Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ruth Burks Is A Name You Should Know

In 1984, twenty-five-year old Ruth Burks went to University Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas to visit a friend who had cancer. Her friend went through five separate surgeries so Ruth spent a lot of time in hospital hallways and waiting rooms. And that’s when she saw it; a door with “a big, red bag” over it. It was a patient’s room.
“I would watch the nurses draw straws to see who would go in and check on him. It’d be: ‘Best two out of three,’ and then they’d say, ‘Can we draw again?’ ” 
And Ruth knew who was in that room, even though it was 1984, the early days of the epidemic. But still, she watched every day as the nurses drew straws to see who would lose and have to go through that door.

Back then it was called GRID — gay-related immune deficiency — instead of AIDS. Ruth knew, because she had a gay cousin and had asked him about the so-called “gay plague” affecting homosexual men. He’d told her, “That’s just the leather guys in San Francisco. It’s not us. Don’t worry.” But she was worried; and so she read everything she could find about the disease, hoping he was right.

And it was because of what she’d read, and what she felt in her heart, that one day Ruth ignored the warning on the red door and went into that room. She found a skeletal-looking young man in the bed who weighed just a hundred pounds; he told her he wanted to see his mother before he died
“I walked out and [the nurses] said, ‘You didn’t go in that room, did you?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah. He wants his mother.’ They laughed. They said, ‘Honey, his mother’s not coming. He’s been here six weeks. Nobody’s coming.’”
Nobody is coming. That wasn’t good enough for Ruth Burks; she demanded the boy’s mother’s phone number and called the woman; she spoke for just a minute before the woman hung up on her.
“I called her back. I said, ‘If you hang up on me again, I will put your son’s obituary in your hometown newspaper and I will list his cause of death.’ Then I had her attention.”
The woman told Ruth Burks her son was a sinner; she said she didn’t know what was wrong with him and she didn’t care. Her son was already dead to her and so she would not come to the hospital; she wouldn’t even claim his body when he died.

That was all Ruth needed to hear; between 1984 and the mid-1990s, before HIV drugs improved and  effectively rendered her obsolete, Ruth Burks cared for hundreds of dying people, many of them gay men abandoned by their families. And she buried more than three dozen of them herself, after their families refused to claim their bodies. For many of those young men, Ruth Burks is the only person who knows the location of their graves.

After Ruth Burks hung up the phone on that first mother she had called, she tried to figure out what to do, what to tell that young man who only wanted a visit from his mother before he died.
“I went back in his room, and when I walked in, he said, ‘Oh, momma. I knew you’d come,’ and then he lifted his hand. And what was I going to do? So I took his hand. I said, ‘I’m here, honey. I’m here.’”
She sat beside his bed; she talked to him; she held his hand. She bathed his face with a cloth and told him she was there. She stayed in that room for most of the day until he finally died. But what could she do now that the boy was gone; where could she bury him.

Well, since the late 1880s, Burks’s family have been buried in Files Cemetery in Hot Springs. When Ruth was a girl she’d heard the story about the time her mother had gotten into a fight with Ruth’s uncle. And, to make sure the uncle, and his branch of the family, would never be buried alongside her side of the family, Ruth’s mother quietly bought every single grave in the cemetery — all 262 of them. Ruth and her mother visited the cemetery most Sundays after church and Ruth remembered her mother looking out over the land and saying:
“Someday, all of this is going to be yours.”
And little Ruth wondered what she would ever do with a cemetery.

After trying one more time to call that young man’s mother — and being told once again she wanted nothing to do with her son — Ruth Burks buried the man’s ashes in Files Cemetery. But that was the easy part; she had to search for a funeral home to cremate the body—most funeral homes refused to touch AIDS victims even in death. Finally, a funeral home in Pine Bluff, some 70 miles away, cremated that young man’s body for Ruth Burks. She paid for it out of her savings.

The ashes were returned in a cardboard box, and that wasn’t good enough; Ruth called a friend at Dryden Pottery in Hot Springs, who gave her a chipped cookie jar for an urn. She took the urn to Files Cemetery and dug a hole with posthole diggers in the middle of her father’s grave.
“I knew that Daddy would love that about me and I knew that I would be able to find him if I ever needed to find him.”
She put the urn in the hole, covered it over and said a prayer for that young man. It was done; only it wasn’t.

Over the next few years Ruth Burks became one of the go-to people in Arkansas when it came to caring for those dying with AIDS; and Ruth Burks buried more than 40 people — most of them gay men whose families would not claim their ashes — in chipped cookie jars in Files Cemetery.
“My daughter would go with me. She had a little spade, and I had posthole diggers. I’d dig the hole, and she would help me. I’d bury them, and we’d have a do-it-yourself funeral. I couldn’t get a priest or a preacher. No one would even say anything over their graves.”
Ruth Burks always made an effort to reach out to families before she put those urns in the ground, but nearly every time she tried the families would hang up on her; they cussed at her; they called her a demon … because she was caring for their gay sons. And more and more people started calling Ruth Burks, asking for help.
“They just started coming. Word got out that there was this kind of wacko woman in Hot Springs who wasn’t afraid. They would tell them, ‘Just go to her. Don’t come to me. Here’s the name and number. Go.’...I was their hospice. Their gay friends were their hospice. Their companions were their hospice.”
And before long, Ruth was getting referrals from rural hospitals all over the state. She started asking for donations, and often used her own money, to take AIDS patients to their appointments, help them get assistance when they could no longer work, help them get their medicines; she said many pharmacies wouldn’t handle prescriptions for AIDS drugs like AZT, and there was fear among even those who would, and so she stockpiled an “underground pharmacy” in her house.
“I didn’t have any narcotics, but I had AZT, I had antibiotics. People would die and leave me all of their medicines. I kept it because somebody else might not have any.”
Ruth says the financial help given to patients — from burial expenses to medications to rent for those who could no longer work — couldn’t have happened without the support of the gay clubs and drag queens around the state, particularly Little Rock’s Discovery.
“They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night and here’d come the money. That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent. If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Ruth sometimes held as many as three funerals a day in the early years, and most of her memories have blurred together while some remain crystal clear ….

There was the man whose family insisted he be baptized in a creek before he died, to wash away the sin of being gay. Ruth remembers his mother pressing a spoonful of oatmeal to his lips, pleading, “Roger, eat. Please eat, Roger. Please, please, please,” until Burks gently took the spoon and bowl from her. He was 6 foot 6 and weighed 75 pounds. That young man’s aunts went to his parents’ house after the funeral in plastic suits and yellow gloves to double-bag his clothes and scrub everything, even the ceiling fan, with bleach.

She remembers sitting with dying people while they filled out their own death certificates, because Burks wouldn’t be able to call on their families for the required information.
“Can you imagine filling out your death certificate before you die? But I didn’t have that information. I wouldn’t have their mother’s maiden name or this, that, or the other. So I’d get a pizza and we’d have pizza and fill out the death certificate.”
A young man called Billy is the one whose death hit her the hardest. Billy was young, in his early twenties, and was a female impersonator in his early 20s. She says he was beautiful; she still has one of Billy’s dresses in her closet.

As Billy’s health declined, Burks drove him to the mall in Little Rock so he could quit his job; Afterward, he wept and she held him while shoppers streamed around them and pointed at Billy.

Once, a few weeks before Billy died, Ruth Burks had taken Billy to an appointment and afterward they were driving around aimlessly, trying to get his spirits up.
“He was so depressed. It was horrible. We were driving by the zoo, and somebody was riding an elephant. He goes, ‘You know, I’ve never ridden an elephant.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll fix that.’”
Ruth turned the car around. She has a picture now, in her home, of she and Billy on the back of the elephant.

But it wasn’t all so terrible. While she admits to seeing the worst in people, Ruth says she also saw people at their best, caring for their partners and friends with selflessness, dignity, and grace. That’s why she was so happy to see same-sex marriage legalized all over the country.
“I watched these men take care of their companions and watch them die. I’ve seen them go in and hold them up in the shower. They would hold them while I washed them. They would carry them back to the bed. We would dry them off and put lotion on them. They did that until the very end, knowing that they were going to be that person before long. Now, you tell me that’s not love and devotion? I don’t know a lot of straight people who would do that.”
After better drugs, education, understanding, and treatment made her work obsolete, Ruth Burks moved to Florida where she worked as a funeral director and a fishing guide. When Bill Clinton was elected president, she served as a White House consultant on AIDS education.

In 2013, she went to bat for three foster children who were removed from the elementary school after administrators heard that one of them might be HIV-positive. Burks said she couldn’t believe she was still dealing with the same knee-jerk fears in the 21st century.

The work Ruth Burks, and others, did back in those early, dark days has mostly been forgotten, partly because so many of those she knew back then have died. Ruth wants you to know that she wasn’t the only one to do that kind of work, but she’s one of the few who survived and so she is the keeper of memory.

But, before she’s gone, and perhaps the memories, too, Ruth Burks would like to see a memorial erected in Files Cemetery; something to tell people the story; a plaque or a stone; listing the names of the unremembered dead who lie there.
“Someday. I’d love to get a monument that says: This is what happened. In 1984, it started. They just kept coming and coming. And they knew they would be remembered, loved, and taken care of, and that someone would say a kind word over them when they died.” 
I have so few heroes in life, outside family members. Rosa Parks; Harvey Milk. And now Ruth Burks, who did what so many could not, and would not, do; who stood up for those who couldn’t stand; who bathed them and cared for them and laughed with them, rode elephants with them.

Buried them.

Ruth Burks is a hero and her story should never be forgotten.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Decoration Day

As I often say, here in South Carolina it's not the heat it's the stupidity, but I have learned the story of the first Decoration Day, which would become Memorial Day, that occurred down here in South Carolina, where good, sweet, wonderful things do happen.

Happy Memorial Decoration Day.

"The First Decoration Day"
by David W. Blight, Yale University
Americans understand that Memorial Day, or "Decoration Day," as my parents called it, has something to do with honoring the nation's war dead. It is also a day devoted to picnics, road races, commencements, and double-headers. But where did it begin, who created it, and why?
As a nation we are at war now, but for most Americans the scale of death and suffering in this seemingly endless wartime belongs to other people far away, or to people in other neighborhoods. Collectively, we are not even allowed to see our war dead today. That was not the case in 1865.
At the end of the Civil War the dead were everywhere, some in half buried coffins and some visible only as unidentified bones strewn on the killing fields of Virginia or Georgia. Americans, north and south, faced an enormous spiritual and logistical challenge of memorialization. The dead were visible by their massive absence. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war. American deaths in all other wars combined through the Korean conflict totaled 606,000. If the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, 4 million names would be on the Vietnam Memorial. The most immediate legacy of the Civil War was its slaughter and how remember it.
War kills people and destroys human creation; but as though mocking war's devastation, flowers inevitably bloom through its ruins. After a long siege, a prolonged bombardment for months from all around the harbor, and numerous fires, the beautiful port city of Charleston, South Carolina, where the war had begun in April, 1861, lay in ruin by the spring of 1865.
The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the Twenty First U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.
Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865.
During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course."
Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before."
At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing "John Brown's Body." The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens.
As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens' choir sang "We'll Rally around the Flag," the "Star-Spangled Banner," and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: "for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you… in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession."
Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.
The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders' republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers' valor and sacrifice.
According to a reminiscence written long after the fact, "several slight disturbances" occurred during the ceremonies on this first Decoration Day, as well as "much harsh talk about the event locally afterward." But a measure of how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding in favor of their own creation of the practice later came fifty-one years afterward, when the president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry about the May 1, 1865 parade.
A United Daughters of the Confederacy official from New Orleans wanted to know if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith responded tersely:
"I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this."
In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream dominance.
Officially, as a national holiday, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, called on all former northern soldiers and their communities to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves of their dead comrades.
On May 30, 1868, when flowers were plentiful, funereal ceremonies were attended by thousands of people in 183 cemeteries in twenty-seven states. The following year, some 336 cities and towns in thirty-one states, including the South, arranged parades and orations. The observance grew manifold with time. 
In the South, Confederate Memorial Day took shape on three different dates: on April 26 in many deep South states, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston's final surrender to General William T. Sherman; on May 10 in South and North Carolina, the birthday of Stonewall Jackson; and on June 3 in Virginia, the birthday of Jefferson Davis.
Over time several American towns, north and south, claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. But all of them commemorate cemetery decoration events from 1866. Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners' race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.
The old race track is still there — an oval roadway in Hampton Park in Charleston, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the white supremacist Redeemer governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The lovely park sits adjacent to the Citadel, the military academy of South Carolina, and cadets can be seen jogging on the old track any day of the week.
The old gravesite dedicated to the "Martyrs of the Race Course" is gone; those Union dead were reinterred in the 1880s to a national cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina. Some stories endure, some disappear, some are rediscovered in dusty archives, the pages of old newspapers, and in oral history. All such stories as the First Decoration Day are but prelude to future reckonings. All memory is prelude.
David W. Blight teaches American History at Yale University; he is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, the author of the Bancroft prize-winning Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, and the forthcoming A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

It's Snarkurday!

So Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott are still around, having survived how many “reality” shows and Dean’s serial adultery?

The two recently got matching 10th anniversary tattoos on their European vacation — a trip no doubt subsidized by whatever rag-tag second-rate TV channel airing their next incarnation as media whores — and then Tori celebrated her 43rd birthday in a castle in Denmark.

But,. And I’m just guessing here, maybe they dropped a few too many coins on the ink because Tori charged attendees at her birthday bash $300 a piece to be in her presence … with presents.

I would’a thought Tori would have paid people $300 to attend so, while filming the entire hot mess for a new reality gig in the bottom right-hand corner of the Weather Channel screen, it would look like lots of people came to cheer Tori on.

Like that would happen.

Faye Dunaway, decades after Mommie Dearest, is still rocking the Joan Crawford Plan.

You know, always looking like a movie star. See, Dunaway arrived at amfAR’s star-studded gala in Cannes, France, with the most unusual accessory; not a multi-million dollar ring …not a gown of real gold … not a beau young enough to be her great grandson.

No, Faye brought along a scale to weigh her food and calculate her calories.

A source — and it might be Blake Lively striving to be the Whore of Cannes — says:
“She sat at her dinner table and pulled out the scale from a paper bag.”
Then Faye, who is rail-thin, began to weigh the food served to her … including the salad.
Seriously? Weighing lettuce is what Faye Dunaway has been reduced to?

Christina? Bring me the axe.

But Dunaway is known for her, shall we politely say, “quirky” behavior; she’s been known to shriek at the staff in high-end boutiques if they come near her; in the ’90s, she ALLEGEDLY shrieked at a flight crew for not upgrading a coach ticket from JFK to London’s Heathrow, going all Reese Witherspoon with the, “Don’t you know who I am?” The crew then got revenge as she slept by grabbing a bunch of wire hangers and putting them on the seat next to her.

And she ALLEGEDLY had a world-class hissy fit at the Sunset Tower Hotel in 2013, when she was shown a suite outfitted for the disabled, and shrieked at the staff, “Do I look handicapped to you?”

This isn’t her first time at the rodeo.

Did you know That Woman’s real name is Kristen Mary Houghton? Sounds like a good Catholic girl and that would never do for someone who would grow up to pimp out her daughter’s sex tape to make a name for herself and her offspring.

Kristen Mary is so normal, but when she married Robert Kardashian, she became Kris Kardastrophe. And then when she wed the then-Bruce Jenner she became Kris Jenner; a name she kept even after she and Bruce divorced and he transitioned to Caitlyn.

But now That Woman wants to erase the Jenner from her name; so, will, she now be Kris Houghton?

Oh.Hell.No. She’s changing her name back to that of her first ex-husband and will be Kris Kardastrophe now because how else can she capitalize on media whoredom if she goes by Houghton?

Still, she’ll always be That Woman to me.

Well, who knew … Kanye West is a megalomaniac diva? A certain an ex-employee, that’s who, although he stayed in Kanye’s employ for about a fortnight.

Steve Stanulis, an ex-NYPD cop whose past clients include Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, says Kanye refuses to push his own elevator buttons, acts like a spoiled child, and demands that staff not speak in his presence.
“I had to look after his toddler daughter once and it was so much easier than baby-sitting the father.”
On his very first day, Stanulis got a taste of West’s pampered antics:
“We headed to his music studio. When we got into the elevator Kanye just stood there with his arms folded and said, ‘Aren’t you going to press the button?’”
And when Stanulis explained he didn’t know which floor, Kanye flipped out, squealing that his time was precious and that he couldn’t believe Stanulis hadn’t called ahead to find out which floor to go to.

Stanulis also bothered Kanye once when he ‘got in his shot’ as the paparazzi were taking pictures and says that one time, when Kanye threw a fit and stormed out of the studio in a rage, Stanulis was sent to retrieve the petulant egomaniac.  He got into his personal  car to scour the streets looking for Kanye, and when he finally found him, The Diva balked at having to maneuver past Stanulis’ children’s’ car seats to sit in the rear of the vehicle:
“I told him he could get in or keep on walking — and after a sulk he climbed in the front.”
But the biggest sin of all was that after Kanye ordered Stanulis to never speak to Kim Kardastrophe — after spotting Stanulis introducing himself to Kim — Kanye saw Kim and Stanulis standing in a hallway chatting like old friends and Stanulis was instantly fired.

He’d been on the job fourteen days. To be fair, perhaps Kanye is jealous of men who speak to his wife, who has been married … nine times is it … and made her career flat on her back, heels to Jesus, while her boyfriend, at that minute, schtupped her, is not someone who should be left alone with men.

Just sayin’.

Ring the bells! Eva Longoria is married … again.

The celebrated star of … what has she done besides Desperate Housewives … married Jose “Pepe” Antonio Baston, the president of Televisa. Eva and Pepe have been together for close to three years and were married last week in Mexico.

Despite this being her third marriage, the bride wore white and announced to the world:
“I’ve been waiting for a day like this my whole life.”
I’m confused, because hasn’t she had a day like that at least twice before?

Still, the best part of the whole day was that Eva’s Desperate Housewives co-star Vanessa Williams showed up to sing “Save the Best for Last.”

It was Vanessa’s way of saying, “Stop doing this!”

Leo DiCaprio — who has spoken out many times about global warming and climate change — recently accepted an environmental award from the Riverkeeper Fishermen’s Ball in New York City.

DiCaprio was in Cannes the day before the ceremony but made it to the awards dinner by taking a private jet from Cannes, then flying straight back to France on another private jet a night later.

Environmental analyst Robert Rapier, who said DiCaprio’s movie-star lifestyle “diminishes his moral authority to lecture others on reducing their own carbon emissions.”

Seriously, Leo preaches about the environment then jets around the world on private planes and private yachts rather than say, I dunno, fly commercial like the rest of us?

Now, a source close to DiCaprio — possibly one of the models he jets around with — says Leo did not charter his own flights, but merely “hitched a ride with someone.”

Still, flying private damages the environment more than flying commercial so maybe Leo needs a rethink of his traveling habits.

Meanwhile, back at Kanye … he was on Ellen last week and completely hijacked the show for one of his insane rants.

In fact, at one point he stopped looking at Ellen while he spoke and turned to speak directly to the camera at though he was Professor Kanye giving a lecture. He repeated many of the things he said on Twitter earlier this year when he went on about how he wants Mark Zuckerberg and the other moguls of Silicon Valley to give him at least $1 billion so that he can make the world a better place.  He talked about #OscarsSoWhite … two months after the awards show, Payless shoes, bullying and how he just wants a chance to revolutionize the fashion industry.

Here, you read what he said:
“I remember going to school in fifth grade and wanting to have a cool outfit. I called the head of Payless and I said ‘I want to work with you, I want to take all this information that I’ve learned from sitting at all these fashion shows and knocking down all these doors and buying all these expensive clothes and I want to take away bullying’.  I always wore knock-off brands from the swap meet and many of my clothes came from Mervyn’s, but if I wore $300 sneakers and was driven to school by David Hasselhoff himself in KITT, the kids would still say to me, “Cool shoes and car…for a stupid faggot!
Huh? What? Payless, The Hoff, Mervyn’s, faggot.

I wonder if his bodyguard from that earlier story actually got fired or if Kanye spoke like this to him and he just up and left because he didn’t know WTF Kanye was saying.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Baptist Pastor Talks Trans Rights and Bathroom Bills ... And It's Not At All What You Expect

Last weekend Carlos and I were out and about and listening to NPR— as we do— while driving through the South Carolina countryside. The announcer mentioned an upcoming story:
“Dallas Baptist preacher Talks Trans Rights and Bathroom Bills.”
I muttered some choice expletives, aimed at Texas, Baptists and preachers and — as I do — went on for several minutes about how I wasn’t about to listen to a Baptist preach hate.

Luckily, mid-rant, the story began on the radio …

Mark Wingfield is an associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas and as these Bathroom bills, and the Target boycott by so-called Christian conservatives became a topic of conversation in his congregation, he opted to look into it. He ended up writing an op-ed for the local paper, Seven Things I’m Learning About Transgender Persons:
I don’t know much about transgender issues, but I’m trying to learn.How about you? How much do you really know about this subject beyond all the screaming headlines and concerns about who goes to the bathroom where?
The truth is that I don’t know any transgender persons — at least I don’t think I do. But with the help of a pediatrician friend and a geneticist friend, I’m listening and trying to learn. This is hard, though, because understanding the transgender experience seems so far outside what I have ever contemplated before. And the more I learn, the more theological questions I face as well. This is hard, even for a pastor.
Here’s some of what I’m learning from my friends who have experience as medical professionals dealing with real people and real families:
1. Even though LGBT gets lumped together in one tagline, the T is quite different than the LG and B. “Lesbian,” “gay” and “bisexual” describe sexual orientation. “Transgender” describes gender identity. These are not the same thing. Sexual orientation is about whom we feel an attraction to and want to mate with; gender identity is about whether we identify as male or female.
2. What you see is not always what you get. For the vast majority of humanity, the presence of male or female genitalia corresponds to whether a person is male or female. What you see is what you are. But for a small part of humanity (something less than 1 percent), the visible parts and the inner identity do not line up. For example, it is possible to be born with male genitalia but female chromosomes or vice versa. And now brain research has demonstrated that it also is possible to be born with female genitalia, female chromosomes but a male brain. Most of us hit the jackpot upon birth with all three factors lining up like cherries on a slot machine: Our anatomy, chromosomes and brain cells all correspond as either male or female. But some people are born with variations in one or two of these indicators.
3. Stuff happens at birth that most of us never know. It’s not an everyday occurrence but it’s also not infrequent that babies are born with ambiguous or incomplete sexual anatomy. In the past, surgeons often made the decision about whether this child would be a boy or a girl, based on what was the easiest surgical fix. Today, much more thought is given to these life-changing decisions.
4. Transgender persons are not “transvestites.” Far too many of us make this mix-up, in part because the words sound similar and we have no real knowledge of either. Cross-dressers, identified in slang as “transvestites,” are people (typically men) who are happy with their gender but derive pleasure from occasionally dressing like the opposite gender. Cross-dressing is about something other than gender identity.
5. Transgender persons are not pedophiles. The typical profile of a pedophile is an adult male who identifies as heterosexual and most likely even is married. There is zero statistical evidence to link transgender persons to pedophilia.
6. Transgender persons hate all the attention they’re getting. The typical transgender person wants desperately not to attract attention. All this publicity and talk of bathroom habits is highly disconcerting to people who have spent their lives trying not to stand out or become the center of attention.
7. Transgender persons are the product of nature much more than nurture. Debate the origins of homosexuality if you’d like and what role nature vs. nurture plays. But for those who are transgender, nature undeniably plays a primary role. According to medical science, chromosomal variances occur within moments of conception, and anatomical development happens within the nine months in the womb. There is no nature vs. nurture argument, except in cases of brain development, which is an emerging field of study.
This last point in particular raises the largest of theological questions. If Christians really believe every person is created in the image of God, how can we damn a baby who comes from the womb with gender dysphoria? My pediatrician friend puts it this way: “We must believe that even if some people got a lower dose of a chromosome, or an enzyme, or a hormonal effect, that does not mean that they got a lower dose of God’s image.”
I don’t know much about transgender issues, but I’m trying to learn — in part because I want to understand the way God has made us. For me, this is a theological quest as much as a biological inquiry or a political cause. How about you?
I’m glad he’s speaking out; I’m glad he’s educating people; I’m glad he’s of an open mind and not just falling into the trap of different = bad.

And one thing I loved was his openness. He said he’d always felt chosen to do the Lord’s work and so he became a pastor, but then he wondered what might be his next step and that if you’d told him it would be standing up for trans rights, educating people about transgender person, he’d have been shocked.

But he’s doing it and I hope his words reach even a part of his congregation and those people go out into the world and educate their friends and family … and so on and so forth.

Knowledge is power, and the more we know, and the more we talk, about trans rights and bathrooms, the more we can put an end to this bigotry and intolerance and ignorance.

Thanks to Mark Wingfield for starting this topic of conversation.

In Texas.

And in a Baptist church.

I Didn't Say It ...

Billy Bean, out former San Diego Padres player and now Major League Baseball’s vice president of social responsibility, on that incident with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus at Petco Park:

“This past Saturday night, it was very unfortunate that there was a technical error during the National Anthem at Petco Park. However, I want to convey that my former team, the San Diego Padres, has supported our inclusion message at MLB without hesitation, even before my return to baseball in 2014. They have led by example by inviting me, numerous times, to speak with their players and employees. I have also worked very closely with their owner, Ron Fowler, and team CEO Mike Dee, and I can assure you that they have made every effort to include the LGBT community and champion equality in MLB for each and every one of us. I’m so proud of the Padres organization for hosting an LGBT Pride event during the season, and I would hope that our community recognizes that error and intent are not related.”

It ended up being nothing but an awful mistake, made worse by asshats in the crowd.
Let’s hope the progress made by teams like the Padres toward being LGBT-inclusive, on and off the field, won’t be hindered by this mess.
Kim Davis, adulterer and serial bride, still talking about The Gays and marriage:

“I was obeying my law. I had couples bring in the whole Supreme Court ruling and I said, ‘You know, I really don’t need to see this because that’s not a law, that’s a ruling’ [and they’d say] ‘Well, why won’t you do this?’ And so then I go to the Bible and I’d tell them, [and they’d respond,] ‘Don’t be reading me the Bible.’ Well, you asked why I couldn’t issue you a marriage license and I’m explaining to you, I’m showing you why I cannot. They didn’t want to hear that though. They wanted to shove that paper down my throat and make me eat it for my dinner.”

Um, Kim, the book you refer to is also not a book of laws because if it was, you'd be in prison for breaking … how many of them?
Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans President, on the GOP's disgusting maneuvering last week to deny protection to LGBT Americans:

“During an election year in which voters across the country are crying out because they feel our country’s political system is at best broken and at worst rigged, the sham on the floor of the United States House of Representatives yesterday spearheaded by Leader McCarthy played up everything wrong with congress today. Beyond overriding an executive order that existed under President George W. Bush, yesterday’s actions on the House floor defy the repeated promises of House Leadership to operate under regular order and with transparency. Log Cabin Republicans commends the 29 Republicans who refused to succumb to strong-arm tactics and voted for the amendment, and demands those congressmembers who perpetuated this fraudulence be held accountable.”

Hold them accountable? Or, better still, vote them out of office.
Jake Tapper, on Donald t]Rump dredging up decades-old conspiracy theories about the death of Vince Foster and how the Clintons, maybe, did it:

“Once again, journalists are in the unhappy predicament of trying to decide whether and how to cover false allegations raised by a candidate for president of the United States. The notion that this was a murder is a fiction born of delusion and untethered to reality and contradicted by evidence reviewed in at least six investigations, one of them by Ken Starr, hardly a Bill Clinton defender. To say otherwise is ridiculous, and, frankly, shameful.”

That’s [t]Rump in a nutshell—emphasis on the ‘nut—“ridiculous” and “shameful”.
Tapper went on to make it clear that his comments weren’t “pro-Clinton” or “anti-Trump,” but simply “pro-truth.”
Something [t]Rump knows nothing about.