Houston’s Mayoral Inauguration Day Brings Along Prayer and Protestors

Annise Parker, Houston's newly inaugarated mayor

Downtown Houston’s Wortham Center was the site for the public inauguration ceremonies of Mayor Annise Parker as well as city council members and other newly-elected officials on Monday, January 4th.  One of the Houston Chronicle’s political writers blogged the event.   Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and the largest with an openly gay mayor.   Mayor Parker was the winner of a December 12th run-off election.  (Watch the new mayor’s inaugural speech here.)

A big surprise for me is that giving the prayer for the inauguration was Joel Osteen of Houston’s mega Lakewood Church, which is now housed in the building that was the previous arena for the Houston Rockets of the NBA (the Summit, later called Compaq Center).  I put this in almost the same category as Rick Warren giving the convocation at President Obama’s inauguration just a year ago.  It was only a couple of months ago when Osteen appeared on The View and said, “. . . homosexuality is not God’s best.”   If Osteen doesn’t think Annise Parker is one of God’s best, why did he consent to give the prayer at her inauguration?   Also why was he picked to speak by those doing the planning?

Osteen has a big draw in Houston, and I know some gay people that go to Lakewood.  I also know gay Catholics and gay Mormons.  I don’t know why gay people would want to belong to a church whose leader doesn’t think they are God’s best.  I also don’t know why gay people want to belong to any church that keeps hammering them down.

Speaking of hammering, some of the Phelps clan from Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church are in town to protest Annise Parker’s inauguration.  However, the Phelpses aren’t one-stop shoppers when it comes to hating;  according to their website (the name of which is such a pejorative that I would not deign to give them the satisfaction of writing it), they are making a 2-day trip of it  in order to picket a wide spectrum of venues, which include among others, the Co-cathedral downtown, the Holocaust Museum, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish school, and even Osteen’s own Lakewood Church.

Watch part of the ceremonies at the Wortham Theater:

(Click on Home for other posts on Annise Parker’s election.)

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Finally Someone Has the Cojones To Stand Up to the Crazies at Town Hall Health Care Meetings

This topic hasn’t been one I’ve written much about before, but when I see them on TV, I just wonder what country I am living in. How did so many get so crazy and so uninformed that they will say anything, especially the completely disrespectful slogans and images about the President.

Even though many Americans disagreed with Bush’s policies and, in particular, going to war in Iraq and its continuance thereafter, GWB was never treated in such a disrespectful way. I’ve heard conservative pundits and blog writers say the liberals did that to Bush, but I’ve been paying close attention to politics for quite awhile, and if someone can give evidence that Bush was treated in such a way, I’d like to see it.

These people have been angry and now egged on by conservative lobbyist groups, as well as Republicans in Congress, have become more emboldened, even carrying guns to these meetings and protests.

They keep crying out all of the nasty Nazi stuff, but what I see is that they are acting more like some in Germany did pre-World War II, spewing out hatred and vile slogans.

What gets me is how did so many people in this country get to be so dumb and uninformed? If they would just read a bit, they would know that the claims they are making about what the health care bill would do (i.e. promoting euthanasia) are completely beyond the pale.

And when they do go to these town hall meetings, they don’t seem to want really ask questions to find out what the program would do, they just want to be vile and nasty. Some Republicans and other conservatives are praising this, saying that these people are exercising their right to free speech.

It looks to me, though, that these people have been taking lessons from Fred Phelps and his family in being mean and nasty.

I think there are very few people in this country who can look at all this nastiness, and say, “Oh, they make me proud to be an American.”

Proud, no–embarrassed for my country is more like it.

Finally, though, Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts did and said what others should have been doing all along, and many of us have wondered why it hasn’t been done before.

All I can say is, “You tell ’em, Barney!’

Watch it:

Grandfield, Oklahoma, Small Town Teachers, and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”

photolaramiepjct1I feel sorry for Grandfield, Oklahoma, its people, and its school. I’ve never been there, but I feel like I know it. I doubt that it’s much different than many small towns dotted all over the Great Plains.

Bigger than many similar little prairie towns, Grandfield has a population of around a thousand people and sits out in what some would call “the sticks” between Wichita Falls, Texas and Lawton, Oklahoma. The high school itself is a small one (74 students in the 2006-2007 school year).

But now this small town and its school are getting national attention because of the dismissal of one of the high school’s teachers, whose students were working on a production of “The Laramie Project”, the story of Matthew Shephard, the Wyoming college student brutally murdered in an anti-gay attack a decade ago. (Read the story from the Lawton, OK newspaper here and here.)

If you look at the school district’s website, you realize that Grandfield probably has a good school. The fact that a school this size even has a website is evidence of this, but aside from the fact that some of its sports pages could do with some updating, the school’s site is well done.

From what I’ve read about the main players in this controversy (the superintendent–a Mr. Ed Turlington, and the dismissed teacher–Debra Taylor), it seems likely that there probably have been some “philosophical differences” between them. Added to that, by looking at the school’s schedule of classes, it’s not difficult to see that there could have been some varying points of view among the faculty members about what should be taught in classes in this school.

In most small schools, the teachers generally have an overlap of the subjects they teach; for example, a math teacher might have to teach some of the science courses too, or the physical education teacher might also teach history and driver’s education. Sometimes, because of class size or lack of funds, even the superintendent or the principal (who might also actually be the same person) has to teach a class or two.

On the other hand, because of the small size, teachers who have a special interest may be given the opportunity to teach more topic specific courses. By looking at the class schedule again, this looks as if what might have been the case in Grainfield. Ms. Taylor’s schedule includes an Ethics class and a Street Law class, not your run-of-the-mill courses generally taught in small rural schools. Likewise, there is a class listed as the Bible as Literature, taught by a C. Turlington, (whom we can assume has some relationship with the superintendent), also not a course that we’d find in most small public high schools, nor for that matter, even large public high schools.

Just looking at those course listings, at first one might think how lucky the students are to have such choices. But courses like those are not instituted without some push from somebody who wants them to be taught or who wants to teach them. When you see the outcome of the teacher’s being dismissed, it’s seems like there probably was some undercurrent of discord because of differences of opinion about what should be taught in this school and in these classes long before the “Laramie Project” situation.

Even so, this problem seems to be one that should stay a local one. The biggest story about this small school should be one about a sports team winning a championship or an FFA member taking a Grand Championship ribbon at the state fair.

PFLAG groups getting involved on the side of the teacher and the Phelps family coming to town to rail against “The Laramie Project” should not be what brings attention to this school and town. Issues in small towns are small town issues, no matter what they are. In the end, it is the locally-elected school board that decides what is best for the school.

Outsiders getting involved only exacerbates the conflict and will make it much harder for those in the town itself to come back together. Because come back together they will have to, one way or another. You just can’t avoid people in a small town like you can in a big city. People who do not grow up in a small town just have no understanding how close-knit the people who live there are. People from outside trying to favor one point or the other are going to be looked at as “meddlers”. That’s why I feel sorry for the people of this community. They don’t need all of that interference.

But even I am taking a side here. First of all, there is no reason for a class like “The Bible as Literature” to be taught in that school or any public school. If students need more literature than they are getting in their English classes, the school should offer AP (Advanced Placement) Literature to get them ready for college. I’m sure Grandfield has a number of churches that have Bible Study classes, Sunday School, and Summer Bible School, from which anyone interested could get all the Bible Lit. they wanted.

On a more personal note, years ago, I had a “Debra Taylor” as my English teacher. Her name, though, was Mrs. Anna Herman, and she was my English teacher for all my years at Dorrance (Kansas) High School. Not only was she the English teacher, but she started a speech and debate program in one of the smallest schools in the state at that time (about 40 students in grades 9-12). This gave us the opportunity to compete against schools much larger in size, something that sports usually doesn’t do.

virginia-woolfWhat makes this situation in Grandfield seem so similar is that when I was a senior, Mrs. Herman suggested that my classmate and I do a piece from Edward Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. At that time, this controversial drama had just come out as a movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton cast as the leads. The cutting that our teacher wanted us to do was from some of the Taylor-Burton scenes. However, before we could work on the piece, she asked that we get our parents to go watch the movie at the theater.

Back in the 60s, the film’s subject matter was considered raw and the language strong, but when compared with today’s films, or even TV shows, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” would  seem fairly “tame”. But in 1966, it was a cutting-edge movie, and not an easy one for 17-year-olds to watch with their parents, let alone 17-year-olds with farm parents from a town of about 300 people .

The 15-mile drive home from the show was a very quiet one.

However, we got to do “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” as our speech competition piece because our parents trusted and believed in Mrs. Herman. To this day, after all these many years, I’m proud to say that we got a first place in every speech contest that we entered, including the state competition.

We also presented our piece in front of the school and parents a couple of times, and always got a positive reception; even though the people from my little town were both conservative and religious, they also were the type of people who recognized the importance of their kids’ getting an education that would prepare them for life beyond the farm and our little town.

And you know what? Mrs. Herman wasn’t some sort of liberal interloper from the outside. She was a farmer’s wife who had gone back to school later in life to get her degree and teaching credentials, but she was a teacher who gave her all so that her students would have more opportunities and realize that the world goes a lot further than just the county line.

I don’t know Debra Taylor, but I have an idea that she might be the same kind of teacher.

This may be the problem with some of the people in Grandfield, Oklahoma: that narrow-mindedness is interfering with giving kids an education to help them prepare for the world beyond their town.

(Just for the record: Anna Herman was the sister of Johnny Locke, who coached basketball for many years at Natoma High School in the 1950s and 60s and was one of the winningest coaches in Kansas high school history.)

Yahoo!!! And Connecticut Makes Three–Another U.S. State Legalizes Gay Marriage

From msnbc.com: Hartford, Connecticut–Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have the right to marry, making that state the third behind Massachusetts and California . . . .

The divided court ruled 4-3 that gay and lesbian couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry under the state constitution, and Connecticut’s civil unions law does not provide those couples with the same rights as heterosexual couples.

There will be those that cry out that this is the act of legislating judges, but those that do that have forgotten what they learned in civics and government classes: the constitution was not written to just favor the majority, but was also written to protect the rights of the minority. This has been the case in so many situations of civil rights discrimination. Where the minority has tried to vote in discrimination, courts have had to step in, in order to follow the constitution. This was what happened with “equal-but-separate” and the segregation of schools. Many of the civil rights laws of the 60s would never have been passed if judges first had not stepped in to follow the Constitution.

One thing that I still remember learning in Mr. McKain’s (different spelling and so cute back in those days) government class back at good ol’ DHS (Dorrance, Kansas–that was also when church people set about doing good in the community, rather than spewing out hatred) is that one person’s rights only go to the point where they do not step on another person’s rights. That means (for all of you who still need a lesson in American civics) that your religious rights only go up to the point where they meet a gay person’s right to get married or the right to serve in the military. In other words, you do not hold a trump card. You may think you do, “but it ain’t so.”

It won’t be long before more states follow Connecticut. “Times are a changin'” as they say. A lot of the old coots that hold on to this antiquated thinking are older than me and are going to be dying off in the not too distant future. There are people like Fred Phelps, who has brain-washed some of his children and grandchildren, but in tough times, these hate-mongers might find it more beneficial to use their funds to put food on the table than to travel long distances to spout out more of their vile.