Posts Tagged ‘Discrimination’

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A Rare and Precious Gift

March 4, 2011

On my way home from a client appointment yesterday, I stopped at a local store to buy a birthday present for the love of my life. The store is quiet and there are more salespeople than customers filling the aisles. I take my time, browsing in various departments for that perfect gift. I am not in a rush like I usually am, having finished my work for the day, and feel satisfied that my time with the client was extremely productive. I am happy and content. My life may not be perfect, but it is pretty damn good.

After selecting a gift that I hope will be a big hit, and picking up a new cd for myself, I pay for my items and exit the store. I can’t wait to get in my car, open the cd, and insert it into the car’s stereo and crank the volume on the soundtrack for my drive home. As the first notes explode from my car’s speakers, I head for the exit to the parking lot. Sitting on a mound of grass to the right of the exit is a woman holding up a cardboard sign. From the distance I can’t make out the words on the sign. But as I approach, the handwritten words come into focus. “Single Unemployed mom needs help.” Sadness overcomes me. I look at the sign holder. She appears to be in her 30’s, is clean and neatly dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt. Her shoulder length auburn hair is neatly combed and she is wearing a defeated and sad expression. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, being so desperate and hopeless, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Her eyes catch mine for a moment. She looks away and lowers her sign.

About a-week-and-a-half ago I was in New Orleans, finishing up a seminar on the persuasive power of psychodrama. For four days my dearest friends and I worked with trial lawyers from all over the country, teaching them the basic tools of psychodrama and how to apply them to their practices. After finishing our last session and packing up our materials, we decide to spend some time exploring the French Quarter, a place we had little time to enjoy during the program.

Now if you ever go to New Orleans, you must visit the world famous Café DuMonde and sample the delicious, addictive and thigh destroying beignets. On this Sunday afternoon of a three-day weekend, I need a beignet fix. My friends and I arrive at this landmark establishment and discover a huge line snaking down the block.  Even the line for take out is enormous. After a wait, which isn’t too bad since one of the busboys is taking orders from those of us at the back of the line so we don’t have to waste too much time, and beignets in hand, my friends and I head out of the bustling Quarter to walk along the riverfront towards our hotel.

As we near the holocaust memorial, a man comes running from the side path waving his arms and pointing behind him, “please, someone call 911. She is having a seizure. Give me a cell phone so I can call 911.” Most of the people strolling along the riverfront ignore his pleas and pass by.

“I need a cell phone. Please. We need to call 911. She is having a seizure.” People continue walking past, as if they are deaf and the frantic man invisible. He is dirty and thin, wearing jeans and a jacket over a t-shirt with a dirty baseball cap on his head. I look in the direction he is pointing and see two other people, a black woman, short, chubby and shabbily dressed. She is staggering around near the park bench from where the man came. When she tries to stand, she staggers a few steps and then falls down on the bench. Across from her is an elderly man with long stringy hair and a wild, unkempt beard. He tries to help the woman sit, but isn’t too steady himself. Again the man in the cap calls out, “she is having a seizure, I need a cell phone to call 911.”

My friends and I stop and look again in the direction he is pointing. “Please, someone call 911.” I pull my cell phone from my pocket and shout to him, “I will call 911.” I dial 911 and a dispatcher answers. “What is your emergency?”

“We need paramedics on the riverfront walk, a woman is having a seizure.”

“Where are you?”

“On the riverfront walk, right near the holocaust memorial. Between the holocaust memorial and the IMAX.”

“Holo what?”

“The holocaust memorial.”

“Hotel, what hotel?” I pull my phone away from my ear and look incredulously at my friends.

I put the phone back to my ear, “No! The HOLOCAUST memorial. H-O-L-O-C-A-U-S-T.”

“What is happening?”

“A woman is having a seizure.”

“Oh, O.K. You need an ambulance, not the police. What is your number and I will have them call you.”  I can’t believe this. Here we are with an emergency and they can’t figure out where we are and then they tell us we have called the wrong place. I give the dispatcher my number.

Within seconds, my phone rings. A male voice is on the other end. “What is your emergency?” I repeat the information and tell him where we are. He starts asking questions about cross streets and addresses.

“I’m not from here. I don’t know the cross streets.” Getting help for a woman having a seizure should really not be this hard.

By this time, a couple walking by stops near us and is watching the homeless woman, who by now, is being held tightly by the man in the baseball cap. “I’ve got you Martha. I’m right here. I am not going to let you get hurt.” She is struggling to free herself. Her speech is slurred and one side of her face droops. At times she seems to convulse slightly. He holds her on his lap, his arms wrapped tightly around her.  She struggles to get free, “I want to go.”

“Martha, you are having a seizure. I am not letting you go.”

The couple overhears me trying to give our location to the ambulance dispatcher and approaches us. “I’m from here,” the male member of the couple says as he reaches out for me to give him my phone. I hand it over and he gives the information the dispatcher needs to send help. He hands back the phone and the dispatcher tells me to please watch for the ambulance and to flag them down when they arrive.

I call out to the man in the baseball cap, “They are sending an ambulance.”

“Thank you.” I hear the relief in his voice and see it in his eyes.

My friends and I stay nearby waiting for the ambulance to arrive. We want to make sure they come, and when they arrive that they help this woman. We watch the man in the cap hold Martha and try to soothe her. “You are my best friend Martha. You need help. I am not going to let you go.” She is struggling and appears a little out of it.

“I’m ok.” She whines.

“No, your not. You are having a seizure. You were seizing for 3 minutes. You need to go to the hospital.”

“No! I don’t want to go.” Her agitation increases as she tries to escape his hold.

“They hurt me.” She holds up her arm and her soiled sleeve slips down toward her elbow revealing a large swollen area on her forearm.

“They hurt me with the needle. I don’t want to go!”

“I promised Martha. You are my best friend. I love you. I promised. I am not letting you go. You need help.” He tries to calm her and keep her still.

“Yes Maatha. Yo haf ta gota the hospital.” Slurs the old man who is with them. He looks at the man in the cap. “You goin wif heh?”

“I will be with you Martha. I am not going to leave you. You are my best friend. I love you.”

“They hurt me. See, they hurt me.” Again she holds up her arm.

“I am airborne and I will go with you. You are my best friend.”

We watch, in silence, each of us deep in our own thoughts.

A siren in the distance breaks the spell.

The man who gave directions to the ambulance dispatcher calls to us, “We’ll go flag down the ambulance and direct them over here.” They head off towards the street.

Other than the four of us, and the couple who head off to flag down the ambulance, no one else has stopped. No one has even noticed what is happening. In fact, people are purposely avoiding the area where we are all gathered.

A man in a golf cart, who appears to be some sort of security patrol, drives over to the park bench where the man in the ball cap is holding Martha.

“You people need to leave.” He starts to get out of the golf cart to chase them off.

“She is having a seizure. We have called an ambulance and they are on their way,” we tell him. He gets in his golf cart and drives away.

The ambulance finally arrives and paramedics along with a gurney join us. Martha is still struggling and resisting help. The man in the ball cap stays right by her side, talking to her calmly, promising not to leave.

Eventually the paramedics succeed in lifting Martha on to the gurney and strap her down. She continues to struggle as they wheel her down the grassy hill towards the ambulance, all while her best friend, the man in the ball cap stays by her side.

The four of us stand there together watching, Martha’s cries fading away. None of us have words. We leave the riverfront walk behind us, and slowly head back into the French Quarter. I look at my three friends and am filled with immense love and gratitude. Martha may be homeless, but she has something truly rare, a real friend who is there for her and doesn’t leave her side when she needs him most. And that is a precious and rare gift.

I look at the women I am with. Amazing, kind, loving women. I know in my heart that each of them is my man in the baseball cap.

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The L Word is a Lie

December 5, 2008

About 5 or 6 years ago, the lesbian community rejoiced at the creation of a Showtime original series “The L Word” whose story lines focused on several lesbian characters, their lives and relationships. Every Sunday lesbians across American sat together in living rooms, bars and community centers and watched with deep satisfaction and joy as the lesbian lifestyle was exposed to all of America.  L Word parties became the rage and were the highlight of many a woman’s weekend as well as the hot topic of conversation. Lesbians were finally main stream.

The problem, as I see it, is that the show presents a mythical, fictional and unrealistic view of lesbians and their lives. I mean, come on, have you ever met as many hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians as the main or supporting characters on the show? Do you know any lesbians who live the kind of life the women on the L Word live? Maybe you will see these types in small numbers at the annual Dinah Shore event in Palm Springs or on occasion in Provincetown, Los Angeles or New York but in my everyday life, I can count the lesbian women I know who look, dress and act like the women on the L Word on one hand, and then using only one or two fingers.

I recently married my partner and we are now one of the 18,000 gay couples who got married in CA before a slim majority of ignorant and bigoted voters passed Prop 8 (it should actually be called Prop Hate) prohibiting gay marriage. For our honeymoon we went on an Olivia Cruise to the Caribbean. In case you don’t know, Olivia cruises are lesbian cruises. Prior to departure we were excited at the prospect of being on a ship with all women, in a community where we could be a couple, hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes at dinner without fear of hateful looks or nasty comments. We could enjoy a real romantic and celebratory honeymoon as a couple and not have to pretend to be roommates or sisters. And, as an added bonus,  having seen footage of Olivia cruises on both the L Word and Work Out, I had a vision that the ship would be filled with beautiful lesbian women such as those featured on both of those shows. For one short week, my wife and I could live the L Word life! Boy was I in for a surprise.

As we embarked on the cruise I looked around at the women on board and thought to myself “The L Word is a LIE!” The majority, and I am talking 80 to 85% of the women on this cruise we not only fat, they were obese. They were not, as a whole, beautiful, hot, sexy or gorgeous. Most had short butchy haircuts. Most were older. Where were the normal looking women? Where were the women like me? I exercise, eat healthy, am fairly attractive, and dress somewhat fashionably. In short, I take care of myself. Before I stepped foot on the ship I thought I would see and meet a lot of women like my wife and myself. This was not to be.

Another thing I found disturbing is how masculine many of the women were.  I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women. I have never understood why a lesbian who purportedly wants to be with another woman would chose to be with a woman who looks like a man. What is up with that? The number of extremely butch and masculine women on this trip astounded me.

Now there is nothing wrong with a woman being athletic, wearing her hair short or having masculine qualities, (I have straight women friends like this) but I really cringe when I see women dressing in men’s clothes and acting like men. I just don’t get it.  On formal night, I was shocked by the number of lesbian women wearing men’s suits, and I mean real men’s suits complete with ties and wing tips. This is not to say that dresses should be required (I only own two and rarely wear them) but couldn’t these women dress in female clothes? Is it lack of self-esteem that drives them to men’s clothes or is it rampant obesity? I guess the obesity should have come as no surprise. After all, nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or grossly overweight. Why should the lesbian community be immune to the epidemic?

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the cruise. Olivia is a great company and provides travel opportunities for women in safe, secure and comfortable environments. They have created settings where we can feel free to and simply be ourselves. The company does a great job and I recommend that more lesbians take advantage of the Olivia experience.  But don’t expect to see the type of lesbian community the L Word or Work Out projects. Beautiful, hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians were in the minority on my cruise. But one thing you can count on, you will feel safe and free to be yourself in a loving and open community.

The point? The L Word IS a lie. Isn’t most everything we see on television or at the movies? If television simply held up a mirror to society, no one would watch. Who among us would watch a show about fat, unattractive lesbians? Every one of us, gay, straight or questioning wants to believe in something better and more beautiful, more perfect than ourselves or our everyday lives. Come the beginning of the final season of the L Word, you will find me and my wife in front of our television every Sunday night imagining ourselves living in the fantasy world created by Showtime.

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Prop Hate and the Boycott of the Mormon Church

November 17, 2008

I have not written specifically on this blog about Prop 8 in California or in any way other than tangentially about my sexual orientation.  But with the passage of Prop 8 it is time for me to take a stand, speak my mind and share what is in my heart.

 

When the California Supreme Court opinion came down in May of this year granting gay and lesbian Californians the right to marry, I immediately went to the Court’s web site and downloaded the over 120 page opinion. As I read it, I wept. Finally, someone was speaking up for me and my gay brothers and sisters, finally someone understood the importance of our relationships with our partners, of how much these relationships satisfied our souls, nurtured and fulfilled us.  At last, we were being told that we deserved and were entitled to the most basic fundamental human right- the right to marry the person we loved.

 

Now mind you, as a gay woman, I never believed that in my lifetime I would be given the right to marry. And so the Supreme Court’s decision buoyed my spirits and made me feel equal to all of my heterosexual friends. I could share with them my joy and invite them to help me celebrate the joining of my life with my partner’s. We would finally be able to have our union validated and legally and socially recognized. I would no longer be a second class citizen, looked down upon, considered sick and immoral.

 

That very evening my partner and I sat down and chose the date for our wedding. We took out a pad of paper and began scribbling out our plans and joyfully creating our guest list. It felt surreal to think about our wedding, an event we never thought we would celebrate.

 

As we made our plans; met with caterers, selected the location and finalized our guest list, never far from our minds was the looming threat that the voters in California would take away this fundamental right we had so long fought and hoped for. To ensure that we could and would be legally wed, we chose a date before November 4 to celebrate the union of our lives. My head told me that surely people would not discriminate against us and deny us the right to marry the person of our choosing; my love for my partner being no different than the love my closest friends have for their opposite sex spouses. But my intellect reminded me of the history of discrimination in this country. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that interracial marriage was prohibited. And it hasn’t been that long since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I was hoping with an African American as our democratic candidate for President that I was wrong, that our country had advanced and become more tolerant and accepting.

 

And then the campaign of hate began. Commercials filled with lies, funded with money from religious organizations such as the Mormon Church aired night and day. My stomach turned. The hate and intolerance that spewed from the television over and over again each night told me that there were those who did not want me and my partner to enjoy the basic human right of forming a family with the person of our choosing. They did not want us to have the comfort and solace of the person we loved the most when we lay dying. In many states, only family members can be by the bedside of a person as they take their last breath. Without jumping through a bunch of legal hurdles, a gay couple cannot pass property to each other upon death. Absent being a heterosexual married couple, we have no right to the social security benefits of a spouse. These are only a few of the rights heterosexual couples take for granted and which are denied to us, simply because we love someone of the same sex. Prop 8 was really misnamed. It should have been called Prop Hate.

 

At the same time this country elected its first bi racial president, gay marriage bans passed in three states, California, Arizona (where it had been defeated twice before) and in another state that I can’t recall at the moment. In at least one other state the voters decided that gay couples cannot and should not be permitted to adopt a child. As the mother of a happy, healthy and married heterosexual male, this angered me. Sexual orientation does not impair ones parenting abilities. Just ask my son.

 

In California, at least, much of the money used to fuel the campaign of hate came from Mormons, with a significant amount coming from out of state. The Mormon Church actively advocated its members donate money to the Yes on 8 Campaign. Many heeded the call. Many others became political activists and organized; manning phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods, knocking on doors and spreading lies and hate. The Mormon Church and its members actively and substantially became involved in politics, something a non-profit, tax exempt religious organization is prohibited by law from doing. Remember separation of Church and State? The Mormon Church does not pay taxes. But we gay Americans do and yet we are denied the most basic and fundamental rights all other taxpaying Americans enjoy and take for granted.

 

There is a war cry being sounded in gay communities all across America – Boycott Mormon owned businesses. This is a war cry that should be heeded. While I understand that there are some in our community who do not support a boycott of businesses that financially or otherwise supported the passage of Prop 8, especially while we are experiencing such a horrible economic downturn, history has shown us that boycotts are extremely effective.

 

As a community we should not support or frequent any business or use the services of any professional who supports and/or encourages hate, intolerance or discrimination. Any business that takes our money and then works financially or otherwise to prevent us from enjoying basic fundamental civil rights does not deserve to have our business. The gay community is a very powerful economic force and we need to use the power of our wallets to send a message. After all, it was the power of the wallets of the Mormons, the Catholics and other religious zealots that contributed to the passage of Prop 8. Let those businesses and professionals who support hate, intolerance and discrimination experience what it feels like to be singled out and treated differently. Let us hurt them where it matters most, in their pocketbooks. Let them feel the pain and the consequence of their hate and discrimination.

 

Businesses that support hate, intolerance and discrimination want our green dollars but do not want us to have civil rights, the same rights many heterosexuals take for granted. These businesses are color blind when it comes to money – green is green regardless of who is paying – and want our green dollars to enrich themselves and their bottom lines but do not want us to enjoy basic fundamental civil rights. We will take your money and we will take your right to marry. By using the power of our wallet we can make a statement to all such businesses and professionals that discrimination in any form is not acceptable. If they can’t treat gay Americans the same in all respects as heterosexuals, they don’t deserve our money, especially when we can give it to others who believe in equal rights for all. Would any of us frequent an establishment that advocated or supported discrimination against Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Jews? The power of the wallet is one of our best weapons in this fight. Especially during these challenging economic times. After all, these businesses used the power of their wallets to take from us a right many of us desperately want.

 

Now is NOT the time to be invisible. Now is NOT the time to sit on the sidelines. Now is NOT the time to be silent. Now is NOT the time to give our hard earned gay dollars to bigots, religious zealots or businesses that care more about their bottom lines than they do basic
fundamental human rights. We need to let the public know we are here and that we are proud. We need to hold our heads high and share with the world our love for our partners and our community. We need to shape public opinion. We need to let people know who we are and kindly, passionately and proudly let them know we are just like them. We love. We cry. We hurt. We pay taxes and we raise children. And we must NOT let anyone take advantage of us in any way, especially financially. Many businesses have profited off of the backs of the gay community for far too long. A boycott against those businesses that do not see us as equal and only take our money to line their own pockets is the right thing to do.

 

We need to rally. We need to write letters to the editor. We need to boycott. We need to protest. We need to educate. We need to support politicians who will be there for us when it might mean they won’t be re-elected because it is the RIGHT thing to do. We need to picket and
stop supporting financially or with our vote ANY politician who does not believe that we deserve equal rights. Not separate rights, not rights by any other name, but the same rights as all other Americans take for granted. We need to stand up, be heard and counted.