Category Archives: National Politics

Queer Choices: marriage Equality at the Crossroads

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Eek! Marianne and I have just five days to go before out Wedding Weekend Extravaganza(!) begins. I’ve been busily getting the centerpieces for our table decorations procured, making a packing list for Thursday evening and trying to switch Friday’s outdoor ring exchange ceremony to a location with lighting because (as M pointed out yesterday) it gets dark by 6:25 p.m.

Anyhow, I’m currently at work catching up on my professional Twitter Feed and I came across the following gem from the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog. I’m including what I think are some of the best lines, but I really think you ought to read the post in it’s entirety.

Queer Choices: Marriage Equality at the Crossroads

Claire Potter

From the blog:

I must admit that sometimes when I am with heterosexual people who want to discuss the slow march toward equal rights, my queer soul seizes just a little bit. Please don’t take it personally if you notice. It means I am suffering the transformation from subject to object that occurs when I am discussing a lifetime of queer choices and dilemmas as if they were occurring in someone else’s life.

I think most GLBTQ folks have been there. We’re having a nice conversation at a dinner party and suddenly the topic turns to equal rights. To retain some semblance of decorum, we must separate ourselves from the topic of conversation (we as the “subject” must reframe ourselves as an “object” and pretend that the conversation is simply theoretical).

Even though I have accomplishments, money, a home, friends and a job, I actually know that the laws my life depends on are only a ballot initiative away, that other people’s feelings and insecurities about their straight families are widely perceived as justification for limiting the resources and rights available to my queer family.

I’ve written about this before. It’s a weird place to live, this space where I know that my rights and the laws that govern me are entirely dependent on how other people feel about their own families. And it sucks when 60 percent of the 30 percent of registered voters that came out to the polls in May were not comfortable enough with their own relationships so they chose to restrict the available choices for me.

 If life is a series of choices for everyone, queer life is a series of queer choices, of evasions, of making do, of coping with anxiety and with limitations.

She then goes on to give examples of the Family Rate for auto insurance that depends on how sympathetic the agent is to my specific situation; that only six states “recognize my humanity” while 19 states refuse any sort of legal protection (never mind marriage or civil unions) to GLBTQ folks in relationships; DOMA requires that GLBTQ folks that do live in states with marriage equality pay a separate tax rate at the state and federal levels; and knowing that a vast number of people think I can just abandon my “queer choice” of Marianne as a partner of almost five years for a man.

Oh what times we live in.  Why are our rights on the ballot? In that case, why not let the Taliban vote on whether women should go to school?

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Methodist Church

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Barack Obama signs Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal legislation Dec. 20, 2010. The repeal went into effect Sept. 20, 2011.. (photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I was going to leave the one-year anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell alone.

The media said everything was kosher since all the LGB folk can serve in the U.S. military openly (Ts still aren’t allowed and Qs might be debatable) and I was tempted to let Sept. 20 pass without so much as a whisper around here since it don’t really fit with my blog premise.

But then I saw this post from Truth in Progress about what the United Methodist Church can learn from the repeal of DADT. The author’s overarching point is this:

We too, if we have the will to rescind our UMC practice of “DADT”, will discover that for 40 years we have been in denial about how significantly God has used the lay and clergy United Methodists who are gay and lesbian, and we have been wrong!

I’m glad the author wrote this, but I think both he and the military are missing a crucial part of the repeal process.

Nowhere in the article does the author, or has the military over the last year, made any effort to undo any of the harm done to those who served under the policy.

After spending six years in the Air Force (three on active duty and three as an ROTC cadet at Miami University in Ohio), I “outed” myself to my commander in April 2008 because I no longer felt I could serve in silence. With a signature and some minor paperwork, I was given an honorable discharge and got stuck with $36,000 in school “scholarship money” that had now been converted to loans (currently the bill is $38,000+ since it keeps accruing interest faster than I can make payments).

Two years and five months later DADT repeal went into effect. While the media and the military and the groups who worked to overturn the law celebrated (and continue to celebrate), those of us affected by the policy while it was in place are left in the cold.

The military made it clear that it wasn’t interested in retroactive fixes…but they also haven’t made anyone available to veterans who were discharged under the policy in case we need to talk and ask “what now?”.

Presumably the answer is nothing, but I don’t know.

Currently I owe money, but there are good soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines who would like to reenter the service and can’t because their previous job isn’t available, or they’re now too old to qualify, or a million other reasons.

And the military doesn’t seem to care.

To circle back around, I think the Methodist Church can learn from the military.

But I think the UMC needs to go one step further and have a plan in place to help those affected by the bans feel they can come back.

It hurts to be excluded, and unless the church makes it clear that they want those who felt excluded to return and reaches out a hand to them, those folks may just stay gone.

It’s not enough to move forward, the UMC has got to be willing to look behind and take care of the previously excluded folks too.

Get your paperwork in order

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Over the weekend, Marianne and drove to Winston-Salem to celebrate the engagement of two friends she had set up about a year earlier.

As we were driving West, going about 70 miles an hour in the far left lane, I notice something in the roadway. As I was driving, I did my best to avoid it…to no avail. My right rear tire hits whatever it is and next thing I hear is a CRASH! and a Hissssssss…. one meant I had a flat, I didn’t know what the crash was.

Luckily Subarus tend to be crazy safe so I didn’t have a major blowout, just a slow letdown. As I change lanes and pull over onto the right shoulder of the road, I notice a silver car pulling up behind me.

How nice of them. They must be pulling in to see if I’m okay.

As I stop my car and Marianne and I get out, we turn around to say thanks to the folks behind us and see this:

HOLY CRAP!

Turns out we ran over an 8-10 inch piece of solid steel, about two inches thick. The thing weighed about 10 pounds. And then as we ran over it, we kicked it up and behind us into the right lane next to us…and into their front window.

The husband and wife both exited the vehicle, he was slightly bleeding from the shattered window glass that had fallen, she had glass all over her lap. The state trooper who eventually pulled in to make sure everyone was alright found it in the back seat of the other couple’s car. Seriously, if the gentleman in the passenger’s seat had been leaning over to tell his wife a story, or reaching for a drink in the cup holder, or any other of the 10 million things you do while riding as a passenger, he would have been killed. And I still have no idea how she didn’t jerk her wheel any and cause another accident.

Thankfully everyone was okay and, after a nice tire change by the AAA guy and a set of four tires later, Marianne and I were back on the road.

The whole incident got us thinking about (besides the obvious ‘hey your life could change in an instant’) how important it is for gay and lesbian couples who cannot get legally married to get any other sort of paperwork they can in order.

Currently, Marianne and I have no will, no powers of healthcare powers of attorney, no living will…nothing that makes us able to legally make decisions for the other if some freak accident (or a 10-pound hunk of steel) comes at us full force. Doing a quick Google search, I found the Human Rights Campaign Website that offers a list of what all LGBTQ folks should have. At minimum, it recommends:

  • Co-Parenting agreement (if there are children in the relationship);
  • Domestic Partnership agreement;
  • Donor agreements;
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances;
  • Health Care proxy;
  • Hospital Visitation authorization;
  • Last Will and Testament; and a
  • Living Will.

Some of this stuff is expensive, although I have found that certain “family-friendly” lawyers will do them for a slightly smaller fee.

 

A 3-minute perspective change

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You’ve got to fight…for your right…well…just for your rights, actually.

Sometimes I love my job as a community newspaper education reporter. I always like it, but today I love it.

I’m writing a story about the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten program designed to serve at-risk children who otherwise wouldn’t get a high quality education before they started Kindergarten. Long story short, the N.C. legislature wrote a section in their 2011 budget bill that placed a 20 percent cap on the number of at-risk children allowed to enroll in NCPK, as well as imposed a co-payment on children attending and drastically decreased the NCPK funding. Certain counties challenged the law and in July 2012 a judge ruled that the state was in the wrong – all eligible at-risk children must have access to NCPK with no “artificial barriers” like co-payments. The state balked and appealed the ruling but on Aug. 21, an appeals court upheld the July ruling.

All this matters because if the ruling stands and the state doesn’t appeal it (again), more than 700 children in my county could have access to a high-quality pre-k program they might otherwise never get.

As part of my story, I ended up speaking with Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. State Conference of the NAACP who reminded me how important it is to continue to push for what’s right, regardless of party affiliation.

This shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue. 144 years ago blacks and whites together guaranteed public education to every child (by way of the state constitution).

In the end, Barber said the legislature continues to hurt the most vulnerable in N.C.’s population, the 24.7 percent of the state’s children living in poverty, to protect their own interests.

This is bad for all children at risk. If you help children early, you ensure their success and ensure future of state and county.

Along those same lines, I got thinking about my rights as a lesbian in America. Currently North Carolina has a state legislature who just bullied an amendment that violates my rights through their ranks and got the voters to approve it in May and America is ripe to have the worst federal government in recent history for women and LGBTQ folks if voters don’t pay attention.

If the legislature can’t even abide by what’s been in the state constitution for 144 years, the right to a “basic, sound public education,” then what hope do I have that they will protect my (currently non-existent) rights to love who I want to love and to have all the legal protection necessary to care for my family?

I don’t, so it falls to me and other voters to get informed, educate others and work to gain legal and election victories in November and beyond.

Tuesday I was feeling a bit jaded and over the whole activist thing. Funny how one little three-minute phone conversation can change your perspective.

Preferred names

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Yay!

I finally got my official business cards in after ordering on the first day of work…Katherine Ayers, education reporter. I think it sounds ok and from the 25+ likes I got on the photo, I’m guessing others thought it was neato as well.

But it got me thinking about preferred names…again.

While I represent my self as Katherine (Katie) Ayers at work and in the community, at every turn I’m reminded that that’s not who I really am (yet). My credit cards, bank statements, student loans, Social Security Card, birth certificate…most everything that constitutes me as legal still requires me to be Katherine Booher which is not who I want to be anymore. Some days I feel I’m living a split-life. Half the time I’m Ayers and the other half, usually at inconvenient times when I don’t want to think about it, the government yanks me back and says “no, no…for a bit longer we require you to be someone other than who you are.”

Fortunately it’s only the government and once I work within their (stupid) rules, my preferred name will match up with my legal one.

In some ways, I’m glad  it’s just my last name I want changed, and I’m doing it at a point where no one at work and in the community knew me as anyone else anyhow so there’s nothing “new” for most people to get used to. But I got thinking about folks in the LGBTQ community who, for whatever reason, want to change their first name. Maybe they’re transitioning, maybe their uber-girly name doesn’t fit them and they want more than just a nickname. I’m sure there are stories where the transition was great and the preferred name stuck with no issues, but I can only imagine how frustrating and lonely it must be for some folks to ask people to use their preferred name only to get called their birth name months later.

I’m picturing a person standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where everything echoes and screaming at the top of their lungs “My Name Is JANE!” only to come to the top and have the first person you meet say “Hi, Jim,” either out of ignorance or disrespect or both.

My friend Elis, who recently chose that name, wrote their thoughts about it. I hope they don’t mind I’m linking to a part of their blog post:

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is name myself. The realization that I could have a name that genders me correctly on paper and in speech, that has never been used to abuse me, only recently dawned on me. Once I knew who I could be, though, I couldn’t turn back. Now, I face the issues of being a college student, a leader, activist, and a member of many communities, and having to come out all over again. The ability to name oneself is a privilege; often, we elect to be known by our middle names, or by nicknames, or unrelated names altogether that happen to be gender-appropriate and justifiable. My transition, though, isn’t so easily justified. The old worries of inconveniencing those that I care about with my queerity have more than returned. Who am I to ask so many to reorient their mindsets for the sake of my identity? I’ve only told a few people my name, though I’ve more than claimed it in my self-narration. I’ve whispered it to empty rooms, but haven’t yet spoken it aloud to another person. It’s been a process with new challenges and encounters of privilege and justification.

All this to say, when a person (whom you’ve never met or with whom you’ve been best friends with since toddlerhood or a sibling) introduces themselves to you, or to anyone in your presence, take the name they say as truth. Don’t question it (in that exact moment anyway), certainly don’t correct them and understand that they chose the name carefully. If you’re (genuinely) curious, ask them politely in a private setting why they chose the name they chose (and maybe, only maybe) why they did it. In the end it’s none of your business anyhow and if they choose not to share there’s probably a reason for that. In time they will, or not.

Your only job responsibility is to love them exactly how and where and who they are.

Feminist theory and my marriage

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Marianne had her first theory class tonight and since she is currently reading her homework assignment, I decided to jump back into a little of my favorite feminist theory alongside her. I started with what I know and love – Michel Foucault and Judith Butler.

(Just an FYI, I once read the entirety of Butler’s Undoing Gender during a summer vacation, so yes, I’m kind of a theory nerd).

As I was tooling around the internet looking for stuff by/for/about them (because all of my books are in storage), I came across a piece from Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence:

Law itself is either suspended, or regarded as an instrument that the state may use in the service of constraining and monitoring a given population; the state is not subject to the rule of law, but law can be suspended or deployed tactically and partially to suit the requirements of a state that seeks more and more to allocate sovereign power to its executive and administrative powers. The law is suspended in the name of “sovereignty” of the nation, where “sovereignty” denotes the task of any state to preserve and protect its own territoriality. 

Basically perfect for where Marianne and I are on our journey toward relationship legality. At every turn it seems the state does something to keep us as lesbians ( or any homeosexual) in check – to get a name change we need a whole host of legal documents – yet the state does not demand any of that from certain other citizens – say a woman who marries a man. What makes the straight woman any less of a threat than us? She could just as easily be running from the law or assuming a new identity for any number of nefarious purposes as we could.

The second part of Butler’s quote is applicable as well, gay marriage accross America could be allowed tomorrow but it currently doesn’t suit the best interest of the state, America, for a number of resons – economically, politically, morally.

The biggest point of Butler’s peice is this I think – rules are arbitrary and only used when they serve the best interest of the state. Individuals don’t matter and until the state sees a useful purpose for allowing gays the right to marry, it seems we’re kind of stuck.

Practically, this means M and I are stuck waiting another six months to begin the name change process. Seems “the state” requires us to live here for at least that long. Boo hiss.

Gratefully annoyed

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If I had one of those office magnet things that would allow me to choose my mood, today I would be gratefully annoyed.

Since moving to Greenville, most everything Marianne and I have tried to get as a couple has worked out. My work offers partner health benefits, the East Carolina University fitness center was going to let me join under the spouse designation, and now that we have the paperwork for our legal name change even that seems to be moving forward.

What I realized tonight though, was that we had to pass some sort of litmus test for all of these things:

  • My work had me a sign a statement, under threat of job loss if I lied, that M and I met a certain number of requirements to be considered a couple and thus she be eligible for partner benefits;
  • The fitness center was much the same, it seemed to be predicated on how long we had been together;
  • The Clerk of Courts basically told Marianne with a wink and nod where to find the paperwork online because Pitt County doesn’t provide it over-the-counter.

While I am grateful that we “passed” all of the required tests to qualify for what we needed, I’m annoyed because you wouldn’t ask a married couple these questions. married is married is married. For two days or two months or two years. Married is married. Which is why the USA just needs to get on the ball and allow all folks to get married to whom we want.

Beyond that, I am super annoyed that all of what I we have since qualified for has been because of whom we’ve spoken with:

  • Let’s assume that I didn’t know to ask about partner benefits at work and the HR manager didn’t tell me they were offered – it’s quite possible that she would be stuck with the super-expensive insurance provided by the graduate school;
  • Or if Marianne had spoken with someone else at the fitness center who didn’t think that gay couples ought to have the same rights as straight couples,  especially because ECU as a whole doesn’t offer partner benefits and it’s possible the worker M spoke with was being nice – I may not have been allowed to join the gym;
  • And it seems that which counties in NC allow people to get the legal name change paperwork at the Clerk of Courts office is totally arbitrary, Pitt County doesn’t, Forsyth County requires you to have a lawyer get it, but Wake County puts it online. Had the worker in the office the day Marianne went to ask for the paperwork not been as helpful as she was we would probably be hiring a lawyer at this point to walk us through the process.

So that’s where I am, gratefully annoyed. Grateful that we have been together long enough to qualify for most of what we need, but super, super, SUPER annoyed that even after M and I have our Ceremony of Blessings for our Committed Relationship, we still won’t be married “enough” to do us much good at all.