This Is Why We Celebrate Pride Month In June

I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood.  What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community.  The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.

This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president.  Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy.  Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.

President Eisenhower and Robert Cutler

When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur.  While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment.  In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month. 

Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”  The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.

Arthur Vandenberg Jr.

The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.

Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.

We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.

Gay Youth Harmed By State Republicans Favoring Conversion Therapy

Modern society and medical professionals have solidly rebuked conversion therapy, but Wisconsin Republicans embraced it Wednesday in the State Senate. What we thought was behind us has again been thrust in our faces. Before going any further with this post, let us put the young people who will be harmed by this ludicrous action forefront of our thoughts.  Often this blog tries to shine a light on what young gay kids, especially in rural parts of the state, face as a result of the actions some take for pure partisan delight.  (I was one of those kids decades ago.)

After watching the national news last evening which contained more Russian aggression and another school shooting, I admit to being taken aback at the local reports of Republicans voting to allow therapists to pursue the discredited idea of conversion therapy in our state.  I had some hope that the State Senate would be less inclined to act with the same harshness and complete lack of empathy for gay people in their communities as had the Assembly earlier this month.  I was very wrong.  Senate Republicans used the procedural move to freeze any future attempts through 2024 to ban conversion therapy.

Consider how out of bounds the Republicans were with their vote, knowing that conversion therapy has been condemned by dozens of medical and psychological professional organizations in several countries, banned in at least seven countries, and at least 20 states and the District of Columbia have outlawed conversion therapy for minors. Additionally, that therapy has been banned in more than a dozen Wisconsin cities. Being gay is not a disease or a disorder. It requires no remedy.

The quackery of this procedure is one that aligns equally with the theory that witches float if tossed into a lake.  What is not funny is the harm that will befall young people who will in some cases be forced into the most bizarre conversion therapy practices. “LGB people who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to think about suicide and to attempt suicide compared to their peers who hadn’t experienced conversion therapy.”

I strongly suspect the United Nations is anathema to the GOP caucus but for my readers, I mention the UN’s Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz. He has described conversion therapy as an “egregious violation of rights” and called for a worldwide ban. There is just no way to adequately describe how far outside of the rational and reasoned world the Republicans are when talking about this issue.

While there are multiple headlines in newspapers and on television about the partisan actions conservative politicians took Wednesday, the tragedies, and suicides that result from conversion therapy will only find a small write-up on the obituary page.  That may sound blunt, but sadly, it is the truth.  If that line offends, consider how offensive it is to a teenager to be told that their basic sexual identity is under attack. Now consider if that teenager is in a rural locale where it seems no one understands and there is nowhere to turn for guidance and emotional grounding.  

One must wonder what the rationale is for this GOP obsession with gay people and transgenders in our state and nation.  After some pondering only one explanation makes sense.  Cruelty is the purpose behind these actions.  Conservatives targeted gay people when demands were made for marriage rights, and we know how even civil unions were blasted by the Republicans 20 years ago.  But society at large had much to say about gay marriage as every family and every neighborhood had gay people and couples within the mix.  Somehow gay people are again targeted by the Republicans, but transgender people seemingly are the ones most prone to face partisan rhetoric and then as a consequence, violence from those in the public most susceptible to acting out when hearing such discourse. I know that modernity will prevail and in years to come this too will be another example of how conservatives lost a  self-created culture war. But how many young people will pay too high a price for the partisan games now being played?

Mike Pence’s ‘Reggie White Moment’, Nation Swats Down Bigoted Words From Former Vice-President About Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg holding one of his twin newborns in the hospital.

Conservatives would not stand before a crowd of elected notables along with the national press and openly mock or laugh at the Irish, Mexicans, Blacks, or Jews. But gay people are still the one group where those same conservatives have never met an ugly bigoted bridge they will not gleefully cross so to play to their base.  Such was the case this past weekend when Mike Pence took off after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at the Gridiron Club Dinner.   He demonstrated a lack of awareness about what constitutes good and solid parenting that our nation understands can be nurtured with parental leave.  Additionally, while conservatives often lack empathy over a bevy of issues, what pray tell, is the humor to be found with postpartum depression, which Pence wished us to find mirthful?

The charismatically challenged former vice-president delivered flat remarks, even when trying to distance himself from the autocratic actions of Donald Trump. But it was when Pence turned nasty and bigoted regarding Buttigieg’s two months of “maternity leave” following the adoption of newborn twins and then facing a medical crisis with one of them in 2021 that our nation rightfully said ENOUGH! It did not take long for social forces to pounce on Pence’s ill-advised and mean-spirited homophobic remarks.

“When Pete’s two children were born, he took two months’ maternity leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways.  Pence’s stand-up routine included, “Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression”. 

Had Pence taken the time to be better informed he would have noted a column that much of the nation read last year which placed the medical needs of the newborns in clear and precise language. He would have discovered the babies that Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, adopted were born premature, and soon developed RSV. Both ended up needing oxygen, and the boy was put on a ventilator and transferred to a bigger hospital two hours away. The two parents moved into a nearby hotel and took turns, one staying with their son, unconscious and in critical condition in the hospital, with the other staying with their infant daughter in the hotel room, living out of suitcases.  That, for me, sums up family values, you know, the term that conservatives tout as cheap partisan campaign lines when targeting transgender citizens and those who participate in drag shows.  Meanwhile, the Buttigieg family was proving what parenting looks like in the 21st century.

When Pence failed Saturday night to think about the foulness of his words, he reminded this Wisconsinite of how Reggie White bombed when addressing the Wisconsin State Legislature.  In the mid-1990s I sat in the public section above the Assembly chamber and heard the following words uttered by Reggie White, then a player with the Green Bay Packers.  It was without doubt the most tin-eared speech I have ever heard in person. Knowing your audience before speaking was not a concept White had clearly ever stopped to ponder. Well, let us be honest and say there were many things White never pondered.

“I’m offended that homosexuals will say that homosexuals deserve rights.”

“In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated, millions of them never died. Homosexuality is a decision. It’s not a race. And when you look at it, people from all different ethnic backgrounds are living this lifestyle, but people from all different ethnic backgrounds are also liars and cheaters and malicious and backstabbers.”

I sat dumbfounded and watched as the Joint Session tried to look away from the insanity that was coming from the podium. That was in my mind as I read the powerful retort from Chasten Buttigieg to Mike Pence, the modern Reggie White.

“An honest question for you … after your attempted joke this weekend…If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old — their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background — where would you be?”

When it comes to places like the Gridiron we do not expect to see blatant anti-gay rhetoric. But for Pence it was just another speech to another audience where promoting homophobia was just part of his routine.  What we all can be proud of, however, is that our nation responded and let it be known even though some may slip homophobia into a night of speeches and fun it will be slapped down.  Society is making progress and I know that many in our country are coming to better understand the meanness that is homophobia. And they are also finding one more reason to dislike Mike Pence.

Respect for Marriage Act Moving Towards Passage, Harsh Vitriol From Right-Wing Continues

Last week, when I heard on the radio leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had added their support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill enshrining protections for marriage equality, I said to myself ‘wwhhhaatt?’  I recall the strident opposition the Mormon Church had employed for years as gay Americans sought their civil rights in relation to marriage equality issues. I lamented on this blog how large donations from the church to anti-gay rights groups in various states were aiding in the placement of marriage amendments designed to further solidify the notion of ‘one, one woman’. But at the end of 2022 that once-hefty roadblock in Utah to social progress has relented and shortly after Thanksgiving Congress will codify marriage rights for gay couples.

I do not take such political moments lightly, or in any way assume that the blowback will not be vigorous or the outrageous comments less than numerous.  At age 60, I can vouch for the reason we work hard for our rights and know full well why hope is ever important in politics. I have praised forward-thinking pols who stood for the expansion of rights in the nation and have strongly rejected the harsh and vile rhetoric unleashed by those who wish to demonize gay people. Once again, I am heartened by champions who know the need to codify gay marriage rights, and also sad, given that this is 2022 that some in the right wing have not moved the needle whatsoever in their thinking.

It should be noted that this bill, which now heads to the Senate floor has been fashioned akin to the ones Congress could engineer with regularity before it became so constantly dysfunctional.  The bill contains plenty of exemptions for religious groups, making it the type of moderate compromise that allowed 12 Republican senators to move the measure forward with a procedural vote.  

Even with the buy-in from many senators within the GOP caucus I read the following comment about the bill and knew that for some in the nation accepting social progress has been slow and all uphill. “HR 8404 will force every state to honor and obey the insane marriage laws of any other state—even if that state allows pedophilic marriages.”

This type of outlandish bombast is not new. We can recall that in 2010 then-Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made the stunning statement that extending domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples could lead to allowing people to marry tables and dogs.  That those words were a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the facts goes without saying.  She knew better than to say what she did.  She knew full well they were not grounded in reality.  I also know that in some parts of the country, and even in some areas of Wisconsin, rancid anti-gay slurs and outright bigotry are easily spewed. They continue to do so, in part, because of the reckless rhetoric that is used by some conservative politicians such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, along with political activists.

Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center warned that the legislation “disrespects the religious liberties of millions of Americans who may face judicial assault if they refuse to oblige the left’s tyrannical narratives.” The Freedom Center’s Ryan Helfenbein retweeted its claim,adding, his own warning that “We are opening the door for massive religious persecution on a scale never seen before in America.”

Concerned Women for America called it an “attack” on people “who affirm Biblical morality when it comes to marriage and sexuality.”

Pundit Todd Starnes denounced the Republican senators who “just declared war on the church” by voting to allow the bill to move forward, and he claimed that the bill would “put a target on every Christian church in America.”

Even though we have been down this road many times it is concerning that the same worn-thin lingo and unreasonable fears and relentless attempts to undermine and demean gay Americans still have enough of a well of support to allow bandwidth for those who champion hate. I know the bill will pass and President Biden will sign it into law.  It will be a meaningful and needed move given the stated inclinations from the Supreme Court which were made known in the Dobbs decision and put into clear wording by Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is most clear that a continuous pressing forward by gay Americans will be required to further close the gap between the vast majority of the nation supporting gay rights, and that segment that seems determined to reject modernity.

An Uplifting American Story: Gay Immigrant Congressman

Rep.-elect Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), center, arrives at an orientation meeting Nov. 14, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Our political leaders should reflect the diversity of the nation. Our legislatures should be a mirror of the diversity of our people, and our growing ethnicity.  It is repugnant when there is open disdain for the inclusion of all within our elected class, or when rancor is churned up within the populace for the partisan aim of excluding the largest possible makeup within our legislative bodies.

This year with all the bombast and willfully created chaos in the midterm elections so as to ram through several seriously flawed Republican candidates, comes uplifting news from the other side of the political divide. Robert Garcia, the 44-year-old former Democratic mayor of Long Beach, California won his election to the House of Representatives.  That, in and of itself, would not be remarkable enough to garner a post on this site.  What makes him a real American story is that he is gay and came to these shores as an immigrant.

He came to this country at the age of 5 from Peru and will now sit in Congress.  This week I heard him speak in an interview and was most taken with this portion of the broadcast.

“Too many people think that patriotism is about individualism or about taking care of your family or this whole ‘America First’ mentality. What being a true American patriot is, is making your country a welcoming place.”

“There’s a lot of things I am: Yes, I’m gay. And, yes, I’ve been a mayor. But there’s nothing that makes me more me than being an immigrant. I’m very proud to be an immigrant, and that has defined me more than anything else in my life.”

It is most apparent that I love politics and the percolating issues of the day.  But I admit this election cycle to feeling very dismayed about the messaging from too many candidates who spoke against democracy and threatened to undermine future elections by enacting new laws and holding key offices in states that could undermine Electoral College procedures. I come from an understanding, using a rather extreme and perhaps odd example, where South Carolina’s Senator John Calhoun was terribly wrong about his theories of Black people in the 19th century, but he was a well-written and learned man about the formation of the nation and the ideas surrounding our national purpose. Contrast that with what passed for acceptable candidates within the GOP primary process this year, ones who were not only wholly wrong on the issues but dreadfully lacking in any fundamental education about the office they wished to be elected to or the basic constructs and ideals of our nation. So, yes, the election left me feeling rather uneasy about where we find ourselves in 2022.

And then, I learned of the election of Robert Garcia.

Against the grievance mindset which now makes up the GOP is this fresh and strong personality from Gracia with his sure-footed understanding of our nation, our purpose, and our ideals. I like the theme of optimism in our politics and gravitate towards that uplift. Give my sails a lift in the wind about inclusion and the greater good and the many months of anger and resentment from baffling candidates floats off and away. Our nation has always done better, much better with an array of Americans who know the real purpose and value of our nation. Travel bans and border walls are flawed concepts that are poison to the root story of our nation. This story of one man underscores why our nation needs to secure the future of young minds who arrive in our country, allowing them to become a legal part of our national fabric, and end the shameful antics of those who harbor bigotry.

The midterms did have a hopeful ending.

Morning After Elections, Time Congress Gets Back To Work, Pass Respect for Marriage Act

The counting of the ballots continues this Wednesday morning as the nation slips past a mind-numbing election season. While the bombast and high volume of television advertisements cease there is now the realization with seven weeks left in this congressional session some more work needs to be completed.  I suspect, given the usual playbook for political antics, some needless theatrics will occur over the debt ceiling and perhaps another funding measure. But given the political landscape following the outcome of the races on the ballot Tuesday, I firmly believe that it is imperative the Respect for Marriage Act now passes the Senate. There must be no wiggle room allowed for fuzzy thinking or attempts to squirrel this measure into the pile of bills that do not get concluded this year.

The legislation would require states to recognize same-sex unions.  What we witnessed with the Supreme Court not adhering to precedent when they overturned abortion rights in the Dobbs decision, ending a fundamental right for women’s health care and marking the first time in our history that the Court stripped away a fundamental right, showcases what is at stake for gay marriage rights. The threats to privacy, as it relates to constitutional law when the conservative justices consider future cases, make this matter of marriage great import to families around this nation.

I am reminded, over and over, how Republican presidents who lost the popular vote have placed very conservative justices on the bench, who then often place their ideological preferences ahead of the concept of a living Constitution.  I am also very mindful that Democrats had ample opportunities to bring the Marriage Act to the floor in the summer months, but waffled and failed to just get the job done. The majority of the citizenry–in every state–strongly supports these rights for gay families in the nation. With such national backing, it does beg the question of why the Senate has not found the resolve to pass the measure. When the public desires passage of an issue that does face potential restrictions due to written Court threats, as evidenced by the words of Justice Clarence Thomas in this year’s overturn of Roe, it is easy to see why there is concern about the slow walk. While I can spin the tired lines that Democratic leaders just desired to get Republicans on board with their concerns about religious liberties, I can also assure my readers that gay couples are really not interested, yet again, in being the expendable issue on a negotiating table.

The House, under the able leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. passed the bill in July—and did so with the support of 47 Republicans.  With the various levers that can be employed for Senate passage, I do not care if the chamber inserts the language into a must-pass funding measure or if they pass the bill as a stand-alone measure.  I cannot adequately express how tired it feels to always be asking others to simply allow for the basic rights and dignity to be afforded to gay people, and in this case, married gay couples.

I would hope that for the next few weeks the culture war hysteria can be tamped down so this meaningful and necessary legislation can be passed.  I fully am aware that the various issues facing the LGBT community have been weaponized by conservatives over the past months. It is time now for Democrats to push home the Marriage Act and ensure that the Court cannot erode one more fundamental right in the nation on a whim.

The elections are over, and it is time for Democrats to finish their workload.

Julaine Appling Carps On Madison LGBTQ+ Church Event, TV News Erred Using Her Reaction

UPDATED with reaction from WKOW-27.

Thursday night WKOW-TV reported in their late news broadcast how the faith community united for a focused message of inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community.  It was a remarkable and truly uplifting event where 22 different faith organizations gathered for an interfaith assembly.

The need for bridge-building by various faiths along with their places of worship is due to the long history of bigotry against the gay community. The denial of basic humanity from many religious organizations has caused much harm to families and communities. As a result, it comes as no surprise that many people in the LGBTQ+ community feel estranged from houses of worship along with finding it difficult to locate friendly faith options in their community.

So, taking concrete steps to help remedy that longtime problem an assembly of faiths hosted an event at the First Baptist Church of Madison.  The optics were most wonderful for a television news crew to capture the mood and tone of the interfaith pride event.

But then 27 news reporter Grace Ulch included Julaine Appling, President of Wisconsin Family Action, into the segment. The reporter noted that Appling “says this event veers from thousands of years of tradition”. The lobbyist stated that the faiths involved in the gathering “are not faithful to the teaching of the word of God”.  Well, that certainly underscores precisely what the church event was aiming at overcoming.  Was Appling making the case for the interfaith gathering, or trying to score one more quip for her side?

While getting contrasting views can certainly make a news story more insightful, using Appling, the source of too many years of hard-edged comments against gay people, was just not good journalism. It looked like a reporter was seeking the usual low-hanging-ever-ready-to-talk-in-front-of-a microphone possibility for this news story. Would it not have been more germane to the report to speak with a minister who feels compelled to hold onto more fundamentalist views? Or seek out a UW professor of religion about how institutions of faith adapt to changing times in society? 

I certainly understand news reporting deadlines and packaging a segment for air that has more than one perspective.  But placing the usual scold in the report looked like the ‘rolodex’ of contacts for news stories at Channel 27 needs updating.  Appling again proved she has never turned down a chance before a microphone to be dismissive of gay people or that being mean-spirited, for the sake of such, is still her card of choice to play. News operations have an obligation to report the news and then add useful perspectives to better inform viewers, listeners, and readers.  That was not fully achieved with the report on the interfaith pride event.

I reached out to the news director of Channel 27, Dani Maxwell, and expressed my concerns. She responded with brevity, but as I had hoped understood the issue that needs addressing. “Hi Gregory, I agree and have already addressed that with Grace. Thank you.”

Congress Must Codify Same-Sex Marriage, Will GOP Vote For Freedom And Liberty?

Given the ideological ruling from the United States Supreme Court this year, which overturned a 50-year precedent about the right of women to make their own reproductive health care decisions, which also struck at the heart of privacy as an unenumerated right, comes the need to codify same-sex marriage in our statutes.

This week the House of Representatives will vote on the matter, and as news reports questioned this morning, how will the GOP whips deal with the matter among their members?  Can the GOP actually try to gin up opposition to the effort at codifying this fundamental right into law?

With conservatives already seen to be in the extreme seating section of our society, and the majority of the nation reeling from the abortion ruling, will there be an attempt by the GOP to further their distrust among suburban voters and moderates in the nation? Will they provide another log to the culture wars so to play to the angry base of the party, at the expense of their long-term goals?

The reason to have deep concern about this matter rests with the words and actions of the justices, themselves.  Several told the judiciary committee, during their hearings as nominees, of their appreciation for precedent. They convinced enough senators they were sincere. The explosion of the social fabric of the nation, and the threats of more to follow underscore their lack of honesty, regard for the Court, and the laws of the nation.

When they blew up Roe v. Wade it was the words of Justice Clarence Thomas that caught equal attention as the abortion decision, itself. He wrote in a separate opinion that the legal rationale for the decision to overrule the abortion decision could be applied to reconsider other recent landmark cases—including same-sex marriage.

It is truly reprehensible to even need to consider at the margins the loss of rights that a conservative majority on this court might unleash upon the nation concerning same-sex marriage. 

There are hundreds of thousands of couples who have gotten married, adopted children, formed businesses, engaged in legal contracts, and live life in this nation like any other married couple.  We cannot, will not, stand silent knowing, due to presidents who could not muster a mere majority vote from the electorate but still were able to plant jurists on the court, that our fundamental rights can now be exploded and destroyed.

To have anyone tell me that my marriage is not valid, or threatened in any way, or not protected under the laws of this nation is beyond the pale.  That is a line that must not be crossed. 

I have often commented on this blog about sending a positive and reaffirming message to young people who are gay and live in rural and isolated areas.  I grew up in such a place and know the need to have advocates who are fighting in the nation for a better and more just society. I have been a constant voice for gay rights over the decades, and in so doing, trust that it will aid some other young person in this state or around the nation. 

Our nation must not take any action that sends a message to gay youth that their lives do not matter, their individual sexual orientation less important than any other. If conservative Republicans turn their back on freedom and liberty in the congress this week, as it pertains to gay men and women in this nation, then the midterms will be a pitched battle. 

As for me, I walk my talk, and would encourage congress to protect the marriage of Thomas, a black man who married a white woman. As such I would ask that the congress pass legislation to codify Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision legalizing interracial marriage, a topic I need to note the conservative justice did not opine about in his abortion opinion.