Black Elk Speaks (Legacy)

I wrote “Black Elk Speaks” in 1993, in the old La Parola newsletter, some two years before this website was created. It remains one of my favorites. It is still rendered in the original HTML, but I wanted to create for it a WordPress presence.

“Black Elk Speaks” is all about knowing who we are and where the future may take us. I’m excerpting it below, but you can read the full article here.

Outside, a songbird chirps loudly and brightly in the darkness, happy to greet the new day. It is only a quarter to one Sunday morning. Perhaps Black Elk would have seen some good sign in this. Perhaps I should have chosen to go to the parade this year. There is still time, but then I would not have made that time to see all this from the lonely hilltop of which Black Elk spoke, and still have the fortune to hear the songbird chirp. There was a time, you know, when I would have resented the songbirds who make it their business to announce the coming day at one o’clock in the morning. But now I finally see again that it is given to each of us to see things in our own way and time, and it brings to me a special pleasure to realize it is just as important to be happy in being sure that the dawn is actually coming, as it is to be right about its exact time of arrival.

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Judging the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

From The Atlantic article “History Won’t Be Kind to the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage” by Andrew Cohen, March 28:

Chief Justice Roberts attributed this “sea change” — nine states now recognize same-sex marriage — not to our society’s natural evolution toward empathy and compassion, not to our growing unease about judging our neighbors, not to the libertarian ideal that all consenting adults should be free to enjoy the benefits of civil rights, but to the “politically powerful” lobby and to “the political force and effectiveness of people representing, supporting your side of the case.”

Many commentators notes the SCOTUS performance in the last two days was weak-kneed, lacked conviction and pandered to popular sentiment and stereotypes.

I, one more gay person who is definitely unimpressed with the conservative block of SCOTUS, was nevertheless stunned by the appalling lack of principled legal argument or discussion among the defending and litigating parties, or, most particularly, by the Justices themselves. As far as I could see from media reporting, completely missing were discussions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or basic law and  constitutional principles of equal protection and non-discrimination.

Defending parties and some of the justices seemed to be arguing that, well, maybe we ought to let the States decide this — just as the states had decided that with slavery and Jim Crow laws before extraordinary measures had to be taken to stop them.

In Mississippi, it is reportedly still legal for a landlord to evict a gay person, and for an employer to fire a gay person. If this means the states can decide who gets basic civil liberties and how much of them they can get (and it does mean that), then the states are still doling out rights like party favors. Why is anyone waiting for the Supreme Court to put the “all” back into “all men are created equal?”

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

I’ve written in these pages for years that our civil liberties are basic rights, and you can’t just go to the polls and take away someone’s civil rights. Those that know me have heard this for decades. There have been some bitter arguments: “Where have you been? It’s done all the time!”

People on the receiving end of injustice are apparently in a better position to see the common sense in this principle. I have never heard it pronounced by another human being in all my adult life, since college at least. So it was gratifying to read it in a letter to the editor in the December 15 New Yorker [The Mail, p. 8]. That letter writer, one Al Meyerhoff of Los Angeles, cited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson as the source of the principle that rights can’t constitutionally be decided in elections.

In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette Jackson wrote:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

According to the Wikiquote link provided for Jackson above, “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag of the United States.”

In his decision on that case, Jackson also wrote:

Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

Justice Jackson also served as a prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials in 1945. It’s well worth a few extra minutes to follow the Jackson link and read some of his other comments and observations on the times. On civil liberties, or on crimes committed by rogue nations, his comments are at least as timely today as in post-World War II America.

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“Do Not Touch”

Do Not Touch - Gary LarsonApologies to the cartoonist: Gary Larson once published a cartoon showing a man sporting a grinning rubber horsie inner tube and a rocket launcher.

I was recently a guest in the home of some friends. A neighbor dropped by unannounced for a visit. Every once in a while, we all meet people whose agendas are the first thing out of their mouth when they enter a room. You know, like “Hi, I’m William … and I really, really admire transformative flotation devices, don’t you?”

In less than three minutes, “guest” had offered us three off-the-cuff pronouncements, for no reason anyone could think of:

1. He thinks another one of the neighbors is in some way wired a little weird.
2. He thinks homosexuality can’t be a genetically inherited trait; since homosexuals “can’t pass it on” through procreation, if there ever was a gene, it would have been bred out of the race thousands of years ago.
3. He thinks “global warming” is just so much propaganda; this was obviously going to happen anyway and we bear little or no responsibility for it.

So, in a minute and a half “guest” has explained away our neighbor, who’s a nice and likeable guy. He’s explained away 6,000 years of recorded human history and all current research on patterns in “gay families”. He’s explained away a carbon dioxide buildup that even NASA says has a 99% certainty rate — the only difference being that, since we became aware of it, we’ve since exhausted any “slack period” when we might have done something more proactive about it.

What did I say about all this?

Nothing. Barring the fact that I was a guest in my hosts’ home, and wasn’t asked, and we didn’t have an audience of innocents to get sucked in by the rhetoric: refer back to the Gary Larson cartoon.

Science hasn’t found a “gay gene” yet. It has found evidence of patterns of dominance along the maternal line. This is all anecdotal, but many families with a gay child discover a strong pattern in the whole family, sometimes going back generations. Mine was one of them. The theory that a recessive trait is bred out of a species smacks more of neoconservative “survival of the fittest” dogma than real Darwinian science or Mendelian inheritance. Red hair may be a recessive trait in some families, but in Scotland this trait is found in about 13% of the population.

If there is a “gay gene”, are we all related to Leonardo Da Vinci, Sal Mineo, Barney Frank, Ian McKellan, Bayard Rustin, Martina Navratilova (or one or more of thousands of other famous “gay” people)? Did J. Edgar Hoover and his second-in-command boyfriend Clyde Tolson “choose” to become gay? Obviously,

1) Determination of sexual orientation is a little more complicated than red hair, or what Christian Coalition thinks is undermining the very fabric of American society;
2) Some of us fight our identities and may never show up on the surveys and polls. Some of us accept what our orientation is telling us and live free and open lives from a young age. Some of us accede to the truth only after long, bitter struggles. But almost on one says, “You know what? I think I’ll become gay today.”

“Guest”, having some training in the gentle art of rhetorical debauchery, left his audience guessing what’s left if you rule inheritance out of a same-sex orientation.

The basic choice that “guest” _chose_ to ignore is that what we are, determines in part what we “ought” to be. He chose to ignore a rich and vast history of gays and lesbians in the workplace, theater and stage, sports, high political office, commerce, transportation, acedemia, literature, the military and every other walk of life. He chose to ignore the fact that somewhere between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – I would put that at around 18,000,000 in the United States alone. GLBT people live and work in every nation on the face of the earth (despite draconian sanctions in the many backward countries). We coexist within every national, cultural, ethnic and religious boundary in the world. Gay people are nothing new, being found in isolated neolithic tribes whose roots go back 40,000 years.

You can’t explain the history of mankind with a simplistic 18th-century armchair theory of eugenics.

More to the point, we don’t have to. We have the same rights and responsibilities as all other peoples. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall put it, “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.”

Socially, it really doesn’t make any difference whether there’s a gay gene or not. Like everybody else, our job is to live up to the potential in our own lives. No one needs to wait for scientific “excuses” to start living, or to stop apologizing for why some folks are gay, or have red hair.

I will always publicly defend our rights when it is appropriate, such as when a loud-mouth has an easily swayed audience. But we are under no obligation to correct dogma-ridden individuals who choose dismissive ignorance and irrational bias over fact, freedom and free intellectual inquiry. My obligation is simply to live the best life I know how, and stay well clear of people who send signals with rubber horsie inner tubes.

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BUSTED: Rights Myths

La Parola is proud to host an inquiry into rights that’s universally applicable to everybody.

MYTH: One of the most common myths in civilization is that rights are conditional, so the big argument is only who gets to decide who gets what rights.

BUSTED. You can see that this debate had been raging for 4,000 years, or maybe 40,000, depending on how long your historical perspective is. But you can also see that any distinction between “rights” and “privileges” evaporates when we get bogged down in debates over who gets to “define” rights.

–> Read the complete Article

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Rhetoric 101

New Article, Rhetoric 101: Smoke and Mirrors and the Gay Marriage “debate”: Protecting Yourself from Time-Honored Fallacies. Recently, my favorite Astronomy forum “Cloudy Nights” hosted a Gay Marriage topic: “should we allow gay marriage?”

The thread was an unmitigated disaster. By all accounts a similar debate on Astromart was even uglier, but this one quickly degenerated into defamatory conduct, name-calling and personal attacks. I came home from vacation to discover no one from the GLBT comnmunity was represented in the thread. To me it appeared that the heterosexual community was arguing both sides of the topic as a spectator sport.

I “came out” on the thread to make sure everyone was able to associate the topic with a flesh and blood name and face and real human cares and concerns. I managed about four carefully composed posts before the proprietors deleted the whole thread in despair and inposed a permanent ban on sex, politics and religion. The whole experience was unsatisfactory for everyone, and I almost left the membership for good.

Personally, I would never go to an Astronomy forum for that kind of topic. Moreover, I condemn the whole idea that our civil rights are debatable — despite the fact that is precisely what is happening across the whole nation. What happened here?

What I saw was that (a) the level of debate on that thread was of low quality and no one had the training to control or moderate it; (b) the most objectionable aspects of the thread were assertions that could be stopped cold when anyone challenged them as basic rhetorical fallacies, and (c) the religious gay-bashers were losing good-guy points, but my side was losing votes in the US House and Senate. The other side risks loss of face. We risk continued loss of basic civil rights that we have never had in the first place. The debate and the stakes here are unfairly lopsided.

I wrote “Rhetoric 101” as a primer to help make sure thinking Americans remember their basic debating principles. Right now, few Americans mind being seen as anti-gay, but almost no one wants to be caught red-handed in sleazy debating tricks that were first codified over 2,000 years ago. Do pick up this topic and have yourself a good read.

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“Ask Alex”

Ask Alex bannerIn which we tackle the really tough issues and some that are not so tough. Sometimes flippant, sometimes introspective, always concerned that being gay in twentieth-century America has to be such a big deal by contrivance and artificiality, or (some say), by demonizing conspiracy. Here are our answers to commonplace questions from and about our communities, family, identity, and living a gay life in an un-gay world. Copyright 1996. New page browser: Ask Alex – Gay FAQ’s and Fancies

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