Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Granny Peace Brigade

I wrote about the Granny Peace Brigade in December when several of their members were arrested in Times Square for protesting against the wars in the Middle East. I had the privilege of seeing some of them again on Valentine's Day when they protested the Toy Industry Association's annual Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here in New York City.

Some of the fine ladies of the Granny Peace Brigade.

I made this brief video of their demonstration against the proliferation of war toys and their call to toy manufacturers to produce more educational, less violent toys:

A little information about the history of the Granny Peace Brigade, an active anti-war group in NYC made up primarily of senior citizens:

In July, 2005, members of the Raging Grannies of Tucson, AZ, tried to enlist in the US military and were arrested for trespassing. Media coverage of that effort inspired New York women to come together to make a similar stand.

This group of women went to the US Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square on Oct. 17, 2005, intent on asking to enlist in the military in place of grandchildren who had been deployed to Iraq. Eighteen were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. They could have accepted an ACD (an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, effectively allowing them to walk away without any fine or punishment) but, with representation by Norman Siegel, former director of the NY Civil Liberties Union, they decided to go to court to defend their civil right to speak out. They were tried in NY Criminal Court and acquitted.

Today they continue to stand for peace and in opposition to the use of military force to resolve conflicts between nations or hostile forces.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Obituary: Perry Moore

Perry Moore, with
partner Hunter Hill
It is with great sadness that we note the passing this week of Perry Moore, 39, author of the groundbreaking 2007 book Hero, which featured a gay superhero as its lead character.

On Feb. 17, he was discovered unconscious by his partner, Hunter Hill, in the bathroom of their home in New York City. While the official cause of death is yet to be determined by the medical examiner's office, there has been some speculation in the press that it was caused by an overdose of OxyContin which he had been taking for pain resulting from severe problems with his back and knee. Despite this speculation, those who knew him best have denied that Moore was given to the misuse of drugs. 

Moore was also the executive producer of the very successful Chronicles of Narnia series of movies. He was instrumental in obtaining the rights to the novels from the estate of C.S. Lewis (despite Lewis' stated desire that the novels never be filmed) and was in the process of putting together the financing for the fourth film in the series, The Magician's Nephew, at the time of his death. The three movies completed so far, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have combined combined ticket sales of over $1.5 billion worldwide.

Police are not at this time considering foul play in his death.

The Birth of a Hero

In 1992, Northstar, one of the lead characters in Marvel comics' Alpha Flight came out of the closet, prompting The New York Times to editorialize, "Mainstream culture will one day make its peace with gay Americans. When that time comes, Northstar's revelation will be seen for what it is: a welcome indicator of social change." But in 2005, Marvel killed off Northstar, murdered by the X-Men's Wolverine.

Moore was incensed by the murder of Marvel’s biggest gay hero by one of its most popular characters. "I thought I was going to have to stop buying comics," he said. Instead, inspired by Gail Simone's Web site, Women in Refrigerators, he compiled his own list, detailing more than 60 gay and lesbian comic book characters who have been tortured, raped, disemboweled, decapitated, had their genitalia disfigured or removed, or retroactively "converted" to heterosexuality. "Bad things do happen to all people," he asked. "But are there positive representations of gay characters to counterbalance these negative ones?"

The answer, he felt was no. He set out to create his own positive gay character, Thom Creed, a high school basketball star, whose father is a former masked crimefighter. Thom must keep his powers a secret, for fear of further disgracing his father and risking his community's homophobia.

"I have always been enthralled with comic books and superheroes, and I've always believed there should be a gay superhero. Not as a joke, not as a supporting character, not as a victim, not as a token, but as a real front-and-center hero," Moore wrote. "Like most young people, I grew up feeling alienated and different--for very specific reasons in my case--in a place that didn't value differences. I also have this borderline-crazy belief in the power of literature to change the universe. So I'd always wanted to tell this story."

Critical reception to Hero was mixed. Publishers Weekly wrote, "The novel misses its mark, with an abundance of two-dimensional characters and contrived situations... While some may be glad to see a gay hero come out of the closet just in time to save the world, others may wish the situations felt less clich├ęd." The Advocate wrote, "Hero is a quick, at times shallow, but satisfying novel, the kind we all wanted while growing up and hopefully   the first in a new genre of young adult literature." Hero went on to win the Lambda Literary Award as as the best LGBT Children's/Young Adult novel of 2007.

At the time of the Lambda Award, Moore announced, "It looks like we’re going to do a TV series. There were two networks that we pitched, and we got two offers." Late in 2008, Variety confirmed that Moore was developing Hero as a television production for the Showtime cable network in partnership with Marvel legend Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. As Lee said, "This is gonna be a winner. I want in!"

Showtime later pulled out of the project. Lee wrote to his fans, "Showtime finally didn’t commit and we’re now exploring our options... Stayed turned for further developments. Excelsior!"

Moore wrote, "Hero will see its day onscreen... I’m not sure how or where or who will make it possible, but like all the best heroes, you have to have faith. And when it does, it will be another step forward. And some folks will think, 'Damn, it’s about time someone thought of doing that.'"

Moore's family has said that he was in discussions with the Starz network for a TV film adaptation of Hero. Moore had also told The New York Times that he planned on writing a series of book sequels featuring Thom Creed. "There’s a lot left to tell in the future books." Sadly, while we may still see an adaptation of Hero at some point in the future, there will be no more new installments coming from this gifted young man.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Blog: What a Horrific Conference with a Horrific Message

Welcome Guest Blogger Christopher Jay Hall, who documents his experience at an anti-LGBT conference led by Exodus International called Love Won Out. Christopher is the Executive Director/Founder of the Central AZ Rainbow Education (CARE) and a member of the Steering Committee for the Human and Equal Rights Organizers (HERO).

Meg Sneed, Jason Hoppe, and Christopher Jay Hall
As many of you already know, I attended an anti-homosexual conference yesterday! Many of you may ask why, but the answer is quite simple. I truly believe the best way to have an intellectual conversation with those who have different views than us, is to try and understand where it is they are coming from. Unfortunately, their message made this impossible as they closed the conference stating that they were only here to serve the homosexuals and that compromise was out of the question. (Their words not mine)

The conference was well over nine hours long and nearly 90% of the messages delivered were filled with hate and untruthful “statistics” about the LGBTQ community. We must have compassion for their ignorance as we should never hate. I must admit it was very difficult to sit and listen without saying a word, but I remained true to my intentions in trying to truly understand their logic.

In my opinion, some of the most disturbing messages of the day included the following:

- It was hard for some of the speakers to grasp the concept of respect when it came to transgender issues. They said they were going to call a person by the way god intended them to be, not by what they wish. This really irked me especially the way it was presented and the audience laughed and agreed with every hateful word.

- Heterosexual couples have a life-long interest in their relationships which apparently homosexuals lack.

- 91% of women who identify as lesbian are apparently the way they are because of trauma from their childhood (67% sexual abuse). What is abuse? Are we considering verbal abuse, a small punch in the arm when we yell slug bug no slug backs, or simple birthday spankings? I mean… women all over the world are abused both homosexual and heterosexual. They also believe women are gay because of their relationships with men went sour. If this is the case, so many heterosexuals today would be gay as I don’t know any relationship that has not had its moments.

- In a healthy mother-daughter relationship, the child should want to be like her mother otherwise there may be worry for lesbianism. I know many heterosexual women who do not want to be like their mother and I know many lesbians who would like to be like their mother so the “facts” are a bit odd to me. I would think the best way to understand the LGBTQ community is to ask us of our cause and listen to the medical professionals who are telling them otherwise. The church states, even if we are proven to be born gay, they will keep their stance saying that we are not born perfect so the battle almost seems never-ending. Why don’t we focus on what makes individuals heterosexual? There is a thought!

-The gay gene is like any other gene that cause alcoholism, violent behavior, depression, etc. They are all unwanted genes that have a negative impact on our lives. Well, let me tell you, I am a happy homosexual who wants to be the way I am.                                                                                                                      

Although there were several other messages that ruffled my feathers, those were among the most absurd.

Fortunately, I fell within the age bracket for the youth portion of this conference so I got to listen in on what they are telling our youth. Apparently, there is no such thing as homosexuals as we are all broken heterosexuals. They told the youth that homosexual behavior is always a sin. People who believe they are homosexual are not the sin itself. The person is not an abomination rather their behavior is the abomination they must seek help in overcoming. They end by saying all sin is an abomination to god, but the youth were very intelligent and to some degree liberal. They were curious as to why our “sin” of homosexuality was a focus of the church when there are so many other sins within the church itself that are being ignored. The best question that left the presenters baffled was, “If it is bad to change one’s sex because it was god’s original intention to have us born the way we are, than why do we dye our hair, wear braces to “fix” our teeth, receive plastic surgery, etc. I was happy to see the amount of liberal individuals who attended, I am just saddened to see so many hurt souls who are forced to attend and the church feels they have no role in the high rates of suicide amongst our LGBTQ youth. What ignorance!

I can now say I have tried to understand the opposition and I can now speak against what I have always been against!

When I left the conference with the anti-homosexual philosophy behind me and our supporting LGBTQ community in front of us peacefully gathering to let these individuals know they are loved regardless of what they may have been forced to listen to, I felt as though I was going home. It was a feeling unlike any other. Thanks to all those who came out to show their disapproval in what these individuals were teaching.

While in attendance, I did gather some of the youth’s information so that I can later provide resources to them in the hopes of helping! This was truly an experience I will never forget. I was happy to have shared this expereince with some individuals that I admire within the community such as Meg Sneed and Jason Hoppe! What great individuals they are and you know what..... they too are gay! Hmm... who would have imagined such great people who identified as homosexuals too bad they are broken (ha).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Blog: An Open Letter to President Obama

Jose Manuel Reyes, Christin Meador, Rev. Pat Baumgardner, Mark Pabon and Rob Lassegue
Welcome Raging Pride's first Guest Blogger, Christin Meador, founder of Proud Ally and GetEQUAL NY State Organizer. I wanted to share with you this beautiful letter she has written to our President.

Dear President Obama,

My name is Christin Meador. I am an American citizen, and today is my 27th birthday. When my parents were in labor back in 1984, they had no idea what kind of child I would be. They didn't know whether I would be a boy or a girl. They didn't know whether I would have brown, green or blue eyes, whether I would have red or brown hair. They didn't know whether I would have the fair complexion of my Anglo-American father or the darker complexion of my Puerto Rican mother. Would I be right or left-handed? Tall or short? Would I be gay, straight, bisexual, transgender? These are among the many questions that run through parents' minds as they anticipate the arrival of their child. One thing was for certain with my parents. They would love me no matter what. And so here I am, a redheaded, green eyed, left-handed, fair skinned, bicultural, straight woman.

My parents and my nation taught me one important thing - we are all created equal.

I love the date of my birthday because it falls between two holidays that represent values very close to my heart - Valentine's Day for its message of love and President's Day for its focus on leadership. Today, in our America, we need leadership to ensure the right to love freely. This Valentine's Day my boyfriend and I were at the Marriage Bureau of Lower Manhattan advocating for marriage equality for the LGBT community. As President's Day approaches, my birthday wish is for you, the leader of our great country, to take true leadership in ensuring the equality of all Americans. The current state of affairs is unjust and un-American.

I grew up in the south, where my grandparents and parents fought for the full equality of black Americans. Without the support of allies, we may have never seen the signing of the civil rights bill. We as Americans may never have experienced the historic moment of your inauguration. It is the history of the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement and my fundamental belief in equality that inspire me to fight every day for the rights of my LGBT brothers and sisters.

I don't know if you have ever attended a LGBT rally or protest. I can tell you from experience that it is devastating to witness people having to fight so tirelessly to defend the person that they love and the rights they are allegedly guaranteed in our democracy. I take action because I'm not willing to live in a country where my brothers and sisters are treated as second class citizens. Today I write to you to ask, will you do the same? Will you take action? Will you deliver a speech about the equal rights of LGBT Americans? Will you be more transparent in your plan for LGBT equality? Will you stand beside the people who campaigned for you? Will you be on the right side of history?

This is not a hard battle to win when we are arguing on Constitutional grounds. Our opponent's opposition to equality is largely if not entirely rooted in religion and the flimsy notion of "traditional marriage". I ask you to stand up and make the argument that we've yet to hear from our politicians. We live in a secular nation, with separation between church and state, and religious beliefs should have no bearing on policy and law. Do you have a Constitutional reason why these rights are denied? If not, can you stand up and say so?

While I understand the political position you are in, I can't help but wonder: Wouldn't you rather serve one term as President and go down in history as the one who delivered full equality to our nation? I know I would. This is your opportunity to make America the leader in human rights that she claims to be.

I am not someone in the inside circle of Washington, and I have nothing to lose when speaking my mind. This kind of engagement is something you advocated for in your campaign, and so I hope you will hear my words. I have nothing to lose, no direct ties to Washington, no insider information. I am simply an active citizen making a plea to you to fight for full equality.

There is a quote from a gospel tune that goes like this - "Lord don't move my mountain, just give me the strength to climb". The community of LGBT activists is a strong, loving and fearless bunch. And we will continue to hold you accountable. We will reach the top of that mountain because it is not in the spirit of the American people to be bystanders. We are upstanders. And we are here to say - love is not a special privilege. Will you join us?

Christin Meador

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Transgender Woman Accuses Jobcenter of Discriminatory "Advice"

In England, Jobcentre Plus is a government agency which assists the unemployed in their search for jobs.  It also administers claims for benefits.

Apparently, some of Jobcenter's employees believe that a part of their job is also to pass judgement on transgendered individuals. 

Tina Cook has lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Work and Pensions, alleging that she was told she should dress as a man in order to find a job. 

Tina Cook
Tina lost her job in the construction industry one year ago. Until then, she had lived a dual life, as Andrew during the day at work and as Tina during her off hours at home. She decided to begin the transition process when she became unemployed and entered a program which requires her to live full-time as a woman or lose her benefits. If she were to take the Jobcenter's advice, she would have to withdraw from the program. 

"I’ve only recently summoned the courage to be the way I want. I have given up so much. My family don’t really talk to me and I have no friends. How can they expect me to give it up to get a job. It’s really insensitive." 

She reports that the employees at her local Jobcenter call her "Darling," and adds, "They wink at me and say it. I know they are making fun. I don’t go to the Jobcentre for disrespect and abuse. All I need to do for that is walk down the street or go into any pub. Someone will always say something, but I don’t expect it when I am trying to get off benefits and get back into work." 

Since becoming unemployed a year ago, Tina has been interviewed for various jobs about thirty times, mostly for cleaning or kitchen work. "I get the feeling when I go to the Jobcentre sometimes that they don’t want me there. When they see me, they try to make me go to interviews for waitressing jobs at posh restaurants, but my forearms are covered in tattoos. There is no chance I’d get those jobs." 

The Department for Work and Pensions has responded to the allegations, saying, "Jobcentre Plus is committed to treating all individuals fairly and equally. We will not tolerate discrimination and will take any allegations seriously. We are aware of this complaint and are investigating."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Memorial Vigil for David Kato in New York City

Yesterday, Feb. 3, on the same day that "The Family" was celebrating their National Prayer Breakfast with Washington's elite, a very different event was being held in New York City a few blocks away from the United Nations headquarters. A more somber gathering, organized by the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, it was a vigil to honor the memory of David Kato, the prominent Ugandan LGBT activist who was murdered one week earlier. David was brutally beaten to death with a hammer, punished for the two-fold "crime" of being gay and having the courage to be open about it.

David Kato
When a "newspaper" in Uganda ran an article calling for the death of Uganda's "100 TOP HOMOS," David's photo was on the front page. With two of his friends, he filed a lawsuit against the publisher. He won. The High Court of Uganda found that the "newspaper" had violated their privacy, ordering compensation and an injunction again future similar publication.

Now David is gone. The two other plaintiffs have also been targeted because of this case and they remain in grave danger. It was therefore appropriate that at the New York Vigil the speakers shared their memories of the David they knew as well as their thoughts on what can and must be done to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

It was an impressive array of speakers, including local politicians as well as friends and associates of David. Despite the bone-chilling cold of the day, it attracted several hundred impassioned attendees who listened attentively. After the speakers were finished, the crowd, bearing candles, walked several blocks to Uganda House, the site of Uganda's mission to the UN. Once there, we laid flowers in the doorway in front of a large photo of David bearing the words, "DEMAND JUSTICE - DAVID KATO."

letter addressed to H.E. Ambassador Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, and signed by twenty-one human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations, was also read to the crowd before being delivered to the mission. It demanded "that the Ugandan government immediately denounce David’s murder and thoroughly and impartially investigate this heinous crime. It is also imperative that the Ugandan government publicly and immediately commits itself to protecting the safety of all LGBT Ugandans... It is also urgent and long overdue that the Ugandan government express its clear opposition to the pending 'Anti-Homosexuality Bill,' condemn all forms of discrimination and incitement to violence directed at anyone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and speak out against the climate of hatred generated by this proposed law."

So, going forward, what should we do to honor David's memory? Here, via IGLHRC, is the press release from his organization SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) which details their suggestions for how we can best respond to this terrible crime. They recommend we:

  • Send letters urging the Government of Uganda (contact information below) to take the following steps:
    • Publicly condemn David's murder;
    • Carry out a full and fair investigation into David's murder;
    • Prosecute the perpetrator(s) to the fullest extent of the law;
    • Investigate David's hacked email account in the days preceding his death;
    • Assume that, until proven otherwise, David's death was motivated by homophobia and not routine or arbitrary violence;
    • Communicate frequently with LGBT leaders throughout the investigation into David's murder;
    • Ensure that members of Uganda's LGBT community have adequate protection from violence;
    • Take prompt action against all threats or hate speech likely to incite violence, discrimination or hostility toward LGBT Ugandans;
    • Eliminate any possibility of consideration or passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
  • Contact your own governmental authorities and urge them to communicate these concerns to the Ugandan authorities in direct and private advocacy.
  • Continue to expose and denounce U.S. conservative evangelicals spreading homophobia in Uganda.
  • Organize respectful and non-violent vigils at the Ugandan embassy or consulate in your country.

Here, for those of you who could not be with us, is a brief video synopsis of the Vigil:

For those of you who have the time to watch, I am also pleased to be able to bring you all seven speakers, presented unedited:

Rev. Pat Baumgarden, Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church of NY

Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Val Kalende, Board Chair, Freedom and Roam, Uganda

Daniel Dromm, NY City Councilman

Christine Quinn, NY City Council Speaker

Dr. Cheikh Traore, Senior Advisor, UN Development Program

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, Political Research Associates