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Happy Memorial Day!

30 May

To all the troops — gay, straight, and bi — thank you.

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James Dean: Gay Icon?

19 May

“It was very hard for men who wanted to come out of the closet in those days. The men that I knew — Monty and Jimmy [Dean] and Rock — if anything, I helped them get out of the closet. I didn’t even know I was doing it. I didn’t know that I was more advanced than most people in this town. It just never occurred to me.”
Elizabeth Taylor

Who was James Dean? A shining beacon of talent whose bright light was extinguished far too early, Dean lived with a privacy that would be unheard of in today’s celebrity culture. “He was very afraid of being hurt,” costar Elizabeth Taylor said of Dean. “He was afraid of opening up in case it was turned around and used against him.”

The young actor, who starred in only three films before his fatal joy ride, became a bona fide icon after his death. His skill as an on-screen force was heralded by the best. He worked and walked with the rich and famous. Yet during his brief moment in the spotlight, Dean offered little insight into the man behind some of cinema’s most cherished characters. He had his demons, this is no secret, but the mystery that surrounded him during his life became nothing short of legend with his passing.

Rumored to have been the object of affection from men and women alike, Dean’s elusive sexuality has left many searching for answers. A screenwriter and theater student from UCLA, William Bast and James Dean lived together as roommates for a number of years. It would be more than fifty years after Dean’s death that William finally disclosed what many had already speculated: that his relationship with James was more than platonic.

Known for a ‘live and let live’ demeanor, Dean never seemed to go through life with restraints. He was even the subject of a well-known bet between Giant stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. “Elizabeth and Rock took bets on who could get James into bed first,” recounted Giant co-star Noreen Nash. Word got around.

So, who was James Dean? Was he a man open to new experiences, without regard to labels and gender? Or do we crave the fantasy of an icon of Dean’s stature – the image of sex, masculinity, and rebellion – as gay? Dean’s ambiguous relationship with Sal Mineo in the angst-ridden Rebel Without A Cause has led many to speculate and view this golden age film as years ahead of its time. Many, including Rebel director Nicholas Ray, have gone on the record to say Dean was gay and had knowledge of gay bars. Dean, unfortunately, isn’t here to settle the curiosity.

Perhaps, an extremely guarded individual, Dean learned early on to shield himself from the scrutiny of the public eye. We may never know who James Dean truly was, but we are left with some parting insight from the man of the hour: “I’m certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back.”

As for the bet, the Dame is said to have come up short.

A Remarkable Weekend

17 May

Seven years ago today, Massachusetts sparked a fire that has yet to be extinguished when it became the first state in the Union to allow gay marriage.

Since 2004, 25 percent of states in our nation (including the District of Columbia) have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the form of civil unions or marriage.

The balance of power over the struggle for gay rights has teetered in years since. Both sides have invested precious time and money in their cause, and both sides have celebrated victory and suffered defeat. And while the outcome of our civil rights movement has at times seemed permanently stuck in limbo, something’s happened over the past two years. The game has changed. The seesaw has tilted once more.

This weekend, something happened. Something big.

Following an increase in coverage regarding homophobia in sports after Kobe Bryant’s “faggot” heard round the world and a number of prominent sports figures stepping up and speaking out against bullying and discrimination, Rick Welts did something no active sports figure has ever done in America. He came out as a gay man.

You may not have known his name before his announcement, but you will now. President and CEO of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts spent 40 years in sports before deciding to come out. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts said in an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

His decision to come out at the age of 58 didn’t shock many of his friends and colleagues, but it stands as a significant step towards shedding a dark shadow that has plagued the world of sports for years.

The timing of Welts’ announcement corresponded with the surprising retirement of rugby icon Ben Cohen. And while he may be walking off the green, he takes up a new challenge with the formation of The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation, an organization focused on combating bullying and homophobia.

“As athletes, it’s not enough just to have strong bodies. We must have strong characters and use our voices to support those in need and deserve it.”

The weekend concluded when Don Lemon, a prominent news anchor on CNN who chronicled his life and career in his new book “Transparent,” directed his Twitter followers to a New York Times article where he came out as gay.

“I’m scared. I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for,” he said. “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture.”

But Lemon realized that coming out was bigger than himself. When Tyler Clementi took his own life after being bullied for being gay, Lemon resisted the urge to remove his sexual orientation as a topic of his book. “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out in proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it, to walk in the truth.”

Appearing on Joy Behar’s HLN news program last night, Lemon said, “I was born gay, just as I was born black.”

Thank you, to all of you. Your courage to live with purpose will change minds and save lives.

There is no shame in being who you are. There is no sorrow in embracing your own unique self. We all have a story to share, a journey we have traveled. Your tears and inner pain are not in vein. Until you feel strong and proud enough to share your light with the world, we’re reminded every day by these remarkable stories that it does get better.

It was also 57 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled that separate can never be equal.

Standing on the Side of Love

12 May

Google Chrome made headlines last week when it premiered its “It Gets Better” commercial during a new episode of Fox’s ‘Glee’. Support and praise for the lucrative primetime TV spot was almost universal. Almost.

A cameo from Toy Story’s Woody stole the show. A childhood favorite and star of Pixar’s billion-dollar Toy Story franchise, Woody’s kind words of support were a hallmark moment for a company who has been providing same-sex couple benefits for its employees since 1996.

A few are less than thrilled, and that includes Alan Chambers of the now-infamous Exodus International. “Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story,’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he says.

But as those remaining few who oppose gay marriage continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole and devolve into something of a self-parody, their plan of attack has grown increasingly flimsy and transparent. Their efforts to enforce an archaic and regrettable point of view on a generation of youth who are growing up in a world that has increasingly and overwhelmingly embraced love is terminally ill.

But as some continue to be blinded by their own fear, more and more are choosing to stand on the side of love. Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has for some time been very open and honest about his support for gay marriage, a rarity in the world or sports. Following in his footsteps is Sean Avery, a New York Rangers player in the hyper-masculine sport of hockey who recently teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign to support marriage equality in New York.

Such a willingness to publicly call for change has made Ayanbadejo and Avery easy targets within the sports culture. But Brendon, recently appearing on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Line,’ spoke about why he has decided to step up and speak out. “This issue is really dear to me, being that I’m bi-racial, African American. If you go back to the ’60s, this same issue was current but it was about interracial marriage. Now today, fast-forward to 2011, the issue is equality in marriage and allowing same-sex couples to marry and love each other,” he says. “So to me it’s the same thing, it’s a barbaric issue. I think it’s just time that society continues to evolve and advance and it’s time to treat everyone fairly. That’s something we haven’t done in this country, but we’re getting better as time goes on.

If you’re homosexual, lesbian, or gay, that’s the way God created you, so why should you be treated any different?”

Ayanbadejo went on to say that Obama in 2012 has the opportunity to “emancipate 30 million Americans.”

Brendon’s passion for equality may rile up some, but it will also help him become a trendsetter and pave the way for others – such as Avery – to follow. As openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson said, “It is not enough for good people — religious or otherwise — to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it’s not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we’ve seen.”

It’s time to stand on the side of love. I do. Do you?

Standing on the Side of Justice

3 May

Today, we pause.

In the past, I haven’t been the shyest when it comes to criticizing our elected officials. That’s because I believe in big government. I believe in its ability to be a force for good. I believe in protecting rights and extending a compassionate hand to those in need. When our government fails to live up to its potential, I think it’s our duty to call them out and keep them honest.

For you, it may be fair trade. Or reforming our jail system. For me, it’s the basic creed of our Declaration of Independence that has yet to be realized. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” wrote Thomas Jefferson.

I’m critical because I believe in the greatness of America, and I will try to do my part to direct your attention where inequality exists. That has been my goal this semester and for this blog assignment, and it’s for that reason that I will continue this blog after the assignment ends.

But there are those days when you do see your government live up to its promise, when they make the tough decisions. And you’re proud. Proud to live in a country like America. You don’t have to revel in the death of another, but it’s okay to feel a sense of relief and catharsis. Okay to feel that a man who was far more evil than good, who murdered thousands of innocent men, women, and children, will never harm anyone again.

Justice has been served. Today, we’re reminded that government serves a very real and very important purpose.

Tomorrow is a new day, but let’s enjoy this one while it lasts.

“All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” – Clarence Darrow

Reaching A Critical Mass

28 Apr

As goes New York, so goes the nation?

Advocates for marriage equality suffered a devastating defeat in 2009, when efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in New York fell eight votes short in the Senate after receiving strong support in the state’s Assembly.

Many may recall Senator Diane Savino’s powerful and heart wrenching testimony in defense of gay marriage prior to the bill’s defeat, stating for all to hear that “we have nothing to fear from love and commitment.”

“If there’s anybody threatening the sanctity of marriage,” Savino said, “it comes from those who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades.”

A renewed fight to grant marriage equality has resurfaced in New York, stronger than ever. And this time, it may have larger ramifications for the country and the world.

“A win in New York will provide significant momentum for the movement nationally and, quite frankly, internationally,” says Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign. “New York is very significant.”

Why has the landscape changed so drastically in less than two years?

This time, it’s personal.

The true-life stories of decent men and women who have suffered first-hand the inequality of being denied the right to marry the person they love has struck a chord with citizens both in New York and across the country, resulting in many to switch sides.

“That debate has been replicated hundreds and thousands of times over the Internet, emails and coffee klatches and over glasses of wine in New York’s suburbs that has rapidly changed – at an accelerated pace – public opinion.” says Bruce Gyrory, a political science professor at the University of Albany.

Even populations traditionally seen as reliably conservative, such as Catholics, have seen rising support for marriage equality.

Support for marriage has dramatically increased in New York, reaching as high as 58% in a recent poll. “I think at the point you cross 60 percent and approach 2:1 levels of support, the opposition loses its critical mass,” says Gyory.

And as overwhelming support among younger generations continues to make its mark, the realization that this fight is close to a tipping point has begun to dawn.

Law firm King & Spalding, who signed on defend the now defenseless DOMA on behalf of House Republicans, dropped a bomb earlier this week when it abruptly withdrew from the case. Reports of internal conflict and “mayhem” were rampant. “Management was divided, people were threatening to quit,” said one source.

Prior to King & Spalding’s exit, the response from the LGBT community had been strong and forceful. And while DOMA has already recruited fresh defenders in the wake of its latest setback, don’t expect public support to be on their side anymore.

In its latest episode, “Glee” reached new heights of fabulous when its cast belted out Lady Gaga’s gay pride anthem “Born This Way.” It depicted a high school coming together in a defining moment of unity.

Having already called the show a “disgusting gay teen sex romp”, Dan Gainor, a conservative media critic, was less than pleased, panning the show’s creator Ryan Murphy and calling the episode his “latest depraved initiative to promote his gay agenda.”

“This is clearly Ryay Murphy’s vision of what growing up should be, not most of America’s. It’s a high school most parents would not want to send their kids to.”

Hate to break it to you, Mr. Gainor, but you’re dead wrong. Your words have lost their power to persuade. Your hateful rhetoric no longer has a place in a country that is turning increasingly towards love and fairness.

You’re history.

Newspeak

23 Apr

In a move straight out of an Orwell novel, Tennessee state Senator Stacey Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has advanced out of committee and will be sent to the Senate floor.

The bill would effectively criminalize teachers and school officials who talk about homosexuality before the ninth grade.

Conveying the message that being gay is neither appropriate nor suitable for public discussion, Campfield is attempting to further alienate and isolate a vulnerable population from seeking help and guidance from educators.

Supporters of the bill maintain age sensitivity is the primary goal, but Matthew Parsons, a socially conservative advocate and founder of the anti-gay “Something Better” campaign, may have spoken too soon. “If we’re talking about homosexuality, we are talking about specific acts that are going to be unhealthy for anybody to engage in outside of marriage.”

Let’s be clear. Campfield’s proposed bill has nothing to do with what is “age appropriate.” This is about fundamentally altering society. It would effectively prohibit speech and further push the civil rights struggle away from mainstream radar. Out of sight, out of mind.

“The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill raises all kinds of issues about anti-gay bias, free speech and government overreach,” said Tennessee Equality’s Ben Byers. “It means [teachers] can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have [a] gay family.”

Once again, we are witnessing a scared GOP attempting to limit debate and stifle meaningful conversation. The party of small government seems perfectly supportive of government’s large hand so long as it furthers their culturally radical agenda.

Senator Campfield’s cowardly attempts to institutionalize discrimination are painfully obvious for anyone with half a mind to see. If it’s a debate about substantive issues you wish to have, I welcome that debate. But leave the children out of it.