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November 2006

The Top Ten Queer Contributions to Western Civilization which Fundamentalists Should Boycott

[Note: this was my HNO column last week; I provide it here in its entirety instead of requiring you to link to it.]

Top 10 Queer Contributions to Western Civilization which Fundamentalists Should Boycott

Sometimes I get in an ungenerous mood. The fundamentalists are always boycotting something (Ford and Wal-Mart now) because they perceive it as pro-gay. Or they decide to segregate us at the public library. Or the public schools decide we aren’t in need of protection from bullying, harassment, and discrimination (who needs this protection more!?!). Such things put me in an ungenerous mood.

When I’m in such a mood, I want to take back what we queers, out of the kindness of our hearts, have shared with them. So, if the fundies were being consistent, they’d boycott all those queer things that we’ve contributed to civilization.

To remind them of what those things are, I came up with a list. I’m leaving out some obvious ones like Fashion, Broadway, Pop Art, the Roman Empire, and the Italian Renaissance. Here are the Top 10 Queer Contributions to Western Civilization which Fundamentalists Should Boycott:

10) France – Now American conservatives might actually give us back France; the “Freedom fries” crowd isn’t too fond of it anyway. Credit for French independence goes to St. Joan of Arc, a rather queer gender-bender. One can dream of what it would be like to never encounter an ugly American wearing a pink jumpsuit and a fanny pack at Notre Dame!

9) Outdoor Barbecues – From grilling burgers in the backyard to tail-gating before a football game, outdoor barbecuing by men was popularized in the 1950’s by gay food writer and chef James Beard.

8) Twentieth Century Ideals of Masculinity – Rudolph Valentino, Errol Flynn, James Dean, Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando, Tyrone Power, Tab Hunter, Richard Chamberlain, Sal Mineo, and of course the image of the perfect man -- CARY GRANT. How many straight women’s ideas of what a man should be were based on someone on that list?

7) The Harlem Renaissance -- The flowering of African-American culture in the early twentieth century was led almost exclusively by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The list includes: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Bessie Smith, Alain Locke, Ma Rainey, Countee Cullen, Angelina Grimke, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Carl Van Vechten (a white man who sponsored many of these artists). Plus, extra points for us! Don’t forget that it was the African-American gay Quaker Bayard Rustin who studied with Gandhi and taught Martin Luther King, Jr. the method of nonviolent resistance.

6) The King James Version of the Bible -- Now, I don’t know anything about the sexuality of the various translators of this 1611 project that would become the most influential work in the history of English literature and the foundational document of modern fundamentalism, but I do know that King James, who authorized and sponsored the translation, was a fag. For example, this from a letter the King wrote to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham,

praying God that I may have a joyful and comfortable meeting with you and that we may make at this Christmas a new marriage ever to be kept hereafter; for, God so love me, as I desire only to live in this world for your sake, and that I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than I live a sorrowful widow’s life without you.

5) The Computer – Yep. It was invented by the gay man and philosopher Alan Turing. So, if you are reading this and you don’t support gay equality, then you are logically inconsistent and morally corrupting yourself! Don’t like us? Then you should boycott the computer and any piece of equipment (including your car) that has a computer in it!

4) The Argument for the Existence of God – One of them anyway. The first one, and the most influential – the Ontological Argument conceived by St. Anselm. It appears, from the homoerotic language of his letters to other men, that Anselm was a celibate gay man. To make matters worse for the conservatives, Anselm’s views on salvation and the death of Jesus are the source of contemporary fundamentalism’s views on those topics. So, in order to be consistent, they really need to boycott what they teach about salvation.

3) The Western Literary Tradition – Of course we can’t claim all of it, but . . . we played a mighty role in getting the whole thing going, from the gay themes of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, to the lesbian love poems of Sappho, to pretty much all the great Roman poets (Horace, Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Virgil, Ovid, etc.). Of course we popped in now and then to keep the whole shebang going – Christopher Marlowe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, E. M. Forster, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Carson McCullers, W. H. Auden, Frederico Garcia Lorca, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, . . . you get the idea. Gosh, I’d like to see what’s left in the non-gay section of the library? John Grisham and Danielle Steele?

2) The United States Constitution – Sure, there were some straight guys who worked on this, but everyone knows that the major force in getting the thing passed, the author of the Federalist papers, was Alexander Hamilton. Now Hamilton was a notorious womanizer, but there is strong evidence that he had homoerotic attachments with John Laurens and the Marquis de Lafayette. And these were while Hamilton was serving as aides-de-camp (military for right hand man) to George Washington during the Revolutionary War! Hamilton organized the post-revolutionary army, was the major figure in creating the American economic and financial system that continues today, and helped set the stage for New York City to become the greatest city in the world. So, we’ll take those back as well. Of course, it seems that the conservatives have already decided to give up the U. S. Constitution anyway.

1) Western Thought, Itself -- Alfred North Whitehead famously wrote, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” Plato’s Symposium is partly an ode to the homoeroticism of Ancient Greece. He and his mentor Socrates existed in a culture that we would today describe as “bisexual.” Since the originators of the Western intellectual tradition were queer, I want it all back.


This Week in Kansas City

This week I've been in Kansas City for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference. That's why you haven't had any blogging from me since I wrote all the posts on the School Board meeting.

Tuesday night I attended Jim Roth's campaign watch party with friends and had a good time. It was quite exciting to hear people respond to the various races nation- and state-wide as they were announced. Jon and I left the party early to go home and watch on tv where it was much easier to keep up with the results, and I could do a little happy dance at different times without worry that folk (other than Jon) thought I was a complete dork (if they didn't know that already).

Wednesday Rob Howard and I drove up here to the conference. I actually stayed in Liberty at William Jewell with Barrett and Nathan and hung out with them the first couple of nights. It is great to have former youth in places that I need them to be!

When I got to the conference on Thursday, it was exciting to hear how much of a "thumping" (thanks W) the Right took. Folk from throughout the country reported that their most anti-gay or most racist or most Far Right legislator or senator or whatever was defeated, even in states that remained conservative overall. Arizona folk were basking in being the first state to defeat a DOMA. Even South Dakota was excited. Their DOMA passed, but 48% of the population voted "no," and that in the "straightest" state in the Union (less than 2% GLBT population according to records).

I've been to all sorts of big conferences, but never a national gay conference. It is quite fun and very interesting. You see a wide array of folk here, but pretty much everyone is really friendly and accepting of the incredible array of difference. Maybe I'll share more about it as I'm reflecting on it and going back over my notes.

There is a whole contingent from OKC here. We are pooling our time and energy and ideas and covering more sessions than we would have alone. Currently we are focused a lot on GLBT teens and their issues -- homelessness, discrimination, bullying, harassment, etc. Since I'm still a youth minister at heart, this work is very important to me, so I'm glad that there is a passion for it.

Well, I'm going to work some more on my sermon. I'm preaching on Family this Sunday, continuing my series on relationships. Make sure to read my Friendship sermon; that post may have gotten lost in all the posts on the School Board.


Resignation of Spokeswoman

In some of my prior posts about the School Board Handbook Scandal, I have referenced Sherri Fair, district spokeswoman and Director of Communications. Last night at the Board meeting, Ms. Fair's resignation was approved by the Board. It appears that she is the person being blamed for the scandal. This is unfair. Ms. Fair has done her job. She neither creates policy nor makes policy decisions, but merely reflects what the school system's policies and positions are. Her statements have raised serious questions about the Board procedures, but that is not her fault. It is unfortunate that we have not received an adequate explanation to date, and I hope that when we do finally receive an explanation, Ms. Fair won't be the fall girl.


An Example of Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination at Last Night's School Board Meeting

For the first time, students planned on addressing the Board about protection against bullying, harassment, and discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Two students did address the Board. Two others had planned to. I met them soon after I arrived yesterday and thanked them for their courage. They waited for a couple of hours, then suddenly they looked as if they were about to leave. I alerted the person who had asked them to address the Board and who had recruited others of us to be there in order to support the teens.

I was present for her conversation with one of them who said that they had spoken to members of the Board outside in the hall and had been assured that everything was okay and that they didn't need to speak in front of the Board. One of them didn't want to appear in the papers. So they were leaving.

As I listened to the conversation, it sounded less like nervousness about the press and more as if the threat of press was used to intimidate the kids into leaving. After all the kids had waited hours with us, while some of us had spoken to the press.

The person who asked them to be present followed up with them today. The students said that someone approached the them and

told them she had someone she wanted them to visit with outside in the foyer. When the kids got outside, it was [an administrator]. The kids told me that [the administrator] told them telling her their concerns was the same as telling the board members. She further told them they could go ahead and speak if they wanted to, but telling her would take care of it.

Of course a private conversation with an administrator (I am keeping the names out of it), is not equivalent to an address before the Board and the public.

I believe that this was itself an act of bullying, harassment, and discrimination perpetrated by an OKC Public Schools administrator against two students.


OKC School System Procedures Raise Questions

A lot of e-mail hub-bub today regarding the procedural and open meeting questions that I raised at the Board last night. Here's the timeline of the process involved in publishing the new handbook, as I understand it, along with the questions it raises.

In May the Student and Parent Handbook Committee completes its work revising the Handbook. The revisions include "sexual orientation."

In May that language was presented to groups of faculty and administrators for review and evaluation.

Sometime before Oct. 2 (I should have a clearer sense of the date soon), the Student Discipline Committee finishes work on a disciplinary matrix that also includes "sexual orientation." Copies of this matrix can be found on the website of the Oklahoman here.

On Oct. 2 Dr. Linda Toure presented to the Board the Student Code of Conduct including the matrix linked above that included the words "sexual orientation." The minutes record no discussion, debate, or vote. The publication of the Handbook had been delayed because this piece of the puzzle had not yet been presented to the Board. Once it was presented, then the Handbook could be printed.

Today's Oklahoman article says, "Board members are not required to approve the student handbook each year, since it is a reflection of district policy, district spokeswoman Sherri Fair said." Surely Board policy was set on Oct. 2 when the Student Code of Conduct was accepted without the Board making any changes?

On Oct. 3 the new Student Code of Conduct was presented to the administration in the various schools as policy.

Oct. 18 the new Handbook goes on-line with the Student Code of Conduct reflected and the words "sexual orientation" included.

Oct. 20 after press inquiries, the Handbook was pulled and it was explained that the new language was a "mistake" and "inconsistent" with Board policy.

When did the Board set policy other than at the Oct. 2 meeting?

Who made the decision on Oct. 20? How was it made?

When the Handbook later appeared without "sexual orientation," had a new Student Code of Conduct been presented to and accepted by the Board? Their own minutes don't reflect any discussion after Oct. 2.

Is the Board setting policy at non-public meetings? If so, is this a violation of the law?

If the normal procedure (based on Sherri Fair's statements in the Oklahoman article today) is for the Board to not approve the Handbook but simply accept whatever the Student and Parent Handbook Committee and the Student Discipline Committee present, then how did the post-Oct. 20 changes get made? Are they a violation of the Board's standard procedure? Was this decision open to public comment?


I am hoping that the Board's response to my questions last night will answer some of these concerns. We await a full and adequate explanation of the procedures involved.


Friendship

Below is an excerpt of my sermon from this last Sunday. Some of the stories I shared are too personal for those involved to post in such a public forum.

Friendship
Mark 2:1-5; Ruth 1:12-18
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
5 November 2006

Aristotle wrote that friendship is the greatest external good. That friendship is essential for the good life. He even wrote that you can’t be a virtuous person without friends.

There are different types of friends. There are friendships for utility, basically those people that you build relationships with because you are working on some job or project together and you need to get along in order to accomplish your individual and mutual goals. Then there are friendships of pleasure. Basically those people you are friends with because you get pleasure from being around them. Aristotle said that these sorts of friendships will come and go. People change, they become less pleasurable, or we move and lose contact or whatever.

But there is another level of friendship that he called complete friendship. These friendships are long-lasting, deep, and committed. You share your life with these people. It is these sorts of friendships that are necessary for the good life.


My question tonight is what can Christians say about friendship?

Ray for almost fifteen years now been a part of a group that calls itself “the Neighborhood.” They are six longtime friends who are all pastors. Initially they were all pastors of progressive baptist churches in Texas, though that description doesn’t fit all of them at the moment. Twice a year these pastors go on an almost week long retreat with each other. One thing you learn really quickly is that these are probably the two most important weeks of the year for these guys. There is an incredible bond between these men that has sustained them through some really difficult times personally and professionally.

Two years ago Kyle Childress, the pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, a member of the group, and one of my personal models for ministry, wrote an essay about the Neighborhood that was published as a cover article in The Christian Century entitled “Company of Friends: Six pastors make a sabbath.” The article concludes:

Our health is connected with one another, and we sense that we are more ourselves when we are together than when we are separate. Biblically, the concepts of salvation and shalom describe a condition of community wholeness, in which each individual is in good health only when he or she is an integrated member of God’s people.
Through sabbath and holy friendships, God’s salvation now has a concreteness that previously was abstract for us. Sabbath, friendship, and salvation are connected. We are like the paralyzed man carried by his four friends who lowered him through the roof to bring him to Jesus. Mark records: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”

Kyle’s essay gets at an important theme in today’s Gospel lesson that is also found in the passage from Ruth read earlier, friendship is healing. Friendships save us.

Friends are an important element in experiencing joy. I’ve never much liked the word happiness -- the English word is closely connected to “happenstance” and what “happens to” you. Joy is all about an inner attitude, a state of being. This image is beautifully represented in the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” We open our hearts to God like flowers open to the sun. All creation basks in the light of God and responds with songs of joy. And like the depths of the ocean, God’s rest springs up within us bringing us the joy of living.

And isn’t rest an essential element of joy? Friends help us to be at ease, to relax, to take a sabbath. Isn’t that part of what you look forward to after a day of work when you know you are going to go to dinner with friends? Or on those weekends when you plan to get out of town with friends? Or when you throw a party for each other?

Good friends help us to de-stress. Instead of adding to our worries, their very presence helps to free us from anxiety. Isn’t this why it is so important to be there when we have surgery or are sick or a family member has died? But it is also true on a daily basis. Our friends are those people who help make life more joyful by helping us to find peace and rest.

I’ve recently been reading the book No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton, the monk who dedicated his life to spiritual formation and being a witness for peace. Merton writes that we find our true selves in our closest friendships. In fact, he says that one step in the journey to finding wholeness and union with God is to discover that our wholeness, our salvation, our union with God is inextricably bound up with others finding the same. Scripture teaches: “If anyone would save her life, she must lose it.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “We are all members of one another.” Merton, drawing on these ideas, writes,

I cannot discover God in myself and myself in [God] unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am, with all my limitations, and to accept others as they are, with all their limitations.

I think friends keep us humble. And I mean that in the sense of developing the Christian virtue of humility. Maintaining friendships takes work -- work that involves learning to put others before yourself while they mutually do the same for you. For a group of close friends to remain intact, they must develop a rhythm of mutuality where everyone finds fulfillment. In doing so, friendships teach us to have a proper view of ourselves, to not think too much or even too little of ourselves. That’s the Christian virtue of humility.

Friends save our souls, because without them we might fall into either one of two vices. Either we become proud, in the sense of thinking too much of ourselves. This sinful form of pride will destroy our souls. Modern psychology uses different terminology to convey this idea, but the old Christian language is most descriptive, I think. A person who becomes viciously proud is a person on the path to losing her humanity.

On the other end we can become pusillanimous. That’s a great English word that is, unfortunately, rarely used anymore. It is the vice of thinking too little of one’s self. Today we talk about “lacking self esteem.” Maybe you’ve known someone, often someone deeply depressed, who becomes pusillanimous? They think so little of themselves that their life is robbed of joy and blessing. Just like the proud person, they are in danger of losing their humanity.

Friends help us avoid these extremes because, on the one hand, their love and involvement in our lives constantly reminds us that we are valued. On the other hand, good friends are always there to keep you from getting too enamored with yourself.

From friends we learn that our identity is bound up with other people. Just look at those words of Ruth and Naomi.

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from
you!

This commitment they make to one another reveals the deepest kind of friendship, that nexus between friend, family, and beloved. Though not even all of our close friendships rise to this level, all of our good friendships embody some element of this commitment.

Ruth commits that she will journey with Naomi. Often friends are called upon to walk with each other not only through the joyful moments, but even the dark moments of life. About the life of Christian faith, Merton writes,

It takes sustained moral courage and heroic confidence in the help of divine grace. But above all it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all.

You see, sometimes you have to venture into the Mines of Moriah. And when you do, you want a fellowship to be there with you. Or maybe you are paralyzed and need your friends to carry you, then struggle to find a way through for you, then give such evidence of their faith that you are healed.

Yes, friends are there to walk with us on the journey. They keep us humble and help us to find our true selves. And they bring us joy and peace. In this way friends save us. It is the healing power of Christian friendship.

So, my encouragement to you and your friends is to realize what practices sustain you and to value them as sacred. Maybe it’s traveling or bowling together or a monthly book club or riding motorcycles or going fishing or to the opera or watching football. Maybe it’s simply good conversation or eating a meal. Sometimes, it’s finding time to get way in the middle of the day in order to drink beer and smoke cigars.


Last Night's School Board Meeting

Here is a link to the Oklahoman article about the meeting.

We had a larger and more diverse group of folk present to protest the decision to remove protection for sexual orientation from the student and parent handbook. And more folk spoke, including two students. One student made an interesting argument. He said he was a heterosexual who has decided to wait until marriage to have sex. He said that he receives harassment for this decision and that a policy protecting "sexual orientation" would protect him from such harassment.

The issue I raised was a procedural one. The Board was present the Student Code of Conduct at its Oct 2 meeting and no objection was raised to policies that included protection for sexual orientation. The Student and Parent Handbook is not itself approved by the Board, but it reflects Board policy. As of Oct. 2, it would appear that Board policy did protect students based on sexual orientation. I am aware that on Oct. 3 administrators at the schools were presented the new language in the Student Code of Conduct. I am also aware that this new language had been first presented in May by the Handbook revision committee and had been reviewed in meetings of administrators and faculty.

So, when the Handbook went public on Oct. 18 it did reflect the policy as presented in a public meeting and official meetings of school employees.

Then, after press inquiries, the Handbook was pulled on Oct. 20 and when later re-published the wording protecting sexual orientation was missing. It would appear that Board policy changed. But when? And how? No public meeting was held. I think there is a violation of the open meetings law and plan to continue pressing this point.

When you speak to the Board, they cannot respond, but promise to respond in writing. This time I wrote a letter to the Board with specific questions that I want answered in the written response that I receive. Below is my letter to the Board:

November 6, 2006

Dear School Board Members,

I hope and expect that the written, epistolary response to my public comments will answer the following questions:

1) I am aware that the committee tasked with preparing the handbook for this year included wording that would have protected GLBT students. Why did the Board reject this committee’s recommendation?

2) It appears that the Board took actions in its October 2 meeting (on the handbook and on the disciplinary matrix) that did support the inclusion of language protecting students on the basis of sexual orientation. When was the decision made not to include such protections, and why wasn’t there a public hearing on the matter?

3) Last month the Board promulgated a policy that did protect GLBT students from harassment, bullying, and discrimination. That policy was then rescinded on a Thursday in the middle of the day after press inquiries. When was the decision to rescind made, who made it, and why was that decision-making process not public?

4) Public statements of Oklahoma City Public Schools since the rescinding of the promulgated policy that the protection of GLBT students was “inconsistent” with school policy have conflicted with previous statements of the Board and Superintendent that the protection of GLBT students was consistent with school policy. What is the school’s policy on the protection of GLBT students?

5) The rescinding of the promulgated policy implies that GLBT students are not protected from harassment, bullying, and discrimination in the Oklahoma City Public Schools. If this is not the case, then there needs to be a public explanation of why the promulgated policy was rescinded. What is that explanation?

6) Why are GLBT students -- the population of American students most targeted for bullying, harassment, and discrimination, and among the most suicide-prone –- not explicitly protected by Oklahoma City Public Schools?

I await your response.

Sincerely,

E. Scott Jones


Gender Identity Change to Become Easier?

This from the NYTimes:

Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.
Should people be allowed to alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery? Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.
. . . [Read More]