Friday, June 17, 2016

Huffington Post debut: "The fight for our national character"

I am tremendously excited that my writing career has just been taken to the next level. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in this blog having pitched an article to a major international news outlet. I am happy to announce that yesterday I was officially invited to write for The Huffington Post. My debut article, "The fight for our national character", is a critical examination of the response of social media to President Obama's Memorial Day weekend trip to Hiroshima, looking at it as a microcosm of the larger war of ideals being waged in America.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Guest Post: An open letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Bernie,

I know, man. It sucks. I get it, believe me. I was really holding out hope that you would somehow just slay all the polls yesterday. But I guess this country just isn't ready for you yet, like it arguably wasn't ready for a woman yet, eight years ago.* Progress is slow. Still, you did a fantastic job at getting people motivated and getting some more folks thinking about what is wrong with this country. That being said, there is a larger threat now, and we need to unite against it.
At best, Trump would make us the laughingstock of the civilized world (he already kind of has, but we can still be redeemed, at this point), and at worst, and perhaps most likely, he will destroy us as a country. It's like he forgot that the word "United" is even in the name of this place. But you haven't.
We need to unite now, Bernie. Our country depends on it.
You ran an amazing campaign, and you went from being virtually unknown to becoming as much of a household name as the other two candidates left in this race. But there's no way to win it now, Bernie. Others were saying this prematurely, but now I think most of us will agree on this point. I'm sorry.
I understand wanting to take it to the convention, believe me. I'm one of those people who always has to have the last word in an argument, too. And I'm stubborn as hell, especially when I know that I'm right. So I'm asking you, as one passionate, hard-headed person to another, please think about the greater good, now. (And, if that's not enough, consider the looming evil.)



* While I personally think Obama was the better candidate (in 2008), I am sure there were people who just didn't want to vote for a woman.

Editor’s note: Heather Hewitt Chowdhury is an actor, singer, freelance editor, and works professionally promoting the safety and well-being of vulnerable persons. This open letter to Bernie Sanders was originally posted on her Facebook page. My sincere thanks for her gracious permission to publish it here. The decision to publish this letter here should not be taken as an indictment of the "Bernie or Bust" movement, nor should it be understood as inviting criticism of those who continue to support Bernie's candidacy. Rather, I felt it presented a thoughtful and well-stated alternative point of view.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

Ah, June – also known as LGBT Pride Month.  It's the time of year when that most iconic LGBT sigil – the rainbow flag – becomes the central motif of our summer celebrations. It decorates our homes, our businesses, our cars, our bodies, hell, even our pets!
A friend of mine once remarked of me that for a “relatively straight-acting gay man” (don't even get me started on that blatantly oxymoronic turn-of-phrase) I had more rainbow-clad gear than anyone he knew.
I've never understood how displaying pride gear engenders the expectation of other stereotypical behavior, but, whatever.
For my part, I think it's just about wanting to make the world around me as colorful as the one inside my head.
I have never been too much the flamboyant type. ...Okay, that's a lie – a giant, blatant, big, buggering falsehood! In truth, when I first came out of the closet back in 1997, I came crashing out!  I must have embraced every stereotype out there: the effeminate behavior, the "swish", the catty attitude, the fashion sense, hell, I even did drag – and I was pretty damn good at it, too, I don't mind telling you!
As I got older and became a somewhat more spiritually-focused person, I grew out of most that.  ...Oh I still fit into the gay stereotype in a lot of ways, they're just less obvious now.  Having said that, even still, it is freakin' hilarious to me when someone, such as a co-worker or outside observer, is surprised to learn about my orientation.

Some thoughts about self-hating gays

A few years ago, during my now infamous and mercifully brief foray into restaurant management, a co-worker – indeed a very lesbian co-worker – told me the rainbow button I wore on my hat “bothered” her.  “It’s hard enough for gay people to get ahead in this world,” she told me. “It’s even worse in small town, rural upstate New York.  I think it is unprofessional be so ‘out there’ with our sexuality in the work place.  It places us at a disadvantage because of people’s unspoken prejudices.”
Never mind that this little nugget of wisdom, fully soaked in her own self-righteousness, comes from the mind of a woman who openly admits contempt for the LGBT community, which, in my humble opinion makes her the worst kind of gay person: a self-hating one! ...But, I digress.
Listen, I don't agree with everything that goes on in the LGBT community – especially among gay men. And I, too, have wrestled with what seems to be the inevitable self-loathing that comes from getting older in this community. But sometimes you've got to look at the larger picture. Motivational Speaker and Life Coach Joel Readence wrote a wonderful piece on this in The Huffington Post. He writes, "This community’s fight for equality and real acceptance is far from over. But we don’t stand a chance of reaching our goal if we destroy ourselves from the inside out."

Silence is deadly, unity is hope

Personally, I believe silence does us a greater disservice – even now, when LGBT people know more acceptance than ever before, and the rights of LGBT people are at the forefront of our national conversation. We have seen – especially recently – what happens when we become complacent and fall silent: eventually the bigots find a champion, and the march of progress comes screeching to a halt.
Nothing to me is more sickening than using the preservation of one person's rights as an argument for taking away the rights of someone else.
So bring on the rainbow flags!  Show your colors, gay America!  We are, after all, in the month set aside for that.  LGBT Pride isn’t just about celebrating ourselves individually, but the strength of who we are together.
...Wait what?  ...A united LGBT community?  Hell, that is worth celebrating!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

There's the windup ... and here's the pitch!

I've been writing professionally off and on since 2007, and I've had work published in some substantial places. I've even had work appear in some pretty major media outlets. But this will be the first time I've ever actually pitched an article to an international news outlet.
I was moved to this by the recent vitriol I've seen thrown at President Obama over his visit to Hiroshima last Friday. Seeing what I've seen on Facebook and other social media, I could not help but think that this Memorial Day weekend has served as something of a microcosm of a larger war of ideals.
I needed to speak my mind.
And with the recent revival of my professional writing career this seemed the ideal motivation to approach a major news outlet. I have entitled the piece, "The fight for our national character: How four days in May showed us the best and worst in American culture".
Here's hoping!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Senate Republicans to veterans: your future not as important as ours

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a legislative press conference.
Shrewd politics or business as usual?  Senate Republicans have said unequivocally that it is more important to them to deny Obama a legislative victory before an election, than it is to do the right thing for our nation’s men and women in uniform.
S.3457, the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, was a $1 billion jobs package that proposed the establishment of a veterans jobs corps that would have put up to 20,000 veterans to work in their local communities over the next five years.
The bill, which came up on the senate floor for a vote on Wednesday, September 19, called for job openings to be created in “conservation, resource management, and historic preservation projects on public lands and maintenance and improvement projects for cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the National Cemetery Administration; and as firefighters and law enforcement officers.”
Acting in true form, however, senate Republicans, many of whom had spent the better part of the Republican National Convention touting the importance of job creation and veterans’ benefits, voted rank-and-file against the bill, merely to deny President Obama a legislative victory before the general election in November.
Just what are we telling the some 800,000 unemployed veterans in this country?  What message are we sending to the next generation?  That it is okay to place politics ahead of the needs of our nation’s defenders; the men and women who sacrificed and bled bravely for our country?  Need we even be reminded of how many of these men and women never came home?  Is their memory and the honor, courage and sacrifice of those veterans who did make it home not worth the commitment of our government to do the right thing, partisan politics aside?
What about all these politicians who spend so much time saying that caring for America’s veterans is our country’s “most sacred duty”?
“The fact is, it’s a national disgrace that veterans’ unemployment is 14 percent,” said Sen. John McCain, directly to the face of veteran and citizen journalist Meg Lanker-Simons at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, “That’s a national disgrace. And we’ve got to try to find more ways and better ways to hire veterans. And that has got to be our highest priority.”
Right on, Sen. McCain!  Well said!  Few people in this country would disagree.
So why then, a few short weeks later, did you vote to kill the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, right before you voted yourself and your fellow senators on vacation for the remainder of the election?
“We already have six veterans’ job-training programs, but what the heck? Let’s, ah, let's have another one,” said McCain in a sarcastic tone on the floor of the United States Senate.  I wonder, where, then, was all this “national disgrace” impetus that characterized his remarks to that veteran at the RNC?
“Instead of meeting us halfway, we have been met with resistance. Instead of saying yes to the nearly 1 million unemployed veterans, it seems some on the other side have spent the last week and a half seeking any way to say no,” said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
And there we’ve hit the proverbial nail right on the head, haven’t we?  From as far back as 2009’s rise of the Tea Party to Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s now infamous remark that “our top political priority over the next two years ought to be to deny President Obama a second term,” Republicans have held the progress of our nation hostage merely so that they can attempt to win back the White House, and get themselves re-elected.
Repeatedly they shoot down legislation intended to bolster the economy and create jobs, so that they can stand on their soap boxes and point their fingers at President Obama for his “failed economic policies”. 
Make no mistake folks, the failure is not President Obama’s.  The failure is with the party that sabotages the political process in order to accuse a President of failures that are not his own, but are instead failures of the party. The failure is with any politician who puts political ambition or the party line before the job the American people elected them to do; that which is in the best interest of the country and its citizens.
In an effort to get re-elected as well as to deny President Obama a second term, senate Republicans have said to the electorate that their political future is more important to them than our veterans.  But this should come as no surprise.  They have repeatedly said that their political future is more important to them than middle class families, civil rights, balanced budgets, healthcare, or jobs.  Why should our nation’s veterans fare any differently on their list of priorities?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Doctor to patient: your religion is ‘very offensive’

Practicing Witch Kristen Menard and the pentacle necklace she wears every day as an expression of her Wiccan faith.  Image by KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, LA.

Dateline, 1956 – A Louisiana doctor is drawing attention for having asked his patient, Kristen Menard, a practicing Witch for more than 15 years, to remove her pentacle medallion because it was “very offensive to (him) and (his) Christian clientele.”
There’s only one problem with this story so far.  It’s not 1956.  By gawd (sic) it’s 2012!
I suppose it should come as no surprise that ignorance and intolerance of this level still exist in the world.  Even in the United States, the world’s bastion of freedom and so-called democracy (more on that remark in a later article), here in the twenty-first century we are still plagued with widespread bigotry and cultural ignorance (only these days we have the class enough at least to veil it – albeit thinly – under the auspices of groups like the Tea Party).
Like most Witches, Menard wears a silver pentacle medallion around her neck.  The display of this symbol is no different an expression, of course, from the wearing of a cross or Star of David.  Like all such religious symbols, the wearing of the pentacle is an outward testament of a person’s faith and beliefs.
“I wear it every day. It’s a symbol of protection and each point (of the star) represents something different,” says Menard.
“In my faith that is wrong,” says Lake Charles, LA chiropractor Shaine Rider, “It’s very offensive to me and I don't want that in my office.  And if someone can’t respect that enough to put in their shirt then there is going to be a problem.”
Menard claims that for the first month or so she was in Dr. Rider’s care, he frequently questioned her about the medallion, implying through his line of questioning that he believed it to be satanic.  Recently, however, Dr. Rider’s questioning turned into an ultimatum.

Lake Charles, LA Chiropractor Dr. Shaine Rider, who says Menard's "flaunting" of her pentacle is "wrong" and "offensive".  Image by KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, LA.  

     “He said you are going to have to take that necklace, put it away or take it off,” said Menard, recalling the incident, “I said ‘why?’ I didn't understand. And he said something about his son.”
Standing her ground, Menard refused.
“I said ‘I'm not taking this off,’ and that’s when he said basically he couldn’t treat me. And I walked out,” Menard said.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Rider’s explanation illustrates a poor understanding of what Witches actually believe.
 “Those signs and those symbols are very satanic and very new age,” said Rider.
Satanic?  That’s a pretty interesting leap for a religion that does not believe in Satan – or any devil-like figure for that matter.
Himself a devout catholic, Dr. Rider claims he never asked Menard to take her necklace off and that he never refused to treat her, though he did go on to say, “She came in and I very briefly said, and very nicely said, ‘Would you mind doing me a favor? Would you mind putting your pentagram inside your shirt?  …It’s very offensive to me and other patients... those that are Christians.”
For the record, Menard was wearing a pentacle, not a pentagram.  What’s the difference?  A pentagram is a depiction of an interwoven star by itself.  A pentacle is a depiction of an interwoven star – pentagram – inside of a circle.  The latter symbol sees much more common usage among Pagans / Witches than a pentagram alone.  Why would I spend a whole paragraph on this distinction?  I don’t know… call it a pet peeve.
“I don't try to wear this on the outside of my shirt which is a scapular,” said Rider.  A scapular is a small religious object worn by Catholics that represents a particular devotion.  “It’s my belief.  It’s what I wear inside my shirt. That’s all I was asking her to do is put it inside her shirt out of respect for my beliefs, and for the loss of my child and for our faith here. And she got irate and called me names and left,” Rider said.
Dr. Rider may keep his scapular under his shirt, but his Catholic faith is nonetheless apparent.  A crucifix hangs on the wall of his office not far from a portrait of his son, whom he lost to cancer.
While the loss of Dr. Rider’s son is tragic, this writer fails to see how a patient wearing a pentacle is somehow disrespectful to the son’s memory.  Nor do I see how it disrespects other patients – or the good doctor himself for that matter.  Menard was wearing a symbol that expresses her faith.  The wearing of a religious symbol does not malign other religions not represented by that symbol.  It’s a freakin’ necklance, people, not a declaration of war!
“To discriminate against anybody – race, religion anything… is completely wrong,” Menard went on to say, “And it shouldn't happen especially when he’s a doctor and he’s supposed to treat somebody.”
What is perhaps most disturbing to me about this story is not simply the ignorance with which Dr. Rider approached this situation, making stupendous assumptions about the nature of Pagan beliefs, but that it rather illustrates an ingrained dichotomy present in Christianity; the belief that that if something is not Christian, it is satanic.
Facing this kind of intransigent belief which bases itself on blind faith, there is no hope for reason and enlightened discourse.  This is, at its core, the very reason that we, the supposed free-est society in the world, in the year 2012, still face the same ignorance and prejudices that have plagued us since the dawn of man.
To my mind, we will never be a truly free society until we can free our minds of hereditary prejudices, and, as Albert Einstein so eloquently suggested in his “Great spirits” soliloquy, boldly and thoughtfully use our intelligence.
Menard has rightly filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Chiropractic Association against Dr. Rider.  Sadly though, while it may force him to change his business practices, it will do nothing to change his closed and bigoted mind.