5.11.2012

How One Dad Is Moving Forward, After Amendment One

The below guest post was written by Matt Shipman, a science writer and father of three who lives in Raleigh. This is his third contribution to def shepherd. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @ShipLives or connect with him here on Google+.  

I wrote, some time ago, about how becoming a father made me a much stronger advocate for gay rights. As a dad, I spend time with my children every day. I see them running around with their friends. Odds are good that some of these kids I see on the playground will grow up to become gay teens and adults. And I have become increasingly horrified that someday someone would want to hurt any of these youngsters because of their sexual orientation.

That paternal, protective instinct makes me reject anything indicating that someone who is gay is somehow less important than someone who is straight. That extends, of course, to “Amendment One,” which passed overwhelmingly in North Carolina on May 8.

The passage of Amendment One has made a lot of people angry. It’s also made a lot of people, including me, incredibly sad. It will be some time before we can fully determine its impact, and there are many outstanding questions regarding what this will mean not only for same-sex families, but for domestic violence protections and unmarried heterosexual couples. No one – and I mean no one – can have any real idea of how these issues will play out.

There is also a great deal of discussion right now about the potential for legal action against Amendment One. I’m not an attorney, so I won’t prognosticate about that either.

All of this uncertainty can leave one feeling powerless. What can I do? If you’re a parent, there is a great deal you can do.

Make sure your children know that you will love them, no matter what. Teach them, by example, how to treat people with compassion and respect regardless of their sexual orientation. And, for those who can’t remember, going through puberty was excruciating. I can’t imagine what it is like to go through that while also fearing rejection from peers or one’s own family because of who you’re sexually attracted to. The least we can do for our children is let them know that they will always have our love and support. Home should always feel safe.

So that’s what I’ll be working on. Loving my kids. Showing them what it means to treat people with respect. Raising them, I hope, to be strong and honest and kind.

Amendment One has me feeling pretty blue right now. But if we, as parents, get this right, I have high hopes for the future.



5.10.2012

Symphony of Science - "We Are Star Dust"

The latest Symphony of Science is "We Are Star Dust," the 15th in the series. It features heavyweights Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman and Lawrence Krauss.

Watch:



5.08.2012

Despite Amendment One's Passing, NC Is A Better State Today

Amendment One has passed.

The easy thing to do is to get angry. To take it out on those who voted to enshrine discrimination into our state constitution.

The natural thing to do is to lash out. And with something as important as civil rights, I believe that is a completely valid response. When the citizens of our own state tell us we are less than human, it cuts deep.

I'm not gay. I can't express how it must feel to have the majority decide whether or not I should have the rights they are afforded. I am hyper-empathetic, however, so I like to think I have some idea of how devastating that might be.

There are people who are near and dear to me who will wake up tomorrow morning to a less welcoming North Carolina. They will wake up in a state that not only actively discriminates against them, but has also written discrimination into their mission statement.

There will be children, seniors, women, and heterosexual couples who will be harmed in the coming months and years because people are afraid of change.

As the inevitability of the passing of Amendment One sunk in, I began to feel resentful, angry, sad, embarrassed, and incredibly disappointed. I am sure millions of North Carolinians feel the same. But as the pro-amendment camp celebrates their victory in downtown Raleigh, it's important to remember that, while we suffered a devastating loss, what we accomplished over the past several months should make us all very proud.

The majority of North Carolinians were on the wrong side of history on May 8, 2012. Despite this fact, I have no doubt that North Carolina received an education over the past several months. Many North Carolinians were challenged, many for the very first time, to re-evaluate their views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Many who once believed homosexuality was a 'sin' and a 'poor lifestyle choice' now understand that we do not choose our sexual orientation. We also opened a lot of eyes to the cynical nature of politics (not so sure that was a secret), and encouraged them to really think about the potential unintended consequences of their vote. We rediscovered the power of music, art, and the written word to enact change (even if that change is much more gradual than we feel is acceptable).

Most importantly, we reminded people that every voice counts, and that everyone has a unique way to contribute to the cause of social justice. In all my years in North Carolina, I have never seen such an outpouring of creativity, passion, and determination. Despite our defeat at the polls, each of these efforts impacted many lives, changed many minds, and opened many hearts.

No amount of back-patting can make up for the fact that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have been wronged. I have no words that will lessen the blow. It is a devastating blow that will reverberate for many years to come. This amendment will undoubtedly join the interracial marriage ban amendment of 1875 as one of the ugliest moments in North Carolina history. We will surely lose many of our wonderful friends and fellow citizens to other, more welcoming states, and I can't say I blame them.

What we can say, however, is that we put up one hell of a fight. While just we took a giant step backwards from a legislative perspective, we are actually a better state because of our fight. As odd as it may be to state, North Carolina is a more welcoming, more tolerant state today as a result of our hard work. There are more allies now than there were in September (or that there have ever been in our state's history). There are more people willing to stand up for injustice now than there were in September. There are more churches willing to reach out to (and stand up for) the LGBT population. There are more people willing to risk their community standing, their relationships, or even their employment status, by vocally protesting against religion-based bigotry.

Most importantly, there is an entire generation of young people -- kids, teens, and college students -- who witnessed this injustice firsthand. There is an entire generation of young people, like my own, who cannot believe that gays and lesbians would be denied rights enjoyed by the rest of the population. To them it is as unconscionable as denying marriage rights to interracial couples, or denying women the right to vote.

These young people are the voters, lawmakers, clergy, community leaders, business leaders, and elected officials of tomorrow. While we are devastated by Amendment One's passing, we do know that North Carolina's future is in their hands.

While we can be certain this younger generation will clean up our generation's mess, our part in this fight is not over. We will wake up tomorrow with a heightened sense of purpose and the resolve to pick up the pieces and continue in our fight to make this a better North Carolina for all families.

We shouldn't have to wait, but one thing is very clear. As MLK said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."






5.07.2012

Amendment One: 11th Hour Thoughts On Faith, Homosexuality & Choice

These words were originally posted in an online neighborhood forum about Amendment One to address a neighbor who believes homosexuality is a sin and that he could not cast a vote that condoned it, regardless of any unintended consequences of the legislation.



As both sides of the Amendment One debate wrap up their closing arguments, it has become clear that the vote comes down to religion. Mostly, it comes down to religion and the debate over the nature of sexual orientation.

I have been chastised in past posts for my adamant stance that homosexuality is not a choice. Some in the LGBT camp have criticized me (and rightfully so) for making this assertion, since people should be free to choose to be gay if they so wish. I agree wholeheartedly -- it shouldn't be anyone's concern if two consenting adults choose to be intimate with one another. But civil rights causes are a marathon and not a sprint, unfortunately. And the linchpin of the gay marriage debate is indeed the belief held by many religious people that homosexuals have made a conscious choice to live a lifestyle of sin and abomination.

We do not choose our sexual orientations. Our sexual orientations are determined by genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. The following organizations have issued statements concluding that we do not choose our sexual orientation: American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sexual orientations are not binary. Bisexuality is an actual thing, and not just a phase in college.

Gender is also not binary. If you believe it is, please explain your beliefs to an acquaintance of mine who was born with ambiguous genitalia. Doctors and parents made a choice that she would be a girl. Guess what happened? She grew to only be interested in girls. Whoops. Gender dysphoria is a real thing.

At the time of the Bible, people did indeed believe that gender and sexual orientation were binary, just as they thought epilepsy was demonic possession, and just as they thought the earth was flat and at the center of the universe.

When we gained enough understanding, we realized that the sun was not a god, but rather a hot rock. Then we learned enough to understand that it wasn't a rock at all, but a fiery hot ball of plasma interwoven with magnetic fields.

Please read this article in The Atlantic exploring the nature of gender, and tell me that you believe that the boy in the article made a decision to be the way he is. No amount of church, or whippings, or therapy is going to alter what this boy is in his heart, and nobody should try to change that. To deny him the right to grow up to experience marriage and family is cruel and unusual punishment.

Brandon Simms, age 5
I realize that by pointing to examples of gender dysphoria I am not directly addressing the issue of gay marriage. It's not so different, however. My point is that we are who we are. The fact is that we are not all born as males who will grow up to be attracted to females, or females who will grow up to be attracted to males. Some of us will be born gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. We are attracted to who we are attracted to. We can't turn that off and pretend. We all can't simply go along with society and ignore who we are at our very core. To do so is to live a lie. To force others to do so is to punish them for their natural born traits.

The Bible, while a great source of morality for many, cannot be looked upon for every bit of moral guidance. We must adjust our morality to consider our modern understandings about biology and the cosmos. If we don't, we will simply continue to live by Bronze Age morals -- and we know what that has done to Afghanistan, where they still practice many of the same laws that we find in the Old Testament. We Americans abhor their enforcement of holy law. We would do well to abhor it in our own country, too.

Good luck with your vote. I just hope that when you cast your vote you will feel comfortable knowing that a FOR vote will be engraved in stone. You may come to change your mind about sexual orientation. Changing a constitutional amendment, however, is not easily done.

If there is any doubt in your heart -- if you feel anything in your heart for those people like my acquaintance or the boy in the above linked Atlantic article, you should understand that by voting FOR, you are harming those people. (You are also harming heterosexual couples, children, seniors, and women -- but we've been through that already.)

If your Bible tells you to harm them anyway, then I am afraid your morality is flawed.

My morality requires that I never do harm to another human being, and that I respect the rights of minorities, and that I don't force others to live by my beliefs.  Is not one of our central roles as human beings to reduce suffering? How can we reconcile this with the denial of rights to our fellow humans based on their natural traits?

Legalizing gay marriage or domestic partnerships does not force someone else's beliefs on you (Remember, they will still be illegal if you vote AGAINST). This is what so many fail to understand. Legalizing domestic partnerships/civil unions/marriage doesn't alter YOUR rights to form a union that aligns with your belief system. Your YES vote tomorrow, however, will definitely alter others' rights. That is unfortunate, and completely at odds with everything that has made America a beacon of freedom.

I fear I will wake up on Wednesday extremely disappointed in my state. But I feel confident that before I die, I will see NC begin to accept all people for who they are, and afford them the same rights, no matter what their natural traits. It is a shame that North Carolina will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

I thought we were beyond this, but I guess we will have another generation of this way of thinking, until we look back and are embarrassed by this legislation the way we are embarrassed by the inter-racial marriage ban amendment of 1875.



The Top 10 Secular Legislative Reasons to Vote For Amendment One

In Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), The Supreme Court's decision stated that the government's action must have a secular legislative purpose.

As voters in NC will be deciding the fate of Amendment One, let's take a look at the ten most compelling secular legislative reasons to vote in favor of the amendment:


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Please keep these reasons in mind as you cast your ballot on May 8 to determine whether or not North Carolina will forever restrict the rights of its citizen based on natural traits.

"Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possesses their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression." - Thomas Jefferson



5.06.2012

Voices Against Amendment One Pt. 3

Here's the third installment of 'Voices Against Amendment One' from All Aces Media featuring a collection of voices urging North Carolinians to vote against Amendment One.

The video features a broad spectrum of NC citizens, as well as many influential and well-known artists and musicians with ties to North Carolina, including Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down), Craig Robinson (The Office), Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers), Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity), Tift Merritt, yours truly, and others.

Don't forget to vote on May 8 (or vote early if you can). Make sure your voice is heard.