Tuesday, January 13, 2009

News Updates: Tennessee Gay Firing, Vatican and Human Rights, Obama and Lincoln

Interesting updates to several items I’ve posted in the recent past.

As I noted several days ago, when David Hill, a hotel employee in Tennessee, recently found himself fired because he was gay, another employee of the hotel, Leonard Stoddard, courageously blew the whistle and informed the media that his colleague had been terminated because of his sexual orientation (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/01/prop-8-and-black-voters-again-timothy.html). My posting notes that Stoddard expected to be fired in turn.

And so it has happened. Pam’s House Blend and Box Turtle Bulletin have just carried reports today that, following his whistle-blowing interview with the media, Leonard Stoddard was fired (www.pamshouseblend.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=9009, www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2009/01/12/8012#comments). By email. Predictably, hotel owner Tarun Surti accuses Stoddard of lying. And just as predictably, he claims that the termination of Hill and now of Stoddard is due to financial exigency.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen academic institutions in states where there is no legal protection for gay employees subject to discrimination—states like Tennessee, in other words—behave just this way, I’d be a rich man now. Fire folks because they’re gay. Claim that they and their supporters have lied when they blow the whistle. Then invent a case of financial exigency or (undocumented) poor job performance to cover your backside.

This story illustrates why the battle for gay rights cannot be confined to the right of marriage. Too many gay citizens of the United States still live in places—in 31 states, for God's sake!—in which there is no legal protection at all from being fired, denied housing, or denied basic rights in many other respects, solely because one is gay. All LGBT citizens of the United States lack the most basic protection of all, in cases in which one is assaulted simply due to sexual orientation.

Laws defining such assaults as hate crimes in the case of women assaulted for their gender or people of color for their race are in place. There are no such federal protections in place for those who are gay.

We have a long way to go.

I’ve also blogged repeatedly about the Vatican’s opposition to the 19 December resolution presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations that called for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality and for inclusion of gay human beings in the human rights covenant of the UN (see, e.g., http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2009/01/questions-that-wont-die-vatican-and.html).

I’m heartened to see America magazine address this topic in its latest editorial (http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11348). As the editorial notes, the Vatican professes to condemn violence against gays and lesbians, but found the wording of the UN resolution open to applications that might, Rome thinks, lead to discrimination against people of faith who want to maintain anti-gay moral stances.

But as the editorial also notes,

Last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes in this country against gays and lesbians rose by 6 percent, while crimes against almost every other group fell. Stronger public steps are necessary to oppose the execution and murder of gays and lesbians.

Yes. And in the tortuous and painful debates now underway about the relationship between the African American and the gay communities about which I don't know how to refrain from blogging, because they continue, I hope that these brute facts about the legal position in which gay citizens find themselves in this country can remain on the table.

It does no good to compare gay suffering and black suffering in a zero-sum game. Both communities have suffered and continue to suffer in gross and unjustifiable ways.

But one of those two communities nonetheless enjoys—at least, and thank God—federal protection from violent acts perpetrated against members of that community, solely because of innate characteristics of members of the community. The other does not. And this lacuna should not be justified or overlooked by any member of any marginalized community. What we allow to be done to others because of their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation will one day be done to us solely because of who we are, too.

I’d also like to note a very good article at Huffington Post recently, which deals with a topic about which I have blogged repeatedly: the relationship between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln (www.huffingtonpost.com/john-stauffer/what-obama-can-learn-from_b_156997.html). John Stauffer’s interpretation of Lincoln’s 1860 inaugural address differs from mine, in that he sees Lincoln bending over backwards to appease slaveholders (for my reading, see http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/12/societies-changing-moral-minds-changing.html and http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/12/lincoln-vs-obama-re-better-angels.html).

Even so, Stauffer ends up in precisely the same place in which I end up in my reflections on the Lincoln-Obama parallels. My postings argue that Lincoln saw clearly the need to chart a moral course for the nation that excluded slavery. He recognized the necessity of making momentous moral choices even as he engaged in the necessary work of political compromise.

And he eventually recognized that he had a moral obligation to form solidarity with his friends and supporters, not with those who appeared to have power but who had no intent of walking where Lincoln insisted the nation had to walk. Just as I think Mr. Obama has an obligation to do in the case of those progressive citizens who see his election as a mandate for real change, effective change, and not just cosmetic change. As Stauffer notes,

Their [i.e., Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s] profound shift from enemies to friends stemmed in large part from Lincoln's abandonment of his "team of rivals" model of leadership, coupled with his realization that he needed radicals and progressives--especially blacks--on his side.

Douglass' response to Lincoln's Inaugural Addresses thus offers a salutary lesson for Obama: as he tries to move beyond partisan politics, he needs to be careful not to alienate his natural allies and renounce his campaign promise to "bring the change our country needs."

The choice of openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to give a kick-off prayer at the Lincoln Memorial during Obama’s inauguration is a step in the right direction. The choice of Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration is not such a step, in my view.