CHICAGO – I

Give it up for Garrison Keillor.

Wow! America is cool
We are being admired by Swedes! We don’t have to pretend we’re Canadians. We elected Barack Obama!
By Garrison Keillor

Nov. 12, 2008 |

Be happy, dear hearts, and allow yourselves a few more weeks of quiet exultation. It isn’t gloating, it’s satisfaction at a job well done. He was a superb candidate, serious, professorial but with a flashing grin and a buoyancy that comes from working out in the gym every morning. He spoke in a genuine voice, not senatorial at all. He relished campaigning. He accepted adulation gracefully. He brandished his sword against his opponents without mocking or belittling them. He was elegant, unaffected, utterly American, and now (Wow) suddenly America is cool. Chicago is cool. Chicago!!!

We threw the dice and we won the jackpot and elected a black guy with a Harvard degree, the middle name Hussein and a sense of humor — he said, “I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.” The French junior minister for human rights said, “On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.” When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

The world expects us to elect pompous yahoos and instead we have us a 47-year-old prince from the prairie who cheerfully ran the race, and when his opponents threw sand at him, he just smiled back. He’ll be the first president in history to look really good making a jump shot. He loves his classy wife and his sweet little daughters. He looks good in the kitchen. He can cook Indian or Chinese but for his girls he will do mac and cheese. At the same time, he knows pop music, American lit and constitutional law. I just can’t imagine anybody cooler. Look at a photo of the latest pooh-bah conference — the hausfrau Merkel, the big glum Scotsman, that goofball Berlusconi, Putin with his B-movie bad-boy scowl, and Sarkozy, who looks like a district manager for Avis — you put Barack in that bunch and he will shine.

It feels good to be cool and all of us can share in that, even sour old right-wingers and embittered blottoheads. Next time you fly to Heathrow and hand your passport to the man with the badge, he’s going to see “United States of America” and look up and grin. Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian.

And the coolest thing about him is the fact that back in the early ’90s, given a book contract after the hoo-ha about his becoming the First Black Editor of the Harvard Law Review (FBEHLR), instead of writing the basic exploitation book he could’ve written, he put his head down and worked hard for a few years and wrote a good book, an honest one, which, since his rise in politics, has earned the Obamas enough to buy a very nice house and put money in the bank. A successful American entrepreneur.

The last American president to write a book all by his lonesome self, I believe, was Theodore Roosevelt, who, on graduation from Harvard, wrote “The Naval War of 1812,” and in my humble opinion, Obama’s is the better book for the general reader, but you be the judge.

Our hero who galloped to victory has inherited a gigantic mess. The country is sunk in debt. The Treasury announced it must borrow $550 billion to get the government through the fourth quarter, more than the entire deficit for 2008, so he will have to raise taxes and not only on bankers and lumber barons. His promise never to raise the retirement age is not a good idea. Whatever he promised the Iowa farmers about subsidizing ethanol is best forgotten at this point. We may not be getting our National Health Service cards anytime soon. And so on and so on.

So enjoy the afterglow of the election a while longer. We all walk taller this fall. People in Copenhagen and Stockholm are sending congratulatory e-mails — imagine! We are being admired by Danes and Swedes! And Chicago becomes the First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels. Have a good day.

CHICAGO – II

Saturday, there were ad hoc rallies in 300 cities to protest California’s Mormon-backed Prop 8, which – at least for now – overturned the ruling of the California Supreme Court and the twice-passed will of the California legislature, thereby taking away rights that had been granted to a minority.

The biggest rally seems to have been in San Diego – 25,000. Here’s a post from the one in Chicago:

Jinx Titanic: I have never seen ANYTHING like this in the city I call home! The march was infectious and it is true, the police and onlookers were stunned. The most fantastic moment was the taking of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. It was, in fact, taken; and though traffic was at a standstill, I did not see an angry motorist. Instead we were greeted with honking horns and cheers. Most remarkable was that the march grew, and grew, and grew and grew. I am still stunned and so proud. I want to send the Mormons and the Knights of Columbus a big thank you letter for getting our movement back on track! FINALLY A REAL PRIDE PARADE IN CHICAGO!

☞ Click here for a report on one of the many smaller rallies – this one, in Grand Rapids. And here for Harvey Fierstein’s take on marriage equality.

But since it’s pretty much all about religion, here is an article that ‘Frasier’ co-creator David Lee wrote for The Advocate six years ago. It was based on a speech he gave to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force when he got their leadership award. It remains relevant today.

DEEPLY HELD RELIGIOUS BELIEFS
by David Lee

I used to think of a leader as someone who heeds the call to pick up a sword and lead the charge. For me it has usually been a little different. Picture a group of people in a line. When volunteers to lead the troops are asked to take a step forward I usually stand firmly in my place. Then I turn around only to find that everyone else has taken a step backward. That’s how I come to leadership. The Laura Schlesinger incident of a few years ago is a good example. Early on no one, not one gay person, who worked at Paramount – and, trust me, the place is crawling with us – objected openly to their own studio producing her TV show. Of course, I said to myself, ‘Boy, what we need is somebody to stand up to Paramount, somebody the suits can’t fire, somebody they have to pay attention to.’ Then NBC picked up FRASIER for another three years and all of a sudden I fit my own description. I think I muttered something leader-ish like ‘Oh, s–t’ and soon found myself outside those famous Paramount gates with a picket sign and bullhorn.

I now find myself in a similar position around another subject: the anti-gay bigotry of some of our major religious institutions. I keep looking around for someone, anyone to say something, anything in response to the incessant bile about of gay and lesbian people that is spewed forth daily by the some of the world’s so called spiritual leaders. I keep looking around for someone to finally say ‘Enough. This has got to stop!’ And what I see when I turn around is a bunch of folks who have taken a step to the rear. Sadly and shockingly our major gay political groups are the most conspicuous in their silence.

And so I mutter ‘Oh, s–t’ and forge ahead.

First, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not an attack on religion. I am on a spiritual path myself. I’m sure many of you are too. What I am attacking is homophobic bigotry that justifies itself in religious belief. And the free pass that we in the gay community have given much of this stuff over and over again.

Folks, the time for polite silence is finished. We have got to start defending ourselves when attacked. And we are under a massive attack.

The Mormon Church is the fastest growing cult in the world. Every year they send out 30 to 40 thousand new missionaries. They are not trying to convince people that gays and lesbians are cool. As late as the last decade this group was attaching electrodes to gay men’s testicles trying to shock them back into the hetero fold. There is a task to be tended to here, yet the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has said nothing.

Evangelical Christians and Southern Baptists – the largest religious group in the US – are snatching up television stations by the handful. They are not doing this so that they can air Queer Eye. Have you watched these guys? We are defamed loudly and repeatedly by bible thumping bigots and yet the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is silent.

My writing partner, David Angell, with whom I produced CHEERS and created WINGS and FRASIER, and his wife Lynn, were in the first plane to hit the World Trade Centers on 9/11. I received, in my grief, an e-mail that began with the following words: Islam Is Not the Enemy. As an American I had to agree. Despite my personal loss, I knew that it was proper and good to discourage an unfair backlash against innocent Muslims after 9/11. As an American I understand that Islam is not the enemy. But what about as a gay man? Have we have forgotten that there is no sect of Islam worth noting that even tolerates homosexuality, and in countries where Islam predominates punishment can be anything from imprisonment, to torture, to disfigurement to death. Islam may not be the enemy of my country, but I’d be hard pressed to find a bigger enemy of gay people. Human rights transgressions are being carried out daily in its name, but what do we hear from the Human Rights Campaign?

Nothing that I know of.

The number of Catholics in this country is increasing by leaps and bounds, mostly by immigration. The leader of this sect now sends “instructions” (his word) to Catholic politicians on gay issues. He has told them that it is their ‘moral duty’ (his words again) to oppose any gay rights reforms. This is absolutely outrageous. The sovereign head of another country giving instructions to our government officials. Yet have you heard one word from our national organizations? Has anyone quizzed these Catholic congressmen, senators, judges and justices about whether they intend to follow these orders from the Vatican?

I’d love to hear if they have.

Don’t get me wrong. The NGLTF, GLAAD, and HRC are amazing vibrant organizations who have made tremendous contributions to the cause. But on this issue these groups are asleep at the switch.

Why?

Here’s what I think.

We as a group have become tolerant of intolerance.

Whenever anyone justifies their bigotry with what I call DHRB (deeply held religious beliefs) we roll over as if that were the end of the discussion.

We have confused respecting a persons right to hold whatever religious beliefs they chose with respecting those beliefs. The truth is there are plenty of DHRB that are simply not worthy of our respect. Can we start with the ones that have no respect for us? Can you imagine an African American respecting someone’s DHRB that the Bible justifies slavery? The right to believe it, yes. The belief itself? No way.

We are terrified to call a bigot a bigot if the bigotry is a result of DHRB. We are horrified that we might be accused of attacking someone’s religion. As if attacking bigotry hiding behind the skirts of religion and attacking religion were the same thing. The church homophobes have it easy on this one. They say the most vile, cruel, untruthful things about us, usually to raise funds, and then use their tax exempt dollars to promote anti-gay legislation. If we dare to defend ourselves we are accused of assaulting their faith. They even use the word ‘bashing’. What an insult. Try telling Trev Brody or any of the thousands of other gays who have seen the wrong end of a baseball bat, that someone taking issue with your religious views is equivalent to their experience.

Why are we not talking about this? Is there no one who has the guts to stand up to these bigots? Is no one willing to say forcefully that homophobic DHRB have no place or value in a civilized 21st century? What happened to the gay movement’s “bad cops”? We seem to have evolved into nothing but a bunch of flabby “soft cops.”

I find myself missing those bad cops from a decade ago, the Act Up folks.

More than anything we need to be reminded once again that ‘Silence Equals Death.’ It is as true about homophobic religions as it is about AIDS.

We have got to start talking about religion. All of it. The good guys – and there are many – and the bad guys. It must be a compassionate discussion but we must not in our compassion shy away from the truth. Yes, it is a dynamite issue. Yes, people will take offense. Yes, the opponents are formidable. But I hope respectfully that the NGLTF, GLAAD, the HRC and our other leaders will jump into the fray. I hope that when the call comes for volunteers to lead the charge, they do not take a step backward.

☞ One organization currently working to generate that discussion: Faith in America.

 

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