Monday, December 21, 2009

Homo Stupidicus

You've heard of Peking Man and Java Man. Now meet Mecklenburg Man.

This prehistoric specimen, Bill James, is a Mecklenburg County (N.C.) commissioner. At a recent public meeting in Charlotte, commissioners debated whether to offer domestic-partner benefits to county employees.

During the proceedings, James, a Republican white man, sat next to Vilma Leake, a Democratic black woman. Presumably each now wishes the other had been sitting in another country.

Leake revealed her personal tie to the debate: "A son that I birthed that died of AIDS and I did not know that in 2010 I would be sitting here to defend . . . his lifestyle," she said with fervor.

After her speech, James leaned over and asked, "Your son was a homo, really?"

James is a caveman, really.

Leake responded, "You're going to make me hurt you. Don't do that to me. Don't talk about my son."

After the vote--the board approved domestic-partner benefits for Mecklenburg County employees in same-sex relationships—Leake briefly left her seat, still smarting.

She wants an apology, and the chair of the commission agrees. James told the Charlotte Observer he won't apologize. He said he was just asking for a clarification, wasn't making a derogatory comment, and used a slang word he grew up with.

Language was limited in the cave.

WBTV asked James for an interview, but he said with all the recent talking and interviews he'd lost his voice. Before you say hallelujah, check out how ignorant and nasty he can be when he types.

In an e-mail to the TV station, James called Leake "a religious hypocrite" who "used her son's 'lifestyle' and his death from HIV-AIDS to justify voting for benefits to allow individuals to use tax dollars to engage in the same behavior that resulted in her son's death.

"It is akin to someone whose son is an alcoholic and died from the disease, using his death from drinking as justification to have the taxpayers pay for more booze."

Somewhere, a Cro-Magnon village is missing its idiot.

He devoted his longest paragraph to taking Leake to task for threatening him with violence, saying that's her pattern. He has a long history of shooting from the lip, but that he omitted.

It seems to me the average homophobic politician of today makes an effort to avoid obviously anti-gay language. James is below average. With people calling for his ouster for his initial insensitivity, instead of hushing up, he spewed bile till Charlotte was knee-deep.

Not very politic for a politician. My guess is he likes that, views himself as a straight-shooter. Or he might simply be such a Neanderthal that all he knows how to do is speak his simple mind, then if there's trouble, automatically start swinging. He skipped evolution or evolution skipped him.

Before he lost his voice, James spoke on local talk radio's "Keith Larson Show." He said, "If Vilma is, frankly, dumb enough to try to use her sick and sadly dead son as justification for allowing more sickness and more death, then I've got a right to challenge that, in a public setting, in the arena."

Yes, he called a fellow county commissioner dumb. Yes, he again said being gay is lethal. Yes, a paramecium has more brains and compassion.

How long will the people of Mecklenburg County put up with James? His initial slur even disturbed people who agree with him. It and his subsequent statements should get him booted from the commissioner's chair.

Perhaps he'll land in a natural history museum, where he'll be linked with Peking Man, Java Man and others that—to his intense embarrassment—belong to the species Homo erectus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Rainbow and TV Icons

Meredith Baxter's announcement that she is a lesbian has put a--you should excuse the expression--kink in the long line of all-American TV moms.

It's not June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson who has come out, but as Elyse Keaton on "Family Ties," Baxter was a loving mother and wife, a maternal anchor on a hugely popular show that ran during most of the '80s.

Now Baxter isn't just a member of the TV-mom sorority. She's also one of those LGBT actors who played iconic straight roles. Sometimes America's favorite, most heterosexual characters were played by actors who, well, were really, really acting.

Baxter says only relatively recently did she figure out she's gay, so she wasn't consciously hiding anything. From the television audience, anyway. Whether she was hiding anything from herself is between her, her therapist and, this being L.A., her other therapist.

Elyse Keaton, a liberal former hippie, had what so many TV moms had over the decades preceding her: maternal warmth, patience, wisdom. She also had what a TV mom needed by the '80s: a job, although I admit I couldn't remember she was an architect. You could argue that handling her conservative son Alex, famously played by Michael J. Fox, was work enough.

During the '80s Elyse Keaton was and she remains still one of America's best-known mothers. Now we know one of America's famous mommies was a lesbian. Life is good.

I had no idea back in the '70s that Grandpa Walton was anything other than straight as a board from the Walton family sawmill. In fact, Will Geer was more like the curly shavings.

Grandpa, patriarch of "The Waltons," was a good-natured character. Hard-working, dedicated to his family, wise, mischievous and fond of visiting the Baldwin sisters for a nip of upscale moonshine, he was still in love with his wife of a zillion years. I'd guess that regardless of class, race, religion or anything, many Americans would've loved to have Zeb Walton as their grandfather. He was the definition of endearing. Sort of a walrus meets a panda.

I can't think of any other grandfather on TV more appealing. Actually, I can hardly think of any other grandfather. Grandpa Munster? He was more all-Transylvanian than all-American.

When Will Geer took the role of Zeb Walton, he'd already had a long career on the stage and in film and television. He was attracted to radical politics; actress Helen Hayes once called him "the world's oldest hippie." In 1933 Geer met Harry Hay, who would later be one of the founders of gay liberation. The two men became lovers.

Geer was married for 20 years, and it seems the most accurate label for him is bisexual. America's ultimate grandfather dug both men and women. On Walton's Mountain, things weren't quite what they seemed.

Things weren't at all what they seemed in the case of one of America's foremost TV dads. Robert Reed, Mike Brady in "The Brady Bunch," was gay. That secret was hidden even better than whatever happened to Tiger the dog.

According to, Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady, spoke of her TV husband during her recent one-woman show. "I always felt so sad for him because in the early '70s you couldn't come out because you wouldn't work," she said. "And here he was playing the father of America and he was gay."

Reed spent more time in the closet than Alice spent in the kitchen.

Speaking of Ann B. Davis, I've heard the rumors but I've no idea what her orientation is. Perhaps she's straight, perhaps not. If not, then in addition to an iconic TV mother, grandfather and father, we could even claim a housekeeper, too.