Category Archives: Gay Rights

The Right to be Wrong

[This post should really be about Dallas and the two horrific incidents preceding and triggering what happened there. It isn’t, because I am still processing it all. I find myself unable to put my reactions into words right now. Those words will come, but not yet.]

The Des Moines Register recently reported on lawsuits brought against the state and city by churches challenging recent interpretations of Iowa civil rights laws to prohibit church members from making “any public comments — including from the pulpit — that could be viewed as unwelcome to people who do not identify with their biological sex.”

They [the churches] said they are asking the commission to declare that Iowans have a right to speak from church pulpits about biblical teachings on sexuality. The Sioux City church also wants a declaration that Iowa churches are free to follow their religious doctrines in how they accommodate people in restrooms, locker rooms and living facilities.

Unless there is something I’m missing, the actions of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. (According to the article, the Commission is evidently denying that the churches are “bona fide” religious organizations–a fairly bizarre position.)

We live in a time of social change. Greater acceptance of LGBT citizens, especially, has led to all sorts of debates about “religious liberty.” (We’ve seen this movie before; in the past, merchants and landlords have claimed “religious liberty” entitled them to refuse service to African-Americans, Catholics and Jews.)

As I have written before, government has the right–indeed, the obligation–to prohibit discrimination in housing, education, employment and public accommodations.

That said, churches and other genuinely religious institutions are not public accommodations, and their right to preach as they see fit, to take positions on public issues informed by their doctrine, is protected by the First Amendment. I might believe–as I wholeheartedly do–that these church folks are wrong about homosexuality (and actually, about a lot of other things) but they have an absolute Constitutional right to their beliefs. They have a right to preach about those beliefs, and to conduct their congregational affairs in a manner that is consistent with their religious doctrines.

It’s particularly unfortunate that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has taken the position that it can suppress the churches’ religious message, because that position feeds into entirely bogus assertions made by proponents of so-called “Religious Liberty” laws. The Eric Millers and Micah Clarks of this world insist that “secular activists” will force pastors to conduct same-sex weddings, or will outlaw preaching against homosexuality. Constitutional lawyers respond–properly–that churches and pastors are protected against such efforts by the First Amendment.

Overreaching in Iowa just supplies ammunition to those who want laws giving them a wide-ranging right to discriminate. The churches that brought these lawsuits should win–demonstrating that RFRAs and similar measures are unnecessary because the Constitution already protects religious expression.


This is Why People Reject Religion

Permit me a Sunday Sermon.

If you want to understand the recent rise of the “nones”–people, especially young people, who do not affiliate with any organized religion, and who explicitly reject the “Christianity” that dominates headlines– you need only read about the prayer recently given by Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, at a Faith and Freedom Rally.

Numerous media outlets have reported that Perdue told his audience to “pray like Psalm 109:8 for Obama.” And what does Psalm 109:8 say?

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.

Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.

Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.

Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.

Evidently, suggesting Psalm 109:8 as an appropriate prayer for Obama has become a right-wing meme; the biblically knowledgable “pious” folks even  buy bumper stickers and shirts that carry the reference.

My Facebook feed was filled with reports about–and reactions to–the Senator’s “prayer” yesterday, right before Indianapolis’ annual Pride celebration. The contrast between  those who– like Perdue– use religion in the service of hate and the churches and religious organizations promoting love and inclusion in the Pride parade was striking.

I’ve attended most of Indianapolis’ Pride celebrations since 1992. My husband and I still remember the very first year there was a parade; as I recall, it had all of eight participants. Yesterday’s parade lasted more than two hours, and had well over 100. (In the hot sun, it seemed like 1000…)

In addition to the businesses, the banks, the universities, the LGBT and civil rights organizations, a significant number of participants were churches: Quaker, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, United Methodist, Unitarian, Christian, UCC and others. The Jewish Community Relations Council represented the Jewish community.[Update: There were actually twelve Jewish organizations participating; the JCRC was one of the twelve. H/T to Paula Winnig for the correction.]

Several denominations had more than one church participating (the Episcopalians had 4!). The messages on their banners were the absolute antithesis of the mean-spirited and hypocritical prayers of the so-called “Christians” who dominate the Republican party. (The most recent evidence of that domination? Indiana’s GOP platform committee just declined to allow convention delegates to even consider a proposal to bring that document into conformity with the law of the land by eliminating language insisting that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.)

When the image of religiosity is the image conveyed by theocrats and fundamentalists who insist that their highly selective reading of their bibles should supersede the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that decent and loving human beings reject that narrow and self-serving “Godliness.”

When “Christian” folks pray publicly for the death of our President, when Indiana’s Governor defines “religious liberty” as the right of his kind of Christian to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers (but not the right of women to follow the dictates of their own religions or consciences with respect to reproduction), it’s no wonder good people prefer to define themselves as “nones.”


Who, Exactly, Is Susan Brooks?

Yes, Indiana is a reliably red state. But there are measurable differences among our urban, suburban and rural Republicans.

Indiana’s Fifth Congressional District lies largely in Hamilton County. If survey research is to be believed, many Hamilton County Republicans tend to be “old-fashioned” members of the Grand Old Party, in the sense that they have more in common with the party of Hudnut and Lugar than that of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

Presumably conscious of the character of this portion of her constituency, GOP Representative Susan Brooks has generally presented herself publicly as “moderately moderate”–an unthreatening throwback to the good old days when Republicans who described themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” were still welcome in the party.

Those of us who knew her before she ran for Congress certainly believed her to be a moderate, and the positions she chooses to publicize do little to disabuse voters of that impression; they tend to address issues having broad bipartisan appeal, like her recent statements on opoid addiction. Her voting record, however, is very different.

Indeed, her voting history was virtually indistinguishable from that of Michelle Bachmann, before the latter left Congress.

Most recently, Brooks participated in a GOP turnaround (aka “dirty trick”) in order to protect federal contractors who discriminate against LGBT employees:

The hugely symbolic fight on the House floor that most Americans probably missed is worth revisiting. The provision at issue seeks to repeal nondiscrimination protections that President Obama extended to LGBT employees of federal contractors in 2014. And although the final vote tally originally showed a majority of lawmakers—including 35 Republicans—voting against the measure, the Republican leadership did some quick arm-twisting among its members, resulting in a seven-vote turn around that kept the anti-LGBT portion intact.

Chaos momentarily erupted on the floor with Democrats chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer taking to the floor to demand answers for how the vote changed after the clock had run out.

It was the capper to a week in which GOP lawmakers across the country made clear that they will indeed force LGBT issues into the headlines this election cycle, even though it originally appeared that gay and transgender issues would mostly be on the back burner.

Brooks was one of the seven who “turned around” their votes, and went on record as approving of discrimination against LGBT workers.

I would never have anticipated that the reasonable Susan Brooks I thought I knew would become a steadfast opponent of civil rights for gays and lesbians, or that she would sponsor a measure prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, or vote against the Lilly Ledbetter Act requiring equal pay for women, or that she would vote repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or to prevent the EPA from regulating toxic emissions, or join in the discredited and dishonest Benghazi witch hunt, or vote to defund Planned Parenthood, or …well, the list goes on.

(UPDATE/CORRECTION: I received an email from Rep. Brooks office, saying that–despite the newspaper report I read that triggered this post, she was not one of the seven “switchers” identified in the article I relied upon. I asked a lawyer friend to check that assertion, since I’m out of town in full-day meetings, and this was his response: “Here’s what I’ve found; it is true that Susan was not among the 7 who switched their votes at the last minute from “yes” to “no” on Thursday — but that’s because she voted NO at the outset. Here’s roll call on it: This is apparently a “switch” in position–hence the language in the article you saw– but it relates to the fact that she apparently supported some similar non-discrimination measure last year, but this year (last Thursday) she voted against the similar measure. I’m not entirely sure what the difference was in the two measures, but apparently the one last week would have withheld funding to discriminating organizations. So did she switch from yes to no LAST WEEK? Nope. She voted “NO” at the outset, having “switched” her position from last year. This probably accounts for the confusing newspaper report you read.” I was also mistaken about the Lilly Ledbetter vote–although all Republican House members did vote against it, that vote occurred prior to Brooks’ election. Although I regret my errors–I really try to be accurate in this blog–none of this rebuts my central point about the Congresswoman’s overall voting record.)

I don’t know who the “real” Susan Brooks is. Perhaps–as many Hamilton County voters obviously believe–she doesn’t really believe in the regressive measures she consistently supports. Perhaps she’s just constructing a voting record intended to avoid a potential primary challenge, or to ingratiate herself with Congressional colleagues who can advance her career, or to position herself for a Senate race in which appealing to more rural, deep-red GOP voters will be important.

Or perhaps she really is a somewhat less crazed, blond version of Michelle Bachmann.

In other words, she is either utterly devoid of integrity, or a genuinely right-wing ideologue.

Either way, she’s been a massive disappointment to those of us who once thought much better of her.



Lavender Graduation

Last night, I was honored to give the brief keynote at IUPUI’s “Lavender” Graduation–a celebration of LGBT students who have earned diplomas and advanced degrees, and are graduating this May. This is what I told them.


Graduations are wonderful times—I know that each of you is breathing a sigh of relief that you finally got through it all. You are savoring the thought of no more papers, no more juggling classes with work and family, no more putting up with picky professors…So I do want to encourage you to enjoy this moment. Have a drink—or three. Congratulate yourselves. You deserve it.

Then tomorrow, I expect you all to get up and begin a different “assignment”—one that will probably last for the rest of your life. Starting tomorrow, I want each and every one of you to be an activist for social justice.

Before you roll your eyes, let me describe what I mean by social justice, and what being an “activist” requires. I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t mean taking up arms in a revolution, or taking to the streets in protest—although you might end up doing those things, they certainly aren’t required by my definition.

So—first things first. Why should you care about some expansive concept called “social justice”? Why not limit your activism—assuming you bother to engage in it at all—to those causes that focus upon advancing rights for LGBT folks—to the causes that will benefit you most directly?

I’ll tell you why.

We live in a society with a lot of other people, many of whom have political opinions, backgrounds, holy books, and perspectives that differ significantly from our own. The only way such a society can work–the only “social contract” that allows diverse Americans to coexist in reasonable harmony–is within a legal system and culture that respect those differences to the greatest extent possible. That means laws that require treating everyone equally within the public/civic sphere, while respecting the right of individuals to embrace different values and pursue different ends in their private lives.

I know it’s hard for the Micah Clarks and Ted Cruz’s of this world to understand, but when the government refuses to make everyone live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that’s not an attack on them. It’s not a War on Christianity. It is recognition that we live in a diverse society where other people have as extensive a right to respect and moral autonomy as the right they claim for themselves.

Ironically, a legal system that refuses to take sides in America’s ongoing religious wars is the only system that can really safeguard anyone’s religious liberty. Genuine equality is only possible in a “live and let live” system—in an open and tolerant society.

It is recognition of that fact that has brought many different kinds of Americans into many different civil rights battles: I’m Jewish and a woman, but in my own lifetime, I haven’t limited my participation to efforts to combat sexism and anti-Semitism. I’ve worked for racial justice, for LGBT rights, against efforts to marginalize immigrants—not because I’m some sort of noble person, but because I’m not. I’m actually very selfish, and I understand that my own rights absolutely depend upon equal rights for other people.

If everyone doesn’t have rights, they aren’t rights—they’re privileges that government can bestow or withdraw. In such a society, no one’s rights are safe.

So that’s the WHY. What about the HOW?

I said you don’t have to take to the streets to be an activist. What do you have to do? Let me just share a few examples of effective activism:

I wrote a regular column for the Indiana Word for some 25 years. In one of those columns, written just 16 years ago, I shared the story of a wedding attended by my youngest son. It was a lovely affair—formal, at an expensive Chicago hotel, conducted with meticulous attention to detail. The program book included a message from the bride and groom, reciting how enthusiastic they were to enter into wedded life, how sure they were that matrimony was the right choice for them. In fact, they said, there was only one hesitation, one fact that gave rise to a certain reluctance to marry: the fact that others were legally prevented from doing likewise. It seemed unfair that legal marriage was available to them, a man and a woman, and not available to others merely because they were of the same gender. The message concluded with a request that those present, who had shared the happy day with this particular couple, work toward a time “when everyone can enter into the institution of marriage and have their union recognized by society and the state.”

In that column, I speculated about what would happen to the pervasive bigotry against gays and lesbians if hundreds, then thousands, of heterosexuals added similar paragraphs to their wedding programs. I said it might change the world.

As we now know, actions like those and many others did “change the world.” Probably the most significant activism—the most consequential–was the courage of thousands of LGBT people who refused to live dishonestly and who “came out”–often with the support of their families and allies, but sometimes in the face of enormous hostility. Coming out was activism, and it was enormously effective.

Last year, marriage equality became the law of the land, and survey research tells us that solid majorities of Americans now endorse same-sex marriage and support the extension of full civil rights protections to the gay community.

Of course, we live in Indiana, where gays do not yet have civil rights protections. This state has a long way to go before LGBT folks achieve full civic equality . So look around, and you’ll see plenty of examples of social activism and plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Remember, in the wake of the passage of RFRA, the allies who started an organization and sold those now ubiquitous stickers that say “This business serves everyone”? What a great message. Putting that sticker on the door of your establishment –or encouraging a friend or neighbor to do so—is activism.

And what about the “Pence must go” signs you see everywhere? (I have one in my front yard—and so do three of my neighbors.) That doesn’t take much effort, but it’s activism that communicates to passersby that “here’s an Indiana citizen who doesn’t endorse bigotry.”

Speaking of time, the women involved in Periods for Pence are taking time to call the Governor’s office to remind him that he lacks the moral and constitutional authority to make women’s reproductive choices for them.

The bottom line is that activism can be expressed in many different ways. As we gather here, there are LGBT Republicans working to change the GOP state platform; there are lobbyists for Indiana Equality and Freedom Indiana and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce urging lawmakers to add four words and a comma to the state civil rights law, there are opinionated professors like me writing snarky blogs and columns…

Here’s the “take away.” A better world is a world where different people with different beliefs, living different kinds of lives, can co-exist without privileging some at the expense of others. That world won’t appear by accident. We all have to do our part to bring it into existence. We all have to be activists.

So celebrate tonight, and tomorrow, take your credentials and your accomplishments out into the world and use them to make that world a kinder, gentler, just-er place.

We old folks will be watching! And I personally will be cheering you on!


Fine! Now I Have to Shop at Target!

I tell you, voting with my wallet gets tiring. And expensive. That said, however, I’m damned if I’ll stop until they do.

What am I talking about, you ask? Why Target, and who are “they” anyway?

Well, according to USA Today, Target announced a sensible bathroom policy. Evidently, if you need to pee–or give in to other bodily urges that require the facility popularly known as the bathroom (or, if you’re in Merrie Old England, the “Loo”)–Target suggests you choose the one that seems correct to you, use it, and (implicitly) flush before leaving.

While this announcement seems perfectly appropriate (albeit unnecessary) to sane human beings, there are–as I know my readers have noticed–a lot of not-so-sane people who, for reasons I will never, ever understand, fixate on the identity of the other people who may be relieving themselves in the same restroom.

It’s not like there have been incidents involving trans folks in bathrooms. (Republican officeholders, yes, but no trans persons.) It’s not like most of us haven’t shared public toilets with everyone from screaming infants (of both presumed genders) to potheads and drunks to perfectly nice people who nevertheless really made the place smell bad.

Comes with the damn territory.

But not according to the crazies at the American Family Association.

The petition started by the American Family Association on Wednesday raises concerns that Target’s inclusive stance on transgender rights encourages sexual predators and puts women and young girls in danger, because “a man can simply say he ‘feels like a woman today’ and enter the women’s restroom.”

The boycott has more than 517,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon, marking it as one of AFA’s most popular campaigns.

Now, the rest of America has a choice. We can yield the field–leave the loo to the bigots mischaracterizing the policy and trying to intimidate Target (although it doesn’t sound like the company will back down), or we can show merchants who do the right thing that we have their back.

I’d tell these fearful fannies to go to their churches to pray for humility and understanding, but they’re statistically more likely to run into a child molester there than at Target, and then it would be my fault.

So despite the fact that the nearest Target is 8 miles away, I’m going shopping.