A poem for my mother

Mom

My mother in her bed. Photo by Callen Harty.

I always bring my camera

because I never know which visit

will be my last.

I greet you and casually mention

I am your son,

just so you know.

Words tumble from your tongue

trying to find a place to land

safely.

Words, words, single words

nonsensical rambling

tumble

into a chasm of silence

between

us.

You stare

blankly at the ceiling,

perhaps wondering how you got here

and where here is

and who you are

and why you are afraid of dying.

In the silence the clock counts every second

and I want to grab it

and throw it out the window

and smash it into bits

so that I can no longer hear it

passing.

Passing.

All is passing.

Instead it keeps ticking,

marking time,

mocking the silence

as you fall again into sleep.

 

I step away.

I’ll take your picture later.

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Letter to the Mix, 105.1

Homophobia

Homophobia Hurts Everyone. Photo by Callen Harty.

To whom it may concern:

I just wanted to let your station know that in case you didn’t realize it this is 2016. The modern gay rights movement started with the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969. Almost 50 years later I find it unfathomable that men who are allowed to host a radio show indulge in lesbian bashing and homophobic and sexist banter on the air. Early this morning a caller and your two hosts, Slacker and apparently another Slacker, spent time lambasting lesbian mothers who raise male children, pretty much being both sexist and homophobic while apparently attempting to either be funny or controversial. If they were going for funny it didn’t work. If they were going for controversial they certainly raised my hackles as well as plenty of other people I know.

I have been a fighter for gay rights for nearly forty years and despite the progress we have made in that time we unfortunately still find ignorant people who are allowed a microphone to spew venom, insults, and opinions that work to set progress back. Imagine that you are a ten-year old boy with a pair of lesbian mothers and you had to hear these two men berate them when they are doing their best to raise you. How do you think that child might have felt? How do you think the bullies at school might interpret those words–perhaps as an okay to bully the kid even more? I have known many lesbian mothers and gay fathers and all of them have been incredibly conscientious about raising their children with good morals. And don’t even get me started on the sexist and gender stereotyping in which they engaged on the show. Good parenting has nothing to do with sexuality or gender. I was raised by a single mother and most who know me and my siblings would say she did a fine job.

These two hosts and your radio station need to consider the consequences of your words. I am a firm believer in free speech and I will defend your right even to say idiotic things, but as a business you have a responsibility to make sure the things your hosts say aren’t harmful to other human beings. I expect better, and I expect the vast majority of your listeners do as well. I’m sure your listeners would appreciate an apology for the tasteless banter as well.

Please note that a copy of this e-mail will be sent to the Federal Communications Commission and to your advertisers.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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Driving Me Crazy

Ford Fairlane

Ford Fairlane. Photo by Callen Harty.

Every day I have to drive all the way across Madison, Wisconsin’s beltline and every day brings with it multiple moments of irritation. The design is bad, the constant construction makes it worse, and putting other drivers on it makes it hell. Here are some observations and thoughts on driving, many based on that daily drive:

Despite popular opinion, turn signals are not really illegal to use.

Your time is not more valuable than everyone else’s. Passing a stalled lineup of cars in the next lane and then forcefully cutting in a mile or two up the road makes you a jerk, not a good driver.

When you are behind vehicles at a stop light there is really no great need to maintain three to five car lengths. You will not be likely to have to suddenly hit the brakes when you’re already stopped.

Likewise on the highway, even with traffic flow at 60 or 70 miles an hour, ten to fifteen car lengths is a bit much.

If you are looking at your phone then you are not looking at the road in front of you.

If there is a bicycle in the bike lane you can drive past them without going across double yellow lines and halfway into the oncoming traffic lane.

I have my own car radio; no need to share your favorite music.

The bigger the truck, the smaller the dick.

Yes, you can hydroplane when it’s raining, but 25 or 30 miles an hour on the highway is probably actually more dangerous than that possibility.

If there are multiple cars lined up behind you then you are probably going slower than necessary–even when you’re in the slower lane.

Too much caution is as dangerous as too little.

If you are in the far left lane, drive like you belong there.

If you weren’t aware of it driving side by side next to another vehicle doesn’t allow anyone to go past either of you. If you’re doing that at less than the speed limit you’re an ass.

The slowest vehicles on the road tend to be the ones with Dale Earnhardt #3 stickers in the rear windows.

No, you don’t have a baby on board. Quit lying.

If you own a sports car, use it.

Revving your engine doesn’t make you more of a man.

The word “yield” does not actually mean the same as the word “stop”. Look it up.

On ramps are designed to allow you to get up to speed before you enter the highway—and they typically don’t have stop signs at the point where you are supposed to merge.

Even a 90 degree turn does not have to be maneuvered at five miles an hour or less.

There is no need to stop at a green light. Hint: Just remember that Green and Go both start with the letter “g”.

Likewise, when a light turns green you can start moving again. You don’t have to wait until the cars behind you start honking.

When a light turns yellow and you are a quarter mile away from it that is not a sign to floor it.

And . . . red stop lights mean stop. Period.

Flashing red lights don’t mean you are supposed to get in the way of the ambulance, police car, or fire truck that is coming up behind you.

Believe it or not roundabouts are designed to improve traffic flow and do just that in other countries. Not even sure what else to say about this one, but people need to learn how they are supposed to work.

The far left lane is called the passing lane. If you are not going fast enough to pass the vehicles in the lane to your right then you should be in that lane.

On the other hand, tailgating typically does not make the person in front of you go faster and if they suddenly stop because of a squirrel crossing the road, you’re likely to be the one charged for the accident for following too closely.

Tailgating should only be done at sports events.

Nobody else knows how to drive.🙂

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Wrap Around the Capitol, 2016

Attendees gathering together at the annual Wrap  Around The Capitol event at the Wisconsin Capitol building. The event is sponsored by Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Photo by Callen Harty.

Attendees gathering together at the annual Wrap Around The Capitol event at the Wisconsin Capitol building. The event is sponsored by Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Photo by Callen Harty.

I was invited to speak at Wrap Around the Capitol, an annual event sponsored by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is what I chose to say:

Thank you to WCASA for sponsoring this wonderful event and for inviting me to share a few words with you today.

We are here today and we are using denim as a symbol because several years ago a sexual assault conviction was overturned by a panel of judges in Italy. The judges believed that a rape victim must have consented to the encounter. They said her jeans were so tight that the man who assaulted her could not have gotten them off without her assistance. Let that sink in for a moment. The judges believed that a rape victim consented to and assisted in her own rape. This is the type of victim blaming that we see every day across this country and across this world. It is not acceptable.

The questions should not be why were you wearing that, why did you drink so much, why did you let him, but why do we live in a place in which those kinds of questions are even asked? Why do we live in a society in which the victim is all-too-often blamed and the perpetrator walks? Why do we live in a world in which there is tacit acceptance of the right to violate the bodies of others? Why do we question the person who was assaulted and never ask why anyone thinks it’s okay to do anything to someone else’s body without their consent?

This is my body; no one has a right to it without my okay. No one. Ever. Period.

I am here today as a survivor of nearly eight years of child sex abuse. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t enjoy it. And I am not to blame for the sickness of others. I am here today because I am working to ensure that what happened to me and to that woman in Italy doesn’t happen to anyone else. No one. Ever.

I am here to raise my voice so that those who work inside the Capitol will hear me roar, will hear you roar, and will do what they can to ensure that sexual violence ends. Recently they passed the victim accompaniment bill, which was a great step forward. But they failed to pass Erin’s Law. They failed again to pass the Child Victims’ Act. They failed to hear our voices in all their diversity and fullness. There is more work to be done and we need to let them know that we will not rest until they finally do hear our voices and act upon it. We will not rest until there are no more victims of sexual assault. No more. Ever.

Thank you again for coming. Wishing all of you the best, in peace and love.

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Wisconsin Justice

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Inexperienced, unqualified, bigoted, highly partisan, and beholden to rich supporters. This is Wisconsin justice in 2016.

As a gay man, as a citizen of this once-great state, as a person whose family has lived here since 1827, I am so far beyond disheartened and disillusioned that it is immeasurable. The pain runs deeper than the valleys of my ancestral home in southwestern Wisconsin. This is not the Wisconsin I have always loved so much. I weep for what we have become.

This is the summation of Rebecca Bradley: She is a right-wing corporate shill with extremely conservative views who was fast-tracked in her career by an admiring Governor Scott Walker. And I’m guessing he expects the admiration to be mutual when there are important cases before the bench, as will all of those who poured huge amounts of money into the campaign on her behalf.

Bradley was appointed by Walker to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after Justice Patrick Crooks unexpectedly passed away in his chambers. She served on the Supreme Court for only half a year before winning election to the position in the just-concluded spring election. Her appointment to the highest court was just five months after Walker had appointed her to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and that appointment was a mere three years after he had first made her a judge by appointing her to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012.  Their friendship goes back years. Her experience as a jurist does not. Four short years as a judge and now she is set to begin a 10-year elected term to the top court in the state.

Admittedly, there are only two qualifications to run for the Supreme Court in Wisconsin: one has to be licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for at least five years and must be less than 70 years old. That’s it. Usually the citizens of the state will want to know that those sitting on the highest court have a good understanding of the law and the Constitution and that their experience lends itself to that. They also generally want to make sure that the candidate is non-partisan and can remain objective and set aside their personal opinions to weigh the merits of a case against the Constitution and precedent. Bradley’s lack of experience is not what is most bothersome; it is her ability (or likely inability) to be non-partisan.

Forgive me if I didn’t swallow her supporters’ proclamations about how everyone can change and that the vitriolic, anti-Democrat, anti-women, victim blaming, and homophobic rants that she wrote in college were not representative of who she is now. Yes, people can change. Many do, but I’m betting that most of the people who would have called me a queer or a faggot twenty years ago would still call me that now–maybe just not as loudly. If Bradley had changed from those college views the likelihood is that Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and the other right-wing, ultra-conservative organizations and individuals that supported her candidacy would not have done so. There was virtually nothing that she did or said in the last twenty years to indicate that she had changed.

Wisconsin was the first state in the union to pass a gay rights law, back in 1982. It guaranteed lesbian and gay citizens protection against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. We now have a Supreme Court Justice who has called people like me queers and degenerates, who has said that those who suffered and died from AIDS more or less deserved it by committing suicide with their degenerate behavior, who compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, and who aligned herself with Camille Paglia and the idea that rape victims are responsible for their own rapes. She also believes pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions for moral reasons and she believes in the concept of personhood, meaning that life begins at conception, which could effectively make abortion and even contraception illegal.

What’s shocking is not that there are people out there who hold these views, but that enough of my fellow Wisconsinites support such rhetoric and would vote for this kind of person. What’s shocking is that I know people who had heard or read about these things and still voted for Bradley. What’s amazing is that outside groups created misleading and dishonest advertising, commercials that pretty much proclaimed that Joanne Kloppenburg was a lover of pedophiles and cared more for them than the child victims of sexual abuse, and that people believed those ads. They were the most disgusting and dishonest political commercials I’ve ever seen. They were so vile that they made the old Willie Horton ads look like amateur hour, a little dusting of dirt in the mud of the political season. Of course, they worked and the candidate that they were meant to support never stepped up and disavowed them. As a candidate for the Supreme Court she should have made it clear that her campaign did not create, support, or condone those ads. That might have made me believe she had changed.

Again, this is not the Wisconsin I have always loved.

Today I am filled with sorrow that my fellow citizens would put this person in office to make important decisions on the constitutionality of abortion, LGBT rights, corporate rights, and more. I am also in fear that along with the other three conservative Justices in the majority that Bradley will continue to eliminate all the progress that we have made as a human race and continue to lead us back to the 1950s and beyond, when women were kept barefoot and pregnant, gays were kept in the closet, and everyone was beholden to their bosses and corporate overlords. This is not the Wisconsin I believe in or one in which I want to live.

Today I weep for my state. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, I’ll get back up and be ready to fight again.

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Blake, Ash, and Skylar

Skylar

Skylar. Photo by Callen Harty.

Note: Someone reposted an article from a year ago and I didn’t notice that it said 2015 instead of 2016, which caused me to write this blog post. I have revised the post a bit due to that.

Today I read that yet another transgender youth committed suicide. Blake Brockington was the second Charlotte, North Carolina area transgender teen to die of suicide in a month. Sixteen-year old Ash Haffner also walked into traffic and was killed. I am still reeling from the death of transgender student and activist Skylar Lee here in Madison last fall. I don’t think I can take another one of our beautiful, proud transgender youth making that choice.

And yet in some way I understand.

When every day you are called names like “tranny”, told that you are sick or abnormal or doomed to hell, see other people like yourself beaten or killed simply for being true to who they are, watch as legislators around the country try to pass bills that limit your self-expression or your ability to feel like you belong, then it becomes a little more understandable. For Blake, Skylar, and many others life is made even more difficult when they identify as another minority and also have to face the pressures that come along with that.

Is it a coincidence that two Charlotte-area teens ended their lives so close to each other? The city of Charlotte was debating an LGBT anti-discrimination bill around the time of these deaths. As an adult I have a hard time imagining how the debate could go on for something as simple as ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law. These are rights that should be granted under the Constitution of the United States without question. Imagine being a teen bravely and proudly identifying as transgender (or lesbian, gay, or bisexual) while other citizens argue publicly about your worth as a human being. Imagine being 16 or 18 years old and seeing hateful comments day after day in letters to the editor or online. Imagine hearing those awful words and sentiments hurled at you from bigots who know who you are because you have stood strong for the rights of your fellow transgender students and even adults.

I have a hard time imagining that the debate over that bill did not have an impact on him or any other queer-identified young person in that state. Wisconsin also debated a similar “bathroom bill” around the time that Skylar died. Maybe it played into Blake’s and Skylar’s deaths, maybe it didn’t, but it certainly could not have helped. In the reports I have read it seems that although Blake, like Skylar, was perceived as a strong and respected activist he had been unhappy for a while and had shown signs of possibly wanting to hurt himself. One can only take so much of people telling you that you are worthless before you might start to believe it.

I feel hopeless right now. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to protect transgender and other queer youth from the hatred. But I know they don’t deserve it. They are simply being the people that God or the universe created them to be. They simply want to be happy and live their lives. They were created equal and just want to be treated equally. Is that too much to ask?

Somehow we need to change the dynamic. Somehow we need to change the conversation. We not only need to protect the rights of our transgender youth we need to support them in every way. We need to let them know that they are unique and beautiful and that we love them. We need to let them know how proud we are of them for being truly themselves, something many people in our culture never learn how to do. We need to shower them with more love than the bigots have hate so that they know they are valued and wanted and can grow from beautiful transgender youth into beautiful transgender adults.

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Letter to Senator Ron Johnson on Supreme Court Hearings

United States Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty

United States Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty

March 21, 2016

Dear Senator Johnson,

This is a request for you to do your job if you want to save it.

President Obama fulfilled his duty and nominated a new Supreme Court justice and it is incumbent upon the Senate to hold hearings and to either vote the nominee up or down. Despite all the contortions that members of the Senate are going through to make it seem that the right thing to do is to wait until after the election both the Constitution and tradition say otherwise.

You and your fellow Republicans are doing a disservice to the American people and to the institution of the Supreme Court (and Senate) by failing to act upon the nomination that the President has forwarded to you.

Contrary to the hot air and equivocations being spouted by the esteemed senators from Kentucky and Iowa, among others, there is nothing historically that suggests that you should not act upon the nomination now. Republicans are correct that in the last 40 years no Supreme Court justice has been nominated and accepted in an election year, because this is the first time in that 40-year span that it has even been a possibility. In that time two nominations from Republican Presidents were voted on with less than a year to go before an election (they were technically nominated and approved in the year prior to an election even though it was within a year of the election date). Both of those were unanimously approved by the Senate, which in both cases was controlled by Democrats at the time. Going back even further many justices have been nominated and/or approved in election years, including five who became Supreme Court justices just since 1900. Digging further into our history there are even more.

Most Americans agree with me on this rather than with you and your fellow obstructionists. Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans support the normal process unfolding the way it should, and the percentage has continued to climb higher in each poll since Justice Scalia passed away. This includes 62% of Wisconsinites according to a recent survey by Public Policy Polling (released the week of February 22). You were elected as a Republican, but that does not mean you only represent Republican voters. You were elected to represent all Wisconsin voters, including Republicans, Democrats, those affiliated with various third parties, and independents like myself. When two-thirds of state residents believe a certain way you would do well to listen. The poll also found that Senators who did not listen to their constituents on this issue are in danger of losing their seats, especially Senators who are already vulnerable, such as yourself.

If you know your Wisconsin history you know that the citizens of this state will not support elected officials or candidates who play political games on issues like this. Wisconsin is the state that in the early part of the 20th Century elected a Socialist representative to Congress three times and each time with a larger majority when Congress refused to seat him. Voters who did not like Victor Berger and did not vote for him in the initial election voted for him the second and third times in special elections because they felt it was wrong that he was not seated when the majority of Wisconsinites elected him to serve. Likewise with Governor Scott Walker’s recall election. Many people who did not like Governor Walker voted for him in the recall election because they believed the recall was nothing but political gamesmanship. You can be assured that if you play games with something as important as the selection of a Supreme Court justice you will face the wrath of Wisconsin voters at the polls. You will be doing Russ Feingold an incredible favor if you follow party lines and not the will of Badger voters.

You were quoted on National Public Radio as saying “Why not let the American people decide the direction of the Supreme Court?” The American people voted Barack Obama into office for eight years, not for just over seven years. And yes, the American people voted in a Republican majority in the most recent election, but that doesn’t mean they did so to encourage thwarting the President at every turn. If you truly believe that the American people should have a say then you should be more attentive to the polls in which a consistent majority—even from conservative polling organizations—have said that hearings should be held. The American people are telling Congress to act on Obama’s nomination and to do so in a timely manner. The average time for the Senate to approve or reject nominees in modern times is just over three weeks. If you do nothing for eight months then you are clearly abdicating your duties and your oath of office.

If you and your fellow Senators stick to your promise of not allowing a hearing on the President’s nomination to the Supreme Court then you can be assured that the people of Wisconsin and other states will promise to remove you from office. Be assured that we will succeed in electing representatives who truly represent the will of the people.

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