Connect with us

Commentary

Racist, homophobic Bishop carries out threat against Jesuit school

Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester, Mass delivers stunning Juneteenth/Pride Message: You can’t call yourself Catholic

Published

on

Robert J. McManus. Flagpole outside Nativity School. Screenshots from CBS Boston news coverage.

By James Finn | DETROIT – A prominent Roman Catholic bishop just threw another log on the fires of U.S. culture wars targeting LGBTQ people, attempting to make us feel ashamed and unwelcome.

His actions are certain to provoke more hatred and violence this month in a Pride season already punctuated by violence and threats of violence law enforcement agencies say are serious and credible. The bishop also attacks the Black Lives Matter movement, appearing to claim being Catholic mandates reflexive support for the police.

“Bishop Robert McManus’ decree that a Boston-area school can no longer identify as Catholic is a shameful denial of the Gospel,” according to DignityUSA, which calls itself “the nation’s foremost organization of Catholics working for justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the church and society.”

Dignity are responding to McManus’s decree on Thursday stripping the private Nativity School of Worcester, Massachusetts of its Catholic status because of the school’s refusal to stop flying LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matters flags.

“Bishop McManus has taken this fight over Nativity School’s attempts to demonstrate that all are welcome and loved by God to an outrageous level by telling them they can no longer identify as a Catholic school,” said Dignity’s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke in a statement.

She asks, “What is more Catholic than Nativity’s efforts to give some of the most marginalized children in our society a wonderful education and a chance at a better life?”

Here’s a rundown of events

Nativity School is a Jesuit-run school that provides a free Catholic education to about 60 boys, mostly Black and Latino, almost all from families living in poverty. Since April, the school and the bishop have been in a dispute about Black Lives Matter and Rainbow flags the school has flown for more than a year at the request of students.

The Catholic women and men who run the school, which provides an academically superior education to underserved children, have been standing strong since the bishop first ordered them to take the flags down. The say the bishop is wrong when he claims the Pride flag contradicts Catholic theology and that the BLM flag fosters unacceptable disrespect for police officers.

Bishop amends bizarre claim that respecting the police is a important Catholic value

Since the story first broke, McManus has amended his original complaint about the Black Lives Matter movement to say that it stands in opposition to Catholic teachings about the nuclear family.

He did not explain his basis for saying so, but one of many groups that use the BLM flag to call for social justice once included statements on a web site about a need to expand ideas about family structure.

Politifact, in an article debunking right-wing claims against BLM, says the web site included this statement: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

That doesn’t sound anti-Catholic to me, but even if it were, the BLM flag does not speak for any one organization, and it’s highly unlikely anyone seeing the flag thinks of that statement. The public overwhelmingly see the flag as a plea for society to reduce police violence against Black people.

Is reduction of race-based violent mistreatment not a Catholic value?

DignityUSA say the bishop is taking sides in culture wars, call actions racist and homophobic

“This is a blatant move to position the Worcester diocese and the larger Catholic church,” writes Duddy-Burke, “as aligned with a certain side in the U.S. culture wars. This move is certain to horrify the large majority of Catholics who support LGBTQ+ equality as well as racial justice. It is an overtly racist and homophobic action that will not be allowed to stand.”

Nativity School says their flags exist to welcome diverse students

According to Nativity School President Thomas McKenney, “The flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity, writing in a letter to the school’s community that the school will continue to fly the flags as it appeals the bishop’s decision.

In January 2021, Nativity started flying the Pride and Black Lives Matter flags following our students’ (the majority of whom are people of color) call to express support for making our communities more just and inclusive. As a multicultural school, the flags represent the inclusion and respect of all people. These flags simply state that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis has praised the outreach and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the spirit and movement of “Black Lives Matter.” Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination.

This isn’t the first time a U.S. bishop tried something like this

McManus appears to be emulating the bullying tactics of Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, who in 2019 tried to pull the Catholic status of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School after Brebeuf defied his order to fire a gay teacher. The Vatican later suspended Thompson’s ruling indicating it appeared doubtful he had acted within his authority, but a final ruling is still pending. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis continues to exclude Brebeuf athletes from league and tournament play, sending students a terrible message: Merely being exposed to a gay teacher makes you unworthy to associate with us.

McManus is sending students and families all over Massachusetts a similar, toxic message: Making LGBTQ people feel welcome makes you unworthy of being called Catholic; fighting for social justice for Black people makes you unworthy of being called Catholic.

Nativity is unlikely to change its practices, but great harm has already been done

The school, which is run by Catholics, is not supported financially by the diocese and faces no existential threat. All the bishop’s ruling means in practice is that priests may not celebrate mass on school premises and that the word “Catholic” may not appear in material identifying the school. That seems unlikely to overly trouble school leaders whose primary purpose is to provide an excellent, free education to kids living in poverty.

The school is appealing the bishop’s ruling, and Church watchers expect it to be at least suspended in the near future, but much of the damage has already been done.

Headlines have blazoned the bishop’s homophobia and racism to a large audience. Children have learned that religious leaders think something is wrong with LGBTQ people. They’ve learned Black lives don’t deserve particular protection. They’ve learned learned esteemed religious leaders say unwelcoming behavior is good and proper.

Anti-Pride violence is not just theoretical this year

According to the Washington Post, Pride events have been targeted with a surge of anti-LGBTQ threats and violence this June, fueled by right-wing and religious rhetoric:

Right-wing politicians and preachers have openly called for killing LGBTQ people. On a conservative talk show, Mark Burns, a Donald Trump-allied congressional candidate from South Carolina, called “LGBT, transgender grooming” a national security threat and proposed using treason laws as the basis for “executing” parents and teaches who advocate for LGBTQ rights. In Texas last Sunday, a pastor railed against Pride month and said LGBTQ people “should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.”

I can’t stop thinking about the four house fires that started about 4am last Wednesday in Baltimore after a Pride flag and Pride decorations were set on fire at two homes on the same block. Two men and a woman were taken to a local hospital in critical condition to be treated for smoke inhalation. The woman was released later that day, but a 57-year-old man and 74-year-old man remained in serious condition.

The homes were located in a traditional “gayborhood” and police are investigating the fires as probable arson and hate crimes.

A friend of mine who runs an LGBTQ organization that pays for mental health counseling for queer youth has been warned by the FBI about credible threats of violence in three cities where they had planned display booths at Pride events. They’ve pulled out because they don’t want to put their youth volunteers at risk. They’re considering pulling out of events in other cities just to be safe.

Religious leaders, including McManus, must call a ceasefire

Enough is enough. LGBTQ people do not deserve the sort of hateful rhetoric leaders like McManus promote. Their calls are resulting in violence. Words have consequences. Symbolic messages like the bishop’s have consequences too, especially when they take place in an atmosphere that is already hostile and violent.

Enough already. Knock it off! If you’re a religious leader, the very last thing ANYONE should EVER have to tell you is to stop inciting violence.

If you, dear reader live in the Boston area, or even if you don’t, please help send McManus that message.

Here’s what else you can do, according to DignityUSA:

We call on Catholics in the Worcester diocese, across Massachusetts, and beyond to stand in solidarity with Nativity School. Send funding to help them give their students an even better education. Let them know you support their commitment to making their embrace of all God’s people visible. Call on Bishop McManus to rescind this decree, which does nothing but divide the Body of Christ.

Click here for contact information for the Nativity School. Find out how you can help with donations of money, time, or services.

************************

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Commentary

Virginia is for Lovers, not political agendas

Did a politician leverage state’s brand for his personal agenda? Looking at ethics of politicians promoting state tourism during elections

Published

on

Photograph courtesy of the Virginia Tourism Corporation

By Rachel Scott Everett | RICHMOND – As a Virginian, I’ve always been proud of my state’s motto: “Virginia is for Lovers.”

The iconic slogan first appeared in a 1969 ad campaign for what is now Virginia Tourism Corporation. It was created by Martin and Woltz Inc., which later evolved into The Martin Agency, and has been in use ever since. 

Initially positioning the state as a destination for romance, “Virginia is for Lovers” soon gave way to various interpretations. With so much to experience, Virginia has become a welcoming place for history lovers, food lovers, nature lovers—all kinds of lovers. That’s the premise behind a new national campaign, “Virginia is for…”, developed by The Martin Agency, that launched this spring.

“Virginia is for Lovers” resonates deeply with many—myself included. It’s an example of the power that emotionally driven branding can have on our psyche. In an interview earlier this year, Virginia Tourism brand director Lindsey Norment said the slogan’s popularity remains because “it allows Virginians to make it their own and feel prideful of that.” 

Indeed, love is a powerful driver when it comes to persuading people. Love is inherently welcoming, positive and inclusive.

Love is also apolitical, which is why I was disheartened to see a new Virginia Tourism video prominently featuring Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The stand-alone 60-second promotional piece, titled “Welcome to Virginia,” seems to take cues from The Martin Agency’s flagship campaign, but the format and overall tone are entirely different. More anthemic in feel, it highlights different people speaking directly to camera. The sole elected official, Gov. Youngkin, is a central figure in the video and its primary narrator.

Not long after it begins, Youngkin makes his appearance on camera. Dressed in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up and navy slacks, he walks with a confident stride along the track of the Richmond Raceway. Looking directly at camera, he smiles as he introduces himself.

“In Virginia, there’s a million different ways to say welcome,” he declares. “I’m Governor Glenn Youngkin, and I want to be one of the first.” The words “Governor Glenn Youngkin” accompany him on screen.

Welcome to Virginia:

The video continues as Youngkin provides the voiceover for a series of lifestyle shots featuring an impressively diverse cast of characters. We’re welcomed by different types of Virginians: a long-haired surfer dude with his pals, an edgy millennial bartender serving up a cocktail, and a varied group of barbecue lovers, all ages and races, sitting at the same table. “Bievenido!” a Latino boy exclaims.

Youngkin appears on camera again—this time in the driver’s seat of a race car, looking cool and confident. He offers one last welcome before the video ends, signed off by “Welcome to Virginia” and the “Virginia is for Lovers” logo.

On initial glance, the video might not seem like anything out of the ordinary. To many, it will come across as a fun, upbeat tourism piece for Virginia. 

But is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?

Certainly it’s not a novel idea that a governor might be in a video to promote state tourism. Last year, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska was featured in his state’s tourism marketing campaign. He touted Alaska as a Covid-safe state that was “leading the nation in all the important health metrics,” as an incentive for people to travel there. Later, though, it was revealed that when the ad ran, Alaska actually ranked 30th in the country for vaccination rates.

In 2020, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota appeared in, and narrated, a state tourism ad airing on Fox News. The 30-second ad, which ran for two weeks, cost taxpayers over $800,000. Noem received national publicity upwards of 85 million views, but it’s debatable if state tourism increased. AP News reported that while Google searches for “Kristi Noem” peaked, terms like “South Dakota tourism” and “visit South Dakota” remained stagnant.

But it’s a tourism campaign involving Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey that’s particularly noteworthy. 

In 2013, coming out of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Christie got star billing in his state’s tourism ads. The “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign ran leading up to the gubernatorial election in New Jersey. The campaign itself, along with where it aired and the timing of its release, gave Christie an unexpected platform to hone his brand image and gain greater exposure across key Northeast states.

His opponent, Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, said the ads gave him an unfair advantage, calling it both “supremely arrogant and wildly inappropriate.” Buono lost the election. Two years later, Christie announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.

There are important parallels to draw here. 

Last year, Youngkin became the first Republican to win a statewide election in Virginia in over a decade. The former businessman, who had never held elective office, ran a successful campaign by cultivating his own distinct brand, positioning himself as an enthusiastic, moderate candidate who appealed to both forever Trumpers and never Trumpers.

With his can-do attitude and signature red fleece vest, Youngkin portrayed an affable, everyman image—positive, charismatic and relatable. He kept his messaging simple and concise, advocating for broad issues like safety, education and cost of living.

But many claimed that two faces of Glenn Youngkin emerged once elected. Just 10 days into office, he began receiving blowback over new policies in his conservative agenda which didn’t appear to align with his calls for unity or moving the state forward.

Youngkin immediately signed an executive order to root out critical race theory in Virginia, which isn’t mentioned in the Virginia Department of Education’s curriculum (Politifact). Asserting protection of “parental rights,” he also supported measures to regulate explicit content in schools, force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students, and most recently, restrict the rights of trans students.

Despite publicly distancing himself from Trump during his campaign, he has since hired many veterans of the Trump administration, including a former Trump EPA head who has repeatedly minimized the threat of climate change. Youngkin also plans to withdraw Virginia from a greenhouse gas initiative established to help fight climate change regionally. 

And when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Youngkin reinforced his stance as a “pro-life” governor by pursuing a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia and headlining a pro-life gala in Washington, D.C., for a prominent anti-abortion group.

None of these policies seem to suggest Virginia is moving forward. 

In fact, an opinion piece in The Washington Post states that Youngkin’s culture wars are good for him but bad for Virginia business, causing the state to be viewed as a less welcoming place—an insight that seems to be the antithesis to the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.

I reached out to Virginia Tourism to get more information, which left me with more questions than answers.

For starters, the video was not created or produced by The Martin Agency, Virginia Tourism’s current agency of record. According to a spokesperson at Virginia Tourism, the concept for the video was developed by Virginia Tourism and produced by POOLHOUSE, the agency behind Youngkin’s winning brand campaign when he ran for governor.

On its website, POOLHOUSE says it creates “bold campaigns that win elections and move people to action.” A Google search reveals the agency has been referred to as a “GOP-focused political ad firm” and a “scrappy Republican ad agency.” Its Instagram feed includes congratulatory posts for Republican politician wins, a recap of its favorite ads for Youngkin, and a quote that speaks to its desire to be “the best political agency in the business.” This year, POOLHOUSE plans to open a D.C. office to pick up advocacy clients and more congressional business.

Officials at Virginia Tourism did not directly respond when asked if they were aware POOLHOUSE was the political ad agency behind Youngkin’s campaign. Instead, they provided the following statement: “POOLHOUSE was selected because of their outstanding creative work and reputation, not only in Virginia but across the country, for producing beautiful videos.” Yet Virginia Tourism also said that when the project was put out to bid, they only received one offer, which resulted in the contract with POOLHOUSE.

POOLHOUSE did not respond to inquiry by phone or email by the time this article was published.

As for the purpose and timing of the video, Virginia Tourism said it is “an evergreen piece to showcase the beautiful state of Virginia and to welcome travelers to Virginia” and it launched on Labor Day weekend “to coincide with a high-impact travel weekend.”

However, its release also coincides with the lead-up to this year’s midterm elections on Nov. 8. Most of the country is holding state legislative elections and there are 36 gubernatorial seats on the ballot. A week after Youngkin shared the “Welcome to Virginia” video in a retweet, he posted a political ad in which he appears promoting Virginia Republican congressional candidate Yesli Vega. According to her website, she is working with POOLHOUSE as well. 

While only in office a few months, Youngkin has been spending a lot of time outside of the state he’s supposed to be governing.

Many news outlets report that he’s actively endorsing Republican politicians running for office in key swing states. So far, he’s expressed support for GOP gubernatorial candidates Paul LePage of Maine, who has an extensive history of racist remarks; Kari Lake of Arizona, who has appeared with Nazi sympathizer and QAnon-linked activists; and Tudor Dixon of Michigan, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape because she believes there’s “healing through the baby.”

These candidates are all part of an alarming trend of election deniers running for governor this year as well.

In preparation to wade into national politics, Youngkin established two political organizations, America’s Spirit and Spirit of Virginia (the latter of which paid for Vega’s ad mentioned above). Both groups can accept contributions of any size to fund Youngkin’s political efforts, which include his campaigning for other GOP candidates, as well as his own self-promotion.

This summer, Youngkin met with Republican megadonors amid hints he’s mulling a White House bid. One of his midterm stops will include Nevada, a 2024 early state for presidential candidate nominations.

After the upset in Virginia, many believe Youngkin’s win gave the GOP a winning blueprint for 2022 and beyond. Part of his strategy included establishing an early media spend to introduce himself and begin building his brand in a campaign as soon as possible.

That campaign, into which Youngkin put $20 million of his own money, was fueled by a robust media buy including 40 TV videos and hundreds of radio, digital and design advertisements, including bumper stickers in multiple languages. Incidentally, Youngkin is considered one of the nation’s richest politicians, with a net worth of $470 million.

“One thing that Youngkin did very smartly was getting started earlier, particularly with media,” POOLHOUSE CEO Will Ritter said in an interview with Fox Business last year. “That means if you’re running in ’22, you need to be thinking how you’re going to get your message to people as soon as possible.”

Indeed, timing, placement and context are important components to launching a brand.

While the “Welcome to Virginia” video has no associated media buy, it will be seen extensively through state-owned platforms such as Virginia Welcome Centers and the state’s nine commercial airports, including major hubs like Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport, outside Washington, D.C. Combined, the foot traffic in these areas alone translates to millions of impressions, giving Youngkin unprecedented exposure to a broad, diverse audience made up of travelers from all over the country.

Because the video is intended to be an evergreen piece (meaning relevant for long-term purposes), it has the potential to run during the entire term of Youngkin’s office, as well as the time of his campaigning should he throw his hat (or fleece vest) into the ring in pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination. Like Christie’s “Stronger Than the Storm” campaign, the “Welcome to Virginia” video portrays Youngkin in a positive, heroic way that not only gets his name out, but bolsters his brand on the national stage.

Given all these factors, as well as continued press about Youngkin’s potential political aspirations (which are even making international headlines), it’s not implausible to think that the “Welcome to Virginia” video could be playing a role in a much larger agenda: a long game to establish Youngkin as a viable presidential candidate for 2024 or even 2028.

A recent article in Vanity Fair cautions us not to be fooled by the moderate “suburban dad vibe.” From traditional Republican to culture warrior, Youngkin has become a public advocate of Trump-backed election deniers, which not only normalizes extremists as credible representatives of this country but poses a serious threat to our democracy. 

As a creative professional, it’s been horrifying to come to terms with the role branding is playing in our politics. From misleading messaging to polished image-making, the strategies around crafting a politician’s brand are getting less transparent, more insidious, and farther from the truth.

I care deeply about my country, my home state of Virginia, and my local community in Richmond, which is why I felt compelled to dig deeper into the “Welcome to Virginia” video. 

I don’t like feeling that people in the video may not have been aware of Youngkin’s involvement (or his political agency), or worse, were used for ulterior motives. I don’t want my state to be represented by a polarizing political figure whose brand has been referred to as Trump LightTrump in a red vest, and Trumpism Without Trump.

And I don’t think it’s appropriate for what I perceive to be my tax dollars helping a politician to promote himself for his personal ambitions under the guise of a tourism video—particularly a governor actively working to roll back my rights as a woman and instill countless other antiquated policies that seem at odds with the values of many Virginians, as well as the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand.

When Youngkin was elected, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement that vowed to fight against his regressive agenda: “Glenn Youngkin’s anti-equality, anti-choice, racist tactics sought to sow fear and confusion, turning Virginian against Virginian for political gain,” said interim president Joni Madison. “Anti-equality extremists will continue to use bigotry to score political points. But we know that history has proven hate-filled electoral strategies ultimately stir the conscience of the nation.”

President Joe Biden also had some choice remarks about Youngkin: “Extremism can come in many forms,” he said at a grassroots event. “It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.” 

Over the years, I’ve written numerous essays about the power of branding. One of the most successful tactics of brand building is to infiltrate platforms that don’t obviously translate as advertising. It’s why brands take advantage of product placement in popular movies and series television. The “soft sell” exposure not only increases awareness of a brand, it enables people to develop a deep connection to it in a much more organic, natural way. 

In my essay “Canceling the Confederacy,” I explain how the United Daughters of the Confederacy found a way to shape the Confederacy brand by promoting the Lost Cause, a biased perspective of U.S. history, through an unassuming medium: school textbooks. It was an attempt at rewriting history, reinforced by the construction of Confederate monuments, and to this day, many still subscribe to its false narrative. 

And therein lies the danger.

Branding, in all its nuance and subtlety, can distort our perception of what’s real. It can skew or stretch the truth and influence our thoughts on a subliminal level. After all, there’s a fine line between the power of persuasion and the art of deception. And when politicians are involved, be assured it’s even more unclear.

To clarify, the issue at hand is not about a governor appearing in a state tourism video. It’s about Governor Youngkin appearing in a state tourism video produced by his own political agency. It’s about the timing of the video’s release during the lead-up to midterm elections in which he’s actively campaigning for other candidates. And it’s about the exposure this video gives Youngkin to millions of people from all over the country amid talks of his own potential presidential run.

Again, is it just a feel-good piece promoting Virginia Tourism? Or did a politician leverage my beloved state’s brand for his own personal agenda?

Everyone will draw their own conclusions, but it’s my hope that by raising awareness on the role branding plays in our politics, we can better understand the impact it has on our elections and the candidates who are running. 

More than anything, I hope this knowledge empowers us all to make informed choices at the ballot box. The preservation of our democracy may very well depend on it.

********************

Rachel Scott Everett is co-founder and creative director at EVERGIB, a nomadic creative studio specializing in strategically led advertising and branding. A champion of big ideas and the power of storytelling, Rachel believes creativity can be used as a force for good to improve the world we live in.

********************

The preceding commentary was originally published at Muse by Clio and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading

Commentary

‘Moms for Liberty’ succeed in banning ‘Girls Who Code’ in schools

The GOP has clearly decided that sexism, homophobia, and extremist Christianity will win for them at the polls

Published

on

Reshma Saujani (Screenshot/YouTube Oxford Debate 2021)

By James Finn | DETROIT – My women friends in the tech industry tell me they’re under-represented and sometimes feel disrespected or overlooked at work. They say women make excellent programmers and data scientists, but girls often internalize the opposite message while they’re still very small.

My women friends say empowering girls is critical to countering pressure girls feel not to study math and science. 

That pressure continues this morning in a shocking way, led by a group of Republican/Christian activists infamous for trying to ban books by and about LGBTQ and Black people. 

Sometimes conservatives tell you loudly who they are and what they stand for. This is one of those times. Every person of good will in the United States, regardless of party affiliation, needs to listen carefully. Is their vision for the U.S. one you’re truly okay with? 

‘Moms for Liberty’ attack Reshma Saujani and her books for girls 

Reshma Saujani is a woman who saw a problem and met it head on. In 2012, she began publishing a series of light-hearted, playful books called Girls Who Code, featuring tween girls

who form a school coding club. The books are cute, positive, and empowering. They show girls that programming is cool and fun—for everyone, not just for boys. 

The books also teach little kids basic programming concepts in a fun way kids praise as simple to grasp. 

The books zoomed to instant popularity and today can be found in virtually every elementary and middle school library in the U.S. Many teachers keep copies in their classrooms. 

Reviewers have compared the books’ style to The Baby Sitters Club. Tween girls (and boys too!) say they love them. Parents, like this mom on Goodreads, say they do too: 

4.5 stars. I enjoyed this more than the first book. I liked how it put story and character development first but still managed to include tips about coding. Also, the message about responsibility, grit, and empowerment while not quite subtle, was cutely and cleverly handled. I can see middle-graders loving this series. 

The idea the books should be controversial never occurred to anyone until this summer, when the anti-LGBTQ, Republican-activists Moms For Liberty starting urging school boards to ban them. 

Reshma Saujani reacts to her books being banned in a Pennsylvania school district Yesterday, Reshma Saujani learned a Pennsylvania school district banned her books 

I’m having a hard time believing that news reports about this book ban aren’t satire, but they’re all too real. Click here for details in Business Insider, and click to read Saujani’s Linkedin announcement, which includes the following paragraph: 

I woke up this morning to a news alert that our Girls Who Code middle-grade book series was banned by some school districts as part of the Moms for Liberty effort to ban books. To be honest, I am so angry I cannot breathe. This series was our labor of love, our commitment to our community to make sure that girls—all girls—see themselves as coders. — 

Business Insider and the tech journal The Register reached out to Moms for Liberty yesterday for comment but have not yet published a response. I emailed the group this morning to ask them why they want Girls Who Code banned. I did not receive an immediate reply. 

Moms for Liberty fight against freedom, not for it. 

MFL cofounder Tina Descovich claims the group focuses on “pornography in school,” telling Fox News as recently as last weekend that they limit calls for banning to books that give children “access to pornography and sexually explicit material.” She added, “I haven’t seen any of our chapters that want to get rid of any books that help children find characters they identify with.”

Did somebody forget to tell Descovich about her group’s drive to ban Girls Who Code? 

Anyone closely following Moms for Liberty activism already knows Descovich is lying. Many of the LGBTQ-themed books they target are not pornographic by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, MFL has targeted books for high school students that include sexual themes, but the book-advocacy group Pen America reports that claims of obscenity are “spurious.” 

Pen notes that some banned books aimed at older teens discuss sexuality but not in a manner that approaches any reasonable definition of obscenity or pornography. Pen says book banners seem to focus exclusively on books by or about LGBTQ people, ignoring books about straight sexuality that are more detailed. 

As to books about racism and the U.S. history of slavery? MFL doesn’t even pretend they want to ban those books because of sexual content. They just want them out of your children’s hands. 

Because they know better than you about how to raise your children. 

Moms for Liberty want to snatch your liberty and your child’s liberty by limiting reading choices based on their hyper-conservative Christian values. They’re working as hard as they can to force their beliefs and practices on you. 

Sometimes GOP activists tell you EXACTLY who they are. Please hear them. 

Despite appearances, Moms for Liberty are not a grassroots group of parents. They’re a national organization funded and supported by deep-pocketed Republican donors. Pen America CEO Suzanne Nossel calls them a “sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organization.” 

Their ideology is clear, and it’s the opposite of liberty. 

They want to erase gay people, trans people, and the honest history of American chattel slavery and segregation. And now, they make clear they’re pushing Evangelical Christian notions about women being subordinate to men. 

Girl data scientists are apparently threats to the Evangelical aspiration of a world where women who don’t work, where they limit their lives to caring for husbands and children instead. 

Moms for Liberty have convinced one school board in Pennsylvania to endorse their vision by pulling empowering books for girls out of school libraries. They’re telling you loudly and clearly who they are. 

Will you listen? Will you hear? 

They ARE Republican activism today. The GOP has clearly decided that sexism, homophobia, and extremist Christianity will win for them at the polls.

Will you help me talk to them? 

No matter what party you normally support, please vote Democratic this November to send the GOP a message: 

We’re not buying the reactionary nightmare you’re selling. Girls can code!

************************

James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

********************

The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading

Commentary

Behind the Greyson Chance/Ellen DeGeneres failed relationship

He grew up, and then he started again with material that he wrote himself, and material that actually meant something

Published

on

Los Angeles Blade graphic

HOLLYWOOD – Once upon a time author George Orwell created a fictional character named Svengali. Svengali is a mastermind who used hypnosis to turn a woman named Trilby into a great singer, and without him, she was nothing.

The Svengali character has been turned into the archetype of the controlling star-maker, and in such situations, derided as the stars who benefit from such grooming start loathing the oppression.

Orwell painted the character to be as ugly as possible through antisemitic and homophobic bigotries: Svengali was described as “bold, black, beady Jew’s eyes… with hoarse, rasping, nasal, throaty rook’s caw, his big yellow teeth baring themselves in a mongrel canine snarl” and was “evil, effeminate, and physically repugnant.” He is described as being either fawning or a bully, and grossly impertinent with a kind of cynical humor that was always derisive and full of malice.

With his recent soul-baring interview with Rolling Stone, singer Greyson Chance has given many the cause to cast Ellen DeGeneres as a Svengali caricature of our generation. After Greyson described her as “insanely manipulative”, Ellen’s detractors tossed this news on her tarnished reputation pyre. “Ellen is a mogul; she’s ruthless and was all about presenting herself as “kind,” but it is not an adjective people who know her tend to use,” states one Twitter user.

Another goes after Greyson, “You and your mom are so ungrateful people. Total grifters. Got a huge opportunity and didn’t and couldn’t capitalize on it. You got a team thanks to Ellen but you both wanted her to be your friend instead of doing your jobs. Selfish and ungrateful. How about a thank you to Ellen?”

The discussion is, as per most of our public discourse these days, divisive and polarizing. If you buy into it, it is “pick your victim” and blindly fight against the other side.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Greyson/Ellen relationship is better described by another modern concept: it’s complicated.

I have had the pleasure of sitting and talking to Greyson for hours on several Rated LGBT Radio podcasts.

He is a brilliant young talent, thoughtful and intelligent. He is very open about his personal demons including his fight to heal from an eating disorder. He extends his relationship joys and heartbreaks into his art, and his feelings become universal.

He has embraced his authentic self with confidence and shares that courage freely to young listeners who need to see his example.

In our conversations, there always was that “elephant in the room.” He did not mention Ellen by name, but spoke clearly about the experience of adults jumping ship as soon as his career started taking on metaphorical water.

He was inflicted with the trauma of abandonment in his young life when his childlike nature was dissolving, and his manhood was emerging. Artistically, it would have taken a genius to guide him musically through physical and emotional adolescence and on to greater success.

Ellen was not that genius.

Greyson, himself eventually was. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, he returned to his home roots, to his family and friends who truly loved him. He grew up, and then he started again with material that he wrote himself, and material that actually meant something. Greyson had tapped his Ruby Slippers and realized “there is no place like home.”

As for Ellen, to align with Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, I am not here to either praise her or bury her. She seems to be a victim of her own reputation.

That reputation as the patron saint of kindness allows her no room for her own humanity and struggles. It also does not afford her the privilege that men in her position of entertainment power enjoy. Show business is a business, and business is coldly ruthless.

In ages past, American businesses embraced workers with pensions and attempts for lifelong loyalty and security. In modern capitalism, businesses instead look at people as expendable expenses, and treats them that way.

The golden age of Hollywood, the entire music industry, the Johnny Carsons, the Simon Cowells, all have played the Svengali hand, and virtually none of them have been called out on it as Ellen has. While Ellen’s brand of humor is not boldly cynical, derisive and “full of malice” as Svengali’s was described, there always has been an acceptable level of “fun” cruelty to it, so maybe that comparison might hold.

Ellen’s biggest “sin” in being a myopic business-oriented “Svengali” was that she tried to do it as a woman.

In evaluating Ellen, we should not lose sight of the fact she was publicly and badly burned for coming out. She embraced bravery, and a homophobic industry crashed on top of her in thanks. LGBTQ representation grew out of her ashes, and eventually so did she when she fought for, and got her daytime show gig. 

Just as Scarlet O’Hara raised her hand to God and vowed never to go hungry again, I believe that Ellen did the same. While not abandoning her altruistic intentions, she embraced the businesswoman inside, and likely decided to never be anyone’s patsy again. She grew strong Teflon shoulders. She did not buy homes, she bought houses, improved them and flipped them. The warm and fuzzy homemaker is not part of her soul. It is all just business. Her show looked for internet sensations, many around LGBT stories, and capitalized on them by promoting them as if they were their own discoveries.  

As a columnist for many prominent LGBTQ outlets, I observed this firsthand. Several of my stories of valiant families taking a stand against homophobia went viral, and as soon as they hit a certain level of popularity, the Ellen Show would make contact. It seemed like the ones that made it on the air were the ones that reached the millions-of-hits tipping point. Bottom line, the Ellen Show was not giving more audience, it was taking one.

Ellen made a futile attempt in the music industry. She did an embarrassing turn on American Idol and started her own label. She was not a successful music executive who dumped Greyson. She was a music industry failure. Greyson was the first artist signed (“Ellen DeGeneres starts own record label, signs YouTube kid” proclaimed Reuters in 2010). By 2013, the label, eleveneleven, was toast. Crashed and burned.

As Greyson’s initial music career was in decline, so was hers. It is likely that her behavior of control, manipulation and extreme agitation was due to her own personal desperation.

Greyson experienced the truth that many discover as they unpack their histories with a dysfunctional parent. The parent is flawed, and sometimes deeply so. The parent also is often doing “the best they can” within their own personal limitations. Did Ellen tell Greyson she would be there for him “no matter what”? Likely. Was she? No. Did she intend to be? Probably.

She probably should not have set herself up as his music-industry parent as much as her optimism gave her permission to do so. She is not the first to have failed to succeed in a Gypsy/Mama Rose role. Joe Jackson failed similarly in his efforts to control daughter Janet. He too disappointed.

The response from the Ellen Show to Greyson’s Rolling Stones interview was “Ellen and the team went above and beyond and sometimes careers just don’t take off.” 

That might be a respectable response from a business PR team. It is a pathetic response from someone who had promised the love and care that a mother might extend.

Ellen is not evil. We just had higher expectations for her. 

So did Greyson.

*********************

Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more. He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine. He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

**********************

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Advertisement

Popular