Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hate at the funeral

Albert Snyder lost his marine son in Iraq, but today he gained almost $11 million in compensatory and punitive damages from Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. (According to the claims of the defendants, there is no money to pay any of these damages, though that's hardly the point.)

Phelps and his churchmembers, especially his two daughters and other relations, are well known for the protests they stage around the country at events of all stripes. Whatever the event, their protest always has the same theme: God hates fags! Their signs are always some variation on that message and their website is even Phelps and his kith and kin spend more time and energy thinking about homosexuality and gay sex than a whole circuit party and RSVP cruise of gay men combined. Among their more spectacular protests was their performance at Matthew Shepard's funeral, where their signs read, among other things, "Matthew is in Hell".

The reason they have been ordered to pay Snyder $2.9 million in compensatory damages, $6 million in punitive damages and $2 million more for causing emotional distress, is their protest of Snyder's son's funeral. Snyder wasn't gay, nor does the Phelps crowd care. Instead, they have decided that the reason that things like 9/11 and the debacle in Iraq have occurred is because of the tolerance of gays and lesbians in the US. In this, they share a line of reasoning with the unjustly mourned Jerry Falwell and that master of the legpress Pat Robertson. But the Phelps put their signs where their fellow-God-is-zapping-us theorists' mouths are. They protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers in order to point out what they take the iniquity of the US to be. In doing so, they villify the dead who have fallen for the country they take to be evil and they cause a great deal of pain to the families.

They are horrible and dastardly people. And, I imagine, if there is a Hell, they will be quite welcome in it. (It seems to me that Jesus said something about mistreating orphans and widows.)

But the issue that is important legally is whether they have a right to their very distasteful protests. Snyder's argument was that his privacy was invaded. But of course, they didn't enter his home; they didn't trespass, or at least that's not the claim. The attorney for the Snyder's rightly called the Phelpses bullies who attack the weak, and asked for a high judgment from the jury "that says don't do this in Maryland again. Do not bring your circus of hate to Maryland again." That seems designed to chill speech, hateful speech to be sure, but speech, indeed.

As much as I hate their message, it seems to part of me, that it is the really hateful messages that test our commitment to the ideas expressed in the Bill of Rights.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ahhhhhhm, fahhhhhn. Haah aaah you?

There are few experiences in my life as insultingly infantilizing as going to the dentist.

The hygienist asks me questions as her hands and sharp tools are in my mouth. My responses can only approximate those of an infant who hasn't yet mastered the contours of his own palate and tongue.

She tells me things I already know. "You grind your teeth when you sleep." "You breathe through your mouth when you sleep." "You have geographic tongue."

Seriously, there is such a condition. It's one of those things that I am proud of, like Gilbert's (JILL-bairs) Syndrome, something that's slightly exotic and really pretty much harmless. As with Gilbert's Syndrome, I've known that I have a geographic tongue for going on 20 years now--and I also know that it is not, pace her opinion, caused by tomatoes or other acidic foods--so it's a lot less exciting for me than it is for her.

She tells me that I have plaque. That is really why I'm here, I think. She tells me that although I floss pretty well, I could do better and suggests which fingers to use.

In a world that constantly strips away at our dignity, I think I ought to be treated as an adult when I'm paying for healthcare, but then I do get grumpy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Not every issue is a gay issue

Last Sunday, Mateo and I, together with several thousand others walked in San Diego's AIDS Walk to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS research and treatment. At the beginning of the walk, Jerry Sanders and Toni Atkins, respectively San Diego's Mayor and an openly lesbian City Council Member who represents a big chunk of the gayborhood--and who very kindly and personally responds when you write her letters disagreeing with her decisions and positions--read the proclamation before the walk. Now, Sanders had just the week or so before reversed himself and gone in favor of the city's amicus curiae brief arguing for same sex marriage, after revealing in a press conference that his own daughter is a lesbian.
Before actually getting to the reading of the proclamation, Atkins and Sanders had a self-congratulatory exchange about the win for fairness and equality represented in the brief. Surely, this was motivated by being in front of a crowd most of whom would agree and would help to bolster support for Sanders' recently announced bid for re-election, especially since he is now likely to lose quite a bit of Republican support. That is all well and good, however, AIDS Walk is precisely the wrong forum for this. Why? Simply because HIV/AIDS isn't a gay issue. When it first arose in the US, it was centered on the gay community, but it is not primarily or even noticeably gay-related throughout the rest of the world and it is a serious concern for the whole nation. So there is something both a little overly opportunistic and misguided in taking an event about AIDS (not an event about AIDS in the gay community) and making it into a platform for positions--however admirable or popular they might be--that are so closely tied with the gay community. We probably don't want one's position on same sex marriage to be a litmus test for whether we can cooperate with them on HIV and AIDS.