Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I Love This Woman

Here is the complete text of the speech delivered on the floor of the Texas Legislature in early April 25, 2005 by Reb. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) in opposition of HRJ 6, the proposed amendment to the Texas State Constitution that would ban marriage, civil unions, and any official legal recogniztion or protection for same-sex couples.

I have been a member of this august body for three decades, and today is one of the all-time low points. We are going in the wrong direction, in the direction of hate and fear and discrimination. Members, we all know what this is about; this is the politics of divisiveness at its worst, a wedge issue that is meant to divide.

Members, this issue is a distraction from the real things we need to be working on. At the end of this session, this Legislature, this Leadership will not be able to deliver the people of Texas, fundamental and fair answers to the pressing issues of our day.

Let’s look at what this amendment does not do: It does not give one Texas citizen meaningful tax relief. It does not reform or fully fund our education system. It does not restore one child to CHIP, who was cut from health insurance last session. It does not put one dime into raising Texas’ Third World access to health care. It does not do one thing to care for or protect one elderly person or one child in this state. In fact, it does not even do anything to protect one marriage.

Members, this bill is about hate and fear and discrimination. I know something about hate and fear and discrimination. When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about "protecting the institution of marriage" as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. Chisum’s color, you’d often find the people of my color hanging from a tree. That’s what the white folks did back then to "protect marriage." Fifty years ago, white folks thought inter-racial marriages were a "threat to the institution of marriage."

Members, I’m a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book, and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, "gay people can’t marry." I have never read the verse where it says, "thou shalt discriminate against those not like me." I have never read the verse where it says, "let’s base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination." Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness – not hate and discrimination.

I have served in this body a lot of years-- and I have seen a lot of promises broken. I should be up here demanding my 40 acres and a mule because that’s another promise you broke. You used a wealthy white minister cloaked in the cloth to ease the stench of that form of discrimination.

So, now that blacks and women can vote, and now that blacks and women have equal rights – you turn your hatred to homosexuals – and you still use your misguided reading of the Bible to justify your hatred. You want to pass this ridiculous amendment so you can go home and brag – brag about what? Declare that you saved the people of Texas from what?

Persons of the same sex cannot get married in this State now. Texas does not now recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, religious unions, domestic partnerships, contractual arrangements or Christian blessings entered into in this State – or anywhere else on this planet Earth.

If you want to make your hateful political statements then that is one thing – the Chisum amendment does real harm. It repeals the contracts that many single people have paid thousands of dollars to purchase to obtain medical powers of attorney, powers of attorney, hospital visitation, joint ownership and support agreements. You have lost your way – this is obscene.

Today, you are playing to the lowest common denominator – you are putting aside the real issues of substance that we need to address so that you can instead play on the public’s fears and prejudices to deceive and manipulate voters into thinking that we have done something important.

I realize that gay rights are not the same as civil rights – but I can guarantee you we are going in the wrong direction. I can not hide my skin color. In fact, in most of the South, people as pink as Rep. Wayne Smith were still Black by law if they had a great grandparent who was African. I was unable to attend an integrated and equally funded school until I got my Master of Laws degree. There were separate and unequal facilities for nearly everything.

I got second-hand textbooks even worse than the kind you’re trying to pass off on every public school student next year. I had to ride to school on the back of the bus. I had to quench my thirst from filthy colored’s-only drinking fountains. I had to enter restaurants from the kitchen door. I was banned from entering most public accommodations, even from serving on a jury. I had to live with the fear that getting too uppity could get you killed – or worse. I know what third-class citizenship feels like. In my first term, one of my colleagues walked up and down this aisle muttering about how Nigras should be back in the field picking cotton instead of picking out committees.

So, I have to wonder about Rep. Chisum’s 3/5 of a person amendment. Some of you folks hid behind your Bible then, too, to justify your cultural prejudices, your denial of liberty, and your gunpoint robbery of human dignity.

We have worked hard at putting our prejudices against homosexuals in law. We have denied them basic job protections. We have denied them and their children freedom from bullying and harassment at school. We have tried to criminalize their very existence. But, we have also absolved them of all family duties and responsibilities: to care for and support their spouses and children, to count their family’s assets in determining public assistance, to obtain health insurance for dependents, to make end-of-life or necessary medical decisions for their life partners – sometimes even to visit in the hospital, even to defend our own country. And then, we can stand on our two hind legs and proclaim, "See, I told you homosexual families are unstable."

And nearly every one of you on this Floor has a homosexual in their extended families. Some of you have shunned and isolated these family members. Some of you, even some of the joint coauthors, have embraced them within your own family for the essence of Christianity is love. Yet, you are now poised to constitutionalize discrimination against a particular class of people.

I thought we would be debating real issues: education, health care for kids, teacher’s health insurance, health care for the elderly, protecting survivors of sexual assault, protecting the pensions of seniors in nursing homes. I thought we would be debating economic development, property tax relief, protecting seniors pensions and stem cell research, to save lives of Texans who are waiting for a more abundant life. Instead we are wasting this body’s time with this political stunt that is nothing more than constitutionalizing discrimination. The prejudices exhibited by members of this body disgust me.

Last week, Republicans used a political wedge issue to pull kids – sweet little vulnerable kids – out of the homes of loving parents and put them back in a state orphanage just because those parents are gay. That’s disgusting. Today, we are telling homosexuals that just like people of my ilk, when I was a small child; they too are second class citizens.

I have listened to all the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap. Mr. Chisum, is a person who I consider my good friend and revere. But, I want you to know that this amendment is blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry. You are trying to protect your constituents from danger. This amendment is a CYB amendment for you to go home and talk about.

God bless her courage and conviction. Her priorities seem to be in the right place. Which is more than I can say the the rest of the Texas Legislature, which promptly passed the measure 101-29, approving the amendment to appear on the November statewide ballot.

Shameless Plug

Indulge me for a moment while I sing the praises of a new dining establishment in the heart of Little Rock.

My friend Kevin Brockmeier (the award-winning author of The Truth About Celia and Things That Fall From The Sky) read a notice in the May 19, 2005, edition of the Arkansas Times on From The Garden, the new vegan soul food carry-out restaurant at Izard and Wright in downtown Little Rock.

Today, Kevin, Diane, and I (all of us vegetarian and members of the Manny Perry Movie Club) stopped by the restaurant for lunch today and could not have been more pleased. The food was delicious and appealing to a wide palette. The three of us sampled each others’ dishes and found them all to be equally flavorful and satisfying. Especially good was the Black Eyed Pea Patties served with brown gravy and sweet onions, the Seitan Pepper "Steak" over angel hair pasta, the wonderfully savory mustard greens, and the subtly sweet corn pones.

After years of hit and miss vegetarian options at area restaurants, it’s heartening to see a dedicated establishment with such hearty fare. I’ll definitely be going to The Garden often and urge others, even if you are not vegetarian, to do likewise.

From The Garden is located at the intersection of Izard and Wright streets in downtown Little Rock. It is open noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and closed on Saturday. Pick up a menu on your first visit and then you can call in your order to (501) 374-8494.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

So, I went to see Star Wars today...

A co-worker and I took a three-hour lunch today to go see SWE3:ROTS. I'm reserving my final judgment on how good I think it is until I see it again in a couple of weeks and it all sinks in a little. But it's DEFINITELY better than the two most recently screened installments. Combined. Maybe.

I most appreciated the fact that in this film the characters drove the story rather than the story driving the characters, which not only was the case with Episodes I & II, but also would have been exceptionally easy, given that this film is the only of the three that had a pre-determined ending.

In fact, Lucas hit all the marks he needed to with this one, even though E3 is still in action overdrive. I wish at least one of the films had a beginning similar to Empire or Jedi in the sense in both of those films you had the first reel or two of the film to focus on the characters and how they relate to one another. Too much lately, Lucas has treated his actors like chess pieces; foils he plays off of one another in service of the plot. The end result is that even when you reach the finale in which the characters are more of the focus (because the plot is pre-determined), their relationships seem strained and unnatural. You believed Han Solo and Princess Leia were in love not only because Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher had chemistry between them, but because the bickering and insults that characterized most of their relationship belied a depth and range of passion and a conflict of desire that made their interactions all the more interesting. But then, there's not been a character as interesting as Han Solo in the new trilogy, and Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman might as well have been filmed on different soundstages for all the chemistry they deliver on screen.

So, in essense, my major gripe with this movie lies less with what occurs in this movie and more, still, with what failed to occur in the last two.

That said, this is the only one of the first three episodes I've wanted to see again almost immediately after the film ended. If my initial feeling holds up I think I think this one will be regarded more closely with Episodes IV-VI. And I have to admit, I teared up a little when the twins were born near the end of the film.

My co-worker Philip's nine year-old son has seen Episodes I & II, but not IV, V, or VI. So, when he comes for his summer visit in June, Philip's plan is to show him I & II on dvd, take him to see III in the theater, and then show him IV, V, and VI. Sounds like a real father/son bonding experience.

I realized a couple of weeks ago rewatching my dvd of RETURN OF THE JEDI that you experience the old trilogy differently after seeing the new one. for example, when the Emporer is using the Force lightening to fry young Jedi Luke, you now have a broader context in which to understand why Vader turns against the Palpatine. You call to mind Anakin's love for Padme, the lies told to him by the Emporer, his personal guilt for betraying the Jedi (not to mention the true horror and depth of his attocity) and the conflict that initially led Anakin to the Dark Side. In Luke (a Jedi whose passions are an ally with the Force) and Leia, you see how it is that Anakin brings "balance" to the Force and why the Jedi Order must also perish along with the Sith for this balance to occur. I also realize I am a tremendous geek and that it's a miracle I've ever been kissed.

Anyone else see it already? Did you spot the Millennium Falcon? And, if you haven't already, pay a visit to The Darth Side.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wow. I really haven't posted since September. How embarrassing. Or would be embarrassing if anyone actually read this thing.

Still the time off has let me regroup a bit, given me a bit of focus on what I want this blog to be. I think I'll try to make the political aspect of it slightly less reactionary. Which is to say I'd rather argue FOR progressive policy rather than rail just AGAINST the daily outrage provided by the entrenched power structure. It may be a good to approach religion from the same perspective.

I've become obsessed with the mp3 blog culture that's emerged over the last few years. It is now what the indie zines were ten years ago. Made all the better,of course, because of the ability to include the actual music in the coverage. Plus, I enjoy writing about music. My challenge will be to contribute something that isn't virtually identical to the hundreds of other writers out there.

To that end, I'd like to post about the music I want to share with my friends. Old music. New music. Obscure music. Popular music. What have you... I'll have about ten to twenty people's faces pictured in my head when making my selections; people who share my musical taste to some degree, but are all unique enough that hopefully a general audience will want to visit.

Of course, I still have to work out a few hosting issues to make sure people can actually access the music without having to go through any undue trials and tribulations.

Watch this space.