Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell, Good Friend





We knew the end was near when Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy could not make it to the funeral of his beloved sister Eunice Shriver. His 15-month battle with brain cancer ended inevitably, and the beacon of hope for millions that defined Ted Kennedy’s career had been extinguished by this treacherous disease.

Ted Kennedy didn’t suffer a tragic death in a manner that took the lives of his three brothers, but his death at the age of 77 on August 26 was still a tearful tragedy and a loss that burrows deep into the soul of the nation.
Senator Kennedy was a steadfast advocate for the powerless during his nearly half-century of service to the country. His was a voice that rose above the others, and he was unequivocal in his passion and authenticity.

Regardless of how one viewed Sen. Kennedy’s positions on issues, he garnered reverence and affection from all sides of the political spectrum. As a senator, he made use of his innate leadership ability to venture into the tricky terrain of bipartisanship and craft significant legislation that earned him the reputation for being among the most prolific, influential lawmakers in our nation’s history. The moniker "Lion" was appropriately applied, as it reflected the power this iconic senator amassed and the respect he had accrued.

For the LGBT community, we would be hard pressed to find a superior, more consistent champion for equal rights, fairness and justice. Sen. Kennedy’s support for equality for the lgbt community was immutable. He spearheaded key legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and publicly opposed discriminatory measures including the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment. He also fought against the codification of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in 1993 and has vigorously opposed it since.

From the early days of AIDS to the current struggle for marriage equality, Sen. Ted Kennedy has been our hero, our protector. A fierce civil rights advocate for all Americans, he saw the fight for LGBT rights as part of the overall battle.

On the most basic anti-discrimination legislation currently in play—ENDA—Senator Kennedy said two years ago, "America stands for justice for all. Congress must make clear that when we say ‘all’ we mean all. America will never be America until we do."

Was Ted Kennedy a perfect man? Of course, not. Who is? But the goodness of his heart, his conscience, his relentless push for social justice, and his countless contributions to society against the backdrop of the tragedies that were wrought upon his family clearly outweigh his flaws.

I salute Ted Kennedy as a great American and champion for the underdog, and mourn his loss, not just for our community but for humanity in general. Rest in peace, good friend; the Lion sleeps tonight.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anger Management: We Could All Use It




By Steve Charing


The summer of discontent is about to fade away soon. At least the summer part will. This has been one of the stormiest, hottest, turbulent summers in memory, and I’m not referring to the weather. Everybody is pissed off at well, seemingly everybody.

Vitriolic town hall meetings around the country concerning health-care reform have dominated the news. Politicians are angry with each other. LGBT folks, environmentalists and immigration advocates are enraged at President Obama for not acting on issues of importance to these groups at a faster pace.

LGBT activists are incensed at former President Bill Clinton for his role in the nefarious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. Clinton, in turn, is angry at gays for not helping him gain support in Congress to ward off DADT.

There also remains an unyielding rage towards the slow economy and bailouts used to revive it. Arguments are breaking out at the office water cooler. The terms "Socialist" and "Hitler" are being thrown around indiscriminately. Heck, Philadelphia Eagles fans are outraged over the signing of dog-abusing, ex-felon Michael Vick. But then again, those fans are perennially grumpy.

What’s going on here?

Clearly, health-care reform and its concomitant protests have taken over the spotlight in recent weeks. But it appears that these scenes of rage are not so much about the specifics contained in the proposed legislation in which several components have been fabricated for political purposes. (I wonder how many protesters truly understand the details.)

A lot of the wrath is fueled and organized by a small noisy minority who are cranky because they are out of power and that the country is run by an African-American who is decidedly smarter than them. They’re opposed to Obama at every turn, regardless of what he tries to achieve.

These are the same groups who idolize the numbskull Sarah Palin and believes her rubbish about "death panels." Some have even taken to carrying weapons to the aforementioned town halls.

Speaking of madness and Palin, recall on the campaign trail when she whipped her minions up in a frenzy to the point when some shouted out "terrorist" and "kill him" referring to Obama. And to her utter disgrace, Palin said absolutely nothing to tamp down the hateful rhetoric.

And then you add to the stew the nutcases of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs and it’s easy to see why there is so much stewing.

Even ex-presidents aren’t immune from the surly atmosphere. During a Netroots Nation gathering in Pittsburgh last month, an angry LGBT activist identified as Lane Hudson interrupted the principal speaker Bill Clinton with a condemnation of his role in DADT and DOMA.

Wagging that famous finger, Clinton replied with a shaky voice, ''You want to talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I'll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn't delivery me any support in the Congress! And they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military…And all -- most of you did was to attack me instead of getting me some support in the Congress. Now, that's the truth!''

Something could be said for the fact that gays did not mobilize support in Congress back in 1993, though it would have probably been futile then. But the President did not have any standing with the military based on the perception that he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. That alone would have iced his executive order.

He was also a new president who eked out a victory during a three-man race and won with a minority of votes cast, so his legitimacy in the minds of many was never fully established.

With no cache of political capital to spend on this issue, the military brass led by Colin Powell, forced Clinton to retreat. And Senator Sam Nunn led the congressional opposition, so the best Clinton could do was the so-called compromise of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Sixteen years after that debacle, the anger remains and is still palpable—in both directions.

The problem with all this finger pointing and irascibility is that thoughtful, reasoned ideas get drowned out by the noise. We saw the boisterous hubbub in Towson where Rep. Ben Cardin held a town hall. The country, already divided by the policies of the Bush presidency, is rupturing again after a brief feel-good respite between November’s election and the inauguration.

The anger by LGBT activists over the president’s perceived slowness in taking on our issues, I believe, is unreasonable given his right as president to establish his own set of priorities and schedule for his administration. Plus his term still has well over three years remaining, which allows time for action on his part. But at least the exasperation got his attention and demonstrates that we are not asleep at the switch like we were back in 1993.

Sometimes expressing disdain concerning policy or even towards policy-makers is healthy and in a democracy it is part of our fabric. But the heated furor as exhibited during this searing summer can be a bit much, and we should all take a deep breath and cool off some.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Follow the Dodgers"


It took some work but I was finally able to locate the recording of the Dodgers' theme song, "Follow the Dodgers," when they played in Brooklyn. It was made famous by the incomparable Ebbets Field organist, Gladys Gooding. This song was played every time the Dogers took the field. For my money, it is the best team theme song ever. How they couldn't keep up this tradition in Los Angeles is beyond me.


Same-Sex Marriage and Incest: Another Stupid Argument


Letter Sent to the Baltimore Sun:


George Deller's letter, "Why stop at gay marriage?" (August 13), was a mocking response to the heartfelt commentary ("We're just like you") by a local lesbian couple involved in a long-term committed relationship who were married in Canada and have hopes that Maryland will soon recognize their marriage. In his bewildering diatribe, Mr. Deller intends to use his letter-writing gifts and implore his state representative to not only end discrimination against gay couples but to extend that goal to incestuous adults as well.

The vapid logic of equating same-sex marriage to incest is breathtaking in its absurdity. I'm not sure from which source Mr. Deller obtains his news, but I am not aware of any broad movement afoot where mothers are anxious to marry their sons and brothers are frustrated because the law will not permit marriage to their sisters.

In making this bizarre analogy, Mr. Deller demeans the relationships of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples in Maryland and at the same time he perpetuates the nonsense that the legalization or recognition of same-sex marriages will lead to incest and other unrelated consequences. For him to draw such a connection, Mr. Deller must believe there has been an outbreak of incest in the several states plus several countries that have seen the light and have legalized same-sex marriage. Of course, that is not been the case.

If that is the best argument Mr. Deller and others can offer to prevent marriage equality, we should be seeing same-sex couples who had been married out-of-state celebrating soon, which hopefully will open the door for complete marriage equality here.

Mr. Deller would be better served in seeking a reduction of divorces, adultery, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse--the real threats to marriage--not some imaginary threat based on fear and bigotry.

Steve Charing