Monday, August 31, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

In Utah it's legal to fire someone for being gay. The state's new governor has served notice he'll change that the day the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Metallica.

In his first monthly televised news conference, Gary Herbert said discriminating against gay people shouldn't be illegal, but gosh darn, he sure would like it if everyone were treated with respect.

The Republican said sexual orientation shouldn't be a protected class like race and religion. Apparently he feels some groups deserve more of that aforementioned respect than others.

"We don't have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing. We ought to just do the right thing because it's the right thing to do and we don't have to have a law that punishes us if we don't," he said.

And for his next attempt at straddling, the governor will try to balance atop the rock spires of Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park.

It's a lovely idea that everybody will simply do the right thing. If the world worked that way, we wouldn't need laws at all.

This country has gradually put laws in place guaranteeing the right thing for everyone. Now it's time to finish the job by extending fairness and freedom to the LGBT community. But there's a man in Utah standing in the way, his feet un-firmly planted on a couple of Bryce Canyon's hoodoos.

Herbert, formerly Utah's lieutenant governor, got his promotion when Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman became U.S. ambassador to China. Last year Huntsman backed extending some rights to gays, but the bills failed. Huntsman also favored same-sex civil unions.

Herbert, who's in charge until a special election in 2010, looks to be a different kettle of annoying fish.

In July the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission released a report showing discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors happens frequently in the city. The capital city is now eyeing an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays.

Gov. Herbert said he won't pass judgment on the ordinance until he's read it. At last, there's something he and I can agree on! But he also said he doesn't like the notion of protected classes in general.

"Where do you stop? I mean that's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes . . . or people who are losing their hair a little bit," said Herbert. "There's some support for about anything we put out there. I'm just saying we end up getting bogged down sometimes with the minutiae of things that government has really no role to be involved in."

So, how do you like being called minutiae?

The tune of that old Dr. Pepper commercial comes to mind. Instead of "I'm a Pepper," try, "I'm trivial. He's trivial. Wouldn't you like to be trivial, too?"

Equality Utah fights for gay rights in the Beehive State. Will Carlson, its public policy director, told The Associated Press he wants to meet with Gov. Herbert to explain a few things.

"We don't have an epidemic of blonde-haired, blue-eyed people getting fired or evicted. We do have a situation where gay and transgender people are being evicted and losing their jobs, not for job performance, but because they're gay or transgender," said Carlson.

It turns out gay rights aren't the only area where Herbert holds a conservative opinion. He's skeptical of how much humans contribute to global warming, and he plans to host the first "legitimate" debate on the topic later this year.

Okaaaaay then.

The state of Utah is home to many fossils. Now Utahns have one in the governor's chair.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The School of Hard Knocks

I have a lot of respect for teachers. But not for two public high school teachers in Minnesota. I'd like to see those two sitting in the corner of the teachers' lounge wearing dunce caps.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District probably won't go for that idea, but it does find itself paying $25,000 to the family of a high school junior thanks to the teachers' harassment of the student over his perceived sexual orientation.

And how they harassed. StarTribune.com, citing an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, reported several of social studies teacher Diane Cleveland's bon mots.

During a class in the 2007-2008 school year, Cleveland said the boy's "fence swings both ways." On another occasion she nimbly expanded her library of metaphors, allegedly saying the kid's "boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class."

With a teacher like that, bullies are redundant.

When the junior asked to go to the bathroom, Cleveland supposedly responded, "Would you like to have [another allegedly gay student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?" Presumably this was a reference to Idaho Sen. Larry Craig and his busy bathroom feet, an incident then in the news that occurred at the Minneapolis airport, not far from this school district.

Only the most together young person could've come up with an appropriate response like, "Why yes, could you arrange that for me?" The average kid would've prayed to shrink to the size of an eraser.

The student wrote a report on Ben Franklin, prompting Cleveland allegedly to say, in front of the whole class, that he had a "thing for older men." When the boy chose Abraham Lincoln for a different assignment, another teacher, Walter Filson, allegedly said, "Since you like your men older . . . "

Did these two synchronize their witticisms in the teacher parking lot?

I feel confident the boy wouldn't have escaped the taunting if he'd chosen other historical figures. Had he reported on Abigail Adams or Harriet Beecher Stowe, for instance, Cleveland and Filson would've mocked him for being as female as they were.

Filson also quipped in front of other students that the kid "enjoys wearing women's clothes." At one point a student in Filson's class talked about a deer that had been molested—yes, really—and said, "Hey, Mr. Filson, doesn't that sound like something [the boy perceived to be gay] would do?" Filson reportedly agreed and laughed, in a heartwarming show of camaraderie between student and teacher.

Not surprisingly, the boy enduring this abuse transferred to another school 25 miles away. Cleveland and Filson should've been transferred to Pluto, but that's not what happened.

In 2008 the district responded to the harassment allegations against Cleveland by placing her on two-day unpaid suspension and briefly reassigning her. That reassignment included working on a social studies curriculum and reflecting on diversity in the classroom. But Cleveland called in sick four of the five days. I guess she came down with an acute case of resentment.

Soon afterward she was back at work. It's unknown whether Filson, a law enforcement teacher, received any discipline. Both remain teachers, so I hope the settlement money they cost the district embarrasses them into better behavior. If it will keep other kids safe from this kind of cruelty, I'm not above rooting for shame.

In February a sexual orientation curriculum for staff and students kicked in. I doubt Cleveland and Filson will learn much, but I have faith that other teachers will earn top grades and a smiley face.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

I think we can call it official. Along with death and taxes, there's something else we can always count on: socially conservative politicians getting caught with their family values around their ankles.

The current headlining hypocrite is Tennessee state Sen. Paul Stanley, 47, a Republican who represents suburban Memphis. Stanley, married with two children, had a sexual relationship with intern McKensie Morrison, 22. The affair came to light after Morrison's boyfriend, Joel Watts, tried to extort $10,000 from Stanley. In his hot little hands Watts had hot little photos of Morrison taken by the senator.

I don't imagine those pictures are going to make it into the Stanley family album.

Stanley initially planned to remain in the Senate, but instead resigned. On his Web site he apologized for his "errors" and wrote, "Giving myself to (God) and rebuilding my family relationships are now the focus of my life."

What if God doesn't want him? Can God decline?

Stanley is keenly aware of having been a shining knight of the right who fell off his horse into manure. He wrote "many have criticized me for violating pro-family stances I have taken on a number of issues. I firmly believe God's standards are where they have always been. Just because I fell far short of those standards, does not negate the standard set by God."

Sounds to me like a template for slippery knights who come after him. When sitting in the manure, the next knight should declare he's not perfect, God is, and for a while he had the honor and joy of jousting on behalf of God. Until his lance got in the way.

Stanley has surely been a conservative force in Tennessee. On his site he boasted of receiving a 100 percent rating from the NRA and Tennessee Right to Life.

A Memphis Planned Parenthood executive met with Stanley in April and recently blogged, "He told us that he didn't believe young people should have sex before marriage anyway, that his faith and church are important to him, and he wants to promote abstinence."

Yes, unmarried people shouldn't have sex. Married people, however, can have sex all over the place.

Morrison the intern is married as well, to a man in a Florida prison, enabling her to practice the-world-is-your-oyster principle of marriage, too.

Where Stanley really took the social conservative lead was in the fight against gay adoption. The Methodist Sunday school teacher sponsored a bill early this year prohibiting any cohabiting unmarried couples from adopting children. It was Stanley's second try, having filed the same bill in 2008, the stubborn son of a gun.

His legislation would've prevented unmarried straight couples from adopting, but Tennesseans knew the bill's main aim was to block homosexuals from adopting.

Tennessee may be the Volunteer State, but Stanley didn't want just any old body volunteering.

He told a Christian news service that he espied a problem in the adoption process. "We were having a lot of [unmarried] individuals apply to adopt children from state custody . . . what we were finding is that some of those individuals were in same-sex relationships," he said. "And we just thought it was not advantageous to have children who are the responsibility of the state being placed in such homes."

Heavens no. Far better they languish unwanted and unloved. I'm sure that's what Jesus would say.

Stanley also stated he thinks same-sex couples can't adequately meet the emotional, physical and mental needs of children. Where did that silliness come from, "The Boy's Book of Bigotry?"

Humans make mistakes. All of us. Sometimes a fall is just sad. This isn't one of those times.