Change is here… hopefully!

This should be the happiest moment in many years for all Americans.  

We have just inaugurated a new president.  The air is filled with a spirit of hope and change, and all of that is for the better.  The prospects of a happy and healthy future for America look better than ever, and that has nothing to do with Republican or Democratic politics; but everything to do with a fresh outlook and a new, positive direction for our country.  

But as with every change, there is sure to be resistance.

Naturally, I am seeing resistance from staunch Republicans who think that Barack Obama’s policies are “a lot of talk that will cost us a lot of money.”  They are sure that he will fail, and that America will not step up to the challenge to come together and work for a better future for our country.  And while I respect these people for having their opinions– because they are certainly entitled to them– I wish they would just step back and give Mr. Obama a chance to prove himself before they declare him a failure.

The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is, the same can be said for many of my GLBT brothers and sisters. 

I have spent the past few weeks being a relatively silent observer to the historic events taking place around me.  

When Prop 8 passed in California, I, like many other GLBT people across the country, felt the sting of disappointment.  I wanted to join the protests but couldn’t; yet my feelings on the situation were the same as everyone else’s.  The GLBT community voiced its disappointment with a resounding and unified cry– the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Harvey Milk or the outbreak of AIDS.  It was inspiring and exciting to see.

However, in recent weeks, I get a sense that we as a community are going way too far… to the point where we could be called “The Community Who Cried Wolf.”  

Since that first group of protests, there have been at least 4 other organized protests around the country, including here in Chicago.  Those protests started out with clear goals – one was in protest of the Cinemark theatre CEO, who supported Prop 8; one was demanding that Obama repeal the Defense of Marriage Act– but when the protests actually happened, they were paired with other, much more obscure measures– measures that I had never even heard of.  Instead of unifying our voices to one cause, we began spreading ourselves too thin, and our voices became muddled.  I decided that I would not participate in any of these protests unless they were for clear and completely understandable goals.  

This spirit of anger has also begun to permeate into the support of our new President.  We have grown entirely too gun-shy… too skeptical of every move he makes; and most of the criticism came before he even took the oath of office.  

When friends and acquaintances bemoaned the selection of Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, to give the Inaugural invocation; I kept my opinion to myself until I got all the information I could on the selection.  At that point, I decided that his selection was probably not the best move, but the message it sent to people on all sides was a message of inclusion for all- even differing viewpoints.  Later, when Bishop Gene Robinson was selected to give the invocation at this past Sunday’s “We Are One” event, I felt that the gay community’s concerns were alleviated, and we got the reperesentation we needed by our incoming President.

But when the broadcast of the event occurred, and Robinson’s invocation was cut, immediately the community started crying “Foul!” and “Betrayal!”  Granted, I was disappointed that his invocation was cut, but once again our community started laying blame before we got the whole story.  I’m sure protests against HBO and the Inaugural committee are sure to follow.

The point I’m trying to make here is:  We have a new president, with much more progressive ideas and beliefs than our former president.  As his new whitehouse.gov website outlines, he is planning to do more for our community than has ever been done before.  I just wish that our community would give the man and his administration time to find their footing and get the ball rolling before we start condemning him.  Besides, there are much bigger fish for them to fry than our concerns anyway.  They have an economy to rebuild, two wars to manage and hopefully end, and countless wrongs from the past to hopefully right.  Our concerns are just a few of a great many.  Will they all get addressed?  Probably not.  But let’s see where things go before we pass judgment.

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Rick has avoidance issues…

OK so I’ve been avoiding my blog.

It’s not because I dislike it or anything… I don’t.  I just dread writing lately.  I worry that I may start a post and never finish it (because that’s NEVER happened before.  Ha ha.)  I worry that I may write too much and nobody would want to read it.  And I worry that I really have nothing to say, after all.

Well, that’s a lie.  I have plenty to say.  In fact, there have been numerous subjects on which I could have said volumes, including Proposition 8, Obama asking Rick Warren to do the invocation at the Inaguration, the holidays, New Year’s Eve and much, much more.  But as time wore on, those subjects either got old or compounded upon each other, and were relegated to the column of “old news.”  

So I’ve decided to sum up some of those things here, and maybe — just maybe — I can start 2009 with a clean slate and go on from here.  So here we go….

Proposition 8 – Clearly, this was a disappointment, and clearly, the GLBT community spoke up and spoke up loudly.  I was touched and moved by the uprising, but I did not participate in any of the protests.  Why?  Well, I missed the first one in Chicago because I already had plans to see my mom that day.  And the second one (which protested the Cinemark theatre in Evanston for its CEO’s contribution to the Yes on 8 fund) was right after the funeral of a dear friend and I just wasn’t up for it.  But the real reason is because, in my heart of hearts, I just didn’t feel the same.  All this clamoring for the title of “marriage” to be used across the board doesn’t sit well with me.  Yes, I want the same rights for all people, and yes I want that equality whether I’m gay, straight or anything… but I feel like we are so focused on the word “Marriage” that we can’t see any other possibilities.  I’m hoping that something good comes of all this in the future … and the possibility that Prop 8 (and the other props in Florida and Arizona) is overturned is still out there — but until then, I wish we could regroup and really think about what we want… and do it right this time.  

Rick Warren – No sooner than this announcement was made, GLBT people were shouting “FOUL” and “BETRAYED” and calling Obama a traitor, worrying that he would do to us what Clinton did with “Dont’ Ask, Don’t Tell.”  I, however, looked at it as a positive.  Yes, the man is evil and has said some terrible things about our community… but the fact that he is there, among Democrats who believe and want everything he doesn’t… is significant.  I truly think his presence there will not have such a profound effect on anything at all.  It is merely a presence.  It actually speaks louder to his ability to see other views than anything else.  Obama isn’t going to alienate what he believes in because of who he asks to give an invocation.  So I kept silent on the issue– until now.  I know my view is not popular amongst my peers… but that’s just how I feel.  

And now on to more fun things…

The Holidays were a joy.  Christmas Day with the twins was full of laughter and love, and the girls were absolutely adorable.  They’ve reached the age where they can actually laugh and enjoy the holiday… and to see them with their toys was so much fun.  For those of you on Facebook, I have pictures up of them opening their gifts and playing with them, here and here.  

And finally, New Year’s Eve was a great time.  I went to my friend Ricardo’s for dinner, and we all shared our goals for 2009 and what we learned in 2008… it was an emotional and sweet moment when each of us professed our love for each other, as friends and as family.  I’ve said it before – I have some of the most wonderful friends a guy could ask for.  I love them dearly.  Afterwards we proceeded to Sidetrack to ring in the new year — the first time I had been to a bar for New Year’s Eve in many years.  I had a great time, and I think 2009 will be a really wonderful year for all of us.

So that’s about it.  Here we are, the first Monday of 2009.  Everyone is back to work, and life continues on from this point.  I’m grateful to be employed, and thankful to be alive and well.  In this day and age, what more can you ask for?

So to all of you, a happy and healthy new year.  It’ll be DIVINE in 2009! 🙂

I Believe In Love

Please click “Play” below.

OK… I’m singing this song for a very good reason… other than it being an amazing song by three amazing artists (The Dixie Chicks).

Today, across the country, thousands of people will be protesting in cities from coast to coast about the passage of Propositions 8, 2 and 102 in California, Florida and Arizona. These propositions changed their states’ constitutions to exclusively deny the rights of GLBT people to marry. These protests are being carried out because we, as GLBT people, feel that constitutions should not be written to DENY people rights- but to GIVE them rights. By passing these hurtful and mean-spirited amendments, these states have done just that, and that is WRONG.

Here in Chicago, most of my friends will be protesting this along with our brothers and sisters across the country. I, however, will not be able to protest because I will be with my mom up in Wisconsin. Therefore, I am singing this song as my way of protesting this injustice.

I realize my method of protest may not exactly be kosher or even traditional. I’ve been trying for the past few weeks now to find a way to express myself about this issue and I just couldn’t find a way — until now. I feel bad that I can’t be at the protests… but I had to let my voice be heard.

I believe in love. And love does not discriminate.

Thank you for listening.

I was a witness to Change

**UPDATED** with a new video from my friend Paul (see below!)

The day started early.  I got up, got dressed, and walked to my polling place to vote.

A Walk for History

It was a beautiful Autumn day. It was warm and the sun was shining. It had to be 70 degrees already at 9:30 in the morning. Perfect day to vote.  There was something special in the air.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I just knew that this was going to be an historic, amazing day.

Walking to vote

When I got to the polling place, as expected, there was quite a long line. I figured I’d wait an hour, maybe an an hour and a half. So I put on the iPod and waited.

In Line

After a few minutes, one of the judges came out and asked if there was anyone there voting for Precinct 14. I wasn’t sure, so I gave her my address and she went to check. When she came back, she informed me that I was in Precinct 14 and that my line was inside. INSIDE! That meant a short line. So I followed her in, and sure enough, I walked right up to the table. Sweet!

I got my ballot and filled it out, making sure to be extra careful when I drew in the arrow for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I completed the ballot, gave it to the judge, got my receipt and I was on my way.

I was going to go with a friend to a bar to watch the election results, but just before I left for work, I found out that he got a chance to go to the Obama Rally with someone else, so I was feeling left out. I had registered for a ticket over a week ago, but I never heard anything, so I figured I wasn’t going to get one. So I made a tentative plan to go to the overflow rally — or, as I called it, the “steerage section,” after work. It was better than nothing, and I’d still get the experience of being there.

As I left for work, I decided not to bring my camera with me.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen that night, and I didn’t want to lug my camera around if I had no reason to use it.  

Work was pretty slow – everyone had the election on their minds, but we still had work to do. I was feeling kind of bummed because I had no plans for that night to watch the election results. 

At about 1:45PM I checked my home Email, and I saw a letter from “Democratic Party” that was titled, “Your Printable Election Night Ticket.” I jumped out of my chair. “OH MY GOD! I got a ticket!” I started singing “I Got A Golden Ticket” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I couldn’t help it. I was so excited! I clicked on the Email, printed it out, and from there the day went super-fast.

The boys at the RallyI Emailed some friends and found that they, too, were going to the rally, so I planned to meet up with them and we’d all walk over.

We met up, ate at Jimmy John’s, and walked to Grant Park en masse.  Along the way we met up with other friends and they joined us.  It felt like this impromptu parade through downtown Chicago.  All along the way we met other Obama supporters in T-shirts, buttons and other paraphenalia, and we grew more and more excited.  

USAAs we neared Michigan Ave. and Congress Parkway, the official entrance to the rally, we could see how huge the crowds were growing.  We had no idea just how huge it really was.

There were numerous security checkpoints.  The first was at the entrance, where they checked tickets and IDs.  The next was, I guess, and Electronics checkpoint.  All electronics had to be turned on and visible.  Once through there, we were herded into holding areas, and kept in groups of maybe 200 or so at a time.  Finally, after 3 or 4 checkpoints, we made it to the metal detectors.

Waiting to get inOnce past the detectors, we were in.  And we high-tailed it to the rally area.  We picked our spot on one of the softball diamonds and stood firm.  We guessed we were about a football field’s length away from the stage or more.  We could clearly see the actual stage when we got there, but surely that would change as time went on.

JumbotronThe crowd kept filtering in, and a palpable sense of excitement was in the air.  Straight ahead, next to the stage, was a massive Jumbotron screen, where coverage from CNN was playing.  As states were announced, the crowd erupted in cheers or loud boos.  But clearly we could tell that Obama was already well in the lead.

Amanda and GarrettSuddenly I heard a woman’s voice shout, “RICK! RICK!”  I turned, and I saw my friend Amanda approaching me.  How she found me in that enormous crowd I will NEVER know, but I was SO happy to see her!  We hugged and she told me she was there alone, so she stayed with the rest of our group throughout the night.  I had invited my friend Garrett to come along with me as my “plus one.”  Garrett recently moved to Chicago to go to Architectural school at IIT, so I figured this would be a wonderful chance of a lifetime for him to enjoy this historic moment.

Behind usThe crowd grew even more enormous.  There were people as far as the eye could see.  And we were all there to witness history- together.  We struck up conversations with complete strangers, trading stories and expressing our excitement over what was to come hopefully very soon.

And then, it came.  At 10:00 PM Central time, Wolf Blitzer was on the screen, counting down the seconds before the West coast polls closed.  And when they did, it was announced that Barack Obama was elected President.

The pandemonium was amazing.  Cheering, crying, hugging, screaming, jumping, clapping, fist-jabbing and chanting “YES WE DID!” and “O-BA-MA!”  It was the most exhilirating experience of my life.  

This video is from my friend, Paul Mumberger. Watch it… and live that moment with us. It was AMAZING:

President ObamaThen, of course, it came time to hear from Obama himself.  When he arrived it was just amazing.  And his speech was so wonderful.  And as I looked around the field, I could see people hugging, crying, and holding their heads in amazement.  We all had to be thinking the same thing: This is HISTORY.  This is a life-changing, WORLD-changing moment, and we are HERE to witness it.  Nothing like this has ever happened before, and nothing will ever happen like it again.  It was hard to contain the tears of joy.  

Leaving the RallyAfter the speech, we began to file out of Grant Park. But the excitement of the crowd never diminished.  We walked toward Michigan Avenue, which had been closed off completely to traffic, so everyone walked down the street.  It was a parade of joy.  Black, white, hispanic, and all colors.  Walking Down Michigan AvenueFamilies, men, women, gay, straight, lesbian, bi and trans.  Young and old.  Some in wheelchairs.  Some with babies and small children.  Every single person was cheering and smiling.  The noise echoed from the ground to the buildings above us.  And as they went down side streets to catch trains and buses, the canyons reflected the cheers and chants.  It was the biggest, loudest, most amazing parade, and everyone was featured.  This was our time and our celebration.  And celebrate, we did.

Chicago witnessed an historic moment that night.  We were witnesses to Change.  And change is a powerful and beautiful thing.  O Happy Day!

This is it…

It’s been a long, hard road.  It’s been a difficult campaign.  But in less than 24 hours, it’ll all be over.

Hopefully.

I have never been this passionate about an election before in my life.  I’ve voted in every Presidential election since I turned 18 in 1988.  Over the years I’ve evolved from a fairly independent voter to a pretty rabid Democrat.  Maybe my coming out as a gay man had something to do with that, or maybe I just learned more about the political process over the years and made my choices about which side I agreed with most.  Either way, I’m very sure about what I believe in these days.

In the past few weeks, I’ve actually had a couple of friends– who are Republican– try to get me to either change my mind about my decision, or to explain why I made my decision.  And for whatever reason I couldn’t give them a clear answer at the time.  Either I was busy working at the time, or I felt like I was being put on the spot, which, frankly, annoyed the crap out of me and made me not want to answer their question at all.

So for them, and maybe for myself, here are a few of the reasons I’ve decided to vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday.

1. Barack Obama is ready to lead. Barack Obama embodies the kind of leadership I want to see in Washington.  He represents a step forward: A clear thinker, a sound policy man, and an inspirational leader.  I believe he will be tough when he needs to be – whether that be in terms of the defense of our nation, domestic crime, or in the face of potential enemies or terrorists; and I believe he will be sensitive to the needs of others; particularly the struggles of families trying to make ends meet, or the rights of the disadvantaged.

Many have criticized his “lack of experience,” and say that this will make him a poor president.  I think they are completely missing the mark.  A leader is not defined by his or her résumé.  Sometimes a leader has the ability to lead naturally.  I believe this about Barack Obama.

I also believe that a good leader is one who knows how to build the right team to support him.  For a good leader knows that he or she cannot do everything himself.  Barack Obama is that sort of leader.  I believe that he will build one of the strongest cabinets in the history of our nation.  This team of leaders will work to propel our country out of the mess we are currently in and help us move forward and upward.  That’s what “Change” is all about.  That’s why he’s the man for the job.

2. Barack Obama is a better friend to the LGBT community than John McCain. I’m not saying he’s perfect– in fact, he’s not.  But you know what?  Nobody is.  I just happen to believe that Barack Obama is better for me as a gay man than John McCain will ever be.  I believe that under Barack Obama’s leadership, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law will be repealed, and gays and lesbians will finally be able to serve in our nation’s military.  I also believe that the rights of LGBT people will be upheld by the courts, and LGBT people will not be relegated to second-class citizen status.  While I do not agree with Barack Obama’s views on gay marriage, he is open to allowing the states to make those decisions on their own – which, in truth, is exactly how it should be anyway.  The Federal government should have absolutely no hand whatsoever in deciding who can marry and who can not.  Of course, the fact that anyone can decide who can marry whom is preposterous to me; but in the grand scheme of things, this works better.

On the other hand, McCain, and especially his running mate, Sarah Palin, have repeatedly espoused their lack of support for LGBT causes.  Palin, in fact, went so far as to say she “tolerates” gays.  Pardon me for being frank here, Ms. Palin, but I don’t want to be “tolerated.”  I want to be treated like any other human being, regardless of his or her orientation.

Finally, on every possible front when it comes to LGBT issues, McCain has proven he is absolutely not a friend to the gay community. I can’t support a candidate that believes these things.  Because of this, I can only support one candidate for President: Barack Obama.

3. Pardon me for quoting Oprah here, but Barack Obama is, truly, a brilliant man. Barack Obama has a law degree from Harvard, and was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.  In addition to numerous undergraduate credentials, that is a pretty hefty sign of brilliance.  John McCain’s credentials don’t hold a candle to Obama’s in this regard.

He got into politics and made a name for himself by fighting for the rights of the impoverished and the downtrodden, passing laws in the Illinois Senate such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and early childhood education systems.  Those two pieces of legislation alone did more to help families in Illinois to live better lives and achieve their goals easier.  And while his time in the US Senate has been short, he has already shown great promise by working on such items as reducing weapons of mass destruction around the world, and advancing the use of alternative fuels instead of foreign oil.

It’s easy to say that his record in the US Senate doesn’t prove enough of what he can do– I say it does.  Barack Obama is young, energetic, and full of innovative ideas.  What better time to tap that energy as the leader of our nation?  I say the time is now.  We certainly can use some innovation, after years of the same old policies and direction we’ve had.

I could go on with many, many more reasons, but this post would then be too many pages long.  Suffice it to say, I have done my homework and Barack Obama has my vote.  I realize he’s not perfect.  He himself said he can’t be the perfect President.  There is no such thing.  Nobody will EVER be perfect.  But I truly believe in my heart and my mind, that he is the best choice for the job.

So on Tuesday morning, I will probably stand in a very long line at my polling place, and I will vote for Barack Obama for President.

I can only hope that you will, too.

But that’s your choice to make.