Sex Is Good. Why Is It Illegal?

August 25 is a day that sent shock waves through parts of the LGBT community–the day of the federal raid on the offices of RentBoy.com in New York. In case you didn’t know, RentBoy is a global male escort service with over 10,500 workers.

Rentboy.comThat’s right. Workers. Sex workers to be exact. We used to call them prostitutes. But then seemingly we have become a little more sophisticated. But not too sophisticated.

The Federales are out to protect all of us from the likes of these . . . . . people. Here’s what acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said, “Rentboy.com attempted to present a veneer of legality, when in fact this Internet brothel made millions of dollars from the promotion of illegal prostitution.”

gun-violenceThis is the priority of the Department of Justice, when we are experiencing a crisis of illegal guns and violence against the Black community?

Prostitution is illegal. Yes. But should it be? And why go after RentBoy? And why does this raid seem to have had more news coverage than similar raids on online services that provide the escort and sexual services of women? Is it because the lives of women sex workers actually matter less?

Bottom line for me is pretty simple. We have to stop criminalizing sex among adults. Protect children of course–throw the book at those who sexually abuse children (and also get help for them). And prosecute rape and sexual abuse. But consenting adults?

sex for moneyWhy can’t adults make their own choices about sex? Sex workers want to earn money, and they are willing to share their bodies with customers. Customers want sex, and are willing to share their funds and their bodies with workers to get it.

Other than the fact that folks take their clothes off–presumably–and touch each other in intimate places, this doesn’t seem all that different to me than going to your local florist to buy flowers or the Safeway to buy bread.

anti-gay-minister-begs-his-rent-boy-to-shut-upWhy do we think we need laws to punish those who offer sex for pay (and rarely punish those who seek it)? Who does it protect? And has it ever really worked? Has sex for pay ever been stopped? Or is this just a shaming device that helps keep some folks in line? And also keeps the sex workers hiding out? And what about the “Christian” ministers and others who rail against homosexuality and then hire . . . .  rent boys? Is it possible that decriminalization would help overcome some of the hypocrisy? Maybe then these religious types could enjoy sex the way God creates it…..not to be a nasty secret but instead an occasion of joy.

Indeed, many believe that if we decriminalized sex work, we could more effectively communicate to workers about safer sex and other health concerns, as well as potentially help them gain education and advancement. We might even put some mean and nasty pimps out of business, and put a dent in organized crime.

the joy of sexIn other words, if we understood that these  men and women are workers, often supporting families not to mention elderly parents, etc., we could treat them with dignity. Perhaps then they could become more productive citizens, which would be good for all of us.

the joy of gay sexI am not a lawyer, so I don’t know what legal defense would work to toss this case out of court–sadly, under our system there may not be one. These workers could be cast back to local pimps and others to keep going, which is potentially far more harmful for them than working for RentBoy.com. If I were the judge in the case, I would be the joy of lesbian sexlooking pretty hard to see if I could find a statute or constitutional principle on which I could ground a decision to dismiss.

To me, its about worker’s rights, which should always be protected, and the joy of sex–which should never be illegal.

What Do Topless Women and Homeless People Have in Common?

Most people, and I certainly include myself in this, express opinions based on social customs with which we have become comfortable–even believing that these customs have some very deep roots in human, and even divinely ordered, morality.

Racism works like that, to be sure. We grow up with prejudice which seems natural because in our families and/or community or society at large it was just the norm, often unstated but clearly present.

But this is not limited to racism.

desnudas Times SquareThere is considerable controversy these days in New York over some women who are displaying their breasts in Times Square. Controversy may be too weak a term for some; many express outrage. Topless women threatens Western civilization!

Never mind that the state’s highest court said long ago that laws forbidding women to go topless in public but allow men do so amounts to discrimination based on sex (and thus is unconstitutional). But that does not stop parts of the local media and the Police Commissioner from threatening all sorts of actions to stop the outrage. Even Mayor Blasio is doing some foaming at the mouth about it.

Rudy GiulaniAnd speaking of New York, did you hear about former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani going to his local precinct to complain about a homeless man living on his street? When he told of doing so, he called the time when people lived on the streets and did not use bathrooms inside “the dark ages.” That did not cause him to reflect on how difficult it must be for homeless people. Instead, he said, of his time as Mayor, “You chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em and you chase ’em, and they either get the treatment that they need or you chase ’em out of the city.”

I have different sensibilities. Frankly, I would rather spend time with some of the homeless people I have known than with the Mayor. I lived in New York during much of his mayoralty, and it was often ugly–but not so much because of homeless people (rampant homelessness is ugly for its victims, yes, but not in the same way for the rest of us). I called him Mayor Bully-ani, because of the way he went after people who offended his sensibility.

seeking human kindness -- homeless manI do not deny that homelessness is unpleasant when we encounter it, but does that mean we take out our discomfort on those who suffer. Instead, we find ways to help.

And those women in Times Square? Who are they hurting? In fact, who would it hurt if women could be bare-chested in public, just like men?

Much of the body shame aimed at women is enforced by these sorts of prohibitions. And what is truly distressing is that the very act of hiding body parts can actually increase interest in them. So the act of denial leads to fetishes.

What men used to have to wear
What men used to have to wear

Hiding women’s breasts goes back to those dark ages spoken about by Mayor Giuliani, and earlier, when women were property of men; women were homebound creatures and their menfolk–husbands and fathers–did not want breasts, symbols of fertility, to be displayed.

And did you know this? It was not until 1936 that it was legal in New York State for men to bare their nipples? That trend seems to have taken off and become “normal.”

desnudas Times Square man painting womanMaybe someday it will be so for women.

It will undoubtedly take longer to change attitudes toward homeless people. But we could start by making sure that being homeless is not viewed as a crime–the same way women baring breasts is not a crime.

Time to Confess Crimes Against Indigenous Peoples

In response to my urging white people to publicly share the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” my friend Julie challenged me to also focus on the wrongs done to native, or indigenous, people in this country.

Trail of Tears Map

I have some awareness already, but she urged me to learn more about some tribes with whom she is familiar, including her own, the Cherokee Nation and in particular the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina. The Cherokees were the victims of the Trail of Tears initiated by President Andrew Jackson to move the native people out of the way for white settlers and gold seekers in the 1830s (from North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama). This was massive relocation of an entire people. Many, of course, died. Nor was this the first, nor last, campaign to end the existence of people who inhabited what became the United States for generations, and more, long, long before the first Europeans arrived. You can learn much more here (I encourage you to be sure to read the soldier’s account).

Just after my dialogue with Julie on Facebook, I heard from another Facebook friend about a 2014 decision by the City Council of Seattle to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. More recently, the St. Paul, Minnesota Council did the same.

1492, Christopher Columbus (1446 - 1506) lands on Watling Island and meets the natives, while three of his shipmates erect a cross. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1492, Christopher Columbus (1446 – 1506) lands on Watling Island and meets the natives, while three of his shipmates erect a cross. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I admit I do not understand Columbus Day. He was not the first to “discover” the New World (those terms of course already get us on the wrong course–the assumption is that something is only valid when people of European descent say it is so) nor did he stick around to help resolve conflicts between the newcomers and the natives. Further, a place already inhabited by human beings does not need to be “discovered–and certainly it is not new!

The main reason this old traditional day seems to have become a federal holiday was to please Italian-Americans. Columbus was Italian, although of course his expedition was paid for by Spain. Many Italian-Americans are upset at the changes in Seattle and elsewhere as an affront to the history and dignity of their people.

Italian-Americans have contributed greatly to our nation–as have Hungarian-Americans, Czech-Americans, French-Americans, Anglo-Americans, Spanish-Americans, German-Americans, Austrian-Americans, Norwegian-Americans, Swedish-Americans, Danish-Americans, among many other European peoples as well. Does each deserve a national day devoted to their most prominent historical figure in the Americas?

And what of African Americans? Perhaps we need a federal holiday commemorating the name of the first slave imported (read dragged against his or her will) here.

But what really is at issue is whether or not we will continue to celebrate a man who not only did no good for the indigenous people he encountered but actually did harm. Many historians say that Columbus engaged in harmful practices, including the use of violence and slavery, the forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity, and the introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people in the Americas. Some basic history can be found here.

Seattle just voted for Indigenous Peoples DayIt is clear that in the history of our nation, Native lives, Native bodies, do not matter. I do not wish to dilute the Black Lives Matter campaign given our shameful heritage and continuing harm to African people in our midst, but we can do something to begin to acknowledge other blood on the collective hands of the United States: we can stop celebrating a man who was a key figure in that bloody history by ending a holiday honoring him. And then we can do the next right thing: we can rename that holiday to honor our indigenous ancestors in this land, acknowledging that we stole their land and drove them to reservations (the ones who survived).

When we have got that right, or perhaps even before, we can re-examine our national actions and decide how we want to provide reparations for our actions that led to the annihilation of so many.

To those who say, “I did not steal their land; my family didn’t either,” I say this: if the land where your family settled when they arrived here was anywhere in what is the continental United States then it is likely they, and thus you, benefit from the removal of indigenous people from their tribal lands. I know I do (more about this at a later date).

There is a lot of blood in the ground upon which we stand. It is time to confess the shame of this heritage by ending the celebration of one of its main actors.

A Simple Thing that Might Change Everything

Julian BondJulian Bond has died. A major voice for justice has been stilled. How will we choose to honor him? A monument or two would be good. Perhaps a federal holiday? I hope there already has been a postage stamp, but if not, that should be done quickly. Certainly, pausing long enough to say “thank you.”

But how about this? How about everyone wearing a button, “Black Lives Matter.” And here’s something we can do even before we get a button: those of us on Facebook, can post the button on our page, or even make it our personal FB photo.

I'm White and I believe Black Lives MatterI posted this image on my Facebook page a couple of days ago, after being reminded about the heroism, the martyrdom, of Jonathan Daniels (you can read more about him here). I am gratified to say that 44 people, mostly white, “liked” the sign. Three people indicated disagreement, and we have had some dialogue.

I asked white Facebook friends to post this on their pages, to spread the word. I hoped that if enough of us did it would spread and we could really spread the message and create momentum for real change.

Some friends did share: thank you, Anne Evers, Peg McBride Cook, Cheryl Owen-Watson and others.

I don’t expect Black friends who liked the sign to post it, but I was hoping more of my white FB friends would do so. I am glad so many clicked “Like,” but I am also disappointed for two reasons. First, that only 44 clicked “Like.” I generally draw more response than that. Second, that only two shared the link on their FB pages.

I admit I was surprised to by the negative comments from several friends of mine, and it was hard to read some of them. But at least they took the time to share their feelings.

But I suspect that is why some did not take the step of sharing. Who wants to be bothered with negative comments? That is especially so when they reveal a deep divide between them and you (I feel that about two old friends from my hometown).

I had decided not to say anything about this, and just chalk it up to people being too busy, Julian Bond being voted out of the GA Houseand perhaps too frightened. Then, my friend James Schuyler posted this picture (right) on his FB page this morning. Julian Bond is seated as his colleagues rise to vote to remove him from the seat to which he had been elected (by 82% of his district).

Bond was then elected again, and again the House threw him out. He took them to court. After his third election victory, the U. S. Supreme Court told the House they had no choice but to seat him as a duly elected representative of the people ( click here to learn more).

It’s not easy to stick your neck out. I know that. But if more white people don’t stick our neck out and take on our shameful history and help people take responsibility, we will never overcome.

White people have to take up the cause. Julian Bond did his part–and not just for African Americans either (becoming an advocate for LGBT people, all poor people, and people in other parts of the world).

It is long overdue, but it still matters that we do our part. It must become our cause, not just for “them,” the others (African Americans, Latino/a peoples, Native Americans, etc.), but just as much for our own souls, and the well-being of the nation we love.

We are only as well as our sickest cell, and the United States has not recovered from the illness of white supremacy/racism that marks 400 years of history. It is buried deep within us as a nation and in us as individuals.

FB share buttonWe have been given yet another opportunity to shine the light of truth on this illness–that is what the tragedies of recent shootings make possible, and what a gift it would be to those who were killed due to racist rage if their deaths could be the occasion for national repentance and renewal. The question is, “Will we do it this time? Will we decide to stand up and lead the way forward towards true healing?”

Seen in that light, posting a sign on FB is not a big deal.

But then again, it could change everything.

Thankful? Yes! And Prayerful, Too.

thankfulOn this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to be alive, to share in much goodness that has come, and keeps coming, my way. My husband Jonathan and entire extended family–including our beautiful and beloved daughters and their families (especially Juna and Annie), my sister Nancy and her whole extended family, and the family of my late sister Marny, and our treasured Cocoa– and so many friends and colleagues and neighbors, all are a great blessing.

God is good. All the time!

And on this day I pray that more people in the world would share in these blessings. Help me to remember that so much that is good in my life–more food than I need, a warm home, living in a democracy where we can speak our minds and hearts, some measure of economic security, and more–is not available to others.

Help me also to realize that some of this that is blessing me comes at the expense of others–our global world is interdependent, but often some of us get more thturkeyan our share. So I pray for a better way to distribute food, so that no one goes hungry. And I pray our nation would rely less on force and more on peaceful measures to help others have less strife and more peace and blessing. And I pray that the violence in our own nation, especially the killing of people of color (including not only African American men, but also Trans women and poor women), will end and that we find a way as a nation to begin talking openly and honestly about our heritage of racism and internal colonialism.

Finally, I pray that not all turkeys are killed today, or even between now and Christmas, and that eventually we can learn to give thanks without killing what should be our national bird as part of the celebration.

For me, it is Thanksgiving Day, not Turkey Day. And if I have to include food in the name of the day, then let it be Tofu Day!

Black Lives Matter.

Black lives matter.

I joined hundreds of others in Richmond yesterday, repeating that chant. We were responding to what feels like the re-killing of Michael Brown in Missouri, and especially to the reality that his death has been disrespected by the legal system.

Black lives matter.

Israel and November in Richmond 033It should not need to be repeated. But we did, many times, as we stood on the steps of the John Marshall Courts Building and then marched down 9th Street onto Broad going east to the capitol and then west back to 9th and the courthouse.

I stood and marched with my friend and colleague, Rev. Jeanne Pupke of the First Unitarian Church, and several members of that congregation. One of them gave me this sign to carry. We chanted with conviction, because of course it is true, it is God’s truth even before we know it. But we also did it in desperation, wanting it to be so far more than it is. We know that for too many, black lives are expendable, or at the very least, of negligible value. For many, black lives do not matter much at all.

It pains me to say that Jeanne and I were the only clergy either of us recognized. I pray others were there that we do not know. No clergy spoke. I doubt any were asked–the organizers seemed to be young, and the young so often have little use for religion. This is understandable, given how so much religion has failed even basic tests for justice.

I also marched with the two women at whose marriage I officiated in the first moments after marriage for lesbian and gay couples became legal in Virginia–Nicole and Lindsey O-Pries. I was so glad to see them–it was a message from Lindsey that alerted me to the event–because their being there, along with the presence of Jeanne Pupke and Annette Marquis of the UUA Multicultural Department, united the justice work of LGBT and racial equality. We were back at the Marshall Courts Building for justice. And for love.

I saw no other identifiable LGBT leaders and that pains me, too. We are all too fractured. At a time when marriage equality is marching across the nation, the lives of too many African Americans are still at risk–from police who shoot of course, but also from joblessness and unbelievable incarceration rates and homelessness and hunger and inadequate, even bad, public schools.

Why was not the entire city there? Why are we, as a society, not in full mourning? And why is our focus so much on the destructive behavior of some who act out their anger (and do nothing to help the cause of justice) and so little on the injustice being perpetrated over and over against our fellow citizens who are dark-skinned, and especially the descendants of those our ancestors held in bondage?

The reaction of many–denial and a focus solely on lost property rather than on lost lives–springs from fear, fear that is fed by a scarcity model of social interaction rather than the deeper truth that it is love, caring, kindness, generosity, justice, hope, joy that will see all of us through our present troubles to a better life for all.

Black lives matter. We shouldn’t have to say it. But we do.

And we will–until everyone, or at least mostly everyone, believes it, too.