Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Governor Brewer's Plight

With both houses of Arizona’s legislature having passed SB1062 which would allow the state’s business owners to deny service to patron based on religious beliefs - which many believe would target the LGBT community - the question now becomes what will governor Jan Brewer do: sign or veto? There are of course people who are urging her to sign the bill in support of religious liberty. But there are many who are urging her to veto the bill.

Some of the people and groups in opposition to the bill, which has been dubbed the “Turn Away the Gays” bill, are not very surprising. Many LGBT groups have denounced the bill. George Takei specifically is suggesting a boycott of the entire state should the governor sign the bill. The mayor of the state’s largest city - Phoenix - is also against it. As happens with many state bills that support discrimination, many businesses and business groups have also come out against this measure. According to Outsports, with the 2015 Super Bowl located in Arizona, not to mention the state being home to a football team (the Cardinals), even the NFL has weighed in:
Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.
The idea has even been mentioned by the Governor Jack Markell (D-DE)  that should the bill become law, the Super Bowl should be moved. This is not without precedent, though such a decision would not be made until the end of March if at all. Other businesses have also cautioned the governor against signing the bill into law. These businesses include Apple Inc., which, according to Think Progress, is slated to start construction on a facility in the state that will provide approximately 700 permanent jobs plus hundreds of construction jobs. Studies have shown that discriminatory policies are bad for business, which explains why so many businesses and chambers of commerce either denounce such measures, have anti-discrimination policies of their own, or both.

Some of the calls for a veto are coming from some…less than expected sources. Both of Arizona’s U.S. senators - Jeff Flake and John McCain, both fellow Republicans, and neither of whom have been friends of the LGBT community - have made public statements against the bill.

Tuesday night, former GOP banner-bearer and presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for a veto. Hours later, former Republican Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives Newt Gingrich did said via Twitter that in Governor Brewer‘s position, he would veto the bill. Even three state legislators who voted for the bill have now reversed course, including one of the bill’s cosponsors, Bob Worsley. Two of Worsley’s fellow Senate Republicans - Steve Pierce and Majority Whip Adam Driggs - issued a statement made available to Huffington Post that asked Governor Brewer to veto the bill. 

After all of this backlash and bad press, legislators who voted for and still support the bill are avoiding the press like the plague. 

During the day on Tuesday, reports swirled that Brewer was likely to veto the bill. These claims were, hours later, denied by the governor’s office (Brewer was not even in the state at the time). Brewer has been a bit of a wild card, very unpredictable. She issued a statement saying she would do what is right for Arizona with this bill. What is right is very subjective, and even with so many forces arrayed against this bill - from both left and right - what she will do is anyone’s guess.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Michael Sam Does Matter

As everyone and their grandmother is aware by now, an NFL Draft prospect - Michael Sam, formerly of Mizzou - has come out as gay and could become the first athlete in a major American league to be openly gay. While the majority of the response has been positive and supportive, there has been some negativity because…some people just can not help themselves with the usual arguments which are sometimes masked as concerns.

There were responses regarding the locker room culture and, more specifically, the showering dynamic. Jonathan Vilma of the New Orleans Saints went on record in an interview saying that he was afraid of being looked at if a teammate was gay. Here are the facts. 1) Somewhere in a football player’s career, whether grade school, college, or professionally, they were on a team with at least one gay man (open or not)…and they showered with him. Everyone survived the experience. 2) Straight guys look, even though they probably won’t admit it. 3) These guys worrying about being looked at are assuming that this guy finds them attractive, which is really arrogant. Seriously, the people who are afraid of being looked at need to grow up and calm down. It is human nature to observe one’s surroundings and there is no inherently sinister motive behind that.

There were the responses that Michael’s revelation has caused his draft stock to drop, including former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards. In fact, within hours of the story breaking, many people went from saying he’d go in round three or four to round five, six, or lower. The reason they gave was that franchises believe this would be a substantial media distraction. First of all, Michael came out three and a half months before the draft. Second, it will be even longer than that before the next season even starts. The league, the team, the media, and the public have plenty of time to absorb this story before the beginning of the regular season. Cyd Ziegler of Outsports had the best response to the particular fear of a team being distracted. Any organization that can’t handle whatever media coverage they may get and would crumble merely by having an openly gay teammate is already a weak team, and their season is already doomed.

There were the responses which were just plain hateful. A wrestler from Kent State tweeted about being annoyed over ESPN devoting so much airtime to “that fag.” After others on Twitter called the wrestler on his homophobia, he hurled more anti-gay slurs at them too. I don’t think I need to say much about that…Kent State however said plenty by suspending him indefinitely. All I will say is that people like this wrestler are saying more about themselves than they are saying about anyone else, and they are doing so in a very bad way.

And lastly, there were the people asking why this matters, or what is the big deal, or why it is important for this man to announce his sexual orientation. To some people it isn’t a big deal, and that’s perfectly fine, even admirable, that they get that Michael being gay has no bearing on his ability to produce results on the field. These people need to understand that just because it us unimportant to them personally doesn’t mean this event has no importance. They need to look at the big picture. It is important because this is a barrier that has never before been crossed here in the States. It is important because there are people out there who believe that gay men have no place in sports like football and this is an incredible opportunity to change hearts and minds. It is important because somewhere out there is a kid who believes that them being gay means they’ll never be able to reach their Super Bowl dreams because the “weakness of gay men” has been drilled into their mind.

And that is what this is really all about. What we are seeing Michael Sam deal with now is primarily happening because he is the first. By Michael blazing the trail today, he makes it that much easier for those who come after, and we will be that much closer to a day when a professional athlete coming out is not a news-making event.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Olympic-Sized Problems

Every Olympics has its problems. Vancouver had a fear of insufficient snow. Salt Lake City had financial issues, and many in the last several cycles faced the threat of terrorism. However, it is looking as though the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia have those problems and many, many more.

Since 2013, Russia has faced international criticism over a controversial law banning so-called “gay propaganda.” This law has been seen by the global community as a violation of human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of association. While the stories about human rights violations have been circling for several months, there are other problems that have recently come to light as athletes and members of the press have begun to arrive in Sochi.

There is Sochi’s systematic killing of stray dogs:

There are massively over budget projects and unpaid workers:

Seriously? A slope that costs $200,000,000?

There are hotels that, according to reporters, are falling apart (skip to 2:17):

It seems that people from outside of Russia are not even showing up. According to an article from the Associated Press:
Fears about terrorism and the hassle of reaching Sochi from points abroad may be keeping some foreigners away - and undermining Vladimir Putin's plans to transform Sochi into a magnet for international tourism. 
A train traveling between Olympic sites and downtown Sochi cheerily announces to visitors in English: "We wish you a pleasant journey!" But on a recent ride, its seats were half empty. And a sweep through four train cars found ... not a single foreign fan.
Usually when a nation/city hosts the Olympics, it is their time to shine and show the world what they are capable of. Unfortunately for Russia, these games are putting a spotlight on their corruption, human rights violations, and overall inability to host the Games. There are already stories of peaceful protesters being arrested. Many people are boycotting the Games. The leaders of several nations are refusing to attend, including the leaders of France, Germany, and the United States. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has denounced some of Russia’s controversial policies. Whether or not Russia can rally to salvage the Games remains to be seen. One thing is clear: the International Olympic Committee needs to apply stricter scrutiny in choosing host cities in the future.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stephen Colbert Interviews Pussy Riot

How the Fringe Vindicated MSNBC

Several months ago, a Cheerios advertisement aired which featured a white mother, a black father, and their biracial daughter. To many, such a thing seems rather mundane, and rightly so. To others however, this ad was an abomination. Certain parts of society voiced outrage that seemed straight out of the 1960s.

Cut to last week when it was made known that another such ad was soon to strike the airwaves. MSNBC tweeted that the right-wing would probably rise in outrage yet again (paraphrasing). Apparently, the Republican Party took exception to this. In fact, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, threatened to boycott the news outlet (meaning that he and the organization’s surrogates would not appear there) until the station’s president, Phil Griffin, apologized formally. Griffin did apologize and the tweet was deleted, though this is the internet we are talking about so nothing is ever truly deleted.

During the Super Bowl a few days later, the Cheerios ad which had been teased aired featuring the same biracial family as the first ad. That wound up not being the ad which garnered the most attention, both negative and positive, as another ad eclipsed it significantly. Coca-Cola had a commercial featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in English…as well as other languages mixed into the song’s verses. The response was…predictable.

Some people saw the ad for what it was: a recognition that America is a nation that draws its strength from its diversity. The usual suspects, on the other hand, were up in arms in protest. Many voiced their anger that America’s national anthem was being sung in languages other than English, even though “America the Beautiful” is not America’s national anthem. Even the angry responses that were not quite as ignorant as that proved that some people have no regard for the fact that much of the good of this nation is because part of the American dream is that people can come here from wherever and have a better lot in life if they are willing to put in the effort, which many immigrants have proven they are willing to do. Much of the greatness that America stands for is due in no small part to its heterogeneity, without which, for good or ill, our history as a nation and a people would be diminished.

In the end, the aforementioned tweet from MSNBC proved to be correct, which is truly unfortunate. It is a sad day when racial backlash can be so accurately predicted so far in advance. Racists and xenophobes have yet again shown that America, as beautiful as it is, still has very far to go.