare for these armed militia men, inform us about their plans, and work to keep us locals and the protesters safe.

Ignoring threats from haters is unwise. Threats should not be covered up and ignored, they should be exposed to the light of day because sunlight is the best disinfectant.

April 26, 2009 9:56 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Any teacher can attest to the truthfulness of Bea's comment: failure to respond to hateful or bullying comments gives the impression that such are tolerated, and that there is license to continue in that vein. Words matter.

April 26, 2009 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" - Please give some concrete examples of "the role of government employees in organizing a counter-protest of a dissent against the government."
If by that you mean teachers providing classroom experiences and opportunities for their students to discuss the issues, then you obviously don't understand the role of teaching - which is NOT to produce obedient, compliant, and non-thinking citizens who mouth platitudes about the Constitution. Perhaps you were not a product of public education in this country?
Secondly...the WBC loonies were NOT protesting against the government...they were venting their own bigotry and hatred agains a minority group within our population - hardly an anti-government protest.
R.T.

April 26, 2009 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Words matter."

Yes, they do, but we've found that government should not have jurisdiction over them.

Here's a quote from Sigmund Freud for you, Robert:

"the first person who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization"

"you obviously don't understand the role of teaching - which is NOT to produce obedient, compliant, and non-thinking citizens who mouth platitudes about the Constitution."

Actually, teachers try to force their own ideology on students.

"Perhaps you were not a product of public education in this country?"

Yes, I am. Indeed, when I was in Junior High in MC, my friends and I wrote up an alternative student newspaper and were threatened by the principal with suspension if we distributed it any more.

"Secondly...the WBC loonies were NOT protesting against the government...they were venting their own bigotry and hatred agains a minority group within our population - hardly an anti-government protest."

In this case, they were protesting the decision of the government to name a high school after a sexual deviant. True, sexual deviancy is a minority condition.

Minority status alone, however, doesn't entitle one to special protection.

April 26, 2009 2:47 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Everyone is entitled to protection fool - there is nothing special about it.

April 26, 2009 4:21 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 26, 2009 4:47 PM  
Blogger Priya Lynn said...

Bad anonymous said "The government response? A grossly disproportionate show of police force and government employees (principal and teachers) organizing a large group of hundreds of teens under their supervision to intimidate this tiny group.

Happens all the time in places like Iran.".

Wrong. In Iran the they would have rounded up the gays and their supporters arrested them and executed them - just your type of place. The police presence there was as much to protect the rights of WBC to protest as anyone else.

April 26, 2009 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

priya's back and, true to form, having second thoughts about every comment

delete away!

April 26, 2009 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, the thin line between indecisiveness and schizophrenia

April 26, 2009 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The line Anon walks every day.

April 27, 2009 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

I saw the video. It didn't appear to me that WBC was protesting government action so much as the sinfulness of America and its people, and telling us how much their God is going to hurt us for it.

April 27, 2009 9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you think there's any sinfulness in America, Robert?

April 27, 2009 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watch it, "Anonymous"...a group like WBC will be parading in front of your house before you know it!!

April 27, 2009 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

I don't think God has it out for us. Do you?

rrjr

April 29, 2009 2:27 PM  

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