‘They got ugly in their bones’

Despite another gay teen suicide, right-wingers in Tennessee want to give kids a license to bully LGBT youth under guise of religious liberty

Phillip-Parker-Age-14

BULLIED TO DEATH | Phillip Parker, 14, who took his own life last week due to anti-gay bullying, was the second Tennessee teen to do so in as many months.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW
Hardy Haberman  |  Flagging Left

 

My family tree’s roots spread in two directions. My father’s side of the tree spreads toward Eastern Europe and my mother’s side into the hills of Tennessee.

I mention this because having those Tennessee roots has given me a fondness for that state and its beautiful scenery and its people — most of them. Unfortunately, it also contains some of the ugliest people I’ve ever met. Not physically ugly, but deeper. As my hillbilly grandfather would say, “They got ugly in their bones.”

The people I am talking about are the strange citizens of the Volunteer State who feel it is their God-given right to verbally and physically abuse anyone they feel is worthy of their scorn. They are bullies, plain and simple, and they are doing it under the guise of religion.

As the Tennessee Legislature takes up a bill (HB 1153) to protect bullying as religious expression, comes the news of yet another teen suicide in the state. Phillip Parker, 14, of Gordonsville is the latest in a series of suicides directly related to being mercilessly bullied for being gay.

You would think the good lawmakers of Tennessee would have some sympathy for these poor children, but it seems more than one state representative sees it differently. Republican John Ragan noted the statistics showing higher suicide rates among LGBT youth and said that therefore, it had “more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies….”
Blame the victim!

To be fair, some in the state are calling for a stop to the fatal bullying.  There is an opposing law (SB 1621) also being considered that is designed to eliminate bullying and provide “a safe and civil environment … for students to learn and achieve high academic standards.”

This law has powerful adversaries like the Family Action Council of Tennessee. This group, a branch of Focus on the Family, are the same folks who last spring tried to push through a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. These same kind folks also overturned a local ordinance in Nashville that protected LGBT workers from discrimination.

So what the heck is it with Tennessee? Well, they are not alone. Already another “license to bully” bill is moving through the Michigan Legislature. And of course here in Texas there are a whole bunch of ugly people who are incensed that we have moved a series of anti-bullying laws through the Legislature. Of course one of those groups is the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. They are already screeching about free speech and how these laws impinge on their freedom of religion.

So my question is this. How the heck does bullying a teenager so mercilessly that he takes his own life rather than face the continued abuse constitute “religious expression”? The right wing talks about the slippery slope of offering protections to LGBT youth as “special rights,” but I seriously doubt if the shoe were on the other foot they would see it that way.

Imagine if my religion called for me to make animal sacrifices in the public square. Imagine if my religion said I should close all tattoo shops and barber shops. Imagine if my religion said the bank had to forgive all debts every 49 years. After all, those are all in the Bible along with a whole lot of other things that would seem even stranger.

No, the right wing is not worried about “special rights.” They are specifically concerned with denying rights to LGBT people. We have become the bogeymen for a generation of far-right fundamentalists who can’t seem to find anyone else to blame for their problems. These people must have someone to blame because of their warped view of religion and the “will of God.” When you try to take the Bible literally, you run into all kinds of problems, not the least of which is the need to find scapegoats. After all, why else would their lives be so difficult if it weren’t for someone standing in the way of getting their just rewards from God?

I have noted the anger of the religious right previously, and the bullying that manifests itself in our schools and playground is just the next generation of that anger acting out. Though I started by focusing on Tennessee, I assure you that the problem is everywhere and it won’t be stopped easily.

I am pretty sure nobody can change the warped attitudes some of these people have toward LGBT folk, but I do know that we can provide legal protections to assure that under the law, everyone has equal rights. If the right believes that their freedom of speech extends to bullying and abuse, then it’s time for some serious education in what it means to have a civil society. There is enough ugliness in the world without trying to create more.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Broken Mould

Queer punk pioneer Bob Mould turned an abusive childhood into a musical movement, but memoir targets hardcore fans

2.5 out of 5 stars
SEE A LITTLE LIGHT: THE TRAIL OF RAGE AND MELODY
By Bob Mould (with Michael
Azerrad). 2001 (Little, Brown)
$25; 404 pp.

………………………….
It all starts with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It continues with the itsy-bitsy spider, the ABCs and being a little teapot. From there, you embrace whatever your older siblings are listening to until you develop your own musical tastes. Maybe you started with records, moved on to the cassette tapes, CD and now, your iPod is full.

The point is, you’ve never been without your tunes.

But what about the people who make the music you love?

When Mould was born in 1960 in the northernmost end of New York, he entered a family wracked with grief: Just before he was born, Mould’s elder brother died of kidney cancer. He surmises that the timing of his birth resulted in his being a “golden child,” the family peacekeeper who sidestepped his father’s physical and psychological abuse.

“As a child,” he writes, “music was my escape.”

Mould’s father, surprisingly indulgent, bought his son guitars and young Bob taught himself to play chords and create songs. By the time he entered high school, Mould knew that he had to get out of New York and away from his family. He also knew he was gay, which would be a problem in his small hometown.

He applied for and entered college in Minnesota, where he started taking serious guitar lessons and drinking heavily. His frustrations led him to launch a punk rock band that made a notable impact on American indie music.

Named after a children’s game, Hüsker Dü performed nationally and internationally, but Mould muses that perhaps youth was against them. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with his bandmates, and though he had become the band’s leader, there were resentments and accusations until the band finally split.

HUSKER DON’T | Bob Mould turned his youthful rage and homosexuality into a music career. (Photo by Noah Kalina)

But there were other bands and there were other loves than music, as Mould grew and learned to channel the rage inside him and the anger that volcanoed from it.

“I spent two years rebuilding and reinventing myself,” writes Mould. “Now that I’ve integrated who I am and what I do, I finally feel whole.”

If you remember with fondness the ‘80s, with its angry lyrics and mosh pits, then you’ll love this book. For most readers, though, See a Little Light is going to be a struggle. Mould spends a lot of time on a litany of clubs, recording studios, and locales he played some 30 years ago — which is fine if you were a fellow musician or a rabid, hardcore fan. This part of the book goes on… and on… and on, relentlessness and relatively esoteric in nature.

Admittedly, Mould shines when writing about his personal life but even so, he’s strangely dismissive and abrupt with former loves, bandmates, and even family. I enjoyed the occasional private tale; unfortunately there were not enough.

Overall, See a Little Light is great for Mould fanboys and those were heavy into the punk scene. For most readers, though, this book is way out of tune.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

2 candidates launch mayoral campaigns

Jim Moore, left, and Ron Natinsky

Natinsky, Moore outline campaign issues, both claim LGBT support

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice

With incumbent Dalla Mayor Tom Leppert confirming this week that he will not run for re-election in May, the field of candidates to replace him has begun to fill up.

District 14 City Councilmember Angela Hunt last week said she was considering a run for mayor, but while she has not publicly made up her mind yet, two other candidates have.

District 12 Councilman Ron Natinsky made his mayoral candidacy definite with an announcement on Monday, Jan. 17, and Jim Moore, an attorney whose practice is based in Oak Lawn, has also declared himself a candidate.

Both Natinsky and Moore said this week that they will be reaching out to the LGBT community for votes. And both said they already have support from the community.

“I want to get support from all the communities. I will be campaigning equally in all parts of the city because I am going to treat everyone equally,” Moore said.

But he acknowledged that he has a special fondness for the Oak Lawn area because he lived in the neighborhood for many years and his office has been located here since he opened his practice in 1984.

“These are the restaurants I eat at. These are the people I socialize with. These are my friends. The LGBT community knows me and trusts me,” Moore said, adding that openly gay former Dallas City Councilmen John Loza is “a dear friend” and one of his campaign advisors.

Moore, who recently joined the LGBT political group Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said that new Stonewall president Omar Narvaez is also a close friend. Narvaez, in a previous interview, said he would not speak publicly about supporting or endorsing any candidate until after Stonewall Democrats has held candidate screenings and issued endorsements.
Natinsky also can point to gay former councilmembers in his roster of supporters.

“Ed Oakley [who was on the council and ran his own high-profile race for mayor against Leppert in 2007] called from Thailand yesterday [Wednesday] to say that he is endorsing me,” Natinsky said. “Craig Holcombe [another gay former councilmember] is also supporting my campaign. And there are several others in the community who have signed on to support me and give me their endorsements.”

Natinsky, who has been on the City Council since 2005, said Thursday that he has “been involved at City Hall” for 25 years, and that he has consistently supported issues in the LGBT community.

“I have had a significant number of people in the LGBT community support me in my previous races for the council. I have been endorsed by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. I have participated in events and have ridden in the parade,” he said. “I am committed to doing those sorts of things.

“It’s hard to second-guess what specific issues that affect the LGBT community might come up in front of the council,” he continued. “But my attitude is the same on every issue, to roll up my sleeves and work it through.”
Moore said that if he will be “the candidate of the common guy,” and that if he is elected, he will continue to reach out to his constituents for input.

“When I am mayor, I am going to spend my Saturdays going to the grocery store in Oak Cliff or Lake Highlands. I am going to go to the Kroger on Cedar Springs. I will go to J.R.’s. I am going to talk to the people and her what they have to say. I’m not going to spend my time at the country club, playing golf and sitting around,” Moore said.

The issues

Moore said that public safety is “a huge issue,” and offered a plan to get the private sector involved in making the city safer.

“I talk to people all the time who live in fear, and that’s not much of a life,” Moore said. “Our focus needs to be on making citizens more comfortable living here rather than building a half-billion-dollar hotel that most people who live here will never even see.”

Saying that much of the funding for the city’s revamped Arts District came from the private sector, Moore added, “I love the generosity of Dallasites that do those things. I love what the private sector has done for this city. And I have this vision of converting a lot of the public safety efforts to the private sector.”

Moore said that about 80 percent of all crime in the city is property crime committed in parking lots outside of stores.

The companies that run those stores could take responsibility for putting police watchtowers in those parking lots — and in other high-traffic areas susceptible to crime — and not only help their customers by keeping them safer, but gain a highly visible advertising platform as well.

“It’s just a creative way of making sure the public is safe without spending tax dollars. If I can sell that idea, we won’t need those 600 officers the police department is short right now,” he said.

Moore also proposed working to help forge alliances Dallas Independent School District and private sector corporations, such as programs through which corporations could adopt a school and donate funds and supplies to help those schools out.

Such a partnership, he said, would help improve public schools that are hurting for funds, and improving the schools makes the city more attractive to potential new corporate citizens, thus improving the city’s tax base and stimulating economic growth.

For Natinsky, the key to the city’s future is economic development.

He said Dallas has been “very fortunate overall” during the recent economic downtown, and while “we have had our issues to deal with,” the situation has not been as drastic as in other cities.

“I think we have started to turn the corner. Our sales tax revenue is starting to come back up, and our building permits are up,” Natinsky said, and that makes Dallas attractive to companies looking to relocate from the hard-hit regions of the West Coast and what he called “the rusty northeast.”

Bringing new companies to the city means “growing the economic base and providing jobs for the people who are here, and provides a foundation for the things that everybody wants to get done.”

Natinsky said the city has made strides in reducing the crime rate, and that continuing that trend — as well as providing the necessary city services — depend on economic growth. But Dallas needs to pay attention to more than just the basics, he said.

“We work hard here in Dallas, and we play hard, too. People want their parks and recreation centers and the opera house and the theaters. We have got to have those things to balance out the ‘work’ part of people’s lives. They are very important assets,” he said.

While others suggest the city cut back in those areas to make up for the lack of revenue during the recession, Natinsky said that instead the city should “reinvent the way the city government operates.

“There is always the question of revenue vs. expenses, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut services,” he said. “If you find more efficient ways to provide those services, you lower costs and you don’t have to cut services. I think you can always find more efficient ways of operating.

“And if we can work more efficiently and at the same time grow the economic pie, grow our tax base, we can lessen the tax burden on everyone who lives here and at the same time continue to provide the services we need.”

The elections

Dallas municipal elections will be held May 14. All 14 council seats and the mayor’s seat are up for election.

The first day to file as a candidate is Feb. 14, and the filing deadline is March 14.

The Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance PAC will be sending out informational packets and setting screening appointments with candidates seeking the DGLA endorsement probably beginning in late February or early March.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will hold its candidate screening session on March 19.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright