Monday, March 23, 2015

Funny how easily hate language rolls off Christians' tongues; what are they teaching in Sunday School?


It would seem like time might soothe the sting of anti-gay hate slurs such as “faggot.” But I recently learned that the hateful language shocks my senses as much at 65 as it did a half-century ago.

A dispute with neighbors about their large dogs running loose and attacking my little 10-pound poodle led to a 14-year-old youth in their supervision calling me a “faggot.” The word shocked me so that at first I thought his female guardian had uttered it. But the teenager confirmed he said it.

The teenager also disputed my claim about the dogs running loose for an extended period of time while they were out of town, during which time my little dog was attacked by their big boxer. In essence, the teen called me a liar.

In fact, the attack the teenager claimed didn’t happen so scared my dog she trembled and cried under the bed for an hour. Fortunately, she seemed to suffer no serious physical injury, despite the boxer briefly having a death grip on her neck.

During the confrontation with the family, the adult male in the teenager’s company supported the youngster’s  anti-gay remark, asking  me, “Well, what are you?”

I didn’t answer the question. I hardly knew what to say. But I did call law enforcement for assistance. It marked my third call to 911 over the weekend — two about the dogs running loose and one about the dispute.

I asked the teenager if he learned that language from his family. He said, “I learned it a school. I was raised by a good Christian mother.” I was already aware his family spent a significant amount of their time at church.

The law enforcement officer listened to my side of the complaint, and he talked to the family and the youth. He told me that he advised the youth it was wrong to call people names, but he told me it was a “freedom of speech issue” and amounted to no crime.

I told the officer I believed the use of anti-gay slurs represented harassment, but I dropped it at that point. He told me at one point early on that I needed to calm down because I was at risk of making him mad and “that’s not going to help you.” He mentioned something about an apology from the youth, but I told him I wanted no further conversations with anyone in the family.

I pointed out the teenager’s remark about someone who lives alone, never throws parties and lives a really quiet life disturbed me because of the potential for what might be said to a same-sex male or female couple or single people who entertain frequently.

The teenager’s slur also surprised me in part because it seems to contradict what school officials report. They claim to be educating students about diversity and the need for tolerance in an effort to dissuade bullying.

At no time did anyone inquire about the health of my dog or about my own health even though I was knocked to the ground when the dog attacked.

Overall, I think law enforcement did a good job concerning my multiple complaints. But the last officer left me with the impression that they could use more training in the area of hate language and where it can lead. I made a special request that he include in his report the fact that the teenager had used the word “faggot” during the dispute.

If a teenager would yell “faggot” at a 65-year-old man who just called law enforcement, and then argue with that older man about the truth of his statements, what would he say or do to another student? Will I wake up and find “faggot” written on my car or house? Will that happen to some other LGBT person?

Coincidentally, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine, outlining its annual report on hate groups operating in the United States, arrived in my mailbox today. Under the category of General Hate with a specific Anti-LGBT focus, the human rights group identified 44 in operation of the total 784 hate groups documented in the nation last year.

Many of the group’s names use words like church, family, moral, ministries, mission, parents and such. The groups are located nationwide, and three have addresses in Texas, including Fort Worth, Plano and El Paso.

It’s pretty easy to understand how teenagers can be conflicted by the confusing messages they must be getting at home, church and school.

For me, it’s another lesson learned. No matter how hard I try to be a good neighbor, I will be at risk of — at the very least — verbal assaults because of my sexual orientation, and the words will hurt as much as they ever did.
 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

American Family Association continues with 'big lie'


The American Family Association’s new “Anti-Christian Bigotry Map,” which claims to identify LGBT groups nationwide, is long on hype and short on facts. You might even call the map and its categories of “anti-Christian, humanist, atheist and homosexual agenda” laughable if it weren’t so deceptive.

In Texas for instance, the map identifies Human Rights Campaign chapters in Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio with little rainbow-colored balloons. I wonder how long someone in the Mississippi-based organization worked to compile that silly list, given that there are countless local LGBT organizations statewide easily identified.

The interactive map allows the viewer to isolate by state the different categories. The list is led by a colorful “homosexual agenda” icon that sort of resembles a hot air balloon -- an apt, albeit unintended image for this map to be sure. The AFA map features about 200 icons nationwide that provide obscure group names in most cases.

HRC quickly ridiculed the map’s publication on its website, noting that the organization maintains no offices in certain cities listed on the map. “…We will not be able to meet at HRC’s offices in Dallas and Austin that are included on AFA’s map because they don’t exist. Gosh darn.”

The Texas map also identifies anti-Christians in Houston and San Antonio; atheists in Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Denton, Houston, Lubbock and Corpus Christi and humanists or “freethinkers” in North Texas, the Panhandle, East Texas and Central Texas. It would appear the humanists escaped detection as to exactly where they congregate.

At the bottom of the map, the AFA gets down to the real business at hand by listing the national headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, the Southern Poverty Law Center, GLSEN and Freedom from Religion Foundation. The HRC blog noted that the AFA list also “oddly included” the American Association of Retired Persons and People for the American Way, but those groups appear to no longer be included on the map.

AFA claims on the map HRC “bullies American corporations to embrace sexual perversion and encourages lawsuits against Christian-owned businesses and states.” It accuses SPLC of labeling Christian organizations supporting the Biblical definition of marriage as hate groups, and it claims GLSEN “infiltrates public schools with pro-homosexual indoctrination tactics.” FFRF “threatens, intimidates and sues local governments and public schools to abolish all public references to the Christian faith,” according to the AFA.

What is most interesting about the AFA interactive map is that it poorly imitates the Southern Poverty Law’s Center’s comprehensive annual list of hate groups, which includes the AFA. The list names 939 groups, including White Supremacists of all varieties, anti-government gangs and LGBT-bashers, which are gleaned from extensive research.

SPLC began including anti-LGBT groups on its hate group list soon after its founding in 1971 because white supremacists and others often targeted LGBT people in propaganda and hate crimes.

SPLC President Richard Cohen said in an email to Dallas Voice that with the map’s publication the “AFA is continuing with its big lie – its claim that we’re anti-Christian. We’re obviously not.”

Cohen noted SPLC also disagrees with the policies of Focus on the Family on a variety of issues, but the organization is not included on the annual hate group list because it maintains a higher level of integrity than AFA. “…We would not call Focus a hate group because, unlike groups like the AFA, Focus does not routinely spread demonizing lies and propaganda about the LGBT community,” Cohen said. “And in the case of the AFA, its bigotry is not limited to the anti-LGBT variety.”

The AFA’s publication of the map seems to prove Cohen’s point because it seeks to spread resentment against non-Christians as well as LGBT people. The propaganda also ignores the affiliation of millions of LGBT people with the Christian faith. AFA leaders attempt to portray LGBT people as deviants who want to overthrow Western Civilization by destroying traditional Judeo-Christian values.

Since AFA’s founding in 1977 under the former name of the National Federation for Decency the group has sought to censor publications and television broadcasts, disseminate false information about LGBT people and their relationships and promote “ex-gay” therapy. Methodist minister Donald E. Wildmon founded the group, but he stepped down after 33 years for his son, Tim Wildmon, to carry on his anti-LGBT campaign, that sometimes has targeted minority groups such as Muslims and Native Americans who refused to convert to Christianity.

AFA, which depends on donations and the sale of books and other propaganda to operate, is largely ineffective and professionally disrespected as the publication of its map shows. Still, it manages to keep operating because enough people buy into the organization’s untruthful and alarmist propaganda to fund it.

About the best we can do as a community is to continue to support the organizations that we know tell the truth and work for our benefit. AFA unwittingly identified them for you.

 

 

 

 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Some good old satire could put today's hot topics in proper perspective; Huckabee is Archie Bunker


If television executives ever decide to remake the wildly-successful 1970s-era All in the Family sitcom to address this century’s issues, I sure hope they will borrow some material from today’s 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls — especially former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

When I watched Huckabee’s recent interview on CNN about LGBT people and same-sex marriage, I felt like my TV and I had slipped back in time. His remarks comparing LGBT people living their lives to straight people cussing and drinking alcohol sounded just like something Archie Bunker might have said.

“People can be my friends who have lifestyles that are not necessarily my lifestyle,” Huckabee reasoned to CNN’s Dana Bash as he sidestepped a question about whether he believed people came by their sexual orientation through heredity or choice. “I don’t shut people out of my life because they have a different point of view.”

Gee thanks, Mike, I thought. That’s a relief. I’d hate to think I couldn’t hang out with a fun guy like you.

Usually, I would switch channels at that point, but I sensed more incredible observations yet to come from the Baptist-pastor-turned-politician. Sure enough, he went on in his ill-fated attempts to further enlighten the CNN host and her audience with his broad-mindedness.

“I don’t drink alcohol, but gosh, a lot of my friends — maybe most of them — do,” he said. “You know, I don’t use profanity, but believe me, I’ve got a lot of friends who do. Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera — it’s not my cup of tea.”

I suppose the reference to the high arts sort of tempered the comparison to foul-mouthed boozing, but it failed to make any more sense to me.

Again, it reminded me of Archie, the outspoken, conservative, backward Protestant bigot whose observations so stunned the other characters in the show they stared at in him silence. I envisioned his daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Michael, rolling their eyes, and his naïve wife, Edith, cocking her head in confusion as laughter echoed in the background.

The satirical scenes in All in the Family put issues like racial and religious bigotry, male chauvinism and anti-homosexual and -transgender bias in perspective for many Americans. Many people got it, and probably quite a few saw themselves in the depictions. I suspect the show led to a lot of re-evaluations of long-held beliefs.

The sitcom preceded the issue of same-sex marriage by three decades, but All in the Family did address interracial marriage. Through humor, the show illustrated the absurdity of skin color dictating whom people could marry. In one of the show’s episodes Archie and Edith discussed the “mixing” of races:

Archie: “This mixing the colors, before you know it, the world’s gonna be just one color.”
Edith: “Well, what’s wrong with that, Archie?”
Archie: “Can’t you use your head? How the hell are we gonna tell each other apart?”

The absurdity of Archie’s argument made an unspoken point: Why would anyone care about whom others marry?


It came as no surprise Huckabee held a hard line on same-sex marriage in the CNN interview, saying that the Bible forbids homosexuality. “This is not just a political issue,” he said. “It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue — unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, OK, I’m just going to evolve.”

Most conservative Republicans would likely agree with Huckabee on this issue. But I could see the statement coming out of Archie’s mouth if rewritten to reflect how a blue-collar worker talks. Archie would think like Huckabee about the issue of same-sex marriage, the last big culture barrier of our time to overcome.

The good news is that times are changing, similarly to how it happened in the late 1960s and 1970s. In earlier days, white bigots used the Bible to justify discrimination against black people and others who didn’t look like them. Today, they’ve found new scapegoats, such as LGBT people and immigrants, to target.

More and more conservative straight people I know tell me they are tired of politicians who brandish the Bible at them and focus their attention on abortion and same-sex marriage. Instead, they’ve expressed concerns about issues such as the economy and the consequences of worldwide political unrest that also worry most LGBT people. None of the Republican candidates appear to be generating much interest among the conservative voters I know.

Ultra conservative politicians seem to be out of touch with the majority of Americans, and that is why the White House could be out of reach for Huckabee and others like him in 2016. Maybe the humor of a revamp of All in the Family might clue them into what does and does not really concern most Americans today, although for now I’d rather they stay in the dark — at least until after the 2016 election.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

LGBT rights movement reaches top speed in 21st Century



The U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement last week that it would decide if the Constitution guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry wherever they reside and whether states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states left me marveling at the advancements of the gay rights movement in my adult life.

In 1977 I lived and worked for a time in New York City where I marched in my first gay rights parade at the age of 27. Up until that point I had not participated in any sort of activism even though I had made no secret of my sexual orientation in Dallas prior to joining a couple of friends in Manhattan in search of excitement. During those days I aspired only to go out every night and to enjoy every bit of entertainment I could squeeze out of the big city that never slept.

The three of us shared a three-room boxcar-style apartment, and I worked for a temporary agency that sent me on office assignments across the city when I wanted to work. I felt like I had struck gold when the agency sent me to a public relations agency that represented all of the Broadway theaters, and they gave me free tickets to shows. God I loved that dead end job, answering the phone, typing and assisting the employees of the theaters and the celebrities the agency represented. I kept that assignment as long as possible.

I lacked purpose in my life in those days, and my friends shared my lack of enthusiasm for pursuing a career. We all worked just enough to pay the rent and utilities and to eat and drink in the endless array of restaurants and bars in the city. Weekends we spent at the beach when the weather turned warm enough. Sometimes people we met in the bars invited us to their weekend homes on the New Jersey Shore and Fire Island. I couldn’t imagine life beyond 30, and I wanted to extend my search for adventure indefinitely.

When June rolled around that year we started noticing fliers posted in the bars about the upcoming gay rights parade, and we decided to join in the fun. I had watched a small parade in Downtown Dallas in 1972 with one of my New York roommates, but he and I had stayed on the sidewalk unmoved by the experience. That would change in New York.

On the Sunday morning of the parade my roommates and I made signs to carry in the parade. Mine said, “Gay freedom is my right.” I doubt that I even knew what I meant when I wrote those words. I’m positive same-sex marriage didn’t inspire me, and I doubt anyone else thought about it in 1977. We did fume about singer Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Florida to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that succeeded June 7, 1977. That became the rallying cry in gay rights parades across the country that summer. Everyone wanted protection from discrimination in jobs and housing and the abolishment of sodomy laws. Few people in my presence ever mentioned the Stonewall Riots, which are widely viewed today as the start of the modern day gay rights movement.

When my roommates and I arrived after a short subway ride for the start of the parade on Fifth Avenue, the sight stunned me. Many thousands of people lined up for the parade in New York, compared to less than a hundred people I saw in Dallas getting ready to march. It overwhelmed me, and I sensed something earthshaking would be happening.

The parade got underway late as people continued to arrive for the lineup. The numbers astonished me, and I said that I had no idea so many gay people lived in the whole world, let alone the New York City area. When the parade finally got underway it eventually stretched the entire length of Fifth Avenue, and I remember seeing people all along the route hanging out of windows and cheering. As we passed the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, gay instructors with their straight female clients yelled and waved. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged, and it motivated me to take a stand. Before the summer ended, I decided to return to Texas so I could finally finish college.

Almost forty years later, those days in New York seem like a dream. My two roommates, who remained in New York and never knew LGBT activists would focus on marriage equality, no longer are living.

Had I remained in New York City, I probably would be dead today too. Instead, I returned to Dallas and I enrolled in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin as soon as I could. One of my first stories for the Daily Texan explored a deadly new disease striking gay men in San Francisco and New York City. From then on I came across stories about the LGBT community that needed to be told at every newspaper I worked. Sometimes I told the stories over the objections of others in the newsroom who failed to grasp the significance of the gay rights movement. At the same time I frequently attended the funerals of my friends, and I wrote their obituaries.

Over the years, I came to realize that every person who came out to a straight relative, friend or coworker contributed to the gay rights movement whether they ever marched in a parade or otherwise demonstrated for the cause. As former Dallas gay leader William Waybourn pointed out to me in a discussion in the early 1990s when he led a national organization in Washington D.C., “If every gay and lesbian person in the country came out today, the discrimination would end tomorrow.”

Eventually, I made my way to the Dallas Voice where I covered LGBT issues solely, but despite my specialization in LGBT issues and my association with local, state and national LGBT leaders the marriage equality story caught me off guard. I never dreamed same-sex marriage would receive so much support in state governments, the courts and the American public in general. It took so long to get the sodomy law overturned that I thought marriage equality would be many decades off, if ever in my lifetime.

I’m glad at the age of 65 I’ve lived to see the gay rights movement succeeding in ways that seemed impossible a little more than a decade ago, but it is a bittersweet moment. So many people who helped lay the foundation for the success of the gay rights movement will never get to enjoy it. I’d like to think that they somehow will know what they helped achieve. They no doubt would be as amazed as I am.





Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Year's resolutions lose urgency as years pass


 
One of the best things about retirement is the ease in which movement from one year to the next takes place. I get in no hurry to do anything because it’s all optional.
Last night, I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching Netflix movies because of my clear schedule this week. The night before I stayed up until 6 a.m. Of course, that left me sleeping during the day, but it mattered not. Most everything would wait until I got around to it.

I used my car for the first time in 2015 almost a full week into the New Year because I realized that when I went to the grocery store on New Year’s Eve, I forgot to buy dog food. With two ravenous mouths to feed every morning, I conceded it was time to hit the road again.

Mickey the Schnauzer and Lucky the Jackshund get really testy when breakfast doesn’t hit the floor within 10 minutes of our getting out of bed so I decided not to dally any longer. I had just emptied every morsel out of the dog food bag to fill their bellies.

After spending two days in my pajamas, I finally hit the shower and got dressed. On the way across Cedar Creek Lake to Walmart, it occurred to me I no longer drove quite as fast as I did when I worked full-time. The slower speed gave me time to gaze at the white pelicans floating in the bay next to the bridge and to gauge the level of the lake after the recent rains.
As I drove, I also pondered my failure to make any New Year’s resolutions this year. A column on the front page of The Monitor, Cedar Creek Lake’s newspaper, praised the value of the practice and urged everyone to take part in changing their lives forever. The editor, Pearl Cantrell, based her argument on “Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life,” a self-help book by Orrin Woodward, a motivational speaker and New York Times best-selling author who promises to give readers a plan to “live the life you’ve always wanted.”

Woodward maintains in his book that resolutions should be geared toward one changing themselves from the inside out to be effective. External changes do not reprogram a person.

I reviewed some of my resolutions in previous years that I, naturally, failed to ever accomplish. Almost every year I’ve vowed to exercise more and eat and drink less so I would look better.  I’ve rarely gotten out of the gate with that one because I was always still eating and drinking well into the early hours of New Year’s morning.
I also routinely failed to clean my house and wash my car on a regular basis. I always slipped back into the habit of waiting until the approach of a crisis, such as learning someone planned to visit me from out of town. I always started the New Year with a clean house and fresh laundry because my mother instilled that tradition in me, but I never caught on to her habit of keeping things in order all year long.

No doubt I’d had other resolutions I failed to keep over the years, but those seemed to be the most glaring examples.
Suddenly, I realized what Woodward meant by saying change must occur from the inside out. I could never keep those resolutions because I’m a lazy procrastinator. Until I corrected that problem, I’d never be able to live the life I’ve always wanted.

I zipped through Walmart and headed home with a giant bag of Purina One SmartBlend in the trunk of my car. I vowed to buy another bag before that one ran out.
I decided it was not too late for me to make a New Year’s Resolution, and I made plans to order Woodward’s book from Amazon. By golly, I could change my life forever. I envisioned how much better life would be after I read that book.

Then I realized, I was driving fast again. I was in a hurry to get home, but the dogs had already been fed. I was getting carried away. That couldn’t be good.
It will take a week or so for the book to arrive after I order it. Until it gets here, I won’t fret. Life will go on as normal, but as soon as that book arrives I’m getting down to business.  I will immediately start reading it.

You see, I enjoy reading in the afternoon while lying on the living room sofa with the sun filtering through the blinds. It often makes me sleepy so I take a little nap. The book will still be there when I awake.

 

 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Civil rights protests reminiscent of the 1960s spread nationwide after grand juries' no-bills in deaths


Violence and nationwide protests in the wake of a Missouri grand jury not indicting a white police officer for the shooting death of a black teenager in August reveal the depth of the racial divide and the distrust of the American criminal justice system.
Despite weeks of preparation by government officials and civic leaders to avoid a riot, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson erupted in a street war Nov. 24 as mostly black protesters set fire to buildings and police cars, broke business windows, looted stores, fired guns and threw bottles and rocks at police officers, firefighters and reporters. The deployment of smoke and tear gas by law enforcement officers and the presence of National Guard troops failed to quell the civil unrest. A shocked nation watched live coverage of the chaos on network television stations.

Soon after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch announced the grand jury rejected any indictments against Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson, hundreds standing in front of the Ferguson Police Department began yelling insults and pelting objects at a line of police officers standing guard.

The destruction escalated during the night after the tearful breakdown of Michael Brown’s mother who cried that the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks denied her “justice” for the shooting of her 18-year-old son on a residential street. Brown’s stepfather jumped up on a platform with his wife, embracing her before he turned to the crowd and began yelling “burn this motherfucking place down.”

In St. Louis protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 44, and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport suspended flight traffic as a precaution against automatic gunfire striking airplanes. The fires burned through the night because of fears firefighters might be shot by protesters and the inability of law enforcement officers to control the situation.
Although accustomed to violence and riots, many Americans feel they witnessed a night of mayhem in Ferguson like no other one before it. Only a small percentage of Ferguson’s black population participated in the rioting, but their community as a whole will suffer from the actions of the agitators. Black business owners experienced significant losses, and the community lost service and shopping venues.

Further exacerbating the national tension, a New York City grand jury no-billed a police officer on Dec. 3 who strangled a 43-year-old black man with a chokehold when a group of policemen attempted to arrest him in July for the illegal sale of cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. Thousands of people marched in the streets to protest that evening in a more peaceful assembly, but unrest across the nation began to brew over the new development.

 Now, protests continue in cities nationwide, and arguments on social media sites such as Facebook flourish between advocates of law enforcement officers and activists who view the killing of Brown as an act of police brutality. Civil rights leaders urge calm and lawful behavior, but the debate continues to rage about whether a police officer executed a teenager suspected of stealing tobacco products on Aug. 9 or if he justifiably shot an assailant who threatened his life with his fists and hulk. The police officer said the teenager refused to obey a command to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk.

Many prominent members of the LGBT community and their friends have joined both sides of the debate. Hostile arguments frequently break out, followed by unfriending. The video of Brown strong arming a store clerk and carrying unpurchased merchandise out of the door minutes before he came into contact with the policeman leads many to view him unsympathetically. They perceive him as a bully whose actions led to his own death. The protesters’ rioting reinforces their biases against black people as a whole. Others fear the start of a race war in the nation, and they blame the media’s coverage of the protests of exacerbating the situation.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen writes in an editorial that observers should not be second-guessing a grand jury that had access to voluminous information about the events leading up to Brown’s death. He attributes the protesters’ distrust of police officers to “a gulf that’s been formed by the history of discrimination in our country, a gulf that has been deepened by the systemic biases in our current criminal justice system.”

Cohen speculates the nation will likely experience more disastrous instances of civil unrest until there is reform to the criminal justice system and a healing of the racial wounds of the past that created the racial division. “It’s a gulf that breeds suspicion and mistrust, a gulf that undermines the very legitimacy of our system of justice,” he said.
Meanwhile law enforcement officers fear a pattern of resistance to authority might begin developing that could interfere with their ability to maintain order. Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department with the knowledge that his law enforcement career is over.

Ferguson’s Police Chief Tom Jackson vows to remain at the helm of the police department, and he is promising to recruit more black police officers and increase sensitivity training for the predominantly white police force working in a majority black community. Plans are also underway to install body cameras on all police officers so there will be a video recording of all law enforcement interactions.
All of the administrative solutions being examined by government officials on the local, state and national levels have merit, but ultimately it will require participation by all citizens in an effort to obey the law and respect each other regardless of their cultural differences for our nation to resolve this internal conflict.

Reporters who cover crime and examine police reports know that law enforcement officers witness and must contend with the types of violence that the average person cannot begin to comprehend. Often, it arises unexpectedly, and anyone coming into contact with police officers should be considerate of their apprehension.

It is a tragedy that Brown died as the direct consequences of a relatively minor crime, but the violence that ensued during the riots is inexcusable. All groups of people need to give a little, try to understand each other better and even extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged. The underprivileged need to try harder to improve their lot through education and hard work.

More importantly, cooler heads need to prevail. We face too many threats from beyond our borders to be fighting with each other.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tamiami Trail takes visitors to Florida from Everglades to beaches; it's a route worth following for a quick getaway





Travel ranked high on my list of things to do when I retired, and I realized that along with many foreign lands much of America remained unexplored by me. That and concerns about international conflicts took me to Florida in late August to visit the Everglades
.
After flying into Tampa and renting a car I drove to a cousin’s house in Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast. The next day he and I set off for an air boat ride in a swamp near Everglade City, and what a rush that turned out to be. I declared it to be the most fun I’d ever had with my clothes on when I tipped the air boat captain.

After roaring and spinning through the murky water and marsh for a half-hour, we came to a stop in the swamp. The captain blew a whistle and an 11-foot alligator swam up to the side of the boat close to where I sat. His 9-foot girlfriend soon joined him, and they both opened their mouths for the captain to toss them marshmallows. Giant teeth lined their mammoth jaws, and they greedily swallowed the treats. I imagined how quickly one of my feet or hands could disappear into their bellies.

When we arrived back at the air boat dock my cousin and I took turns holding a three-foot long alligator. The softness of his skin and his docility surprised me, but I guessed show-and-tell demonstrations and marshmallows had tamed him.

Later, we went to Everglade City’s Island Cafe to eat fried alligator tail, and it truly did taste like chicken. Then we took a tour of the city’s tiny museum and a cruise of the small town where the historic Rod and Gun Club Hotel offers guests a taste of “Olde Florida.”  The hotel and its veranda sits near the bay in a lush setting featuring fish, reptiles and exotic birds.

On the way back to Punta Gorda I decided I’d had enough of the Everglades and my reunion with my cousin, with whom I went to grade school more than a half-century ago. Relatives tend to quickly get on each other’s nerves so I headed north to Sarasota and the Sandcastle Resort on Lido Beach for a relaxing few days before I went home.

So I jumped back on theTamiami Trail constructed in the early 1900s takes vehicles from Miami to Tampa, You can take the scenic route through all of the beach towns, which I did, or travel the big highway.
The Sandcastle is an old Helmsley Hotel that is perched on a white sand beach splashed with lime-colored waves. Leona Helmsley used to winter there so I felt sure it would meet my needs. The hotel upgraded me to a beachfront room without extra charge, and I left the balcony door open all night so I could listen to the waves.

My first afternoon there, I went to the pool bar, where an attractive group of happy people lounged and listened to exotic music. The bartender, Missy, who started working there 17 years ago, quickly revealed herself to be a fun host with a large following of hotel guests who visit the resort every year as well as locals. I spotted six gay guys at the bar, and a sociable married man sitting next to me bought me a drink. As he mentioned how much he and his wife “love” gay people, I knew then I had put my vacation back on track.

The people around the bar talked about Leona Helmsley and her husband living in the resort for months at a time and how the hotel staff would carry her elderly husband out to the beach in his hospital bed to spend 15 minutes under an umbrella. She wore pressed khaki shirts and shorts every day, they said.

Contrary to everything I’d read about Leona Helmsley, employees at the resort said they liked her. “If you did your job, she appreciated you,” one employee said. When she died she remembered resort employees in her will, she said.

I spent the next five days on the beach, at the bar and on the balcony, sometimes ordering drinks from room service. The resort proved to be as they say, “gay friendly.” For lunches and dinners I took the hotel shuttle down the road to St. Armand's Circle, a quaint and expensive collection of boutiques and restaurants. A friend with whom I went to journalism school at the University of Texas at Austin decades ago lives in Sarasota, and we went to lunch a couple of times. Columbia, a Cuban restaurant in St. Armands' Circle, served me the best food I had on the trip.

One day as I sat at the resort café near the pool, a tall white bird that I speculated to be a crane joined me for breakfast, literally. He helped himself to some scrambled eggs and sausage. I learned his name was Fred. He and his girlfriend flew in one day several years ago, but when she flew out he stayed. I guess he liked the food.

One of the best treats turned out to be the weather. Every afternoon about 6 p.m. a thunderstorm shattered the peace of the beach and thrilled me to no end. Five years of drought had left me promising to never, ever complain again about rain for any reason.

Sarasota has an LGBT community and gay bars for those who desire that scene, but I felt no need to go and search for them. In my experience, gay bars tend to be much of the same worldwide. I didn’t need any more entertainment than the resort offered me.

As it turns out North Lido Beach near the Sandcastle Resort is known as the gay beach so that probably has a lot to do with the gay-friendly atmosphere. Sarasota seems to be laid-back, full of cultural offerings, hosts a gay pride festival annually and is home to several LGBT organizations including a church. It’s not one of your big progressive cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Miami , New Orleans or Dallas that boast massive LGBT communities, but it manages to provide a pleasant home, according to the LGBT residents and gay-friendly straight residents I met.

Returning to Texas saddened me after my excitement in the Everglades, my days of luxury in the resort and the splendor of the Gulf beach. I doubt that I’ll ever return there because so many other destinations await me, but I’ll always remember it as a great respite from the Texas heat and drought the summer of 2014.