Sunday, June 26, 2016

Two Weeks, One Year and Three Years

 
The week following the Orlando massacre was rough for me. The slaughter of 49 of my gay brothers and sisters and the injuring of another 52 more two weeks ago today passed relatively unnoticed at our embassy, and I found that personally devastating. Our Ambassador, whose leadership I greatly admire, was out of town. And consequently, we didn't have a condolence book. We were told at country team that we could have one if we wanted but that the Charge' didn't have strong feelings about it.

I nearly walked out of country team.

I am sure no harm was meant by the comment, but it harmed me. And perhaps anyone else who was LGBT, or had LGBT family or friends, or who had been touched by gun violence, or who just cared that their fellow Americans were mowed down by a madman able to get an assault rifle.

And then I had to fight to get our local LGBT activists to be ALLOWED to have a memorial vigil at the embassy. To be ALLOWED to light 49 candles for those who were lost. I was devastated all over again.

But several healing things happened since then. First, we did have the memorial. Not at the embassy like they wanted, but at least at USAID and not downtown away from the embassy. And it was really touching.


And then our Ambassador returned, and told us how sad he had been not to be with us when that happened. And how awful what had happened was and how he knew how hard it was to be so far away when this happened. And how we were lucky, because we were in a position to serve the country and to help make the U.S. and the world a better place.

And that helped a lot.

And so today I am celebrating. Because today I am reminded that it has been three years to the day since the Supreme Court ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
This is what I wrote about it at the time:


"We were on vacation in Norway when the ruling was first announced. I had been waiting for it for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on Wednesday, and it did, but I had not told my wife that this was when we would hear. She had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog over the past few weeks for fear I would jinx it. So I watched the clock anxiously that day and never told her I was watching the clock.

We got back into our hotel room around 4:20, or 10:20 DC time, and I immediately jumped on Facebook to see what had happened. She sat on the bed, and did the same thing, only she wasn't looking for the results. She thought we would hear the next day, because she thought the rulings were issued at the end of the day. As tears welled up in my eyes, I heard her say, "Wait, what? Did they? No..."

I said, "Honey, we are full citizens."

I didn't get up...I didn't want her to see me crying...and then she came over to me, tears streaming down her face. Neither of us had expected to cry. She had expected them to rule against us...and I had figured they would do what they did but was at the same time afraid to hope for it. I expected I would scream or dance or both.

But we both cried together. Together, apparently, with thousands of other LGBT people who felt finally accepted by their country. Who felt they were finally full citizens. Within minutes, I saw several proposals online, including one from one of my closest friends to her partner of more than 20 years. They had always considered themselves married, and she asked if her partner if she would now marry her legally. Of course she said yes. And I cried again.

What this means for us is that we no longer have to worry about being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. We never have to worry about being able to claim the other's body for burial should the unthinkable happen. We can inherit each other's property and pensions without paying inheritance taxes. We are no longer legal strangers."

One year later, I wrote about the astounding changes that had happened in that time. Marriage bans across the country were dropping like flies. We were able to go about our lives and do everything exactly the way other married couples do. And when we moved to our new house in Maryland, and went to go get our driver's licenses, one clerk accepted our mortgage document as proof of residence for my wife but not the same one as proof for me. When I went over to her at the window where she was to get the proof of car registration from her to use as proof since my mortgage paper wouldn't work, the clerk said, "Aren't you married?" When we said yes, the clerk said, "oh then she can vouch for your residency." So, yay bureaucracy?

And then a year after that, the unthinkable happened. On the two year anniversary of the Windsor decision finding DOMA unconstitutional. SCOTUS found ALL marriage bans unconstitutional.

We were finally full citizens. And I subsequently asked anyone who didn't respect my right to marriage to unfriend me, on Facebook or in real life.  But I added this:



"But before you do, I ask you to consider how you would feel if your spouse was hospitalized and weren't allowed in the room? I don't have to imagine. I have experienced it.

How would you feel if your spouse died, and you weren't allowed to bury him or her because you were a legal stranger and the law required immediate family to claim the body, even if that person was someone your spouse hated? What if you weren't allowed at the funeral? I have friends who experienced this after 20 or more years together.

How would you feel if you lost your home because your spouse died and you had to pay inheritance tax on "their half" of your home. It has happened to many gay people.

Civil marriage brings some 1,300 rights and responsibilities. Wills don't cover it. And some states could ignore even wills. And medical powers of attorney. It happened, a lot.

And hopefully it won't any more.

So maybe you still have religious beliefs that oppose marriage equality. Fine. But you don't get the right to impose those beliefs on others. Because you know what? My church believes in marriage equality. We were married in the church.

Think marriage is a Judeo-Christian ideal? Then why can atheists marry?

Think it is for procreation? Then why can the elderly and the infertile marry?

They can, because just as was determined in Loving v Virginia in 1967, marriage is about love, and it is a civil right.

And before you worry that this means your church will be required to marry gay people, it won't. A Catholic priest is not forced to marry non-Catholics. A rabbi is not forced to marry Christians. In fact, when we got married in our church, our pastor had just refused to marry a couple because they did not want to go through the required premarital counseling. Churches will still get to decide what is right for them, Just not for everyone else.

So please celebrate with me, because for the first time, I feel like a full citizen. I feel like the country that I serve, that I have kept faith with, has finally kept faith with me.

And I want to close with this, Justice Kennedy's eloquent final paragraph in the 5-4 ruling:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.
"

Orlando has demonstrated that we still have a ways to go. There is still so much hate in the world. But I think we are heading in the right direction. So while I still mourn, while I am still shaken over and attack that happened in a "safe place," I celebrate that we are on the right path.

And I need no further proof of that than that the Charleston Post and Courier in my home state of South Carolina, where they fought to avoid accepting marriage equality, reported yesterday that one year later, same-sex marriage is simply "routine."


Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando

It is hard for me to even know where to start with this post.

I am sad. I am angry.

Fifty of my LGBT brothers and sisters were massacred in a senseless act of terrorism and hate in Orlando yesterday. During Pride. On "Loving Day," the anniversary of the ruling in Loving v Virginia that outlawed laws prohibiting interracial marriage and, I believe, paved the way for the ruling last June making marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

As President Obama said, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

He is right. It was more than a bar. I remember the first time I walked into a gay bar. It was Menage, in Columbia, SC. It was the first time I felt truly safe, truly free to be who I am. It was a refuge.

Yesterday, a terrorist violated that refuge.

There are different theories about why he did it. Some want to credit radical Islam. Others say he was "disgusted" seeing two men kissing. But the root in these are the same. Hate. I have heard the same kinds of hate from close family members. I have witnessed it when being told I am condemned to hell, or when I was shot at while outside a gay bar.

And we are witnessing it now, when in the wake of the ruling granting marriage equality, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been filed, many seeking to allow people to discriminate against people like me because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." (Funny, my Jesus said to love everyone, even your enemy. ) Others seek to ban trans* people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Because the Stanford rapist was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. And the monster yesterday who slaughtered 50 innocent people was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. He was a straight, wife-beating, unstable guy who had been investigated by the FBI and was STILL allowed to buy an assault rifle.

But it is easier to hate gays or Muslims than to do something about our gun culture. It is easier to have potty police than to do something about rape culture. It is easier to blame the other than to confront the hate in our own society and do something about it.

We need to confront the hate in our society. And yes, that includes the hate of radical Islam. But it also include the hate of radical right-wing Christianity. Did you take a look at the Twitterverse yesterday. People were PRAISING him. For finally wiping the disgusting gays off the map. For killing someone "other than innocents." For doing what both hate-filled imams and hate-filled pastors have advocated. Event the Lt. Governor of Texas yesterday tweeted after the attacks that "you reap what you sow." Blaming the victims.

I think a place for us to start is on our own churches, with our own language. So I want to share a piece I wrote just over a month ago that I have shared with no one but my pastor in Maryland. I wrote it in response to the potty laws, and I think it is applicable even today. Because if our goal is to be more Christ-like, more made in the image of our Creator, we must see God as someone big enough to love all of creation and rid ourselves from the hate that I am sure breaks God's heart as well.





Towards a Radical Inclusiveness

By Digger Diplomat

I have been thinking a lot about pronouns lately.

Much of it stems from the recent debate over bathrooms and who gets to serve as the potty police. I am not transgender, and yet the debate is personal to me.

Among my people, I am considered a “Two-Spirit,” or someone who possesses both a male and a female spirit. This has always fit with how I feel myself, neither really male nor really female, but both. I am very comfortable in my own skin.

But there are those who are not comfortable with me. These are the ones who have called me “sir” since long before I cut my hair short. Some quickly apologize. Some laugh nervously. Some snicker. Because I feel like I am both, it has never bothered me, except on the rare occasions when the person seemed hostile.

I fear those occasions are increasing. I see more and more reports of attacks on trans* people. And these attacks aren’t limited to trans* people. There are all sorts of gender non-conforming people being accosted in restrooms even if they are using the restroom that corresponds with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.

One such person is a friend of mine who is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She is part of the elite group of Marines who guard our embassies. And she has been thrown out of the women’s bathroom because she looks too much like a boy. A nice thank you for your service.

A recent piece by UCC minister Emily Heath describes a similar struggle. She too is female but gender non-conforming. She jokes with her wife that if she isn’t back from a public restroom in five minutes, to come looking for her. It is becoming less of a joke.

I fear it is a matter of time before I am accosted as well.

I wonder if this whole issues gives us an opportunity as progressive Christians to examine the language we use.

Because language matters.

When we refer to gender rather than sex and then insist on gender being binary, we negate the lives of those who live along the spectrum of gender. And we negate the lives of those assigned a sex at birth that doesn’t correspond with their identity, or those who fall into the at least three categories of intersex, meaning those with biological traits of both sexes. These folks too have typically been assigned a sex at birth, often surgically, and often incorrectly.

Likewise, when we refer to God as He, we negate the lives of women and their connectedness to the Creator. In my own church, and other UCC’s I have attended, we have struggled to find more inclusive ways to refer to God, whether calling God both father and mother, or changing the words to the doxology to refer to Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And often, we have shunned the use of pronouns.

What if we didn’t?

Many in the transgender and gender non-conforming community have sought a third way through the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. I know there are those who reject the use of “they” in the singular. I confess to being something of a grammar nerd myself. And yet we have a history of using the pronoun “they” when the sex of the person about whom we are speaking is not known. As I saw in a recent discussion of the matter, two wait staff noticed a customer left behind a coat. “I wonder if they know they left it?” “Let’s put it in the lost and found in case they return.”

See, we’ve been using it all along.

What if we used it for God?

What if instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to avoid using “He,” or at least using “He” and “She” together, we defaulted to “they?”

We’d be doing a number of things.

First, we would be referring to God in the way that They referred to themselves. In the plural.

Remember in Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

And too in Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:”

If God, in referring to Self, says “us,” perhaps we should be saying “They.”

But using “They” would accomplish more than that. It would be a recognition of the radical inclusiveness that is God. The God that created all things, including all sexes and all genders.

It would mean that our understanding of God is limited by our understanding of ourselves, but that we recognize that God is not limited. Often, we are neither male nor female. Neither then is God. We were created in God’s image, male and female, because God’s image is male and female.

And by using “They,” we not only recognize the abundance that is God, but we welcome all of the abundance that is God’s Creation into the arms of our Creator and Their Church.

Amen.


Maybe this is a little thing. Maybe it won't change the hate that fills people's hearts. But what if it does? What if one little change would help people see that we are all part of God, part of creation, that we, male, female, and in between, that we, gay, straight and in between, were all created in God's image and are loved by our Creator. Maybe then we could love each other.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Bucket List

Someone from back home made a comment to me a couple weeks ago that she would hate to see my bucket list...that is must be a blank page.

It isn't blank, but not just because there are a few places on the original one (that yes, is actually written down in a place I can access regularly) that I have yet to visit (I'm looking at you Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, and Angkor Wat), but also because the more I travel, the more I want to see. So the list keeps growing.

Before I met my wife, I had left the country exactly once, for my "once in a lifetime" trip to Germany. Of course, I have since been to Germany numerous times and have no doubt I will go back. And I also no longer think of travel as once in a lifetime. I've traveled now to 28 countries outside the U.S., many multiple times and seven new ones and several returns to previously visited ones in just the past nine months.

Our most recent trip was two weeks ago, to Slovenia. You should go there...Lake Bled is amazing!


That was a recent bucket list addition. Dracula's Castle is as well, now that we are close enough to Romania. That will probably be in a couple months.

In case you are curious about some of the other places, they are the usual suspects: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Neuschwanstein in Germany, the pyramids in Egypt, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee, Petra in Jordan, the Hagia Sofia in Turkey, the Acropolis in Greece. I've been to Rome and the Pompeii. I've visited Stonehenge. I've snorkeled in the Red Sea. And Estonia wasn't on my original bucket list, but it should have been.

Not bad for a kid who grew up in a Mill Village in South Carolina.

Any one of these and numerous other trips I've been lucky enough to make could have been a "once in a lifetime." Now they are more like, "this is my life" trips.

You miss a lot being in the Foreign Service, and I'd be lying if I didn't long sometimes for the comforts of home. I miss my family, my house, being able to buy cheddar cheese... But I have gained a lot too.

Travel is one of the best ways to combat prejudice and open minds. I am a different person than I was before my first trip overseas. And I am a changed person with each place I visit. you take a little of it home with you. You find that you love your own country a little more while realizing that there is so much the world offers that we do not.

Why am I being so introspective today? Probably because it is May. As I mentioned yesterday, Mother's Day gets me. This year marks 20 years since she passed. It also marked the passing of the date at which I was older than my mother had been when she died. And May is her birthday month, and that of her mother, who became like a mother to me (and me like a daughter to her) after my mom died. I lost her six years ago. May makes me think of what I miss, and therefore what I am missing by being away.

But it also makes me hope she can see me, that she would be proud of the person I have become and the adventure that has become my life. Some of the places on my bucket list are places I would have loved to have shared with her.

I kind of hope I have.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mother's Day Dogwood

As spring has rolled around here in Kosovo, I have found myself really homesick. Not because I am not happy here. I am. But Spring is my favorite season, and I miss my yard.

When we moved into our house in July of 2014, I set about making it a home even though I knew we would move in exactly one year. Folks wondered why I was investing so much energy, but it was because I knew we would likely return after two years, meaning two years of growth to all the plants and trees I planted.

Two years for the azaleas to remind me of my grandfather's yard, which was full of him (boy do I wish I had inherited his green thumb!). Two years for my butterfly bush to attract all the little flutter-bys.

And two years for my dogwood to grow.

My baby dog and my baby dogwood
I knew that the moment we had a yard, I wanted a dogwood. They are my favorite tree, and I love to see them growing wild in the South. But in Maryland, you have to hunt for a blight resistant one. After some searching, I finally found one and planted it almost exactly a year ago.

Part of why I love dogwoods, I am certain, is how much my mother loved them.

When I was a kid, and my parents bought their first home, my mother was determined to have a dogwood in our front yard. But of course, her only child was a bit of a tom boy, and much to her dismay, she planted it in a perfect spot in our front yard to serve as first base in our kick ball games.

Which also means the little thing never stood a chance, and broke after one too many times of being grabbed by a runner trying to be "safe."

I don't think she ever managed to have a dogwood live there.

So I hope mine lives for her in our yard in Maryland.

You see, this year is my 19th Mother's Day without her. July will make 20 years since she left us, way too soon.

It never gets easier.

And so this Mother's Day, I hope if you still have your mom, you hold her close. I hope you call her often and visit her often. When she is gone, nothing will fill that hole.

And if you see live in my neighborhood and see my dogwood, think happy thoughts that this one makes it.

For my mom.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Every Breath You Take

Smoggy Sunrise


I remember the first time my wife came home for R&R from Baku. Those were the days when as a same-sex spouse and non-employee, I was not allowed to live with her at post unless it was a country that would recognize our relationship. And such countries were even fewer and farther between than they are now with the advancements our country and others have made in terms of marriage equality.

So in those days, I was allowed to visit on a one-month tourist visa, after which I needed to leave the country before I could return. So over the course of her two-year tour, I visited three times for a month each trip, and she came home to North Carolina for R&R twice. (Of course, that doesn’t “count” as our having done an unaccompanied tour, because our marriage didn’t “count” at the time).

All of which is to say she was in Azerbaijan without me. And I remember her first trip home because as we drive back to Chapel Hill from the airport, she kept hanging her head out of the window to sniff the air. “It smells so clean!” she kept saying. “It is almost sweet.”

I admit I didn’t get it. Clean air, or at least reasonably clean air, was something I had the luxury of taking for granted. Neither Jerusalem, with its occasional sand storms, nor Tallinn, with the #1 air quality in the world (yes really), disabused me of that privilege.

Pristina has.

There are many reasons those of us in the Foreign Service are allowed to retire after 20 years instead of the usual 25-30 for other federal employees. The biggest reason for that is the toll that living in some of the places we serve take on our health. And pollution is a big part of that toll. If you want to read some other posts on it, check out this, this and this.

Kosovo is a country without the luxury of multiple means of electricity. Basically, its options are coal and coal. The two aging coal plants in the city provide all of the country’s electricity. And they belch out pollution all year, but especially so in the winter when people need heat. There are plans for a new coal plant, which will pollute less than the two they have now. But there is simply no option other than coal. And then there are the coal fires coming from every building in the winter. Lignite is cheap and people can basically dig up piles of it to burn in their homes for heat and hot water.

Some days, you can barely see across the street for the haze created by the smoke. Most days really. Because we are in a valley and very prone to fog, the smoke and fog come together and make smog. Did you know smog freezes? I didn’t either until I came here and saw the dirty ice crystals on all the plants. The fog/smog also means that often it is impossible to fly in or out of the airport here because the runway is not long enough for the navigational equipment needed to land when you can’t do it by sight. Everyone here has missed a flight or had it diverted. Ours was diverted to Skopje, AFTER the pilot tried unsuccessfully to land and had to pull up hard at the last minute. (No, that wasn't terrifying at all...)

And the smell permeates EVERYTHING. All of your clothes, even fresh from the dry cleaners, smell as though you have been standing by a camp fire.

And you smell it in your house as well. We have air purifiers running constantly in our apartment and have extra weather stripping under the doors. And you still smell it. Our stairwell seems to funnel the smoke from outside upward to all of the apartments in our building. Even my dog sneezes when she goes outside. And I wear a scarf every day, not because it is cold but because it gives me something to breathe through. I wonder what it is doing to all of our lungs…I already breathe heavier going upstairs than I used to. And on our trips out of the country, I feel like an ex-smoker, my lungs trying to clean themselves out of the toxins I am taking in.

Soon the embassy will have air quality monitors, and we and the public will have a better idea of the amount of pollution in the air. Of course, maybe that will just make us feel worse about it. But in the meantime, I am glad we decided not to extend. Not because I am not glad to be here. I am. The work in interesting and important and the people here are great. But as a committed life-long non-smoker, it is more than a little alarming that after only five months here, it sometimes hurts to breathe.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Gezuar Vitin e Ri nga Kosove!

New Year's fireworks over Pristina

Happy New Year!

I hope whatever your 2015 was like, whether awesome or awful, that 2016 is even better.

I have to confess my 2015 was pretty awesome. Except for that little language test hiccup and the drama of getting my dog to post, both of which were ultimately overcome, things in 2015 were pretty awesome. We spent time in our new house, found a church we love, made lots of friends both at work and outside of it. We and our animal children are all healthy and happy, as is much of our family. My wife even managed to stick in another half marathon this year. And of course, the Supreme Court on June 26 ruled that marriage is a civil right. No more worrying that our marriage won't be recognized when we cross state borders!

Since we got to Kosovo, we have been able to travel more, already adding six countries to the list of places we’ve been. Just since our trip to a winery in Stobi, Macedonia, we have visited Neuschwanstein in Germany, Munich twice (the second time for the Christmas markets), Salzburg, Austria (also for the markets), Sarajevo, Bosnia (for a public diplomacy offsite), as well as a road trip through Albania and Montenegro on our way to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

But the purpose of this post is not to give you the abbreviated version of my Christmas letter. The purpose it to try to jumpstart my blogging again. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I kind of suck at New Year's resolutions. But this year I am resolving to do two things: blog more and read more.


After my lapse in blogging, I considered hanging up my blogger hat and walking away. But a few folks asked me not to, plus there is still cool stuff to share. So for the blogging, I am going to try to fill in a few things I have done personally and professionally over the past few months. For example, never mind that I haven't shared any pictures from our cool travels, I don't even think I mentioned Randy Berry, the LGBT envoy, came to post.

And then I am resolving to post at least once a week. Hopefully.

And on reading, I am going to shoot for at least 25 books this year. Preferably real books (I want to wean myself away from reading the iPad in bed). My hope is more, like one a week, but I am a notoriously slow reader. So I am not going to set myself up for failure.

So for now, I will leave you with this, a video that we did as a New Year's message from our Ambassador. And like him I wish you a Happy New Year!!



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Markets!

The first time I ever went to a real Christmas Market was in Estonia, and it was love at first Gluwine!

The sights, the smells, the spirit, I love everything about it.

So this year, because we are so close to Germany (a quick 2-hour flight to Munich), we decided to check out some Christmas markets this year.

We went for Munich (which has like five or more in different parts of the city) and then took the train to Salzburg, Austria to check out their market as well.


The Munich Markets:


 
 
 





 
 
The Salzburg Market


 
 
 




And then in Salzburg, there was this (I missed the beginning):