Colorado passes a civil unions bill, and Indiana is busy trying to write discrimination into the state constitution. Why are we living here instead of there?
It’s been a long time since we’ve been in touch. Are we a couple of slackers or what?! It’s not that we haven’t been busy reading, working, observing and thinking (uh oh!), and it’s certainly not that we didn’t want to share our opinions with our wonderful readers. In fact we weren’t sure why we’ve been so quiet until we realized how angry we were and that the anger forced us to be silent for awhile.
Angry at what, you say? Oh, just where to begin. Perhaps what really set the emotional storm clouds scudding across our own personal horizon was receipt of a couple of those seemingly harmless, wishful thinking e-mails we received from a well-intentioned friend who was all about returning to our childhood, nostalgia for the many western-themed TV shows and just how great the ‘50s were.
Sure, some of it was fun with a reminder of those wax bottles filled with colored sugar water or flying down the street on scooters or running around the neighborhood with all the kids and no parental supervision. We could even make up our own rules, and do-overs were an acceptable and easy way to resolve differences.
Certainly it was a simpler time that conveyed a sense of personal safety and security — one in which the adults had all the answers, and while we kids had lots of questions, we knew better than to ask too many because there were so many things that just weren’t discussed. It would be too rude, the adults didn’t know the answer — or, well it was one of those things that we just don’t talk about. There was a lot of the last.
***We acknowledge that for those who were fortunate to have a positive childhood, reminiscence is not a bad thing. But of course one’s own personal experience notwithstanding, some childhoods in the ‘50s just weren’t so great.
We can’t imagine that any person of color would want to return to those days prior to passage of the civil rights bill. And while we recognize that kids manage to have fun no matter what, it doesn’t take long for them to pick up on those unspoken (well, some were quite vocal about blacks being inferior) implications that they were considered inferior to whites, and such a cruel message will dampen anyone’s spirits.
Then there was the message that girls certainly didn’t measure up to boys in the bigger picture. The advent of TV brought into everyone’s homes commercial revelations of how successful moms were at operating in-home machinery, but they certainly weren’t capable of doing anything outside the home environment.
And if there ever was a black person on TV, he or she was in a subservient role. Ambition, intellect, education, social station be damned, women and blacks just didn’t measure up back in the “good ole days”!
This was also the time of endless adulation of cowboys and the never-ending “praise be” to how they beat the Indians into submission. Most kids played cowboys and Indians, and of course the cowboys had to win. That was just the rule (except when we played), and no one questioned that fact. What about the Indians? We were told that they lived happily ever after on reservations, and all was right with their world. After all, they were the ones who resisted progress, and they lost.
Yeah, but where are they? What do they do? “Hush, child, don’t ask so many questions now, and wash your hands for dinner!”
Sound familiar? That was part of the wonderful ‘50s, too. Denying reality and the truth.
We must note here that in review of the cowboy heroes and Western shows made during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, there was approximately one to three women to between 5 and 30 men in each film. Ma Barker and Annie Oakley were generally misrepresented and apparently the only women who rode a horse or shot a rifle during the development of the West, while cowboys were just everywhere being heroes to everyone (except the Indians, of course, and we’ve already mentioned how they didn’t count!).
And were there any black cowboys in the movies? In real life, yes, as history has shown. In movies, no. Just further evidence of the disillusionment that prevailed during those glorious ‘50s.
***And let’s not forget the LGBT folks during this time. We’ve always been around, but we couldn’t be ourselves. And while some of us did have families who accepted us, mostly by looking the other way, we were typically the invisible family members, accumulating layers of internal scar tissue.
Discussion of sexuality of any kind was strongly discouraged, and we were persistently encouraged to be a proper lady or gentleman. There was no room for anyone who strayed out of the appropriate sex role boundaries for their perceived or appropriate gender. How many kids suffered from the efforts to make them dress properly and fit comfortably into clothes, a career or an image that was contrary to what they felt or believed they were? No doubt hundreds of thousands.
It should be evident that we all just had a grand time during that era of black-and-white pat answers, justified discrimination, stifled personalities, untruths and, well, downright lies.
Is this a legacy to which we want to return? We think not! While it would be fun to sometimes be a kid again, a return to childhood would not be acceptable if the above- cited aspects of social oppression were to accompany us. As firm believers in equity, equality and justice, we simply cannot tolerate discrimination.
And naïve as we can sometimes be, it just did not occur to us that in our day and stage of history there were still such draconian, racist, sexist, homophobic and just plain mean-spirited folks as are some of those who most recently were elected to positions of decision making and power. Call them tea partiers, tea baggers, neo- Nazis, repugs, extremist theologians or whatever. They threaten a return to the puritanical days of the Dark Ages. Some even threaten physical harm (indeed, some have been provoked to violence by vitriolic propaganda), and from that perspective the ‘50s don’t look so bad. Oh my! Can’t believe we just said that, but there are degrees of bad after all.
While our government has conveniently misdirected our focus toward the toppling of theocracies in parts of the Middle East, these right-of-all-things-holy folks have been amassing funds and followers toward the goal of establishing a theocracy of sorts in this country.
Think we are paranoid? No, we don’t think so, but as we said, we are angry. Angry that all of the wonderful folks in this country have been duped, and it’s time to not only embrace but reinforce the social and cultural progress that has been made and prevent a return to yesteryear.
And why do we stay in Indiana and tolerate overt discrimination and inequity? If we leave and don’t fight, then they win hands down. We deserve to be treated with respect and equality as the hard-working, taxpaying and participatory citizens that we are.
It’s time to demand no less from our fellow citizens and most certainly our elected officials. And it’s time for a do-over of the most recent election — and a return to sanity.
Helen Harrell can be reached at email@example.com
by Helen Harrell with Carol Fischer January 10, 2010
We wonder is each year so bad or disappointing that we persistently hope for the better? If that’s true, then what are we doing so wrong that each year is a disappointment? Our own philosophy is such that we try to live in the moment and enjoy what we have rather than seeking fulfillment in time yet to arrive.
“Here in the United States millions of us voted for change, and some of us have not been disappointed.”Of course, living with self-confidence as healthy and satisfied individuals is probably a result of years of experience in trying to always get it right, which may justify some reflection upon the past. Anyway, waxing about failures passed or successes to come has caused us to reflect upon larger issues than just ourselves.
We think celebrating the new year is not so much about personal resolutions (surely to be broken or forgotten) as it is about a universal evolution of humankind, including all of the cultural and social institutions that we have created. In this broader perspective are we doing better or worse? Just how great was last year? For example, here in the United States millions of us voted for change, and some of us have not been disappointed. By electing Barack Obama as the first black president we may not have eliminated racism, but we surely have turned another page in the chapter of history that moves us further away from the shame of slavery.
And while any politician has to compromise, we have been pleased with Obama’s performance. He has fulfilled some of his campaign promises by promoting the cessation of discrimination against individuals and groups, as evidenced by his support for equal pay and anti-domestic violence legislation, as well as for sensible family planning and protections for women and children. In a very short time he has managed to correct or reverse some of the damaging legislation that passed during the Bush regime (think stem cell research here, for example, or the discrimination against HIV-positive immigrants), and he continues to stand firm in the economic arena as a proponent of equity and fairness.
Now we aren’t economists and don’t intend to discuss in depth the pros and cons of the president’s policies, such as the bank and auto bailouts, for instance, because the economic crisis is ongoing. It took many years of mismanagement to create the housing and workplace debacles and will take some time to correct them. And that, coincident with the changes in industry and technology, will take time. And many adjustments will have to be made by both employees and employers to ensure that all Americans can enjoy equal opportunity in employment and housing.
“We think that our national image has improved under Obama’s leadership.”Just as the Industrial Age created job market turbulence, change and a restructuring of the workplace, we can expect no different from the current and ongoing technology age. However, we want to caution here that individuals must prepare themselves for the new job market and not reminisce too much about the jobs that are gone for good. What was opportunity for grandma and grandpa is nonexistent now, and we must be willing to educate, train for and adapt to a different work environment.
Anyway, change can be a good thing, and we think that our national image has improved under Obama’s leadership. Ha, you say!! What about the terrorist bombings and other activities? Are those increasing, and are we less safe? We can only say that we feel as safe as we ever did, and here we will admit to one disagreement we do have with the president in his decision to increase the military troops in Afghanistan.
We think it might help relationships and build trust if we stopped killing folks, but on the other hand, how does one protect oneself from those zealots who for whatever religious, personal or political reason are willing to blow themselves up to make some kind of statement? Is using the actions of individual terrorists reason to continue a large-scale attack? Somehow that doesn’t feel right to us, but then we weren’t privy to any of the many discussions Obama had with his security council, so what do we know anyway?
The war effort seems to be a major corporate undertaking to boost the income levels of those already in power and the wealthy, and the well-organized fear campaign maintains a status quo of public support. Sometimes we wonder how many will be sacrificed and just how much money one person or company needs in one life time anyway.
Is there some equation for money vs. time of which we are unaware? Perhaps dying rich is better than leaving a legacy of justice and fairness? In this instance we are glad we aren’t the president, who has to weigh the arguments put forth by the military-industrialists — it would give us a headache!! In fact, it just did!!
One thing we do know is that on the domestic front Obama has been the friendliest president ever in recognizing and supporting the LGBT population by addressing our issues of civil and social discrimination. We know that many folks were expecting good things, like the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and perhaps the elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act, a marriage discrimination policy holdover from the Clinton years that the Obama administration still supports. But we believe that progress is being made in both of those areas and that elimination of both will follow in the near future.
“On the domestic front Obama has been the friendliest president ever in recognizing and supporting the LGBT population by addressing our issues of civil and social discrimination.”Negotiation does take time, after all, and as discouraging as the process can be, we do have much to celebrate. For instance, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, in what is the first federal legislation recognizing and supporting protections for the LGBTQ community. The very fact that Obama would admit the need for such protections demonstrates his respect for us as individuals, and his attitude of acceptance sets a tone of equity and fairness for the country.
We think it’s no coincidence that, following on the heels of the president’s decision, Washington DC decided to recognize same-sex marriage and the extension of domestic partner benefits to federal employees, and New Hampshire became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage. New Hampshire joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa in recognizing basic civil rights for everyone.
While the marriage effort precedes the Obama administration, he has stated that he supports civil unions and/or marriage for everyone. We believe him. Now we know that when same-sex marriage is put to popular vote, it loses nearly every time; but the margin of defeat is decreasing each year by a few percentage points. Even in our home state of Indiana an increase in acceptance can be found in the results of a poll conducted by Indiana Equality, where 80.4 percent believe in LGB civil rights protections and 79.7 percent support transgender inclusion.
We should note here that bipartisan support shows Democrats at 92 percent, Republicans at 64 percent and independents at 85 percent. And significantly, in California, where Prop 8 ended the brief legalization of same-sex marriage in that state, the legislature is set to recognize LGBT marriages performed in other states and has confirmed the legal status of the state marriages permitted, albeit briefly.
Since Obama took office, more openly lesbian and gay political candidates ran for and/or were elected to local, state and national leadership positions than ever before. Indeed, Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly lesbian mayor. In the near future we anticipate the passage of the new fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will provide workplace protections against discrimination based upon gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We know that when same-sex marriage is put to popular vote, it loses nearly every time; but the margin of defeat is decreasing each year by a few percentage points.”The president has said he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk! History in the making is so much better to watch when there’s a level playing field!
Obama’s determination to right previous wrongs was certainly evident when he honored some unsung heroes by bestowing America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, upon openly lesbian tennis great Billy Jean King, the first openly LGBT elected official, Harvey Milk, and WW II hero and acclaimed Native American Historian Joe Medicine Crow.
Of course the late, great Senator Edward M. Kennedy was also honored along with 15 or so others. But the significant thing in Obama’s administration has been the recognition of individuals from the many disenfranchised populations who have typically been overlooked. From his cabinet to the Supreme Court, a new face of government representation is emerging, one that is more reflective of who we truly are as a country.
Can one individual change the world? Probably not, but they can certainly set the stage for a new era of understanding and acceptance. And when we reflect upon 2009, despite the progress made, we see a year of devastating economic loss, joblessness, homelessness and individual despair. We see good changes afoot but know that all is not progress: 30 states have voted to ban same-sex marriage, the soup kitchens are still overcrowded and LGBT teen suicide and homelessness are at all time highs.
“Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly lesbian mayor.”We are at war with what seems like the entire Middle East, and yet our president is doggedly determined to provide national health care for everyone, in spite of the opposition from special interest companies and those who just don’t get it. Positive goals accomplished and failures still abound.
Did we get it right in 2009? Apparently the answer is yes and no, and isn’t that fairly typical after all? Can we get it right in 2010? We think the country is headed in the right direction, but the citizenry must unite and cease its petty squabbling about differences. Instead of making individual resolutions about weight loss and exercise, let’s join together in supporting one another in fulfilling the dream of acceptance, tolerance, understanding and a real peaceful coexistence.
We have a president who practices his principles of equality and fairness, and he deserves a nation of individuals who do no less.
Happy New Year!
What is it about nonprofit organizations that they readily lend themselves to self destruction? They just kind of gnaw away from the inside until nothing is left but a name and a list of unattained goals? True enough, there are many successful nonprofits, but it seems that most of those are centered in larger cities or have a more business-like approach, such as The Trevor Foundation or the successful Middle Way House here in Bloomington.
Our attention has been drawn to the smaller groups that organize to address a lack of community support for their causes or to fulfill unmet social opportunities, in particular as related to the LGBTQI community. While these organizations are in dire need, their existence tends to be short-lived, and their failure rate is fairly high.
The formula for organizing seems simple enough. A few well-meaning, well-intentioned folks sense a personal or community need and come together to share ideas and suggestions in an effort to help their fellow citizenry. Then an organization is created, a list of goals developed and a hierarchy of leadership established, based upon individual qualifications, expertise, willingness to serve and availability.
All good so far. But this is also the point at which things begin to break down. “Already?” you ask. It would seem so, since leadership in such volunteer groups is always challenged by those who think they can do a better job, don’t like those in authority, or perhaps, just resent the success of anyone else.
Sometimes seeing one’s name in lights becomes more important than actually focusing on and meeting the needs of others. Hence, in-fighting ensues and is exacerbated by a new vulnerability to attacks from the outside. Fairly soon the organization is flailing about with lost focus, serving no real purpose, except providing a smoke screen of names and titles.
***What causes such infighting and hostility? We think it’s partly due to social discrimination and ostracism. We’ve talked about internalized homophobia before in cases where those in the LGBTQI community are disenfranchised from mainstream culture and turn on one another because there is no acceptable social channel available through which to be heard and have one’s feelings or issues addressed.
Discrimination also sets up a sense of isolation that prevents a free exchange of interactions beyond one’s defined group and increases the value of recognition where the potential for reward is small. We think all of these factors can contribute to the emergence of individuals who develop such thirst for power and recognition that they will do and say anything to stifle those who might step forward as strong and effective leaders.
You might ask why, if someone has true leadership ability, they could be shoved out of the way or would back down. We suggest it’s because credible and serious leaders have respect for themselves as well as others and frequently prefer to lose a battle rather than concede an entire war. And they may wish to live to fight another day sans a tarnished image.
***Okay, you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with anything, but just stick with us here. A few short weeks ago we spent part of a Saturday watching the funeral and internment services for Senator Edward Kennedy and were reminded of the legacy of not only the Kennedy clan in particular but Teddy specifically.
We grew up in the peripheral milieu of the Kennedy social circle and attended some social and political events where we made some acquaintance. We always were impressed with the Kennedy family because of their graciousness, their attention to their constituents, their dedication to those not so privileged and their forbearance in times of crisis.
Due to their Irish descent, the elder generation experienced discrimination in the new homeland. As they built an empire of political power and money, they never lost sight of how painful discrimination can be and how harmful it is to everyone when one group is set apart. As Catholics they endured additional criticism but continued on in their service to their country, even in the face of multiple assassinations. Any large family will, with little doubt, experience its share of accidents, mishaps and deaths, but there is definitely a difference between anticipating one’s eventual natural demise and the knowledge that others are seriously planning your death.
Nevertheless, through heartache and loss and surviving an attempt on his own life (many believe the Chappaquiddick incident was of his own doing, but we do not), Ted Kennedy persevered to become one of the most respected political leaders and senators in U.S. history. He dared to challenge the Catholic Church about the right for lesbians and gays to marry and supported women’s health issues, including the need for legalized abortion. He fought for civil rights for everyone and supported enactment of fair immigration policies.
While attending to his family he never forgot his public, friends, colleagues, supporters, while keeping his detractors in mind, as well.
***Change has to begin somewhere and if we want our government to work better and we want a kinder, gentler nation consistent with the Kennedy vision, then we must begin at the local level and send the message that we want, no, we demand, respect from one another. Public dialogue at the grassroots level is the perfect place to practice rational debate in resolving differences. Shouting, name calling and character assassination does nothing but disparage those who are making the charges and prevent positive change by discouraging those who have much to offer but are not willing to endure insult and attack.
And, no, we are not comparing the petty squabbles of small, local LGBT organizations with that of our federal government or the office of the president, but the equation isn’t entirely that of apples and oranges either.
It seems that many Americans have redefined the concept of civil disobedience to mean crass and rude behavior. That it’s okay to make an ass of oneself in public forum because that will somehow make those in power listen better.
The ugly American indeed. Where is the refinement of a Kennedy when you need it?! Kennedy didn’t meet discrimination and counterattack with mean spiritedness. He fought through it for the common good. Did he face as much discrimination as the LGBT community faces? That’s debatable. But he was certainly smart enough to know that facing adversity with hostility only increases alienation and replaces the achievement of common goals with internal divisiveness.
An earnest, united front exerts more power than does that of a group so busy undermining one another that they lose sight of the issues and end up contributing to their own discrimination.
Loyalty, honor and service to the community must be the No. 1 priority and personal aggrandizement tabled. It is only through personal sacrifice of ego that an individual creates a legacy of merit.
During the six decades or so that I’ve been on this planet I’ve seen a repetitive cycle of social progress and digression. Suppose that is to be expected with billions of people with just as many opinions about what is right, wrong, and everything in between! However, I really thought that the 50′s era of ignorantly referring to anyone who supported effective social change that might benefit everyone in the good ole US of A was gone forever. Seems that isn’t so…………….afterall millions of folks voted for change when they voted for Obama — guess they were only referring to a change in figurehead/person at the top and not in the areas of real social change such as health care and education. Weren’t they listening to his campaign speeches? Here is a man, albeit a politician true enough, who wants to finally address the inequities in health care and ensure that everyone has access to the best available. He wants to eliminate the stratification of availability that currently exists based upon employment, income and/or wealth and create a situation where the same care is available to everyone. What is wrong with that???????????
First folks called him a socialist and now a communist. Ironically we heard few voices shout out about the fascism of the Bush era; something far scarier if one considers what all of these terms actually mean. Those who scream about socialism and communism just seem selfish because they — in their own words — “don’t want to pay for someone else’s health care.” Don’t they realize they are paying now via insurance companies whose rates reflect the imbalance of personal wealth and income; and they are also paying to pad the pockets of CEOs and build those huge mansions that some in the medical and insurance fields can afford? And the rest of us cannot? Suppose they would rather be ripped off by corporations than join together with their fellow citizenry and support one another!
And it seems like pure racism when parents actually don’t want their children to listen to the President of the U.S. What happened to respect for dialogue, conversation, the position of President? Didn’t hear this argument presented when Bush was talking about war, war, torture and more war. But then war is an old issue; having better, more affordable health care, and encouraging our young folks to remain in school and obtain an education that will benefit them personally and could ultimately lead to a more fair and just society — well that change is just too scary for some I suppose…………………….. This country touts itself as the most fair, just, safest, equitable, blah, blah — some of us vote on that basis and now that we have true representation of what we say we are…….shouldn’t we actually practice what we broadcast around the world?!
This has been a most interesting week for us, what with all the boy scouts in town. In case you missed it, there were over 7,000 Order of the Arrow boy scouts and their leaders on campus and about town dressed in various quasi-military uniforms and sometimes Native American costumes. Seems like they would have been difficult to miss, but admittedly our offices are located in the heart of campus in an area that also served as base camp operations for the troops.
Maybe we are just suffering from testosterone overload, but it was our sense that their presence stimulated a variety of emotions that led to public discussion, community dissension in some instances, and yet there was a camaraderie that was visibly shared by boys and men of all ages and difficult to ignore. And, we are pleased to say, the community didn’t entirely ignore their presence. In fact, a panel discussion titled “Order of the Arrow: Racism, Homophobia, and Religious Appropriation in Scouting?” was held at Rachael’s Cafe.
Sponsored by the Bloomington Committee Against Racism and Homophobia in Youth, the Native American Community Center of Bloomington, Inc., OUT, Ohio Valley Two Spirit Society and bloomgOUT, the panel drew a sizeable crowd for summer in Bloomington and was a mixture of community members, IU faculty, students, high school students, native Americans, scouts and members of the LGBTQ community and friends who came together to discuss the various charges of homophobia and racism leveled at the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
As an institution, BSA is not in and of itself a reprehensible organization. There is certainly nothing wrong with a structure designed to provide leadership skills, direction, goal orientation, respect for self and others and a sense of belonging for young boys and men. In fact, we whole heartedly support such organizations and include them along with the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls on our list of those who are mostly doing a good job of providing structure and instilling values and a sense of belonging in youth programming.
However, in the case of the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, there is no overt discrimination against lesbians, gays or transgender folks. But the same cannot be said for the Boy Scouts. In fact their Web site actually associates gay with pedophilia, which to us is an abject disregard for truth and reality, and certainly reinforces the attitude of discrimination against gay youth that exists within the various BSA troops around the country.
We know that many of our readers are already aware of the gay controversy involving the BSA and possibly share our shock and dismay that such a powerful and longstanding organization that exerts major influence over our developing youth is still thriving and discriminating! How can that be? Our own Monroe County United Way no longer supports the BSA as a donor agency because of its discrimination, and other United Ways chapters have done likewise. Some churches have refused to let troops use their facilities for meetings and activities in attempts to end this obvious discrimination against a segment of our youth.
Maybe the BSA continues to succeed because it has supporters, as well as detractors. For instance the American Legion gives BSA around $100,000 a year in financial support.
Maybe it’s because an institution such as Indiana University allows the group to hold its conference on the main campus. Now we aren’t completely chastising IU because it rents out its facilities to many organizations and for any number of events and activities that the administration probably doesn’t always support 100 percent. We realize that this is partly about business, and in these rough financial times, especially, a huge conference is certainly a welcome source of income for both the university and the community.
But on the other hand, the BSA does discriminate against gays and also misappropriates Native American culture in a somewhat caricature form (while maintaining that the adoption of Indian customs is a tribute and not meant derisively), and those issues are enough for us to take offense.
According to Wikipedia, Order of the Arrow is the national honor society of the BSA that uses American Indian-style traditions and ceremonies to bestow recognition on scouts selected by their peers as best exemplifying the ideals of scouting.
The Order of the Arrow was created by E. Urner Goodman, with the assistance of Carroll A. Edison, in 1915 as a means of reinforcing the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. The goal was to establish these as lifelong guidelines and to encourage continued participation in scouting and camping. Influenced in part by camp traditions, college fraternities, and Indian folklore, the OA uses “safeguarded” symbols, handshakes and ceremonies, to impart a sense of community.
An innocent enough description, but upon closer examination, “safeguard” translates to “secretive.” College fraternity traditions are being compared with those of Native American culture (oh, excuse us, they said “folklore”) and the community to which they refer is certainly not inclusive. We are always leery of “secret” societies, don’t always consider fraternities to be the best example of good behavior and take umbrage at misappropriating and trivializing Native spiritual tradition and customs into what is basically a white male community practicing what it considers to be mere examples of folklore.
While there are some natives who are not offended by OA, it seems to us from our many discussions and interactions with native individuals and groups that most are. The controversy over scouting that occurred this past week in Bloomington has played itself out across the country for many years, and large numbers of tribes and individuals, both native and white, have complained.
It is true that some scout leaders and members have met with native representatives to learn about the cultural traditions they have appropriated into their ceremonies and to perhaps bring some truthful perspective to their rituals. However, the majority of native representatives with whom we have spoken (from local area as well as out of state) believe it is racist for OA to teach their children to “play Indian” while making a mockery (in the name of honor and tradition) of Native religious ceremonies and other cultural beliefs. They believe that it is harmful to native people and especially native children to see a farcical and stereotypical image of valued traditions played out in a non-spiritual, non-native activity.
Furthermore, such “acting” is harmful to non-native children who are kept from learning about the contemporary and diverse societies with over 500 semi-sovereign governments that are the reality of Native America today. They are certainly not being taught to take these populations seriously as valid human beings and cultural representatives. And native children are being indirectly encouraged to view themselves as cartoon-like and therefore worthless in the grander scheme of humanity.
We ask our readers to consider the outcry if a conference were held that openly excluded African Americans or any other specific ethnic, religious or racial group as the BSA openly excludes gays. And what if some conference group made a mockery of Muhammad, or Jesus or the Pope? Bet that would get folks up on their feet.
Our point is, should we support a group that openly discriminates and offends a large group of individuals by misappropriating their religious and spiritual traditions? While no easy solutions are on the horizon, and the BSA is a massive institution that represents our dominant leadership and culture, we do anticipate continued dialogue and can only hope that will lead to honest change in the near future. Usurping another’s red badge of courage does not a true warrior make, and adopting the spoils by the victor does not appease guilt nor mend old wounds.
April 5, 2009
Ah, spring is in the air, and we are slowly emerging from our somewhat self-imposed winter hibernation. Indiana weather being what it is, with its taunting hints of warmth interspersed with chilly, dank and even snowy days, we have ultimate respect for the brave little flowers and buds that pop up to face whatever the elements toss their way.
Those of us who are in some way affiliated with the academic community know that the pace on campus picks up rapidly in March and that April ranks as probably the busiest time. Coincident with the energy of spring, there are final reports due, frantic test taking, grades to determine, award ceremonies and receptions, graduation parties, last-minute parties and nights out on the town, and parents and families on campus.
Obviously there are many events competing for attention, and it’s difficult to attend all of them, but we want to call your attention to an annual event that is special in that it is fun, historic in its very existence and longevity and famous on a national level.
The annual Miss Gay Indiana University pageant is held each spring, produced and sponsored by IU’s undergraduate LGBT Student Union OUT.
OUT was founded over 25 years ago and not only is it the oldest LGBT student group on campus, it was one of the first such organizations on any university campus in the country. And if that isn’t impressive enough, Miss Gay IU was the first student-sponsored drag competition held on a campus anywhere and has been a tradition in Bloomington for nearly 18 years. What began as a small show in the Frangipani room in the Indiana Memorial Union has grown into one of the nation’s largest and most well-attended drag pageants for female impersonators.
Now, we are well aware that some of our readers aren’t particularly fond of or receptive to drag pageants and question their relevance to an educational environment. We, of course, disagree with their assessment. What better way to reflect IU’s and Bloomington’s oft-touted principles of acceptance, tolerance and diversity than by supporting a successful student effort that represents and promotes those very values?
“Miss Gay IU was the first student-sponsored drag competition held on a campus anywhere.”
Miss Gay IU is a unique experience and provides insight into a world frequently hidden from view. And while some think it should remain so, the drag queens and culture are indeed a part of the performing arts and have helped shape cinema and theater as we know it today. From the many personas of Milton Berle to the characters of Flip Wilson and current comics and performers, their influence is noticeable. Female impersonation has been a part of show business and theater for thousands of years, viewed as legitimate performance in some countries and remains popular worldwide.
We recognize that drag may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but IU offers so many different types of entertainment from musical productions, including opera, rock and orchestral arrangements, to comedy and noted speakers that we think there is something for everyone, and folks should attend what they enjoy and ignore what they don’t.
Moralizing about what someone else defines as “real” art or performance is a waste of time because we all have our own preference when it comes to entertainment. And, if the overall goal of an educational environment is indeed education, then we should be open to new experiences. We ask, should someone judge without being informed? And, once informed, should their approval or disapproval determine the rights of others?
You know we are going to say emphatically “No!” to these questions. And perhaps even more significant is the support of student efforts and quest for knowledge and experience that is anticipated from adult mentors and leaders. Aren’t those relationships and expectations among the factors inherent in the mission of education as well?
The OUT students put much energy into producing this major pageant each year, and we believe their efforts should be supported by both the IU and Bloomington communities. Not only is OUT made up of some of our most promising future leaders, they are top-notch students academically, well-adjusted in the face of discrimination, and they have the energy to work with the performance world of drag in creating a major production each year.
Their efforts should not go unrewarded, and their commendable pursuit of educational outreach should not be demeaned.
Each year, among the excitement and flurry that surrounds a typical pageant, are the harassers that pop up as reliably as those spring flowers. There are those who think the pageant should not be held at all because it misrepresents the queer community. We say how so? It’s entertaining theater with music, singing and dancing. And yes, it’s about gender representation too, but that’s pretty obvious and there is nothing secretive or subversive.
Then there are those who wish to censor the freedom of artistic expression. Well, ribald humor is not for everyone, and this pageant offers a glimpse of what might be experienced in a night club setting.
“OUT was founded over 25 years ago and not only is it the oldest LGBT student group on campus.”
Another frequent complaint is that Miss Gay IU requires the contestants be born males, based upon the regulations set forth by the drag queens themselves. Some feel that the transgender community is being discriminated against, and while this is an important issue the organizers feel their complaints are unwarranted.
OUT does sponsor a male impersonation (by born females) pageant each fall and encourages those who want to organize a pageant for those who have transitioned from female to male or male to female to do so.
And then, some lesbians and feminists feel that drag makes fun of women. Here again, we, as lesbians and ardent feminists ourselves, disagree. We consider many queens to be among our personal friends, and we have experienced no sense of animosity toward us or other women and lesbians. In fact they admit to a great love and respect for women and believe they are honoring women, albeit in a caricature form. Geez, isn’t this all just so confusing? Complicated too!
Maybe readers can see how this works now: Miss Gay IU is controversial. Controversy leads to discussion, and discussion in turn leads to information and education.
Voila!! OUT is a valuable campus institution that contributes to the educational climate by producing Miss Gay IU. For those who haven’t had the experience, give it a try. If you did and didn’t enjoy it, well, we won’t force you to attend again. Just don’t deny others the opportunity.
Student adviser honored with award for human rights work
Alex Farris | IDS
Helen Harrell is the host of BloomingOUT, a board member of Bloomington radio station WFHB, a columnist and most recently the recipient of a human rights award.
The Bloomington Human Rights Commission recently announced her as a winner of the Human Rights Award for her efforts to improve the rights of those in the Bloomington community. Harrell earned the award through her participation and dedication to various organizations around the community.
From her radio show to her involvement in the Bloomington Black Business and Professionals Association, Harrell promotes equal rights and encourages diversity in the Bloomington community.
Harrell is not a novice to the equal rights movement. She has been an activist for a variety of campaigns for human rights for decades.
“I have always been an activist and strong supporter of civil rights,” Harrell said.
Today, one way she spreads her message is by hosting BloomingOUT on WFHB radio station.
“We do news that’s strictly related to the queer community,” Harrell said.
The show is the only one of its kind in Indiana.
The show is complex and, unlike some other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered shows, focuses on serious issues. There have been numerous guests on the show, from trans-activists to priests from lesbian- and gay-friendly churches. Some of these guests include Jason Stewart and the Kinsey Sicks. Artists and musicians from around the world have also participated on the show, Harrell said.
Harrell’s work at the station has been instrumental, said Carolyn VandeWiele, president of WFHB.
“She has done an incredible amount of work and has kept the station going,” VandeWiele said. “They took an idea that hasn’t been done before in Indiana and made it happen because it was something they felt was important.”
Harrell is also the adviser for the IU OUT GLBT Student Union and co-adviser for an undergraduate Native American group at IU.
“She has been on our side no matter what and catered to the needs of OUT to keep it on campus,” said Joshua Sutton, junior and president of OUT. Harrell has been involved with OUT for many years.
“She is an intricate part of the program.” Sutton said.
Another group that Harrell is involved in is the Bloomington Black Business Association, an organization that supports and promotes more diversity and encourages local black business owners to succeed, Harrell said.
She also often writes about feminism and racial issues for the Bloomington Alternative and The Word. It is just one of the many ways that she gets the word out about human rights, Harrell said.
“She is tenacious,” VandeWiele said. “She is incredibly hard-working. She goes after what she believes is right.”
Helen Harrell is a long time activist for social justice. She is a former clinical therapist, pre-school teacher, construction worker, union organizer, and co-founder of Bloomington IN chapter of Pride at Work. She continues as a workshop presenter, free lance writer and lecturer and a columnist for The Word and the Bloomington Alternative. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and was working toward a PhD when she left to live the communal life for a few years. Upon returning to ‘civilization’ she became an employee of Indiana University, first in the political science and then the speech communication departments and is currently affiliated with the African Studies Program. She is the advisor for the undergraduate LGBT student group OUT, and is the co-advisor for both the undergraduate and graduate Native American student groups. She has just completed serving a term as treasurer of the Bloomington Black Business and Professional Association. She is also last, but not least a mother and grandmother who considers herself to be most fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as Host on bloomingOUT weekly radio show broadcast from the studios of WFHB Community Radio 91.3 FM and in assisting WFHB and the bloomingOUT staff with the challenge of educating and illuminating the public in regard to LGBT issues. Her goal is and has always been to eliminate discrimination in any form and to help create a truly just society and world.
OUT IN BLOOMINGTON: Measured hope for a new era
January 25, 2009
A new president, a new administration and renewed energy stemming from a fresh view of America — it has indeed been a celebratory week across the nation. And it’s wonderful to see our cultural melting pot reflected in the many folks represented on TV, radio, and other media this past week.
Is it a fact that we are truly becoming an equally representative society? We hope so, and we say it’s about time! We watched much of the pre- and post-inauguration festivities, and while we certainly enjoyed the entertainment, some nostalgic and some uplifting, and want to believe that a new era has dawned, we can’t help but be a bit skeptical that all may be too good to be true.
It’s a start you say?! Yes indeed it is. And we’re not naysayers; we share in some of the excitement and anticipation of better things to come.
Of course, Obama has only been in office three days as we write, but he’s already delayed the removal of gray wolves from the endangered species list and signed legislation to end a ban on funding for international organizations that provide family planning and abortion services.
And, of course, if Hillary couldn’t be our first woman president, we are at the very least pleased that Obama appointed her Secretary of State. She’s a mere four heartbeats from the presidency.
While it’s true that Obama is the most queer-friendly President we’ve had since Roosevelt (the one married to Eleanor), we hesitate to get too excited about things to come. When he ran for his Illinois Senate seat Obama was quite outspoken in support of same-sex marriage. However, while running for President he expressed disapproval of such but did support domestic partners and/or civil unions.
“In 2006 Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment that defined marriage as opposite-sex only.”
Okay, politics being what they are, candidates have to choose their issues and words carefully and can never please everyone. However, this apparent change in support indicates to us that Obama the President is still Obama the politician who, power of the office notwithstanding, will be subject to compromise the same as everyone else. We just hope that our lives are not sacrificed when it comes to personal protections, contractual agreements, work place fairness and health-care issues.
Certainly to his credit, in 2006 Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment that defined marriage as opposite-sex only and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples. He has also supported bias-crimes protection acts and the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell, all of which indicates a good track record from our perspective.
We know that Obama has a community-wide vision, and his message of coming together in respect and service is indeed righteous, and we have no particular reason to believe that he is misrepresenting himself.
“While it’s true that Obama is the most queer-friendly President we’ve had since Roosevelt (the one married to Eleanor), we hesitate to get too excited about things to come.”
We were disappointed that he chose Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation and quite upset when the first gay Bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, was chosen after the fact to deliver a blessing during pre-inaugural events. And, if being an afterthought wasn’t bad enough, Robinson’s delivery wasn’t even carried live by most of the media — a decision made by the Obama inaugural committee.
Now, some folks have said we shouldn’t be concerned about this because Obama’s reasons for choosing Warren were based on his philosophy of bringing everyone together in acceptance, even those with whom we most disagree. And besides, Warren has been active in the AIDS efforts in Africa.
That’s a good thing, sure. But what about the AIDS effort in this country? We don’t see a lot of AIDS-related missionaries (or shall we say involved evangelicals) working here. Perhaps that’s because AIDS is seen as a “gay” disease in America, whereas the pandemic in Africa is not presented as such.
Maybe our displeasure with Warren goes beyond such social issues because we wonder why have an invocation (translate that to prayer) at all? Not everyone is a Christian, and not everyone is a believer in any religious philosophy. To be totally representative, one must include all religions or none.
Either have a service that brings representatives from all of the religions together or pass on that particular ritual, which seems irrelevant to swearing in government officials anyway. There’s that separation of church and state thingy again!
As we said earlier, we know it’s early in Obama’s tenure, and we have to hope, along with everyone else, that he will live up to most of our expectations.
“We’re not naysayers; we share in some of the excitement and anticipation of better things to come.”
He has spent much of his career fighting for civil rights as an attorney, community organizer, Illinois State Senator and now as President.
His agenda includes combating employment discrimination, ending deceptive voting practices, ending racial profiling, reducing recidivist crime by providing ex-offender support, expanding hate crimes statutes, supporting full civil unions and federal rights for same-sex folks, repealing don’t-ask-don’t-tell, expanding adoption rights for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, continuing to empower women and, gee, last but not least, fixing our disastrously broken economy and bringing an end to the wars and strife around the world.
Not a bad job description. He has our empathy!!
We hope no one gets the wrong impression here, because we like and support Obama and are glad he was elected. But we women and lesbians have been disappointed too many times to believe that sometimes an apple is just an apple, and we can trust that it will remain so.
We will promise do our part to support Obama’s agenda for a better, more equitable nation and will trust that by living up to the founding notion that all citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect Obama will reward us with complete enfranchisement.
We know there is much work to be done, but we see in the newly fostered sense of pride and involvement brought about by Obama and manifest across the country that truly the time for change is now.
And maybe it will be the time for good change for the queer folks!
It’s what we all deserve.
January 11, 2009
“Go Hoosiers!! Yeaaa!!” Now there’s a shout heard frequently in Indiana and one that conjures up the excitement of a good, competitive basketball game. Who can ignore the heart-thumping pressures of last-second, game-winning — or -losing — shots?
And we bet even the least of sports enthusiasts aren’t immune to the fun, hype and hoopla that surround the annual NCAA tournament. We are fairly certain that many of our local readers are huge basketball fans, and that’s a good thing, in our opinion. But we have to wonder if “Go Hoosiers!” stimulates thoughts of women’s basketball or just the men’s team?
Why is that? Well, thanks for asking.
“We were reminded of the last time we attended an IU women’s game.”
We are sports enthusiasts who especially like basketball and enjoy watching games both on TV and in person. The latter is more fun, of course, because of the contagious crowd spirit with cheering fans, blaring pep bands and brave cheerleaders who risk life and limb to enhance team spirit.
All of this is good, right? So what’s the problem? Well, we were watching a basketball game the other evening and noticed the large crowd and the overall enthusiasm exhibited by the fans, and then the stark realism hit us. This was a women’s basketball game, and we were reminded of the last time we attended an IU women’s game.
In our experiences in Assembly Hall this year there were scant crowds of 500 to a 1,000 fans. True enough, those folks were seriously cheering and supportive, but come on — 1,000 fans in an arena that holds 17,000-plus?! What kind of message does that send to the coaching staff and especially to the women ball players who work just as hard and are just as dedicated as the players on the guys’ team??!!
An attitude of quiet dismissal toward female sports or, at best, barely an afterthought, is disgraceful, especially at a school such as IU that touts itself as bursting with major basketball fans and enthusiastic supporters.
“It’s the same game played by powerfully skilled athletes.”
We surmise that the love of basketball only counts when it’s men playing the game. This might hold true if it were a statewide representation, but the well-attended game we mentioned earlier was being played at a rival Indiana school.
So, what about all of the girls out there? What about the women’s team here at IU? They are our sisters, cousins, daughters, granddaughters and, in some instances, mothers. Do they not deserve the same respect and support for their athletic prowess that their male counterparts receive?
And let’s not overlook the fact that IU’s women’s team is not only a forceful leader in the Big Ten this year, it has remained scandal-free, no small feat given the recent history of the men’s team that found itself in the midst of negative controversy and sanction by the NCAA for recruiting infractions.
As we said earlier, we are sports enthusiasts who find as much enjoyment in watching women play as men. We’ve heard guys talk about how the game is just different when women play.
“It took an act of Congress before girls and women were provided with the same sports opportunities that boys and men took for granted.”
Well, how so? Typically men are bigger than women and have a different type of physical strength, but we aren’t talking about women playing men. We are talking about evenly matched, strong, athletic women who are on an equal playing level with one another and can battle against each other just as the men do on their teams. It’s the same game played by powerfully skilled athletes.
We’ve also heard guys say that they just don’t like seeing such strong women, or they aren’t their type. Well, what is that all about? Does this mean that all guys are “attracted” to the male athletes and that attraction is a criterion for being a sports fan? Or is it that men see women only as sex objects and that the strong, powerful, athletic woman just doesn’t meet the standard for typical male-to-female attractiveness?
Surely we don’t have to rate players as potential mates or spouses to enjoy sports. Believe it or not, not all women are attracted to male athletes, either.
Perhaps men can’t watch women performing in roles that have typically been seen as men’s activities. Or they still tend to rate women’s accomplishments based upon their sexual appeal.
Well, we say they need to get over it! (In case you wonder, our emphasis on male attitudes here is relevant, since societal perspectives and perceptions of acceptability are still driven by the patriarchy).
Both women athletes and women sports are here to stay, growing stronger every day, and we know that individual attitudes and biases can be difficult to change.
“Title IX leveled the playing field for both sexes by focusing on the need for women to have equal opportunities as men.”
But that’s where the media enters the picture. We would love to see women’s sports take front and center once in a while, at least. How about the top of the front page of the sports section for example instead of the bottom half and left or right of center, or not even mentioned at all?
And we would love to see TV and radio coverage of women’s games improved. Improved? Well, maybe that isn’t a strong enough directive since we’ve been at a loss to even learn game results from local Indy media this season.
If we recall correctly, it wasn’t too long ago that we did hear reporting of women’s teams on local news, but all of a sudden this year it’s just missing.
And, since we are old enough to remember when the women’s teams were totally ignored, or absent entirely (pre-Title IX days), we find it alarming that recognition is regressing after a progressive trend in reporting.
Maybe folks need a refresher course in the history of women’s sports, so we’ll remind them that it took an act of Congress before girls and women were provided with the same sports opportunities that boys and men took for granted.
Title IX of the educational amendments of 1972 was landmark legislation that banned sex discrimination in schools, both in academics and athletics. It read: “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program of activity receiving federal aid.”
This was extremely controversial legislation at the time, and most criticism came from the athletic arena. Many voiced the opinion that it was unfair to provide female students with equal funding because most of them weren’t interested in sports anyway, probably weren’t competitive enough and would deprive deserving boys of opportunity.
“Both women athletes and women sports are here to stay, growing stronger every day.”
This was a silly, yet typical, argument that ignored the fact that interest sometimes wanes when opportunity is denied. However, to the dismay of some, the legislation has prevailed and gains in both educational and academic areas are notable.
For instance, prior to Title IX, sports funding was reserved for the men’s teams. Measly sums were set aside for women’s “intramural” teams. Opportunities for female athletes were dismal at best, and many young women were discouraged from competing.
Title IX leveled the playing field for both sexes by focusing on the need for women to have equal opportunities as men. While permitting schools flexibility to choose sports based upon student body interest, budget restraints and other factors, such as geographic influence, it required equal opportunity for women in all areas of participation.
Now you have to ask yourself what kind of country, purportedly founded upon democratic principles, specifically the principle of equal opportunity and equity, has to constantly legislate equity for various segments of its populace? Well, perhaps our ideals are just that, and we have to remain ever vigilant to make them a reality.
And that’s why we’re here — to remind folks that there are lots of young women who are strong, determined athletes, and they deserve our enthusiastic support. If you don’t believe us just check out any of the area sports complexes and watch these women at work. They are forces to be recognized and deserve the same kudos as the guys receive.
And, we might add, just having the opportunity to play isn’t enough to build a fan base. Schools are responsible for image building, and money is spent in promoting various agendas. We would like to see more promotion of female sports and an increase in serious sports coverage and reporting.
Women athletes are just as authentic and accomplished as men and deserve equal time in the spotlight.