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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Real Issues

Bennett Rader, a poet acquaintance of mine, recently shared a poem he wrote in response to an Associated Press photo in the Oct. 1, 2000 edition of The (Cleveland, Ohio) Plain Dealer.

The poem, "Holy Crossfire," deals with the struggle children in the Middle East face every day. Ben has given me permission to reproduce it in this column for the purpose of discussion:

HOLY CROSSFIRE by Bennett Rader

Mohammed Aldura is crying
He struggles to hide behind his father.
Jamal Aldura is yelling at the soldiers,
"The child, the child."
He struggles to shield his son.

Bulletholes pock the wall behind them.
A metal barrel offers slight protection.
Father and son are caught in a holy crossfire.

Israeli bullets slice through the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian bullets ricochet from street and walls.
Holy bullets tear open the belly
of twelve-year-old Mohammed.
Literally feed him a meal of lead,
a meal of death.

His father is wounded.
Relatives say Jamal is expected to recover
but no one knows if his mind will survive.

I first heard Ben read this poem at a coffeehouse in Sandusky, Ohio. Before he began to read, Ben prefaced it with the statement, "As parents, we worry about protecting our children. In my town, we even have parents trying to guard their young ones from the perceived evils of the Harry Potter books with their inclusion of witches and magical creatures. But we actually have it easy compared to other parts of the world, especially the Middle East ..."

Ben's preface captured my attention and his poem held it. I was reminded that the petty concerns most of us deal with are nothing compared to those faced by some groups of humanity in other parts of the world. Guarding children from the Harry Potter books, indeed! Mohammed Aldura's father would probably be grateful if he only had to worry about a book over-stimulating his son's imagination.

The main difference between the religious wars of the Middle East and those in the United States is that the gap between comparative levels of bloodshed is vast. Our religious wars are about abortion and membership and ordination and marriage, not land and life and death --- although for the gay civil rights movement, there is more than enough of the last.

Lest anyone believe that the gay civil rights movement is not a religious war, keep in mind that the primary opponents to legal equality for our gay children and other loved ones are mostly Christian members of the radical religious right. They are the ones who spew the rhetoric, intimidate the politicians and tacitly encourage the hooligans against groups of gay, lesbian or bisexual people --- a sexual orientation that is theirs from the day The Power That Is built them and sent them off the assembly line.

We have had a taste of a new century this year. As we look forward to the odyssey that will be 2001, we need t9o fill the space in our heads with forward-thinking ideas, such as ending discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and stopping the violence that is directed against our loved ones by religious bigots.

The people who need to lead this fight for social justice are the families and friends of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks who are discriminated against. We need to be willing to put ourselves on the line for our loved ones, publicly speaking out against and standing up to bigotry.

It is not too much to ask. Unlike Jamal Aldura, who struggled to shield his son from bullets, our "holy crossfire" is with a simple-minded enemy who can be defeated easily. All it takes is numbers --- a majority of people who will not stand for discrimination based on any grounds, including a misinterpreted bible.

Published 5th December 2000


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