The Significance Of Justice Scalia’s Death

If you haven’t already heard, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia peacefully died in his sleep on February 13, 2016 at the age of 79. Appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, Justice Scalia was a longstanding opponent of virtually every old school value that seeks to discriminate, deny freedoms, or otherwise oppress. He was anti-marriage equality, anti-choice, and pro-death penalty; a position in direct conflict with his ‘pro-life’ views. He consistently disagreed with progressive decisions on gender and racial equality, as well as protections based on sexual orientation. He was a massive hypocrite, having no problem when rulings went his way, but claiming the Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds when they ruled against him. In the 2004 Elk Grove Unified School District v Newdow case, as well as in a later 2013 interview, he demonstrated a belief that Christian values should be allowed to influence certain policy decisions. In short, and contrary to what some have written already, Justice Scalia conducted himself in the legal arena in accordance with his personal religious beliefs – and effectively against the U.S. Constitution that he is said to have loved.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, upon hearing of Scalia’s death, tweeted “The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY.” This says a lot.

Now, many have written that Scalia will be remembered as a brilliant legal mind, a man to be admired. I respectfully disagree, but before I continue let me be clear that I am in no way celebrating the man’s death. I am merely having one of the many discussions that Antonin Scalia’s judicial legacy demands. That being said, I am a firm believer that although we need not dwell on the deeds of the departed, if a person acted despicably in life, that does not change after their passing; and should not necessarily be kept silent. The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a man who left a reprehensible legacy from my point of view, demands discussion. His death carries with it huge implications for the future of America, which brings us back to Donald Trump’s tweet.

“The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement …” It’s amazing how so much can be said in so few words. At the time this is being written, President Obama has not yet announced whether he will appoint a successor or hold the decision over for the next president, but if I have been reading the cultural and political tide in America correctly, two things are almost certain. (1) the next President of the United States will likely be a Democrat, and possibly one who is not beholden to the traditional establishment (let’s hope), and (2) that will result in the appointing of liberal justices to the Supreme Court. In other words, far-right conservative Justice Scalia will likely be succeeded by someone who holds progressive views. This will bring a breath of fresh air to a seat that has been held by a hateful anti-equality blowhard since 1986. As long as the Supreme Court is responsible for ruling on social issues, a new liberal face will better ensure positive outcomes; and a more solid base in support of the views held by the liberal SCOTUS contingent. Granted, the Republican Senate will do whatever they can to keep this from happening, but even a more grounded conservative would be an improvement.

So let’s discuss the root issue with the ‘Conservative movement.’ To be absolutely blunt, the Conservative movement is one that seeks to deny equal rights and protections to all who are not cis white male. For those who aren’t familiar with this term, a cis white male is a person who is caucasian, has a penis, and identifies as a man (cisgender). I realize that your knee-jerk reaction may be to dismiss this statement as a conspiracy theory, but this is all well documented and researched. As a matter of fact, modern Feminism and the LGBTQ+ rights movement is about this very thing – our patriarchal system run primarily by white men – and if you want a current reference point, I encourage you to start following the U.S. Republican primaries. The comments being made about social issues and policy by Trump and company show us exactly what the Conservative movement is … and it’s not pretty. Justice Scalia was a part of that movement, and every time one of their members passes away, our potential for good grows just a little bit more.

Society is becoming increasingly secular. Humanist values continue to permeate our social consciousness, and as that happens, we reject and push back against outdated ideas that hold us down and deny us our full humanity. The politicians who are already liberal-minded begin to come around and follow suit. As the cis white male Conservative movement ages and loses members, those voices are not being replaced. Instead, liberal progressive voices are rising to fill the void. The time will come that the patriarchy will have lost all relevance, and that time is closer than many of us think. This is why Justice Scalia’s death is so significant. One of the most influential voices in the American patriarchy, a voice that held a position of great power, has been lost. That voice will not be replaced. Instead the position will be filled by a progressive, and those who enjoy cis white male privilege … people like Donald Trump … are right to view this as a big loss for them. It is, and that’s exactly what equality looks like. You see, contrary to what many claim, this isn’t about the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie. It’s about equal footing, equal opportunity, equal dignity, respect, and freedom. Equality requires privilege be lost. Cis white males need not be cast asunder as inferior to anyone else, at least I don’t want to see that, but the privilege they enjoy by virtue of an uncontrollable condition of birth has to disappear.

I am not cisgender, but I am white, and I do have male genitalia. Although I don’t identify entirely as male, I look the part. As a result I have cis white male privilege, and that has kept me from experiencing many terrifying things that are everyday concerns for members of other minorities. Since coming out as gender variant, I have struggled with fears that were foreign to me, and that has given me a small sense of just how powerful cis privilege is. White privilege is more powerful still, and it is so vital that we tear down those walls. It’s too easy for those of us with white privilege, for those with cis privilege, to condemn and marginalize without even realizing it. We have to keep ourselves, and each other, in check. Privilege has to be done away with. Each and every loss for the Conservative movement is a step closer to that goal. The loss of Justice Antonin Scalia is a potentially huge win for progressivism, liberalism, and equality.

 

A Coffee Cup, And A Nation Falling Apart?

The war for equality rages on, the right-wingers get louder and more angry, and by now you have all heard about the latest controversy in America. In an unprecedented move, Starbucks has launched an all-out attack on Christianity. That’s right, they took the holiday imagery off of their coffee cups in an effort to be more *gasp* inclusive. No more snowflakes, no more snowmen (which we all know are both Christian symbols in the first place, right?), just plain red cups. People across America are freaking out. Donald Trump has boldly declared that Starbucks will be boycotted and thrown out of Trump Tower, and that if he’s elected President, all of America will once again be saying “Merry Christmas;” presumably instead of the dreadful anti-Christian “Happy Holiday.” Of course, this is just the latest scandal in our leftist agenda, one that further moves America down the path to moral bankruptcy, and ultimately destruction. Next, cue the evangelicals. Somehow, this will have something to do with the “gay agenda,” it always does. After all, we “gay activists” are responsible for all the bad that goes on, aren’t we? From floods, to earthquakes, to more gay people, everything is our fault. People repent! Shun the gays and take back the Christmas Cup! The day of reckoning is nigh!

Okay, enough fooling around. Is anybody actually taking this seriously? I have asked, on more than one occasion, why anti-equality activists persist and do what they do, but if you think Starbucks taking the snowflakes off of your coffee cup is an attack on your faith, question answered. There is something seriously wrong with people who think this way. It’s not a state of mind problem, either. This is a deeper psychological issue, and it’s happening on a mass scale. This could be, I believe, just the next outrage along the path to a terrifying inevitability.

Most violent groups – Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS – rise up in reaction to something. They take action when they have been pushed to their breaking point. In the western world, we don’t have many of the problems faced elsewhere. We have it easy in comparison, and reasons to rise up are few. Frustrations, however, are boiling over, and I believe we are close to the tipping point; where the perception of Christian persecution will drive groups to form and act, with more than the hateful words we have grown accustomed to. It’s fun to laugh and poke a little fun at those who have over-the-top reactions to seemingly trivial things, but we must not lose sight of the fact that their numbers are large enough to cause some real damage. Still, as I believe we should take the possibility of a future evangelical militia seriously, I often wonder if America will be taken seriously in the decades to follow?

My neighbours to the south, what is going on down there? Republicans are embarrassing themselves daily, the Democrats aren’t much better, your politics and your religion are mashed together, and it’s all become one big mess. From the outside, it looks like a nation unravelling, and all over the inability of grown adults to cooperate and focus on the actual issues. You have homelessness growing as more and more LGBTQ+ youth are forced out of their homes, and the response is to argue over whether homosexuality is protected under the Constitution; not to mention whether or not it’s a sin. You have a seemingly growing number of police officers who are so stressed over the threat of violence that they shoot first and ask questions later, and you choose to talk about bad parenting and disrespectful children. You have people calling for the separation of church and state, something that is irrefutably protected under your Constitution, and instead of dealing with the actual issue, people take the Fox News bait and start fighting over the supposed “War on Christmas.” This is madness.

I am not an American, but I care deeply about what goes on in America. I care because (A) I care about people, and (B) I live next door. I chose to write this today because I want Americans to know that we are watching. What you do still matters, many of us still care, and we want to see you do well. The whole world is not against you, some of us care very much, and watching you falling apart like this is disheartening; to say the least. I sincerely hope I am wrong. I hope that evangelicals don’t take up arms. I hope that the calls to do so fall on deaf ears, and that peace can somehow be reached. I wish Fox News would stop fear mongering every holiday season, creating rifts between you. I wish presidential hopefuls would start to actually read and think, before doing the same. As for this coffee cup issue … come on. Is this really what you want to spend your time on? Are there not more pressing issues to confront than the appearance of the cup from which you drink your spiced mocha latte? If the colour of an overpriced cup of coffee at Starbucks is that big a concern for you, you are very privileged indeed.

 

The Gay Agenda

At first I thought it was just a fear-mongering ploy, a phrase designed to mobilize legions of evangelical Christians against the equality sought by the secular left (which it is). I thought that this phrase without any factual basis would eventually go away, naively ignoring the fact that upholding perception over truth is routine for the religious right. They fear a monster that doesn’t exist, the “gay agenda” in which LGBTQ+ people and allies are out to recruit their children and lead society down a path of depravity. Every day I read, hear, and watch news about this invention of the religious right … the “Gay Agenda.”

Here’s something you might not expect me to say. There IS an agenda at play. It’s not what the folks at the Family Research Council or Fox News think it is, mind you, but there IS an agenda and it can be summed up in one word – EQUALITY. The supposed “gay agenda” is 100% false. There is no concerted effort to recruit children into the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that means), there is no plan to create a new world order (as Bryan Fischer thinks), there is no sinister plot to achieve special status (like the status enjoyed by the religious right). This is about humanity, and it’s a goal that should be shared by every empathic person on the planet; regardless of religious affiliation. It’s the same agenda the suffragettes had, and the civil rights activists, and the anti-apartheid activists, and so on. It’s an agenda shared by every movement that springs up in opposition to oppression … the agenda is equality.

Nobody is coming for your kids, and nobody wants to deny you your rights. We do want to remove your ability to hide behind religious belief to justify persecution, sure, but that’s not a right; it’s an undeserved entitlement. With power comes privilege, and Christian privilege has brought us slavery, apartheid, colonialism, war, and continuing persecution and oppression (to name a few things), all while convincing us that it’s a religion of love and acceptance. This ability to get away with horrible things and have people turn a blind eye is what privilege looks like. Equality removes that privilege. Rather than denying rights, it denies entitlements. Equality evens the playing field, it gives everyone the same dignity. It condemns only that which causes harm. Instead of condemning difference, equality has us condemn that which stands in the way of togetherness and acceptance. Our “agenda” is about people, and everyone should be on board with that.

An Outspoken New Year

At the end of every year, we tend to sit back and think about what the past year has brought. I personally like to think about what progress we have seen, what good has come of humanity’s interaction, and what we must do to improve ourselves. As we rapidly race toward the end of 2014, I have mixed feelings about the past 12 months.

In 2014, we saw issues that were once talked about in isolated social pockets and interest groups, become a very big part of the pop culture discussion. We saw a wave of progress on the same-sex marriage front, as pro-equality legislation swept across the United States. Close to my home, I attended a rally in Fredericton NB, Canada, to voice outrage over the denying of women’s rights by yet another provincial/state government. 2014 saw a seeming insurgence of outrage over injustice and persecution; and people took to the blogosphere, boldly speaking out against those responsible for continuing inequality and division. We learned a lot about ourselves this year. We learned that racism is still alive and as ugly as ever, that sexism and misogyny are very real problems, that rape culture must be faced and attacked head-on, and that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is still rather young. It has been a good year, and I am happy that we have come this far. I am happy that we are collectively learning, and that we are expanding our knowledge in the fight for what is right. I feel like more and more of us are beginning to wake up, and I’m excited to be living in a time of change … but I have mixed feelings.

I recently had a revelation about us. While quietly reflecting on the reasons for which we’re divided, it suddenly occurred to me that our arrogance has gotten us into trouble. This problem of hubris is nothing new, but the idea that we, as a society, have moved past discriminatory attitudes has become extremely problematic. While the progress mentioned above does shed light on the work still to be done, many in positions of power have this idea that things are just fine. After all, slavery has been abolished, women have the vote, and LGBTQ people are allowed to exist – what more could we want? This arrogance, that we have reached the pinnacle of human development, has opened the door for misogyny, sexism, rape culture, and racial discrimination to grow unchecked. When rape happens, when domestic abuse happens, when LGBTQ people are attacked, we often act surprised. “How could this happen in this day and age?” The answer is simple: we got cocky and thought we were past it. We thought it couldn’t happen anymore. Unfortunately, the ideas behind all of those terrible things – the very ideas that allow them to happen in the first place – have never been dealt with. We abolished slavery, but we never dealt with the reasons for thinking we could own other human beings to begin with. We allowed women into the workforce, but we never dealt with the patriarchal system that runs the show. We are arrogant, and that arrogance has blinded us to problems that are getting worse, when they should be non-existent by now. Our arrogance has gotten us into trouble. This is why I have mixed feelings, but it has also motivated me to make change in my own advocacy. It has motivated Outspoken Ally to grow.

In the new year, Outspoken Ally is going to undergo a major overhaul. My reach is small right now. Outspoken Ally has precious few readers and followers, and I cherish each and every one of you. The words written on this site have made a difference to some of you, and that means the world to me. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that, it’s precisely what I hoped for when I began. That being said, I am confident in the message, and passionate about spreading it as far as it can go. 2015 is going to see change. In 2015, Outspoken Ally will strive to become more visible and more relevant. There will be a call for writers to start what will become known as “OA Blogs,” covering issues like living Trans, women’s perspectives and experiences, coming out, and other important topics. The tag line at the top of this page will be changed, and Outspoken Ally will adopt a new motto. A YouTube channel is already in place and waiting for content, not just for talk, but to add the dynamic of music and other forms of art to the discussion. 2015 will, I hope, be a year of change and growth for Outspoken Ally, and I look forward to your companionship on that journey. Let’s engage each other, let’s be loud, let’s be active, let’s spread the message … let’s have an Outspoken New Year!

Religious Freedom And The Protection Of “Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs”

For anybody who watches and reads the American social and political news sources on a daily basis, there is one phrase that keeps popping up in relation to religious freedom. Spoken by Christian zealots and charlatans cornered after putting their bigotry on display for the world to see, this phrase is used as a line of defence. On almost a daily basis, I come across yet another story of a person claiming some terrible wrong has befallen them for doing nothing more than merely expressing their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” For some time now, legislators in various states have been attempting to enact laws and statutes to allow discriminatory exemptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs,” effectively allowing businesses to refuse service to people of any given minority; so long as that refusal is done on religious grounds. Fortunately, those proposed laws are continuously being struck down by the courts, but this widespread misunderstanding of what religious freedom actually means is disturbing. Freedom of religion is just like freedom of speech. We may practice any religion we like, but that freedom ends at our neighbour’s nose. Sincerely held belief or not, the denial of rights or services based upon subjective interpretations of a given holy book, is entirely unacceptable, ignorant, and ultimately detrimental to civilization.

This idea of protecting one’s actions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” is a raging issue in America, so there is no shortage of controversy surrounding it. Outrage among the religious right was recently sparked by President Obama’s signing of non-discrimination orders, orders that extend federal protection against discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been done specifically to protect LGBTQ people from religious bigotry, and the faith-based groups opposed to it are furious. In every argument I have yet seen put forward, the issue of religious freedom is raised; and every time there is an underlying misunderstanding of what religious freedom is. We as a society must realize that freedom, inasmuch as freedom can exist at all, is not all-inclusive to the individual. We are all free, and because of that our freedom depends upon our consideration of others. You may speak, but you must accept the consequences of what you say. You may practice your faith, but you must respect the freedoms and rights of those who do not. This is not a negotiable idea. If your religious beliefs require you to oppress, control, and condemn, then perhaps you should re-evaluate what it is you believe and why.

Slowly and steadily, allies and outspoken minority people are winning the war against religious oppression. You can join us and accept that religious freedom protects you as long as you do not impose harmful “beliefs” on others, or you can choose to close yourself off to reality. Either way, the world is heading toward acceptance and equality. We are moving in the right direction, and as we progress, it is important that we maintain our freedoms and use them in the ways they were intended. I support Religious Freedom. I do NOT support religious justification for exclusion and inequality.     

Words (Part Three)

For the final part of this three part piece on words, I would like to address Freedom of Speech. Our right to freely say what we like at any given time is a much talked about topic, particularly in the United States. In Words (Part One), I made the point that words are all that we have. As the primary way that we communicate and relay information of any kind, they are the single most powerful things at our disposal. In Words (Part Two), I made a case for the potential harm done by using the phrase “Nobody can hurt you without your permission.” The point of that was not to shame the people who use it, but to identify and explain the belittling aspect of the whole idea (quite often, the result of what is said does not match the intent behind it). Parts One and Two were meant to make their points at face value, but also to encourage us to think about our words and what effect they may have once uttered. Now, we look at what it means to have the right to utter those words in the first place.

As 2013 was drawing to a close, Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson caused a mass media and societal frenzy when he said some disparaging things about LGBTQ individuals in an interview with GQ magazine. The network that carries the show, A&E, reacted to the backlash over this by temporarily suspending Phil from the show. In response to this decision the religious right went wild, condemning it as a violation of Free Speech. Among the many who took to the airways and media outlets in support of Robertson was former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, who went on Fox News and said that freedom of speech means the right of people to “voice their personal opinions.” A few seconds later, she said “A&E really screwed up on this one.” What Palin, and indeed all of the people who spoke out in reference to free speech failed to realize, is that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. Although the decision was soon overturned (likely due to the massive financial loss should they stand their ground), A&E was not originally saying “Phil can’t say that.” They were saying “We do not want to be associated with hatred, Phil can’t say that here.”

Our right to say what we want does not absolve us from the consequences of choosing to say it. In March of 2003, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq at a concert in London. At the end of her short comment, she said “we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The U.S. media lost their minds. Among the controversy was an ideological split between supporters and opponents of the band, heated arguments on social media and news outlets, and a much publicized dispute between the Dixie Chicks and fellow country music star Toby Keith. This controversy did not end the careers of the women in the band, but it did damage them … there were consequences. Did those who burned their albums, refused to let them play at their venues, and took them off the air violate Natalie’s right to free speech? Absolutely not, for as much as our freedom to speak is important, so is our right to react and stand in opposition.

The freedom to express ourselves with words is central to our culture, but it must not be misunderstood. We have a very important societal obligation to consider the well-being of others before we say something that may offend. Our right to speak does not carry with it a freedom from responsibility, nor does it imply that those around us must accept our views. We must attempt to understand each other. We must use the information available to us to make informed choices and informed views. We must use our rights responsibly, and we must always remember that it is wrong to abuse them by speaking with vitriol against others. When a person calls homosexuality a “perversion,” “sexual deviance,” or “sinful behaviour/lifestyle,” they must accept that the consequence of speaking without knowledge is that people will react negatively. Freedom of Speech means that we may say it. Let us not assume that we should.