Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

The recent ugly flurry of proposed laws that could allow businesses to deny service to gays (and many others) based on their religious convictions got me thinking of the time such a denial happened to me. It’s something I haven’t written about yet on this blog, but perhaps it’s time to share.

I think it was the summer of 1992 when I was notified I would work in an intern position as a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois. I was just finishing up a summer as a naturalist at a bible camp in southwest Wisconsin. One of the counselors was going to college in Rock Island, and had room in their house I could live in while I interned. There was another roommate who I would be sharing the house with as well, and would meet her the next summer.

The bible camp I worked at was primarily ELCA Lutheran, one of the more progressive “synods” within the Lutheran church. I was confirmed as ELCA Lutheran, and never heard a bad word spoken about gays then nor at the bible camp where I worked and also went as a camper when I was younger. The other synods – usually named after a state like Missouri or Wisconsin – aren’t so progressive. Maybe things have changed with those last two synods. I don’t know though, I haven’t been a practicing Lutheran in a long time. But saying you’re “Lutheran” could mean you’re progressive or quite the opposite. I would learn about these differences later.

I was out of the closet by 1992, and the fellow counselor knew I was gay. The other roommate – whose name was Bridget – did not know I was gay. I think I discussed the issue with my fellow counselor and we may have decided to keep it on the down-low at first. I can’t recall those details, but Bridget would eventually find out.

Park Ranger Jimbo

Lock and Dam #15 on the Mississippi River in Rock Island, IL. I worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interpretive park ranger.

The next summer came around and I moved in the house and started the internship. I mostly worked at a visitor center that overlooked Lock & Dam #15 on the Mississippi River. I often sat at the front desk answering visitor’s questions, giving talks about why there are dams on the river, and led nature programs. In the winter bald eagles would gather around the base of the dam which made for good birdwatching. And things got pretty exciting there during the Flood of ‘93 when I got deployed to Des Moines to ensure emergency sources of water were potable after their water treatment plant got flooded.

The roommate situation seemed to be going all right at first. Bridget was tidy, if not a bit icy. Back then we didn’t have the Internet or cell phones, and communicating with potential dates was done with the shared house phone. I think Bridget must have overheard a conversation I was having with a potential date or something, and talked to the other roommate about it. She brought it up and said that Bridget didn’t want to have me as a housemate because I was gay. As I recall the basis for her problem with me was her religion.

I was 23 at the time, didn’t know my rights, or whether or not I even had any. Plus the icy silence in the house was becoming uncomfortable. I think I tried to talk to Bridget about it, and she started crying. So I moved out, mostly to keep good relations with my original counselor friend. And I didn’t want to live where I wasn’t liked. The first place I moved to was a stark and lonely apartment complex with noisy neighbors where I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Then I moved to a somewhat better shared housing situation with a friend of the (nicer) roommate until the end of my internship.

Throughout my time in Rock Island I didn’t meet many other people and I think it was an overall lonely time in my life. And the experience of getting iced out of my first housing situation for being gay gave me some lasting anxiety about living where there are few other gays. It’s probably a basis of my initial evaluation for moving to DC – a larger city with a sizable gay population where people are more tolerant of gays. My experience wasn’t unique, which is a big reason why most gays flock to larger cities. Things are changing fast, but in some parts of the country attitudes haven’t changed much.

Getting kicked out of a house, losing a job, or being denied any kind of service for who you are is a shitty feeling. There are all kinds of religions, and even more types of convictions depending on what branch of religion you’re involved with. So these laws being proposed in several states open the door for legally denying many kinds of people for many reasons. I’m aware that they probably won’t be successful, but for those who could be turned away in these states I know from experience that it’s an unpleasant feeling at best.

Brad Davis in "Midnight Express"“Do you have a criminal record?”
“Umm…no.”

It was probably the “Umm…” that first set off the Canadian border security guard who was screening my passport and me. That was my first mistake.

It was late when my Bolt Bus arrived at the Canada/U.S. border just shy of Vancouver, British Columbia. I had planned to visit a friend and his partner for a long weekend getaway on Bowen Island. Our bus had some mechanical difficulties along the way making an already long journey from Portland even longer. So I was tired and ready to get to my destination, not really focused on the questioning from the border guard. I’d gone through customs before in many other countries and not had any problem, and I don’t have a criminal record. So while my attitude may have been perceived as laissez-faire, it was far from flippant. But his series of questions and what I answered would keep me from crossing over into Canada.

I presented my passport and Oregon drivers’ license, and a return ticket. Then he asked me how much money I was carrying. I said I had $80, and that my host was paying for the ferry ticket to Bowen and making meals. He asked me incredulously if I thought I had enough money and I resisted the urge to say, “Don’t they have ATMs in Canada?” But I knew I was under scrutiny and kept my mouth shut.

Then he asked me what my line of work was. “I’m currently unemployed.” I should have lied, as proof of employment is listed under “Additional Documentation Which May Be Helpful” in the fact sheet shown at left that the guard handed to me. Highlighting is his own, click to embiggen. I was also unable to produce proof of current residence since I had just moved. And honestly I didn’t think of bringing proof of anything since I was just on a simple weekend getaway. These criteria are what Canadian border security can use to keep you out of the country if they think you’re running the border to find work in Canada.

Would I work in Canada? Sure, living in Vancouver would be fabulous, but that wasn’t my intention and I never mentioned anything of the sort to make him suspicious. Plus my host in Vancouver mentioned many times that government jobs in Canada are just as scarce as they are in the US these days. But apparently suspicion of shiftlessness is grounds for rejection at the border.

It was about 11pm when I watched the Bolt Bus roll away as the guard looked up my files. No alerts, no criminal records were found. Then they took me to be searched, although strangely not as thoroughly as I’ve been searched at airports in DC. The guard was kinda hot but I didn’t get frisked, which was unfortunate. I had mentioned I was going to do some birdwatching as well, but they still freaked when they found my binoculars. “Do you always carry binoculars?” “Yes, I’m a birdwatcher.” When he removed my binoculars from my luggage and found my Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds underneath he said, “Oh.”

I was then escorted on foot to the U.S. Customs office where I went through more processing, albeit more politely. After that was done I asked where the nearest hotel was, and my guard mentioned it was not far away. He also said that Bolt Bus honors returned tickets of those marooned in the area and that I could catch one the next morning.

Bubblegum Wall

At the Bubblegum Wall near Pike Place Market in Seattle.

The motel was totally gross. “Do you have nonsmoking rooms?” No, he answered, and my room reeked. I hoped the tobacco stench and tar remnants on the wall and furniture would keep bedbugs away at least. There were holes in the wall and globs of hair in the tub. But I slept a bit and was up early the next day. I managed to catch a Greyhound that morning by slipping the driver some cash. I wasn’t in the mood to wait for the next Bolt Bus as I didn’t know when the next one would come through, and was happy to pay a little extra under the table to get the hell out of there.

I had a friend who was happy to host me in Seattle and recovered what was left of my trip. I went downtown and to Pike Place Market for a bit, then out to Diesel and Pony that evening with a friend from Portland for a few beers. I got on another Bolt Bus back to Portland the next day as I was tired from lack of sleep and wanted to be back to my “own” bed. I will wait to visit Canada another day when I have proof of employment and current address.

Should the Canadian government read this post and feel remorse for their lack of hospitality and beg my forgiveness, here are my demands:

  • A personal escort across the border by Ryan Reynolds, dressed as a Canadian Mountie.
  • A life-size replica of a Stargate.
  • A Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper Pilot jacket, autographed (on the inside) by Jamie Bamber.

Oh hey it’s been a while. I moved and am now a housecub. I’m mostly settled, the new place is lovely, has no cats, and I get to have a garden plot. I’ve already planted acorn squash but have no idea how they’ll do in Oregon. This is a completely different growing scene than what I’m used to. I’m going to try potatoes for the first time as well.

I went to see my brother graduate from his nursing program, and of course I had to stop at Bonneville Dam to see more LAMPREYS!
Lampreys1
They’re gross but cool in a way. Lamprey Pride.

It was Pride weekend here in Portland. I had fun! Because there’s a parade and a festival with cotton candy and I saw a bunch of people I got to catch up with. Of course it’s the season for dissent against Pride festivals for a few. This year’s article written by an angertwink is again about how we don’t need Pride celebrations. But it doesn’t speak for the majority of people who somehow manage to have fun at Pride.

This year I marched with the organization I’ve been volunteering with. The organization provides housing, medical services, and skills training to help homeless youth get off the street and back on their feet. Many of these youth are LGBT who were kicked out of their homes for being gay. Because that still happens even though some angertwinks still think we don’t need Pride celebrations. Anyway, a couple of heterosexual coworkers/allies brought their kids, dressed them up as small unicorns and put rainbow stuff all over their kiddie bikes and they all had a blast. I saw from pictures from DC Pride that a few straight allies marched with the Renegades to wave some rainbow flags and they also had fun. Perhaps we can learn from heterosexuals in these trying times: you should have fun at parades. It’s OK to have fun. And if you don’t think you’ll have fun then stay home.

I just applied for a scholarship to the Netroots Nation progressive blogger gathering in San Jose, California. There is an LGBT portion of the summit frequented by the likes of Joe.My.God, and I’ve always wanted to go. And I umm…have a lot of free time lately so it would be a good use of my time, and keep me up on my blogging and social media skillz. And for the record, in addition to Crazy Cat Lady posts I do have a political section on this here blog. And how many of you readers were inspired to check out LGBT inclusive sports after reading about my gay rugby adventures? This is stuff I want to continue to do – often for you – and will also help me in whatever career I end up with if I ever get a job again.

So here’s an opportunity for you to help out. Vote for me here. I’m one of 110 or so other applicants for a scholarship that will cover registration costs and lodging. I can foot the airfare. While I doubt I’ll get 900+ votes to get into the top 5 before the May 7 deadline, it would be nice to see my ballot get bumped up from the bottom of the pack.

Otherwise, 30 of the applicants will get chosen for a scholarship after the voting contest. I think I wrote a good application so we’ll see what happens. Although if you all spent your slow Friday and Monday at work voting for me and I got over 900 votes, my head (and heart) will explode.

Thanks!

Getting off my butt and posting as ordered by Dr. Brett Cajun. Of course he also asked for a prostate exam with the consultation but I refused. I’d rather be probed by an alien. Same thing actually.

Anyway, it’s National Peace Corps Week and I posted an old pic of me on Facebook from when I served in Kazakstan. Seeing my fellow volunteers’ posts this week reminded me that I lived in Portland before I went to serve overseas.

The economic situation at that time was very similar to today. Clinton was making cutbacks in the government and federal job openings were hard to come by. I was set in my mind to be a park ranger at that time and was having difficulty finding full-time, permanent work in that field. I was working at Kinko’s Copies and an athletic club trying to make ends meet and it wasn’t working. Peace Corps service offered a degree of preferential hiring status with the federal government, although I don’t recommend you try Peace Corps for just that reason alone. Several of my friends from college had joined Peace Corps at the time and I thought it would be fun. The other part in the decision was job panic.

Looking back had I not done Peace Corps I may have set on a different career path, similar to the one I ended up with anyway. I was doing graphic design at Kinko’s and could have moved into that position had I not fled Portland so fast the first time. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say. The path that took me indirectly to DC was a good one, and I developed some good skills and a Master’s degree along the way.

Back then no one told me it might take dozens, if not hundreds of job applications to get a better job. I think I had sent out less than a dozen when I was in Portland the first time and was freaking out that I wasn’t getting any bites.

Fast forward to today, my job search is a little more focused. While I’ve widened my search to non-federal jobs in the area, I’m still trying to stay in my field of public affairs and social media. I’ve worked too hard to develop my career to drop it and take a job in another field. Plus it took me a long time to realize that’s what I like to do, and know what kinds of jobs I wouldn’t like to do. From past work experiences I know I can’t just go to work and fake it – I need to be interested in what I’m doing and then I enjoy doing what I do more.

Now with this sequester bullshit, there are few federal job openings, and I’ve noticed a dip in openings elsewhere too just like back in ‘95. Everyone is holding their purses tight and not hiring. There aren’t even job openings back in DC in what I did with my previous federal job.

The urge to freak out and flee again is strong. Security is a warm and welcoming thing, and I don’t have much of that these days. But I try to remind myself on a daily (if not hourly) basis to hold out and keep looking. 15 years later I hope I’ve learned some wisdom along the way, and that this wisdom pays back for a change.

The other day the lovely Dingo asked me to dig up a post I wrote when I was previously unemployed so he could send it to his newly unemployed friend. It was good to go back and read what I wrote in 2009:

It’s not the end of the world. You will survive. You will work again one day and you will regret it.

I’m such a ray of sunshine.

Jimbo and his friend from Boston encounter cross-cultural challenges in Portland.

When I was in Peace Corps during training before we were assigned to our posts, we were given some instruction dealing with cross-cultural issues we might have in a country on the other side of the planet from where we grew up. We were told that we would experience a cycle of adjustment, which included initial euphoria, an equal portion of culture shock, followed by decreasing cycles of adjustment and shock. I’ve found that training helped adjust to new workplaces, new homes with roomates, and of course moving to new cities.

We can assume my initial euphoria with being in a new place has ended by now. I have my ups and downs on a weekly basis but having lived here in Portland in 1995 has probably lessened the extremes somewhat. The cultural training also helped me observe differences between coastal cultures as well, which sometimes helps when I find myself frustrated with people here. I’m not saying I’m angry all the time, but little interactions come up on occasion where I find myself confused about how people work here. But I’m learning.

I went on a date (yes I go on dates now!) a month ago with a guy who used to live in Boston, which is a bit more extreme east coast culture than DC. But we both agreed to having some struggle with the way things go in Portland. I tried to frame how we see things here this way in a conversation with him: people from the larger cities on the east coast consciously or unconsciously learn to mind other people’s space, because there is less space for people in the densely populated cities of the east coast. If nobody in New York City minded other peoples’ space, there would be even more cranky people in New York. New York works because people learn to mind each others’ space.

Take for example a crowded locker room in a city gym. On the east coast people will keep their stuff in a smaller pile on the bench, so other people can put their stuff down too. They don’t think about it, they just do it. At my new gym in an even smaller locker room, one guy will spread all his stuff on the bench, and I’m pretty sure he’s completely unaware that nobody else can put their stuff on the bench and not on the nasty floor. And even with three other people in the locker room who need the bench to change clothes, the one guy doesn’t move his stuff to accomodate other people. It happens on a regular basis.

This applies to all sorts of things, like training your dog not to bark all the time or cleaning after the dog on the sidewalk. And resolving conflicts. People here don’t communicate well when they perceive a conflict, so they avoid conflict altogether. On the east coast they are better at voicing something that bothers them, which can be perceived on the west coast as “rude.” In more compact living environments, people learn to resolve conflicts by communicating. They haven’t learned that here in Portland. And I’ve probably been perceived as “rude” already.

There may be a politeness factor involved this close to Canada. Maybe people are too polite to voice conflicts. I think it’s from differences in population density. Just a theory.

I perceive drivers here as too polite, often to the point of endangering themselves in order to drive politely. If I’m at an intersection on foot where a driver has no stop sign and he has the right of way, they’ll often stop for the pedestrian even if the pedestrian does not have a crosswalk. I perceive this as potentially dangerous for the driver. But I will learn to expect this and just cross to be polite to the driver I guess.

When I’m out and chatting with people I’ve heard some interesting west coast perceptions of people from DC. The conversations went like this:

Me: I just moved here in September from DC.
Him: Oh, did you work for the government?
Me: Yep.
Him: Oh but you can’t talk about it. (smirks)

Well I can talk about it, but I won’t bore you about how I did public outreach on an equine STD eradication team. Or that I wrote Q&A documents on invasive fruit flies. It leads to too many awkward conversations about equine STD treatments or the science of how ripening fruit rots. You don’t really want to hear that, do you?

For the record, anyone from DC who tells you they can’t talk about what they do probably spend their time photocopying or filing and don’t want to talk about it. Those who truly can’t talk about what they do have a short pitch like “I do policy work.”

The other strange perception is of gays in DC. When I mention I moved from DC people here have said, “Oh, are all the gays closeted conservative Republicans?” No. Most of them are flaming liberal Democrats, but there are some Republicans, but not all of them are closeted. There are a few flaming gay conservatives who are out, but most of the people I knew were out all over the place. Of course there are a few deeply closeted cases, or semi-closeted gays who work for deeply conservative politicians, but I knew some guys who were out and still worked for these people. I guess there are all kinds of gays in DC, but they’re not all closeted Republicans for the record.

I think I did pick up a few east coast cultural habits without knowing it and brought them here to Portland with me. One strange one I see that makes me stick out a bit is public singing. In the neighborhoods I lived in, or in the deeply African-American Prince George’s County where I commuted and worked in for many years, people were unafraid of singing or humming aloud on the street or in the Metro. Mostly hip-hop but other styles of music too while they were listening to their headphones or iPods. It rarely bothered me, and at some point I guess I started doing it myself. I get strange looks here when I break out a verse in the gym or on the street, and notice that no one else here seems to sing publicly. This is one habit I think I will try to maintain despite cultural differences.
>; )

After the awful bile of the Republican National Committee (RNC) convention last week, expected gasps of fresh air are already incoming from Michelle Obmama’s Convention speech:

“…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.”

Everyone. From the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson et al:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I strongly believe in this virtue of our country, and it is a foundation upon which our country was built.

While I made the decision to move out of DC in June, I wanted to stay at my job until September to complete a solid four years at my job. I also stayed in DC until this week to be part of a marriage recognition ceremony of a friend’s union with his partner. Tonight he responded to Michelle Obama’s speech:

“I’m proud of my country and my president. And I’m extremely proud that marriage equality is something worth mentioning in a major party platform and on the stage at a national convention, over and over again, especially on my 18th anniversary with the best partner I could have ever asked for.”

This is what our country is about. The other party, the other candidate, are not part of this ideal. I hope you support 18 years, 2 years, or 40 years of these unions in the Pursuit of Happiness for everyone.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial

I was out in Virginia wine country again this weekend for our final Dungeons & Dragons gaming session with the geek gang. ~sob!~ While we were there we went to the Hazzard Homecoming in Rappahannock Co., VA. I got to see a few of the stars of the show from a distance and several dozen replicas of the General Lee:
Git 'er done
The entry fee was steep, but offered the opportunity to get autographs from many of the actors from the show. But the lines were long and it was hot out and I was fine with seeeing the cars, but we did see Tom Wopat from a distance. Wopat is from Wisconsin fyi, as is this rarely bearded fellow, who is apparently Mitt Romney’s running mate for President:

Jimbo.info does not support flagrant use of the Confederate flag nor Paul Ryan for Vice-President. We only support his beard.

This picture is so awesome I had to share. But I’m sure you’ve already seen it all over the place on the Facebooks.

While the President’s statement was not a law enacted, it was still powerful and will have a lasting effect. Sure, other lawmakers may have voiced their support for gay marriage in the past, but this guy said it while he was in office.

I suspect this was fully calculated despite some pundits’ insistence it was a reaction to Biden’s perceived diarrhea of the mouth earlier in the week. Both Biden and a cabinet member spoke in favor of gay marriage beforehand and I believe these statements were strategically placed trial balloons. If the public had freaked out over what Biden and Duncan had said, then Obama wouldn’t have come out publicly like he did so soon.

But the trial balloons did not pop too loudly, and Obama did say it and said it eloquently. Watch the whole interview beyond the major talking points seen on the news if you can. (I’m looking for the entire interview for y’all…)

The most important and lasting effect of his statement was the affirmation for gay youth. To be honest coming out in the early 90s was scary and really sucked, but to have the President’s support today must make the kids who are coming out feel really good. And with such an organized and fanatic opposition today, the kids need every boost they can get. There were anti-gay sentiments in the 90s but they were nowhere near as organized back then as the anti-gay haters are today. These days they are mean and calculated reptiles.

Oh wait I need to correct myself: perhaps the most important thing coming out of this whole discussion is that one day BrettCajun will finally be able to get married to some Southern belle. Then he will finally stop texting me and peeking at my Scruff profile every 4 hours, all thanks to President Obama.

Only then will I truly be free.