Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why LGBT Pride event is important to me

This week I was one of the keynote speakers at the LGBT Pride event at my agency.  This was the first time our agency held such an event so it was a big deal for us.  Here are my remarks. 

A year ago at USACE Org Day I opened my phone and my Facebook feed had exploded with news of the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.  It was a joyous day.  The LGBT community and our straight allies celebrated.  People gathered spontaneously in cities across the US. Buildings were lit with rainbow colors.

That evening I boarded a plane for St. Petersburg, Florida and the next day I marched with members of the Tampa Bay Pride Band at St. Petersburg Pride.  The community was elated.  The band played Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and the classic Chapel of Love.  The older folks in the crowd sang along, “Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married…”  It was amazing!

Just over two weeks ago I woke up and my phone exploded with the news of the attacks on the Pulse night club in Orlando and the murder of 49 LGBT and straight people – all of them younger than me – most of them were Latinos.

It made me realize why this Pride Celebration today was important and needed.

There are lots of people who think they don’t know anyone who is a Lesbian or Gay or Bisexual or Transgender.  Trust me – you do.

Sometimes I delude myself to think that people don’t know that I’m gay.  The reality is that most people don’t think about it.  That’s cool.  I get it.  I don’t tend to think about other people’s orientations either.  It isn’t a part of how we relate to others in our day-to-day business.

Where it does enter in is when we relate to each other as people.  On any Monday morning we ask others about their weekend.  Someone might say, 

“It was fun.  My wife and I took the kids to the beach."

Or, “My husband and I went out to dinner.”

But through a lifetime of being careful about what I say, I don’t usually say,

“Not much.  My husband and I did some work around the house.”

A few months ago a colleague asked me if I was married.  I instinctively lied and said no.  I denied my partner of almost 20 years who I married 2 ½ years ago because I was afraid to be honest.  I didn’t want to face the possible rejection.

That’s my fault.  It’s how I was raised.

I remember the first time I ever heard about homosexuality.  I was in 7th grade and my family was watching a television program together.  That’s something that families did in the 60’s and 70’s.

The story involved a student who other students thought was gay.  At one point they put the word FAG on his locker.  I asked my mother what that meant and she said,

“It’s a term for a sick individual who likes people of the same sex.”

I was only beginning to be aware of my orientation and that wasn’t helpful.

A year or two passed and I started to understand more about myself and I even told a couple of friends.  Then the movie Deliverance came out – complete with a violent, homosexual rape scene.  I was horrified – if that’s what this means then I don’t want any part of it!

But I found a guidance counselor and few more friends and I learned to accept myself, but I still hid this from my family.

In college I had a number of Gay, Lesbian, Straight and Bi friends who knew that I was gay.  I never dated much.  For years I wanted to be a Catholic priest and while I pursued that I didn’t think that dating anyone would be a good idea.

After several years of applying to study for the priesthood and repeated rejections, a friend helped me let go of that dream.  Shortly after that I met George the man who is now my husband.  We dated; he met my family and met his.  We bought a house together, made it a home and built a life together.  But I still wasn’t out to my parents.

Does that surprise you?  Parents are remarkably adept at believing what they want to believe.  And they don’t tend to think of their children as sexual beings even when they get married and start raising families.

In 2000 I joined DC’s Different Drummers, the LGBT community band here in DC.  I play the trombone and I was looking for something musical and I joined the band. Suddenly I had lots of LGBT friends in my life.  And my life was good.  We had a home here in DC and neighbors who are mostly straight allies or other LGBT couples and families.  I traveled with members of LGBT bands from other cities and I made friends with several Transgender people.

It was actually from talking to a Trans man and hearing his story that I finally found the courage to come out to my parents.

So, at the tender age of 45 – I shared a secret that I had kept for over 30 years.  Fortunately my parents were accepting.  Actually, my mother has selective deafness.  The big moment came and I told them I was gay and my mother looked up and said, “What did you say?"

I thought, “Oh great!  Now I have to say it again!”  And I said it again and she said, “You know that doesn’t make any difference to us.”

I replied, “I’m glad!  Not all parents are accepting.”

A weight was lifted from me.  For the rest of their lives I wouldn’t need to hide anything or guard my conversation lest something slip.  It takes a lot of energy to keep a secret – energy that can be better used in living our lives and doing our work.

Now we get to today.  Today’s event is important because all of us are good people.

I don’t always notice the racism, bigotry and sexism that persists – until I do see it and I’m reminded of what others face on a daily basis.  I’m not claiming that I face that kind of discrimination personally, but many LGBT people do.  And LGBT people of color face it even more so.

It is important that we celebrate the contribution of LGBT people like Frank Kameny, TS Leonard Matlovich, Langston Hughes, HarveyMilk, Bayard Rustin, Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Tammy Baldwin, or Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, or James Obergefell and John Arthur, or BG TammySmith.

It is important that we do this because we all know LGBT people.  It doesn’t have to be a big deal – but we need to not be invisible.   

We all know some LGBT people.  We are your brothers and sisters, your daughters and sons, perhaps a parent or an uncle or aunt.   We are your colleagues, your fellow soldiers, your co-workers, your neighbors and your friends.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Making friends

When did I forget how to make friends?  I never had a lot of friends. Many acquaintances but only a handful of close friends. But I had friends and we'd go to the movies or hang out and play games. 

Somewhere along the way I lost the ability to have friends to do things with. Some of that is from living in a city and my friends live 20 or 30 minutes away. 

I think I'm a fun person still. When I'm with people we all seem to have a good time. 

Thing is I'm at a point where I need some friends. One or two people who just want to hang out. Watch a movie on tv. Make popcorn. Maybe that's not exciting enough.  I try reaching out to people but my invitations fall flat. 

Well, here's my plea to the universe to send me friends and help me recognize them as friends. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Family history

Since the beginning of the year I have been digging through some of the photos and family history that I have acquired.  I don't want to just abandon these things but I don't know how much anyone after me will care about some of these stories and photos.  I don't plan on destroying them but I need to date them and pass them along.

One of my nephews has an interest in the family history and that is very cool - so he's the one who I am thinking of when I write these things.  I had the good fortune of growing up in our family home that my great-grandfather had built.  I had the benefit of hearing stories from my grandmothers who shared stories that they had learned from their grandparents.

Our family home was also a collection of odds and ends from about five generations.  One of the interesting items we had was a quilt that my grandmother kept tucked away on a shelf in a closet.  It would come out on odd occasions to delight a visitor who seemed interested.

Zachary Taylor – Baltimore Album Quilt

After the inauguration of President Zachary Taylor in March, 1849, arrangments were made to invite him to visit Berkeley Springs (Bath), Virginia (now West Virginia).  President Taylor was a native of Virginia and the Morgan County Chapter of the Ladies of the Whig Society were anxious to welcome their favorite son.

On such an occasion the Society would want to present the visiting President with something to commemorate his visit.  At that time a particular style of quilt was popular – the Baltimore Album Quilt, so called because the center panel featured a scene from the city of Baltimore, Maryland.  The quilt panels were all white backgrounds with a variety of decorations.

Each lady in the Whig Society likely made one or two squares and then the squares were arranged and pieced together.  Finally the quilt top was quilted.

Alas, President Taylor never made it to Berkeley Springs.  During July 4th activities at the Washington Monument, President Taylor became ill and died five days later.

The quilt came into the possession of Mr. Jimmy West of Berkeley Springs.  Presumably his mother had been a member of the Whig Society. 

Peter R. Lawyer, Jeweler and sometime Mayor of the Town of Bath was a friend of Mr. Jimmy West and helped him with his financial affairs.  When Mr. West died, some of his belongings came into the possesion of Mr. Lawyer.

In the mid-1980’s Mr. Lawyer’s granddaughter and her husband, C. Dwan and Margie McBee (my mother and father) learned about the Baltimore Album Quilts from a friend who is a quilter.  The friend, Mary Pat Jebo, the daughter of my godmother.  She was visiting and talking about her new found hobby of quilting.  Mother was talking about the quilts at our family home.  When she started to describe this particular quilt, Mary Pat became very excited because it sounded to her like a Baltimore Album Quilt.

My parents knew the history of the quilt, but did not know the significance of the Baltimore Album Quilt.  They photographed the quilt, capturing individual squares.  They later had the quilt appraised and sold through auction by Sotheby’s.

Four of the quilt panels can be seen in the images below.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Let Obamacare fail

This morning as I was on my way to work - thinking about the possible (likely?) federal government shutdown and the ripples that will have across the economy, I had an epiphany.

The current Republican Party seems convinced that Obamacare will fail - is actually already dead-in-the-water.  They have repeatedly voted to repeal it - and their efforts have been thwarted by the Democratic Party.

Here's a thought -- Let Obamacare - or specifically, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - stand and take effect.  Then sit back and watch it fail - as the GOP is convinced it will.  There would be no question that the GOP were eminent sages with great foresight.  They are clearly on record in their condemnation of that law.  That would be the best campaign strategy for 2014 than anything else could be!  The American people would flock to the GOP and rally to their support and weep with shame for their foolishness in supporting the President who signed Obamacare into law.

See!  We told you!  The Democratic President and Democratic Congress implemented Obamacare and it failed!  It ruined healthcare in the US! Now, in 2014 - the only sensible thing to do is to elect a majority of Republicans in Congress so we can repeal this disaster and set the country on a course for true economic recovery!

Of course, I think the fear behind the bluster of the GOP is that the Affordable Care Act will succeed and they are frightened that they will look ridiculous because of all the time and energy they have wasted in fighting it.

Some might claim that this would be wreckless of the GOP stewardship of the Constitution.  They would be risking our government over politics if they let such an appalling law actually take effect.  But isn't that what they are doing with their grandstanding now?

And, while we are on the subject of a possible government shutdown, here's something I wrote over two years ago when Congress was threatening a shutdown.

Shut down the government - April 5, 2011

Yes - please, shut down the federal government.

Whenever Congress cannot find a way to resolve the federal budget they threaten to shut it down. But the only people who are ever hurt by this are the federal employees who may face a delay getting paid and face a backlog of work when they get back to work. Oh - federal contractors get hit as well - and some of them may not get paid if there is a shutdown.

But the general population gets a false sense that the government shuts down but their lives are not affected - so we must not need the big government.

So I say shut down the government for real for a week or so.

Close the National Parks and monuments.
Send the air-traffic controllers and TSA staff home.
Stop the research on cancer and other cures at NIH and the Centers for Disease Control.
Let produce rot on board ships because there are no USDA agents to check them.
Let grandma miss a Social Security check or two.
Let the FBI and CIA turn off their watch on terrorist activity.
Close the VA Hospitals across the country.
Turn off the satellites that monitor weather patterns.
End those loans to small businesses.
Don't process income tax returns or issue refund checks.
Let the military personnel cool their heels in sunny Afghanistan, Iraq and half a dozen other places.
Shut down the TVA and cut off the water supply in a few states.

But they never do that. So - the only people a government shutdown ends up hurting are executive branch civilian employees and contractors and their families. Congress has a separate budget as do the US Courts.

Honestly - I don't mean to suggest that there are no ways for the government to save money but we're punishing the workers who are only doing what Congress has mandated us to do - provide the services, rules and regulations that Congress has enacted.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

We made it through another year.  It is good to take a few minutes and review the previous year and acknowledge the good and the bad, count one's blessings and express thanks.  It is also the time to look forward and plan for what we know is ahead and ask for the help and grace to handle what we know and what we are not expecting.

Throughout 2012 I was fortunate to have a job and work with some really great people.  I started out the year work at LMI Consulting.  I worked on some interesting requests and even saw some of my contribution show up in a published work!

Even though I liked the work and the folks I worked with - I continued to look for a job that would return me to the federal government.  I was finally successful and at the end of August I started with the US Army Corps of Engineers as Command Librarian.  Again I have been blessed to be working with great people and have interesting work.  It is challenging and I need to work to step up to the challenge.  And I feel that I have made some good friends in my new job.  I have been able to visit a couple of my libraries around the country and I hope that I will be able to have some good impact within the agency.

In 2011 I joined Weight Watchers and I continued my membership and progress during 2012.  In April I hit my goal weight and since then I have been successful in maintaining my new weight - no continued loss and no gains.  That's what is amazing - I will need to remember my eating habits to help me continue.  To that end I started working for Weight Watchers part time - at this point I'm working one meeting a week - but it keeps me engaged and I can show some support for others who are working the program and want to be successful.  It has been a welcome diversion and a means of personal support as well.

Music continues to be a big part of my life.  I still play in the band - DC's Different Drummers.   In addition to playing trombone I am also Membership Director and that is a fun way to meet new people and make new members feel welcome in the group.  We had two really good concerts in 2012 and already starting on rehearsals for concerts in 2013.  Our concert band will perform for the Maryland Music Educators Association at their conference in Baltimore in February.  Our marching band performed in parades in Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland.  Our swing band also played several dance gigs.

One highlight for me in 2012 was on June 1 when my brother Steve joined me and several hundred other trombone players at Nationals Park in SW Washington, DC to set a world record for trombone players performing Meredith Wilson's 76 Trombones  It was short-lived - a summer storm prompted them to cancel the game - but we had fun talking to other trombone players and Steve saw a buddy of his from Halfway, Maryland.

I also took part in the annual conference for the Lesbian & Gay Band Association and marched in the Dallas Pride Parade in September.  The group also organized participation in a rally at the World AIDS Conference that was held in Washington, DC in July.  The group also applied to march in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade in January.  Our group was selected to march so in December we were in full gear preparing for our group to rehearse and march.  Great fun and a lot of work - fortunately there are some outstanding folks working on all of this.

Another continued interest in the theatre.  During 2012 I was invited to once again serve as a judge for the Helen Hayes Awards - the Washington Theatre awards.  As a result I have had the opportunity to see a lot of great theatre here in the DC area.  It has been a good way to see some shows that I would not have seen otherwise.  One theatrical highlight was seeing my nephew Dominic perform as Harold Hill in his school production of The Music Man.  One of my favorite shows and he did an outstanding job!!

It has been a year of ups and downs.  Some friends and acquaintances have passed on - former colleagues from the FDIC - Tommy Ballard and Flora Davis are gone.  It has been a year of politics and tension as well as much joy.  The fears that the world would end in December - based on an interpretation of the Mayan calendar - came to naught.  It would have been okay with me.  I hope and pray I'm ready to go!

To all my friends and colleagues I wish a most blessed new year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Emotions are funny things

In February 2011 I joined Weight Watchers and successfully lost about 85 lbs.  I am generally thrilled with the transformation and almost used to the new me - though I do look in the mirror at times and try to remember what I used to look like.

At one point last fall I had two suits altered so they would fit better and I had some pants taken in as well.  My weight loss continued to the point that even those were too big for me.

In April of this year I hit my goal weight and I have been maintaning - holding right around 165 lbs ever since.  I have bought some new clothes but I needed to get some more and replace the shirts etc. that are now too big for me.  Two sizes too big!

During all this time I have also been engaged in a job search.  I am grateful that I have been working all along, but next week I will start with a federal agency - a part of the US Army.  I will be a librarian and working downtown in DC - near Chinatown.  I am very excited to be returning to the federal government with a return to my old salary and benefits.  For the past 10 months I have been working in McLean, VA and my commute has been about 90 minutes each way.  My new commute will be 15-20 minutes - just four stops on the Metro!!  That's like getting two extra hours in the day!!

In the new job I expect that I will be having more meetings and I will be working with military folks who will be in uniform.  So I expect that I will need to step up and wear suits more regularly.  I don't mind dressing up.  In fact, I like it.  But this also means taking steps to renew and replace my wardrobe.

Last evening I went shopping - two suits, four shirts, two belts, two pairs of shoes, plus some socks and ties.  Fortunately there's a good sale but I dropped a lot of money!  Fortunately with the new job I will be able to pay this off in pretty short order and I needed the suits for some other events coming up this fall.

But some how - instead of feeling really excited about the new me and the new wardrobe - I feel a little sad. 

When I got home I started going through the closet and pulling out the shirts, suits and pants that are too big.  And I felt sad.  In one sense I didn't get much use out of the suits that I bought and I really liked them.  I am donating the clothes to a good cause - Yay!  But the workpants are some that George bought me and I really liked them and they were really comfortable.  I feel the same about some of the shirts that I bought or he gave me.  I set some aside in the hopes that my nephew will be able to wear them.

I also sorted through some old shoes - a couple pairs had been my dad's - and some neckties and added them to the bags of clothes to be donated.  And I know I have some other things to add.

It is childish I know to feel sad about this.  I will feel better when I get the new suits and wear them just as I enjoy wearing the other new clothes that I have bought and enjoy the feel of the much smaller clothes.

Emotions are funny - there is some grieving to do - for the old chubby me and for the clothes that I bought and liked.

But this is the year of my makeover - new weight, new job and the same me.  Hopefully I have learned from my past and will strive to be a better person and treat others well.  My goal is to tackle the new job and accomplish some good things there.

I don't think this is my mid-life crisis.  If it is then maybe that means I will live another 54 years, but I'm not sure if that is the best thing either.  But then I've always wanted to make it to 2063 - for the West Virginia Bi-centennial.  Maybe I will.  I hope my retirement fund lasts that long!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

Many years ago on I was driving with my grandmother, Esther McBee.  We were heading from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia south along Route 522 to go to Winchester, Virginia for some shopping.  Along the way threre used to be a grand, lovely old home with tall columns and front porch and a balcony.  There was a stone fence that ran along the front of the property. 

I had always admired the house and I mentioned it to my grandmother.  She said that the house had something to do with the girl in the red velvet swing.  I don't recall the rest of our conversation that day.  Likely we moved on to other topics of mutual interest.

So today in the newspaper I read an item under Crime History, that on June 25, 1906, Harry Kendall Thaw shot and killed architect Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Garden.  Thaw and White had both been suitors of Evelyn Nesbit.  Despite being the more determined suitor and successful suitor (Nesbit married Thaw), Thaw held a grudge against White.  A few years later Thaw seized his opportunity and killed White.

You can get the basics of the story from Wikipedia.

It was termed the Trial of the Century!  Thaw was cleared by reason of temporary insanity.  Nesbit and Thaw divorced and Thaw eventually settled in a Clearbrook, Virginia in a home called Kenilworth.  That is the house that formerly stood along Route 522.  Miss Nesbit was the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

There have been several books written about the people and incidents.  One with the title that was used for the 1955 movie - The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.  A more recent book is American Eve.

I am going to have to read this - a spark of interest has been ingnited!