Posts tagged “president

A Note to My Republican Friends. (Yes, I Have Some.)

republican-democrat-battle1This is to all my Republican friends: Many of you have told me that while you yourself have more liberal social views, you vote Republican because you see that party as being for limited government and a strong economy. PLEASE CONSIDER THIS, THOUGH: Your actions in voting Republican are leading to the death of the planet, as your leaders disavow climate change and are indeed working to ban even the phrase. Your leaders, putting corporate profits above ecological sensibility, continue to push for deregulation of corporate oversight, and that deregulation and lack of oversight leads to increased pollution. This, despite a mountain of evidence that our earth is changing quickly, and not for the better. Devastation of species and the environment are imminent, and YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you have told me that while you personally support LGBT equality, you feel that Republicans actually are–at their heart–LGBT allies, but are just appeasing the louder voices of the party’s right wing base. But your actions in voting Republican are leading to laws which discriminate against the very people you claim to support. People can be turned away, simply from ordering a meal, or holding a job, or having a roof over their head just because they’re gay. What year are we living in, you may ask? Good question. Just remember, YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you have said that while you support tighter gun control, to avoid the kind of mass shootings we’ve seen, you don’t want your guns “taken away.” Well, guess what? In the last 10 years, your guns HAVEN’T been taken away, have they? At the same time, your vote has led to inaction on behalf of stricter laws. We DON’T HAVE tighter gun control laws, which means senseless killings and mass shootings will continue, and YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you say that you think Republicans are better in terms of national security. Yet the biggest terrorist act against the U.S. occurred during a Republican President’s watch. YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN.

Many of you say you want a peaceful, diplomatic foreign policy, yet voted for a man who led us into two ill-considered and expensive wars, killing countless in the process. YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN. Meanwhile, Democratic Leadership is trying to bring peace to areas of strife. You might not agree with every decision made, but it is all with the goal of peace–yet the Republicans in Congress seem determined to screw up even that. Just remember, if an Iran agreement isn’t reached due to Republican interference and war occurs, YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN.

And finally, for those who vote Republican due to fiscal concerns, just remember this: It was your Republican President who got us into the financial crisis and collapse in the first place, and it was a Democratic President who got us out of it. The economy has now gained nearly five times more jobs under President Barack Obama than it did during the presidency of George W. Bush, and the unemployment rate has dropped to just below the historical average. Corporate profits have nearly tripled, and stock prices have soared. ALL THIS ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT, from a Democrat, not a Republican.

Now, you may want to quibble the details–and I’m sure many of you will–but my point is this: YOUR VOTE MATTERS, and your vote is killing the planet, creating discriminatory laws against LGBT people, ensuring pay inequality for women, enforcing a lower-than-liveable minimum wage which leads people to poverty, and so much more–none of it good. Yeah, the Democrats have problems too. Lord knows, they ain’t perfect. But they aren’t trying to kill the planet either. Peace.

Wisconsin Bans Phrase “Climate Change” When Discussing, Uh, Climate Change


Obama’s Victory and the Aftermath of “Please De-Friend Me”

This election was close–much closer than it should have been.  For those of us committed to progressive causes, it was a reminder that we need to work even harder to ensure future such races contain a message which is clear, relevant, and compelling, connecting the dots between the issues we care about and fiscal responsibility.  Our margin of victory should have been greater, and even in the election’s wake, I find myself contemplating the cost of lost friendships, as well as our best path forward.

Just two weeks ago, after several intense political exchanges on Facebook, I awoke one morning, unable to sleep, and typed up a status update, a manifesto of sorts, which quickly took on a life of its own.  In it, I asked those voting for Romney to de-friend me, given that much of what he advocated was a direct attack on me as an LGBT person, as well as the progressive causes in which I believe.  The reaction to this was swift, emotional, and tumultuous.

In the ensuing days, my post was shared and spread, with over 128,000 facebook “likes” at last count.  People I hadn’t heard from in years contacted me to debate the merits of said post, arguing passionately for and against.  I was de-friended by a handful of acquaintances, only to find myself friended by hundreds more.

What most people failed to grasp, though, was that I wasn’t personally planning to de-friend anyone.  Instead, I wanted others to take responsibility for their actions and views, and de-friend me.  I felt it was important that people examine their vote, its real world impact, and take ownership.  As I told those unwilling to de-friend me, if Romney won and followed through on his pledge to restrict my rights, I wanted them to be reminded, each and every time they saw me post, that they’d had a direct hand in my undoing.

While the article was provocative and created dialogue, and led to many other writers offering variations or alternatives to my de-friend stance, some of that discussion brought up attitudes I hadn’t anticipated.  Despite clearly noting that I was voting for Obama because I care about the environment, the poor, veterans, the elderly, equality for women, the freedom of choice, healthcare as a right, our rights as a family with two gay dads, and the economy, one newspaper editorial reduced me to being a “single-issue” voter.  While that may bring into question the writer’s math skills, the larger point, that my progressive voting position was inherently less important than their fiscal one, is one which we need to actively counter.

Progressive causes should not break the bank.  There is a way to achieve human rights in a fiscally responsible way, and yet our detractors have successfully labeled us as “tax-and-spend, bleeding heart liberals,” implying that our love for such causes compels us to open our wallet at every turn, regardless of cost.  As made clear in this election, many people vote solely from their pocketbooks, and we have work to do in articulating a vision which not only upholds dignity and respect for all human life and the planet, but communicates that such advances can actually help stimulate our economy and, in turn, heal our deficit.  Being committed to social causes and financial security are not mutually exclusive;  we must clarify how they can work together if we are to ensure a greater margin of victory in the future.

On a personal level, I’m struggling this morning on how to best move forward, given my friends who say they support me, yet vote for policies and people which work to deny me my equality, as well as the subsequent tax benefits and protections conveyed under the law.  I find myself questioning who I want in my life, and who I don’t…

Years ago, I made the difficult decision to cut my parents out of my life, due to what I perceived as anti-gay behavior.  I told myself then that my self-respect meant more, in the long haul, than their bigotry.  Upon the birth of our children, I allowed that stance to soften, as I wanted my parents to be in our children’s lives, and for our kids to experience what it was like to have grandparents.  The night before the election, however, I got a call from my mother, telling me that she is joining a church this Sunday which I’d previously told her is anti-gay, preaching that homosexuality is a sin.  The church is so well-known in our area that I actually once attempted to meet with the pastor, in an attempt to discuss and expand his views, but was denied.

My mother asked us to come to this new member event to support her, and it pained me to tell her that I could not knowingly step into a church which views me as evil.  She doesn’t understand why we can’t make a “one-time” exception, to support her personally.  And this strikes to the heart of my “Please De-Friend Me” post.  Both my mother and I are seeking support for who we are and what we believe, but our two stances are entirely contradictory.  So what do we do?

Is it better to form tentative truces, knowing we are not being supported?  Is it better to take hard-line stances and clear boundaries, to ensure we retain our self-respect?  And what effect does it have on us to have people in our lives who do not respect or support who we are at our very core?

I’ve tried for years to get my parents to expand their worldview, but find that it will never change.  I’ve tried mightily, during this election, to get others to see that their votes have real-world consequences, only to watch as they cast votes supporting my second-class status.  In both cases, I am conflicted as to the best course forward.

It is one thing to educate and build bridges of understanding, but if my basic right to equality isn’t respected, is that even a bridge I want to build???

Cross-posted on Kergan Edwards-Stout and Huffington Post.


A U.S. President’s Great-Great-Grandson’s Big Gay Vampire Novel

While it may come as a surprise to learn that Ulysses S. Grant’s great-great-grandson, Ulysses Grant Dietz, serves as Chief Curator for New Jersey’s Newark Museum, it might come as a bigger surprise that he is also an author, with two gay vampire titles under his belt.  Dietz is one of the few people I know who has managed to incorporate his many disparate passions into unified whole: he is a father, with two teenage children; he has a job he loves, overseeing the museum’s impressive decorative arts collection; he reads voraciously, reviewing most everything he reads; he is the author of two novels and five non-fiction titles; and he is an out gay man, proudly advocating on behalf of the LGBT community.

In 1998, Alyson Books released his first book, Desmond: A Novel About Love and the Modern Vampire, which went on to be nominated for a Lambda Literary award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. Now, after a 14-year wait, his fans finally have their hands on his much-anticipated sequel, Vampire in Suburbia, which has finally hit the stores.

Thank you so much for sharing some of your time, Ulysses.  The obvious first question is, why so long between novels?

In a word: children.  I was polishing up Desmond during the kids’ naps while on parental leave back in 1997, and once it was published, the rest of my life distracted me from writing fiction. I’ve been thinking about it for a long, long time.

What inspired your first novel, Desmond?

In part, every vampire novel I’d read, from Dracula (which I read in middle school, the first time) to Anne Rice’s novels. Specifically, when I wrote the first draft of Desmond back in 1988, Rice’s Queen of the Damned had just appeared. Desmond as a character is my direct response to Rice’s Louis, as well as Lestat.  In fact, as my book opens, Desmond has just finished reading Queen of the Damned.

What was it about this character, Desmond Beckwith, that compelled you to continue his story?

In the first book, Desmond is surprised by love. He has resigned himself to a life alone over the course of two centuries. Yet he lives in the world. He has secrets he has to keep from the world. It’s a delicate balance he maintains; and then the carefully constructed life he’s made for himself is shattered by the appearance of Tony Chapman.  Desmond is a romantic; although he’s a vampire, he loves life. In the second book, Desmond gradually realizes that he doesn’t really like living in isolation, without friends.  It’s this quest for connection that drives him. At the end of the first book his story was, in a sense, only beginning. I had to write the second book to bring Desmond’s personal search to some sort of closure.

In the blurb for Vampire in Suburbia, it notes that Desmond is handsome, rich, gay, a vampire, and he’s looking for a house in Jersey.  So, I gotta ask, is he related to Snooki? 

Actually, I confess that, after a martini with a friend, I’ve joked about a third book called Vampire Down the Shore; but I haven’t figured out how I might work Snooki into the plot.

But seriously, the setting for the second book is something I’d thought about for years. It literally takes place where I live, in suburban Essex County, including within the museum where I have been a curator for thirty-two years.  Desmond ends up in New Jersey in the wake of 9/11. His New York office is near Ground Zero, and Desmond, quite simply, is afraid. So he moves his company to Newark, to one of the many office towers near Newark’s great art deco Penn Station – just ten miles from Manhattan.  I’ve set the book in 2009, just after he regenerates (as my vampires do) back to the age he was created: twenty one. He realizes that, this time around, he doesn’t want to start all over again and simply leave behind the people who became his friends over the past 44 years.  He also finds himself yearning for two things he gave up in the eighteenth century: land, and a family. It’s not your usual vampire story, but I’m as much a romantic as Desmond is.

Given your lineage, did you ever have any pushback?  You know, a descendant of one of our nation’s presidents, publishing a novel about gay vampires?

Not yet. I’m on the board of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, but I don’t think any other board members have read it, or are likely to.  I’m a little more anxious about my professional world, because the book has a whole curator theme going and my colleagues in the field are buying it to be supportive.  I’ve talked it up on my Facebook page and people are intrigued. I keep telling them that it’s not really for them – but what can I do?  They’ll figure it out.  I’m imaging lots of embarrassed silence.  I don’t think the Civil War buffs are going to even notice it exists.

Do you ever feel any added pressure that comes from your heritage?  A responsibility to be a role model?

Oh, sure.  But being a role model, living up to my name, is the whole reason behind my determination to live my life out and proud. It’s the reason I’ve refused to use a pseudonym on these books, as if I have something to hide in writing them. I’ve had to instill that pride in my kids, and that pride includes being gay as much as it includes being a great-great-grandson of a president.  Living my life with integrity – as Ulysses S. Grant did  – without regard to what people say, is my way of being a role model.

How did your decision to speak out on marriage equality come about?  You wrote a piece for one of the New Jersey papers about same gender marriage…

I’d forgotten I actually wrote that! I’m remembering it as an interview. It was for the Newark Star-Ledger back in 2009, and I was actually photographed in the Ballantine House – my main gallery space in the Museum, which is featured in Vampire in Suburbia. I can’t remember who contacted me or why – but marriage equality was and is a big issue here, and the fight for marriage, not just civil union, is something I’ve been interested in for years.  My partner Gary and I have been involved in gay politics in New Jersey for thirty years. We know a lot of people.

You and Gary have been together for 37 years now.  How did you first meet?

We met at Yale, specifically at the Gay Alliance at Yale.  I remember the day vividly.  I was a junior, and Gary had just graduated and was working for the Yale Computer Center.  He’s a software engineer. It was October 1975 and I had just turned twenty.  He was my first date ever.

That is amazing!  Long before my partner and I adopted, you and Gary became parents.  That must have been trailblazing…  What was that experience like?

I guess we were pioneers. We had lesbian friends who had started families; and our brothers each had children who were very much in our lives; so we were primed for a while before it dawned on us that we could have our own children.  Surrogacy was not legally possible in New Jersey then, so we decided to go with adoption. We tried domestic adoptions, but after one particularly heartbreaking failure, we decided to look into international adoptions. At that time international adoptions were possible for gay couples – but one of the two partners had to essentially disappear, and the other one had to adopt as a single person.

That must have been challenging…

I kept a detailed journal for four years once this process started. It reads like a Tolstoy tragedy. It was a very rough four years.  Several failures, including a disastrous venture in Russia where Gary spent a month in Siberia with our baby – only to have the child taken away from him and the adoption canceled by someone somewhere in the bureaucracy who felt that no man could have a good reason to want to raise a child alone.

But eventually we succeeded – and succeeded on two separate adoptions within a month of each other.  So our son, Alex, and our daughter, Grace, arrived and changed our lives in 1996.  I adopted them through a second-parent adoption a year or so later.  We didn’t even have a domestic partnership, but we were legally bound together by our children – our names are on their US birth certificates. It was amazing.  And once you have your children, all the bad memories fade away.

I know reading is one of your main passions.  Have you read anything recently that you couldn’t put down?

Reading is an addiction with me. I always have my Kindle with me. I love young adult novels, written for teenagers, that have gay themes.  I just finished Benjamin Alire Saenz’s beautiful book Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It’s about a Mexican-American teenager in El Paso who finds a best friend one summer. The friendship between the boys is beautiful; but what I loved most was the importance of the parents.  Many young adult novels marginalize the parental figures – as teenagers themselves try to do.  But Saenz makes the parents important, and makes their love for their sons crucial in the narrative.  It’s a wonderful book.

With your unique worldview, as an out gay dad, partner, author, reader, curator, etc., what do you see as the biggest issues facing the LGBT community?

What I see as the biggest issue facing our community is our complacence in the face of the upwelling of right-wing religiosity in this country, in the secular world and especially in politics.  I came out in the 1970s, before AIDS, and things have improved so much since then it’s hard to believe.  But, for all the acceptance my family and I have experienced in our little bubble of diversity in Maplewood, New Jersey, there is a significant anti-gay world out there trying to figure out how to undo all the progress we’ve made. I’m a devout Episcopalian, by the way, and church is important to me; but I feel somewhat like an assimilated Jew in Germany in the early 1930s, who felt that they were safe and beyond harm.  There are young gay folk who talk about the world being “post-gay,” and it’s just not true. Not yet.

Hopefully, that day will come soon.  Lastly, you are so entrenched in arts and culture.  What impact do you think those have on us as people, and as a society?

That’s a loaded question.  Look, I’ve given my life to the Newark Museum. I believe in art and the power of art to transform lives.  My entire career has been dedicated to connecting people with objects; to telling stories that help people see the world in a slightly different way. I help people fall in love with the things I love. My non-fiction books have been part of my curatorial life; my novels are just another aspect of that story-telling instinct.

The books of Ulysses Grant Dietz can be found on Amazon, with more information on his publisher’s website.

Author photo courtesy of the Newark Museum. 

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.