Monday, August 31, 2009

Ted Kennedy's Search for Redemption: Mission Accomplished

Over the past week we've heard a great deal about Ted Kennedy's accomplishments as an elder statesman, an unexpected patriarch, and an adventurer. What has struck me most about Ted Kennedy's life, which has played out in the periphery of all Americans' lives, even those disinterested in politics, is his search for redemption. It is, what I believe, inspired the Senator's unique brand of liberalism.

This past weekend the Kennedy family revealed that the ailing Senator had sent Pope Benedict XVI a letter asking for the pontiff's prayers as he battled the cancer that ultimately killed him. The senator wrote: "I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines [...] I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health-care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Though I’ve fallen short through human failings, I’ve never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teaching of my faith.”

In that letter, Kennedy lays bare what it really means to be a liberal. At least for me. His acknowledgement of his own human flaws and his belief in the attainability of God's forgiveness through good works is inspiring. As a gay man of faith, I can't tell you how many times I've had a similar dialogue in my head and in prayer: I know I'm imperfect, but I believe in God, I try to do what's right by family and fellow man, etc. Ted Kennedy used the name and privilege that happened to him by chance and used it to spend his life championing human rights. Yes, mistakes were made along the way, but I expect that not a day went by when that man didn't try to make up for these.

To the gay community, Ted Kennedy was more than an ally. He was someone who saw the blatant wrongness in a system that robs any American of their basic rights and he was able to bridge the gap of faith, politics and public opinion to cry foul and demand change. For that he is to be honored, and today, as a new workweek begins, I implore our representatives to pause and reflect on his example and focus on the business of fixing our system.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guns at the Town Hall: Healthcare Protestors Crossing a Dangerous Line

Let's call the fringe element on the right that is hosting tea parties and disrupting town hall meetings on healthcare what they really are: a lynch mob. Healthcare and wasteful spending be damned, these nut jobs want to string our black President up a tree. And they'll think of any reason to undo the results of last November's election.

The healthcare debate has everyone in a tizzy and many questions remain unanswered or half-answered by un-truths. Everyone I know is confused about why Obama's plan would or would not work. But one thing remains clear: some folks on the right want an all out war with the President, and they're showing up to their demonstrations with guns slung over their shoulders. Second Amendment my foot, these people think America has forgotten how the Klan used to intimidate people of color simply by showing up outside their churches and other gathering spots with guns. We all know the message these people are sending Americans: let us handle the Negro.

Am I playing the race card too soon? Am I over-reacting? Am I ignoring the fact that there are people who are rightfully angry about wasteful spending?

No, no, and no.

Where the hell were these fiscal conservatives when George Bush kept asking for hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Iraq? Why do these people love that our government spends billions, if not trillions, on war but when the issue of healthcare comes up everyone wants to grab an abacus and make sure no one's precious tax dollars are spent on penicillin for kids or proper nursing for the elderly?

There are some people in life that one will never win over. President Obama will never win over the far right and that's fine. And while it's up to all of us to inform ourselves on the intricacies of the healthcare debate, this issue now takes a back seat to the fact that the President's safety is in danger. Many of us who voted for President Obama have feared for his life and this new trend of showing up armed to supposedly peaceful gatherings is setting a dangerous precedent. I say turn the hose on these loons and set their houses on fire. Or, remain vigilant - I hope the White House is keeping close tabs on these people. For everyone's sake.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leaving This Town Before I Do or Say Something Stupid

Sigh. I can't hide it from you, dear readers: yours truly is tired. Tired of trying, of playing nice and being all sorts of eager and ambitious. Hello, Gap Inc, it's me, David, are you hiring? I still know how to fold T-shirts from my days at Banana Republic. I've hit a wall and before I say or do things that can't be taken back, I'm going to take a break. Yes, kids, I'm going on vacation.

So what's on the agenda for my time away from things public relations? Milling about town catching up with friends over boozey lunches and a trip to New Orleans with my parents. I'm gonna live, y'all - wooo!!

And I'm going to re-connect with my blog in the most controversial and button-pushing of ways. I have completely neglected the healthcare debate and I haven't said boo about California gay rights groups' decision to push a referendum on gay marriage on hold until until 2012.

I should think about my time-off as just that: time-off to recharge and come up with smart posts (and outfits, see left); but a part of me feels like I'm starting a new chapter in my life - perhaps the life of an opinionated gay male pushing 30 who has a blog...there's something the world has never seen!!

Wherever I'm headed, I'm headed there with my head screwed on tight and in a fabulous ensemble. It's summer, y'all - finally! So let's raise a glass (a marita if you're me), show some skin and have fun. I certainly plan to do so.

Note: Day 1 of living found me with Hunt and Peck (aka James) down in Chinatown having dim sum. As I said on Twitter, it's a charming concept - having surly, English-challenged people pushing carts of chicken feet and other treats before you while you sit with strangers slirping on God-knows-what - but I don't like getting pushed and yelled at by anyone, let alone people who handle my food. Still, Chinatown is a fitting backdrop for where I am right now in life. Trying to make sense of things, I find myself saying "Forget it, GCL. It’s Chinatown."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let's Talk About Me and My Five Year Anniversary

If I were any sort of mature adult, I probably would have titled this post "Let's Talk About James and Me and Our Five Year Anniversary," but at this point in our relationship, neither Mr. James nor I expect any sort of mature behavior from me. If anything, said self-absorption and disregard for James and his wants have kept our relationship alive - keep homey wanting more - I always say.



This past weekend James and I celebrated our five year anniversary. No one is more shocked, and thrilled, about this milestone than yours truly. Over the past five years, homey and I have weathered three joint-family vacations, exchanged rings, changed jobs, painted our apartment with splashes of gold, and fixed the hinges on our murphy bed so as to avoid a future head-splitting adventure like the one we had a few Thanksgivings ago. It's the little, life-prolonging things, that have made our relationship work.

I could go on and on about all the wonderful things my boyfriend does for me, and you'd probably roll your eyes and think "I guess GCL still hasn't figured out what the Health Care bill is about so he's stalling and writing about his relationship." And you'd be right.

But I have good reason to step off my soapbox for a minute to give my man a shout-out. James has made me a better person and he's given me a happiness I never thought I deserved. He's also exceedingly patient. If some of you can't stomach a couple of posts from me every week think about what it's like to live with me when I'm "brainstorming" topics for this blog and just spouting my opinions out loud. Now you see why he's so special.

Baby, you're the greatest.

*This picture pretty much summarizes why I'm lucky to have James. Who else would look at me so lovingly while I shovel cake down my mouth?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

American Psychological Association Rejects Gay-to-Straight Therapy

From the NY Times, USA Today, CNN and pretty much every other news outlet this morning: "The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments." However, the association also acknowledges that some individuals may choose their faith over their sexuality - says the Wall Street Journal: "According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation."

It seems like a well-balanced and compassionate compromise for an issue that can be a non-issue for some, and a matter of life or death for others. For that reason, I think that we should add yet another group under the LGBTQ umbrella: IA, or, In-Absentia. These people, who choose to not be in our community, still matter - they're dealing with the same issues all gay men and women grapple with and have made their own choice about how to live their lives. Their decision is no less authentic or courageous than someone who decides to come out at, say, 16. As a dear friend recently told me, everyone has the right to come out in their own time, if they want to at all.

My own experience with this sort of religious angst found me stuttering through an "I'm gay" declaration that went more like "I'm confused...I think I like...well, I don't think I want to be with a woman...well, actually..." I was 20 and sought the guidance of two elders in my Jehovah's Witness congregation in Boston. It was, in the end, a very pleasant chat and there was no dousing of the fag in holy water (mostly because Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in Holy Water) nor was there an exorcism. We simply read from the Bible and I was given the choice the APA is putting forth now: I could learn to build a life around my sexual orientation and use the challenge as a way to draw closer to God, or I could see what else was out there.

It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. The more I think about it, I never minded being gay, I just hated what I thought I was doing to my relationship with God. When I left my congregation (it was a Sunday morning in the summer and I was about to leave my house when I just decided to turn around, take my suit and tie off, and go to back to bed) I felt the pangs that come with the disruption of a routine - a 20 year routine for me - and within weeks I was consoling people from my congregation who were asking me to come back. It's a loss that I still grapple with - I had to decide whether to stay within the cushy comforts of kind, God-fearing (yes, a little judgemental, too, but aren't we all?) and macaroni-salad eating people, or venture out into, well, what my life has become (quite boring, five years on with James this week...holla!)

My point is that I was given a choice. And I made my choice which I am very happy with. But I also understand how incredibly hard it is to make a decision that pits someone against God, their family and their community. It's a process that never really has an end for people of faith - you're always going to try to make right with God as you understand him - but it's a process that I think everyone has the right to work through on their own terms. I applaud the APA's new guidelines on this issue and I hope it relieves some of the pressure that many gays in-absentia are dealing with.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Worst of Times for Latinos? Two Stories

In an interview with NPR's "Latino USA," author Sandra Cisneros ("The House on Mango Street")lamented that right now is the worst time in history for Latinos in the U.S. Deportations, the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and crippling poverty for many in our community, are the evidence she uses to paint a bleak portrait of the Latino experience in this country. And while I've written about some of these things, specifically the uptick in violence against immigrants and the inflamatory rhetoric of the anti-immigration movement, her comments shook me up. They made me feel like the uppity, self-made and self-righteous villain in a Tyler Perry movie. I realized, listening to Cisernos' interview on my iPhone at the gym, that I have deliberately distanced myself from the issues of the 'hood I grew up in and I have made every attempt in my life to never go back there.

But my parents - whom I love dearly and whom I'm lucky to have a wonderful relationship with - are still there. And they probably won't ever leave. So they'll keep it real with me and they'll tell me about the things that are going on around them in el barrio. In between our conversations about the trips they're going on and where they'll meet James and me for dinner, there are real, true and disturbing stories about people who can't get their act together or who simply were never given a chance to do right by themselves. My mom is on the front lines of this divide - she works in the public school system, making sure kids are fed and that they have somewhere safe to go to until 6 when most of their parents can pick them up from work. She sees parents younger than me picking up 10 year-olds, she talks to teenage mothers who are raising their kids out of shelters, and she consoles children who are missing a parent. But sometimes there are problems that can't be hugged away or laughed and talked about in Spanish in the schoolyard. For many Latinos it is indeed the worst of times, as Sandra Cisneros said. Here's one such story.

On July 17, Yorceli Flores,a 26-year-old immigrant from Puebla, Mexico, was stabbed to death in her apartment in Sunset Park. She was pregnant, and left behind two boys, aged two and six. One week later, her 22-year-old boyfriend - who claimed to have found her body - was arrested and charged with murder. The children, with no father, are now in the foster care system.

Yorceli's oldest son spent a year in my mother's classroom at the after-school program at P.S. 24. She didn't form much of a bond with his mother, who had obtained a restraining order against the boy's stepfather - who has since been deported - and then took up with a younger guy who would ultimately kill her. The alleged killer had come on numerous occasions to pick the boy up from my mom's program - even while the boy's stepfather would come in and ask my mom and her colleagues for help, saying that the kids were not safe in their home. My mom spoke up about this, but ultimately, there wasn't much the school system could do for the kids.

So you have the perfect storm of domestic violence, broken families, dubious immigration status and all-around hard living here. Was Yorceli's death avoidable? Did her kids really have to suffer as they did in the months leading up to their mother's death - there are claims that the children were underfed and lived in a cramped apartment with other families - was there anything that the victim could have done for herself and her kids to avoid all of this? And while Yorceli was being sentenced to death and her alleged killer was making small talk with my mom, I was across the river, sipping cocktails and toasting life.

The victim was two years younger than me but, as we say in Spanish, had done a lot more living. She probably came to my neighborhood long after I had left, seeking opportunity that I never thought existed there. And our common denominator is my mom - always eager to help, always uber-involved, always unnervingly task-driven. I wonder if these two women had formed a relationship if Yorceli's life would have turned out differently - I don't underestimate my mom's power of persuasion.

Where Yorceli's story and mine begin and end, in the place I grew up but always wanted to leave, the divide between esos Latinos who are making it and those who are scraping by isn't really that wide. It's a fact that gnaws at me and questions everything I thought was good and fair about a system that has worked for me.