Friday, November 30, 2012

Schools are not the Place to Teach…About Tolerance

I recently read an article about a Michigan teacher who was suspended for three days without pay because she allowed one of her middle school students to play a song that supports gay marriage (Michigan TeacherSuspended for Letting Student Play Gay-Themed Song in Class). One of the other students in the class was offended by the song and reported it to administration and the teacher was punished. I’m not sure if the school understands the message that they sent to the teacher and all of her students: teaching about being tolerant of gay people is offensive and has no place in the classroom. I’m sure that is not the intended message, but that is how it seems. I’m assuming the school has a zero tolerance policy because those can be over the top sometimes. The song did use the word “faggot.” Perhaps that violated the school rules. If so, then I hope the school is fully enforcing that rule. I hope every time “gay” is used as an insult in that building and every time any student dares to utter the word “faggot,” consequences are swift and appropriate.

I read the article and I wondered what the other students in the class thought about the song. I wondered how the kid who played the song felt. I wondered if the class had a discussion about the song or if they just listened to it and moved on. The song is a good teaching moment for any class because there are so many things in it that can be discussed. The teacher didn’t have to say what was right or wrong, but she could have facilitated a class discussion. The school suspended Johnson because the song contained “controversial content, including homosexuality, religion, political views, and a sexual slur.” I wonder if the school even cared about the message. Most middle school students can go see PG-13 movies without their parents. If the same ratings were applied to songs, “Same Love” would probably be PG, but at its worst, it would be PG-13. The content might be controversial, but it isn’t inappropriate for middle school kids and it wasn’t the teacher who wanted to present the song to the class, it was a student. I’m sure there was a reason why the student selected that song. I could understand the outrage if the song had been profanity laced or made vulgar references, but none of that is there. I have included the song below so that you can judge for yourself:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Give Male Friends a Spectrum Too

I’ve been reading a few articles online about Abraham Lincoln and speculation that he was either gay or bisexual. The part of the articles that struck me was the idea that men shared beds with other men during Lincoln’s time and it wasn’t frowned on by other people. Men were allowed to be homosocial towards each other without being ostracized. The articles acknowledged that men often shared beds because of economic reasons, but I was stuck on the idea that it happened at all. How did society change so much in the wrong direction? Now you can barely get away with admitting to share a bed with a male family member and you certainly shouldn’t publicly admit to sharing a bed with another man who isn’t related to you. 

This is another one of those gender based double standards that exist in America. Women can hold hands, go to the bathroom together, share beds with each other, dance with each other and kiss and not be considered lesbians. It’s unfair that women are free to be homosocial but men are not. The same privileges need to be extended to men. The root of the issue isn’t about being gay or straight. Maybe Lincoln had close relationships with men because he was gay or maybe he had close relationships with men because society allowed him to show his love for other men in intimate ways. Our current societal code of conduct for straight men robs them of the option to be openly intimate with each other. I’m not referring to sexual intimacy, but rather the closeness that is sometimes seen between two women. Why can’t two straight male best friends walk down a street holding hands or arm in arm and not have to deal with explaining their friendship to everyone who sees them? 

We have made a few strides towards the right direction. I’m a fan of the term “bromance” because it affirms that a man can be in love with another man without wanting anything from him sexually. It is possible for people to be drawn to each other and to feel deeply connected to each other without wanting each other. It would be nice if male friendships were allowed to exist on a spectrum. Some friends are extremely close to each other while others are more like associates, but neither should have their friendship questioned or judged. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for Boys

When I think of Boy Scouts, I think of little adorable boys. I don’t think about them growing up and being denied the Eagle award because of their sexual orientation. I read an article last month about a young man who had been in the Boy Scouts since he was 6 years old. He did everything he needed to do in order to be an Eagle Scout but he was denied that status because he was gay and homosexuality is not allowed by the Boy Scouts. The irony of it all was that the young man’s final project was a Tolerance Wall. I read the story and I thought it was sad, but I moved on to other things and almost forgot about it. Then today, I read that UPS is pulling funding from the Boy Scouts because the Boy Scouts are anti-gay. I read comments where people were calling the Boy Scouts a hate group. In my mind, it’s hard for me to reconcile the idea of the Boy Scouts and hate groups. When I think of hate groups, I think of groups like the KKK because it’s an obvious target. I don’t think of the Boy Scouts. 

The Boy Scouts do so much good that it is hard for me to contrast that with the idea that a gay young man is only officially welcomed in to the organization if he pretends to be straight. I get that they aren’t saying that, but actions speak louder than words. If the 17 year old hadn’t come out of the closet, he would have received the approval he needed in order to be an Eagle Scout. 

I understand that it is their official policy, but what happens to the other children like this young man who join the Cub Scouts at a young age, well before they know what it means to be gay, then grow up in the organization and transition to the Boy Scouts only to later be told that they are not following the laws of the organization? This is one time where I wish people would do what they do in movies: if the Boy Scouts don’t want to welcome all young men, then someone needs to start an organization that does welcome all young men.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Everyone's Hands Are Dirty

The main point of yesterday’s post was that I don’t think the young woman’s comments should have been a major news story. I knew her name but I left it out because I thought she had already received enough negative publicity. She didn’t write anything that hasn’t been said before or that won’t be said again. To me, her comments were offensive, but a non-story. That was my point in my post. I didn’t understand why people were surprised or shocked by her comments when there are so many comments like hers on Facebook and Twitter.

I received an unexpected comment that kind of surprised me and made me want to respond. I didn’t mean to write a lot, but this just came out of me. My response is as follows: 

Like you, I’m an Independent voter. I vote for the person who I believe is the best candidate. You and I disagree on who that candidate is and that’s the beauty of America. I’ve had debates with people who made a lot of the same arguments that you have made. The truth is that our country was deeply divided before Obama was elected the first time and our country has become more divided since his election and both parties are to blame. Things are so divided that my own sister was upset with me when I admitted that I voted for a Republican again this year, as if there was something wrong with me not voting for every Democrat on the ballot. Neither party has compelled me to pledge my undying allegiance so I do my own thing when it comes to voting.

The personal attacks, the lies, the “us” versus “them” politics is on both sides of the aisle. You mentioned the ways that Obama’s campaign divided the country by race, gender and class. I won’t argue with you because it’s true, but you failed to mention the way Romney’s campaign tried to divide the country by religion, sexual orientation and class. Both sides ran disgusting campaigns. It’s part of the reason why I’m sick of Democrats and Republicans running our country. 

I’m sure you want me to support my contentions and I will. During the election, I watched MSNBC and FOX News. I wanted to know what both sides were saying. According to MSNBC, Republicans were racists who hated the idea of a black man as president almost as much as they hated the idea of a woman making her own reproductive decisions, of gay people getting married, and of the middle class and the poor having a fighting chance to improve their lot in this country. Their closing argument was if Romney wins, God help this country. According to Fox News, Democrats were socialists who loved abortion, hated the Bible, covered up a terrorist attack, supported gay marriage, hated the rich and constantly had their hands out for freebies (or as they called it “entitlements”). Their closing argument was if Obama wins, God help this country. I laughed at the absurdity of both stations. You can’t stereotype all of the people on either side. I pray that God does help America because our politics are headed down the wrong path.

 If you’d like me to be specific on how Romney played the same dirty, divisive politics as Obama then I can do that too. I live in Ohio. I have seen enough ads from both sides to last me the rest of my life. There was a Republican billboard that read, “Obama supports abortion and gay marriage, do you?” There was an ad on television that said Obama was against religion. I don’t remember the details of it, but I know that Obama isn’t at war with religion, just like Romney isn’t at war with women. The most offensive Republican ad that I saw was actually an ad that was trying to be inclusive. The ad had a black man talking saying that the Democrats don’t do anything for black people, it was Lincoln, a Republican who freed the slaves. There were two things that disturbed me about the ad. The first was that they had to go all the way back to Lincoln and slavery because it begged the question, why do you have to go back to Lincoln just to find something that your party did for black people. The second was the insinuation that I should vote for Romney because he’ll do more for black people. I don’t vote for the candidate who I think will do the most for black people, I vote for the candidate who I believe will be the best candidate for all Americans. Maybe I was just overly sensitive to that ad because I'm black and I don't like people telling me that I should do certain things because of my race. I like to pretend that I am like every other American. Another example that really ticked me off was a tweet from Romney’s campaign that said, “Obama will take the lead until the rest of us get off of work” or something to that effect. The implication was that people who voted for Obama didn’t work as if the election was the working class versus those people who do nothing. I have a full-time job. I know people on welfare, but I have never been on welfare. I know that contrary to popular belief, some people on public assistance have jobs, but their jobs don’t pay them enough to survive. Fortunately, I don’t know firsthand what it is like to depend on the government. My parents have never been on welfare. My father is a veteran and retiree. He worked hard to provide for his family. Everyone who voted for Obama does not want “entitlements.” Some of us are doing just fine on our own but don’t have an issue with paying a little more if it means that someone less fortunate will have their basic needs met.

You may be right, and in 4 years I may end up questioning why I voted for Obama. I may regret my decision to knowingly pay more. All I know now is why I voted for him on November 6: I agree with his stance on gay marriage, I agree with his changes to healthcare (even though I know my pockets will take a hit). I like the idea of forcing people who can afford to pay for their healthcare to do so, because I don't like the idea that I end up paying for them in the long run if they get sick and can't afford to pay their medical bills. I like the idea of women having easier access to birth control because I work with kids and some parents really don’t need to be parents and I support making it easier for them to be responsible before they have an abortion or worst case scenario, have a child who they do not love. I don’t want them to have the chance to rob an innocent kid of their childhood. I think we should go back to the tax rates for the rich that we had under Clinton because I haven’t seen the magical jobs that should in theory have come from the cut. My friends have countered that it is unfair to only increase the taxes on a certain group of people and I respond by pointing out that in the last ten years, the gap between the rich and the poor in this country hasn’t grown by steps but rather by leaps and bounds. Clearly, not everyone felt the recession. I find it appalling that some companies are laying off workers because Obama was re-elected. Nothing has changed yet, so why the pre-emptive strike? Those companies put profit over people and didn't even attempt to find other solutions. I’m not in favor of taxing the rich at some ridiculous rate, but I don’t think returning to Clinton’s rates is asking too much. I like the idea that each household has an emergency cell phone, but I hate the idea that companies have started violating the rules and giving them to almost anyone who receives public assistance. I like the idea that there is a timetable for the troops to be out of Afghanistan, I have a cousin who has done two tours of duty there and I know it’s selfish of me, but I don’t want him to go back. Like you, I want to know what happened in Benghazi, but I know ahead of time that our government is so bogged down with ridiculous procedures and bureaucracy that it’s going to be hard to say exactly who dropped the ball. I like that Obama took responsibility for it. As the president, he recognized that no matter who on his team dropped the ball, it was ultimately in his court. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of everything that Obama believes in and I don’t endorse all of his policies. I think he could have tried to work with the Republicans in Congress more instead of getting upset with them. I wish his campaign and Romney’s campaign had stayed out of the mudslinging. This was one of the dirtiest elections that I remember. I mean it was worse than the whole “Swift Boat” mess. Each side pandered to their base and did little to intervene and rebuke the outspoken radicals on both sides. I don’t like that Obama hasn’t done more to push people and churches back towards helping each other. The government shouldn’t be the first place people go for help. We should help each other. There should be little need for homeless shelters when there are so many religious institutions in our country. There are some churches that do a lot for their community. I can’t speak for other cities, but I know most of the churches in my area don’t do much at all for the community (of course there are exceptions) because a fish fry to raise money for the church does not count as community service. I like that Romney wanted people to do more for themselves and for others because we ask too much of the government.

I don’t like that our spending is still not under control or that both the Democrats and the Republicans are so wrapped up in their own drama that they are neglecting the country. I’m sick of the politics. I truly believe that we need more than two major parties. It’s the only way I can see us returning to the days when we had real compromise that didn’t involve blackmail or under the table deals.  

I do respect your opinion and accept that I could be wrong. I’m not one of those people who think that just because Obama won, that means he was the right choice. I know that it doesn't work that way. You’re right that America is going to need every blessing that she can call forth. I’m hoping that we can all learn to work together again and that in four years we will be better off than we are today.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Keep Race out of it

I was originally going to blog about some Republicans referring to Hurricane Sandy as an Act of God in one breath then saying it tilted the election to Obama in the next breath. They should have referred to Hurricane Sandy as a natural disaster. Calling it an Act of God then blaming it for shifting the election back to Obama kind of implies that God didn’t want Romney to win and I know that is not what they were trying to say. I was going to do a whole diatribe about it, but something else caught my attention this morning. A young woman from California made a racist comment on Facebook about President Obama and now the internet is in a tizzy.

I’m here to tell Americans to wake up. Racism is alive and well. There are racist people of all races, it isn’t just a white/black issue. I don’t understand why people are so surprised by this young woman’s comments. She used the n-word in reference to President Obama and wrote that maybe he would be assassinated. When she was interviewed later she was unapologetic, but she did want the world to know that she wasn’t racist. I don’t think she understands that she can have friends of other races and still be racist. She could have used lots of other words to describe Obama, but she picked arguably the most offensive word in the English Language. That was not an accident. 

This young woman is not alone. Facebook and Twitter are full of racist anti-Obama messages. The sad truth is that to some people that’s all they see when they look at Obama. They don’t see a man who rose from humble beginnings or a black man who contradicts every major stereotype about black men: he is well educated, married to a black woman and (as far as we know) he only has two children and both were born in wedlock.

You can disagree with Obama’s policies all day, but you cross the line when you make it about his race or wish harm on him. I greatly disliked Bush’s policies, but I never wanted any harm to come his way. I never wished that someone would assassinate him. Hell, I was upset with the Secret Service when they let a man throw a shoe at him. If Romney had won the election, I wouldn’t have wished harm on him. He wasn’t my candidate, but I would have respected him as my president because the president of the United States is elected by the people. Sometimes your candidate wins and sometimes your candidate loses. As an American, you have to learn to live with it.