What It Is Is Beautiful – Fourth Graders Take On LEGO

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For our fourth grade project, everyone in my class wrote a letter to a different embassy asking for information about their country. I had Luxembourg. They sent me a manilla envelope filled with brochures and a letter encouraging me to visit there. So far, that opportunity hasn’t presented itself, but it’s on my to do list.

Our teacher mimeographed our letters, (glossy sepia-toned copies) and we put them  in the front of a duotang, (a colored folder that had nothing to do with Tang which hadn’t yet been invented) with our handwritten reports on the climate and language and the imports and exports of our assigned country. The information from the embassies went in a pocket in the back, except for Charlie Marino whose embassy hadn’t replied. To this day, I think of Portugal as unfriendly to children.

We put them on our desks for Parent’s Night, and I probably would not even remember our foreign embassy requests except that the Michigan Catholic did a story on them entitled St. Agatha Fourth Graders Go International! We thought we were big time. Today’s kids from Shorewood Hills Elementary School, in Madison Wisconsin, would laugh us off the planet.

Shorewood is part of a pilot program for elementary schools called Welcoming Schools, a project of the Human Rights Campaign. Welcoming Schools lists its goals as:

  • Embracing family diversity,
  • Avoiding gender stereotyping and affirming gender
  • Ending bullying and name-calling.

Like my old fourth grade class, the fourth and fifth graders of Shorewood participated in a class project too. They chose to study LEGO for evidence of cultural and gender stereotypes in advertising to children.

No kidding! Fourth and fifth graders!

The kids charted LEGO sets and cultural data:

Lego jpeg (1)

 

And the kids analyzed data on LEGO and gender:

lego presentation.005

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After compiling extensive data from over 600 LEGO sets, the kids came to the conclusion that most LEGO sets were marketed almost exclusively to boys and included very few female mini-figures, and what female figures LEGO did have were likely to be damsels in distress. They also found a lack of cultural diversity, noting that in a sample of 407 human mini-figures only 27 represented non-European cultures.

Here’s the part of the Shorewood School project that blew me away. The kids didn’t put their facts and figures and suggestions in colorful duotangs for Parent’s Night. The Shorewood kids made their own LEGO campaign for diversity.

The kids based their ad campaign on this famous LEGO ad of 1981:

1981 Lego Ad

 

The Shorewood students posed with their own Lego creations in a subtle but unmistakable plea for cultural diversity and gender inclusion. Here are just a few of them:

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5

 

 

3

 

14

 

es

 

The kids then took the next logical step, writing to the CEO of LEGO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, to inform him of their disturbing findings and ask that LEGO look into making some more diverse products. Here are a couple of those letters:

2letter

 

letter

 

The letters of the Shorewood students did not go unnoticed. It’s impossible to know if it is just a coincidence, but LEGO announced June 4, that it will introduce, in late summer or early fall, their new Alatariel LEGO line with women scientists:

alatariel-female-minifigure-lego-set

 

One day after the LEGO announcement, the kids at Shorewood Elementary School received this response from the company:

It’s amazing to see the outcome of all the time and effort you put into your analysis of gender and culture in LEGO® sets. I enjoyed reading the letters you posted on your website. We know we’re lucky to have so many loyal LEGO fans around the world and we’re always pleased to get feedback.

When we develop a new LEGO set, we use customer feedback like yours – and most importantly, we ask children for opinions on every little detail. You’re the best play experts in the world and the toughest judges of what’s fun and what isn’t.

It’s true we currently have more male than female minifigures in our assortment. We completely agree that we need to be careful about the roles our female figures play – we need to make sure they’re part of the action and have exciting adventures, and aren’t just waiting to be rescued.

You say we should make female minifigures and sets for girls that look more like our other play themes. You’re right: we don’t expect all girls to love the LEGO Friends sets. We know that each child is unique. That’s why we offer more than 450 different toys in various themes so everyone can choose what matches their building skills and links into their passions and interests.

Our designers spend all day dreaming up new sets and ideas, and new roles continue to appear and old roles evolve for both male and female characters. Lots of strong women and girls live in LEGO City. They work as businesswomen, police officers and fire fighters. And THE LEGO MOVIE™ features Wyldstyle as a main character. She’s an awesome, inspiring character who’s also one of the best builders around!

We originally chose yellow for the color of minifigures so they wouldn’t represent a specific ethnicity in sets when there were no characters represented. In this way, LEGO figures would be acceptable all over the world and fans could assign their own individual roles. However, in some products where we want figures to be as authentic as possible, such as movie characters, and others we plan in the future, some minifigures won’t be yellow to stay true to their characterization.

We put a lot of effort into creating a variety of new and exciting characters for the Minifigures Collectibles line: so far we’ve had a female surgeon, a zoologist, athletes, extreme sports characters, rock stars, and a scientist – just to share a few examples. They cover a lot of everyday professions, but we’ve also developed heroic characters like a female Viking, Amazon warrior, space explorer… as well as fantasy and mythical female characters such as Medusa, mermaids, fairies, robots, aliens and super cute characters dressed up as bumble bees, or in national costumes depicting the countries they’re from.

Here at the LEGO Group we’re also having many conversations about the topics you raised, so your comments will be shared with our Marketing and Development teams. After all, we want to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow: that means both boys and girls, everywhere in the world!

Kind regards,

Steve Clines
LEGO® Service

 

I don’t know what part of this class project I admire more, the lessons learned about gender and cultural diversity, the creative “ads” or the hands-on demonstration on how to influence a company to make a better product. Kudos to the kids, to their teachers, and to Welcoming Schools; I wish every elementary school would give the program a try, before the kids enter those terrible middle-school years where bullying all too often becomes an art form. Look at what the Wisconsin students learned!

 

Photos with permission

 

 

 

Jean Ann Esselink jean ann esselinkis a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political
fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in
Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered

 

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Roger and Steven Ham – Fathers of Fourteen

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They thought they’d see if anyone would let them adopt one child. Now they have fourteen.

I admit I have an inordinate curiosity about big happy families. You might think that is because I am a lonely only child wishing for siblings, but quite the opposite; I am the second of eight children.

Complaining we weren’t a happy family seems unfair. We had a big Beaver Cleaver house and our parents never hit us. But the unconditional love concept I’ve heard so much about seems to have escaped us. In our family, you were loved until you transgressed, and then you were held up to your siblings as a shining example of failure. We were never encouraged to bond. We didn’t hug or kiss one another, or our parents. Still don’t. When I last saw my sister Mary Lou, who lives in California, her husband and I hugged, but Lou and I would never think of it.

So you see why I am a voyeur of big happy families. I’m always looking for that spark we were missing. The spark that seems to burn with the brightness of a welding torch in the home of Steven and Roger Ham, bonding them together. 

“We built our family on the value that family is family.” Steven says.

I feel like there is a clue there, if I could just grasp it. 

Roger and Steven met in a bar in Reno, Nevada in 1993. Roger was the bartender. Steven was his regular customer. They say they fell in love on their first date – to Cirque du Soleil.

Steven HamEight years later they were still together, living the good life together in Arizona, but their big 3,000 square foot house seemed empty. Both men had grown up in large families, Steven as the youngest of 14 children and Roger as the youngest of 12. Roger admits he was the driving force behind the idea to adopt, but rolls his eyes in when Steven says he never really wanted children. 

“Steven has a knack with kids,” Roger says. “He’s like a pied piper.”

Roger was the first to look into adopting a baby through a private adoption, but Steven did his own research and decided a state agency was the way to go.  So he began calling adoption agencies:

 “Honestly, if I needed to lie and say I was a single parent, I would have.”

But he didn’t have to lie. Of the half-dozen agencies he contacted, only two showed any hesitation. Heather Shew-Plummer from Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids in Phoenix became Steven and Roger’s caseworker.  

Heather:

“I immediately fell in love with them. They never tried to hide it, (being gay) but they never made a big deal out of it either. They didn’t want to change the world. They just wanted to raise their kids.”

Roger Ham and OliviaSo Roger and Steven Ham took the classes, and went through the background checks, and were finally ready to welcome a child. The caseworker sent a five-year old boy named Michael for a “get acquainted” visit. During that meeting, Michael confided to Steven that in the group home where he was living, the other kids beat him because he was the smallest. Steven says his heart broke. And Michael never went back to that group home. 

The men thought they were done. They had the child they’d hoped for. Their lives were complete. All they had ever really contemplated was one child. As gay men, they counted themselves lucky they had Michael. But as they got to know their new son, they discovered he had siblings in the foster system, siblings he missed every day. So they made an inquiry to their social worker. That’s how they came to adopt three-year-old Andrew and four-year-old Elizabeth, Michael’s brother and sister.

And then they were three.

But there were more siblings, and separating families didn’t sit well with the dads. So they opened their hearts and their home to Madison and Jackson, the twin two-year-old siblings of their three adopted kids.

And then they were five.

Steven Ham2Besides the children they adopted, the Hams were also foster parents licensed to take in children in crisis situations. Shortly after the twins arrived, they were asked to foster fifteen-month-old Marcus. Then just two weeks after Marus moved in, they were asked to take in Vanessa, the eleven-year-old cousin of their first five children, in an emergency placement – the aunt she was living with had thrown her out.

Both Marcus and Vanessa stuck.

And then they were seven.

Next to arrive was six-month old Cooper, who was abandoned behind a Walmart and his sister Olivia, who was abandoned at a local hospital. They were followed by ten-month-old Ambrose.

And then they were ten.

Up until that time, all of their kids had been adopted from Arizona where the couple live. But in 2009 they were told about Logan, a special needs, hard-to-place four-year-old from Washington, who had an ear deformity. When they learned his sister Isabel was in the system, they adopted her too, so they wouldn’t be separated.

Ham FamilyWith Logan and Isabel, they had an even dozen. They were done. Roger and Steven turned in their foster care licenses and set about raising their family. But fate hadn’t lost their address.

While watching the local news, the dads chanced to see a story about a four-year-old whose foster parents had been arrested for abuse when her teacher reported finding deep bruises on the little girl. Her two-year-old brother was also rescued. The dads thought they recognized some of the players in that horror story and felt compelled to make a call. Sure enough, Bella and Julian were their daughter Ambrose’s half-sister and half-brother. The Dads called a family meeting. “When can we get them?” Michael asked.

And now they are fourteen.

I don’t know how anyone, no matter how homophobic, could look at the Hams and not see family. Not see love. The idea that the Hams would be a better family if they only had a mother, flies in the face of observation and of my own experience. I had a mother, and seven steven and roger hambrothers and sisters, but it didn’t make us family. Maybe what we needed was a couple of gay dads who understood:

“The value that family is family.” 

This Father’s Day, I can think of no one more deserving of notice and admiration than Steven and Roger Ham, fathers to fourteen, and over the years, foster fathers to over forty. It escapes me how anyone could look at the children they have rescued and dismiss their raging success as fathers because for twenty monogamous years, they have shared a bed.

If Nobel had a million dollar Exceptional Fatherhood Prize, I would proudly nominate Roger and Steven Ham. But maybe what they already have is better: that big happy family thing.

 

 

Photos via Steven and Roger’s Facebook pages

 

 

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook

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Bowe Bergdahl – Our Imperfect American Son

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The night America invaded Iraq I almost had phone sex with a Warthog driver in Kuwait. I say almost because a few minutes in, the warning sirens went off and he had to stop and put on his hazmat suit in case Saddam was using his chemical weapons. That kind of killed the mood.

This adventure was made all the more bizarre in that my friend and I didn’t have that kind of relationship before that day, and we never did after, but in that moment, my friend was in extremis. He had just made his first kill.

We’ll call him Kelly, short for Kellogg, because his Air National Guard A-10 squadron came from Battle Creek, Michigan, where they make Kellogg cereal. A lot of young men become military pilots because they want to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun, but Kelly joined with an eye on his future. He wanted to be a commercial airline pilot and the Guard was where he could get free pilot training.

Kelly was an oddity in his squadron, an atheist Democrat who, against regulations, kept a Hillary Clinton for Senate campaign button in his flightsuit pocket for luck. He didn’t vote for George Bush, and he didn’t believe in the legality or the necessity of the Iraq war, but he had made the devil’s bargain; in return for pilot training, he would drop bombs wherever he was told. And that night of Shock and Awe he was trying to come to terms with his new reality. He was forevermore a killer.

He didn’t use the “K” word. Those who go to war have dozens of euphemisms to choose from, and that day, Kelly said “I shacked them.”

Kelly’s target had been a civilian broadcast tower, which had a small building next to it. As he made his bombing run, he said he could see what he presumed were the workers, pouring out of that structure, running for their lives. “I shacked them,” he told me, in a voice filled with such pain that it broke my heart. There is no a good answer to that information, so I said quietly, “I’m sorry Kelly,” to which he out-and-out sobbed again,”I shacked them. I know I did.” And then he wanted to know what I was wearing.

We ask the men and women we send to war to do terrible things in our name; things so inhumane twenty-two veterans kill themselves everyday. Have you ever wondered why, when we are fed that statistic, it is never followed by a discussion of what haunts our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans so, and what we can do to change their grim reality?

We have never had a national dialogue about whether we do psychological damage by filling young patriots with the grandiose promise that when they join the military everything they do is nothing less than defending freedom in America, knowing sooner or later, like Kelly, the truth is going to flatten them. They are going to kill people who were no threat to them, and no threat to America, at least in the small picture. The Dick Cheneys and Bill Kristols of the world can sit safely above the battle considering the large-scale geopolitical advantages of such deaths, but the small picture is where our soldiers have to live.

Have we ever once looked at our recruitment rhetoric with an eye toward whether it creates unrealistic expectations of heroism that contribute to the psychological problems of our soldiers post-combat?

Kelly killed workers as they scurried for safety, dads and mothers, sons and daughters, and it broke him, at least for that moment – and he did his killing from so far away the people looked like ants. How much worse must it be for soldiers like Bowe Bergdahl who do their killing close up? When that guilt breaks them, and they kill themselves, we wring our hands and cry, “Why?” – though we already know why: they were honorable people who broke from the relentless remorse they feel for their actions. But if that same man walks away instead of eating his gun, we label him a deserter or a traitor and put him in prison.

I wonder how many soldiers who killed themselves during their tours would not have done so if they had been allowed to leave? I wonder how many American atrocities, like Sgt. Robert Bales massacre of sixteen sleeping civilians, or Sgt. Michael Barbera’s sniper attack on two Iraqi shepherd boys, would never have happened if those men had been given an “out” option?

In an all volunteer army, maybe we should consider an escape clause that doesn’t include going up the chain of command, through the very officers giving the orders that are eating away at the soldier’s sanity. Maybe we should even allow people to quit, like any other job. If the number of resignations would keep us from prosecuting an unpopular war, maybe that’s a clue it’s a war we shouldn’t be fighting. 

I have been stunned by the lack of compassion being shown to P.O.W. Bowe Bergdahl in the public square, especially since his most credible accusers – the men he served with in Afghanistan – are the very men Bowe claims are the reason he walked away. Shouldn’t we at least wait to hear what Bowe has to say before we choose up sides?

Bowe Bergdahl is our American son, raised “almost off-the-grid” on a forty acre homestead in Hailey, Idaho, by conservative Christian parents. He and his sister Sky were home-schooled for six hours a day, much of it devoted to Calvinist teachings stressing morality and ethics.

“Ethics and morality would be constant verbiage in our conversations.” Bowe’s father Bob Bergdahl told the late Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone. “Bowe was definitely instilled with truth.”

Ethics and morality make good men. Caring fathers. Faithful husbands. Honest businessmen. Reliable friends. But his belief in ethics and morality didn’t serve Bowe well in war.

Daily Kos reports that Bowe Bergdahl witnesses an Afghan child being run over by an Army vehicle, an act that was covered up, and for which no one was punished. That seems to be the beginning of his disillusionment. After that, Bowe lost confidence in his leaders.

Soldiers fight for their buddies, and it appears Bowe lost respect for the men he served with – the ones who are now calling him a deserter. Their big-picture mission was to spread democracy by changing Afghan hearts and minds, and he seemed to take that to heart, taking classes to learn the local dialect. But he thought the other men in his squad weren’t taking that mission seriously. He complained they used unnecessary force when dealing with civilians, and would insult and mock them, calling them “wogs” and “towelheads” in English to their faces, and laughing with one another at the “joke” the locals didn’t understand.

We know Bowe went to his father for advice on his situation, and we know Bob Bergdhal told his son to follow his conscience. It appears Bowe Bergdahl did just that. Bowe, who loved the Discovery Channel’s Man Vs Wild and thought of himself as a survivalist, thought he could find his way home. Instead, the Taliban found him. He spent five years in captivity – physically abused, according to CNN – kept in a box when he tried to escape.

Now, there is very little dispute of any of those basic facts above, but liberals have heard them and made one judgement of Bowe Bergdahl’s character and conservatives have heard them and made quite another. No doubt Obama Derangement Syndrome and Obama Defense Syndrome are at play in both of those stances, but unfair as that may be to him, we are now faced with deciding what is justice for Bowe Bergdahl.

We know for sure Bowe was once an idealistic boy who wanted to serve America. We also know something happened to disillusion him. So, do we find fault with the horrors of war that changed the soldier? Or do we punish the soldier who didn’t have what it took to withstand the horrors? Figuring out what constitutes justice for Bowe Bergdahl may be a difficult prospect. Figuring out how to prevent the next soldier from American Disillusionment Syndrome may be the easier task – if only we would take it up.

 

 

 

Bowe’s photo is a screenshot from CNN.

 

 

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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Emily Letts – Yet Another Courageous Shero In The War On Women

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When straight men want to insult gay men, they call them women. Just why do both groups think such a comment is an insult? Why can’t it be a compliment to be called feminine?

It was an eventful month in the (imaginary ha!) War On Women.

Sean Connery reaffirmed his belief in slapping women – but only when the situation merits it.

Pat Robertson says wives should reward their husbands for household chores with sex.

Opponents of Wendy Davis plastered Los Angeles with “Abortion Barbie” posters ahead of a Hollywood fundraiser for her Texas governor campaign.

Violence against women is a trending topic in the public square, – all because some misogynistic penis owner in Santa Barbara couldn’t get laid. Just like guns after Sandy Hook, women have been presented with a brief window of time to talk about how we’d really appreciate it if men would stop hitting us and raping us and killing us.

We lost a great feminist leader in the passing of Maya Angelou. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings shook the windows and rattled the doors in its discussion of sexual abuse. She was a single mother in a time girls in a “family way” married the father or shamed the family. She was also Hollywood’s first black female director. And I loved the way she wrote, soft in the center but surrounded by rough jagged edges.

May will also be remembered as the month a new feminist leader made a stand: Emily Lett, a twenty-five-year-old doula who decided to tape her abortion to show women the procedure is not at all scary, and is nothing to be ashamed of.

(Here’s a confession. I had no idea what a “doula” was. I had to look it up. It’s a “non-medical assistant in childbirth”.)

There are three kinds of doulas. Birth. Adoption. Abortion. Emily is the abortion kind. She works as a counselor at The Cherry Hill Women’s Center in New Jersey. Emily explained in an article for Cosmopolitan that women often came into the clinic:

“…terrified that they are going to be cut open, convinced that they won’t be able to have kids after the abortion. The misinformation is amazing, but think about it: They are still willing to sacrifice these things because they know that they can’t carry the child at this moment.”

Then Emily herself ended up pregnant. Like a lot of women, since she didn’t have a regular partner, she didn’t want to subject her body to chemicals it didn’t need, so she took a chance on the rhythm method.

Emily:

“The moment when a woman looks down and sees those two pink lines and she’s not expecting to see them, it’s like time implodes and explodes simultaneously. You’re caught in this tornado that just sucks out all the breath in your lungs.”

It’s a feeling thousands upon thousands of women can identify with, since one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Emily knew immediately she did not want to have the child, so she scheduled an abortion. Then she undertook one of the most courageous acts I have witnessed.

Emily:

“I searched the Internet, and I couldn’t find a video of an actual surgical procedure in the clinic that focused on the woman’s experience. We talk about abortion so much and yet no one really knows what it actually looks like. A first trimester abortion takes three to five minutes. It is safer than giving birth. There is no cutting, and risk of infertility is less than one percent.” 

Emily’s pregnancy was early enough that she could have chosen a medical abortion, where all she would have had to do is swallow a pill. But she decided to have a surgical abortion so she could tape it as an educational video. Now women everywhere can access it and learn the facts about what to expect. Emily says she wants women to know it isn’t true that women who have abortions are haunted by them – that what most women feel is relief.

Emily:

“Our society breeds this guilt. We inhale it from all directions. Even women who come to the clinic completely solid in their decision to have an abortion say they feel guilty for not feeling guilty. Even though they know 110 percent that this is the best decision for them, they pressure themselves to feel bad about it.”

Emily posted her abortion video to her Facebook page, and in no time it went viral. I would urge you to read her own account: Why I Filmed My Abortion. I have posted the video below if you care to watch. The procedure is shown from the waist up, and the doctor is off camera. It’s not scary or gross in the least.

Emily:

“…every time I watch the video, I love it. I love how positive it is. I think that there are just no positive abortion stories on video for everyone to see. But mine is.”

I have some word for her act. Strong. Courageous. Selfless.

Why is it again that calling someone a woman is an insult?

How you can tell the War On Women isn’t imaginary? Because it is creating real flesh and blood heroes: Wendy Davis. Sandra Fluke. Now add the name Emily Letts. I am in awe of her.

 

 

 

EMILY’S ABORTION VIDEO from Emily Letts on Vimeo.

 

Photo via Twitter
tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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Sandy Springs, Georgia – Stopping Illicit Orgasms One Sex Toy At A Time

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If you want to buy a sex toy in Sandy Springs, Georgia, you are going to need a prescription from your doctor, a note from your teacher, or even a thumbs up from the local police. That’s because the city council has passed an ordinance limiting the purchase of all sex toys to those that will be used for a:

“bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose.”

Sandy Springs is not some tiny backwater Georgia town time forgot. It is a suburb of Atlanta with about 100,000 people. In fact, Atlanta has tried to swallow it whole several times since the 1950s and was only fended off by voter referendums or unfavorable court decisions.

Every year beginning in 1975, some state lawmaker would introduce a bill to authorize area residents to hold a referendum on whether to allow Sandy Springs to incorporate as a city, and every year it would be killed with a procedural move by legislators from Atlanta who always hoped they would someday be able to annex the area. But in 2005, after thirty years of trying, Republicans took total control of all the levers of the Georgia state government, changed the procedural rules, and voted to allow a popular referendum to incorporate the area into the City of Sandy Springs.

The measure passed with 94% of the vote.

sandy springs gaThe good people of the City of Sandy Springs set up their own police and fire departments, elected a mayor, and a six member city council. On December 1, 2005, nine short years ago, they officially became their own masters – so maybe we should cut them some slack on this unusual sex toy rule. They’re new at governing,

Sandy Springs is not the first city council to try to keep adult businesses out of their locale – if that is indeed the purpose of the sex toy law. The tried and true method has always been to restrict the sellers – shops can’t be too close to one another, or in proximity to schools or churches, or places kids congregate – broaden the field enough and there’s nary a place where an adult business can legally open, and courts have usually upheld such regulations. But to allow sex toys to be sold, but restricted to buyers who aren’t going to use them for their intended purpose? That’s quite a novel approach.

I admit I am intrigued as to how this law works on a community level.

First of all. What exactly is a “law enforcement” purpose of a sex toy? Outfitting undercover hookers? And even stranger, what is a “legislative” or “judicial” purpose? Any guesses? I’m stumped.

I wonder if the Sandy Springs city council realized when they passed their law that you don’t need a “sex shop” to buy a “sex toy”. Vibrators, one of the main toys targeted by the Sandy Springs law, are available for purchase in some very mainstream places, like Kroger and Target and Walmart. They are marketed over the counter, right next to the condoms and the home pregnancy tests and the Plan B.

So let’s say a recently widowed middle-aged woman wants to buy a Kroger vibrator. There it is on the conveyor belt next to the cucumbers and the cat food and the butterscotch hard candies. Is the pimply-faced high school check-out clerk really obliged to question her about its intended use?

I bet he calls the manager. “Vibrator on aisle ten.” 

sandy springsTravel Advisory: Avoid Sandy Springs, Georgia, until further notice: You just know you are going to be stuck in line behind every orgasm-starved granny in the city trying to score an illegal vibrator.

Let’s suppose the manager is summoned from where he is building a display of canned peaches and he has the widow step out of line – like the Kroger version of a TSA screening. Experts say to comply with the law yet avoid customer lawsuits, stores are likely to demand a doctor’s prescription or other tangible proof of how the vibrator will be used at this point. If our widow shows him her husband’s death certificate as proof of her need, is a grocery store manager now supposed to determine whether her loss of conjugal relations through widowhood is or is not a “bona fide medical purpose?

“Well, ma’am, are you sure you can’t reach orgasm without a silver bullet? You do have a lovely cucumber there.”

Can she sue if he refuses? Can the city close the store down if he allows the buy to happen and a customer complains? Will police now send out undercover enforcement officers pretending to be gay dudes in search of Ben Wa balls?

The more I consider the Sandy Springs ordinance, the more I realize it is not enforceable. I think the new city government of Sandy Springs fell victim to an old conservative flaw: the urge to use public policy to make moral judgments – and to punish the people they find wanting.

The city of Sandy Springs, predictably, is being sued. Melissa Davenport, who has MS, was brave enough to file suit, claiming the law prevents her from being sexually intimate with her husband in a fulfilling manner. A second plaintiff, Marshall Henry, who is a bisexual artist, says because of the law, he can’t purchase items for his artwork, and can’t sell the pieces when he creates them. And besides, he just enjoys using them.

The law needs challenging, of that I have no doubt. But I do admit this is one time I wish outraged people hadn’t rushed to court. If ever there were a cause perfect to make a little mischief – this is it!

An organized protest slowing down checkout lines all over the city as citizens try to buy vibrators without proper documentation?

Candlelight vigils in the city parks, everyone singing Let’s Get Physical while holding a humming vibrator?

sandy springs policeMaybe we could have a contest for best Twitter hashtag? #sextoynazis? #studfreezone? #sandyspringsunplugged? #allnatural?

Or we could have a Facebook page where people upload their selfies taken with the Sandy Springs Police Department turtle, with a vibrator held aloft ala the Statue of Liberty?

Priceless.

If someone in Georgia would organize such an event, I promise to personally sit in front of a Sandy Springs Walgreens with a sign reading: No Vibrators. No Peace. 

 

 

 

 

Minion Photo from Facebook
Council, City photos from Facebook
Police photo via Facebook

 

 

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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Who’s Your Choice For Most Despicable Politician In America?

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It was my intention to find the least scrupulous, most mean spirited, most un-American state legislator in the country this week. Maybe I’d even award him a prize for most despicable politician. The Crabby Appleton Rotten to the Core Award? The Worm Slime Cup? I’ll work on that.

I had originally thought I’d find one multi-faceted evil-doer. Instead I found one of each: one least scrupulous, one most mean-spirited, one most un-American. I am going to let you decide which of the three is the most despicable. Or perhaps you have your own favorite contender to share with the group?

thom tillisMost un-American: Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House, and the Republican candidate challenging Kay Hagan for U.S. Senate in November. 

It was Thom Tillis who was the prime mover of the unpopular right-wing agenda in North Carolina last session. Under Tillis, Republicans gave business a tax cut paid for by eliminating the earned income credit for the working poor. They calculatingly targeted liberal voting blocs with a new voter suppression law. They tacked abortion restrictions onto a motorcycle safety bill. They turned down the federal Medicaid expansion money that would have meant healthcare for thousands, and ticked off teachers by passing a law to end teacher tenure that just last week was found unconstitutional.

Rep. Tillis’ relentless prosecution of his right-wing agenda spawned the ongoing Moral Mondays Movement – the largest protests in the South since the Civil Rights era. (Photo above) Each and every Monday, crowds of people converge on the capitol with signs and banners, expressing their displeasure or advocating for their cause. Rather than peter out after a few weeks, Moral Monday protests have grown in size and spread to other southern cities. They are scheduled to resume in Raleigh tomorrow, as the legislature returns for their new session.

But just in time, Speaker Tillis has found a way to thwart the protesters’ ability to gather. He ordered the eight Republicans and two Democrats on the House Legislative Services Committee, which had not met since 1999, to revisit the rules and penalties for protesters – and boy did they!

The First Amendment is very clear:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The new rules that the committee approved – on a voice vote so members would not have to answer for it at the ballot box – completely disregard both the letter and the spirit of that most cherished amendment.

Visitors may now be asked to leave the building if they are found to be “disturbing the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties.” “Disturbances” include  “singing, clapping, shouting, playing instruments or using sound amplification equipment.” That’s right, you can protest in North Carolina, as long as you don’t make any noise doing it.

The new rules also allow police to eject protesters if they consider them an “imminent disturbance”. In other words, if they look like they might sing, shout, clap, or break out a guitar.

The legislature has also placed new limits on the number of people who can assemble in front of the main entrance to the General Assembly. If your group is larger than 200 people, you can’t meet there.

Aw, too bad your so large Moral Mondays. Anti-choice groups? Anti-gay Christians? How convenient. You’re just the right size.

But this is the provision that really gets me. I admit I am amazed they would even suggest such a thing in an election year. Any sign with a message that disturbs any member of the legislature can be confiscated. That’s right, if an elected official doesn’t approve of your message, he can have it taken from you.

Why do I have the feeling the confiscated signs won’t be those disgusting anti-choice signs with the bloody babies, or anything in the President Obama as Hitler genre?

How do those Constitution-carrying Tea Party scholars square that new power they have awarded themselves with the First Amendment? They are the government and they are directly censoring speech. My own belief is the legislators know their law won’t pass constitutional scrutiny. So what? By the time it is appealed, it’s too late.

 

randy richardvilleMost Mean Spirited: Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, from my home state, Michigan. 

The Battle Creek Enquirer went as far as accusing Senator Richardville of “subverting democracy” over the minimum wage battle in Michigan.

The state Republican Party has been determined not to raise the minimum wage, which in Michigan is $7.40 an hour. In desperation, a grass roots effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 cropped up, collecting enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot in November. There are thousands of former auto workers in Michigan trying to make ends meet on a minimum wage job. The referendum was expected to pass overwhelmingly.

Leader Richardville is determined not to let that happen. He cooked up a plan to repeal Michigan’s minimum wage law and replace it with a law that would raise it to $8.15. Because of the petition language, this would invalidate the proposed November referendum that the activists collected all those signatures for. Workers would get a raise, but only a measly seventy-five cents an hour, hardly enough to make a dent in their situation, much less bring them out of poverty.

And while we are on the subject of the minimum wage, please allow me to make one observation no one in the main stream media seems willing to speak aloud. Republicans do not really believe that most minimum wage workers are students and entry level workers on their way up. Republicans believe minimum wage workers are people deserving economic punishment.

Think about the people at the low end of the pay scale. High school drop outs. Girls who got pregnant out of wedlock. LGBT kids who ran away from home. Parolees. Illegal immigrants. To Republicans, these are people whose behavior kept them from being able to get a better paying job. In conservative world, they deserve to be punished. They deserve their poverty.

The Democrats kicked up such a fuss over Leader Richardville’s seventy-five-cent raise, that they worked out a compromise that will bring the minimum wage to $9.20 an hour by 2017. Everyone, even Mark Schauer, the Democratic candidate for governor, is hailing the compromise as a some kind of bipartisan victory. It might be a victory for the lawmakers, but it wasn’t a victory for the workers. They could have had $10.10 in November if Leader Richadville hadn’t stepped in to take away the people’s voice.

Ironic that the Michigan attorney general recently argued that same-sex marriage should remain illegal in Michigan because the people had voted on it – and the people’s voice is sacrosanct.

 

william howellLeast Scrupulous – Virginia House Speaker William Howell

Bill Howell is a shill for ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, bringing the Koch Brothers legislative agenda to a Republican legislature near you. He is a former national chairman of that group and the Virginia legislature has considered more than fifty ALEC-model bills in the last few years. But what is truly aggravating is that Virginia taxpayers have spent more than $230,000 sending their legislators to ALEC conferences.

Democratic state senator Donald McEachin sponsored a bill, Senate Bill 500,  that would have outlawed “compensation to legislators for attending conferences for which the agenda and materials are not available to the public.” In other words, legislators would no longer have their junkets to secret ALEC conventions comped. Let the Kochs pick up the tab!

It passed the Senate 40 to 0, with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans voting for the ban.

Speaker Howell sent Senate Bill 500 to the House Rules Committee, which he conveniently chairs. It died on a voice vote, which is how you kill a bill yet leave no fingerprints on the murder weapon. Thanks to Speaker Howell, Virginia will continue to send its legislators to worship at the feet of the Kochs on the taxpayer’s dime.

I’ve got it! The Despicable Thee Award!

The sorriest part of this tale is that there was such stiff competition among award nominees it was hard to choose a first place. Hell, it was difficult to choose just three. So take your pick. The most un-American? The most mean-spirited? The least scrupulous? Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

 

 

 

All photos via Facebook
tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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Mindy Forsythe Rescues A Tortured Gay Teen

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I loved being the mother of babies. When you say the word “mother”, that’s the image that pops into my head: me, tucked in a rocking chair in the wee small hours of the morning, singing Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and Paul Simon songs to the warm bump snuggled up against me.

“Goodnight moonlight ladies. Rock-a-bye sweet Baby James…”

I also loved the elementary school years, even as a single mom in a wheelchair. My kids were five and ten when I was paralyzed, and that was one very rough first year. But when I think back on that time, I don’t remember that ordeal. I think of Little League games and way-too-indulgent Christmases, and reading “just one more” goodnight story to sleepy little faces.

“In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

What I was not good at, and did not enjoy, were the teenage years. When I think of that period of my kids’ lives, words like “sneaky”, “moody”, “selfish” and “ungrateful” start pouring out, so I find it best not to visit there. For me, my kids’ teen years were something I endured, not something I enjoyed. I would never have considered taking another teen into our home, much less a troubled one.

That experience may be why, when I heard the story of Mindy Forsythe who saved a gay teenager from hell at home, I immediately wanted to have her canonized. St. Mindy. Patron saint of lost gay teens.

From the outside looking in, Mindy, her husband Dale and their three children have the picture perfect, happy suburban family. Corey Nichols had anything but.

coreyFifteen-year-old Corey (right) had the bad fortune to be one of the thousands of gay kids rejected by his religiously homophobic family. Knowing how they felt, he tried to keep his sexuality hidden, but they suspected. Corey told Out In Santa Cruz that his father warned him that gay people were not only sinners, they were sin itself, and when they reached a certain age, they had to be killed. Corey says his father threatened:

If any fag lived in this house, I would shoot them in the head with a shotgun.”

Corey was miserable – as you can imagine. Then one night, sick and scared, he told his friend Aubrey in an online forum:

“I am desperate.  Things here are so bad, I want to slit my wrists.  I am not kidding.”

It was the luckiest moment of Corey’s young life, because Aubrey’s mother, our shero Mindy, happened by at that moment and saw what was on her daughter’s computer screen.

“It was like I was possessed by someone else,” Mindy recalls. “I knew I needed to act, and to do something, but everything I did was against my nature and not how I usually act as a person.”

Mindy and Aubrey got in the car, drove to the Nichols’ home, and picked up Corey. When they got him home, Mindy says he was running a fever and was blue from pneumonia. For two weeks, she and her husband Dale nursed him back to health. Corey’s parents never called to inquire on the well-being of their son.

A healthy Corey returned home. But that situation hadn’t improved. Corey felt something had to give, so he came out to his mother. She broke the news to Corey’s dad. He told Corey’s brother, James. Corey recalls his words:

“You’re brother ain’t nothing but a worthless fag.”

As his father’s rage grew, Corey locked himself in his bedroom, but Corey could hear him seething on the other side of the flimsy door.

“He was yelling and screaming about how a fag was living in his home and he can’t believe the devil was in his presence,” recalls Corey. 

When his father and brother tried to break down his door, Corey locked himself in the bathroom. That night, when his family was asleep, with no plan beyond “survive the night”, fifteen-year-old Corey left home.

With no money, no luggage, and no other place to go,  Corey showed up on the doorstep of the Forsythe family – the place where, even knowing he was gay, they had been kind to him.

Mindy did not hesitate. She took him in.

At first, Mindy and Dale made a “bedroom” for Corey in the basement. They tacked blankets to the ceiling for “walls”. He had a bed. An old dresser. A night stand and a fan. From Corey’s reaction, you would have thought it was a room at the Ritz. Dale recalls:

“That kid was so freaking happy. Made me cry to see Corey with next to nothing and be happy about it.”

Forsythe familyA month later, Mindy and Dale went to court and asked to adopt Corey. Gay didn’t matter to them. They wanted Corey to be their son. Mindy:

Our family fell in love with Corey – for Corey. His sexuality did not change who he was. I also want the world to know that we are a family. I want people to understand that genetics are just science. Families are built from unconditional love.”

Corey’s parents did not show up to contest the termination of their parental rights, or object to Corey’s adoption. Dale says he sees Corey’s father around town every now and then, and he is in denial about his son’s new life. Dale:

“He knows how to put on a front. He smiles and acts like nothing is a big deal. He says, ‘thanks, appreciate what you are doing for my boy.”

Dale says he just nods his head, but his heart whispers:

“I have news for you. He is not your boy. He’s my son.”

corey mindy aubreyI imagine that escaping his living hell must have been truly liberating for Corey. As I looked through Facebook photos, I could almost see the transformation, from tortured to happy. From lost to found. From rejected to loved.

”I want the world to know that Corey is a beautiful human being.” Mindy said of her new son. “I want the world to see Corey’s pain and know it is not necessary. Sexuality is such a small part of who we are. First and foremost Corey is a loving, genuine, caring, intelligent human being. Who he is attracted to and who he marries is of little significance.”

So today we honor Mindy Forsythe, a not-so-ordinary mom from Holly, Michigan, who not only solved the mystery of raising teens, but who gave a tortured gay teenager a new life as her beloved son.

 

 

 

 

Photos via Facebook 

 

 

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

 

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