Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No Nonprofit Flyers at MCPS Secondary Schools

As expected, the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education has decided not to send home backpack flyers at secondary schools from any nonprofit organizations, rather than tell a nutty anti-gay group that their flyers are inappropriate for students. Scouts, football, wrestling, summer camps, are out of luck.

The Gazette has it.
Next school year, the only Montgomery County students who will receive nonprofit fliers to take home will be those in elementary schools.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted on Monday to change its policy on “backpack fliers.” Starting in the coming school year, nonprofits will not be allowed to have their fliers distributed to middle school and high school students.

The decision came on a recommendation of the school system’s policy committee, which was given the task of reviewing the policy after a flier sent home by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays this school year provoked complaints from some school officials and gay rights advocates.  School system changes its policy on backpack fliers 
The schools have been sending home flyers from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) for years. The flyers directly contradict the district's health curriculum and its counseling and personnel policies, but the district felt they had to hand them out in order to avoid a lawsuit.
After a period of public comment, the school board received 25 comments, with about as many in favor of changing the policy as opposed. Most of those who were opposed were members of nonprofit organizations.

Laura Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville was the only board member to vote against the policy changes Monday, saying the change might negatively impact membership in nonprofits, such as Boy Scouts and youth leagues, and that changing the rules might hurt the school system’s community bond.

Other board members disagreed, saying it is not the school system’s responsibility to provide marketing opportunities for the organizations.
A school is more than a government outpost that provides training in the three R's. It is a community center for a neighborhood, it is where families get together for all kinds of things from science fairs to soccer games and Christmas concerts. The school is where the children of a neighborhood spend their days together, learning to interact, and it is the most salient center for the adults of the area to meet one another and interact, as well.

It is reasonable to expect a school to post flyers about sports, science, and artistic events that affect the students and the community, and it is also reasonable to expect the school to excercise some discretion over what will and will not be sent home with children. There is a rather complicated Constitutional issue with religious materials, but no legal requirement to send home material from homophobic or racist groups.
David S. Fishback, advocacy chair for the Metro D.C. Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, was the only community member to speak about the issue at Monday’s board meeting. The organization regularly distributes fliers to high school students in the county, but will no longer be allowed to.
Is that correct? PFOX sends home flyers almost every quarter, as I understand it, and PFLAG has sent them home a couple of times, to counteract the impact of the other group.

This article appears to conflate the two groups. I know from talking to people in the community that it is hard to distinguish between the anti-gay group and the group that supports families of gays and lesbians, especially since PFOX picked a name intentionally similar to PFLAG's. PFLAG's message is supportive and is consistent with MCPS curriculum and policy.

This ruling affects middle schools and high schools only.
 Under law, the school system is not able to pick which nonprofit’s fliers it sends home, so the system must allow all or none. Some board members said they are concerned the change might result in a distribution shift of what some see as offensive fliers to the elementary school level.
No, the school system can pick and choose. It cannot discriminate against a religion, for instance by banning flyers for a Sunday school or Bible camp, but the district's lawyers came up with the "we can't choose" solution as a way to avoid litigation. The lesson to students is that when you are forced with a difficult decision that may have consequences, you should declare yourself not-responsible and get out of the situation as cleanly as possible.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Country Stars Support LGBT Rights

I used to make my living as a guitar player and singer, playing the honky-tonks of the American Southwest. I've played a lot of kinds of music but over the years I played country more than anything. I played a kind of Western swing that is popular around the universities and I played down-to-earth country classics -- cryin' in your beer music -- to hard working folks in beer-joints and roadhouses from San Diego to Kodiak.

Country musicians are not known for being overly educated or liberal. In general, country music describes the pleasure and pain of living a traditional lifestyle, adapting as much as necessary to modern innovations but basically bringing the values of nineteenth-century rural America to the cities of the twenty-first century.

Those values might seem conservative, there is an emphasis on patriotism and traditional religion and "living right" -- even though the protagonist in a song may be cheatin' or drinkin' they sure are sorry about it! They are conservative in the old-fashioned way. Individuals struggle with their own sinful nature but hold a heartfelt belief that they have the freedom to live the wrong way if they choose, and everybody else is free to make their own mistakes, too. Hank (and by that, of course, I mean Hank Senior) said it: "If you mind your business then you won't be minding mine."

Still, I admit I am as surprised as anyone to see The Advocate's review of country stars who have made pro-LGBT or marriage equality statements. The Dixie Chicks, sure -- Willie, sure -- but Toby Keith?

Here are some quotes from the article:
Garth Brooks
The musician won a GLAAD Media Award in 1993 for his song "We Shall Be Free," with lyrics such as "'Cause we shall be free / When we're free to love anyone we choose" that helped turn it into an LGBT anthem.

Laura Bell Bundy
The performer, who earned a Tony Award nomination for Broadway’s Legally Blonde, has released two country albums. In 2010 the Kentucky native discussed her relationship with LGBT friends. “Gay people have taught me there there’s really no ‘right’ way to live — it’s all okay,” she said. “That’s helped to bring me to the place I’m at now where I’m not afraid of anything anymore. I’m the most fearless I’ve ever been. It’s interesting for me to be in the country music community — you don’t know how open-minded people are going to be. But I think it’s important to treat people equally, regardless of color, sexual preference, or religion. I love people from the South, and I love traditional values, but I will not repress my love for gay people. It makes me really happy that my music is being marketed to the gay community. It’s like I’m getting my own coming-out party.”

Dixie Chicks
The trio could write a textbook on a backlash from conservative fans following their remarks in 2003 criticizing then-President George W. Bush. In 2010 sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison formed a side project Court Yard Hounds and released “Ain’t No Son,” a song about a young man coming out to his judgmental father.

Robison discussed her inspiration for the song. “I turned the TV on, and it was A&E or one of those documentary kind of shows about these poor teenage kids who are devastated that their parents won't let 'em stay in the house because they found out they were gay,’ she explained. ‘The lines, 'You ain't no son to me/Eight pound baby boy I bounced on my knee' were around from the very beginning. That idea, how can you have kids and love them so much and one day decide not to — it just boggled my mind.”

Wynona Judd
When the powerhouse vocalist was criticized by Christian fans for performing on a gay cruise in 2005, she spoke to The Advocate about the controversy.“We actually have some gay people that work with us, and we have a lot of friends that are gay, too, and I know that this song has inspired them. I know that coming out was tough on their parents and on them and the whole entire family. For a long time, some of them didn’t get to hear ‘I love you’ from their dads or be accepted in that way... It’s helped a lot of our friends.”

Toby Keith
Last year the country superstar told CMT Insider that same-sex marriage doesn’t bother him and opponents are wasting money trying to stop it. "That whole gay issue thing, that's never bothered me," he said. "I've never seen what that affects and why anybody should care — and they never do affect me."

He added, "First of all, we're going to stop somebody from getting a marriage license because they're gay? You won't stop them from living together, so what have you accomplished? ... Wasting a lot of money here and a lot of time that could be spent working on this deficit that we're under ... I never saw the reasoning behind getting in people's personal lives."

Martina McBride
In 2009 McBride was asked by Out magazine if she’d consider telling her conservative fans to be more tolerant of LGBT people. “Honestly, I just have to do what's right for me, and what I would tell people is what I believe, which is that I feel like tolerance is very important,” she replied. “I have three daughters and that's what I teach them. I think we should all be tolerant of each other and embrace each other's strengths and differences and uniqueness and beauty.”

Reba McEntire
In 2009 the singer-actress was asked by Out magazine about conservative fans who might not support LGBT equality. “I just try not to judge,” she said. “Don't judge me, and I won't judge you. And that's what it says in the Bible — 'Don't judge.' Keep an open mind. That would be my voice. I have gay friends. I have a lot of straight friends. I don't judge them. I take them for what they are. They're my friends, and I can't defend my feelings for them, other than I like 'em.”

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
In 2010 McGraw visited Grassland Middle School in Tennessee to speak out against bullyingafter a 13-year-old boy shot himself in the head after antigay bullying went unaddressed at his school. McGraw also appeared in the 2011 film Dirty Girl, a gay-themed comedy from out director Abe Sylvia. Chely Wright revealed that McGraw’s wife Hill was one of the few country singers to offer her support for coming out as lesbian.

Lorrie Morgan
On her acclaimed 2004 album Show Me How, Morgan sings against antigay bigotry on the song “Rocks.”

Willie Nelson
Interviewed for a 2010 profile for Parade magazine, Nelson, who contributed the song “He Was A Friend Of Mine” to the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, spoke out for equality. "Rednecks, hippies, misfits — we're all the same,” he said. “Gay or straight? So what? It doesn't matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless. I don't like seeing anybody treated unfairly. It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”

Dolly Parton
The iconic entertainer received an Academy Award nomination for her song “Travelin’ Through,” which she wrote for the 2005 transgender-themed drama TransAmerica.

While being interviewed by Joy Behar for CNN in 2009, Parton, a longtime equality advocate, had this to say about why she’s so accepting of her huge LGBT fan base. “We’re not supposed to try to change people. We should allow people to be who they are and love them for who they are.”

Pressed by Behar to espouse her support for marriage equality, Parton replied, “I always say, ‘Sure, why can’t they get married? They should suffer like the rest of us do.’”

Rascal Flatts
The band’s “Love Who You Love” is considered an LGBT anthem. While promoting its release singer Gary LeVox discussed the song’s impact. "We actually have some gay people that work with us, and we have a lot of friends that are gay, too, and I know that this song has inspired them," he said. "I know that coming out was tough on their parents and on them and the whole entire family. For a long time, some of them didn't get to hear ‘I love you' from their dads or be accepted in that way. It's helped a lot of our friends." Bassist Jay DeMarcus added, “We don’t judge anybody’s lives.”

LeAnn Rimes
The sultry vocalist is a longtime equality advocate, having filmed an It Gets Better video, posed for the NOH8 campaign, and performed with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. “I believe in equality,” Rimes said in a 2010 interview. “Everybody should be treated exactly the same way no matter what their race, no matter what their sexuality.”

Blake Shelton
After a wrist-slapping from GLAAD following a tweet in which he rewrote Shania Twain lyrics in a way that seemed to deride gay men, the country singer and mentor on The Voice apologized.

In a series of tweets, Shelton wrote, “Hey y'all allow me to seriously apologize for the misunderstanding with the whole re-write on the Shania song last night... It honestly wasn't even meant that way... I now know that their are people out there waiting to jump at everything I say on here or anywhere. But when it comes to gay/lesbian rights or just feelings... I love everybody. So go look for a real villain and leave me out of it!!! @glaad hey I want my fans and @nbcthevoice fans to know that anti-gay and lesbian violence is unacceptable!!!!! Help me!!!! And DM me...”

Taylor Swift
The singer seems to address the antigay bullying epidemic in her Glee-esque video for the song “Mean.” In it, a boy reading a glossy fashion magazine is harassed by a members of the football team, as Swift sings, “You, pickin’ on the weaker man / Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”

In 2009 Jennifer Nettles spoke about the gay fan base of the band, who has performed at numerous Pride events. "I've always had a large gay following," she said. "Particularly in the lesbian community. I am grateful for that ... It also means that I'm a cute girl singing a rock song in an alto voice!"

Carrie Underwood
While publicizing her latest album Blown Away, the Grammy Award-winner was asked her thoughts on LGBT equality. "I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love," she said, adding, "Our church is gay friendly," she says. "Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or [saying] 'everyone has to be like me.' No. We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."

Chely Wright
The singer is regarded as the first major country musician to come out as lesbian. Since coming out, Wright has written a memoir Like Me, an album Lifted Off the Ground, and married her girlfriend Lauren Blitzer. Fly Me Away, a documentary about her decision to come out publicly, is now playing in theaters.

Trisha Yearwood
In 2005 The Advocate asked the singer if she had advice for her gay fans. “My advice would actually be to people who are intolerant — get over it,” Yearwood said. “I can’t imagine living life and not being able to be true to who you are.”

Country Entertainers Who Support LGBT Equality
I think that is cool. Live and let live is a traditional American value, and it is good to see these influential artists making clear statements of acceptance and empathy for their LGBT neighbors and colleagues.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Maryland Marriage Equality Supporters Optimistic

This year the Maryland legislature passed a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in the state, and the governor signed it.  Oddly, the bill was implemented so that it did not go into effect until January, 2013, to give marriage opponents a chance to mount a referendum campaign against it.

As you can expect, the Nutty Ones are having a field day campaigning to "save traditional marriage."  They will easily have enough petition signatures to get the measure on the November ballot.  But that just brings the issue to a vote, it does not guarantee a win.

The Blade:
The head of the campaign to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law stressed on Wednesday that he remains confident that voters will support nuptials for gays and lesbians in the likely November referendum.

“We feel pretty good,” said Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, told the Blade in an exclusive interview during a fundraiser for his organization at Bay Café in Baltimore. “The story since the beginning of the year has been momentum growing; whether that was passing the bill, signing it into law, the president’s announcement [in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples,] the NAACP nationally coming out in our favor. We’re just trying to build upon that as we go forward.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, Equality Maryland executive director Carrie Evans and state Dels. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) were among the roughly 175 people who attended. Marylanders for Marriage Equality spokesperson Kevin Nix told the Blade after the fundraiser that it raised “a few thousand dollars,” but he did not have an exact figure as of deadline.

Levin stressed he remains confident that he can run what he described as a “winning campaign” with between $5 and $7 million. Marylanders for Marriage Equality earlier this month opened two campaign offices in Baltimore and Silver Spring, and plans to have several others across the state in the coming weeks and months.  Levin: Momentum behind Md. same-sex marriage law continues to grow
The battle will get ugly.  You can be sure the other side is going to pull out every anti-gay stereotype they can think of.  They will focus on sex, in particular anal sex.  They will show you bizarre costumes, gender-atypical poses, quotes of gay and lesbian people saying "we want our rights" in ways that seem threatening to straight-but-insecure people.  They will twist or invent statistics, cite discredited research, claim Biblical support that they don't have, historical support they don't have, popular support they don't have.

In reality there is no harm done to anyone if same-sex couples are allowed to marry.  If you are not a homosexual person you will not be affected, plain and simple.  No one's straight marriage will be undermined or challenged in any imaginable way.  Your religious beliefs may not accept marriage between same-sex couples but if they are not members of your religion then that does not apply to them.

I hope the LGBT side is willing to fight hard for this one.  They cannot count up the numbers in early June and say that everything will be fine in November, because in the intervening months we are likely to see an attack on a group of people like we have never seen before in this state.  This will require tough, aggressive campaigning, deep-pocket funding, enthusiasm, charisma, it's going to be a hard battle but it is important for love to win in the end.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The GOP's Quiet Gay Strategy

I think of this blog as a place for people to talk about how to accept and even enjoy the differences among all of us.  Since there was a minor outbreak of anti-LGBT excitement in our Maryland county a few years back, which pops up again occasionally under various pretexts, the blog has mostly focused on questions regarding prejudice against gay, lesbian, and transgender people.  A lot of straight people find it a little hard to understand someone who feels differently from them, probably most of us do at some level, but you don't have to understand everything about a person to accept them.  There is no danger to you if someone sees the world differently, or if someone looks different or dresses differently from you.

Interestingly the comments section tends to break down along political lines.  It seems that almost all our Republican-leaning commenters advocate a startlingly hostile attitude toward LGBT people, talking about a sinister "gay agenda" and referring to them as "deviants" and so on, while almost all of our Democratic-leaning commenters defend tolerance and acceptance and equal rights.

I don't see what this has to do with ideological differences of opinion regarding government spending, interpretation of the Constitution, or civil liberties, but for some reason conservatives, at least in our comments section, mostly advocate prejudice, and liberals advocate tolerance.

The New York Times has an interesting feature this morning about a movement within the GOP to support the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
OVER the past year, the main story line in the push for marriage equality has been the ardor and success with which leading Democratic politicians have taken up the fight. The Democratic governors of New York, Maryland and Washington all promoted and signed same-sex marriage laws, for which President Obama expressed his support last month.

But the progress within Republican ranks has also been pivotal, not to mention fascinating. And a compelling character in that subplot just added a new twist to the narrative, one that suggests the rapidly changing political dynamics of this issue and its potential import to a party dogged by an image of being culturally out of touch.

That character is Paul E. Singer, 67, a billionaire hedge fund manager who is among the most important Republican donors nationwide. In just one Manhattan fund-raiser last month, he helped to collect more than $5 million for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

He steadfastly supports conservative candidates. He also steadfastly supports gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular. Along with a few other leading Wall Street financiers, he contributed and helped drum up the majority of the money — more than $1 million — that fueled the campaign for same-sex marriage in New York.

He has given nearly $10 million of his own money to gay-rights initiatives, including the same-sex marriage efforts not only in New York but also in New Hampshire and New Jersey. And that figure doesn’t include his assistance in tapping a broad network of donors for individual candidates. He was pivotal in rounding up about $250,000 apiece for the Republican state senators in New York whose votes for same-sex marriage provided its margin of victory in the Legislature.

Now, Singer says, he’s providing $1 million to start a new “super PAC” with several Republican compatriots. Named American Unity PAC, its sole mission will be to encourage Republican candidates to support same-sex marriage, in part by helping them to feel financially shielded from any blowback from well-funded groups that oppose it.
The G.O.P.’s Gay Trajectory
Who benefits if gay and lesbian couples are prevented from marrying?  Does anybody profit from that?  Is anyone's life better in any way?  I can't think of any benefit to such a prohibition.  There is just no point to it -- oh, you can say that they are trying to "redefine marriage" blah blah blah, but in reality it does not affect any straight person in any way if gay and lesbian American citizens are permitted to marry the person they love.  It only means there will be more happiness in the world.

Most people are smart enough to see that.  As gay people have come out over the past half century and have become more visible in public life, straight Americans have realized they are ordinary people with the same feelings and concerns as anybody.  The shock has long worn off, the jokes have stopped being funny, the stereotypes are hollow now that everyone knows better.  Anti-LGBT bigotry is a losing platform for a political party.