29 September 2011

21 September 2011

Free to Serve

Before my dad married my mom, he was an Army officer. He has always been very proud of his military service and I have always been proud of him serving. I remember as a kid seeing on his home desk and in his drawer the various badges and ribbons and insignia of rank he had worn on his uniform before I came along. I thought it was all very cool. I played soldier with my neighborhood friends like any other boy and imagined what it would be like to really be in the Army like my dad had been. As I grew it became clear that my asthma would disqualify me from any military service, which was disappointing. But I have remained proud of my dad’s service and have been very glad for that family connection to the service of our country.

I always respected the military traditions of duty and honor and integrity and meritocracy. Of goals and achievement, of judging and promoting based on performance and capabilities. The discipline that was inculcated, which enabled ordinary people to set aside or overcome their own foibles and do extraordinary things.

So I was stunned to eventually learn about the history of racial discrimination even in the U.S military and how relatively recently that discrimination was eliminated. I was amazed and embarrassed to read statements of people and politicians—and even senior officers—at the time who fought with everything they had to keep that racism in place and to prevent racial equality. Racism seems so indisputably opposed to everything the great American experiment stands for, to everything the United States military is sworn to protect, and everything I knew of its values.

And that’s why, as I learned about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, read its history and saw its effects, I inevitably came to the same conclusions. It was the same bigotry, just directed at another group that’s also historically been misunderstood and abused and discriminated against, solely because of an unchosen personal characteristic the majority didn’t share. What could sexual orientation possibly have to do with one’s ability to do one’s job, whether military or not? So why should gay people be singled out for being kicked out of the military if the same kind of treatment was illegal in civilian settings? It just made no sense. It went beyond nonsensical to self-defeating and even damaging to national security as I read about the effects, about the cost of kicking out able, dedicated service members who wanted to stay and had key specialties the military needed.

Others far more knowledgeable have told that story in far more compelling detail than I could. Suffice it to say that I agree with the opinions of many senior officers: DADT was stupid, counterproductive, harmful. A terrible mistake.

And that in turn is why, with the memory of respect for my father’s service, last night I went to the San Diego LGBT Community Center to join the celebration of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I knew it was a historically important moment and I wanted to be with the hundreds of others, including active and retired military personnel, who would be there to celebrate the correction of this great wrong, and the step our military service took toward greater faithfulness to American ideals.

It was remarkable to hear the story of guest speaker Eric Alva, who sustained permanent damage to right arm and who lost his right leg to a land mine. Who knew the first American serviceman wounded in the Iraq war was a gay Marine? Or the stories of a female Navy Academy graduate kicked out for being gay, or an active duty Navy hospital nurse who the next day could go to work for the first time and say “Yeah, okay, so what?” Or the story of a highly decorated Army bird colonel, now retired and happily married to his husband.

It was inspiring to see the obvious patriotism and love of country in the crowd of hundreds who listened to those stories, to see the dozens of little flags waved during every speech, to hear the cheers and shouts and military parlance, to see the pride and happiness on countless faces. They whooped and cheered as one of the speakers described waking up that morning feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and how elated she was that she could finally just be herself, honestly and without the deception that DADT had forced so many to live with for so long. I’m sure it was just like the first day of emancipation for African-American soldiers in the Civil War, finally free and eager to defend the nation that had given them that freedom.

But most inspiring of all was when the colonel, final speaker on the program, asked everyone to stand and join him in reciting the pledge of allegiance. And this time, he said, say those last six words like you’ve never said them before. Because starting today, he said, we are closer to making them true.

Click the Play button below to see what followed.

17 September 2011

Very Touching

Like virtually everyone else, my kids love hugs. Who doesn't. They need hugs. They thrive on them, on the wordless reassurance of love and acceptance and comfort and security. It's my job and my privilege as a dad to give all that to them so they can grow up happy and healthy and well-adjusted.

Everybody needs hugs. The sense of touch is a remarkable thing. Humans need to touch each other. Babies who aren't held and cuddled when they're tiny don't grow as well, and I think I remember reading that they end up having other emotional problems as they get bigger too.

The touch of a good friend is heart-warming, and the touch of a wife or husband or partner is even better. In a class by itself. It can set the heart racing, endorphins flowing, make the world brighter and more beautiful. It's magic. It makes life amazing.

Even if you don't have such a person in your life (which I don't), one can always hope to find them in the future, and can look forward to the thrill of that kind of touching.

And, at the risk of sounding like Johnny One Note, this is another reason I find the Mormon church's teachings about gay people not just wrong, not just cruel, but hypocritical. Nevermind the fact that the scriptural basis of the whole approach is highly questionable. The requirement that in order to remain in full fellowship a gay person must cut themselves off from all hope of this most fundamental need, the need to be touched, there's just no other word for that but "cruel."

And I'm not talking about sexual touching either. That's a completely separate issue. I'm just talking about the holding hands, the rubbing backs, the hugs, tne arms round shoulders, the stroking of the backs of necks or earlobes, all that innocent stuff that straight couples have been doing publicly in Mormon worship services since anybody can remember. The kind of thing that Mormon culture welcomes and encourages. But if two gay people do it, OMG OMG OMG. Call Church Security and throw them to the ground on the public sidewalk at Temple Square and have them arrested. Ask them to stop, ask them to leave. Mustn't even allow a public expression of such a thing.

OK, disproportionate, yes. But hypocritical? How?

Since the Prop 8 debacle the Mormon church seems to have been trying to repair some of its self-inflicted damage by taking what some characterize as a kinder, gentler approach toward gay people. I see this and basically shrug. Self-motivated penitence is one thing, the forced penitence of somebody who picked a fight, got beat up, and then tries to make up afterward is not quite as trustworthy or praiseworthy, I think, but hey, if it's an improvement at all, then good. I guess.

But so far, it's all cosmetic. It seems forced. Purely reactive. It wouldn't have happened if the church hadn't provoked such indignation by intervening in politics the way it did. The theological box into which the church has painted itself--and which forces it to act as it does--remains as airtight as ever. So while it's nice that the church has stopped coercing gay male BYU students into electroshock conversion therapy and stopped (publicly) calling gay people "perverts" as it used to do, the underlying reasons for that earlier approach haven't changed. Just the packaging.

And that's why I think it's hypocritical. I know they're doing what they think is their best to put a nicer face on things, and that's good. But an organization that claims to be led by revelation from God should be out in front leading advancements in truth and knowledge and learning and doing better in loving, charitable treatment for all God's children. It shouldn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward accommodation of social change (like no more racial discrimination) that all the less-inspired have long since accepted as basic fundamental humanity.

So the fact that the kinder gentler approach is just a new veneer over the same old doctrine that justified such horrible treatment before, well, in a sense it almost makes things worse. Because as long as the doctrine remains unchanged there will be people who cling to the old brutal homophobic ways of doing things and insist they're justified. I know some will say it takes time to change big organizations. But this one can turn on a dime if it wants. That's what it did in 1978 with the change in policy on priesthood. But the key there was a leader who realized how wrong the church had been and had the courage to change it. I don't see any indication of any current Mormon leader heading that direction as far as rescuing the church from its self-constructed box on the gay issue.

That makes me sad because I have friends who cling to their faith and desperately want to see that kind of reconciliation. But as long as the church holds to its current doctrine I don't see how that's possible. They will never be anything but second-class citizens, permanently excluded from eligibility for the eternal rewards which the church teaches are the only things worth striving for. Unless the doctrine changes. And that would require a re-write of everything in a way not seen since the time the church started polygamy. I don't see that happening for a very long time, if ever.

And that's why it's so sad that the Mormon church tells its gay members not to touch each other. You must deprive yourselves, it says, of this most fundamental of human needs, one so basic that babies die without it. This is what God wants you to do. Would that be the same God, I ask, who said it's not good for man to be alone? Yes, that would be Him. Oh, I see. And that's consistent how?

12 September 2011

Words Kill. Again.

I am stunned to learn of another gay Mormon suicide. A returned missionary, married father who finally came out, was promptly excommunicated from the church for reasons I don't know, and his staunch Mormon wife--apparently believing she had to protect her kids from perversion--left him with their five children and wouldn't let him see or talk to them. Unable to bear the shame, separation or loneliness, yesterday he killed himself. All alone. And now the wife's family is not allowing these fatherless kids any contact with their dad's extended family either; apparently dad's family was "too tolerant" of homosexuality. So these kids not only lose dad, they lose half their family too.

Three weeks, start to finish.

What's it going to take for some people to wake up and see the damage, the tragedy that their myopia continues to inflict?

What's it going to take for Mormons, Christians, Catholics, anyone else who cloaks homophobia in religious "principle" to see that they're perpetuating an atmosphere of such poison?

Mormon children are taught a song when they're young that includes the words "Jesus walked away from none, He gave His love to everyone, So I will, I will."

Why do the adults who teach the kids that song never seem to get the message themselves?

If memory serves, the New Testament shows that the thing which drove Jesus to furious anger faster than anything else was hypocrisy, the smooth protestations of the outwardly religious that they were following all the rules, when inwardly they were corrupt as hell and blind to the greater principles of loving God and their neighbor as themselves. These were the ones for whom the Savior reserved His greatest scorn.

I think this man's wife and his local leaders deserve to take their place with the "scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites" the Savior condemned to the kind of punishment nobody would want. I pray for his children that they will be able to heal someday from this horrible, totally unnecessary tragedy. And I pray for their father that he'll find the peace he seeks as he waits for his children to live their lives and someday join him again.

In paradisum de ducant angeli in tuo adventu susipiant te maryres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem, aeternam habeas requiem.

May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a pauper but no longer, may you have eternal rest.

03 September 2011


Just watch it and prepare to be delighted.