Heartbroken.

I’ve meant to write about all of the recent suicides of LGBT teenagers. I’d been waiting to find the right words. Then I found out about the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and my heart broke, and I can’t not write about it. THREE suicides of gay students, in one high school, in one year? What the hell is going on at that school?

Perhaps later, I’ll be able to write something more substantial. All I can do now, is pour the inside of my broken heart onto the page. People are dying! Teenagers are dying! Their hearts are being broken, their souls are being crushed, and all these schools can say about it is that bullying is bad, and they’re against it, and since they’re obviously failing, they’ll add some more meaningless training?

No.

That’s not enough.

Dig your hearts out of the back of your freezer! What is wrong with you? How can anyone stand by while someone is suffering so? I can’t fathom it. I just can’t fathom it.

Words are so powerful. A kind word is strong, but a sole kind word in the midst of so much cruelty can save a life. Is that not worth the effort?

I don’t care about your meaningless training. I want to know how you could have let it happen in the first place. Reaction means little to me right now. I cannot fathom the amount of self-absorption, self-righteousness, cruelty, lack of empathy, and the loads of back-turning it takes to ignore what was going on in that school, to let it escalate, to the point of three young people dying in one year at one school.

Ah, I wish I could have given each one of them a hug. I wish I could have been there, let them pour all their hurt and frustration and hopelessness out, and cried with them. I know what that pain feels like, and I know that just one person giving a damn would have made all the difference. Just one person, giving a real, sincere, heartfelt damn.

I know what that pain feels like, and no one, no one, deserves that kind of pain. Not ever.

I’m sorry. I hate that anyone has had to feel that pain. I hate that you feel that pain. I’m sorry I didn’t do everything I could to prevent it. I’m sorry that you were so desperate to be free of it that death was your only option. I failed you. We all have failed you. I haven’t forgotten you. I won’t, ever. And I know that’s meaningless, because what can I do now? You’re gone. The only thing I can do now is love more, see more, be more. And never, ever forget.

Blog Note

I have a guest post up at Jaded16’s, blog, Oi With The Poodles Already. Check it out!

A Silent Minority: Pro-Gun-Rights Feminists

So, eight months ago, I posted this blog. In it, I make my case as to why gun rights are a feminist issue. Monday, in a post on Shakesville, I lost my temper, got more than a little snarky, and got into an argument there. If you’re not interested in following the link, or reading all the comments, here’s the deal: Tennessee is expanding to bars and restaurants the right for CCW holders to carry. Most there begin stereotyping gun owners as the irresponsible, blood-thirsty, getting-a-hard-on-to-shoot someone, tea party, “second amendment solutions to political disagreement” caricature.

I’d heard all of this before. Nothing new. It happens every time gun rights come up in a feminist sphere. What set me off was one poster painting college students as infantile, unable to comprehend that shooting into a crowd of innocent people is a bad idea.

Insult me, sure. I get annoyed. Allies insulting me? That hurts me. Falling into the trap of painting all college students as just like those frat-boy movies? No. That’s ridiculous. I do apologize for losing my temper. It would have been more prudent to take a smoke break before replying. But. I’m only sorry for how I phrased the things I said. I’m not sorry for what I said. I’m not sorry for feeling the way I felt: angry.

What is it that makes mainstream feminists completely unable to contemplate and discuss gun rights?

Feminist can talk about trafficking, rape, child molestation—the darkest aspects of humanity and our culture—even those of us with personal experiences—we can talk about those things. Though we’ll put trigger warnings on graphic descriptions, we’ll watch our language, out of respect for those who have experienced those traumas. We do not allow stereotyping, victim-blaming, strawmen…but somehow the feminist community-at-large cannot discuss gun rights.

Guns are not humans with agency. Guns cannot do anything to anyone without a human being behind them. Guns are very dangerous tools. In self-defense, what is being discussed here, should only be used as a last and most desperate resort.  More often, in self-defense, they are a deterrent. You never pull out a gun unless you’re willing to use it. Never.

Violence against women, against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals are endemic. The world gives us platitudes. The world tells us it’s our fault—for being sexy, for being different, for being in certain places—for being who we are. The police make light of our attacks. They blame us. They refuse to get us justice. Sometimes, they attack us as well. But in light of all of this—we’re still expected to trust them. By the world, and by the feminist community.

Why? Victim advocacy groups, they say, will help us. Despite their overwhelming workloads, their little funding, despite these groups not being available in every community (red state, anyone? poverty-stricken areas anyone?). These groups are the feminist solution to dealing with a misogynist, homophobic, transphobic institution that is the only means to get justice for the wrongs done to us. And nothing, nothing, to prevent any of those wrongs, right here, right now. Sure, we can work to change our culture. It’s something I work for every day, but the kind of change we need to make the world safe for everyone, is going to take years, and it does nothing for people that live in this world, right here, right now.

I, along with a silent minority in the feminist and/or liberal movement, have no interest in making our way through a hostile world with nothing but the “don’t walk alone” and “carry mace or hairspray” solutions that the world, and the feminist community gives to us. We’re sick of “prevention tips” that call for us to change our living situations, behavior, movements, and appearance. I’m angry, very angry, that I, along with all of my brothers and sisters are forced to take extreme measures just to stay alive, to stay safe, and to stay sane. We’re liberals and feminists that are pro-gun rights. We believe in self-defense. We believe that it is our right as human beings to live, freely and safely, as we choose. We believe that we have the right to defend ourselves from people who would harm us.

We’re a silent minority. But let’s stop the “silent” part.

Oh yeah: and one more thing: laws only affect those who would follow them in the first place. If you’re afraid of ye olde stereotypical gun owner described above, he’s not going to give much of a shit about where he’s legally allowed to carry. The law only affects those who obey it, respect it, as well as all human life. If you ask me, those are the ones you want carrying in the first place.

Chris Armstrong & Student Government

Like I mentioned here, student government can get pretty intense. At least, that was my experience, and the experience of my colleagues. But this?

Is beyond the pale. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, of Michigan, has been stalking and harassing University of Michigan’s openly gay student body president Chris Armstrong. AAG Shirvell even has a blog dedicated to bullying this young man!

David Layton, Democratic candidate for Michigan Attorney General, has released a statement demanding current AG Mike Cox fire Shirvell, as well as called for his opponent, Republican Bill Schuette to join him in condemning Shirvell’s actions and demanding his termination.

Mike Cox, current Attorney General, had refused to fire Shirvell, saying that “All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours. But Mr. Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.” So he thinks his Assistant Attorney General is immature and has a lack of judgment, but still thinks he’s worthy of being an employee of the Michigan Justice Department?

Chris has responded only once during this debacle–he made a statement during a student government meeting. Everyone has lauded his grace and dignity in handling this harassment and degeneration of his character and of his person. I laud his strength and his dedication–my colleagues and I dealt with plenty of insults and criticism of our every move, though nothing to the level of what Chris is dealing with. And it was hard.

What everyone forgot was that we were college students–we had a full load of classes, with books to read, papers to write, and research to do, just like they did. We had families, friends, and partners to spend time with just like everyone else. Most of us were involved in other campus organizations, clubs, honor societies, or athletics.We were in student government because we wanted to help. We wanted to make the university a better, friendlier, cheaper, and more convenient experience for us, our friends, and all the other students, current and future. Our intentions were good. We weren’t evil Politician Jr’s, looking to take over the university and better our situations at the expense of everyone else.

What everyone forgot was the time we invested. The executive cabinet regularly devoted 40 hours a week to student government–they were only required, by the Student Government’s Constitution, to devote 8-12 hours a week, depending on their position. We met with administrators & professors. We met with student groups and individuals, listening to the issues they had, and the things they wanted to do, but needed money to put in motion. We filled out paperwork and wrote legislation. We coordinated with other student governments in the state’s universities to rally in Frankfort to meet with legislators to talk about higher education funding. Senators were only required to attend the weekly Senate meeting and attend one committee meeting a week. Many were much more involved than that, spending hours in the office, working alongside exec.

I don’t doubt that Chris does the same. Knowing you’re doing everything you can to help your campus community, and knowing that some will continue to criticize every move you make, every word you say, despite that you’re the same age, with the same experiences, bugs the crap out of you. It cut us to the core–we had no experience dealing with something like that. We never imagined, and no one ever told us that we might be thrust in the spotlight because of our work behind the scenes.

We talked about it a lot. We wanted to say, “if you don’t like what we’re doing, or what we aren’t doing, why don’t you join student government? Why don’t you try to make change? We will help you. We will throw our resources and our experience behind you.” Eventually, we said it. No dice. The critics were fine with insulting our ability, our motives, our intelligence, but they didn’t want to help fix the “problems” they saw.

It could be hard, since the student newspaper without fail would give them a platform to spew their venom. They ate it up.The difference between our situation and Chris’ is that he is being attacked because of who he is. This is undoubtedly not the first time, and undoubtedly not the last. Because of the idea that expressing your “opinions” in your treatment of others is not only okay, but vital in keeping your “freedom,” that respect is “PC” and therefore undesirable, shit like this happens.

Chris is lucky. He has the support of his university, his professors, and his peers. But he is unlucky that this man is in a position of power over the entire state. This man has resources to drive across the state the follow him on campus, to his home, to the homes of his friends and their parents. This man also, judging from his appearance on CNN, has no compunction about using the power of his office to further prosecute, harass, and intimidate Chris, should the opportunity arise.

I cannot imagine the extent of the stress Chris is under right now. I can identify with the sort of experience that he is dealing with, but not the scale, and certainly not being attacked on a national scale because of who I am.

University of Michigan students, thank you for standing by Chris. Continue to stand by him. Not only because he’s your President. Not only because he’s a member of the UM family. But because he is a human being, and no one, no one, deserves such treatment.

I’m so heartened to read this article from the Michigan Daily, UM’s campus newspaper, both because Shirvell is being disciplined, and because the UM community is rallying so fervently behind Chris. Thank you. Thank you, to everyone at UM.

Chris is one of many. Many LGBT kids, students, adults, and elderly are attacked, harassed, tortured, and killed for simply being who they are. Continue to rally around Chris, and show your support for not only him, but the entire community of people he represents on this planet: the gay community.

Here are some suggestions:

-Continue to write letters to the campus newspaper expressing your support of Chris and the LGBT community.

-Write a letter to your hometown newspaper, sharing what’s happening to Chris, and why it’s so important to express support of the LGBT members of your hometown.

-Post a sign in your dorm window, door, or on your car, expressing support for the LGBT community, and for Chris, and his right to live free of harassment, stalking, and attacks on his character and person.

-Join your campus LGBT group. Learn how you can be an ally, just be standing in solidarity with them, or by getting involved as an activist.

-Most importantly, call out friends and family members when they say bigoted or hateful things toward the gay community. People like Shirvell operate because they feel like, not only are they right, but everyone else agrees with their hatred of a vulnerable community. If it is safe to do so, do the same in public, too.

Rand Paul Needs Schooling, Part 2

Rand Paul not only needs some schooling on campaigning—I need to expand his curriculum. Recently he held a meet and greet at the Southwest Government Center on Dixie Highway. He did not expect anyone but his loyal fans and supporters at this event, apparently. It was to be a two-hour event—it ended after 30 minutes. Why? Citizens were asking questions!

People, this is American Government 101, or Voting 093 (a remedial class, I’ve decided. Rand Paul needs both.). No one, no one, should vote without getting to know the candidates, and their stands on important issues. If a candidate is not forthcoming, it is the public’s job to ask those questions. If a candidate refuses to answer them, that is abject and utter failure on the part of the candidate, and a sign of his inability to be a public servant.

This video, shot and posted by HillBilly Report, shows Rand Paul happily walking around, shaking the hands of the citizenry. HillBilly, and any other citizen that asks questions gets the cold shoulder. Rand Paul stops smiling, withdrawls his hand, and turns his back on these citizens. He dodges them like Pac-man dodges the ghosts in the old Namco game. It would be comical, If it weren’t so sad. Most stand there, disbelieving, as he hurries away.

In the video Hill Billy persues Rand Paul, camera rolling, asking his question, and then asking why Paul isn’t answering his question. Rand Paul runs like a boy fearing cooties on the playground. When he leaves the room, Hill Billy follows, determined to get some kind of answer from Paul. What happens next is appalling. He’s assaulted—his arm is grabbed, and it appears Paul and his companion, State Sen. Dan Seum, are trying to get him back in the auditorium. What candidate thinks it is a good idea, not only to so blatantly avoid questions, but to resort to this kind of behavior to get rid of concerned citizens?

It doesn’t end there—no. He tells the AP Hillbilly was harassing him!

Now, these weren’t young punks* trying to get a rise out of a Tea Party Darling. Hillbilly is a 71-year-man. The citizens were retirement age—one only wanted to know what Rand Paul wanted to do (or not) to Social Security. One was a working man, still wearing his hard hat.

I say again: if this is how Rand Paul acts as a candidate, when he is trying to court the votes of the citizenry, he will be ten times worse as a representative. The position Paul is campaigning to be elected to, no matter the title or prestige that comes with it, is a public office. The job is to serve the public. It is not a letter of nobility. It is not a position to aspire to in order to hook up your friends. (or fans. Or supporters.)

*Not that young voters would do so, of course. I am a young voter myself, so I know that certain people, ahem, are often quick to take the passion of a young voter and/or activist, and dismiss us as antagonistic. Which is a shame—they’ll push us away if we’re too passionate; then lament our “apathy.”

There’s no telling how many parts to this series there will be. The OP wasn’t intended to be the beginning of a blog series at all! But, Rand Paul, like his darling Tea Party, is like a gift that just keeps on giving!

Imam Yahya Hendi: America and Islam-Cooperation or Confrontation? Part 1

Recently, I went to see Imam Yahya Hendi speak. Who is he? You’re wondering. “Imam” registers—so he’s a Muslim cleric. Synapses fire, and all of your memories pop up, and every article and personal interactions (or lack thereof) are immediately associated with this word. He? It must be a he. Wait. She just challenged my assumption of this person’s gender, so it must be a she. Wow. A female Muslim cleric? Interesting. “Yahya Hendi.” Hmm. Not an Anglican name, so a foreigner. Wait. Another synapse fires. Maybe he’s not. Before any more synapses fire, you must know where he’s from.

Where is he from? (Yes, Imam Hendi is male. I just want to keep you on your feet.) He answered this question himself, during his talk: “I’ve been asked many times where I am from—I say from dust—as the Bible, Koran, and Torah says. We should act as if we are all fellow Dustians.”

We are all human. That is what matters. How important is it, really, that we know where on the global map one is “from”? My opening paragraph outlined what I assume will be the thought process for many who read this humble piece. Word association—we connect memories and knowledge with images, words, and emotions. It is the brain’s drive-thru in regards to learning something or someone new. Many times this is helpful. Often, it is not. Assumptions, it is said, makes a disagreeable donkey part out of you and me. Awareness of this is important, so we may know when it is appropriate to use this mental shortcut, and when it is not.

The title of Imam Hendi’s talk was “Islam and America: Cooperation or Confrontation.” I consciously use “talk” rather than “lecture” or “speech” because the heart of this appearance, and his mission, is dialogue between Islam and Christianity, Judaism, America, and everyone and every place within and in between.

Father Adam Bernell, of Bellarmine University, invited Imam Hendi to speak—the two worked together in Washington D.C. in 2001. The two worked to bring the community together after 9/11, and Imam Hendi had the privilege of being one of President Bush’s advisors after September 11th.

The Imam spent a good deal of time talking about faith. “Peace is essence of religion—love is the essence of faith—forgiveness is the essence of religion,” he says. He asked, “Are we willing to speak their language of inclusivity and love and compassion?” Are we? I pose this question to you. Let’s face it. The war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and much of the opposition to any Islam mosques or community centers is as much as, if not more so, about religious opposition than the 9/11 attacks. Many American Christians are quick to say it is extremists that attack women’s clinics and doctors that perform abortions, and that Christianity is a peaceful religion—but in another breath, are quick to condemn Islam for the actions of a few extremists. But Christianity is different from Islam, many have argued. Is it?

The Yahya Hendi says no. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are much the same. In fact, he told us, the Bible and Koran are 80% the same. The disbelief in the audience of mostly students of a Catholic university was palpable. Here’s an example—the story of Abraham. The story is featured in both the Koran and the Bible. Imam Hendi says they are 95% the same. The only difference? In the Koran, Abraham does not lie to the pharaoh—he does not say Sarah is his sister. Lying is a sin—and a prophet may not lie in the Koran.

Imam Hendi called on us to read the Koran—and I challenge you to do the same. It is easy to hate what you do not know. How much of our collective knowledge of Islam has been from our own pursuit of knowledge and understanding? How much of it was simply told to us by an authority figure and accepted as truth without checking for ourselves? Don’t chase after secondhand knowledge—what is told to us by preachers, the media, and non-Muslim authors. Read the Koran for yourself. It is a far more productive activity than burning them, I assure you.

As Imam Yahya Hendi said that night, ““We no longer live in our own ghettos.” It is time for us to stop acting as if we do—and start behaving like we’re living in a global community, where borders and differences are meaning less and less.

Rand Paul Needs Schooling Part 1

Rand Paul needs some education on campaign-running. In this article, when asked for specifics on one of the staples of his campaign, he responded that it was impossible to give specifics until after the election. Apparently, he’s taking his cue from incumbents in Congress, where it is common to postpone controversial votes until after the election.

I have several issues with this—as a voter, as a political scientist, and as someone with a wee bit of experience in campaigning.

First, annoying as it is, it is understandable when incumbents postpone controversial votes until election season has concluded. Why? Well, we all know the answer to that question. In a general election, politicians tend to swing toward the middle, to court the largest possible number of the electorate. A controversial piece of legislation may alienate moderates, the base, or both. It’s acceptable (if annoying if that particular legislation is important to you) because we have a solid voting record from incumbents that we as voters can judge from. With a brand-new politician, running for his first-ever political office? Not so much.

I spent two years in student government at Western Kentucky University. I learned quickly that voters want specifics. As a rookie to the whole scene, I fell into the trap of using idealistic platitudes as my platform. It was easy to do, because I really did want to “help the students.” My decision to join was based off my being a student, noticing issues that needed to be addressed, and deciding I should do something about them. Once elected, I met the then-Chief of Staff, who answered my questions and pushed me to come up with specific solutions. I did. As a senator, I got off easy. Later, when I chose to run for an executive position-the students, and the student paper, the College Heights Herald, weren’t having any of it. They wanted specifics. This is a problem, what exactly are you going to do about it? Where exactly do you stand on this issue?  I was well-prepared, but I had one thing going against me: reality.

I had two years under my belt by this time, as well as Dr. Sandra Audrey’s Campaign Management class. I was prepared with specifics, but not the specifics that the students wanted. Parking, they asked, what was I going to do about parking? Silly me, I was honest to a fault. Nothing. We’re in the middle of Bowling Green, we have nowhere to put more convenient parking lots, even if student government had the clout to push the university to fund a multi-million dollar project. I gave specifics, but not exactly what they wanted to hear.  I was experienced, but I didn’t have that mix of specificity, platitudes, and the dismissal of the hurdle logistics and reality. I lost.

Rand Paul could learn a thing or two from the Student Government Association of WKU. You don’t get to, as a rookie, make grandiose statements about an issue, and then refuse to elaborate. With this budget thing, Dr. Paul, you could go about it a whole of different ways. Some conservatives will like, some liberals will like, and some that everyone or no one will like. People need to hear the how.

You also don’t get to say that you’re too busy to figure out how exactly you want to do those things that you want to do. You’re campaigning for public office—your job, if elected, will be to figure out how you want to do those things you want to do, and then do them. Especially if you’re the libertarian you say you are—you won’t have an established party behind you to do everything for you. Campaigning is a full-time job. I sympathize. I ran myself, as well as running the 2008 campaign for Bowling Green commissioner Slim Nash. Doing those things while being a full-time student, I really sympathize. But the thing is, you can’t complain. It’s part of the job. A politician cannot complain about how hard it is, because he chose to do it, and a massive amount of his electorate is struggling to make ends meet. Who wants to hear a well-off doctor complain about the difficulty of running for office, when you may be struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table? Many of his supporters, or potential supporters, will never even dream of running, because just surviving is taking up all of their time, money, and energy. In short, it’s not a politically savvy thing to do. I know. I and my fellow SGA members did it, and we got ripped apart by the students and the campus media, and then we lost.

Rand, here’s some advice from me to you. Go speak to some of the current and former SGA members at WKU. It’s pretty close to home, so it shouldn’t take up too much of your time.