‘Born This Way’ truly is an LGBT anthem

No matter what machinations may be hiding in the background, the message shines through in the new song from Lady Gaga

RAFAEL MCDONNELL | Special Contributor

Last Friday, Feb. 11, as I drove into work, I listened to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” on the music player built into my cell phone. I mention that because I’ve never been the most technically-proficient person. In fact, among my friends and family, I’m known as a “late adopter” of technology.

Yet, I daresay that I likely wasn’t the only person to listen to the song that way, that day.

You couldn’t go anywhere last weekend without bumping into “Born This Way.” From restaurants, clubs and shops to radio, TV and the Grammy Awards, the song was everywhere. According to Billboard magazine, “Born This Way” was downloaded nearly 450,000 times between that Friday and Sunday, Feb. 13 — setting a record for a female artist.

The song also debuted at number one on the “Billboard Hot 100” this week. Only 19 songs have done that since 1958, including those by Elton John, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Aerosmith.

But before this column turns into a Casey Kasem imitation, let me say I’m mentioning these statistics for a reason.

It’s not important if “Born This Way” sounds like a song Madonna released in the late 1980s. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Lady Gaga or not. It also doesn’t matter why she recorded the song — whether it is a paean to her LGBT fans or merely a cynical marketing ploy to sell a product.

The rapid pervasiveness of “Born This Way,” much as the “It Gets Better” videos did last fall, has the potential to spread discussions of LGBT issues far from Oak Lawn, Greenwich Village or West Hollywood. It transcends borders of geography, race, class, social status and history. How could it not, with lyrics like “No matter gay, straight, or bi/ Lesbian, transgendered life/ I’m on the right track, baby/ I was born to survive”?

Think of it for a moment. A kid in rural America, miles away from a traditional LGBT community, might be questioning her sexual orientation or gender identity. That kid may not have an understanding family or easy access to supportive resources. But if she has an Internet connection, or a digital music player, or even (gasp!) a CD player or radio, she will hear a message affirming her individuality played either on demand or seemingly every 90 minutes.

Saying the specific words of support and affirmation towards the LGBT community are what matters. Who cares if Lady Gaga emerged from an egg while doing it?

Let’s look at it from another perspective.

The field of semiotics is the study of communication through signs and symbols. Those who study semiotics believe that all cultural phenomena can be studied as a form of communication. Since bursting onto the musical scene, Lady Gaga is undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon. But, what’s the message being sent, and what’s being received?

To me, the message is a simple one.

From her concerts to her activism supporting the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Lady Gaga has reiterated a clear and consistent message of support for the LGBT community, whether she’s wearing a meat dress or a bra shooting sparks.

With the debut of “Born This Way,” she has cranked that message to maximum volume via multi-channel distribution. Its permeative nature will undoubtedly shape conversations from Dallas to Dime Box and beyond, and it has the potential to open minds and change hearts. If it does that, it’s a success.

Yes, there have been other songs offering support and understanding to the LGBT community. For example, I remember hearing Erasure’s “Hideaway” in the late 1980s. But at the time, that song was never released as a single and it never garnered much radio airplay.

Other pop songs, from “Over the Rainbow” to “I Will Survive” to “It’s Raining Men” have been adopted as anthems for the LGBT community — even though they weren’t directly written for us.

Add to that the technological changes that allow stories, music and art to go viral. The phone on which I listened to “Born This Way” can also play the YouTube video of the Grammy Awards performance, and upload comments and links to Facebook and Twitter. All of this serves to amplify the message behind the music.

That’s what makes “Born This Way” different. Lady Gaga is in your face with a specific message that all people — not just the LGBT community — should, as the song says, “rejoice and love yourself today,” and it’s being communicated on an unfathomable scale.

It also doesn’t hurt that it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at Resource Center Dallas. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Happy Holidays’ vs. ‘Merry Christmas’

Progressive religious leaders weigh in on 1st Baptist’s ‘Grinch Alert’ website, calling it everything from a marketing ploy to just plain mean

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

Locally owned Viewpoint Bank is on First Baptist Church’s naughty list. They have poinsettias in their branches, but they don’t have a Christmas tree.

American Airlines made the naughty list because of “excessive use of holiday, no mention of Christmas. With a name like American Airlines, come on.”

Because what’s more American than telling someone else that they need to observe your religion?

Cracker Barrel “includes Santa and Christ in store.” That’s nice according to First Baptist.

Hopefully it’s Santa as we know him today — in the red suit that was created by Coca Cola for a 1935 ad campaign. The red was chosen to match Coke’s corporate color. Apparently, nothing says Christmas like corporate greed to First Baptist.

Previously, Santa was “dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot,” as described in Twas the Night Before Christmas.

To combat the so-called “War on Christmas,” First Baptist Church in Dallas created a new website, GrinchAlert.com, for people to report stores and other service companies that are naughty or nice. Naughty is anyone who greets you with that offensive term, “Happy Holidays.”

The Rev. Steven Pace suggested the website shows that First Baptist isn’t paying attention to the right issues this holiday season.

“I can’t believe an institution with that kind of capacity to do real social action work could concern itself with something so trivial,” Pace said.

“They need something more meaningful to do.”

Yet emphasizing the consumer side of Christmas and penalizing retailers that don’t put Jesus in the middle of their marketing plans is, apparently, exactly what First Baptist wants.

Macy’s in the Galleria is on the naughty list because a single employee in a single transaction returned a customer’s “Merry Christmas” with the offensive “You, too.”

And no doubt it was the Muslim extremists in the small town of Crowley, Texas south of Fort Worth who hung “Happy Holidays” in huge letters in front of city hall. Or was it their massive Jewish population?

“How about peace on earth and good will to all?” suggested the Rev. Colleen Darraugh of MCC of Greater Dallas. “It’s the kind of thing that gives Christians a bad rap.”

She said that although she’s Christian and celebrates Christ at Christmas, she has Jewish friends whom she wishes Happy Hannukah.

“We want to wish happy holidays and seasons greetings to people of all faiths,” she said.

Darraugh said that by emphasizing what retailers are doing, it emphasized that Christmas was for consumers.

She questioned whether the website’s creators know about the religious part of the holidays … uh, Christmas.
Cantor Don Croll of Temple Shalom in North Dallas said, “So I guess at New York-style delis, they should just say ‘Happy Hanukkah.’”

He pointed out that The Christmas Store in Richardson has a large Hanukkah section and wondered if it offended First Baptist that a store with that name would be selling anything else, or if it should offend Jews to shop in a store with that name?

“I guess I’m old fashioned. I like saying happy holidays and including everybody,” he said.

The Rev. Jo Hudson of Cathedral of Hope was aghast at a church’s emphasis on the retail aspect of the holiday rather than the religious part of Christmas.

“It shifts focus from what it should be,” she said.

Hudson suggested more appropriate lessons from a church might be feeding the hungry, caring for the sick or, if retail must be the emphasis, buying toys for poor children.

She admired it as a successful marketing scheme. But questioned whether Christmas be used as such a blatant promotional mechanism by a church?

But Hudson did acknowledge the ploy’s success.

“The website is clever because people have responded to it,” she said.

Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth agreed with Hudson, but he questioned whether the campaign appealed to prospective members or the lowest denominator of the church’s base.

“The pastor there has shown himself to be a master of publicity,” Folkerth said. “But it only speaks well to the people they already have.”
Folkerth called the campaign silly, annoying and mean.

“Among his base it sells, but it sells a theology of division. He has a remarkable way of doing divisive things,” Folkerth said, referring to Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church.

Folkerth also suggested that during a recession, the website sends bad signals.

“Given the way the economy is, it’s such a bad message to say we’re not going to this store or that because of a perceived lack of Christian-ness,” he said.Folkerth said that religion should call us to our better natures.

“This doesn’t seem like our better nature,” he said.

“People who are secure in who they are don’t have to impose it on other people,” Hudson said, adding that people of different faiths have more in common than they have differences.

“How you greet people isn’t a measure of your faith,” she said

“How you treat people is.”

She said the GrinchAlert.com website was a good example of people not treating each other well and she found it particularly offensive during Christmas.

“Someone can wish me Happy Holidays and I can wish them Merry Christmas,” Darraugh said.

Taking either of those greetings as anything but best wishes, she said, “flies in the spirit of Christ who brought good will for all.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

LSR Journal: Because I learned what’s important

Eddie Munoz  Team Dallas Voice

Eddie Munoz
Eddie Munoz

This year marks the first year I’m officially involved with the Lone Star Ride.

I’ll be honest: Initially, I wanted a reason to be obliged to stay fit during the dog days of summer, not to mention getting to wear the shiny, sexy 88 percent polyester/12 percent spandex cycling gear. I mean seriously, who doesn’t look good in that?

Although my reason for participating began as a selfish ploy to achieve somewhat of an Adonis status, the reality of the event’s purpose has undoubtedly taken over — and I’m glad it has.

I first heard of Lone Star Ride while working for the Dallas Voice in Web development during my college days. As part of my duty, I would upload the weekly newspaper to the website, reading the stories as it pertained to our community’s struggle in the area, state, country and world. One of the things I remember was preparing for the Lone Star Ride articles and thought, “Oh here’s just another fundraiser.”

Back then I was a different person than I am today. As a younger person, I didn’t see the need to get involved, nor did I feel that I, as an individual, could make a difference.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and met someone whose whole life pertained to getting involved in our community and I was inspired. He was making a difference, “saving the gays” as he sometimes would say. He definitely made a difference in me whether he knows it or not.

I’m happy to say that now I wake up next to him everyday.

In March, Robert Moore and I talked about the Lone Star Ride, and for some reason, I had a strong urge to know more about the ride and to get involved.

So a couple of months ago I picked up a bike from the Lone Star locker and began to train. Let me tell you though, it has not been easy to train for the 75 miles I hope to accomplish in September.

My very first training ride consisted of 23 miles and I said to myself, “Oh Lord! What did you get yourself into?” No amount of Gatorade could’ve quenched my thirst that day.

For someone who grew up with asthma and who, shamefully but admittedly, barely learned how to ride a bike five years ago, it has been a challenge. I’ve had a couple falls here and there, bruises, injuries, blood, sweat and tears. But with every fall I have, I commit myself to riding even more.

Cycling has become my therapy, a healthy escape from the weekly workload, the bars and the drama that it sometimes entails.

It’s also a game of mind versus body — “just one more mile … one more … one more,” I tell myself.

When I ride I focus on the people that the event benefits, and I can also focus on myself and my life. Whether I’m riding with my team, my partner or by myself, it is always an enjoyable experience for me.

I may not know the people that the event benefits, but I know that it will make a difference, that I will finally make a difference. I’ve learned to participate in life and help those in need, those who want another day in this world, who want to know they’re still appreciated and not forgotten.

AIDS may be incurable, but our apathy and inability to help has a cure. It only takes a minute, the click of a mouse, to donate online and change someone’s life.

So as I prepare to hit the pavement in September in my 88 percent polyester/12 percent spandex cycling shorts, I look forward to hearing from the organizations and the people that your contributions go towards.

And I hope to return next year and do it all over again with a bigger fundraising goal and more support.

To donate to Eddie Munoz or any other Lone Star Ride rider, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens