Monday, July 4, 2016

What's Up with Mississippi?

In the realms of chutzpah, it was a bona fide keeper. Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said he was disappointed that a judge had ruled against House Bill 1523, which would have allowed discrimination against LGBT folks under the guise of religious liberty. Federal judge Carlton Reeves put a stay on the bill, which was to take effect on July 1, 2016.

Gunn said, "We felt like it was a good bill, protecting religious beliefs and the rights of LGBT community."

He did not explain how giving religious people a free pass to discriminate against the gay community would "protect the rights of LGBT community." He also did not explain his aversion to the use of a definite article.

Perhaps he was trying to one-up his boss, Governor Phil Bryant, who received the Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award from the Family Research Council (categorized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), for signing the bill in the first place. During the award ceremony, held in Washington, D.C., Bryant said, "They don't know that Christians have been persecuted throughout the ages. They don't know that if it takes crucifixion, we will stand in line before abandoning our faith and our belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So if we are going to stand, now is the time and this is the place."

As Judge Reeves noted in his dissent, the bill was clearly a reaction to last year's marriage equality ruling that made gay marriage legal throughout the United States. Bryant and his friends in the Mississippi legislature thought they had come up with an end run around the ruling with a so-called "religious liberty" bill. After all, who doesn't want to protect "religious liberty"? 

Proponents argued that unless the bill was signed, pastors in the state of Mississippi would be forced to marry gay couples whether they wanted to or not. They provided no evidence for this claim, and were apparently unaware that not one pastor or priest or anyone else wearing a funny hat in this country has ever been forced to marry a gay couple against their will. 

Not to be outdone, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer posted this on his Facebook page:

He also said the "homosexual agenda is the greatest threat to religious liberty in our nation's history."

Fischer's overheated and over the top rhetoric is one of the reasons why the American Family Association was also categorized as a hate group  by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The only sensible statement from a public official in Mississippi on this matter came from Attorney General Jim Hood, who said, "The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB1523 protected religious freedoms. Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man."

The challenges faced by Mississippi are many and well known. How its opposition to gay marriage and gay rights in general will help the state with these challenges is a complete mystery. HB1523 has actually hurt the state. Many main street groups and chambers of commerce asked the governor not to sign the bill, as did major corporations like Nissan, Toyota, Levis, Tyson Foods and many others. The governor ignored all these folks and signed the bill anyway. 

Now that a stay has been issued against it, there is talk of an appeal. 

Why, Mississippi? What's up with that?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Letter to an unknown son or daughter

Hi there.

You don't know me yet, but someday you will (or so I hope). Right now you're "in care" - perhaps a foster home or a group home or some other setting which is temporary and not your final destination. Most likely your parents messed up. Drugs. Drinking. Crime. Some form of abuse took place. Or perhaps your parents died or were, for reasons perhaps unknown to you, unable to care for you. Somehow or other, you were let down, and you wound up "in care."

You're probably wondering what the future could possibly hold. Must be rather scary. And also lonely.

There's no getting around it: It hurts when your parents let you down. It's like sailing along in the sea of life and suddenly you find yourself thrust into a life raft and left to fend for yourself while the ship that was your family sails off into the sunset without you.


Then a giant cargo ship comes along, plucks you from the cold waters, installs you in some tiny room while folks fill out paperwork and try to figure out what to do with you. You become part of a giant machine, a cog among a gazillion cogs, shuffled here and there as the cold, impersonal machine makes decisions on your ultimate fate. The people tending the machine try to do the best they can, but they face budget shortages, staff shortages, lack resources, money, time, and so you find yourself shuffled about as folks scramble to come up with something more substantial. You may wind up in situations that are not ideal but are the best that can be achieved given the circumstances.

Not very fair, but there it is.

You probably lay in bed at night and stare up at the ceiling and wonder if someone is thinking about you, if somebody wants to be your mom or dad, whether you'll have new brothers and sisters or perhaps be an only child, whether you'll have a new family -- and whether you'll like that family.

Each time the door opens, you probably wonder who will be standing there - and what they want from you. Will it be a mom and a dad? Or maybe just a mom? Or just a dad? Or will it be a social worker saying it's time for you to move on to the next thing - the next foster family, the next group home, the next destination that the giant machine has decided for you.

Perhaps you think no one will ever come for you at all.

And then, one day, out of the blue, the door will open and I'll be standing there.

I should tell you up front that I know all about that giant machine taking care of you because I'm caught up in it too. See, the only way for someone like me to find someone like you is to crawl into the belly of that beast and do battle.

The very first thing the machine did to me was fingerprint me. Then they sent my fingerprints out to see what would happen. Would I show up on any criminal reports? Perhaps the sex offender database? Perhaps on some police report somewhere?

And on it went, one thing after the next. I can' t tell you how many forms I filled out, how many questions I answered, how many background checks I went through. Then I took a bunch of parenting classes and training sessions. Then the machine visited my home several times and had a good look around, wanting to be sure that it would be good enough for someone like you. Did I have running water? A nice bed and a nice room for you? Were the floors clean? Did the toilet flush properly? Did I have fire alarms and fire extinguishers in case there was a fire? Did I have an emergency plan in place in case there was a tornado or some other disaster? Did I understand that a child should never be spanked for any reason? Did I have friends willing to write letters of recommendation on my behalf, willing to verify that I would make a good parent?

They talked to everyone in my life. Even my boss was asked to weigh in.

All of this was done to make sure you would be placed in a safe, good home and that you'd have an adult in your life determined to make sure that nothing bad happened to you ever again. Because the machine knows - and I know, too -- that something bad has happened to you. Someone, somewhere, let you down. Life, circumstances, fate, karma -- somehow or other, you got the short end of the stick. It's the machine's job to pick you up, carry you a while, then drop you off at a place where you can live again, a place that you can call home, in the care of someone, or perhaps several someones, who want to be your family.

So ... on that day, when I'm standing there in your doorway -- when we're looking at each other and sizing each other up and wondering what it all means -- on that day both you and I will step off the machine. The social workers will still visit and there will still be forms to fill out, but when we disembark from the machine and go to the parking lot and get into my vehicle, an entirely new chapter in your life -- and my life -- will unfold.

If it all goes according to plan, it will be a very nice chapter.

I'm writing this letter because I know what it's like to lie in bad at night and wonder if someone is thinking about you. Fact is, when I was your age, someone let me down too, and I have a pretty good idea of how you must feel.

So I wanted you to know that yes, someone is indeed thinking about you, and planning for your future, and waiting for the day they can meet you and start being your mom, or your dad, or your family. Someone has spent a lot of time inside the belly of that beast doing battle, getting ready, buying furniture for your new room, getting everything ready. Someone's been thinking about you every single day.

Before I close this letter, I'll tell you a secret. You might be scared, but that someone thinking about you is probably scared too. Probably scared a lot. You might be wondering if they're going to like you. But they're going to be wondering whether you like them.

You see, they want the best for you. They know some bad things have happened to you, and they don't want you to be hurt anymore. They want you to have a good life, a safe life, a life filled with the love and care that you deserve. Of course, it's easy to talk about such things, but doing it is far more difficult. Takes work. A lot of work. You both have to work at it. You both have to be on board and ready to roll up your sleeves and make it work.

Me, my sleeves are rolled up and I'm ready to give it my all. And what I know is this: If you're willing to do the same, we're going to be a huge success.

Right now, as I write this, I don't know who you are. I don't know if you're a boy or a girl. I don't know your name. I don't know anything about you. Yet I'm thinking about you.

It makes me sad that there are so many kids like you. I wish I could help all of you. I can't. What I can do -- and what I will do, if the machine allows me -- is help one of you.

And I'll tell you another secret: There's a lot of people like me in the belly of that beast.

So ... chin up, okay? Someone's waiting for you. Someone's thinking about you. And, someday soon, someone will be standing there at your door. When that day comes, here's some advice: Give it your all. They say a fool will waste his tomorrows by looking back at yesterdays. Don't look back. Give it your all.

Nick Wilgus is the best-selling author of SHAKING THE SUGAR TREE and many other novels.