Don’t Believe Everything You Learned in School—But, Believe Most of It.

lincolnevil If I have to read one more article/post/comment that begins “It’s time for a history lesson”…I may gouge my eyes out. It reaches a low point when we are sharing “lessons” that drag Mr. Abraham Lincoln through the mud to argue for flying a rebel flag. This week alone, I’ve heard otherwise reasonable people share kindergarten level ideas like…

Lincoln didn’t care about ending slavery.”

The South was only fighting for states’ rights and the freedom that the Founders envisioned.”

“Most Southerns in the war didn’t even care about keeping slavery.”

Look, I understand that “we shouldn’t believe everything we learned in school.” But here’s the thing: Most of the big, important stuff we learned in history class is actually true: Hitler was bad. The Louisiana Purchase was a great deal. Americans were immensely lucky to have Abraham Lincoln lead us through the Civil War.

The Confederate battle flag should not be flown over public buildings in the United States of America. Sharing the “truth” about the Civil War will not change that. Here is another  kindergarten-level “history lesson” –

Nov. 1860 – Abraham Lincoln duly elected President of the United States. He never called for the immediate end of slavery but did acknowledge that “we cannot endure permanently half slave & half free.”

Dec 1860 – Before Lincoln is even sworn-in—-seven states secede from the Union. They want to dissolve the United States of America. Why? They worried that eventually Lincoln might propose things that they didn’t like (i.e. phasing out slavery). They feared that a majority of duly elected members of Congress would agree with those proposals and change federal law. Instead of abiding by the republican system of government, persuading more people of their beliefs, running better campaigns, or offering compromises, these Southern states decided it would be best to destroy the United States as they knew it.  abrahamlincoln

March 1861 – Lincoln is sworn in as president. He vows to do whatever it takes to keep the Union together. Makes sense…as that’s kinda the President’s most important job.

April 1861 – The Confederate States open fire on an American fort.

April 1861 – 1865 – Upwards of 650,000 Americans are killed as a result of the Southern state’s decision to quit the United States. Those waving the Stars & Stripes in battle win the war. The Union is preserved at a horrific cost. In various stages/maneuvers, slavery is ended.

If those on the field waving the Confederate battle flag had won, our United States of America would not exist….

  • We would not have been able to bring our full might to bear to defeat Hitler and fascism.
  • We would not have had our united strength to combat the Soviet bloc.
  • Millions of black Americans would have been enslaved for decades longer.
  • We would not have had the talent pool to win the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

In summary:lincolnlouis

  • It is ludicrous for a public building of the United States of America to fly a flag that was raised in battle against our own Stars & Stripes.
  • Private individuals will always be able to display the Confederate battle flag as they see fit.
  • Wal-Mart, Target, and other stores are private businesses that can stock their shelves with whatever they want. (Don’t worry: in the true spirit of America, other enterprising ventures will spring up to sell Confederate flag gear if necessary).
  • When your argument on any issue hinges on attacking Abraham Lincoln and defending those that sought to destroy the United States—take a breath, wait three days, and then think harder about your position.

Becoming the Guy Who Yells At the Small Town Newspaper

We won’t move to our new house in Winchester for another week—but I’ve already written my first grumpy message to the editor of the local flagship newspaper. Lord help me. I read my soon-to-be-hometown paper for the first time and, lo and behold, 4 of the 5 editorial pieces are slamming gay people. Are you kidding me?  If this isn’t a fluke, I predict I’ll be the offline version of “angry article comment writing guy” in no time.  Kyle will have to hide my quill and ink lest I send old-fashioned newspaper rants every day.get-off-my-lawn

Not until opening that editorial page did I realize how insulated I have been since high school (and coming out)–living in reliable, friendly places for social liberals–Champaign, Chicago, DC, Reston.  Winchester, VA is much more like my hometown of Bradley, IL…except with a slightly more conservative bite. I’m not complaining, local politics are much more fun when there is real disagreement. I’m looking forward to it.

I only write this post for two reasons: (1) To have a place to post this, because I’m sure the newspaper won’t touch it; (2) To remind those interested that we are nearing VERY important Supreme Court arguments that will decide the gay rights issue once and for all (April 28th). Fingers crossed.

Anyway, what I sent the honorable Adrian O’Connor, editorial chief of the venerable Winchester Star:

Is Winchester welcoming of all couples? On a recent editorial page (Friday, April 3rd), four of the five pieces directly or indirectly referenced same-sex couples as bullies, fanatical activists, or downright threats to society.

angryOne piece in particular (“For all the re-definition…) sought to warn the community of looming disaster if the United State Supreme Court upholds lower court rulings that would allow my fiance and I to marry. We are a gay couple and are exciting about moving to the area after buying a home in the Winchester Historic District. The editorial noted that our marriage would not be “normal” because our “chosen sexual behavior isn’t natural.” It went on to suggest that our marriage must be stopped for the sake of the children and grandchildren of Winchester. Really? I would assume, considering that the lives of children are apparently threatened if gay couples marry, that the author would much prefer if my fiance and I did not move into the area at all.  

The editorial argues that gay couples should not be given the right to marry because “the differences in motives, purposes, and practices that define homosexual and heterosexual unions are so great that the English language screams for definitive specificity.” By writing that sentence, I can only assume that the author does not actually know any gay couples.

To allay our future neighbors’ fears, we’d like to share the “motives, purposes, and practices that define our homosexual union.” We are getting married as a lifelong commitment…

  • To Provide one another with unerring emotional support during life’s inevitable challenges.
  • To Have a constant companion to share in life’s joys and triumphs.
  • To Build and care for a home, sprucing up our small corner of the world.
  • To Act as a strong unit to give back to our community in volunteer work, tax dollars, and participation in local organizations.
  • To Protect each of us individually from financial setbacks or career challenges.
  • To Blend our collective families, providing a larger net of trusted friends and confidants.  
  • To Challenge each other to grow beyond our own interests and explore new ideas, hobbies, and adventures.
  • To Push one another to pursue our real passions, regardless of our fears or worries
  • To Provide love, support, and care for a child who needs a safe and stable home.
  • To Ensure care, aid, and support to one another as we age, become disabled, and need to adapt in the twilight of life.
  • To Be a final smiling face one as we transition from this life to whatever lies beyond.

Sexual orientation has zero bearing on the motives, purposes, and practices of two individuals spending their lives together. Allowing my fiance and I to share in the benefits and obligations of marriage will not only benefit us personally, it will also make our new Winchester community stronger.

Let’s Do This Already; I’m Getting Exhausted

 Have you seen Abraham Lincoln/Illinois Outline/Marriage Equality pictures on Facebook recently? That’s because the Illinois General Assembly holds its first “veto session” next week: Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday (Oct. 22-24).

That means we have yet another chance to finally allow same-sex couples to marry. You’ll likely be hearing a lot about this in the next few days. Here is a quick primer:

1) To pass in its current form, the bill needs 71 votes in the House. That is a high hurdle, because we could not even get 60 votes last May. However, the bill can be amended to change the start date (for next June) at which point it would only need 60 votes. We are VERY close to having those 60 votes.

Rep. Kate Cloonen is about to cast a vote on behalf of Kankakee County against equal rights.

Rep. Kate Cloonen is about to cast a vote on behalf of Kankakee County against equal rights.

2) A few representatives are still undecided. The single most important thing you can do right now is send a personalized email/message/call to your representative. GO HERE to send a message or LOOK AT THIS POST for contact information.

*A special note for those in Kankakee, Bradley, and Bourbonnais. Democrat Kate Cloonen met with the local equal rights organization this Wednesday at Family House Restaurant (my favorite breakfast spot on the planet, so I took this personal). At the meeting she said that she does not believe gay people in Illinois should be able to marry. Please take a moment now to kindly ask her to re-consider. Voting to keep people unequal (in the Land of Lincoln, of all places) should be embarrassing.


3) If you end up in polite discussion with opponents of equality this week (I hope so), here’s a quick Argument Cheat Sheet

  • Claim A: I do not support this, because I believe it attacks religious liberty. Christians should not be sued because they do not want to participate in these ceremonies.

–Religious liberty is important. That is why the bill does not force any church to perform services against their wishes. Also, the bill makes ZERO changes to discrimination laws in the state. A completely separate law governs non-discrimination rules in Illinois. In other words, passing this bill will not in any way impact the rights or obligations of any religious person or entity.

  • Claim B: I do not support this, because I believe all children deserve a mother and a father. 

–Great. But permitting a loving couple to get married in no way impacts the parentage of children.  Please do not use children as an excuse to perpetuate inequality.

  • Claim C: I do not support this, because gay couples already have civil unions; they just care about the word marriage. 

–Actually, gay couples in Illinois who have a civil union DO NOT receive federal marriage benefits (i.e. Social Security rights, estate tax breaks, +1,000 others). That is because the federal government does not recognize civil unions, but they do recognize marriage.

A Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Do you know where that phrase comes from?  A love that dare not speak its name.

It is a line in a poem written by Lord Alfred Douglas in 1894 called “Two Loves.”  Douglas intended it a romantic message to another person you may have heard of: Oscar Wilde.

lord douglas

Lord Alfred Douglas, 1985

Lord Douglas’s father despised his son’s relationship to Wilde.  The year after the poem was published, 1895, the father — a twice divorced man with several illegitimate children– orchestrated criminal charges against Wilde for “indecency.”  In Wilde’s time, Victorian England, it was illegal to be gay.

The love that Douglas and Wilde shared was far from conventional.*   When they met, Wilde was an international celebrity; often considered the most famous man in England outside the royal family.  Wilde was famed for his style—-he never went anywhere unless he had a green carnation protruding from a button hole on his chest–but  he was also a literary genius.  A combo David Foster Wallace and Lady Gaga.

oscar wilde smaller

Oscar Wilde at his peak, 1894

Wilde’s fame and genius were no help when he stood before a judge in May of 1895.   The man on the bench exclaimed Wilde’s “crime” of falling in love with someone of the same sex “akin to murder.”  The judge growled, “It is no use for me to address you.  People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame […]  I shall, under the circumstances, be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows.”

Oscar Wilde was immediately led from the courtroom and served several years of hard labor in prison.  A bankruptcy sale was held while behind bars; he lost everything.

Prison was insufficient for Victorian England.  He was released on May 25, 1987 around lunch, but it wasn’t until 4 a.m. that he found an actual place to lay his head.  No boarding house or hotel would allow someone of his “character” to stay.  He fled to continental Europe the next morning, securing passage only through the charity of a small band of friends.  Two years later, living in the streets of Paris, an old friend happened upon Oscar at a cafe .  Wilde was uncharacteristically silent.  He soon realized that Oscar had lost most of his front teeth, had no money to fix them, and was embarrassed to open his mouth.

Wilde and Douglas, 1894

Wilde and Douglas, 1894

He died two years later, surrounded by the small group of friends who never deserted him (mostly closeted gay men).  Twelve people attended his funeral service.

Oscar Wilde turns 159 years old next month.  This year, on his birthday, representatives in Illinois will meet in a veto session and perhaps vote on a bill which would treat same sex love equal under the law.  The love that dare not speak its name.

After his conviction, Wilde was a laughingstock, called a “beast.”  He responded: “the true beasts are not those who express their love, but  those who try to suppress other peoples.”

When same sex couples are allowed to marry–and they will be allowed–it won’t be a mere victory for gay couples.  It will be a win for Oscar Wilde.  It will be a win for millions of others who lived, suffered, and died in communities where their love was not just invisible, but poison.  How many people went to their grave in shambles…because of love?

Lawmakers who vote on marriage equality must know that this vote will be part of their legacy.

Do they truly want to explain to their grandchildren why they resisted it to the end?  Do they want their name enshrined forever in the long history of injustice?

One gem in Illinois history is that the state was the first in the entire nation to decriminalize gay relationships, in 1962.  This time around, we can only hope for more Lincoln and less Douglas.**


*Reams are written on Douglas’s good looks–and greed, immaturity, selfishness, and temper. But from the time they met until Wilde’s death, they could never quit one another.

**The best that I could tell, running for re-election next year, Rep. Kate Cloonen does not have an active campaign website.

I Want Grandma to Be There

Six thousand Americans will die today.  Many will be seniors who suffer a stroke, end their battle with cancer, or drift away peacefully after a long decline.  Others are younger and will go suddenly–in a car accident or after slipping on a banana peel on the top of a subway stairwell.

My Grandma getting ready to destroy a pig pinata at her 70th Birthday.

My Grandma getting ready to destroy a pig pinata at her 70th Birthday.

Life is unpredictable.  Live Each Day As If It Were Your Last is a motto drilled into us–though we do a poor job absorbing it.

I thought about that this weekend while reading the graceful tributes to Mothers & Grandmothers everywhere.  Many expressed gratitude for those still around; others lit candles while remembering those gone.

All that outpouring of love made me think–as I do often–about marriage.

With three states passing marriage equality laws in two weeks, most assume that nationwide marriage equality is “just a matter of time.”  I agree.  But time matters.


Because six thousand people die every day.  Mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, wives, husbands…fiances…”partners.”

One of the most common excuses that wavering lawmakers squeak in opposition to equality is: Why are we talking about this now?  There are more important things to deal with.  We need to “create jobs;” gay marriage can wait.  There are a dozen issues that come first.

We are hearing this in Illinois right now, as certain members wiggle to convince themselves that there are logical reasons to oppose equality besides “some religious people in my district don’t like it.”  Obviously, this argument is a dodge.  Legislators always consider dozens of issues at once.

Much more importantly, however, the argument completely misses the reason why gay couples and the growing number of passionate allies are fighting for equality now: We don’t know how much time we have.

Every day people lose the chance to have their mother walk them down the aisle, be kissed on the cheek by their father, or have their grandmother sit in the front row, watch her grandchild say his vows, and consider how large her legacy has grown over the last fifty years.

In 1975, Richard Adams &  Tony Sullivan became the first gay coupe to seek a marriage license.  Richard died in December with Tony by his side after 43 years together.  They were never able to marry.

In 1975, Richard Adams & Tony Sullivan became the first gay coupe to seek a marriage license. Richard died in December with Tony by his side after 43 years together. They were never able to marry.

Shane, Tom

Shane & Tom were together for six years. They bought a house, started a business, and took care of their dog. Tom died in a freak accident two years ago. They were never able to marry.

Ed & Derence spent 40 year together.  They fought desperately to have the Prop 8 decision enforced immediately so that they could marry before Ed's Alzheimer's advanced.  Ed died last December.  They were never able to marry.

Ed & Derence spent 40 year together. They fought desperately to have the Prop 8 decision enforced immediately so that they could marry before Ed’s Alzheimer’s advanced. Ed died last December. They were never able to marry.

This Issue Is Different

Many other political issues are “more important” — Pension costs, tax rates, education reform, the healthcare system…

But make no mistake: They are different.

It wasn't about seating arrangements.

It wasn’t about seating arrangements.

We all have the same goal in mind with those issues: a better healthcare system, a better education system, more secure financial footing.  Even those who are political opposites have the same big-picture end-game–they just have vastly different ideas about how to get there.

Marriage equality is different.  The two sides do not have the same goal.  One side believes that gay couples should be treated the same as their straight counterparts.  The other side does not.

When Rosa Parks stood firm in 1955, the only issue at stake was a seat on a bus.  Seating arrangements in Montgomery were of little importance when we had communism to fight, tax rates to set, and education to fund, right?


The importance of political issues are dictated by the principles that underlie them.  The Civil Rights movement was important, but not because bus seating in Montgomery affected people more than avoiding nuclear holocaust with the Soviets.  Marriage equality is important, but not because allowing gay couples to marry affects more people than pension reform..or healthcare…or taxes.

This is how they made bacon "in the old days."  Hopefully we can re-create this at a family wedding soon.

This is how they made bacon “in the old days.” Hopefully we can re-create this at a family wedding soon.

In the United States, Equality is always important.  Very important.  Critical.

When citizens do not have equal protection under the law, we fix it. We don’t wait until everything else is perfect.  We don’t say that we will get to it after we pass an education bill or pension reform measure. We do it now.  Right now.  Because now is all we have for sure.

But also because everyone wants Grandma at their wedding.  Or the chance to have a wedding at all.

When I am finally able to get married…in five years…in a decade…in fifteen years…who won’t be there?  Will I even make it? I’m quite clumsy.

Nothing is more important than Now.

The vote may happen in the next week or two in Illinois. We may be only a single vote short.  Please take one moment to send a final message to your Illinois representative and remind them that delay is unacceptable.  Today is all we are guaranteed.  Equality cannot wait:  CONTACT INFORMATION HERE