I voted (I wish I didn’t have to)
BALTIMORE—When my husband and I headed to our polling place this morning we took along something extra: Our children. Previously we’ve opted to vote unencumbered by the whirling dervishes of energy that our children are, but this time around we felt a need for them to be a part of what could be an historic vote—and I don’t just mean electing Barry O to a second term.
You see, while I occasionally send in reports to the Alibi about the goings-on in DC I actually live on the Maryland side. And this year’s Maryland ballot features Question 6, a referendum on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. Maryland passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in February; opponents (shocker!) of the bill submitted signatures for the referendum in June. The bill not only allows for same-sex couples to be granted marriage rights, but also includes language guaranteeing religious organizations will not have to gay marry anyone. Question 6 has received support from African-American religious groups; a demographic considered pivotal in securing enough votes to once and finally recognize, legally, the inherent humanity of a group long discriminated against. Maryland has the best chance, so far, of passing such a referendum.
What does this have to do with dragging our five-
I took them along so they would have to walk past the people who have been fighting for their rights for too long and who were making that one last appeal to voters, who had smiles on their faces as they asked voters to see them as equals. I wanted them to walk past the people next to them who were asking voters to deny LGBTQ citizens any recognition of full equality under the law.
My husband and I ushered them into the booths with us so they could see us vote for something that should never have been put to a vote. We read the ballot out loud to them and explained why we were voting yes, why this was so important. We did everything we could think of to make sure these tiny people remember the day their parents went to the polls and agreed to legally treat LGBTQ citizens like everybody else.
We want them to remember this moment as past generations have remembered voting to extend rights to women, African-Americans and other disenfranchised groups. We want them to remember this moment because we hope this is the last generation that votes on who is equal and deserving of rights. Rights! We want them to be the generation that finally understands that we don’t have the right to vote on someone’s rights; the first generation to fully understand what equality means; the first generation to fully enjoy equality, equally.
Holiday Wine Guide: New Mexico in a glass
The roots of our state’s wine industry reach deep into the past, and, like tangled vines in an ancient vineyard, many surprising tidbits are found in its unraveling. For instance, grapevines were planted in the Rio Grande valley 140 years before California broke ground on its first vineyards. And while California is considered the premier wine-producing region in the New World, New Mexico has attracted a growing interest from European vintners over the past 30 years. Now more than ever, the Land of Enchantment is becoming a formidable contender in the highly competitive arena of the world’s favorite fermented juice.
Today's Wild Finds: Suburban Foraging
The woods behind my apartment in Baltimore are full of goodies. It's still a little early, but I am finding tasty bites here and there. Cattail shoots are making a strong showing. Stripped of their leaves, the centers are a perfect replacement for genetically modified, pesticide-laden, supermarket cucumbers. And they're free, easy to find, a breeze to identify and grow in abundance. I'm waiting for them to be a bit taller before I harvest.
Wood violets are also in bloom; the flowers and young leaves make a great addition to salads. The flowers can also be used to flavor sorbets and beverages, and as decorations for cakes and pastries.
Mayapples are sprouting up all over the place, a good indication that morels are on their way. The leaves, stem and root are poisonous, but the fruits can be eaten in small quantities.
I think I may have found spicebush. The berries can be used in the same manner as allspice. I'm holding off on a definite identification until the berries ripen in a few months. Other possible finds include wild carrot, chicory and poison ivy. Not so excited about that last one.
My greatest find was fiddleheads. The young shoots of the ostrich fern are pure vegetative delight. It'll be a few days before they're tall enough to pick, but just locating them was a bit of an accomplishment. The fiddleheads, mayapples and certain trees I've identified suggest those elusive morels are soon to be mine (if the mushroom gods find me worthy and deserving).
State of Frustration
Greetings from Maryland! And by Maryland, I do mean the state. Not that there was any confusion; everyone knows MD is a state. If only everyone was as clear as to New Mexico’s status.
My recent move to the Mid-Atlantic has reminded me how unfamiliar many people are with the Zia state. Most people, upon learning I’ve made the arduous journey from the southwestern portion of the country, seem impressed by my obviously courageous trek. The looks on their faces suggest I should submit an application to the Explorers Club.
It gets worse.
Apparently, New Mexico’s statehood is this country’s best kept secret. Many New Mexicans have encountered people who have confused New Mexico with Mexico. Irritating, but I’ve done my best to be understanding and just assume they didn’t hear the “new”. But when someone reads “New Mexico”—like on my driver’s license—and only catches the “Mexico”, I’m slightly less empathetic.
This is how it went down: I stopped by my local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner. The cashier carded me. Being 30, I was both thrilled and annoyed. I handed over my license, and he immediately exclaimed, “Wow! Mexico! What’s the weather like down there? Is it just hot all the time?”
In an attempt to correct his mistake I said, “Not really. The southern part of the state can be warmer, but the northern half of the state does see some snow.”
He didn’t pick up on my subtle correction, going on to say, “That’s one country I’ve always wanted to visit, just never had the chance.”
I encouraged him to visit and told him he was sure to love it. I stopped short of reminding him to renew his passport. I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t question all the English on my Mexican driver’s license, not to mention the flagrant use of standard measurements.
Perhaps it’s time for New Mexico to actively make its statehood known. Sure, NM’s governor ran for president, and the first atomic bomb was tested here, but people just aren’t making the connection.
Here are some suggestions to set things straight once and for all:
Slap a new slogan on license plates. Something like “The state, not the country”.
Change the state question from “Red or Green?” to “Did you know we were a state?”
A New Mexico Tourism Department ad campaign with the slogan “New Mexico. You don’t even need a passport.”
“Welcome to New Mexico” signs should add “Don’t worry, you’re still in the USA.”
Change the state motto, “Crescit eundo”, to “For the love of all that’s holy, we’ve been a state since 1912.”
A new nickname, something along the lines of “Land of Not Mexico.”
God Hates Fags (And Probably You)
I am all for protesting and other forms of expressing disagreement. Shout it from the rooftop, I always say. Well, I may not actually say that, but I pretty much agree with it. Sometimes, though, a line is crossed.
Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church thrives on crossing that line.
Living in Kansas City, I had an awareness of Phelps long before he began picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers. For those of us who resided within driving distance of his hate-spewing, self-righteous pulpit, Phelps was an occasional topic of conservation, a local oddity, a crazy who was a predictable result of living too long on the Kansas side of the state line. Then his “church’s” protest of Matthew Shepard’s funeral fetched the nation’s attention and added brimstone to the fire of Phelps’s preaching, changing my view of his being just a proximate weirdo to that of a horrific figure. Suddenly, he was more than a backwoods idiosyncrasy, he was a national asshole.
I had one run-in with Phelps around this time. On my day off from the Midtown diner I worked at I headed to a local independent theater to see a film about gay people living in Lawrence, Kan. At least I think that’s what it was about—I never got in. The box office girl looked at me like I was an idiot for trying to buy a ticket, and that’s when I noticed the large shouting crowd three feet from me.
On the theater side of the street were hundreds of angry people who should have been making their way to their seats. Instead they arrived for the movie and found Phelps and his gang of goons waiting to tell them they were going to burn in hell. Carrying posterboard signs bearing clever slogans like “Save the Gerbils” and “God Hates Fags” they yelled insults and generally behaved like schoolyard bullies. Phelps gave an interview to Kansas City’s local gay personality, a drag queen named Flo. Phelps seemed unaware that he was talking to such an unrepentant sinner and the movie-goers cheered and laughed at Flo’s antics.
Phelps is now protesting outside the Obama children’s respective schools. The group’s website, godhatesfags.com, explains why they’re protesting schools: “Littles, run from liars, NOW! ...More for the little nasty God-hating Quakers. You will NOT be able to get away from these words by that bloody-handed Antichrist Obama.”
Also on the protest schedule is Ft. Hood. But why subject people to such ugliness when they are mourning tremendous losses? Because, “Who else is going to tell you these words of truth at your time of extreme trauma? Only your friends at WBC: God Sent the Shooter. Thank God for the Killer, and repent of your evil.”
The Obama family and our troops are only some of the people Phelps has targeted. Catholics, Jews and the entire Swedish people irk the hell out of Phelps. Visit his websites to see if he hates you:
Strong City Leader to Remain Behind Bars
In another setback for Wayne Bent, his petition for an appeal bond has been denied. The New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision came on Monday, Oct. 26, and, according to defense attorney John McCall, “the Supreme Court did not issue findings in its ruling regarding why Mr. Bent should be denied an appeal bond.”
McCall explained the significance of this saying, “The federal courts have consistently required that findings should be made by the courts when denying an appeal bond as this is a crucial issue affecting the defendant’s right to due process.”
Bent is the religious founder of Strong City, which is in northeastern New Mexico. He lay naked with teenaged girls as part of a healing ritual and says he didn’t touch them in a sexual manner. He was convicted on two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of criminal sexual contact with a minor last year. He filed an appeal early this year. (I spent time at Strong City earlier this year).
Jeff Bent, Wayne Bent’s son, expressed his frustration in an e-mail to the Alibi, writing, “For whatever reason, the courts are unwilling to deal with the fact that my father has very substantial grounds for a reversal and that he should be home while the issues of his conviction are revisited through the long process of his appeal. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals were not even willing to justify their actions in writing.”
Wayne Bent’s reaction to the court’s decision reveals his own frustration. In a phone call yesterday to his son and church members Bent told them, “I have no confidence in the state for it has already proven it’s inability to read and understand plain English. “What is it about, ‘No, he did not touch me sexually,’ that you don’t understand?”
Bent has refused to take food for the past 60 days and is under a court order to be force fed. The forced feeding consists of Ensure and Glucerna being put through a tube in his nose. Bent was fed in this manner for a week. Unable to tolerate the tube feeding, Bent has since agreed to drink the Ensure and Glucerna on his own but refuses any other nourishment.
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Bent’s attorney filed a brief in chief with the New Mexico Court of Appeals. The brief details the defense’s arguments for overturning Bent’s convictions. The brief raises 10 issues including grand jury selection, a one-week time limit imposed for the trial and resulting limits on defense witnesses, denial of a religious defense and lack of evidence. The brief can be read in full on the Strong City website.
The state has 45 days to file a response. However the Court of Appeals is not required to wait for the state’s response in order to make a decision. Jeff Bent does not foresee the court taking this route. Speaking to the Alibi by phone last night Jeff, who sounded tired and strained, said, “We’re not expecting any help in that way.”
Jeff expects the court to make a decision in late winter or early spring.
Another Hurdle for Bent
Attorney General Gary King’s office is opposing Wayne Bent’s petition to the state Supreme Court for bond while awaiting appeal. Bent’s previous filings on district and state levels were both denied.
Bent is the spiritual leader of Strong City, a religious group living in the northeast corner of New Mexico. The Children, Youth and Families Department removed four minors from the property in 2008. Bent was convicted of two counts contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count criminal sexual contact with a minor in a widely publicized case last year. On Jan. 5, Bent filed an appeal, which has been placed on the state Court of Appeals' general calendar.
Assistant Attorney General Margaret McLean asks the Supreme Court to uphold the previous courts’ rulings. She cites no “clear and convincing” evidence that Bent, Strong City leader, won't flee or pose danger to another person or community. She also says a reversal or order for a new trial is unlikely and argues there are no grounds to revisit granting an appeal bond.
The Attorney General's response was filed Thursday in Santa Fe.
Earlier this year Bent and his church granted the Alibi extensive interviews and access to Bent’s writings.
Bent’s attorney John McCall, wrote in an e-mail to the Alibi yesterday that he “filed a 35 page brief with 185 pages of exhibits, including 15 affidavits from individuals around the country who know Mr. Bent to be a person of impeccable integrity worthy of a bond pending resolution of his appeal.”
As further evidence of Bent’s character, he offers, “In addition to this, we note that Mr. Bent was a Seventh Day Adventist Pastor since the early 1970s, he is 68 years old now and he has basically never broken the law in his life or spent a day in jail until now.”
Bent was free on an unsecured bond of $150,000 during the trial and up until sentencing without incident.
Just Say Yes
The struggle for LGBT rights hits home
When Alibi news editor Marisa Demarco asked if I would cover the National Equality March in D.C. I quickly responded with a great big “Yes”. Nevermind the march took place the weekend I was scheduled to be hauling all my earthly belongings into my new apartment outside Baltimore, and never mind I’d never actually been to D.C. before. I was excited for the opportunity to document this event. (See the piece and other photos here.)
And then, as I started working on the article, a phone interview with One Struggle, One Fight–New Mexico’s Kelly Hutton caused me to seriously think about attending the march as more than a reporter. Her infectious enthusiasm got to me. “Please! Come march with us,” Hutton encouraged me, and her invitation echoed in my thoughts as I made my travel plans.
Additional pressure came in a phone call from my mother who reminded me I had many LGBT friends and family members who would be unable to make it to D.C. The weight on my shoulders was growing heavy. I could have easily shrugged it off by telling myself I was a reporter; my job was to attend as an objective observer and nothing more.
But I couldn’t. My conscience wouldn’t be that easily appeased.
So, I marched. I marched in between climbing walls to get the best shots I could, between hanging off light posts to get just the right angle and between tracking down activists from New Mexico. I ran alongside marchers, doubling back to snap photos of clever signs and then hurrying to catch up to marchers arriving at the Capitol. I jumped on and off cement barriers and planters, jogged backwards to catch groups caught up in the moment and ended up with a stress fracture in my left foot. But I marched.
I marched for my aunt Gloria who died last year after a fiercely short battle with ovarian cancer. I marched for her partner Deanna who was referred to only as “friend” and “roommate” at Gloria’s Catholic funeral.
I marched for my HIV-positive cousin Mari, the first transgender person I’d ever met. As I child, I was endlessly fascinated by him, putting him on my list of things to ponder between Boy George and God.
I marched for my cousin Felix, a young lesbian who I have so much admiration for. She is unapologetic for her identity even to her devoutly Catholic family.
I marched for all my LGBT friends over the years who are too numerous to name. But I will make special mention of John Cook, a nurse and teacher who may very well be the best drinking buddy a gal can have.
And I marched for all those who made their way to D.C. to support their community. For the military personnel thrown out under DADT, for the young people bullied in school over their sexuality, the parents who aren’t recognized as parents under current laws, partners who are refused the right to be at their loved one’s sides in hospitals, those ostracized in their churches and the countless others who find themselves denied anything based on their orientation, I marched.
The march continues. Now is the time to write letters to our senators, representatives and councilmen. Now is the time to tell everyone you know to support our friends and family in their old-as-time struggle for equal treatment under the law.
I marched for my loved ones, but will you?
Can’t make it to the National Equality March in D.C. this weekend? Wish you could be connected to marchers and follow from home?
Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and nonstop cable news, you can. Here are a few connections for those sitting this one out:
@iqreport (Team of NEM live tweeters)
@MTarro (Yours truly with live updates and photos)
Kelly Equality Hutton (One Struggle, One Fight New Mexico)
And C-Span will be broadcasting live from the march from noon to 3 p.m. p.m. MST on Sunday.
And see next week’s news section in the Alibi for coverage.
Fast Times at Central New Mexico Correctional Facility
Jeff Bent, son of imprisoned Strong City church leader Wayne Bent, released a statement late last night to numerous media outlets, including the Alibi. Wayne Bent was convicted on one count of second-degree criminal sexual contact with a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison (with eight years suspended) in December 2008.
The remaining church members, about 70 individuals, continue to follow Wayne’s teachings. Forty-seven people still live at the Strong City property. Some have relocated to nearby ranches for work, and eight members, including Jeff Bent, have temporarily relocated to Los Lunas to be close to the prison. “Healed, aka Lakeisha Sayer, one of the minors my father was charged over, will be returning to our church property at some point soon, having turned 18,” wrote Bent in an e-mail to the Alibi.
Also according to Bent, his father is on the 18th day of a self-imposed “religious fast.” The Strong City group, also known as Lord Our Righteousness Church, has long practiced fasting as a manner of both prayer and religious/political protest. One woman, Esther, fasted for more than 30 days. Her stepsister obtained a court order that allowed her to force Esther from the church’s property.
Jeff Bent’s statement says the “media and the courts failed spectacularly at doing their job.” Citing a “maelstrom of publicity” created by a “national media feeding frenzy,” Bent holds that the courts were not able to separate his father’s media-created persona from the events called into question. “The court failed in its role to stick with the facts and the law, delivering a great injustice to my father and his church.”
Through e-mail Jeff Bent told the Alibi his father’s health condition was unknown, as Wayne, also known as Michael, has not contacted anyone from the church or been allowed visitors. Bent believes his father is in the prison hospital but says his calls to Deputy Warden Joe Garcia and Wayne’s case worker were not returned.
He does not attribute his father’s fast to hopes of release but to seeing “his continued existence in prison as supporting the state's lie that he is a child molester. He is withdrawing all cooperation with that lie.” His father will not live as a trophy or “zoo animal,” he continues, and he will not be used as an example of what happens to leaders of unconventional religions. “By the act of refusing to take food, he is accomplishing this objective every day he remains on the fast. He would rather die than continue living as a participant of a legal farce.”
Wayne and attorney John McCall are appealing the conviction. Wayne has been turned down for an appeal bond by the District Court in Las Vegas and the New Mexico Court of Appeals and will remain in prison during the appeals process. According to Bent, “The main appeal on my father's conviction is on the general calendar at the Court of Appeals. My dad's attorney should have the Brief in Chief, which is the main body of the appeal, filed by the end of this month.”
Bent also described the church’s feelings. “The events leading up to my father's incarceration, along with his present fast, consume most of our attention because of the implications it has for all of us. We believe in God, and we believe He must deliver my dad or we will all eventually be forced to give up our faith or end up where he is. We view this as religious persecution and nothing else. It is a very crucial and heart-wrending [sic] time for everyone in our church, and we feel a lot of agony over it.”