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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.

Second Annual Pride And Prejudice Awards (PAPAS)

A year ago, mostly for my own amusement, I decided to create the Pride and Prejudice Awards, or PAPAS, in honor of Gay Pride Month, which is celebrated every June.

As the father of two handsome, intelligent sons, whose sexual orientations are as unique as everything else about them, I created the awards to honor those folks who have made outstanding contributions to the gay pride and civil rights movements and to gently poke fun --- oh, all right, not so gently in some cases --- of those who keep trying to place detour signs on the path many of us are trying to walk with our gay children, parents, siblings and other loved ones.

When I announced the PAPAs in an Internet newsgroup called "Family 101" last year, I was unprepared but delighted by the appreciative and amused feedback I got from a lot of readers. Although I realize sequels usually are never as good as the originals, I hope this year's awards are received in the same spirit and with the understanding that the selection process is entirely my own doing. The awards are being shared with those who read my columns for the sake of entertainment only. The "pride" awards should be considered encouragement to continue doing good work. A "prejudice" PAPA should be taken as constructive criticism, with the hope that it will inspire the recipient to be a little more open-minded.

Pride Awards

BLOOD IS THICKER AWARD: Last year this award went to 12-year-old Matthew Schroeder, son of John and Sandra Schroeder of Maumee, Ohio, who stood up against the bullying of schoolmates and the indifference of teachers at his elementary school when he expressed his support for his gay older brother, Gregory.

This year, I present this award, which represents other parents' respect for fighting the good fight, to Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student whose murder in October 1998 called attention nationally to the need for hate crime legislation that includes protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, as well as other minority groups. Mrs. Shepard and her husband Dennis have carried their extreme grief with amazing dignity and have worked to create a legacy for Matthew that works positively for equality for all GLBT people. The Shepards have come to represent surrogate parental figures for many people who, because of their sexual orientation, are estranged from their own families.

THIS LAND BELONGS TO YOU AND ME AWARD: This award is for a community which has made significant inroads in including all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Last year, the hands-down winner was the state of Vermont, for passing domestic partner legislation.

This year, the winner also won hands-down. Congratulations to the The Netherlands for passing what is undoubtedly the most inclusive gay civil rights legislation in the world so far. Under the new guidelines, which took effect Jan. 1, same-sex couples can take the same surname, share health insurance and act as next of kin in cases of emergency. The legislation stops short of dealing with gay adoption issues, but is widely regarded as the boldest step forward for gay civil rights in the international spectrum.

Honorable mention goes to the state of Maryland, which this year became the 12th U.S. state to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, ending a decade-long battle by gay equal rights groups to add sexual orientation to the state's anti-discrimination law.

The award takes the form of a queen-size bed, symbolizing a conscience-free, good night's sleep.

TRUE BELIEVER AWARDS: This is given to a celebrity or celebrities who do more than wear ribbons to show support for a cause. Last year, the four stars of "Will and Grace" --- Eric McCormick, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally --- were honored for their commitment to their roles and also for taping political advertisements against California's Knight Initiative, which successfully sought to do away with certain domestic partner laws.

This year, two actors are being honored for their work on behalf of gay rights. The first is Lily Tomlin, who has quietly given support during her career to causes related to sexual orientation issues. Tomlin this year put herself across the line by publicly coming out as a lesbian, making another positive role model for GLBT people everywhere.

The other recipient is actress Brooke Shields, who in a series of roles in gay-oriented films and plays, has helped call attention to a number of issues important to homosexual men and women. The most significant of these roles was in "What Makes a Family," in which she played one-half of a same-sex couple in a child custody battle.

Tomlin and Shields' True Believer Awards take the form of action figures resembling the recipients.

MOST IMPROVED POLITICIAN AWARDS: Last year, I got some negative feedback for giving this award to President Bill Clinton who was the first President to declare National Gay Pride Month. I will grant that overall, Clinton leaves a lot to be desired on gay rights, personal morality and several other areas, but the declaration was a gesture that has outdone every other president to date (including obviously George W. Bush, who completely ignored Gay Pride Month this year). For that, Clinton deserved credit.

This year, the award goes to a politician not so much for her own self-improvement but for what her election to the California State Senate represents. This year's honoree is State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, whom many of us have loved for years as "Zelda Gilroy," the character she played, as Sheila James, on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."

Kuehl, who in her first term, has worked hard to beef up state hate crimes laws to emphasize crimes against sexual orientation, is one of several openly lesbian women who are serving as state senators and representatives in the Golden State. Her previous Hollywood celebrity and the openness in which she has lived her life for many years gives her additional clout. She and her peers have worked hard for GLBT issues and have proved sexual identity need not be an inhibitor to success. Her award, which she shares with the voters of California, is a pair of bronzed baby shoes, representing giant steps taken.

Prejudice Awards

ALMIRA GULCH AWARD: Named after the foul-humored old biddy played by Margaret Hamilton in "The Wizard of Oz," this award goes to an individual who is driven by prejudice to take on a specific group of people as objects of his or her distemper. Last year's very popular choice was Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the physiologist-turned-radio advice giver.

This year, the easy choice was U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, D-N.C., who introduced legislation creating penalties for any organization choosing to protest the Boy Scouts of America's homophobic attitudes by denying the BSA access to public facilities or funding. Helms has been an enemy and an annoyance to the gay rights movement during his entire political career. Rumor has it Helms may not seek another term in office for reasons of health and a desire to spend time with his family. Do the right thing, Jesse.

The Almira Gulch Award takes the form of a bicycle that converts into a broomstick, a bucket of water and a brand-new house, delivered to the recipient by air mail.

CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE AWARD: This goes to the person or group that most consistently spews out the same tired old anti-gay rhetoric that bigots have spewed out since the days of Adam and Steve, and Madam and Eve. Last year, the overwhelming winner was the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, whose unmuffled motor is powered by the Book of Leviticus' line which, through frequent and often purposeful mistranslation, declares homosexuality to be "an abomination."

Phelps' hate-filled act was a hard one to follow; it took a well-known national organization to follow in his footsteps. This year's Curse of the Living Corpse Award goes to the Boy Scouts of America --- the conservative national leadership, not the boys themselves, of whom it is still possible to hope they are young enough to learn tolerance despite the teachings of their elders. The BSA, which the support of the disreputable U.S. Supreme Court (see next award), continue to pursue a doctrine of hatred, prejudice and exclusion by their refusal to allow men and boys of gay sexual orientation to participate in their cozy little camping club.

ANITA BRYANT AWARD: This award, named in honor of the gay-bashing has-been beauty queen and orange juice pitchwoman, goes to the individual or group who most single-handedly contributed to a backward step for the gay civil rights movement. Last year, the Anita went to State Sen. Pete Knight of California whose dysfunctional relationship with his gay son led him to introduce anti-gay rights legislation.

This year's winners are the U.S. Supreme Court, a majority of whom voted to uphold the Boy Scouts of America's right to be bigots against homosexual men. The ultra-conservative wing of this court --- mediocrities who are more swayed by their own reactionary political agenda and that of the power brokers behind them --- appear to lost whatever sense of justice and fair play that may have led them into the legal profession. If their decisions on the Boy Scouts case and other gay issues are not proof enough of the court's corruption, then recall their selection of the winner of last year's presidential "election".

The Anita Bryant Award takes the form of genuine replicas of Bryant's 1959 Miss Oklahoma and Miss America 2nd runner-up banners, a sun-warped copy of her version of "Paper Roses," and a fermented bucket of Florida Orange Juice, all of which the recipients will be encouraged to wear.

CLEOPATRA, QUEEN OF DENIAL AWARD: This award is a special one being presented for the first time this year. While no one should be condemned for being in the closet about his or her sexuality --- everyone's life circumstances are different and each individual should come out in his or her own good time --- it is particularly annoying when someone appears to be in so much denial about his homosexuality that he makes life miserable for others by working against the gay rights movement.

Now, who would be doing something like this? How about a former male escort, drag queen and self-described "gay icon," as was reported recently in The Advocate? Someone who has become a foldout and poster boy for the ex-gay movement? Someone who has given hope and encouragement to the militant anti-gay Christian right?

Yes, the first-ever Queen of Denial Award goes to John Henry Paulk, the man who, with his lovely ex-lesbian wife, Anne, made the cover of Newsweek by declaring himself "cured" of the disease of homosexuality. Thanks to Paulk's efforts, the ex-gay movement continues to thrive, despite the consistent drop-out rate of ex-ex-gays who just couldn't resist the siren call of same-sex love (and who just couldn't keep on pretending that they were something they were not). As a matter, the most prominent ex-gay to fall from grace was Paulk himself, who got caught --- if not with his pants down, at least in the wrong place at the wrong time --- in a Washington, D.C. gay bar by a gay rights activist who, knowing the media's need for good news stories, leaked it to the press.

Despite this apparent slip, Paulk continues to be active in the ex-gay movement, serving on the board of Exodus. What is most irritating about this man is not so much hypocrisy, which was demonstrated by his sneaking into the gay bar, but the fact that he continues to aggressively push this doubtful doctrine on the public. If he and Mrs. Paulk are happy with their new lives, so be it. But why suggest that such changes are possible for, or should be considered by, all gay and lesbian people.

Paulk's award is a gold-plated snake, coiled and leaning to the right with its lips puckered to kiss the nearest asp.

THE OSCAR WILDE OSTRICH AWARD: This is another special award, given to the individual or group that has worked hardest to censor gay literature. The Oakland, California, School District takes the cake this year for its comedy-of-errors scenario that was akin to turning a small grease fire into a hook-and-ladder party.

I'll try to summarize Oakland's silly season: While unpacking a new delivery of books for the junior high school library, a librarian and another teacher were confronted by another teacher about a series of biographies dealing with the lives of gay celebrities, ranging from Martina Navratilova to Oscar Wilde. Fearing the teacher might make a stink about it to the school administration, the librarian went to the school principal who went to the superintendent who went to the school board. The next thing anyone knew, the school board confiscated the books and was refusing to put them on the shelves. Protests were filed and the next thing the American Civil Liberties Union is filing a lawsuit to get the books back. The school district received a heap of embarrassing publicity over the whole thing. By the way, the teacher that everyone was concerned about never said a thing.

The award takes the form of a complete set of the censored books and a flashlight to read them with while the recipients' heads are still in the ground.

Published June 28th 2001


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