‘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

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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.

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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

Agree with the pope? Nope!

Pontiff once again speaks out against LGBT equality, saying same-sex marriage is a threat to ‘the future of humanity’

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Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

When you hear someone with as powerful a voice as the pope say something is a threat to “the future of humanity itself,” you take notice. Pope Benedict uttered these weighty words this week, and what was he talking about? Nuclear capabilities in Iran? Global warming? Famine? Drought?
Nope.

The Holy Father was speaking about marriage equality. Apparently in the rarified air of the Vatican, allowing LGBT people to affirm their relationships and have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples would have apocalyptic results.

In his statement to a gathering of diplomats from 180 countries, the pope said that children need the proper settings in which to grow, and that “pride of place goes to the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman.”

He went on to assert that, “This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

This little gem was part of his yearly address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican. Unlike with any other religion in the world, the U.S. actually has an ambassador to the Vatican, representing the Catholic Church, as do many other countries.

It is a mystery I fail to understand, but it is what it is.

This statement comes on the heels of the elevation of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the status of cardinal. Not surprisingly, Dolan is one of the leading anti-LGBT voices in the Catholic Church.

And Pope Benedict himself is certainly no friend of LGBT folk either. In a 1986 pastoral letter he wrote before becoming pontiff, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said that homosexuality was “an intrinsic moral evil” and “an objective disorder.”

Now to put this in perspective, the Catholic Church claims 1.3 billion adherents worldwide. This is why what the pope says is news.

But I fail to see this statement coming from the voice of the moral high ground.

The Vatican has been implicated in numerous scandals in recent years, and most of them involve inappropriate sexual behavior with minors. Many of these same scandals not only involve priests, but the systematic coverup of the crimes.

The courts of the U.S. and Europe have been busy prosecuting these cases, and the new media has covered them ad nauseam.

For me, the big question is this: In a world with so many social and humanitarian problems, why is preventing LGBT people from marrying worthy of such hyperbole?

Will allowing my partner and me to marry for the purposes of gaining the 1,000-plus legal benefits awarded to straight couples in the U.S. going to shake the foundations of our country? Is a gay marriage going to cause straight people to throw up their hands saying, “Well there goes the neighborhood” and divorce?
Nonsense.

This all has to do with control — and few people understand control as well as the current pope. Cardinal Ratzinger was the “enforcer” for the Vatican before his elevation to pontiff. His office was the Supreme Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a group previously known as (until 1965) Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.  You remember them and their always “unexpected” counterpart, the Spanish Inquisition?

The pope will continue to demonize LGBT people and oppose our relationships as long as it serves to increase his control. Much like right-wing politicians, the pope can use this issue as a wedge issue, prying the faithful away from any attempt at social justice in the matter of LGBT rights.

Moreover, this is also designed to bolster the argument that “hate speech” should be protected as a freedom of religion issue, a recent tactic being used by the far-right to oppose LGBT rights and anti-bullying efforts.

Am I suggesting that the pope is colluding with politicians to deny LGBT people their rights? Perhaps not. But his statements will surely be used by the right wing to bolster their arguments.

I just find it sad that the man who has assumed the mantle of the vicar of Christ can so conveniently ignore that Jesus said nothing about LGBT people in any recorded documents. He did, however, say something to the effect of, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the prisoner.”
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Enduring enigma

Alan Turing’s pioneering work made modern technology possible. But because he was gay, he remains, technically, a criminal

Last week my partner and I gave each other early Christmas gifts: We exchanged iPads. As we got home with our new gadgets, I made an assessment of the number of computers we had in our house, and I was astounded.

Between us we have no fewer than eight computers, not counting the tiny computers we carry with us that we mistakenly call our telephones.

I remarked to my partner, “We are living in the age of Star Trek, minus the replicators, transporters and warp drive.”

And that is pretty much a true statement. The things we can do now with our iPhones would have astounded the top minds at IBM just 15 short years ago.

So many amazing gadgets that make our lives easier, better and richer are to a great extent the result of the pioneering work of a gay man from the United Kingdom named Alan Turing. Turing was a brilliant mathematician whose contributions to the concepts of algorithms and computation made all those computers in our house possible.

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Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

Furthermore, his work in cryptanalysis in the now-famous Bletchley Park Government Code and Cypher School led to the development of a machine known then as the “bombe.” It was an electromechanical code-breaking computer that broke the German Enigma code and helped stop Hitler. Because of his work, Turing was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1945, an honor roughly equivalent to a Congressional Medal of Honor.

His amazing body of work, most of which is so highly technical that it is hard to describe in such a short space, has led historians to call Alan Turing the “Father of Computer Science.” Without Alan Turing, I would most likely be typing this column on an electric typewriter. Such was his impact on our modern world.

The dark side of his story happened in 1952. That year, he met a man outside a cinema in Manchester and they struck up a relationship. Turing invited the man, Arnold Murry, to his house several times. On one of those visits, Murry opened Turing’s house up to a thief, his accomplice, and they stole several things from his home.

When Turning reported it to the police, he admitted that Murry was more than just a visitor; Murry was his lover.
And that’s where the story gets dark.

Turing and Murry were both charged with “gross indecency” because homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time. Turing was convicted and given an onerous choice: He could go to prison or he could accept probation, the terms of which included chemical castration via hormone injections.

Turing’s security clearance was rescinded and he was prevented from ever working in the field of cryptanalysis again. He was even prevented from ever discussing his work during World War II.

Turing was found dead on a June morning in 1954, with a half-eaten apple beside his bed. The autopsy showed he had ingested cyanide, possibly from the apple, and his death was ruled a suicide.

What makes this tale even sadder is that to this date, Alan Turing has never received an official pardon from the British government.

Today there are statues and plaques and tributes to the “Father of Modern Computing.” He even received a posthumous apology from then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009.

But his criminal record still stands.

The inhumane treatment Turing endured has been acknowledged, but this great man deserves more.

Today there is a movement to have the government pardon Alan Turing as we enter the new year. One hundred years after his birth, the global scientific community has declared 2012 as “Alan Turing Year, a Centenary Celebration of the Life and Work of Alan Turing.” It seems fitting that during his commemorative year, the British government could offer a posthumous pardon to a man to whom we all owe so much.

So far there are only a few thousand signatures to the petition. It is my hope that every LGBT individual will sign it as an offering to one of our own who gave us so much. Why it has taken this long is truly an enigma.

The petition is online at: Submissions.Epetitions.Direct.gov.uk/petitions/23526.

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 December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas