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Archive for December, 2012

gay_usa

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I just watched the documentary, Gay USA. It was filmed in June 1977 with camera crews at the gay parades in San Diego, LA, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. Though it seems like there’s a fairly heavy emphasis on the San Francisco event.

I was in high school at the time this was filmed and knew very little about gay people, other than what was presented in mainstream media, which at the time was heavily focused on Anita Bryant and her anti-gay crusade. It’s a shame that there was no means in place for me to be exposed to things like this film, because it surely would have helped me figure things out quite a bit sooner about myself.

Once you get past the multitude of hairy shirtless guys in jeans – hey man, it was the seventies – there is quite a bit of interesting material. (Well, actually the hairy shirtless guys are interesting too. It takes me back!) While the vast majority of America was anti-gay at the time, there were still straight allies in attendance. A lot of the things said back then by participants are still true today, such as it being not so easy to be gay in Kansas. Some of the most interesting interview bits come in the last half of the film, so it’s worth watching all the way through.

I watched the movie through my Amazon Prime membership for free, but I’d imagine it can also be found on Netflicks and other online movie outlets. Check it out.

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A new report is out from Third Way, a center-left think tank. Third Way was evidently responsible for some of the research the successful marriage equality campaigns relied on for the ballot measures last month. The organization conducted a post-election poll in Washington State to determine what all went into the success, and to collect information to aid future campaigns moving forward. For the stat geeks out there, it’s interesting reading.

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A new article from The Atlantic provides an in-depth look at the four-state victory in November for marriage equality, going back to earlier roots and discussing behind the scenes decision making and strategizing. It goes into quite a bit of detail about things I summarized in a recent post here.

The end of the piece discusses what comes next, and cautions those who might be too eager in attempting to build on the recent successes without first laying the critical groundwork. The article is well worth reading if you have the time and interest.

One paragraph from early in the article nicely summarizes part of why I feel marriage equality is so important, despite the fact I have no interest in getting married myself:

To Wolfson, the fight for marriage was about making gays full participants in American life and fully human in the eyes of their fellow citizens. “This was something that would transform non-gay people’s understanding of who gay people are,” he told me. “It would help people understand gay people as fully rounded human beings, with the hopes and dreams and human aspirations we all have.” Other gay-rights struggles were mainly about convincing people to overlook sexual orientation, in employment or medical care or military service. Marriage is about what makes gay people who they are: their relationships with others of the same sex. In ratifying marriage for gays and lesbians, society would be ratifying the core of their identity — their love for one another.

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landbeyondmaps

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Partly because of being busy writing my own novel for NaNoWriMo, and partly because one of them was particularly long, I only read two novels during the month of November.

The first was Land Beyond Maps by Maida Tilchen. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the lesbian debut fiction category in 2010, and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy for only one dollar. (The Kindle ebook is still only 99 cents as I write this.)

The novel is set in New Mexico in the very late 1920s, and the main characters are several women who are very independent or don’t easily fit into the roles women were expected to hold in that era.

Two of the women are a lesbian couple (one a photographer and the other a nurse), another is a frustrated artist who gave up her goals to help her husband seek his, another is an asexual woman who becomes obsessed with desert plantlife, and the last one you could probably say is gender queer, even though there was no recognition of that as an identity at that point in time.

The book is very well-written and in many ways can be viewed as a love letter to New Mexico. Tilchen vividly writes about the desert so that you feel you are there, seeing what the characters see. She does a fabulous job of bringing that time period to life, while also providing fascinating depictions of the Navajo people muddling through a cultural transition.

Land Beyond Maps doesn’t have much in the way of a plot. It’s a slice of life novel, looking in on these women at a singular period in their lives as they cross paths and discover what their goals are and what provides meaning for them. If you enjoy that sort of novel then I can highly recommend it. If you need something with a more typical beginning, middle, and end, with a central plot moving things forward, it’s probably not for you.

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The other novel I read, which took up most of the month and the first couple days into December, was The Stand by Stephen King. It seemed like a perfect choice for the dark, rainy days of a Pacific Northwest November, and I was right.

This was the third time I’ve read the book, but it had been about twenty years since the last time I read it, so it was all fresh again. An online acquaintance had gifted me with the ebook copy quite a while back and I was finally in the right mood to read it. This was the uncut, extended version, which I hadn’t read before.

I don’t really want to go into the plot or characters. The book is extremely well known, and the majority of King fans tend to agree that it’s his best, or one of his best, novels. I agree with that assessment.

Even for people who don’t care much for horror, or King’s work in particular, it’s worth giving a try. It’s not heavy on horror. It’s a post-apocalyptic story with a central theme of good vs. evil using supernatural elements. I thoroughly enjoyed my leisurely reread.

The thing I was to discuss is the fact that when the novel was rereleased in the uncut version in 1990, King not only added back most of the original manuscript, he also updated the novel to that decade. (It was originally published in 1978, and written 2-3 years prior to that, I think.) I had discussed my opinion of updating fiction in a post here, and it turns out The Stand is an excellent argument for why I think updating doesn’t work, and shouldn’t be done.

It’s easy enough to go through and change dates, slip in different song titles and other pop culture references that fit a different decade, and update technology in a novel. Provided you don’t miss anything. But what the author can’t do, unless they’re willing to rewrite to a great extent, is update the entire context in which the story was originally written.

Anything a person writes is affected by when it’s written. This is true even for historical novels, but usually in a different way than a contemporary story. How a story is written is affected by how the author perceives the world, and how the author perceives the world is to a great degree dependant on the world around them. And in turn this all affects how their characters in the novel perceive their world.

It doesn’t seem like a twelve year difference in publication dates should have much of an effect on things, and that might have been part of King’s thinking at the time. Technological differences are much more obvious changes, and can be relatively easy to deal with. But underlying attitudes that characters hold are a much trickier thing.

There were many, many places in the updated version of The Stand where things just didn’t read right for 1990. They were right for the mid-1970s. Though in fact, there were quite a few attitudes expressed by characters that were already starting to seem a little dated by 1978. By 1990 they came across as rather archaic.

This is the primary reason I think writers should not attempt to update fiction. While it’s true that some people won’t read older novels because they are no longer contemporary, those people shouldn’t be accommodated. There are enough of the rest of us who don’t care, and in fact enjoy reading novels written in prior decades. Either because we lived through them ourselves and get a sense of nostalgia, or because we like to see what it was like through the eyes of people living through that time.

There’s another more practical reason as well. The Stand was updated for its 1990 extended version release, but that updated version is now more than two decades out of date. So you have to ask yourself, where does it end? Should a novel be updated every ten years? I say no.

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Winner-180x180

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In case anyone was wondering, I pulled out another win for NaNo 2012. Yay me! My winning word count was 50,331.

From participating in four NaNos and one Camp NaNo I’ve learned that each experience is very different from the others. There is absolutely no way to predict how it will go based on how past NaNos went.

This year was really odd for me because while I never truly struggled or suffered complete agony in trying to get my story from head to page, I was also behind for pretty much the entire month. Out of the thirty days in November I was only caught up on word count on five of them.

But at least unlike my Camp NaNo 2011 loss, I was never deeply in the hole. The furthest behind I got was somewhere around 5k words, so it always felt doable, which encouraged me to keep plodding forward. So the lesson learned from this one I guess is to just keep moving and you can surprise yourself.

At 50k words the novel isn’t complete. I’d estimate the story is somewhere between one-third to one-half done. Which means there’s a lot of work yet still to do if I want to complete the first draft.

This one was the biggest mess I’ve written, and that’s including compared to my first NaNo. That one was a mess structurally because I had no idea what I was doing. This one is a huge mess in terms of the writing, which is all over the place. One of the only things that kept me moving was allowing myself to ramble. A lot.

If I ever complete it and go on to work on a second draft it will require not just cleaning up, deleting, and revising, but a lot of actual rewriting. But that’s not as daunting to me as it used to be. The idea of all that work involved used to mentally freak me out and make me want to quit, but I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy editing. So it doesn’t matter to me now nearly as much how messy the first draft is. At least it provides the framework of the story to work on.

So that’s been another valuable lesson. Don’t worry about what I’m spewing out, as long as the story I wanted to tell is located somewhere in the muck. Anything and everything can be fixed later, but you have to have something to fix in the first place before you can get anywhere.

I haven’t written any more on it since the last day of November. My motivation was low this year, so I’m enjoying the break from worrying about word count. But I hope that at some point in the coming months I’ll feel inspired enough to get back to it and see if I can get a second complete novel under my belt.

I hope the rest of you who participated this year had a successful NaNo. Even if you didn’t make it to 50k, if you wrote some part of a new original novel you accomplished something!

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The United States Supreme Court issued an order earlier today granting certiorari in two important same-sex marriage cases. The scheduling order will come later, but it’s expected that oral arguments will take place in March 2013. Decisions are usually published in June, regardless of when the cases are argued, and for these cases it will likely be the end of June when we get the decisions.

In the California Proposition 8 case (HOLLINGSWORTH, DENNIS, ET AL. V. PERRY, KRISTIN M., ET AL.), the Ninth Circuit Court decision ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional is being appealed. (Prop 8 amended the California state constitution to ban same-sex marriage after it had already been legal in the state. There are currently 18,000 married same-sex couples in California.) In addition to the question presented by the petition, the Court has asked for briefing and arguments on the question as to whether the petitioners have standing to appeal.

The petitioners in this case are the Proposition 8 proponents, the organization which put the amendment on the state ballot and campaigned for its success. The state itself declined to defend the case, so the backers of the initiative stepped in to defend it. Their standing (right to defend in federal court) has been at question throughout the process.

At each previous step they were granted standing, but the foundation for that is shaky. The Supreme Court apparently feels that it’s an important separate question they want to address, along with the merits of the case itself.

The Windsor case (UNITED STATES V. WINDSOR, EDITH S., ET AL.) concerns DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It is one of only two DOMA cases on appeal to the Supreme Court that has gotten as far as being ruled on by a federal circuit court. The others petitioning for cert have only made it through the federal district court level and are currently still on appeal at circuit courts.

While the deliberations on which cases to grant cert to are not made public, it’s likely that Windsor was chosen over the Gill v. OPM case because Justice Kagan had indicated her intention to recuse herself from the Gill case. The Windsor case allows the full court to hear and decide the case.

Like in the Prop 8 case, the Court increased the complexity of what is being argued by adding two questions it wants addressed in briefing and argument. One is whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in the case, and the other is whether BLAG (the House Republicans who are defending the case) have standing to do so.

The first of those two questions is the more interesting one, and the one less easily understood. Why wouldn’t the Supreme Court have jurisdiction? The question arises because the Department of Justice is the petitioner, even though the circuit court ruled in the DOJ’s favor and struck down DOMA. It’s unusual for the winner to appeal a decision.

At issue, from the DOJ’s point of view, is the fact that the executive branch of the federal government is still responsible for enforcing a law that it deems to be unconstitutional until it is struck down by the Supreme Court. The decision by the Second Circuit that DOMA is unconstitutional applies only to the states within the second circuit, so the DOJ is seeking a final high court opinion to settle the matter of constitutionality and enforcement once and for all.

Apparently the Supreme Court believes this point of jurisdiction under these circumstances is an important one to decide, in addition to the merits of the case itself.

The Court’s order can be read here.

Details about these cases and several others can be found at prop8trialtracker.com.

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washington-marriage-equality-seattle-gay-news-graphic

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Yesterday the state of Washington started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. King County made a big production of it, opening the clerk’s office at 12:01 am on December 6th, and holding a little ceremony. (Video: news coverage, outside the courthouse, a short piece, full ceremony.) Weddings will not start taking place until this Sunday, because Washington has a three day waiting period.

After all votes were counted, Referendum 74 was approved 54-46 statewide. Washington has 39 counties and the referendum was only approved in 10 of them. Only one county in the very conservative eastern half of the state (where WSU is located) approved the referendum.

Those bare numbers are only part of the story. The most interesting numbers are from the counties where the referendum failed. Adams County, a rural area with a low population, had the lowest approval rate at only 28 percent, which looks rather daunting. But only 3 counties had an approval rate of under 30%. In 14 counties where the referendum failed, is was still approved by over 40% of voters.

These numbers are promising, not only for the eventual general acceptance of married same-sex couples as they become a common part of our communities in this state, but also for the nation as a whole. Washington is a deeply divided state between liberal and conservative halves. Yet even in most of the conservative bastions there exists a significant base of support for equality on which to build.

Marriage equality would not be possible without the efforts made by our straight allies. Minorities, by the fact of being minorities, are only able to accomplish a certain amount on our own. Technically the US Constitution grants all citizens equal rights, but the truth is that most minorities have had to fight to obtain equality.

As minorities we have to bring our issues to the attention of the majority, demanding the respect and equal treatment we are due. At a certain point we usually have to depend on the fairness of the majority to recognize our plight and join us in the fight to make equality a reality. So I want to thank all the fair-minded straight people of Washington State who made this a reality by staffing phone banks, donating money, and voting. Dan Savage said it pretty well here.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), is the primary organizer against marriage equality. Going into the November 2012 elections they said they would be victorious, continuing their substantial winning streak at the ballot box, because the majority of Americans still believe marriage is only between one man and one woman. But they lost in a clean sweep of all four states.

NOM now claims that they expected to lose because the four states are deep blue states, and because their opponents were better funded. There is truth in both of those reasons, but you have to look deeper than that.

Why were they underfunded and understaffed compared to equality proponents? It’s because their cause is no longer a popular one. There are more people and companies supporting equality than there are those against it enough to cough up hard-earned dollars or their precious time to campaign. NOM is not yet willing to concede this point, but it’s there for anyone to see. In 2009 five donations made up 75% of their funding, and in 2010 only two donors accounted for two-thirds of their funding. They are not a grassroots organization.

More importantly though, marriage equality supporters have learned the necessary lessons from past losses. They were aggressive this time in controlling the conversation and in quickly responding to the lies told in ads by the anti-equality groups.

The central message changed from one of gay people demanding equal rights, which is more cold and abstract, to one of average citizens, including people of faith, talking about family, love, and commitment, which is a warm message people respond to positively on a gut level. The anti-equality people only trotted out the same old bigotry and lies they’ve depended on in the past, and that doesn’t play as well as it did ten years ago.

Just as importantly, it was the questions being asked on the ballots. Social science and polling has long demonstrated that how a question is asked, or which question is asked, will to a great extent affect the answers received.

Much earlier in the year marriage equality advocates suffered a big loss in North Carolina, where voters approved an amendment to the state constitution banning all recognition of same-sex relationships, including marriage. It passed by 61%. Some of that large margin was due to voter confusion about what the amendment actually did, but a lot of it was due to the question being asked: should marriage between one man and one woman be the only domestic legal union recognized by the state.

There is a highly crucial distinction between voting about the definition of marriage, and voting about the rights of fellow citizens. There are a significant number of people in this country who occupy a middle ground on this issue. They believe on a personal level that marriage is only an institution between men and women, yet at the same time they’re fair-minded and believe that others should be allowed to enjoy full rights as citizens.

These middle ground people often vote according to which question they are asked. If asked: should marriage be defined only as a union between one man and one woman, they’ll often vote yes. It’s what they believe. But if asked instead: should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, many of them will vote yes on that, especially if the language includes explicit protection for religious freedom. It sounds like a semantics issue, but it’s much more than that. How a question is asked taps into people’s deeply held beliefs about what is right and what is fair.

In all three states where marriage equality was approved in November, the language used on the ballot was directly responsible for helping to insure success. Straight voters were not asked about the definition of marriage, they were asked if their fellow citizens should have the same rights they already enjoy.

These lessons about controlling the message, making the message more accessible to the average person, and insuring that ballot language reflects what is actually being voted on will help pave the way for future success down the road in other states.

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