Sunday, February 17, 2008

Race v. Gender? Some thoughts on an e-mail supporting Hillary

On February 13, 2008, I received a very interesting e-mail from Marilyn Fitterman, NOW's Northeast Regional Director, indicating her support of Hillary Clinton's candidacy. In trying to find it via Google, I did not see it in any NOW website, but did find two references that quote it in full (and then there are added comments, not related to my own).

The first place is on a Blogger blog called XpatriatedTexan: A blog on faith and politics, by Thurman Hart:

"More Idiocy from NOW"

Mr. Hart's blog is subtitled: A Christian Liberal is NOT an oxymoron.

The other is at Message 194 on page 13 in a thread entitled Hillary for President -- Part VI, in forum on the "Big Soccer" website (the message itself is at):

Yet another e-mail from New York State NOW

So I really don't have to repeat Ms. Fitterman's entire message here.

Her message, when I received it, moved me to respond - especially because the examples she gave as her rationale for supporting Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy resonated so well with me. I have used those very same examples (and others) from the experience of the civil rights struggles of women and African-Americans in my own advocacy work for LGBT issues. I often think of these as lessons of history.

So here is the text of my response to the message:

From: Joann Prinzivalli ((EML ADDRESS REDACTED)
Sent: Wed 2/13/08 12:13 PM
To: Marilyn Fittrerman, NOW NE Regional Director & Pas (

Thank you, Marilyn. I have myself on numerous occasions used the same historical perspectives you so eloquently set out in your message in different contexts.

In the case of the
Married Women's Property Acts (in New York, 1848 for inheritance and 1860 for wages - Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others started to work on the first bill in 1836), I often point out the reaction of conservative religious leaders of the time that enacting these laws would destroy the institution of marriage, when advocating for a gender-neutral marriage law.

The 50 year gap between the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment, and the fact that women had to wait so long (as well as the nearly accidental last-minute inclusion of women in the Civil Rights Act of 1964) is something I hope doesn't get repeated in another context, though it seems to be doing so - in December 2002, when the
Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) was enacted, the transgender community was left behind by the legislature, and by the gay and lesbian community. The analogous bill, GENDA (Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) is still struggling to gain passage in the allegedly "friendly" Democratically-controlled New York Assembly. Last year's shameful theatrics in the House of Representatives over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (originally HR 2015, but severely weakened and then passed by the House as HR 3685) seemed to be a reverse of what happened with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I agree that Senator Clinton is the better choice for President, despite her poorly nuanced position on the repeal of the federal
Defense Against Marriage Act (one point where Senator Obama's position is superior) - she supports only the repeal of the provision of 1 USC §7, pursuant to which the federal government is prohibited from recognizing certain marriages that may be legal in any of the states, but would leave intact 28 USC §1738C, which permits each state to refuse full faith and credit to certain marriages legal in other states. In addition, she does not appear to support an affirmative federal recognition of the same-sex marriages currently prohibited from recognition.

Senator Clinton got my vote in the New York primary on February 5th - but while my support is genuine, it is less than completely enthusiastic, considering that even in Hillary's view, I am only entitled to a third class status without all the rights enjoyed by other citizens.

Joann Prinzivalli
State Director, New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO)

PS: We really need to be doing more about (New York) Governor's Program Bill #16 - the
Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. Like GENDA, it hasn't moved anywhere in either the State Assembly or the State Senate. I understand that Assembly leadership is the current key bottleneck (though the bill has little chance in a Republican-controlled Senate with Senator Bruno having become recalcitrant on anything progressive since former State Senator Nick Spano lost his seat.)


And I received a very nice response from her.

In this primary season, I am currently supporting Senator Clinton's candidacy, despite the reservations I expressed as to her poorly-nuanced view on the repeal of the Defense Against Marriage Act.

It isn't because she is a woman, or because Senator Obama is black. It's because I really do think she would ultimately do a better job in the presidency. However, If Senator Obama becomes the Democratic candidate for president, he will get my support in the general election. I may have some personal respect for Senator McCain but he would not get my vote - I have too many issues with his positions. That respect was also eroded a bit by at least one sexist-seeming statement during the campaign where he didn't properly address a reference to Senator Clinton from a questioner as "that bitch" and laughed at the reference as if it was something funny. Surely, he would have received greater condemnation had he similarly laughingly sidestepped a racist reference to Senator Obama. (And I note, the McCain gaffe is something that wasn't even mentioned in Ms. Fitterman's e-mail message.)

I do have one last thought: I always thought is was a kind of institutionalized racism to think of "white" as if it has to mean somewhat with completely caucasian ancestry, while "black" includes people of mixed-race ancestry where one not-terribly-remote ancestor is negroid, though apparently having some known "Native American" ancestry seems to trump "black." Senator Obama's mom is "white," and pro golfer Tiger Woods'" mom is "asian." Both Senator Obama and Mr. Woods are usually thought of as being "black," but that is an identity that is placed on them by the lingering residue of white supremacist institutionalized racism. On the other hand, both men appear to identify that way themselves - and I don't think it is necessarily a matter of incorporating and internalizing the racism. The strangest thing is that it seems, from mitochondrial evidence, that every person in the world is descended from a single woman who lived 75,000 years ago in Africa.

Of course, I would prefer to be race-neutral as well as gender-neutral, and even the exclusionary racism of the "purity of whiteness" might be a little better than the sort of racial hierarchy that one finds in old, unenforceable real estate restrictive covenants, which are illegal and unenforceable under New York State and federal law (and perhaps the laws of most states). It's even illegal to reprint the words of the covenants in a title insurance commitment - references to racial covenants are limited to noting that they exist but are not enforceable. A copy of an instrument with the racial covenant has to be redacted to make the racial covenant unreadable.

One covenant I once ran into, regarding a subdivision in New Rochelle, New York, from the 1930's, prohibited any "negro, mullato, quadroon or octaroon," except domestic servants, from residing in homes built at the subdivision. While I had run into mulatto before, I surmised (correctly, as it turned out) that a "quadroon" would be an individual with a single black grandparent (or maybe two mulatto grandparents?), and an octaroon would have a single black great-grandparent (though if one is counting blood percentages, perhaps two black great-great grandparents might do, even if they weren't married to each other). This sort of racial slicing and dicing is reminiscent of the way Jewish ancestry was parsed by the agents of the Third Reich's "Final Solution."

I don't see the Democratic primary season as being a matter of race v. gender. That may be the spin some sophisticated pundits have tried to impose - and their best shot at that may have come when former President Clinton made some comments, or when Senator Clinton made a reference to the need for an LBJ as well as an MLK to get the civil rights act of 1964 passed. (The attempt at seeing that latter comment as racially divisive required a real stretch of the imagination).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ingrid E. Barnes - 1960-2008 - Requiescat in Pacem

Ingrid Barnes
May 22, 1960 – February 4, 2008
Requiescat in Pacem

Ingrid E. Barnes, Associate Director of Adult Services at Pace University, former co-President of The LOFT: The Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, Inc., former director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, passed away from colon cancer at age 47 on February 4, 2008. Ingrid was a friend of mine (though we were not particularly close), even though she and I didn’t agree on a lot of issues, particularly the trans community and how it relates to gays and lesbians.

In living her life, Ingrid was one of the most iconoclastic people I knew – a black lesbian Republican conservative – yet she really never “got it” when it came to transgender issues and the commonalities transpeople have with the lesbian and gay community. Here are excerpts from her Bloggger blog “
Not Your Typical Negro” that relate to the trans community, and my responses to them(what I might have written had I seen them during her life) – I did not find her blog until after she passed away, and I regret not having had the opportunity to engage her in a conversation on the issues.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Watershed Moment

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on and passed HR 3685. The final vote was 235 to 184. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA was introduced by Barney Frank in September of this year and excluded gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill was originally introduced in 1974 under a different name - the Gay Rights Bill, HR 14752. Currently, there are 13 states that prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Frank's argument for excluding gender identity was that the bill would not garner the votes necessary for passage which has created a firestorm in the gay, lesbian and transgender communities. The crux of the argument is that we should not exclude transgender folks from the bill simply to win legislation because they will be forever forgotten. On the other side are those, including myself, that believe that after all these years, we'll take the bill without gender expression. Some see this as unfair to the transgender community but others, whom I agree with, see it as an incredible win for gays and lesbians. One such group is United ENDA which includes gay, lesbian and transgender groups. One of my favorite writers says it best here.

I have always argued that the T is not a part of the gay and lesbian community and I'm very happy to see that I'm not alone. Of course once you make such a statement you are automatically labeled a transphobe but as a black lesbian Republican I've heard worse. This is what the Washington Post had to say about the vote. The key lines there are: "Transgender people must channel the activism this action sparked into a long-term effort to educate the public and lawmakers about the discrimination they face." After all, gays and lesbians have been doing just that for years

My Response: Ingrid argues that “the T is not a part of the gay and lesbian community.” This is a straw man. Some trans people are gay or lesbian, and, depending on how one views how to base the definition of a sexual orientation, the idea of sexual orientation can get reversed, with some who think of themselves as straight being seen as gay, and vice versa, based on original genitals, current genitals, chromosomes, or some other factor.

But Ingrid’s error is in not realizing that real commonality is not that the T is part of LGB, but that the gay and lesbian community is a part of the same non-heteronormative, non-cissexual community as trans people. The majority in society expects everyone to be masculine male men attrected-to-women, or feminine female women attracted-to-men. Trans people, LGB people, and some intersexed people, all fall outside that heteronormative cissexual binary

The worst part of it is that most of the discrimination faced by lesbians and gays is often based on the idea of “gender identity.” Little boys perceived to be sissy, are perceived as not masculine enough. Little girls who are too butch, are perceived as not feminine enough. Adult gays who look too nelly, and lesbians who look too butch, areb’t discriminated against because of who they love or sleep with, it’s because of their gender expression.

And the opposite happens with trans people – the single most common expletive used to slur trans women is to call us “faggot.”

Like it or not, LGBs and Ts all really do belong together when it comes to human rights protections – if only because we all get associated with each other by the binary created and enforced by heteronormative cissexuals.

When it comes to “education about the discrimination we face,” trans people have been doing it as long as gays and lesbians – and the discrimination and societal marginalization faced by the trans community is often profoundly deeper and more pervasive than that experienced by LGBs.The Stonewall Riots were as much about us as it was about LGBs.

If one really looks at the conservative Republican rhetoric from the ENDA discussion on the floor of the House, the only human rights bill they were willing to consider was a “gay-only” and seriously weakened *employment* non-discrimination bill – nothing like the sort of comprehensive civil rights package that is urgently needed.

It’s inappropriate to leave out the most vulnerable members of the community to gain some temporary and hollow “vic ory” (victory without the T)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Clock is Ticking

For some weeks now there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the impending passage of the Employment Non-discrimination Act or ENDA. The controversy, and reason for a second bill, is over the inclusion of gender identity. The inclusion of gender identity would protect members of the transgender community. The main bill, H.R. 2015 was introduced in April of this year and is very close to a vote in the House. The bill in its current form was first introduced in 1996 and under another name in 1974. The bill, if passed, would protect gays and lesbians from being fired from their jobs simply because they are gay and lesbian. Currently, there are 31 states in which gays can be terminated based on their sexual orientation. The bill's main sponsors are Representatives Barney Frank, Chris Shays and Tammy Baldwin.

The controversy started when Representative Frank declared that the bill has a better chance of passage if it did not include gender identity. This faux pau, the opinion of many LGBT organizations, is one that they will not tolerate and according to many the LGBT community is in an uproar. Two weeks ago there were 113 groups who signed a pledge opposing the bill if it did not include gender identity. One of the most vocal has been the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Matt Foreman and of course members of the transgender community. The Human Rights Campaign, forever playing it safe so that they can keep the donations coming said they would not oppose the bill but they wouldn't support it either. What else could they say when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was the recipient of HRC's National Equality Award.

So here is the problem as I see it. Many have said and will say that if we move ahead with H.R. 2015 without gender identity we are essentially kicking transgendered folks off the bus. Now, that would be true if: 1) trans folks were on the bus to begin with and 2) gender identity were analogous to sexual orientation. Neither of these two things are true. Gender identity is as different from sexual orientation as night is from day. Gays and lesbians still consider themselves men and women who love the same sex. And for the last 30 years gays and lesbians have been doing to work to get ENDA passed. So, from a pragmatic point of view why not support the bill in its current form and do the education to include and pass another bill in the future? Of course the 113 groups and others feel that we are abandoning our trans family. Well I got news for those people, they don't consider themselves one of us. In reading the literature, a very high percentage of transgendered folks consider themselves straight. And the number that consider themselves gay and lesbian are very, very small. Am I transphobic? I guess to a lot of people I am but life goes on.

We cannot and should not stop passage of this important bill because a few people are upset. Dale Carpenter says it best when he says in this article, "Passage of ENDA is possible only because gay people have organized politically to educate Americans about homosexuality and to elect sympathetic representatives." This is the true issue surrounding this controversy. The work has been done and to simply throw it away because some feel we are dissing the transgender community is at best, stupid.

My response: The work was never done. ENDA was not only weakened by the removal of “gender identity” (which could have been used to show congressional intent to disapprove of the Supreme Court’s 1987 ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) , which involved “gender stereotyping” (which is the same as “gender expression” in different terms) – a part of the definition of “gender identity” in the HR 2015 bill that was abandoned in favor of HR 3685.

In addition, the religious exemption was broadened to the extent that any business that calls itself “Christian” can justify discrimination. If the owners want to discriminate, all they have to do is style their business a Christian” business, and they could legally bar gays and lesbians. A Christian boookstore was the primary example given by conservative Republican Congressmembers like Souder of Ohio. But why not a “Christian” car dealer, or a “Christian” suermarket? In parts of the country, putting “Christian” in front of a business name would increase business.

Gay people haven’t educated Christianist conservative Republicans, judging from the rhetoric, and the head count on transgender inclusion is only a few votes shorter than that for a “gay-only” ENDA with real teeth. Without gutting the bill for a hollow “vic ory” that wouldn’t even protect gays and lesbians, the non-inclusive bill would not have passed, either – and then where is the full civil rights bill? Where is the immigration reform? Where is marriage? Where is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? And where is the Matthew Shepard Act? There are at least 180 conservative Republicans who will not vote for anything that has “gay” in it, and most of the rest of them would not consider more than the weak bill that did get through the House.

I give Ingrid credit for having been willing to be have been a Republican. There are too many Democrats who are not really willing to push hard for justice for LGBT people – they take us for granted. At least the Republicans are honest about hating us.

August 22, 2006

My Case for Excluding the T

In 1996, I attended a Creating Change Conference in Chicago. I attended the conference as the co-president of a local gay and lesbian community center. The conference was organized and hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). NGLTF is a gay and lesbian advocacy group that had its beginnings in New York City in the 1970’s. In 1985, the organization changed its name from NGTF to NGLTF to include lesbians: “To make clear gender parity and lesbian issues.” It was in 1996, by my observations, that the organization was once again about to make a change. During the four day conference, as I was taking a break between sessions, I happened upon a protest of sorts. It seems that the transgender contingent was protesting the organization because they were not being heard. They wanted the "T" for transgender to be added to the acronym that was NGLTF. And by including the "T" there was an implicit request to start including transgender issues. I was rather dismayed at the protest and suggested to one of the organizers that educating gays and lesbians about transgender issues was a far more effective strategy than simply adding another letter to an already crowded acronym. My suggestion, however, was met with blank stares and annoyance at being asked to educate rather than harangue. How dare I ask for pragmatism rather than brute action? That was my introduction to the trans community. In that same year, Kerry Lobel, executive director, said the following: “NGLTF strongly supports civil rights protections and affordable health care for transgender [people]. We loathe discrimination and violence perpetuated against transgender people and stand in solidarity with transgender people in their struggle for respect, inclusion, equality and justice.” Thus began the love affair between gay and lesbian organizations with the transgender community.

Years later, I share comments about the transgender community with trepidation as they may be viewed as discriminatory by many. However, I have very strong opinions on this issue and cannot control the comments or feelings of my readers. In the Sunday New York Times styles section the following article appeared on its front cover. My take on gender reassignment is very similar to those of the lesbians interviewed for the article with some additional comments. The history of the gay movement has shown the gradual inclusion of lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people to the fold. Over the years organizations like NGLTF have broaden their definition of gay by including bisexual and transgender. But the problem is that bisexuality and transgender people cannot be automatically classified as gay. Bisexuals, in my limited experience with them, do not necessarily consider themselves gay nor do transgender people. So why are community centers, gay rights organizations etc., extending the acronym and confusing the issue? I have several reasons for this lumping of all that claim discrimination.

First, in politics and to politicians numbers play a crucil role hence the lumping of bisexuals and transgender numbers. So, show me the numbers and I'll show you my support. For this I blame the gay organizations. Second, gender identity is light years away from being the same thing as sexual orientation. As one interviewee stated in the article, “I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women and not men.” I continue to say this when groups keep insisting that the T be added to the l&g. Third, and I think this most important, gender reassignment does not mean that the person will then remain "gay or lesbian" as is obvious in the article.

When a man transitions from male to female and continues to date women he cannot be considered a lesbian because by definition he is a man. Lesbians don't date men. And when a woman transitions from female to male "she" cannot consider herself a lesbian - simple end of story. Fourth, none of these people can consider themselves truly the opposite sex because they have not changed their x & y chromosones. Fifth, the confusion that this causes children will make the g&l struggle even harder. Sixth, the struggle for transgender rights is not my fight and I will not take it up. In 2000 when the sexual orientation non-discrimination act - SONDA was about to pass Senator Tom Duane (D-NY) almost derailed it by his 11th hour plea to include transgender rights. Thank goodness it was not included and the votes went forward to enact SONDA. So, my point here is simply this, the "T" should not be added to l&g because it is completely different than that of sexual orientation. I do not deny equality to transgender folks I just don't want gender rights lumped with my rights as a lesbian who has no wish to become a man.

My response: Where the premises are wrong in the first place, the argument fails. And in this case, just as with the later blog entries we have seen already, Ingrid does not understand that it isn’t the divisive idea that “T (or B!) people aren’t L&G” – we know we are not all the same. But the fact is that LGBT and some I (intersexed people) don’t fit into the heteronormative cissexual binary.

Ingrid also showed a remarkable lack of understanding about transgender people.

She wrote: “When a man transitions from male to female and continues to date women he cannot be considered a lesbian because by definition he is a man. Lesbians don't date men.

Ingrid didn’t realize that “male-to-female” (MTF) and “female-to-male” (FTM) only really relates to genital shape. Transsexual women are “women born transsexual" (WBT), and transexual men are "men born Transsexual (MBT)." We never really belonged to our originally-assigned sexes - otherwise why on earth would we feel the need for correction? Our identities belong to the sex not assigned to us at birth.

So I really am a lesbian (and not a heterosexual man, or ex-man), and my sweetie would disagree with Ingrid’s assessment that being with me would make her heterosexual. There are *some* lesbians who agree with Ingrid about “who we are” – and way too many transsexual separatists seem to think that only trans people ever read Professor Janis Raymond’s ill-conceived thesis, The Transsexual Empire. My friend Ingrid Barnes was clearly informed by Raymondite conservative lesbian feminist separatism.

Ingrid’s use of junk genetics (a blind reliance on the shape of the 23rd chromosome pair) is predictable – blind reliance on chromosome shape is as bad as blind reliance on genital shape. I wonder what Ingrid might have made of women assigned female at birth, who grow up, look like and identify as women, who, because of the way their SRY gene expresses, have Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) – these women are born with XY in their 23rd chromosome pair – are these women also men? Ingrid might think so. But whatever it is that causes an individual to be trans (we only know of some effects, like the neuronal density in the central area of the basal stria terminalis in the hypothalamus, that could point to a physiological, genetic, or developmental cause for transsexuality), Ingrid’s understanding, or lack of it, seems to be much the same as the understanding of those people who still call sexual orientation “sexual preference” and believe that everyone is born straight, and intentionally choose to live sinful lives by choosing to be homosexual.

Ingrid makes other factual errors, but I am sure she was blogging "off the top of her head" and not The proposed amendment to the non-inclusive New York Sexual Onientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) was made by Democratic State Senator Tom Duane in December 2002, on the floor of the New York State Senate. It was a symbolic thing, and there never was any possibility that the SONDA bill would have been derailed. Senator Duane had introduced an inclusive SONDA bill himself, but at the time, no one in the Assembly had done so - and it would ahve been surprising to have had the Republican-controlled State Senate passing an inclusive SONDA without the Democratically-controlled Assembly having passed it first. The non-inclusive SONDA bill had to be carried by a Republican in the Senate, as Democrat-sponsored bills do not get to a vote in that house of New York's sadly schizophrenic state legislature.

If we look at the non-inclusive ENDA bill that Ingrid liked, it wouldn’t have protected Ingrid herself had it become law. During the time I knew her, she always had close-cropped hair and looked rather butch. She may not have wanted to be a man, but her “gender identity” (as defined in HR 2015 – really “gender expression”) never really qualified as heteronormative.

I don’t want to paint a thoroughly negative picture of Ingrid. Readers here might wonder how I could consider this person my friend. As is the case with most people, she was more complicated than she would appear just from her writing.

She worked at Pace University - where a few years ago, she arranged to have me speak on trans isues to their diversity committee. She may not have understood trans people, and may not have wanted to work for our rights as well as her own, but ultimately, she wasn’t really against us having our rights recognized. She just wanted to make sure that L&G people came first.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two from Column A and Three from Column B

I find it interesting that there is already a call for rights beyond same-sex marriage. Did I miss the memo that said that same-sex couples had the right to marry? So you can undertsand my surprise when I read this article.

Here I'll say it, I'm in favor of same-sex marriage but there is a caveat to that statemnet. And that is, that I would be perfectly fine with civil unions if they came with the same rights and priveledges of marriage. Now let me share my concerns after reading this article.

Number 1: Like all "movements" the gay and lesbian movemement has decided that inclusivity works better than exclusivity even though an argument could be made against such inclusivity. The inclusion of the B&T is a perfect example of such inclusivity. It is also an example of ramping up your numbers so that politicians take you more seriously and the people get to hear your story. The clout in numbers phenomena is not new and depending on you ask - can be quite beneficial.

Number 2: When the B&T were added someone forgot to ask the following questions: A) Could you share with us examples of overt discrimination based on your being bisexaul, i.e. fired from your job, refused an apartment etc.? and B) Are transgendered individuals gay? I would guess that it would have been politically incorrect to pose those questions.

Number 3: How does inlcuding all the groups presented in the article help the gay and lesbian movement?

It is my humble opinion that this group is not helping matters but hurting same-sex advocacy. My number one issue with the group is that it confuses the argument by adding all these different goups. The group's argument detracts from the important conversation surrounding same-sex equality to one of derision.
My response: This was the frst of Ingrid’s posts relating to the trans community. Including the T doesn’t add a lot of numbers. It’s more important to the T to be included, than it is for L&Gs who are much more visible and less woodworked or stealth or closeted.

So, this was Ingrid's first relevant post - and the first shall be the last discussed.

As to her Number 1, we have Ben Franklin’s adage” We must all hang together, or we will assuredly hang, separately.” Sure, there is much to be said for separatism, but most of it is negative. Ingrid never seems to have seen the commonality that we share by being non-heteronormative non-cissexual.

As to Number 2, Ingrid asked the wrong questions. Bi is a sexual orientation, so lesbians and gays really do have to include them, as well as asexual people, for “sexual orientation” to be a protected class. People who are "bi" oriented do get discriminated against for being perceived as gay, particularly if their current relationship is a same-sex one. Some people who are trans identify as gay and lesbian (and were perceived by Ingrid to be “straight”) – and the rest are either bi, or identify as straight and still get perceived by some people as being gay or lesbian.

With Number 3, I have explained in responses to later blogs abovem that lesbian and gat people often experience discrimination, not for being gay or lesbian, but because of their gender expression. And many trans people are perceived as being gay – even iof they don’t identiofy that way. It makes no sense to enact bills into law that protect only a part of the equation. Gays and lesbians are covered better when “gender identity and expression” as well as “sexual orientation” are included as protected classes in human rights laws.


In finis, I dedicate this post to the memory of Ingrid E. Barnes, who was always controversial in her thoughts, words, deeds, and her general comportment. She was well-educated, well-read, and while we did not often agree on abstruse philosophical issues relating to the LGBT community, she was always personally respectful – she may have intellectually thought of me as a “man” but always managed to deal with me personally with dignity and respect, and with the use of the proper pronouns.

I am sorry I never got to see her blog while she was alive - and the responses here aree intended as part of a onversation that never did take place. I would only wish I could have had the opportunity to perhaps make her think a bit about her assumptions. . .

The First Epistle to Patti

My friend Patti recently became a member of the Church of God for All People, which is a Catholic church affiliated, not with the Pope in Rome, but with the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA). Here is my epistolary response:

Hi Patti,

You mentioned the church the other day - I didn't realize from the name (The Church For All People) that it was a Catholic church (which is why I was wondering about what you were believing these days . . . ) - it's not a traditional name for a catholic church, even in the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, though it is inspired by Isaiah 56:7:

". . . my house shall be called the house of prayer, for all nations.
(from the Douay-Rheims transalation)

Other translations are closer to the name used:

King James: ". . . mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people."

American Standard Version: ". . . my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

New American Standard Version: ". . . My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."

I'll be honest with you, I have seen storefront pentacostalist churches called The Church of God For All People and I kind of thought you might have gone off in that direction.

In any event, if you've found a spiritual home, that is a really good thing. I've gotten theologically unraveled over the past few years, and my own faith has been reduced to the kind of essence that is closer to Unitarian Universalism than it is to Catholicism. The bankruptcy of Roman Catholic moral theology when it comes to LGBT issues has caused me to question every other thing I used to accept in my faith, even though it has since adolescence always been more a matter of a suspension of disbelief than a true belief.

I ask myself the question - "what must I believe?"

I think, like Thomas Jefferson, that even if the resurrection and ascension are not literally true, that does not change the essence of what Jesus taught. As I see it, Jesus did not have to be anything other than a human being to be a Son of the Father. And as Jesus was, we are all Children of God, children of a *loving* God.

Catholics tend to view the Resurrection as the central motif of the faith - that Jesus died for our sins and then conquered Death. I don't see that as the central message any more. To me the central message of Christ's teachings is summarized in the distillation of the commandments: "Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself."

This wasn't original - other Rabbis had made the same expression in their teachings even before Jesus - but that does not detract from the simplicity and beauty - and the essence that we have to actually love ourselves in order to love our neighbors, which is something often lost when religion gets distilled into the negative expressions of 'thou shalt not' and focuses on sin and damnation. Calvinists, Puritans, some Evangelicals and a lot of Conservative Catholics focus too much on religious formalism and the technicalities of 'sin' and, like the stereotypical New Testament Pharisee, their focus on the minutiae of religious observance causes them to ignore the Spirit of the Law (note: The Pharisees were the direct predecessors of modern Rabbinical Judaism - not all Pharisees were the way they are negatively described in the Gospels, either, though the most Orthodox Jewish sects today still do have the tradition of rigorous observance of every one of the 613 commandments) - this only gets to be problematical when the interpretation of what constitutes strict observance creates injustice or harm.

Jesus set the example of healing the sick on the Sabbath, a technical violation of the Law. We also see the way Jesus interprets the Law in the story of the Good Samaritan - Luke 10:29-37:

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'

30 In reply Jesus said: 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

36 'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'

37 The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'

The first two (the priest and the levite) to pass the man on the road did not stop because they thought the man might be dead, and the literal understanding of the Law meant they would be 'unclean' if they were to touch the body. But the Samaritan, whose beliefs were more flexible and less legalistic, looked to the essence of the Law - and went to help this person who he didn;t know, but was his 'neighbor' nonetheless.

For me, my faith is not centered on sin and death, or on life after death - to me, that doesn't matter. What matters is what I do in this life to be love others as I love myself. Being human, this has always been difficult. It's actually easier for those who live in community than it is for those who are out in the world. But even for them, it can be difficult.

Jesus sets the bar higher than I can touch:

In Proverbs 25:22-23, King Solomon is reputed to have stated:

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Jesus, ever the good scripture scholar, sees the admonition to feed, clothe and comfort our neighbor very seriously (our enemy is our neighbor, too! - and the 'heap burning coals on his head' is understood by some scripture scholars to be a bad translation of a metaphor meaning more that the enemy will feel shame for being the enemy, having previously harmed someone who returns good treatment for the bad that the enemy has done.

Jesus incorporated this idea of being responsible for doing good in the face of evil. The admonition that we should turn the other cheek is an example of this understanding (Luke 6:):

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.

30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.

33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that.

34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full.

35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

(Also see Matthew 5:39 for a similar synoptic rendering.)

Yet, Jesus understands that those who do not take the responsibility for their neighbor's plight will be the ones who will be treated as the goats at the time of Judgment (see Matthew 25:31-46). In Romans 12, Paul the Apostle, also a scripture scholar in his own right, connects the dots between turning the other cheek and ministering to our enemy's needs:

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.

20 On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The translation comes out the same in both places (but the sense of the phrase is still more one of making the enemy feel bad for having done bad things - a burning feeling of shame that is only metaphorically like coals burning in (rather than on) the head.

Too often, my frustration with those on the Religious Right who despise and revile me makes me feel like calling for retribution - but all I will do is point out their error and pray that they will feel that burning shame before it is too late and the Lord judges them to number among the goats.

I do try to make the world a little better place. I take the things I do seriously in that regard, whether it's trying to get human rights laws passed to protect our people, or to get the county executive to issue that executive order, or have the county police establish a policy that will insure appropriate treatment of trans prisoners. I have tried to do *something* for homeless LGBT teens - not nearly enough, though - that bar is awfully high. I can only hope that the things I can do are good and try to do better.

Anyway, I am not trying to say that you shouldn't believe in the literal Resurrection and Ascension - there is nothing at all harmful about having those beliefs, after all. I don't see how these beliefs (or the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the literal Virgin Birth, or the Ever-Virgin doctrine, etc. etc.) really matter in our every-day lives. In our daily existence, the essence of being Christian is to love God, love our neighbors (including those who hate, despise and revile us in God's name), and love ourselves.

God loves you.

God loves us all.