Archive for March, 2008

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Pittsburgh Blog for Equality Day

March 31, 2008

Blog for Equality Day

 

So I was out doing some tag surfing and discovered that today is Pittsburgh Blog for Equality Day, thanks to Irene over at Eleventh Stack.  I commented on her blog, and realized then that I needed to write something here today about marriage equality.  After all, my partner and I are in the thick of planning our own wedding.  (note:  we still don’t have a photographer; know anyone available on August 9th?)  I did a little more research and found that this event is being sponsored by The Pittsburgh Women’s Blogging Society, and though I’m not a woman, I do live near Pittsburgh and I certainly have an interest in obtaining marriage equality.  My partner and I deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to getting married.

It is interesting that this topic comes up today.  A few things have happened that seem to feed into this particular topic.  First off, there is my procrastination on calling my state Senator, Richard Kasunic.  I had intended to do that on Friday morning, but somehow neglected to do so.  It’s been almost 2 months since I contacted that office trying to get an appointment.  The secretary was to call back when the senator was taking appointments, and of course, that never happened.  I need to get on this again, and soon. 

I’ve spent the past few days working on our wedding plans, calling the dj, thinking of the guest list, contacting someone who might have been able to photograph our event.  So the wedding is very much on my mind.  With that, comes the thought that this is a ceremony for us, and our friends to share in our joy, but we will gain nothing as far as legal benefits are concerned.  Not only are same-sex marriages illegal, or not civilly recognized, but there is currently a bill in the state senate to amend the constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. 

I stayed at work a bit later than usual today, and as I headed back to my classroom after having a long conversation with a colleague, I could hear my cellphone vibrating.  It was Scott, my soon-to-be-husband.  He was quite excited, words rushing out of him, and ideas all over the place.  I kept asking him questions and finally figured out what had happened.  It seems we’re the talk of our little town.  I’ll go with exaggeration on this point, but it does seem that word is out that we are planning our wedding.  An aunt took it upon herself to visit Scott’s mom and quiz her about our upcoming nuptials.  Mom didn’t offer much information because she doesn’t have all that much to offer.  She knows we’re planning a wedding.  She might know that it is in August.  The rest of the conversation was spent talking about mom’s disapproval of the wedding and how the “kids” are taking it.  We both have children from when we tried to “choose” heterosexuality and married women. 

I doubt this meddling aunt would have grilled Scott’s mom if this were another straight marriage.  Families can be strange systems, and sometimes relatives swoop in to cast their opinions on matters that don’t concern them.  I suppose dear auntie would express her dismay if Scott were marrying the crack whore who lives down the street.  I’m even willing to guess that when pressured, this woman would have glowing things to say about me;  she knows me, and always speaks to me when I meet her out in public.  There’s no reason to be concerned about Scott marrying a character like me.  So that leaves the gay issue, and the mistaken belief that heterosexuals can declare who is worthy of a marriage license based on the gender of the 2 people involved. 

Please, if you believe in equality, if you believe that marriage is good for individuals, couples, families, and children, contact your state senator and ask them to oppose SB1250, the Marriage Protection Act.  Marriage doesn’t need protected from loving committed same-sex couples;  it needs protected from heterosexual couples who meet no other requirements for marriage except that one of them has a penis and the other has a vagina.  Find out more at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania.

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Real Furniture

March 22, 2008

When I separated from my (now) ex-wife, I tried to take as little as possible with me.  I needed to make sure that the kids had everything that they needed, and I wanted them to feel some consistency, even-though Dad was not living there anymore.  I took my digital piano, the stereo components, my weights and weight bench, and my clothes.  That meant that everything else I had to buy or scrounge.  I was a regular at yard sales, Goodwill, and my parents’ basement and attic. 

I started with a “love seat” that looked like it came out of the waiting room of a doctor’s office in the 1960’s.  It was somewhat Danish Modern and upholstered in a brown vinyl.  It wasn’t comfortable.  My coffee table was from Goodwill and looked like it had been handmade by someone who failed wood-shop in high school.  I painted it white.  It helped, if only a little.  I found an old tv with very little red left in it at my parents’ house.  They also gave me an old chest of drawers. 

Starting over, the best piece of furniture I purchased was the bed. (Read that again, this time with dripping sarcasm.)  It was a twin size air mattress that needed inflated every night before I cried myself to sleep.  Bedtime is not exactly the time one needs to be reminded that their life just fell apart and the future isn’t looking good.  So for that first month of being on my own, I had a constant reminder that perhaps, I had screwed up in a major way.  Sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of my crappy apartment was the nightly jab that would get my mind rolling with doubt. 

It wasn’t long before I was able to find a full bed frame with a mattress and box springs.  The price was just right:  free!  One of my co-workers at school had recently purchased a new bed for her daughter and offered me the old one.  All I had to do was find a way to transport it to my place.  I jumped at the chance to have a real bed.  It has served me well these past few years, although, I did find it necessary to replace the mattress with something more comfortable.  The replacement was a hand-me-down too.

My partner moved in with me six months after I rented the apartment.  We slowly found better furnishings, either as donations from sympathetic relatives, or flea market finds, or even roadkill.  Gnawing persistently at my brain was the thought that we’d never be able to select the style and quality of furniture ourselves; we’d be held captive to the dated styles of others.  They would cast off their bad taste, and we would grab it, proclaiming it to be “not that bad.”

Life did improve.  We were able to purchase a house in 2007.  We moved all our shabby chic pieces into this shabby chic shack.  After we discovered that we could actually afford to live here, I felt the need to have “real furniture.”  I wanted to pick it out, at the store, maybe even have it delivered.  I wanted to look at a couch and say “no, I don’t like the fabric” or “do you have something a bit more masculine?” 

It’s finally happening.  We purchased a sofa back in November.  It’s big, it’s well-stuffed, and it’s a vision of chocolate micro-suede.  I love the big pillows that came with it, as well as the opportunity to pay for it on credit. 

We had seen some beds at Levin Furniture back in November.  We had even returned to the clearance center to purchase a greatly reduced bedroom suite.  As we entered the store, I told myself that if it was still there, it was meant to be.  It had sold a few days before, but I looked at it as being a sign that I needed to wait.  I’m glad I did.  Purchasing an entire set of furniture is not what we needed to do.  The cost of the bed and the mattress set would be about all we could afford. 

Today, we returned to the store because we had seen a television ad offering no interest for 5 years.  We knew that purchasing the bed and mattress set would meet the minimum dollar amount required for the deal.  Sadly, none of the beds on the second floor showroom appealed to us.  I kept thinking “where are all the great beds we saw a few months ago?”  We decided to look in the clearance center, which is just across the street.  As we were about to exit the retail store, we noticed a mission style bed in the window.  We took a quick look before heading across Main street.  I kept looking at the bed in the window.  There was nothing appealing in the clearance center, although we thought the deals on the mattress sets were good.  We wrote down a product number, thinking we could buy the bed in the main store, and the mattress from the clearance center.  Our salesman offered to cut the price of the mattress to approximate the clearance center price, pointing out that we would then benefit from a 10 year guarantee. 

We bought the bed!  We pick it up on Wednesday.  It’s a beautiful Mission Oak style that will work nicely with either a rustic cottage theme, or a clean, organic Japanese environment. Now, we’ll be needing a new set of sheets and of course, a bed spread that will fit a queen size bed.  Now who has a queen bed and might have some old sheets they want to give away?

the bed

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Holiday Clean Up

March 21, 2008

I’ve been meaning to post here as I like to have some consistency to this blog.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened for the past month or so.  There are several entries I want to write, but I want to do them justice, so I’ll take the time to work on them before I post.  Let’s just use this entry as a catch-all, general update.

 The musical:  Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods went rather well.  We performed the show March 13-16.  The music is difficult, but I had strong singers for most of the parts, and I also had a talented pit orchestra.  The show is a big reason I didn’t get to update as regularly as I’d like.  Rehearsals were up to 4 hours every evening, and more intense as opening night approached.  It’s rewarding to work with a talented group of singers/actors to produce a fine piece of entertainment;  rewarding, in the sense of gratifying emotionally, not monetarily.  Not many community theater productions exist for their ability to generate a profit.

The situation at church:  Things have improved.  I’ve made peace with “C” and while we may disagree on things, I think we both understand each other a little better.  I’ve also given some information to another person who holds the opinion that a person cannot be gay and christian.  He was receptive to the brochure I gave him, and came to me last night to say that he found it interesting, is continuing to study it and looking up scriptures.  He is looking forward to meeting with me for a discussion of the information.  Ah, another chance for me to hone my debating skills! 

I’ve still got a pet peeve about the discussion that took place at an Elders’ meeting.  You may recall that this is what brought about the stress I’ve had at church.  Last evening, for our Maundy Thursday service, half of our Elders and even fewer of our Deacons attended.  This really bothers me, given that they felt they needed to discuss whether my partner should be attending church with me.  At least we’re there!

Pennsylvania Government:  HB1400 which amends the PA Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, is still as far as I know, in committee.  This should be a no-brainer, and as I pointed out in an earlier post, my own State Representative, Deberah Kula, has promised her support of the bill.    

Unfortunately, SB1250 has been voted into the Appropriations Committee, which means this amendment to our state constitution has cleared another hurdle on its way to becoming law.  PA already has a DOMA law on the books.  This amendment would not only prevent same-sex marriages, but would also permanently prevent same-sex couples from participating in civil unions.  Read more at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania

Finally, it is time to wish you, my faithful handful of readers, a Blessed Resurrection Day!  In spite of all the teachings I’ve heard about Christ being all about “love”, it has taken some time to sink in, at least for me.  I believe that Jesus came to teach us a radical new way to love each other, and because his message was such an affront to the religious leaders of his day, the only logical outcome for him was death.  I have great trouble with the idea of substitutionary atonement theories.  I’ve discovered that others do too.  Want to take your head for a spin?  Read this article by S. Mark Heim.  As I write this, on Good Friday (one could ask good for whom?  certainly not Jesus) I am filled with thoughts about the use of the word “Easter” in connection with this celebration.  The word itself has pagan connections, and while I hold nothing against the pagans, I’m not sure Christians should be borrowing so heavily when presenting what is to be the most important event of the church year.  So, once more, let me wish you a Blessed Resurrection Day!

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You Can Lead a Christian to Knowledge But You Can’t Make Him Think

March 10, 2008

This week, I am having two separate discussions with individuals about the gay issue as it pertains to christians.  I’m using much of the same information in both conversations, but the reactions have been very different from each of these people. 

I mentioned in a previous post that some people from my church were struggling with seeing me and my partner attending worship services together.  I decided that I would meet with those people individually, and so I am fresh from a meeting with one woman that I’ll simply call “C” as I don’t want to name her publicly. 

What a wonderful time we had! We met at a new coffee house, exchanged some pleasantries, and then I asked “well, C, what happened?”  C told me that at the end of an elder’s meeting she brought up a situation in which another member of the church asked her about the new choir member, my partner, and she wasn’t sure how to respond.  Sure wasn’t quite sure how much information to give, and because of her beliefs about the gay issue, she wanted guidance from her fellow elders as to a proper response.  For C, this was the extent of her struggle.  From there, what appears to have been a small matter became larger, for both of us, creating discord in both of our houses, until it was necessary for us to talk this thing out with each other.

Our conversation lasted 90 minutes.  We talked of our children, our dreams, our experiences in our relationships and marriages.  We spoke of things we had in common, things that were so very different.  When she talked about my lifestyle choices, I asked her to refrain from using those terms as they were offensive to me. I explained how they imply that lgbt people choose to be as they are, which is just not true.  That lead us to a discussion of all the major medical and psychological organizations that have declared sexual orientation to be natural, unchangeable, and not a mental illness.  Throughout the entire conversation we were able to laugh and honor each other.  It was the best conversation I’d ever had with someone who holds an entirely different opinion than that of my own. 

 There were some tense moments.  At one point, she brought out the slippery slope argument.  She is afraid that if we “allow” homosexuals to say that they are “naturally” attracted to people of the same gender, that people would then claim that they are “naturally” attracted to children.  I stopped her, and asked her if children could consent to that kind of activity.  C’s response was telling to me: molesters could claim that!  I agreed that they could, but, I pressed on, “can children consent to that kind of relationship?” to which she had to admit they could not.  I asked her to stop comparing my relationship to that of a child molester.  It could not be part of this conversation, as it was offensive to me.

We were both aware of the time and of the weather, which seemed only to get worse as we sat drinking our coffee and talking on about our beliefs.  We countered each other’s statements with valid points, and requests for more examination, and eventually decided that we needed to move on to our respective plans for the evening.  I asked C to continue studying the information I had given her.  She promised she would.  As we left the coffee house, I gave C a hug and responded to her “God Bless You” with the same reply.  I decided in that moment to give her what we all wish to hear:  “I love you”, and was pleased to receive that same blessing from C. 

The second conversation takes place in the blogoshpere.  Q is a guy who is a christian and is struggling with his orientation.  I caught a post in the tag surfer and decided to comment.  Q has a male friend who is gay, christian, and has come to accept his orientation.  That friend has moved on and taken a boyfriend.  Q was lamenting the fact that the boyfriend is a guy that Q would have loved to be in love with.  Q seems to be spinning his wheels, waiting for God to send an angel with word from on high as to how he should live his life. 

My comment included some of my own story of being gay and christian, a link to some good theological study, and an invitation to read more here at my blog.  The response from Q was more internalized homophobia, and that while being gay is not a choice, Q thought it was the result of living in an imperfect, or fallen world.  He dismissed my advice by stating “but for now I haven’t heard it from the Spirit, so I’m having to just say no to man dating.” 

So I simplified it;  I explained how the Bible has only 6 verses that can be interpreted to same-sex behavior, and that when studied in depth, those verses can not be applied to homosexual orientation as we understand it today.  I asked if a loving God would create a class of people with an attraction for persons of the same sex, then not only forbid them from acting on that attraction, but hold them responsible for behaving according to the nature God placed within them. 

Evidently Q’s answer is yes, God would do that.  The evidence comes in his statement “sucks for me.”  I brought this up in the soulforce forums, and some of my friends there went to Q’s blog and joined in the conversation.  Q’s response to this was another blog entry in which he declares it’s useless for us to “puncture his beliefs” with our list of counterpoints.  Q lives his life according to his relationship with Christ.  He’s waiting for a word from the Spirit about the stuff he’s struggling with, and until then the best thing we can do for him is pray for him. 

Q wants it to drop out of the sky without him ever investing time, study, thought, or even much of himself into the process.  The words of those who have been there, and those who have experience in counselling mean nothing to Q.  He doesn’t want to examine his own beliefs, he simply expects a miraculous bit of information to pop into his head. 

Let’s go back to C for a moment.  I emailed her to thank her for meeting me and having our conversation.  She told me that she had spent a restless night, got up early and studied the scriptures.  C said she was drawn to 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians 6, two of the verses that appear to condemn homosexuals.  Her conclusion was that God was telling her she shouldn’t change her beliefs.  I mentioned that perhaps God was asking her to study those passages more deeply.  I asked her to pay attention to the Greek words arsenokoitai and malakoi

I am struck by something common my experiences with C and Q.  It is the willingness of both of them to dismiss the power of our intellect to help us understand scripture and the world around us.  Q even told me that her mind was telling her that everything I said in our conversation was right, but that because it was her “human nature” that controlled her thoughts, she could not make that leap to change her beliefs.  Q is basically saying the same thing:  don’t confuse me with scientific facts, and logical conclusions based on a sound interpretation of scripture; I need to hear from God. 

I thought that humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that we are made in God’s image.  That seems to me, as humans, we have the potential to be high quality products, and as such, at least some of what we learn about the creation in which we find ourselves has got to be of some significant quality as well.  You can bring people to the fountain of knowledge, you just can’t make them take a sip.

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My Visit to my State Representative’s Office

March 1, 2008

Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are about to become protected by law in the state of Pennsylvania.  HB1400 is a bill intended to amend our current Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to prohibit discrimination of these minorities, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and the use of a guide dog.  I fall into one of those minorities since I am a gay man, but I suppose I could claim another group that has been the target of discrimination.  I do have Irish ancestry, after all. 

So I got my Irish up, (oops, is that perpetuating the stereotype of the Irish being quick to anger?) and made an appointment to visit my State Representative, Deberah Kula, to ask her to support this amendment to the existing PHRA.  I was prepared.  I had my talking points printed up.  I did more research on those points that were provided to me by Equality Advocates PA.  I walked into her office with my head held high, ready to engage in some lively conversation. 

I barely got through the greetings and small talk, when I realized this was not going to be a problem.  When I mentioned the particular bill and its purpose, she replied with “not a problem.”  She indicated to me that everyone should have access to housing and employment.  I was disappointed that I didn’t get to demonstrate my knowledge of the statistics, but I was happy to have a common entry point for the conversation that followed. 

I brought up the bill that has been introduced into our state senate, that would amend our state constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman.  It was at this point that the conversation became more intense.  Rep. Kula explained to me that she just could not see this amendment passing.  It is difficult to amend the state constitution, and this just did not seem like a bill that could pass, in her opinion.  A quick search for a copy of the state constitution, followed by a swift perusal of same, leads me to believe that the last amendment to this document was in 1978.  It is encouraging that Pennsylvania has not seen fit to alter this constitution in the past 30 years.  I would also add here how much I appreciate her willingness to discuss this “Marriage Protection Amendment” when, as a representative, this bill has not been introduced in the House. 

Our conversation continued, and Rep. Kula stated that she would be honest with me, that her personal convictions did not allow her to support same-sex marriages.  I smiled and thanked her for being upfront with me, and decided to dive in and explore those convictions.  She told me that her religious beliefs just did not permit her to support us in acquiring the right to marry.  I countered with my own, rather strong religious beliefs.  I explained how I struggled to reconcile my faith with my orientation, as I was coming out.  Then I engaged her in a discussion of how a person comes to be gay or lesbian.  We talked about genetics, environment, and the complex interaction of both that medical science and psychological research believes to be responsible for sexual orientation.  I talked about choice, and how, knowing that discrimination and violence is a real possibility for gays and lesbians, no one would willingly choose to be homosexual.  Then I asked the question, somewhat rhetorically, “knowing that this isn’t a choice, what is the appropriate behavior for committed, loving, same-sex couples?”  Of course, I went on to answer my own question by stating that it is in the best interest of society that individuals pair up to care for each other so as not to be a burden on extended family or the government.  I spoke of health care, inheritance benefits, as well as hospital visitation, all of which are granted to straight couples within a few minutes at the local courthouse, yet denied to gay and lesbian couples.  My desire to care for my partner, and his wishes to care for me, as any married couple would and should, was also mentioned. 

At one point, she tried to explain her position, and found herself in a spot where she did not want to be.  Rep. Kula started to speak of natural inclinations, like mass murder.  She caught herself, and said, “and I don’t mean to compare you to mass murderers, perhaps I could have found a better comparison.”  To which I replied with a laugh “good, I was going to have to go after you on that one.”

One final, somewhat melancholy exchange came when Rep. Kula told me that she didn’t know how she would vote for such an amendment if she were forced to do so tomorrow.  She said that she would have a difficult time deciding, but most likely would vote against same-sex marriage.  She apologized to me, saying that she knew it was not what I wanted to hear.  I was gracious, replied politely, and again thanked her for her honesty.  I genuinely valued her candor, as I felt no malicious intent from her.  I believe she holds her convictions because of misinformation, a lack of understanding about what it means to be gay or lesbian in our society. 

As I got up to leave, we shook hands and looked intently at each other.  It was at that point she said  “beautiful blue eyes.”  Perhaps I made the connection that I was attempting.  Something that I said at some point in that half hour may have stayed with her, and caused her to think.  I was pleased that I was able to leave her without experiencing “violence of the fist, the tongue, or the heart” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught.