For Valentine’s Day, a resonant tale of ‘Loving’ and marriage

lovingstory03The very title of the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia is almost too perfect not to respect the irony of what it represented.

In 1958, Richard Loving married a half-black, half-Native American named Mildred in D.C., then returned to their home in rural Virginia. A month later, sheriff’s deputies entered their bedroom as they slept, arresting them for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law, which forbid mixing of the races. They were jailed, convicted and eventually banished from the state in a manner more akin to ancient Rome than modern-day America.

Virginia was hardly unique — as Barack Obama’s parents could probably tell you, 21 states banned mixed-race marriages in 1958. It would take nine years, following protracted legal wrangling, before the Lovings could live openly and legally as Virginians.

It is impossible to watch The Loving Story — which debuts on HBO, again ironically, on Valentine’s Day — and not consider it (especially in light of the events this week) as it relates to Proposition 8 and the rights of gays to wed. Indeed, the statement by one of the lawyers representing the Lovings that “marriage is a fundamental right of man” — spoken more than 40 years ago — resonates sharply for any gay person who has felt a lesser person because of the bigotry and antiquated thinking of considering a fellow man as being “other” … whether by race or sexual orientation.

There’s surprisingly little directorial commentary in this documentary, which is made up substantially of real-time newsreel and other footage of the Lovings at home and on TV, and their lawyers strategizing. Little comment is needed, especially when the offensive language of the courts speaks volumes: The races were meant to stay on separate continents, the Virginia county judge opined, cuz that’s how God wanted it.

Two things especially stand out in The Loving Story. The first is the couple at the center of it: A man and a woman of modest means and humble background who simply and truly were in love and wanted to live as man and wife and couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong. The second is that the arguments made — back then and now, on both sides — apply equally to same-sex marriage issues. We’ve come a long way, but damn, we still have so far to go.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Airs Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Barney Frank on coming out

Via ThinkProgress, above is a clip of Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., talking about his decision to come out as gay in 1987, during a press conference today where he announced that he won’t seek re-election next year. According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Frank was the second openly gay person to serve in Congress. The first was Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., who came out in 1983 while in office. Via Pam’s House Blend, below is the full written statement sent out by Frank’s office today:

I will not be a candidate for reelection to the House of Representatives in 2012.

I began to think about retirement last year, as we were completing passage of the financial reform bill. I have enjoyed—indeed been enormously honored—by the chance to represent others in Congress and the State Legislature, but there are other things I hope to do before my career ends. Specifically, I have for several years been thinking about writing, and while there are people who are able to combine serious writing with full-time jobs, my susceptibility to distraction when faced with a blank screen makes that impossible.

In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, I had tentatively decided to make this my last term. The end of next year will mark 40 years during which time I have held elected office and a period of 45 years since I first went to work in government full time as an aide to Mayor Kevin White in late 1967.

But with the election of a conservative majority in the House, I decided that my commitment to the public policies for which I have fought for 45 years required me to run for one more term. I was—and am—concerned about right-wing assaults on the financial reform bill, especially since we are now in a very critical period when the bill is in the process of implementation. In addition, recognizing that there is a need for us to do long-term deficit reduction, I was—and am—determined to do everything possible to make sure that substantial reduction in our excessive overseas military commitments forms a significant part of the savings over the next 10 years.

—  John Wright

Not in Salem anymore

Reflections on Samhain and life as a gay witch

10.28.11-Cover
Dakota Shain Byrd
Contributing Writer

The leaves rattle in the trees as an ever-more- chilling wind makes its presence known. An explosion of sullen reds, crisp spark yellows, ember oranges and dry browns mark this time of year, while paper ghosts and inflatable goblins take up residence in yards and windows.

At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the words “autumn” and “Halloween.”

Here in Texas the trees might not be — or get — as colorful as they do in Vermont or Maine. But we still celebrate this season and Halloween by decorating and carving pumpkins, finding a corn maze to navigate or testing our courage at a nearby haunted house.

And with Halloween just days away, children are screaming about what cartoon character they want to dress up as for trick-or-treating, while parents allow the children to drag them from one aisle at the store to another, looking at costumes. Teens who feel they are too old to trick-or-treat are planning parties where they might use a Ouija Board to attempt a conversation with the dead.

Also at this time of year, you may notice more people wearing pendants with pentacles and pentagrams, the stars upright and often simple in design. You may walk right on by, giving them only a fleeting glance without really thinking about what those icons might mean to them.

But what if the jewelry is a symbol of who that person really is, a statement of their beliefs?

What if by wearing a pentagram or pentacle, they were coming out, and wearing that symbol was as freeing to them as being at a gay Pride event is for the newly out gay person? What if proudly wearing that pentacle pendant is their way of coming out of the “broom closet,” so to speak, as witches, practitioners of Wicca.

Let’s clear something up before we go any further: real witches — true Wiccans — do not use magick (spelled with a k to differentiate between reality and fantastical magic found in books) for evil.

We do not worship the devil; and although we have a horned god, he is not Satan, he is the god of the hunt, said to have antlers like a stag.

We don’t curse people, kill babies or drink blood. Heck, most of us are soccer moms and dads, college students or grandparents taking their grandkids to get ice cream.

Yes, we are normal, everyday people. And yes, men are called witches, too; the word warlock means “truth-twister,” and nobody wants to be that, now do they?

The only way we differ from others is in our spiritual beliefs. And we practice actual tolerance and acceptance of all people and beliefs — with the exception of religious practices that are actually harmful to ourselves or others.

We practice magick, cast spells, make tonics and grow herbs. We do not use magick for evil. We believe in karma, and we follow the Law of Three: “Remember that what you cast returns the magic times three. Lest it harm none, so mote it be.”

What that means is that whatever you put out there in life, you get back times three. If you put out negativity, you will get three times the negativity coming back at you.

Many people come out as witches, as practitioners of Wicca and believers in the goddess in October. And so in keeping with that tradition, so am I.

It’s a tad bit ironic that I’m coming out as a witch this month, since the LGBT community celebrates National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, and since October is also National Gay History Month. Still, many outside the pagan community don’t realize the allure of coming out as a Wiccan in October.

In Celtic culture, Halloween — or Samhain, as we witches and pagans call it — was New Year’s Day, marking the end of a year past and the beginning of the year yet to come.

To the Celts, Samhain was the day when the veil between life and death was at its thinnest. This wasn’t a bad thing, though.

In fact, it was a day to remember those who had died earlier in the year and before, and to be close to them once again.

In some traditions of Wicca (think faiths or denominations when you read traditions) and lore, the dead family members would reveal the location of buried treasure or a secret bit of knowledge that would help the living.

Often, Samhain is a celebration of continued life, and since many witches believe in reincarnation, we know that our dearly beloved who are dead will be reincarnated in the future.

Samhain is also the third and final harvest celebration of the eight Wiccan holidays. It’s the largest major feast of the Turning of The Wheel. Contrary to popular belief, on this night witches don’t take anything from their gardens. They might decorate their altars with small pumpkins, hay, Indian corn or other tokens related to the season. Children might put candy on their own altars as a gift of to the god and goddess.

The cauldron is another item of great importance often used in some Wiccan traditions. The ceremony of Samhain may involve inviting the Crone (a wise grandmother-type figure; think a sharp-tongued, wise matriarch) to grant wisdom to the witch or witches who invoked her.

Grandparents or a high priestess or priest may retell the legend of the goddess Cerridwen or tell a mourning story for the dying god, which is similar to how a Good Friday service in the Christian religion focuses the death of Christ.

People may also make totems and raise totem energy by making and wearing ceremonial masks to depict personal or group magick and powers. There could be drum circles to praise the god and goddess and thank them for another year, to celebrate life and summon good energies to help with the coming year.

Those who have a gift of divination might try scrying or reflective meditation to see all that they were supposed to learn within the past year and find how to take that knowledge forward with
them into the next year.

Those looking for love might also try using a small mirror to catch the face of somebody they might have a relationship with, or bob for apples with another person with the hope that two people catch the same apple in their mouths. If this
happens, the people might try to pursue a relationship with each other, and even bury the apple, in the tradition of the Celts.

To the Celts, apples were sacred and they highly valued apple magick. They believed that when a witch caught an apple in his or her mouth, part of their soul trickled into the apple. The witch could then eat the apple to attain prosperity, or bury it whole on their property in hopes that it would bring continued bounty over the next few months of winter.

So as you can see, we witches aren’t so bad. Sure, we do things a little differently, but we’re not chopping up people or drinking blood.

We chop up plants for rituals, spells and tonics, and drink water and soda when we’re thirsty — just like everybody else.

We’re as normal as you are.

Oh, and we also don’t consider being LGTBQ as sinful. To us, everybody just is who they are. Gay people, in most Wiccan traditions, are seen as having both masculine and feminine traits — being balanced and in touch with the god and goddess.

If you’re interested in learning more about Wicca, you can always check out books from the library or buy them. If you see a book with the “Llewellyn” name and the icon of a crescent moon at the bottom of itss spine, it’s almost a guarantee to be a good and informative book on what real magick and witchcraft are like.
You can also find lots of information online, and you can do an online search for a CUUPs group near you.

To all who read this, be you a fellow witch, a Christian or somebody in between religions and trying to find your way: I wish you a bountiful fall. And in closing: “Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again,” which means that when we encounter each other, may you be doing good, may you be doing good when we part ways, and when we run into each other again later on in life, may you be doing well still!

Blessed Be!

……………………

DEFINITIONS

• Wicca: noun:  (sometimes initial capital letter) witchcraft, especially benevolent, nature-oriented practices derived from pre-Christian religions.

Word Origin & History: An Old English masc. noun meaning “male witch, wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer, magician.” Use of the word in modern contexts traces to English folklorist Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who is said to have joined circa 1939 an occult group in New Forest, Hampshire, England, for which he claimed an unbroken tradition to medieval times. Gardner seems to have first used it in print in 1954, in his book “Witchcraft Today” (e.g.: “Witches were the Wica or wise people, with herbal knowledge and a working occult teaching usually used for good ….”). In published and unpublished material, he apparently only ever used the word as a mass noun referring to adherents of the practice and not as the name of the practice itself. Some of his followers continue to use it in this sense.

In the late 1960s the term came into use as the title of a modern pagan movement associated with witchcraft. The first printed reference in this usage seems to be 1969, in “The Truth About Witchcraft” by freelance author Hans Holzer.

Alex Sanders was a highly visible representative of neo-pagan Witchcraft in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this time he appears to have popularized use of the term in this sense. Later books c.1989 teaching modernized witchcraft using the same term account for its rise and popularity, especially in U.S.

• pagan: noun: 1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks. 2. a person who is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim. 3. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
Adjective: 4. pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish nor Muslim. 5. of, pertaining to or characteristic of pagans. 6. irreligious or hedonistic.
Word Origin & History: late 14c., from L.L. paganus “pagan,” in classical Latin. “villager, rustic, civilian,” from pagus “rural district,” originally “district limited by markers,” thus related to pangere “to fix, fasten,” from PIE base *pag- “to fix.” Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for “civilian, incompetent soldier,” which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early church (e.g. milites “soldier of Christ,” etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature worshippers from 1908.

• pentagram: noun: a five-pointed, star-shaped figure made by extending the sides of a regular pentagon until they meet, used as an occult symbol by the Pythagoreans and later philosophers, by magicians, etc. Also called pentacle, pentangle, pentalpha.
Word Origin & History: pentagram: “five-pointed star,” 1833, from Gk. pentagrammon, properly neut. of adj. pentagrammos “having five lines,” from pente “five” + gramma “what is written.”

• pentacle: noun: 1. The same figure as a pentagram, except in magical usage, where is has been extended to other symbols of power, including a six-point star. 2. a similar figure, as a hexagram.
Word Origin & History: 1594, from M.L. pentaculum, a hybrid coined from Gk. pente “five” + L. -culum, dim. suffix. But the exact origin is obscure. It. had pentacolo “anything with five points,” and Fr. pentacle (16c.) was the name of something used in necromancy, perhaps a five-branched candlestick. Fr. pentacol “amulet worn around the neck” (14c.), however, is from pend- “to hang” + a “to” + col “neck.”

— SOURCE: Dictionary.com

……………………

THE WHEEL OF THE YEAR

The Wheel of the Year is a neopagan term for the annual cycle of the Earth’s seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred to as Sabbats.
While the term Sabbat originated from Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism and Christianity and is of Hebrew origin, the festivals themselves have historical origins in Celtic and Germanic pre-Christian feasts, and the Wheel of the Year, as has developed in modern Paganism and Wicca, is really a combination of the two cultures’ solstice and equinox celebrations.
When melded together, the two European Festival Cycles merge to form eight festivals in modern renderings. Together, these festivals are understood by some neopagans to be the Bronze Age religious festivals of Europe. As with all cultures’ use of festivals and traditions, these festivals have been utilized by European cultures in both the pre- and post-Christian eras as traditional times for the community to celebrate the planting and harvest seasons.
The Wheel of the Year has been important to many people both ancient and modern, from various religious as well as cultural and secular viewpoints.
In many forms of Paganism, natural processes are seen as following a continuous cycle. The passing of time is also seen as cyclical, and is represented by a circle or wheel. The progression of birth, life, decline and death, as experienced in human lives, is echoed in the progression of the seasons.
This cycle is seen as an echo of life, death and rebirth of the God and the fertility of the Goddess. While most of these names derive from historical Celtic and Germanic festivals, the non-traditional names Litha and Mabon, which have become popular in North American Wicca, were introduced by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s. The word “sabbat” itself comes from the witches’ sabbath or sabbat attested to in Early Modern witch trials.

FESTIVALS

• Samhain
Samhain is considered by most Wiccans to be the most important of the four “greater Sabbats.” It is generally observed on Oct. 31 in the Northern Hemisphere, starting at sundown. Samhain is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the departed are invited to attend the festivities. It is seen as a festival of darkness, which is balanced at the opposite point of the wheel by the spring festival of Beltane, which is celebrated as a festival of light and fertility.
The Wiccan Samhain doesn’t attempt to reconstruct a historical Celtic festival. In actuality it was also widely believed that on Oct. 31, the veil between this world and the afterlife is at its thinnest point of the whole year.

Midwinter, or Yule:
In most traditions, Yule is celebrated as the rebirth of the Great God, who is viewed as the newborn solstice sun. The method of gathering for this sabbat varies by group or individual practitioner. Some have private ceremonies at home while others hold coven celebrations.
Christmas, celebrated on Dec. 25, continues a pre-Christian festival, and was adopted by the church to commemorate the birth of Jesus, although the information that is given from sacred texts points to spring, and astrological information points to late April/early May as the time of Christ’s birth.

• Imbolc
Imbolc (or Candlemas) is one of four “fire festivals” of the Wheel of the Year. Among Dianic Wiccans, Imbolc is the traditional time for initiations. Imbolc is strongly associated with the goddess Brighid.
Among Reclaiming-style witches, Imbolc is considered a traditional time for rededication and pledges for the coming year.

• Vernal Equinox
The vernal equinox, often called Ostara, is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere around March 21 and in the Southern Hemisphere around Sept. 23, depending upon the specific timing of the equinox. Among the Wiccan sabbats, it is preceded by Imbolc and followed by Beltane.
The name Ostara may be related to the word for “east.” It has been connected to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre by Jacob Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie.
In terms of Wiccan ditheism, this festival is characterized by the rejoining of the Mother Goddess and her lover-consort-son, who spent the winter months in death. Other variations include the young god regaining strength in his youth after being born at Yule, and the goddess returning to her maiden aspect.

• Beltane
Beltane is one of the four “fire festivals” or “greater sabbats.” Although the holiday may use features of the Gaelic Bealtaine, such as the bonfire, it bears more relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focusing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Some Wiccans celebrate ‘High Beltaine’ by enacting a ritual union of the May Lord and Lady.

• Midsummer
Midsummer is one of the four solar holidays, and is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. Among the Wiccan sabbats, Midsummer is preceded by Beltane, and followed by Lammas or Lughnasadh.
Some traditions call the festival “Litha”, a name occurring in Bede’s Reckoning of Time (De Temporum Ratione, 7th century), which preserves a list of the (then-obsolete) Anglo-Saxon names for the twelve months. Ærra Liða (“first” or “preceding” Liða) roughly corresponds to June in our calendar, and Æfterra Liða (“following” Liða) to July. Bede writes that “Litha means ‘gentle’ or ‘navigable’, because in both these months the calm breezes are gentle and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea.”

• Lammas
Lammas or Lughnasadh is the first of the three pagan autumn harvest festivals, the other two being the autumn equinox (or Mabon) and Samhain. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread, and then symbolically sacrificing and eating it. However, Lamas/ Lughnasadh celebrations vary, as not all pagans are Wiccans.
Wiccan celebrations are not based on Celtic culture, despite common use of a Celtic name Lughnasadh. This name seems to have been a late adoption among Wiccans, since in early versions of Wiccan literature the festival is merely referred to as “August Eve.”
The name Lammas (contraction of Loaf-mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest. Pagan / Eclectic Neopagan rituals may incorporate elements from either festival.

• Autumnal Equinox
The holiday of Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, Mabon, the Feast of the Ingathering, Meán Fómhair or Alban Elfed (in Neo-Druidic traditions), is a pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the goddess and the god during the winter months. The name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. In the Northern Hemisphere, this equinox occurs anywhere from Sept. 21 to Sept. 24. In the Southern Hemisphere, the autumn equinox occurs anywhere from March 20 to March 23. Among the sabbats, it is the second of the three pagan harvest festivals, preceded by Lammas / Lughnasadh and followed by Samhain.

DATES
Dates for the festivals vary widely. There are many forms of Wicca and Paganism, all of which may have somewhat different traditions associated with the festivals. Therefore there is no definitive or universal tradition observed by all the groups. Most Pagans are somewhat flexible about dates, tending to celebrate at the nearest weekend for convenience.

HEMISPHERES
As the Wheel originates in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Southern Hemisphere many Pagans advance these dates six months so as to coincide with the natural seasons as they occur in their local climates, which oppose and complement those of the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, a Wiccan from southern Australia may celebrate Beltane on Nov. 1, when a Canadian Wiccan is celebrating Samhain. The appropriate set of festivals for an Equatorial Wiccan is problematic.

— SOURCE: Wikipedia

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Church leaves PCUSA over gay ordinations

Fremont Presbyterian pastor says his Sacramento church ‘didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us’

Anderson

AMEN | The Rev. Scott Anderson gives the benediction at the end of his ordination in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 8. Anderson is the first openly gay person to be ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination. Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif., voted Oct. 16 to leave the PCUSA over the denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay ministers. (Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal/Associated Press)

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento church has voted to split from Presbyterian Church USA over the national denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay clergy.

After months of discussion, members of Fremont Presbyterian Church voted 427 to 164 on Sunday, Oct. 16, to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Let me make it clear that Fremont didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us,” said the Rev. Donald Baird, senior pastor.

About 800 congregants attended church Sunday for a meeting about the pros and cons of what is technically known as seeking “dismissal” from the mainline Presbyterian fold. Supporters of the separation argued that their denomination had drifted away from biblical teachings with its decision to allow gay ministers.

Scott Anderson became the denomination’s first openly gay minister when he was reordained last week in Wisconsin. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Sacramento for seven years before he came out to his congregation and resigned in 1990.

“This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church,” Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who favored leaving the denomination, told the Sacramento Bee.

Cindy Harris, who is preparing to become a minister herself, was on the side of those who expressed reservations about joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“I think God can and will call whoever he wants to call, regardless of sex or orientation,” she said, wiping away tears after the vote.

Fremont, with weekly attendance of about 1,400, is the seventh Sacramento-area church to leave the mainline Presbyterian Church over doctrinal issues in the past few years, according to the Bee.

Regional church leaders plan to meet with Fremont’s staff to discuss what will become of the church’s property and other assets.

In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Anderson predicted that accepting gay clergy would make the Presbyterian church stronger in the long run.

“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Ready for the fight

Baldwin says she doesn’t believe anti-gay attacks against her in her U.S. Senate bid would work with Wisconsin voters

 

Baldwin.Polis
Openly gay members of Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin, center, and Rep. Jared Polis, right, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco in December 2009. Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has announced she is seeking the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herbert Kohl. If she wins the election, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person in the U.S. Senate. (Russel A. Daniels/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin said last week that her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin “will not be about me,” but she’s “prepared to respond to any number of likely attacks in this political age,” including ones based on her sexual orientation.

Baldwin, one of only four openly gay members of the U.S. House, announced Sept. 6 that she will seek the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat who announced in May that he would not seek re-election in 2012.

Although Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for a U.S. Senate seat, her campaign has ignited considerable enthusiasm in the LGBT political community.

Chuck Wolfe, head of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates for elective office, said in a telephone conference call with LGBT media Sept. 7 that the Victory Fund “believes this will be an important race for our community.”
He predicted the community would “rally around” Baldwin, whom he called a “stellar” representative of the community.

Baldwin, who participated in that call and took questions from the media, said she expects the campaign to be “hotly, hotly contested,” as are all Senate races in recent years.

The partisan balance has been closely divided for years. Democrats currently have 51 seats plus 2 Independents who caucus with them; Republicans have 47.

It takes a majority of 60 to break a filibuster staged by a minority party, and the Republican Party has made the filibuster an almost routine maneuver since 2008, in hopes of thwarting a second term for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Following Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats and Independents held 60 seats.

Baldwin said her first challenge will be to introduce herself to parts of Wisconsin outside her district of Madison, the state capital.

She said current polling suggests between 52 percent and 55 percent of voters in the state recognize her name. And given the potential for a hotly contested Senate race to include an anti-gay attack, said Baldwin, she’s eager to introduce herself to voters around the state before an attacker does.

Baldwin doesn’t necessarily believe an anti-gay attack will be particularly effective in Wisconsin. She noted that the western part of the state has also elected an openly gay member of Congress before: U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson.

Gunderson ran for re-election twice after he was outed in 1991.

Baldwin noted that she has been openly gay “all my adult life” and she thinks the voters of Wisconsin “appreciate values of honesty and integrity.

“And I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,” said Baldwin.

But “this campaign,” Baldwin added, “will not be about me. It will be about the middle class, the threats they’re facing, and which candidate is the best fighter for them.”

Meanwhile, two state representatives in Wisconsin announced Sept. 7 that they will seek the Democratic nomination to run for Baldwin’s seat.

One is openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan, who filled in Baldwin’s state assembly seat when she was elected to Congress.

The other is State Rep. Kelda Roys, the youngest member of the Wisconsin assembly and former head of the Wisconsin chapter of NARAL.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Openly gay candidate for Arlington City Council says ‘basic issues’ key in 5-way race

Chris Hightower

Chris Hightower says sexual orientation hasn’t been a significant issue so far

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

ARLINGTON — When Chris Hightower first started talking to family and friends about running for the District 5 seat on the Arlington City Council, the response he got, he said this week, was, “It’s time.”

“That just turned out to be the theme I was getting from everyone: ‘It’s time,’” Hightower said.

Hightower, who grew up in District 5, is the son of Paula Hightower Pierson, who represented District 5 on the City Council from 1989 to 1997, and then served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2008 to 2010.

If he wins the District 5 seat, Hightower will become the first openly gay person on the Arlington council.

Thanks to his mother’s life in government and the civic service arena, Hightower said, “I have always had civic service in my blood. I’ve thought about running for public office before, but this time, I just decided to do it. I’m not getting any younger, and I decided it was time to step up. Like everyone said to me, it’s time.

“We are a very close family, and when one person in the family is doing something, the whole family is there to support them. I would not have run for the council while my mother was still in the House. I wouldn’t have wanted to take away from her efforts. But since she lost re-election last year, I decided the time was right to run for the council. And she supports me completely,” Hightower said.

Hightower is one of four candidates challenging eight-year incumbent Lana Wolff for the District 5 seat. Also on the ballot with Hightower and Wolff are Terry Meza, Christopher McCain and Julie M. Douglas.

With five people in the race, most poll watchers expect a runoff. Apparently Wolff is among them, Hightower said, noting that the incumbent has, so far, done little campaigning.

“She expects there will be a runoff and that she will be in it, and she is saving her efforts for the runoff,” he said. “But my plan is to win outright in the general election, to avoid a runoff altogether.”

And if campaign contributions are any indication, Hightower is on his way. He said this week he expects his campaign contributions so far to significantly exceed the other candidates’ when financial statements are reported to the City Secretary’s Office this week.

So far, Hightower said, only only one person — not one of the candidates — has tried to make Hightower’s sexual orientation an issue in the race. But Hightower said he doesn’t believe the gay-baiting tactics have gotten much traction.

However, Hightower added, if he does find himself facing Wolff in a runoff, he expects the incumbent to try and make his sexual orientation a campaign issue. But he doesn’t think it will hold much sway over voters then, either.

“There are only 1,800 registered voters in District 5. This is a small, intimate community with a small town mentality. It’s not about what you are, but who you are and do people know you,” Hightower said. “The people in this district know me. When I am out walking the district, I am door-knocking my old teachers, my neighbors. I ran into my old elementary school principal. They know me; they know my family.”

When it comes to the issue of his sexual orientation, Hightower seems to be taking a page out of the playbook of the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund — which has endorsed him in the race — and is employing a strategy that paid off for other groundbreaking LGBT candidates in Texas, like Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Although he has never tried to keep his sexual orientation secret, Hightower hasn’t let it become the focus of his campaign, either, focusing instead on what he sees as the basic, core issues that affect all Arlington citizens.

“I have been out my whole life. But is that an issue in this race? I shouldn’t think so,” Hightower said. “This campaign is about city issues, about the streets that need repairs, public safety issues. It’s not about personal things. That’s how I see it, and that’s how I think the voters see it, too.

“I’m not running for City Council with a gay agenda of some kind. I am running on the issues all the citizens care about,” he said.

For the past 10 years in Arlington, “it’s been all about the Cowboys and building the stadium here. That’s not a bad thing. That stadium and the Cowboys and the Super Bowl this year have done great things for our city,” Hightower said. “But now it’s time to get back to the basics. Now it’s time to focusing on fixing the streets, on code enforcement, on public safety.

“When those things are in place, people want to live here and businesses want to move here. That’s where we will get the development we need to continue to grow.”

Hightower said he sees the University of Texas at Arlington as the city’s greatest resource, and that “finding a way to engage those students in our city and make them want to stay here and open businesses and raise their families” will be integral to Arlington’s future.

“UT-A has a great engineering program, a great nursing program, a great social work program. It has many, many fantastic programs. But what’s key is the engineering programs, the technology programs. With those, you’re talking about jobs, high-paying jobs. That’s the economic engine that will really drive Arlington into the future,” he said.

Hightower said that the success of the American League Champion Texas Rangers baseball team, the new Cowboys Stadium and this year’s Super Bowl has meant that Arlington has been “fairly lucky” through the recent recession, and so is not facing the severe budget crunch other area cities now face.

Still, he added, the city has to beginning working to “get [pensions and benefits] under control” by honoring existing contracts while at the same time “doing a better job of negotiating new contracts on the front end.”

The city also has to “crank it up a notch and do a better job” of attracting new businesses and industries to the city, Hightower said. “Right now, the council’s concept is writing checks to one business at a time, to try and get them to move here. We need a comprehensive approach that makes the city more attractive to all kinds of new businesses.”

Hightower also acknowledged that the Arlington council will eventually have to address what he called the “hotly-contested” issue of mass transit.

“People don’t have an answer yet, but we do all understand that we don’t live in a microcosm. You may live in Arlington, but work in Dallas or Fort Worth, and you need to have a way to get there,” he said. “We have to have some sort of regional transit system, and not just a municipal system.”

Hightower said that while various city programs that receive federal funds already include nondiscrimination policies that include LGBT protections, there is not citywide ordinance protecting LGBTs from discrimination.

While such an ordinance is not a No. 1 priority for him at this time, Hightower said he believes it will happen eventually.

“I do believe that the people of Arlington of fair-minded people, overall, who would frown on any kind of discrimination. And I believe that kind of [nondiscrimination] ordinance will be a natural fit here,” he said.

—  John Wright

Megachurch wants choir to sign anti-gay covenant

Associated Press

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Several choir members at Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral say they’re upset over a document they’ve been asked to sign that takes a strong stand against homosexuality.

The “Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant” recently handed out to members states that they should commit to being Christians by following the Bible in every way, the Orange County Register reported Tuesday.

Former and current choir members say they are particularly offended by a statement in the document that refers to homosexuality. Longtime church members say this is the first time they have seen the cathedral take a firm stand against homosexuality and are disturbed by it.

“I understand that in an era where images of family relationship and personal sexuality are often confused, Crystal Cathedral Ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view,” the covenant reads. “I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.”

Sheila Schuller Coleman, daughter of the founder and senior pastor of the megachurch, issued a statement saying the document is intended to “clarify expectations placed on them as ministry leaders.” Coleman also apologized for the pain the covenant has caused some choir members.

Ann Moore Waltz, a longtime church member and former choir member, said she does not agree with the statement in the covenant.

“If I were still in the choir and if that was presented to me, and if a gay person had walked out, I would have walked out with him or her,” she told the Register. “If you are a Christian group and people come to you, you should be a good servant, love them and shine the light of Jesus on them — regardless of who they are.”

Don Neuen, the cathedral’s longtime choir director, left the church last year because he disagreed with Gretchen Schuller Penner’s view that choir members should be “vetted” to make sure they are good Christians, the Register reported.

Penner is a producer for the cathedral’s Hour of Power program, broadcast to audiences worldwide.

Larry LaBonte, a church member for more than three decades, said he disagreed with the clause in the covenant with regard to homosexuality as well.

John Charles, a spokesman for the cathedral, said this does not mean gays are banned from the choir.

“This contract is to educate choir members about what our church believes in,” he said.

The megachurch has dealt with a series of controversial issues over the last several years, including a family rift that prompted the founder’s son, Robert A. Schuller, to split from the church and salaries and housing allowances for Schuller family members.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 18, citing debts of more than $43 million. The church has ordered major layoffs, sold property and canceled its annual “Glory of Easter” extravaganza.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Obama may nominate 1st openly gay cabinet member; Lady Gaga censored

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Two openly gay men have emerged as potential nominees for U.S. commerce secretary. It would mark the first time a gay person has been nominated for a position in the president’s cabinet. Among the other potential nominees is former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who’s currently a U.S. trade representative.

2. A Seton Hall University junior is suing the school after he was allegedly kicked out of his dorm room when his roommate complained that he’s gay. Jesse Cruz, 20, has since returned to his room but seeks compensation for being forced to sleep on a friend’s floor for more than two weeks, and for emotional and psychological trauma.

3. Malaysian radio stations are using indecipherable garble to replace pro-gay lyrics in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” due to government restrictions on “offensive content” in the Muslim-majority country. That’s too bad because it was already hard enough to distinguish the pro-gay lyrics from the rest of the indecipherable garble in the song. Sorry, I couldn’t resist, but here I’ll make up for it: If you didn’t get a chance to ask Lady Gaga a question while she was on the gay strip in Dallas this week, she’s taking them here. Watch the video above for an explanation. Happy now?

—  John Wright

President Obama appoints 1st male, 1st openly gay White House social secretary

Jeremy Bernard (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Jeremy Bernard, a native Texan formerly on staff at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, today became the first male AND the first openly gay person to serve as social secretary in the White House,according to this report in the Los Angeles Times.

Bernard worked in the financial industry in California and was a consultant for Obama’s 2008 campaign. He also served on the LGBT Advisory Committee for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, the L.A. Police Department and the mayor’s office. And he’s done work on behalf of A.N.G.L.E — Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality — and the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

In appointing Bernard, President Obama said, “Jeremy shares our vision for the White House as the People’s House, one that celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways.”

—  admin