Friday, November 6, 2009

Progress And Pressure: The Mechanics Of Winning Gay Rights. Lessons From Scholastic, Maine, And President Obama.

Three recent events have really highlighted for me the mechanics behind how things change. In particular, how we achieve Gay Equality and Rights.

Scholastic's De-Gaying.

Maine's De-Marriaging.

And President Obama's D...well, "D" for Disappointing.

Scholastic's De-Gaying

Scholastic was caught asking "Luv Ya Bunches" author Lauren Myracle to change the two mom parents of a character in the book to a one-mom-one-dad family, in order to have her book included in their book fairs. When the author refused (Go, Lauren!) they told her they wouldn't carry her book in their fairs. When School Library Journal reported on this episode of censorship on October 21, 2009, there was a lot of pressure and complaint letters and a petition with over 4,000 signatures in just a few days... in short, a heap of bad publicity - and Scholastic responded.

Scholastic told the world they won't judge a book based on character's sexuality. But to this date they have not admitted that they were in error in requesting the de-gaying of the book. Nor have they apologized.

Scholastic also said that they would carry the book in their middle school book fairs.

In response to this, many progressive voices inside and outside of the gay community declared victory. However, no one (except School Library Journal, thank you!) seemed to notice that "Luv Ya Bunches" is a book about 5th grade girls, and it should be carried in the elementary school book fairs.

And yet, the letter writing stopped. The petition stopped collecting signatures. The "storm" of bad publicity passed...

and progress on achieving our Gay equality stopped.

Moving forward, I'm sure Scholastic will be more careful with what changes they request of authors in order to accept their books into their school book fairs.

But I wish Scholastic had gone the full distance on this. Publicly apologize to the author and to our community. And carry the book with lesbian moms for 9-13 year olds with all the other books for 9-13 year olds - in their Elementary School Book Fairs.

I think the reason they didn't go the full distance was that the pressure stopped. The fire seemed mostly out, and it seems they're just trying to move on and hope everyone forgets it happened.

The problem is, there's unfinished business. And Scholastic needs to find the courage (or feel the pressure) to finish it.

Maine's De-Marriaging.

On Tuesday, Maine voters decided that their legislature was wrong in passing a law that allowed Gay men and Lesbians to marry. 53% of Maine voters decided that Gay people should not be allowed the right to civil marriage. It's the 31st time a state has voted that. Millions of dollars are being spent, on both sides, in this continual assertion - state by state - that somehow, in this one instance, the majority should decide on the rights of a minority.

But without the grass roots pressure, without the millions of dollars to get our voices heard, and without the untold number of people standing up and talking about what it means to be denied your rights because of who you love, we would have lost it... even worse.

Every time, with Prop 8 in California, and with Tuesday's vote in Maine, we seem to be closer and closer to a majority who "approve" of our rights (I can't even begin to convey how much that very premise rankles...), and it's not because we're sitting back passively. It's because we're showing courage. Those of us who are in Gay and Lesbian relationships are standing up and demanding our rights - and our friends and families and fair-minded allies are often standing and marching and canvassing with us.

Without that effort... it's clear that we'd have even less rights than we do today.

President Obama is Disappointing.

Looking through my files I found this image from the day after Obama was elected President. I remember I felt so much hope...

From having President Obama choose anti-Gay Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration to his allowing servicemember after servicemember to be discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell when he has had the power to stop it from the minute he took the oath of office, our newest President has shown us that while he talks the talk (and the talk is amazing) when it comes to walking the walk, pressure (and political cover) seem necessary.

Happily, President Obama signed the Hate Crimes Law.

And yet, President Obama seems so interested in building consensus for everything he does that it seems to preclude him from acting without it. We see that plainly in the Health Care reform (I was going to write "process" but I'm going to try to be more accurate and call it a "mess.") Democrats are falling all over themselves to compromise away everything that would truly reform the system - like a single payer option - all to appease the Republican minority who won't vote for it anyway.

This systemic lack of LEADERSHIP by our President and by the Democrats who are - at least by the numbers - in charge of both the House and Senate, leaves the Gay community and our allies frustrated that our elected leaders are not standing up for us. That President Obama is not being PROACTIVE in making the changes he promised to make. Where's the courage of his convictions?

Defense Of Marriage Act? Still the law of the land. My legal California marriage isn't recognized by the federal government.

Don't Ask Don't Tell? Still the law of the land. It basically says that you can be gay and in the military, but you have to lie about it. But of course, no one wants someone who they have to trust with their life to lie to them. Honor and all that. So these soldiers are honest. And then they get fired. At the rate of Two PER DAY! President Obama has let hundreds of valiant Americans be FIRED for being honest about who they love. That's shameful, and so disappointing.

"Every civil rights battle in the past 60 years has been fueled by strong presidential leadership," said former U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall, one of the Cook v. Gates plaintiffs seeking reinstatement. "And that same leadership is also needed now to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. It's time the President begins fulfilling his campaign promise by publicly endorsing HR 1283 and working with Congress to find the votes."

The Employment Non Discrimination Act? Still NOT the law of the land. Yesterday they started discussing it (hearings, again) in Congress. Until it passes,

In 29 states, it's legal to fire someone because they're lesbian, gay, or bisexual; in 38 states, it's legal to fire someone for being transgender.

You can have marches on Washington, but marching on a non-business day where pretty much anyone can ignore the march if they want to doesn't really apply PRESSURE for change. And the latest gay rights march on Washington did not create change.

So where does Progress, especially in moving Gay rights forward, come from?

In the case of Scholastic, it was Pressure from bad publicity (and being shamed.)

In the case of Maine, even though we lost, we were close because of Courage. People coming out - not being ashamed - and sharing their stories... but maybe not enough of us.

In the case of President Obama, it seems he'll act when there's a consensus-delivered bill on his desk... but how can we get him to be the "fierce advocate" for Gay rights he promised us he'd be?

In case after case, it all seems to boil down to this. If we want people, or companies, or governments to change, we need them to either:

Find the courage. Or feel the Pressure.

I don't have all the answers.

But I think the questions are good ones to examine.

How do we encourage courage?
What forms of pressure actually result in progress?
Where's the line between pressure that works and pressure that alienates?

It's a discussion we really need to have, as individuals, and as a community.

What do you think?



LaurieA-B said...

Hi Lee: I wrote about the need for continued pressure on Scholastic (on my blog Six Boxes of Books and Roger Sutton of the Horn Book mentions this in his post titled "Not quite the Myracle it seems" ( I still want/hope to see Scholastic go the distance. I'm worried that the Luv Ya Bunches news story is and will continue to have a chilling effect on authors for children who may want to include gay characters, but are afraid to. Scholastic has done nothing to counter that fear, so far.

fairyhedgehog said...

I had no idea the American military were still firing people for coming out as gay. It's ludicrous. Don't they know any history?

Saints and Spinners said...

I'll write another letter to Scholastic.

I too am rankled at the premise that basic rights have to be "approved" as opposed to acknowledged. I think of women's suffrage and "giving" women the right to vote. The right was always there, however it wasn't legal or acknowledged.

Juniper40 said...

Hi Lee: Great article as always. I disagree with you on one point, however. You claim that the National Equality March didn't do anything to help the LGBT movement. I disagree. The intent of the March was to organize; to inspire people to get active in their own communities. Obviously marches do not affect the decisions of the members of Congress, but that was not the focus of the October 11th event. Marches are simply one of a number of tools used in activism, and to dismiss it as worthless is insulting to those who worked very hard to organize it and also those who were inspired to get active after attending.

Other than that you were spot on.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Juniper 40,
thanks for your comment. I did not mean to be insulting to those that went and made the march happen. And I think your point, that it made an impact INTERNALLY, within the community, is valid and noteworthy. I guess I was speaking to how I had heard the march being pitched- which focused on the external effects of the march. And those I didn't see. However, if individuals are encouraged by it, and it strenghtens our community's resolve, in the long run it may pay off with external results.
Thank you for making me take another look at this, and for calling me on my too-offhanded dismissal of the march.

Cassandra said...

I showed my 9 year old your blog post about Luv Ya Bunches, (she'd read the ARC this summer.) She was moved to send a note to Lauren Myracle and said that changing the Milla's parents to a mom and dad would be "disrespectful to kids" and thanked her for not changing that part of the book. My daughter says she is writing Scholastic tomorrow. Thanks for you blog, post, Lee. I would have missed the Scholastic/LYB issue otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee and thanks. You're absolutely right. Luv Ya Bunches is so not a middle school read. I happen to be in a middle school that includes grade 5, but what about students in grades 3 & 4?

I just finished it and happened to save an email that included the address for Scholastic, so it's on my "to do" list. Thanks for your vigilance.