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Religious Freedom Restoration Acts Restore Bigotry & Repression

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The movement gaining support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Indiana’s new ironically named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” permits businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people, and members of all other groups they consider nonconformists to their judgments and precepts.

So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? On what sacred tenets would a baker refuse to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer refuse to preserve joyous moments; a caterer refuse the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist refuse the beauties from the garden; a jeweler refuse a band connecting human souls; a realtor refuse showing shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time; a shop owner refuse selling the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur refuse anyone a time away from the kitchen; a spiritual advisor refuse to treat one’s neighbor as oneself?

More ultimate questions need to be raised as the world spins around, as individuals and nations since recorded history have attempted to explain the mysteries of life, as spiritual and religious consciousness first developed and carried down through the ages, as people have come to believe their way stood as the right way, the only way, with all others as simple pretenders, which could never achieve THE truth, the certainty, the correct and right connection with the deity or deities, and as individuals and entire nations raped, pillaged, enslaved, and exterminated any “other” believing differently.

In reality, all religious doctrine stems from uncertainty and conjecture, from multiple Gods, hybrid Gods and humans, to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the burning bush, to the covenant and the parting of the Red Sea, to the immaculate conception and resurrection, to Muhammad’s rising to heaven from the rock, to the golden tablets, all beginning with the human creation of God(s).

“Truth” is what the dominant group declares to be THE “Truth.” “Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”? Someone said to me once that throughout the ages, more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point: we continually reject, oppress, and kill others and are killed by others over concepts that can never be proven.

We must, thus, restore Indiana and other states contemplating similar legislation to a path of understanding and support for people different from ourselves. We must work to rescind Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” because with it, no one is truly free since it only restores bigotry and repression.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 28th, 2015 at 2:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Ted Cruise-Control as Prime Pastor of the Christian Theocracy of America

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What follows is the transcript of a (fictitious) speech delivered by Senator-Pastor Ted Cruise-Control at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, April 1, 2015. 

Hello. My name is Ted Cruise-Control. Before my marriage to my lovely wife, Otta Control, I was simply known as “Ted Cruise,” but upon taking up the nuptials, I now drive through life blissfully with “Cruise-Control.”

Dear students, faculty, staff, and administrators of Liberty University, which was founded by one of my ultimate and most beloved mentors and heroes, the honorable moral Christian crusader, Jerry Falwell.

Imagine a young child watching the communist-inspired children’s television program “Teletubbies.” You are introduced to the newest cast character, the subversive purpled-bodied, triangle-headed, Tinky Winkie. We as a country indeed owe a great debt of gratitude to your founding father, Jerry Falwell. He was the first to unearth the plot by militant homosexuals to recruit our impressionable youth into their deviant gay lifestyle by using this purple pervert, who carried a bright red handbag, as a homosexual role model.

If Jerry Falwell had never been born, we might never have known what he reminded us about: that “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuality.”

Also, we never would have known the true words behind the acronym “NOW.” He was correct by alerting us that NOW, rather than standing for “National Organization for Women” as feminists purport, actually stands for “National Order of Witches.” He also exposed reality when he announced: “I listen to feminists and all these radical gals – most of them are failures. They’ve blown it….Feminists hate men. They’re sexist. They hate men – that’s their problem.”

And just imagine a world without Jerry Falwell. It was Jerry who courageously uncovered the real criminals behind the historic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 inside our true-God-fearing country when he exposed the perpetrators as “…pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine such a world without Jerry Falwell, this remarkable televangelist alerting us to THE truth.

Thank you Jerry for your wise words of wisdom, but enough about him. This convocation is about me.

Just last night, I had what can be called nothing short of a miraculous conversation with our Lord Jesus Christ, who commanded that I make this announcement in front of you here today — you who are all graciously mandated to be here in lieu of a $10.00 fine. So please, I ask that you keep your applause to a moderate tumult when I now declare upon the Holy Bible – well, actually just the newer updated parts – you know, the stuff from Jesus forward – that I am throwing my crucifix into the metaphorical ring to run for the office of Prime Pastor of the Christian Theocracy of these United Parishes of America.

I am running because I want you to imagine a United Parishes of America under my Prime Pastorship.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when the upper ten percent of our population controls even more than the approximately 80-90 percent of the accumulated wealth and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds that they already control. And imagine when corporate executives, who currently pay lower tax rates than their secretaries, incur even lower taxes. And also imagine when I together with the Congress outlaw labor unions and eliminate a government-imposed hourly minimum wage.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I take back from the estimated 17 million people who now have health insurance for the first time in their lives under the Affordable Care Act, which I dub as the Euro-Socialist-inspired Obama Care. When elected Prime Pastor, I will return us to the good-old days when 50 million people in our country went uninsured and their only form of health care was the hospital emergency room that the remainder of the population had to pay, a time during those bygone days when young adults could not remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26, when insurance companies could deny people coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and could drop people when they became sick, when women had to pay higher insurance premiums than men, when companies could make unjustified rate hikes whenever they wanted and limit peoples’ rights to appeal company decisions regarding their benefits.

As Prime Pastor, I also promise to rescind Comrade Obama’s stated policy of providing free junior college tuition to students. I guarantee never to increase governmental student assistance programs, which I hope will further restrict deserving students from middle and working class backgrounds. Also Imagine when I cut and eventually eliminate governmental entitlement programs, thereby drying up the support systems from the “takers,” including many of our elders, people with disabilities, and other residents struggling to provide life’s basics.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I enact an executive order and encourage our Congress to pass legislation to construct a fence well into the celestial heavens on our southern border, increase deportations and dump people in middle of the oceans, and further restrict immigration and social and educational services to youth, even though I myself was born in Canada and my father is a Cuban immigrant from the U.S.-supported Batista regime. Also imagine when I together with the Congress declare English as the “official” language of our nation, thereby eliminating bilingual education and providing all government documents be written in only good old American English, y’all.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I re-criminalize women who attempt to control their bodies, and when doctors and others assist them in carrying out the choices they make.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I overturn those laws that spit in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ by allowing homosexuals to marry each other, and other laws granting them the unconscionable benefits of living where they wish, eating in restaurants and purchasing things in stores they wish to patronize, visiting their perverted “partners” in hospitals and attending their funerals, inheriting their partners’ stuff after they die, and all the other benefits that should only be granted within the sacred bonds between one man and one woman. And imagine when we return to the days when men were men and women were ladies, because after my election, I will outlaw transgender transition procedures and mandate that everyone wear the clothing and behave as our God had intended.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I terminate all so-called “affirmative action programs” that get in the way of hard working righteous white people, for as we well know, as it currently stands, white people, Christians, and heterosexuals are the real victims of our current Nanny State society.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I assist Congress in privatizing our national parks, and loosening environmental and consumer protections of all kinds. I will grant even more mining, oil, and lumber companies an enhanced right to exploit the land, and grant them more enormous tax breaks and subsidies. I promise to expose the lie that the liberals perpetuate daily in their claims of some sort of human-caused climate change and the warming of the Earth. As we all here know, God can only change our climate.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I downsize government by eliminating the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as many other agencies during my term of office.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when we divert money currently going into public education into school vouchers so parents can send their students to good Christian schools at tax payer expense. And imagine when we reintroduce prayer into the public schools, and when the current pretext of a supposed separation of religion (“Church”) and state is finally exposed as the lie it is.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I convene committees to set the standards for acceptable art and culture while censoring and banning all else.

Imagine our liberty and how free we will be as individuals and as a nation when I am given free rein to conduct holy invasions into sovereign nations, like our great former president “W” into Iraq, to bring about American-style democratic reforms and restore civility by killing the infidels. Look out Iran!

I realize that some other potential candidates from my party believe in many of the same policies I am advancing here today. Why do you think I am announcing first for the office of Prime Pastor? Imagine if I declared second or third or fourth – those pretenders of the true God would get the publicity instead of me.

So, I ask you all here today, don’t merely imagine an America with more liberty and freedom through a peewee size government with severely reduced public services, an unlimited defense budget, enhanced state rights and the ability for states to secede anytime they wish, and a return to the true God. If you vote for me, that is exactly what you will get.

God bless you, and God bless the Christian Theocracy of America. Amen, praise Jesus!

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 25th, 2015 at 11:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dumping Sexist, Heterosexist, & Cissexist Language into Historical Archives

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Humans in general are one of those rare animal species with the capacity to understand and transmit language with precision and detail. Language is among the many ways we communicate with one another and convey ideas, thoughts, and emotions of all kinds. Through language, people come to understand their culture, begin to develop a sense of who they are, and come to know what is expected of them in terms of their social and cultural roles. While an acorn will inevitably become an oak tree, humans require language and culture to realize their full potential. Cooley talks about the “looking glass self,” whereby other people are the mirrors through which we see ourselves.

Language constantly evolves and changes. Over time, new words enter the vocabulary while others silently die out through disuse. Central to comprehension of the world around us is our capacity to continually analyze how our culture uses words, to investigate and sometimes challenge the meaning of words, and to adopt terminology and definitions that are authentic to our identities and our respective communities.

Many English-language words and phrases in a United States context still in common usage today promote the many forms of oppression. I would like here to concentrate on words and phrases that encourage and maintain forms of oppression specifically based on sex, sexuality, and gender identity and expression.

Sexist Language:

Language itself often reinforces sexism. Indeed, the language we use expresses the way we experience the world around us, and the words people use in talking about the sexes reveal social attitudes that tend to maintain and advance sexist behaviors.

I define “Sexism” as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on males. It is prejudice and discrimination based on sex, especially against females and intersex people, founded on a patriarchal structure of male domination through hegemonic social and cultural systems.

Gender roles (sometimes called “sex role”) include the set of socially-defined roles and behaviors forced onto people according to the sex they are assigned at birth. This can and does vary from culture to culture. Our society recognizes basically two distinct gender roles. One is the “masculine,” having the qualities and characteristics attributed to males. The other is the “feminine,” having the qualities and characteristics attributed to females. A third gender role, rarely condoned in our society, at least for those assigned “male” at birth, is “androgyny” (sometimes called “unisex”) combining assumed male (andro) and female (gyne) qualities.

When males and females both exhibit similar outward behaviors, the sex we are assigned at birth will often determine the societal value affixed to those behaviors. For example, what may be seen as “assertive” behavior in a male may be called “pushiness” in a female. A male may be seen as being “enthusiastic” or “passionate,” whereas a female is accused of being “emotional” or “on the rag.” Where a male is viewed as “confident” or “firm,” a female, on the other hand, is considered “stubborn” or “bitchy.”

When a woman aims to step higher on the job ladder in business, moving outside the gender role assigned to her, she is sometimes accused of “trying to be like a man” and she is considered “too masculine.”

Though referring to non-human animals, names are sometimes applied to people depending on their assigned sex at birth. For example, people refer to males as “studs,” “stallions,” “bucks,” “rams,” “wolves,” and “lions,” whereas females are “foxes,” “coyotes,” “kittens,” “pussies,” “bunnies,” “birds,” “chicks,” “lambs,” “bitches,” “shrews,” “cows,” “dogs,” “nags,” “beavers,” and “sows.” The animals used to refer to males signify bravery or sexual prowess, while most of those applied to females tend to be either negative in tone or they cast females in the role of sexually-passive vessels.

Other words, usually used as “masculine” and “feminine” nouns, have not-so-subtle differences in meaning that reflect the values placed on males over females. Masculine nouns include “brave,” “king,” “wizard,” “landlord,” “patron,” “fatherly advice,” “sir,” “master,” “bachelor,” “host,” “player,” “red-blooded American,” “the stronger sex.” Feminine nouns include “squaw,” “queen,” “princess,” “dame,” “broad,” “witch,” “landlady,” “matron,” “old wives’ tale,” “the weaker sex,” “madam,” “ho,” “whore,” “slut,” “nymphomaniac,” “maiden,” “mistress,” “bachelorette,” “hostess,” “old maid,” “old bag,” “easy,” “frigid,” she has a “maiden name,” and is a “cock tease.”

In addition, some words seem to apply almost exclusively to females, such as “flirt,” “moody,” and “hysterical,” carrying negative connotations. In fact, the term “hysteria” from the 19th century C.E. was used to refer to females only, and was thought to be caused by a disturbance in the uterus, from the so-called “wondering” or “floating womb.”

The binary “male/female” does not reflect the vast variety of human sexed bodies and gender identities. In addition, the phrase “opposite sex” adds to the discourse of sexism. While males and females are different in a number of ways in terms of our biological and social programming, we certainly cannot be considered “opposite.” Also, opposites are not possible since humans comprise more than two sexes: male, female, intersex.

“Intersex” stands as an umbrella term used to describe individuals born outside the male/female binary with external genitalia and internal reproductive system or chromosomal patterns that do not correspond with the traditional definition of either “male” or “female” assignments at birth. The socially constructed and imposed hierarchical sex binary is a foundational element to sexism, as well as to heterosexism and cissexism.

Taken in tandem, these linguistic “double” standards reflect the sexism still enforced within our society. Sexist language intersects with heterosexist and cissexist discourses.

Heterosexism and Cissexism in Language:

I define “Heterosexism” as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on heterosexuals. Heterosexism is the institutionalization of a heterosexual norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be heterosexual, thereby privileging heterosexuals and heterosexuality, and excluding the needs, concerns, cultures, and life experiences of lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, asexuals, trans*, and intersex people. Many times blatant and at times subtle, heterosexism is oppression by design and intent, and also neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion.

The Latin prefix “cis” means “on the same side (as)” or “on the side (of)” or “to/this the near side.” “Cisgender” (non-trans*) refers to individuals who match the sex assigned to them at birth with their bodies and their gender identities. Other terms include “gender normative,” “cismale,” “cisfemale,” and others. “Cissexism” (a.k.a. “Binarism,” “Transgender Oppression,” and “Genderism”) comprises a conceptual structure of oppression directed against those who live and function external to the gender/sex binary, and/or the doctrine that they do not exist at all.

Larger coercive hegemonic battalions are bent on destroying all signs of sexuality and gender non-conformity in young and old alike, and in the maintenance of pre-determined gender scripts. Most of us function as conscious and unconscious co-directors in this drama each time we enforce sex, sexuality, and gender conformity onto others, and each time we relegate our critical consciousness by failing to rewrite or destroy the scripts in ways that operate integrally for us.

Certain words and phrases (in all their linguistic variations and dialects) related to human sexuality and gender identity and expression we need to critically analyze and to relegate to the archives of history, words that marginalize, stereotype, separate, limit, and justify oppression. These words include “Born Out of Wedlock,” “Illegitimate Child” (no person is “illegitimate”), “Bastard,” “Artificial Insemination” (rather “Alternative Insemination”), “‘Normal’ or ‘Natural’ Sexuality & Gender Identity and Expression,” “It’s against ‘Natural Law’,” “Regular Guy,” “‘Alternative’ Sexuality & Gender Identity,” “Red Blooded American,” “Trying to ‘Pass’ as Another Sex,” “Homosexual,” “Homosexual Lifestyle,” “Alternative Lifestyle,” “Gay Agenda,” “Homosexual Choice,” “Transgender Choice,” “Chosen Lifestyle,” “Fence Sitters” (bisexuals), “Hermaphrodite” (rather “Intersex”), “Just Confused,” “Just a Stage You’re Going Through,” “You’re Too Young to Know,” “They’re Just Rebelling,” “I Don’t See You as an LGBT Person. I Just See You as a Person,” “We Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner,” “Old Maid,” “Maiden Name,” “Confirmed Bachelor,” “None of Those People Are Here,” “Pre-Marital Sex,” “Losing Your Virginity” (rather “Sexual Debut”), “Pre-op” & “Post-op,” “Sexual Reassignment Surgery” (rather “Gender Confirmation” or “Transition”), “Grow Some Balls,” “Man Up,” “Wimp,” “Tomboy,” “Straight Acting,” “Sexual Preference” (rather “Sexual Identity”), “Same-Sex Marriage/“Same-Gender Marriage”/“Gay Marriage” (instead: “Marriage for Same-Sex Couples”), “Act Like a Lady,” “Act Like a Gentleman,” “Speak Man to Man,” “Girly Girl,” “That’s So Gay,” “Effeminate,” “Fag,” “Faggot,” “Pansy,” “Pussy,” “Light in the Loafers,” “Butch,” “Dyke,” “Fem,” “Tomboy,” “Diesel,” and I could continue ad infinitum.

Many individuals are challenging the notion of personal gender pronouns and using terms outside the current gender binary (he, his, him / she, her, hers) by asking to be called pronouns that are gender inclusive or gender neutral such as ze/hirs/hir, per/pers, zie/zirs/zir, and others. Some people are now employing the pronouns they/their/theirs as singular pronouns to more closely align with their gender identity.

Each time we rewrite the scripts to give an honest and true performance of life, each time we work toward lifting the ban against our transcending and obliterating the sex, sexuality, and gender status quo by continually questioning and challenging standard conceptualization, only then will we begin as individuals and as a world community to lift the socially constructed hierarchical binary systems of artificiality, which operate contrary to human lived experience.

I would like to thank Dr. Diane Raymond for her invaluable input into this commentary.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 21st, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tea Party & Likud East & West: A Symbiosis of Fear & Division

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Only hours after the results revealing the Likud Party’s lead in obtaining the most seats – 30 to its closest competitors’ 24 of the Zionist Union (formerly the Labor Party) — in the next Israeli Knesset (Parliament), the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the U.S. sent an email message to millions of U.S. residents congratulating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what most likely will result in his re-election for a fourth term. The announcement includes a congratulatory petition for people to sign, and states in part:

“The people of Israel have spoken: Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was just reelected to office, in a sweeping victory for those who value freedom and democracy around the world.”

Yes, this election is a “sweeping victory,” but not for those of us “who value freedom and democracy around the world.” Right-wing politicians who run and rule by fear and division stand as the only winners in this travesty: those hardliners who promote intolerance, hatred, xenophobia, and racism.

Only four days prior to the election, Netanyahu and his Likud Party were trailing in the polls. Just 48 hours before the election, Netanyahu, as a last-ditch desperation effort, finally told his truth: that he would never support the establishment of a Palestinian state “on his watch,” while increasing Israeli so-called “settlements” on the West Bank. Netanyahu-watchers had long suspected what turned out to be his previously voiced disingenuous interest in a “two-state solution.”

Netanyahu turned Israeli democracy into a platform of hate and suspicion by warning his right-wing supporters that the opposition parties had been bussing legally registered and politically left-leaning Israeli Arabs to the polls “in droves.”

Netanyahu’s brand of extremism is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Middle East, and for the world, but not much different from the GOP in the U.S., which also campaigns and rules (not governs) on a platform of hate, fear, and division.

“The Obama economy is a disaster. Obamacare is a train wreck, and the Obama Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind. The whole world’s on fire,” said potential Presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) at a speaking engagement in Barrington, New Hampshire on March 16, 2015. “The whole world’s on fire” is simply hyperbole concocted to insight and instill horror and trepidation.

Though Netanyahu spoke directly in racist terms about Israeli Arabs, a number of GOP leaders currently employ the coded (“dog-whistle”) language of race and racism.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country,” said former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, of President Obama, February 18, 2015, and the dogs came running home.

In addition, the massive calls from members of the “Tea Party” for Mr. Obama to present his birth certificate before his election continuing long into his first term, the investigations into his time spent in Indonesia as a child, and inquiries into his African roots on his father’s side coexist as veiled racialized and racist messages.

Former Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, at a town hall meeting in Meredith New Hampshire January 6, 2012 branded Barack Obama as “the best food stamp President in American History.”

We must cut through the coded xenophobic, racialized, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” “bad neighborhoods,” “foreign,” “not like us,” they tap into many white people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. Though white people comprise the largest percentage of current food stamp recipients, 34 percent, the common perception and societal stereotype depicts black people as abusing the system. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits to people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.

In addition, current calls by GOP leaders for laws guarding against so-called “voting fraud” are nothing less than attempts to limit voting (voter suppression) by members of racialized communities, elders, poor, and working class people.

The Tea Partyers and members of Likud, including Benjamin Netanyahu, give no real alternatives to negotiated settlements other than war. To remain in power, Netanyahu, Boehner, and McConnell have to talk tough, to exert their brand of hypermasculine bravado like every other warlord going back through time. One does not have to ride a horse shirtless and order the invasion of Ukraine to fall into this category.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party are in cahoots with John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and their right-wing Republican cronies who do not seek peaceful means to resolve conflict. What was true from ancient times remains true today, from the ancient Persians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Celts, Scandinavians, Christian Crusaders, Ottomans, Islamic Jihadists, Fascists, Nazis, nationalists and neo-nationalists of every stripe:

Warlords don’t have use for peace because peace doesn’t have use for warlords.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 18th, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Florida Proposes “Stand Outside My Loo” Law

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Florida, one of the states known for its infamous so-called “stand your ground” law (“justifiable use of force” law), has now proposed standing its patriarchal ground once again, this time in its “Single Sex Facilities” (what I am calling its “Stand Out of My Loo”) law. If passed by the state legislature, CS/HB 583 would impose criminal penalties on persons who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates.

Sponsors of this clearly discriminatory bill designed it specifically to ban trans* people from using restrooms that most closely align with their gender identities. Legislators see the writing on the bathroom walls signaling the establishment of gender inclusive restroom facilities throughout the nation, which have existed in a number of nations around the world for decades.

Some may refer to these spaces as “gender neutral,” though “gender inclusive” has become the preferred terminology to describe a space – most notably restrooms and floors in college and university dormitories and in many businesses – denoting a cite of inclusion welcoming individuals of all genders and gender identities and expressions. The terminology “gender neutral” overlooks the actual hierarchal power dynamics among genders, and the implications on the lived experiences of virtually everyone in our society.

Some legislators and community members list a number of objections to gender inclusive facilities: people would become uncomfortable, women would be at greater risk for assault, expense would be great to replace urinals with toilet stalls, it would go (no pun intended) against tradition, and other reasons.

Well, let’s take these concerns in order. First, change, any change, often taps into people’s anxieties. As a professor, the beginning of each new semester brings up my anxieties about the materials I have chosen and whether my pedagogical methods have kept up with the state of the art of teaching. After a week or two, I generally relax into a comfortable routine. Actors typically assert that some amount of nervousness actually improves their performances. People often feel anxiety while learning new ideas and concepts, but over time, they accommodate or assimilate this new knowledge into their overall mental library.

Secondly, yes, women have suffered assaults by men entering women’s rooms. Most gender inclusive facilities people are advocating, however, include primarily single-user lockable restrooms. These types of facilities substantially increase safety for all users. In addition, in larger multi-user restrooms, though the clearly stereotypical stick figure wearing the tacky stick dress stuck onto the door announces this as a female-only space, it cannot and has not ensured the occupants’ safety.

Also, cost would not increase or be minimal to change current single-occupant spaces into gender inclusive restrooms. Initial expense would most likely increase to create new single-user restrooms, or if institutions want to convert one or a few current larger multi-user restrooms into gender inclusive facilities, this expense would significantly decrease down the line, and would be outweighed by the benefits.

Gender inclusive restrooms, while nothing new in many locations, in others might be seen as non-traditional, contrary to what has existed before. This is the so-called “lack of prior claim” argument: if it was not here at the beginning of our organization, our culture, or our country, then it should not exist now.

We heard this theme voiced and written during the fight against the institution of slavery and against “Jim Crow,” when women began to organize for the right to vote, at the start of labor union organizing, calls for direct voting of U.S. Senators rather than leaving it to state legislators, movements to abolish gender-based clothing mandates and other restrictive gender roles, demands for marriage equality, and many other progressive social, cultural, and political changes.

The current bifurcated restroom designation contradicts the realities of peoples’ sexed bodies, gender identities, and gender expressions. Many intersex people define neither as “male” nor as “female.” Which restroom must they choose, or which are they allowed to choose? The “sex” designation typed onto many trans* peoples’ official records assigned to them at birth simply do not accurately and integrally reflect their actual gender identities. They had no power or control at the time of their birth to list the category that most matched their actual gender identities, and many laws today make it extremely difficult and expensive to permit any changes.

Gender must be seen as a continuum rather than as constituting binary oppositions. Doctors assigned me “male” at birth, but I define myself more as gender-fluid. While I do not specifically identity as “trans*,” I never related to the “he, him, his” personal pronouns. I feel uneasy when anyone refers to me as “a guy” or as “a bachelor,” when men want to talk “man to man,” or tell people to “man up”! These terms are simply social artifice and hold no meaning for me. Thanks to the ground breaking work of my colleague, Davey Shlasko, I am employing the pronouns “they,” “their,” “theirs” as singular pronouns more closely aligned with my gender.

Basically, the criticism of maintaining bifurcated restroom facilities rests upon one primary foundation: cisgender male privilege. By permitting only cis-Johns and not Janes into their Johns, even in single-user facilities, cismen will perpetuate their unearned benefits. The ol’ boys club will remain safe and secure, keeping the gender infidels outside the perimeters as the barricades hold firm.

Other states in addition to Florida are considering similar laws. In Texas, for example, a proposed bill, HR 2801, includes a provision that would offer students $2,000 for reporting and claiming “mental anguish” for having to share restroom facilities with students of another sex.

The proposed laws will further marginalize and intimidate trans* and intersex people, and will function as supplementary reinforcements to the shields guarding cismen their unearned entitlements. They will use these shields to continue to float, as many have always, unconsciously and uncritically down the mainstream of gender inequality.


Thank you Genny Beemyn for your insightful editorial suggestions.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).


Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 16th, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Marcia Deihl, Rest in Power My Dear Friend

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Dear Marcia,

I know it has taken me awhile to be able to write to you, because by doing so I am acknowledging that you are gone. All those years living in Cambridge (Massachusetts), I looked forward to seeing you throughout the week and on weekends at political and other sorts of meetings, at musical events, and riding your bicycle around town. You were my benchmark charting major and minor milestones, the glorious times to the depths of my depression. Your gentle and kind smile radiated from your core brightening my days. We connected as unapologetic ageing hippies who never relinquished our constant and unalterable hope and optimism for a better, more equitable world. You inspire me still.

I remember the first time I saw you. It was around 1979 on the local evening news when a reporter interviewed you on your unique musical talents. In addition to your creative song writing and singing talents, you accomplished something I could hardly even imagine, let alone accomplish. Alone, you performed a tune in three-part harmony whistling through your mouth two parts, while for the third, playing a recorder through your nose. Astounding!!!!

I knew right then that I had to meet you, which I did I am sure not so coincidently about six months later at a progressive political event. I introduced myself, and expressed how impressed I was with your creativity. You invited me to attend an upcoming concert of your musical group, The Oxymorons. I was mesmerized.

From that day forward, we became good friends, kindred spirits. I loved when you referred to me as “your Estelle,” a reference to my joyful spontaneous alter ego. You were amongst a group who dubbed me an “honorary bisexual” because you saw me as a true and loyal ally. To this day, I consider this honor as one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Throughout my life, I have known a number of truly good people, individuals who act in the world on a daily basis in ways that uphold the highest ethical standards while refusing to compromise their integrity, their humanity, and their compassion, even when they are experiencing their own personal crises, and even when the progressive actions they take are not necessarily popular; individuals who respond in the world thinking not of the acknowledgment or recognition they may receive, but responding simply because it is just.

Marcia, you are one of those individuals I have had the rare privilege of knowing. Within these times when progressive social change not only has come exceedingly slowly but has been actively resisted, you have consistently taken each and every hurdle in stride leading the way with grace and dignity, your indomitable and perennially optimistic spirit showing by example to all in your presence that progressive change – no matter what the odds, no matter how great the challenges – will not and cannot fail because it is inevitable.

Marcia, you are my friend, my colleague, my mentor, and my support when the challenges in my life seemed like an abyss of unfathomable depths. You have earned the lasting, enthusiastic, and unqualified esteem of the countless people you have touched, and you are already deeply and sorely missed. But during your time here, you not only walked, but in fact, you paved a path of kindness toward a better and more equitable future, and you have certainly made our community, our city, and our world a better, more just, and more perfect place.

To you Marcia, I say Shalom: go in love, in peace, and in power. I hope one day to see you again in that New Celestial Cambridge.

I love you,

Your Estelle

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 15th, 2015 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What Causes Homosexuality? Who Cares?

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“[A lot] of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”

Obviously, Dr. Ben Carson, who recently announced he is considering a run for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, did, indeed, consider this question between the relationship of prison incarceration and homosexuality long before his recent on-air interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Carson asserted that homosexuality is a choice, and therefore, people can resist attractions toward people of one’s own sex.

In his response on CNN, we witnessed Carson’s complete misunderstanding between situational behavior and sexual identity. One may or may not have romantic, emotional, and sexual desires for members of the same sex going into or coming out of prison, but in single-sex institutions such as prisons and religious orders, same-sex partners are one’s only option.

Basically, Carson is attempting to pull us back into the oh-so-tired nature v. nurture debate on causation of homosexuality. Researchers have conducted numerous scientific studies, some still currently underway, to “discover” the true genesis of same-sex attractions. Researchers have spent literally millions of dollars in their attempts to unlock the answer to the perennial question: “What causes homosexuality?” though we virtually never ask the question: “What causes heterosexuality?” (I actually would rather researchers investigate the question: “What causes heterosexism?,” for then we might discover a cure for this disorder.)

Without getting myself mired in the nature v. nurture debate, for the jury is still out (no pun intended) on this question, let us presume for the sake of argument that sexuality is a choice. If this is the case, people should be accorded their rights and protections from discrimination as are those who choose their religious (or non-religious) affiliations and expressions. Religion is, in fact, a choice as emphasized in a Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (2011) study, which found that approximately 50% of U.S.-Americans change religious affiliation at least once during their lives. The First Amendment guarantees constitutional protections on the basis of religious affiliation and expression.

On the other side of the coin, if sexuality is genetically predetermined, people should be accorded rights and protections from discrimination as are racialized minorities legally protected.

To remain viable in a national election, political candidates must craft a diversity of thought and a diversity of policies to give people something to vote for, something to embrace, something that makes peoples’ lives better, rather than rehashing the policies of the past. They must let go of their nostalgia for the policies of “the good ol’ days” of Ronald Reagan (which were not, in fact, good at all) and enter the current political era.

The late Dr. Derrick Bell of New York University Law School forwarded the theory of “interest convergence,” meaning that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there is something in it for them, when there is a “convergence” between the interests of white people and racial justice. Bell asserted that the Supreme Court ended the longstanding policy in 1954 of “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education because it presented to the world, and in particular, to the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war, a United States that supported civil and human rights.

So, what interests do the Republican Party specifically, and everyone more generally have in at least toning down if not working to dismantle the heterosexism that saturates many segments of the GOP and larger society?

I define “heterosexism” as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on heterosexuals. It includes the institutionalization of a heterosexual norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be heterosexual thereby privileging heterosexuals and heterosexuality, and excluding the needs, concerns, cultures, and life experiences of people who do not define as heterosexual or gender normative. In truth, heterosexism is pervasive throughout the society, and each of us, irrespective of sexual or gender identity and expression, stands at risk of its harmful effects.

Though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the interests of dominant group members, eventually it will backfire and the chain of oppression will take hold of them. Therefore, I have come to understand that within the numerous forms of oppression, members of target (sometimes called “minoritized”) groups are oppressed, while on many levels, members of the dominant or agent groups are hurt. Although the effects of oppression differ qualitatively for specific target and agent groups, in the end everyone loses.

First, heterosexist conditioning compromises the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one’s ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one’s own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population, and, more specifically, limits family relationships.

Heterosexism locks all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self-expression. It often is used to stigmatize, silence, and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but who are, in actuality, heterosexual.

In addition, heterosexism is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people, of all sexual identities, are often pressured to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are “normal.”

Societal heterosexism prevents some LGBT people from developing an authentic self-identity, and adds to the pressure to marry someone of another sex, which in turn places undue stress and oftentimes trauma on themselves as well as their spouses and children.

Heterosexism, combined with sexphobia or erotophobia (fear and revulsion of sex) results in the elimination of discussions of the lives and sexuality of LGBT people as part of school-based sex education programs, keeping vital information from all students. Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of HIV/AIDS. And heterosexism (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibited, at least initially, a unified and effective governmental and societal response the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

With all the truly important issues facing the world, heterosexism diverts energy and attention from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents heterosexuals from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by LGBT people, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to education, to family life, indeed, to all facets of society. Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.

The meaning is quite clear: When any group of people is targeted for oppression, it is ultimately everyone’s concern. We all, therefore, have a self-interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of oppression, including heterosexism.

The GOP seems to have begun to understand its “interest,” at least somewhat, by modifying its rhetoric on issues of sexual identity. Ben Carson has since apologized for his remarks and stated that he will not be addressing gay rights issues for the remainder of his presidential campaign. In addition, the California Republican Party, in a state with only 28% of the electorate identifying as Republican, voted officially to recognize the Log Cabin Republicans, a move the California GOP resisted for the past 38 years when this group for politically conservation gay, lesbian, and bisexual people was formed.

In the final analysis, we must get out of the nature v. nurture trap, and place discussions firmly in the realm of issues of human rights and human dignity, and not questions of science. Coretta Scott King emphasized this point during her 2000 keynote address at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce (since changed to National LGBTQ Taskforce) Creating Change Conference:

“I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry and discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 5th, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Netanyahu’s Speeches a Travesty

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I took the opportunity of watching both of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.S. speeches this week – in front of over 16,000 attendees at AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and at a joint session of the Congress – and I followed the process and developing controversy from the time Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, first announced that he had extended and the Prime Minister had accepted his invitation to present.

During both speaking venues, with all his praise at the beginning of his speeches for President Obama and his support for the state of Israel and the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people, the clear subtext was to plant distrust of the President’s negotiating abilities with Iran specifically, and to call into serious question his foreign policy initiatives more generally.

Benjamin Netanyahu gave no real alternatives to Obama’s negotiated settlement – even in advance of all the terms coming out — other than war. To remain in power, Netanyahu has to talk tough, to exert his brand of hypermasculine bravado like every other warlord going back through time.

What was true from ancient times remains true today, from the ancient Persians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Celts, Scandinavians, Christian Crusaders, Islamic Jihadists, Fascists, Nazis, nationalists and neo-nationalists of every stripe — Warlords don’t have use for peace because peace doesn’t have use for warlords.

President Obama, on the other hand, doesn’t view the world in strict binaries — good/evil, black/white, us/them, all/nothing – but understands nuance and shades. He doesn’t have to prove himself by exerting a form of destructive hypermasculinity. He knows who he is, and he has no need for playing damaging gendered competitions.

Netanyahu’s speech, its timing, and the process by which it came about was a travesty from the outset: from the purely political manner by which the Republicans, specifically Speaker Boehner, broke with protocol in his attempts to embarrass and discredit the President by inviting the Prime Minister to present what amounted to his delayed counter-response to Obama’s recent optimistic and forward thinking State of the Union Address to Congress. In his invitation to the Prime Minister, in what turned out to be a pep rally for the Republican Party, Boehner inserted himself directly into the upcoming Israeli elections on Netanyahu’s behalf.

Before coming to the U.S., Netanyahu asserted that when delivering his speech to Congress, he would be speaking for all Jews. Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I need you to know that you certainly do not speak for me, a proud life-long Jew.

While Netanyahu positioned the Iranian Ayatollah as the modern-day evil Persian vizier Haman under King Ahasuerus on the eve of the Jewish holiday, Purim, I would tell Mr. Netanyahu that he certainly is no Queen Esther.

Mr. Netanyahu, this is not 1938, and the President of the United States is not English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Obama is certainly under no illusions with whom he is dealing. He is not as naïve and untested as you imagine. Any negotiated settlement he may arrive at will not include any clause making it irreversible. He will take no options off the table that will ultimately protect the security of Israel, the region, the United States, and the world community.

I ask you and others to follow the wise and poignant words of the late great John Lennon: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press), co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

March 3rd, 2015 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Patriotism & Nationalism Projected through “Ida”

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Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Eisenstein

I would like to make a distinction between two terms — terms that are often used interchangeably, but in actuality, while connected in some ways, stand as unique and separate from one another. The terms are “Patriot” and “Nationalist” with their corresponding concepts of “Patriotic” and “Nationalistic.”

A “Patriot” according to my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is:

  1. “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests,” and
  2. “a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the federal government.”

A “Nationalist,” according to my dictionary is 1. “a person who has devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation,” and 2. “a person who has [and here we see the crucial difference] excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause.”

I perceive many people in the category of “nationalism” failing to acknowledge the complexity of their nations’ histories, especially as it relates to the more negative and reprehensible actions and political concepts followed in the past.

For example, recently former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani questioned President Obama’s love of country. Guiliani believes that the United States is “the most exceptional country in the world,” but he “never felt that [coming] from [Obama]” even though the President announced the country’s exceptionality in front of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013.

Similarly, since the release of the Polish film “Ida” in 2014, which garnered the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year, controversy has followed with some critics claiming that it projects the Polish people in a bad light. Some even assert that the film is anti-Polish.

The scene is the early 1960s in Soviet-dominated Poland as a young woman, Ida, is about to take her vows as a Catholic nun at the convent where she was abandoned as an infant and raised. She is visited by a previously unknown aunt, Wanda Gruz, who informed her that she is Jewish. Throughout the film, Ida and Wanda attempt to discover what happened to Ida’s mother Roza (Wanda’s sister), father Haim Lebenstein, and little brother during World War II. They eventually visit Wanda and Roza’s family farm, which is now “owned” by another family.

Under the condition that Wanda and Ida legally relinquish the property to the current occupant, the farmer admits that he killed the family and stole their land. He brought the infant Ida to live with the nuns since she was fair skinned and did not look Jewish. (One needs to have merely a basic knowledge of the Nazi persecution to understand that their anti-Jewish laws made it a criminal offense to aid Jews.) The farmer took Ida and Wanda to the site where he buried the family in the woods. Ida decides later to return to the convent.

Major criticism of the film centers on the notion that though some Poles did, in fact, rob and kill Jewish people before, during, and following the war, some current-day Poles would like to have seen, instead, a profile of Polish Catholic rescuers hiding and saving Jews, as some did during the war as well. This seems like arguing that instead of showing the brutality and barbarism in “Twelve Years a Slave,” the filmmakers should have concentrated on white people who served as conductors on the Underground Railroad. There is a time and place for all perspectives in film, but to deny the bad and the ugly distorts the truth.

I know personally the disparate and checkered history of Poland in terms of its Jewish population. While some, indeed, did serve among the righteous, many others were complicit in the Nazi horrors.

In my ancestral home of Krosno, farmers Jakub and Zofia Gargasz who practiced the Seventh Day Adventist faith, risked their own lives to shelter from Nazi troops and to nurse back to health a Jewish woman, Henia Katz, and her daughter. A neighbor, though, betrayed them, and Jakub, Zofia, Henia, and her daughter were arrested and sentenced to death on 26 April 1944. At the trial, Zofia affirmed that she and her husband took this courageous action motivated by their religious faith. Hans Frank, the governor of the occupied Central Polish government decided to commute the death sentences to incarceration in a concentration camp. Jakub and Zofia survived the camp, which was liberated by the Allies. Henia and her daughter did not survive.

I recently read my friend Alexander Białywłos-White’s book on my way to Krosno last summer where he was going to be speaking to the residents. From Krosno, he survived the Nazi horrors as a 16-year old on Oskar Schlinder’s “List.” While reading the book on the plane flight, I had a profound shock and surprise. On page 92 of his book, Holocaust Memoirs: Be a Mensch. A Father’s Legacy, he wrote:

“The story of my own cousin, Malka Fruhman, is perhaps typical of the fearful treachery of those days, when it seemed that qualities like trust ceased to have meaning. A [non-Jewish] friend promised to hide Malka, but this ‘friend’ instead turned Malka over to the Gestapo, who shot her without compunction. Many years later, Malka’s brother told me that Malka’s boyfriend, a man named Trenczer, located the traitorous friend in Krosno after the war, and avenged my cousin’s death.”

As I read these words, chills stung my entire body because I knew that I am most certainly related to this “Trenczer.” My Krosno-born Great-Grandmother’s name was Bascha Trenczer. I informed Alexander about this, and he asked me to tell him what I know about the Trenczer’s of Krosno. He did not realize that Bascher, whom he knew, was a Trenczer.

I asked Alexander to tell me more about this story. Evidently, Malka’s boyfriend, our Trenczer relative, was in the Polish army and fled east following the Nazi invasion. After the war, he investigated Malka’s death, and he found the women who had betrayed her. He walked up to her and shot a bullet into her head instantly killing her. As someone who opposes the death penalty, I surprised myself when I felt a sense of righteous relief upon hearing how he “avenged [Alexander’s] cousin’s death.”

Since his liberation by allied forces, Alexander has come back to Krosno 3 or 4 times with his wife and son, and they have generally been welcomed back enthusiastically by Polish residents. However, he returned immediately following his release to locate possible family members who might also have survived. He walked to the house owned by his parents where he grew up, but Polish people soon confiscated it once the Nazis evicted Alexander and his relatives. Talking then with the current residents, one angrily quipped to Alexander: “Oh, we thought you would be dead by now and the Nazis had made you into soap.” He knew he could no longer live in Krosno.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Poland, but I see bright patches. Some Poles experience their homeland culture as diminished and currently not as rich and vibrant with so few Jews remaining in Poland, from approximately three million before the Nazi invasion to about only ten thousand today.

No Jews have resided in Krosno or in the surrounding Subcarpathian region of southeastern Poland since the 1940s. Since then, a dynamic tension has developed between those, especially in many of the older generations, who bask in the monoculturalism evidenced by the longstanding Polish Catholic cultural heritage. Others, though, many in the younger generations born after the war have dedicated themselves to stamp out the hatreds of the past, and have been determined to resurrect Jewish history and Jewish culture, which may make it safer and more welcoming for us one day to return in ever increasing numbers; for it is our home too!

Coming back to this concept of “exceptionalism,” I believe it represents a tired and dangerous myth that we are taught throughout the nations of the world as soon as we exit the womb. All countries have their strengths and weaknesses. This lie of “exceptionalism,” though, separates countries and their residents from people of other nations. Rather than envisioning a country as “exceptional,” I would have world leaders promote their countries and act as partners in an interdependent community of great nations.

We can liken history to rose bushes with many beautiful and fragrant blossoms in a wide array of colors and hues. Taken holistically, the bush represents one of the many natural splendors filling our world. If, however, we continually imagine the rose blossom without its thorns, each time we embrace the bloom by the stem, we will come away with bloodied and painfully throbbing hands. Rather than expressing our outrage against the truth tellers who remind us of the razor-sharp protrusions growing alongside the blossoms, we must venerate those perceptive and insightful among us who serve to guide us around the dangers to ensure we do not bloody ourselves again.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).


Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 28th, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Open Letter to Giuliani on Characterizations of Obama

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Dear Rudy,

I realize that you don’t know me, but I hope you won’t mind if I refer to you as “Rudy.” Anyway, I am writing to you because, frankly, you said some things about President Obama that confused me. I hope you can clarify some things.

During a private dinner held in New York City for possible GOP 2016 presidential contender, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, you said:

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

“I do not believe that the president loves America.”

So, Rudy, let’s break down your statement. When you say that “I do not believe that the president loves America,” what indication do you have or what criteria are you using? I really want to know.

If Obama truly did not love America, why then would he have worked so diligently for the betterment of the nation? Rudy, I realize your time is precious, so I will be brief in the list of Obama accomplishments because I could go on for volumes:

The Great Recession under the George W. Bush presidency cost our economy nearly 800,000 jobs per month when Obama took over the Oval Office. But by the end of his first year alone, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created and sustained 2.1 million jobs and stimulated the economy by 3.5%. In the single year of 2010, Obama supervised the establishment of more jobs than Bush did during his entire eight-year administration.

Obama pushed for the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan, while at the same time pressuring and succeeding in having banks and others repay virtually all of the bail-out money plus interest.

During his administration, and under his direct guidance, he reduced redundancy and saved millions of tax dollars with an Executive Order calling for an audit of government contracts.

Because of Obama and the Democratic-led Congress, they passed and implemented the U.S. automobile industry rescue plan, which not only saved up to one-million jobs, but also reinstated this country leadership in automotive innovation.

He proudly signed the Democratic-sponsored Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, expanding the Making Home Affordable Program, helping millions of people avoid preventable home foreclosures. This bill also helped combat homelessness and stabilized the housing market by pumping in $2.2 billion.

He and the Democrats led efforts to provide tax credits for first-time home buyers, initiated increased lending to small business, saved as many as 300,000 education-related jobs with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and substantially increased our country’s energy independence.

In the area of international relations, Obama reaffirmed and strengthened our partnership in NATO, rejected Israel’s desire to attack Iran over its possible nuclear program, pushed for the passage of the Iran Sanctions Act, opened a dialogue with Cuba, and prohibited the use of torture in U.S. detention and interrogation policies.

And in Civil Rights, with Congressional Democrats, he advanced and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made it a federal crime to assault anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identities, pushed for and signed the Pentagon’s repeal of the prejudicial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, appointed the first trans* Cabinet official, composed and signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Council on Women and Girls, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act giving protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers, increased funding for the Violence against Women Act, appointed a Special Assistant for Disability Policy, established the White House Council of Native American Affairs, and enhanced Fair Housing Laws, among many other things.

So Rudy, I know you are not particularly thrilled by many of Obama’s accomplishments that I listed as well as many I left out, but I ask, which in particular do you reject?

“He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me.”

Well, Rudy, do you “love” everyone in the United States, those you know and those you don’t. Obama couldn’t love me since I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know I exist. You might be entirely correct that though he does know you, chances are that he, in fact, doesn’t love you, or even like you. I can’t, however, speak for the President. You will have to ask him yourself.

“He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

What does this mean? I’m sure Mr. Obama was not brought up like I was in my lower-middle class Jewish-American household. He most likely wasn’t bullied on a daily basis like me during the conservative 1950s as a gay and gender-transgressive child. Obama’s father wasn’t around to raise him. Though my father was part of my childhood, he was gone for weeks at a time on the road serving as a traveling salesman. I could even say that my sister, who was only 18-months younger, though we were “brought up” together, we certainly were not brought up the same.

And yes, Rudy, I’m pretty sure Obama wasn’t raised like you: a white, Christian, male with all the socially-conferred unearned privileges that engenders. Also, Mr. Obama’s father did not work for his brother’s mob-connected loan sharking business like your father, Harold Giuliani. You, however, were raised by a father who had spent six months in jail for robbing a milkman at gunpoint in 1934.

Did you ever think, though, that Mr. Obama entered politics to ensure equal opportunities and rights for all people regardless of social identities, and where and how they were raised?

Adding to your initial comments at the forum with Scott Walker, you added that:

“…with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world….I’ve never felt that from him.”

I would ask you, if Obama really did not believe the U.S. to be an exceptional country, why would he have announced that in front of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013?:

“Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all.”

In the importance of full disclosure Rudy, I think this notion of “American exceptionalism” (also read as “American superiority”), is a tired and dangerous myth that we are taught as soon as we exit the womb. The U.S. has its strengths and weaknesses as do all other countries. This lie of “exceptionalism” separates our country and our residents from people of other nations by giving us the image of the “arrogant Americans,” which only engenders ridicule and scorn for us around the world. Rather than envisioning ourselves as “exceptional,” I would have our leaders promote us and act as partners in an interdependent community of great nations.

During a follow-up interview with the New York Times to answer criticism that your comments about Obama reflected a racist bias, you rejected the charge and stated, instead, that you were simply talking about Obama’s worldview that formed his upbringing.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people….This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

“…he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people.”

So by this statement, are you saying, or at least implying, that anything you say to or about our biracial president, the first in the history of this country, could not, therefore, be considered racist? Are you implying that anything other than explicitly racist language could not be considered racist?

What about coded (“dog-whistle”) language, for example, “He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” What about the massive calls from members of the “Tea Party” for Mr. Obama to display his birth certificate before his election continuing long into his first term? What about the investigations into his time spent in Indonesia as a child? What about his roots in Africa through his birth father?

“This is socialism…”

Rudy, what do you mean by the term “socialism.” If you are referring to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obama Care), this is certainly not an example of socialism. The ACA is founded on a Capitalist base with private insurance companies benefiting by providing the policies. I had hoped that our country could have adopted more of a Canadian or European model of government-sponsored health care to ensure universal coverage, but the United States, being a right-of-center nation, would not accept this.

Rudy, even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a conservative agenda. This continues to this very day as evidenced in many conservative commentators’ representations of President Obama and various progressive politicians.

As destructive and as freedom-killing as you and others on the Right would have us believe, Socialism involves “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.

No country in the world today stands as a fully Socialist state, but rather, some of the most successful economies combine elements of Capitalism with Socialism to create greater degrees of equity and lesser disparities between the rich, the poor, and those on the continuum in between.

“…or possibly anti-colonialism.”

So why, Rudy, are you throwing the term “anti-colonialism” as an epithet? Are you not “anti-colonial yourself?” I realize that you mean this in terms of your disgust that Obama has attempted to disengage our troops and resources from the battles waging in Iraq and Afghanistan, but shouldn’t “anti-colonialism” serve as a guiding political principle and be viewed in a positive light? Wasn’t our nation founded on this very principle? If not, your title might have been “Colonial Mayor of New Amsterdam.” The rest of us would have been pledging our allegiance to the Queen of England, the nation of France, or Spain.

In conclusion Rudy, while you met head-on the enormous challenges brought by the horrendous and tragic events in New York City on September 11, 2001, and you helped bring the City back from seemingly insurmountable odds, you would do yourself and our nation, and even the Republic Party, a great service by simply resting on your accomplishments, reflecting on your failures and shortcomings, and retreat to the annuls of history.

Yours sincerely,

Warren J. Blumenfeld

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

February 21st, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized