On the Child Victims Act

Chris

Wisconsin State Representative Chris Taylor. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

This morning, Wisconsin State Representatives Chris Taylor and Melissa Sargent and State Senator Lena Taylor introduced two bills at a press conference at the State Capitol. The first was the Child Victims Act, which eliminates the statute of limitations on civil suits by victims of child sexual assault. The second eliminates a loophole that makes it possible for clergy, who are supposed to be mandatory reporters. to not report child sex abuse when they find out about it.

Representative Taylor contacted me last week and asked if I would speak at the press conference. I was honored to be asked. The following is what I said this morning:

To summarize in a couple minutes why the Child Victims Act is important and should be passed is an impossible task. A man cannot give an elevator speech on almost eight years of childhood sex abuse and a lifetime of its after-effects.

I stand before you as an adult survivor who spent decades in denial, hiding behind drugs and alcohol, thinking that suicide was the only way to escape the horrible things that happened. I couldn’t escape. The reality was always with me.

The abuse started when I was ten and continued for almost eight years. My innocence was stolen, my trust in others was gone. I was threatened and was so frightened I knew that I could never tell anyone what had happened to me. It took me years to build the strength to share my story.

Throughout my life I have had dreams, flashbacks, and issues that relate back to my childhood. Several years ago I wrote a play about those experiences and as I was writing it a sudden terror came to me that if he found out what I was doing, I would be killed before I could finish it. I was panic-stricken. Forty years after the abuse ended the terror was still palpable. These are the kinds of things survivors live with every day.

To ask survivors of childhood sex abuse to process everything they need to process before they are 35 years old is an unfair burden. Most cannot. This arbitrary limit needs to be removed. It has only been in the last decade that I’ve been able to deal with and speak openly about what happened to me. Two-thirds of victims do not say anything until well into adulthood. For male survivors it’s an average age of 52 years old. The processing of these emotions is an unfolding that never ends. It is not done at any age. There is no statute of limitations on recovery and the legislature needs to recognize that.

Ending certain exemptions for clergy as mandatory reporters is equally important. One out of three children disclose the abuse, which is a scary and dangerous prospect for them to do. A child who tells is going to tell someone they feel they can trust. They are also seeking help. When a child isn’t heard, or doesn’t think they were heard because nothing changes, they will likely join those victims who keep their dark secret for years. Exemptions for anyone in the helping professions makes it likely the child will not try again and even more likely that the abuse will continue. We cannot do this to our children.

As a survivor I applaud Representative and Senator Taylor and Representative Sargent for introducing these bills. I thank them for their concern and compassion. I urge citizens to contact their representatives to encourage them to get behind these important bills. I ask all the legislators to set politics aside and get these bills to the Governor’s desk. If there were ever a pair of bills that deserve bipartisan support, it is these.

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Cliff walk, Ardmore

Ardmore

Town centre, Ardmore, County Waterford, Ireland. Photo by Callen Harty.

Rounding hills, we drove into Ardmore town,

down a street lined with walls of alternating colors,

a post office, small shops, a tavern,

and the wild waters of the Atlantic

splashing upon the windshield.

I came searching for connection

and knew upon that arrival

where my love of water,

my inclination toward the sea

had arisen within me.

It was there, under the tower

that for centuries stood

sentry over the ruins of man

and the graves of men.

“Remember man, that you are dust

and unto dust you shall return.”

 

The postmistress directed me to Siobhán,

the town historian, the knower of all things

Ardmore. “Harty, is it? No, sorry to say,

the last of the clan left, oh, about 1950.

Biddy Harty, it was, if I’m not mistaken.

Moved up to Waterford City.”

 

Thinking then there would be no connection,

my ancestry as good as dust,

we walked the cliff walk.

We walked the pasture past

curious cows ambling toward us,

questioning our presence perhaps?

Past flowers in bloom, and

an ancient tree still flowering.

Past a song thrush gently singing.

Past the pasture out onto the cliffs

overlooking the sea below us.

 

My eyes watered as I stared into the depths,

as I felt my footsteps

walking the edge between life and death,

the path of my great-great-grandfather

and great-great-grandmother,

watching the bay in which they fished,

the ocean they traveled to America.

 

No castle could compare,

no ruins of long-dead saints

or rocks upon which legends are built,

nor modern hotels or car-lined streets.

What mattered was my feet

planted in the same earth as theirs,

my tears

rolling down cheeks from the same flesh

that looked out from these seaside cliffs

so many years before me.

This was the Ardmore I came to find

and the Ardmore that stays within my heart,

beating from one generation to the next.

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To Robin Vos

Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

Representative Vos,

It has been reported on the news, both locally and nationally, that you are upholding rules to prevent my representative, Jimmy Anderson, from calling in to meetings. The rule in question was established by the Assembly and can as easily be changed by the Assembly. Yet, despite the fact that Representative Anderson is paralyzed and has other health issues which make it difficult for him to attend committee meetings in person at times, you are being intransigent in enforcing a ridiculous rule in an age of cell phones, videoconferencing, and other electronic means of communication.

Your supposed justification for standing by this rule has been quoted by multiple media sources: “It just comes down to the fact that I think it’s disrespectful for someone to be asking questions over a microphone or a speakerphone when individuals are actually taking the time out of their day to come and testify in person.”

Really?!?

In 2019, you don’t think the citizens of this state understand the need to accommodate someone with a disability? You think they can’t clearly hear a question he might ask if it’s over a speaker? You think it’s impossible for the Assembly to make this exception while the Senate allows it in the same building? You think those of us who are in his district aren’t aware that you are playing power politics and that it has nothing to do with respect for individuals who come to the Capitol to testify?

There are many, many citizens who can’t come to the Capitol in person for many reasons who call their representatives or e-mail. Wisconsinites are smart enough to understand that there are myriad ways of communicating and doing business these days.

You really want us to believe it’s about respect for Badger citizens?

Really?!?

I have sat in attendance at committee meetings with you as the chair. I have watched as your Republican partners have shown disrespect to citizens who have come to testify. I have seen them interacting with their cell phones while citizens were speaking. I have seen them looking bored with the idea of having to listen to the people who elected them express how they feel about a bill. I have seen them chatting with each other, leaving the room, and generally showing disinterest and disrespect to those who might have an opposing point of view. I’m surprised you haven’t brought in some of your Rojo’s Popcorn to share with them while they kick off their shoes, chat, check their e-mail, and fall asleep during public testimony.

Don’t try to tell us it’s about respect. Wisconsinites are not the dullards you think we are. We know it is about you, power, and doing what you can to wield it to your party’s advantage. If Anderson were a Republican the rule would have been changed immediately. We get it.

It’s about power and how much you enjoy having it.

Really.

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A Man of Peace

Lars

Lars. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

Sometimes the loss of a person you don’t  know that well can affect you as deeply or more as the loss of someone with whom you are closer by blood or love. So it is with the loss Wednesday of Lars Prip. I have been at a loss for the last two days, on the verge of tears for a man I knew, but not well. The thing is, even though we were not close friends, he was a hero to me. The loss of a hero when we are in such desperate need of them is devastating.

Lars was an immigrant to America. He was born in Denmark and moved here when he was a boy. As a young man, he enlisted and served with the Marines in Viet Nam and then reenlisted and served in Iran. He lost a twin brother in Viet Nam. The things he saw there and the loss of his brother affected him deeply and he became an advocate for a more peaceful world. I lost a favorite cousin there and have been a pacifist since.

His obituary mentions lots of things I never knew about Lars and those memories are important for others. It’s amazing how different people can know different parts of a person’s life. What I knew was a man of peace. He was a man who stood for peace and other causes with a ferocity that belied the gentle person who was known for his great hugs and cheerful demeanor. I first met him in 2011 on a bus that was loaded with counter-protesters on the way from Madison to West Allis, Wisconsin where we were going to greet a group of Nazis who had gotten permission to hold a rally. I knew a couple people on that bus but had come by myself just because I felt a need to be there. Lars greeted me with a smile that day and introduced himself.

He was a bit older than me. He was heavier at the time and about my height (meaning not very tall) and had a light beard and moustache. He was carrying a sign (virtually every time I saw him he had a sign of some sort) and was wearing a hat festooned with buttons about peace and justice. Something about him appealed to me immediately. There was a warmth and a genuineness about him that I liked.

For the next eight years I kept bumping into him whenever there was a rally against another war or possible war, whenever there was a march for peace or some other just cause, whenever there was a memorial for another person or group of people lost to gun violence. I would see him at protests against Scott Walker’s assault on Wisconsin workers or rallies for civil rights. He would be there at the weekly Farmers’ Market where he and his Veterans for Peace friends–especially another man I admire, David Soumis–would stand week after week to advocate against war. He also held a regular vigil in Beloit, Wisconsin as well.

He was often verbally assaulted when he did these things, attacked as anti-American for promoting peace. The irony of that is inescapable. But he would not attack back. He would gently express his viewpoint. Lars believed that peace was the only way to save humanity. He believed that advocating for peace made him a better American and a better citizen of the world. He had seen the horrors of war and did not want that for his children or grandchildren–or for anyone’s children or grandchildren.

Seeing Lars was always a highlight of any day. He made everyone feel special and he did everything he did because he loved people deeply. His love was real and if you were in any part of his world, your world was brighter and better because of it. It will be a lot dimmer now, though I believe his legacy will be honored by others who will continue his work for peace. Already this week a number of people gathered on his usual corner in Beloit to hold signs for peace in his honor and more are planning on doing that at Farmer’s Market this weekend. He will be long remembered, his work will continue through others, and hopefully he has found peace at last.

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Dunleavy’s Folly

Books

Books and photo by Callen Harty.

“To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”–George Washington

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”–John Adams

“I cannot live without books.”–Thomas Jefferson

Despite these words of wisdom from America’s first three Presidents, this country has historically lacked in its support of the arts. Better to work all day in the fields or factories than to spend leisure time enjoying the finer things in life. Better to read the Bible than be corrupted by literature written by heathens. Better to close one’s eyes than to open them up to new worlds and new possibilities through the arts.

When schools face budget shortages the first things to go are the arts programs–bands, art classes, photography clubs, and more. All the sports are kept because those supposedly build character, which they can, though those involved in the arts know that the arts do the same. The arts in this country have always been underappreciated and underfunded.

Yesterday, Alaska became the first state to shutter its arts agency, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, after Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, vetoed nearly $450 million dollars from a budget the legislature had already cut by millions (he also cut over 40% of the state’s support of the University of Alaska, $50 million dollars in Medicaid spending, and most of the state money for public broadcasting, among other things). He cut the Council on the Arts’ entire budget of $2.9 million, $700,000 of which was state funding. The veto also prevents the agency from accepting National Endowment for the Arts matching funding of $700,000 and private foundation funds of $1.5 million dollars according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Clearly, the intent was to gut the agency because the governor, like many conservatives, believes that state government is too big and shouldn’t be involved in support of the arts. Unfortunately, the legislature did not have enough votes to override the veto, which indicates that they agree with Dunleavy, even if those in the rest of Alaska may not.

Republicans in Congress are of the same ilk. They have worked to cut funding for public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts for years. Other right-wing governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin have worked hard to destroy public institutions like colleges and to defund support of the arts. Walker’s first budget proposal after getting elected included a two-thirds cut to the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Artists have always scared politicians because artists tend to speak their minds. Cartoonists skewer politicians when warranted. Writers pen novels that satirize them. Songwriters and poets encapsulate their foibles in short verses. Visual artists paint them as they truly are. It is no wonder that among the first people imprisoned by fascists are artists of every sort. It is no wonder that authoritarians do their best to silence those whose purpose in life is to find their truth and reveal it to others.

What politicians like Dunleavy don’t understand is that art will survive long after his term of office is up. Artists will find ways to fund their work and if they can’t, they will find ways to create it without spending money. Money does not make art (though it can make it easier to make art). The finished product may not be as lavish or polished as the public has come to expect, but its raw beauty will still come through and still resonate with those who seek deeper meaning in their lives.

Artists have always suffered and they always will. What this kind of budget cut does is make the citizens of Alaska suffer with less art, less awakening, less connection with their humanity, just like their governor.

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Two years after

Mom

Mom. Photo by Callen Harty.

Two years after

Before you were gone you were gone.
Your eyes, already looking toward heaven,
could not look at me and know who I was,
though love still glimmered in those deep
brown orbs.
Before you passed your past was lost.
Memories flickered in and out.
You could not recall who was dead
and who was not, or
where you were or who was there.
Still you sweetly smiled.

Ancestors tiptoed in the dark.
Lost loves snuggled next to you
and sometimes you called to them
even when they were not there.
Your children were with you.
We looked for you and sometimes
could not find you
beneath
the blankets that kept you warm
while you floated far above them.
Often
you were not there.

When that moment came,
that awful beautiful final moment
we all resisted for so long,
the mysteries of your life
died
with you, leaving behind
traces, small sketches, imprints,
all of them abstractions—
as life is—
condensed moments
of love,
wonder,
joy,
and being
no more.

I was not there
when your last breath
whispered your last secrets,
as the mystery of you lay still
beneath the sheets.
A gentle wind blew swiftly past me
as you passed
and I breathed in your last breath.
Now I find it hard to breathe,
to remember you
perfectly in your fullness.
Like you, my memory is fading, too.
It reaches for images lost
like faded photographs
that could never capture your essence.
I cannot capture you now,
but know that there is still love
reflected in my own brown eyes.

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Pride (and Prejudice)

Rainbow flags

Rainbow flags. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

So far, this year’s Pride Month has been a bizarre microcosm of living life as a queer person in the United States, and our experience is a microcosm of minority communities in general. This month, the queer community has celebrated itself and stood up for our rights in cities large and small all across the country. But there is a strange dichotomy evident between the continued progress of the LGBT community and other marginalized communities and the horrible backlash against that progress.

In my state of Wisconsin in June, Governor Tony Evers ordered the rainbow flag to fly atop the Capitol for the first time in history. Watching a video of the raising of that flag, just below the American and state flags, was awe-inspiring and brought me to tears. However, within a day or two, news media were reporting that Donald Trump’s administration was refusing permission to embassies around the world that requested permission to fly the rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month. My heart was lifted by the raising of the flag here in Wisconsin and my outlook was lowered by the refusal to allow the flag to be raised elsewhere.

This is the way it goes for us.

In Detroit, tens of thousands of queer folks and allies showed up at the annual pride march. Along with them, a group of armed Nazis showed up to intimidate the crowd. They tore down and ripped up at least one rainbow flag, stomped and urinated on an Israeli flag, and made chimpanzee noises at African-American attendees. Police escorted them away from the event. A couple days before the Detroit parade, the city saw two gay men and a trans woman killed and two others injured in a shooting that was said to target the victims because they were queer. Detroit is not an anomaly. It is America.

Meanwhile, several black trans women have been killed in Dallas and the killer has still not been found. Dallas, too, is America.

As a community, we celebrate life while quietly marking death. We dance in the evening and comfort suicidal friends the next day. We cheer political gains and mourn political losses, often in the same day or the same hour. It can be hard to know whether the day brings laughter or tears. This is the way it is for us.

We have made great strides and with that progress come the last gasps of the homophobes who will not let go of their ingrained prejudices. It is the same for all minorities. As Black Lives Matter and other groups force this country to look at its racist past and racist present there is tacit support from high-level government officials for a violent backlash against changing the status quo. Members of hate groups have heard the call and responded. Police killings of unarmed black men continue to be an issue. People on the fence who perhaps were ambivalent about certain minorities have been told the gate is open and they can cross to the other side.

Radical right-wingers in office–and there are many–have also heard the call. For example, they have recently introduced countless draconian measures in various states in an attempt to stop abortion and a woman’s right to choose. These bills are clearly not about the sanctity of life, as the same members show so little disregard for life in every other way. It is about controlling women, who have continued to gain in power despite the male-dominated society in which we live. Almost a century after women gained the right to vote–which many would like to take away–we have still not passed the Equal Rights Amendment.

Those same legislators also work to undermine LGBT gains. While same-sex couples can now legally marry, we can be denied cake at the celebration. Legislatures continue to pass laws that allow discrimination against us on religious grounds, that allow states to keep us from adopting children, and that undermine our gains in every way they can imagine. We can still be fired in about half of the states simply for being who we are.

Living as a queer person in this country (or as a Muslim, woman, African-American, Jew, or countless other minorities) is a feat of balance on a daily basis. One moment you are proudly proclaiming who you are and marching for equal rights, the next you could be ducking bullets from a crazed gunman who believes he is safeguarding his race, gender, religion, or other privileged class that he claims is under fire from groups trying to destroy him and his people. Or it could be attacks from crazed legislators who feel threatened by others having the same rights as they enjoy.

These things keep us off balance. It can be hard to stand up for your rights when you are knocked down, when you are cleaning up the rubble from a bombing at your mosque, or wiping up the blood from a mass shooting at your church or favorite night club.

It can be heartbreakingly difficult at times.

It is so hard to see that you are better off than you were fifty years ago, but decades away from being anywhere close to truly equal. Sometimes it feels like pushing your way through quicksand or deep mud. While you may be getting closer to that safe shore of equality, you wonder if you will have the strength to make it all the way there. Some days you simply want to give up the fight. Somehow you find the strength to push ahead, and then someone pushes you back. You get back up and move forward again and find someone standing in your way. You work your way around them. Despite all the obstacles, you keep going because you have to, because you are a human being with dignity and determination, and you will not let hatred in any of its forms keep you from love.

At some point, you realize we are not alone. You understand that we are all in this together, that if you don’t stand alongside your African-American brothers and sisters in their struggle, they will not stand with you. You see it is ultimately the same struggle and get that we can reach the goal together. We are in it with women, immigrants, queer folks, and countless others who are striving to fulfill the dream of this nation. You know that together–all of us together–will overcome.

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