Insignificant

When actress Ellen Page came out last month, several conservatives I know (and those I only know by association) posted comments that were really pretty mean. I read everything from “Ellen WHO???” to “who cares? Did another idiot celebrity really need to come out?”

First of all, if you have seen the movie “Inception” then you know exactly who Page is. If you haven’t seen that movie then you should be slapped silly. It’s amazing.

Second, it is unfortunate that it is still important for celebrities to come out of the closet.

In the last six years, I’ve run more calls than I can remember. I’m in public safety. I talk to a lot of different kinds of people. I’m not allowed to give details, but I have met a hell of a lot of people – teens and adults alike – who have battled depression second to the bullying they are dealing with for being gay or lesbian. I’ve talked to kids as young as 13 and adults as old as their mid-40’s who are still fighting to be accepted as human beings. Most of the kids haven’t even figured out whether they’re gay; some know they aren’t, but other kids (and sometimes even teachers) are bullying them because they simply appear to be gay.

Bullying takes many different forms. I was bullied for a lot of reasons. The fact that I was a huge tomboy was only one of those reasons. I have told my story before; I was the loser that other losers used to pick on and beat up. I was a tomboy, I was a girl who played guitar and bass, I was a science nerd, I was a history buff, I was terrible at sports, I was awkward, I just wasn’t cool enough…I was never good enough. I often still feel like I’m not good enough, but that is par for the course when you see the way I grew up.

The belief that I was a lesbian when I was a kid was one of the reasons I was bullied, though, and it was huge. Nowadays kids take school bullying home with them on their smartphones, where they endure a continuous stream of hate through Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other forums. I’ve talked to a lot of those kids. They’re afraid to tell their parents at least partially because they know the bullying will only get worse when they tattle. More than one kid has looked at me and asked, “did your parents hate you when you came out?”

No, they didn’t hate me. It wasn’t easy for them to accept at first, but they didn’t hate me. The first time a teenage boy sat in my ambulance and asked me to help him tell his parents because that was why he was sitting there with serious injuries from a beating, I wanted to disappear. How do you do that? How do I sit down with this kid in his hospital room, look his parents in the eye, and tell his crying mother that he needed to tell her something? Once I’ve said that, how do I stand there and mediate while he tells her something she probably never expected him to say because he was such a good religious boy?

Even the most well-meaning conservatives among my friends who are straight don’t understand how hard that can be. It took me months after my horrible self-realization to finally tell my parents. It’s still a stigma in society. It’s a stigma at home. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that Ellen Page is losing work because of her announcement, but a lot of actors and actresses in the past have watched their careers tank after admitting to the world that they were gay.

It took a lot of courage for Michael Sam to come out. It took a lot for Ellen Page. It took a lot for Chely Wright (who immediately saw her career as a top-ten country artist evaporate). It took courage because, even in a society where being openly gay is becoming normal, there is still enough stigma and enough bullying to make one’s life very difficult. Being true to oneself is important; when those around you decide that they can’t stand your true self, it can be devastating.

I look forward to the day when we won’t have to “come out” anymore. Until then, I will have a lot of respect for those who come out and tell the world that it’s normal for some. We’re still people. We’re still just like you, and we’re not insignificant.

Bad Guys Need Jobs, Too

I had no idea, but apparently the Obama Administration’s EEOC has almost completely re-written the rules. Just a year ago, the EEOC released a suggestion that employers stop refusing to hire minorities based on criminal records. Not white people, mind you – just the minorities. Because, you know, we live in post-racial America.

The “suggestion” is about to be enforced as a rule. Dollar General Stores and a BMW facility in SC are being sued for supposedly discriminating. One woman sued Dollar General for refusing to hire her based on a felony conviction; to be fair, the crime was attributed to her in error. But a lawsuit over it? The employer acted in good faith. It’s the background screening agency (and possibly the offending court) that should be sued, not Dollar General. The vast, overwhelming majority of companies out there these days hire other companies to do background checks for them. Dollar General isn’t responsible for falsely reporting that the applicant was convicted of a felony.

BMW, however, required in 2008 that all of their contract employees (not permanent employees, CONTRACT) re-apply for their jobs. That’s actually typical for contract positions – once the contract is up, if the company wants to extend new contracts or maybe even hire some of the workers on a permanent basis, they’ll ask them to re-apply. In the case of BMW, the workers who lost their jobs weren’t all black – but the black workers in the group complained that it was still a racist decision because a “disproportionate” number of those displaced were.

The EEOC has acknowledged the fact that the number of Americans with criminal records has gone up over the past several years, but they claim that because blacks and Hispanics get arrested and convicted more often, they deserve some kind of preferential treatment. I’m sorry…I’ve worked to maintain a clean background. I’ve never threatened to do harm to another person and the last time I stole anything I was 12 years old and I took a pack of baseball cards from another kid at school. I carry a gun, but I’ve never brandished it. The total of three fights I’ve been in as an adult were started by other people – and once the fight is over, I let it go. I never kick someone when they’re down. I haven’t been perfect, but I’m respectful towards others and mindful of the fact that innocent things can be taken horribly wrong. I conduct myself accordingly.

So how is it that someone else can get a free pass for their poor choices because their skin color is different?

All this is going to do is lessen the potential consequences for those at-risk groups. If they know they can sue and win over a job they were turned down for because of a criminal conviction, they’ll have even less incentive to obey the law and actually care about where their lives are going.

I once had a black woman I worked with scream racial epithets at me right before calling me a racist. In recent years, I’ve been called a racist by another coworker simply for referring to someone’s accent as “Nigerian”. I’ve been called a racist I don’t know how many times for disliking our President. I grew up with less than most black kids have today. My father served this country right after Vietnam, a time when most people still hated their defenders. Back then, enlisted salaries were a joke. You didn’t get a stipend for your wife or kids; you didn’t get extra pay for deploying. My father had to buy his own uniforms on the peanuts they paid him even with three kids to feed and clothe. Once I was in school, I was bullied, harassed and beaten up everywhere I went. Home wasn’t a happy place, either, because I was always the oddball. Even church was often a rough place for me when the kids who bullied me at school started going to my youth group. No matter where I have gone or what I have done, I have faced adversity – but I have still managed to get an education, be polite and respectful, and do something decent with my life. I have never done something to hurt another person and then turned around and blamed the way I grew up or the people who treated me badly.

Why does anybody get away with that? Why do we allow government agencies to put pressure on employers to forgive criminal pasts simply because the applicant isn’t white? The EEOC guidelines that are about to become the de facto law of the land will give people of color the ability to do something I’ll never get the chance to do: argue why they should get the job despite a felony conviction on their record.

Gone are the days when convicted felons worked their way back up the ladder in the real world. Now we live in a society where the government gets to decide that all companies have to pay a “living wage”, provide health insurance, and give jobs to minorities who can provide a compelling reason why their criminal past should be forgiven over the white woman who was willing to work hard for a decent life. Blacks and Hispanics can blame their idiotic choices – their CHOICES – on their hard life and get away with it.

Post-racial America.

Horsefeathers.