Gender

Houston's drag queen story hour: KHOU tells us librarians let in a child molester. Who fought this?

Houston's drag queen story hour: KHOU tells us librarians let in a child molester. Who fought this?

I last wrote about drag queens reading stories to kids at public libraries about six weeks ago and now the story has taken off.

Someone –- we are not told who –- did some document digging as part of an ongoing campaign to stop drag queens from taking up space at the Houston Public Library and made an interesting discovery.

KHOU TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston tells us what that was:

HOUSTON — A registered child sex offender has been reading to children at Houston Public Library as part of its Drag Queen Storytime.

A group called Mass Resistance, which has been trying to put an end to the program, contacted KHOU about the child sex offender.

Mass Resistance claims it had been asking the City of Houston for months to disclose information about the drag queens, and when requests went unanswered, they did their own digging and made the shocking link.

The library has been trying to fix this PR disaster ever since.

A media spokesperson for the library confirmed one of the program’s drag queens, Tatiana Mala Nina, is Alberto Garza, a 32-year-old child sex offender. In 2008, he was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old boy.

“Most parents would not allow that individual to sit in this library and be held up as a role model to our children. Shame on you, Mayor (Sylvester) Turner!” said Tracy Shannon with Mass Resistance.

In a statement, the Houston Public Library admits they didn’t do a background check on Garza and said Garza will not be involved in any future library programs.

A photo of Garza in drag appears with this blog post. Despite this hiccup, the American Library Association isn’t dropping the idea of drag queen stories any time soon. See the ALA site’s resource page for libraries facing “challenges” with staging these events.

As this NBC-TV story points out, these story hours bring “pride and glamor” to libraries and have spread like wildfire across the nation in three short years. As the Brooklyn (N.Y.) library system says on its website: “Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”

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Drag queens: Reporters can't comprehend why many parents don't want them in kid libraries

Drag queens: Reporters can't comprehend why many parents don't want them in kid libraries

It’s not so much that the Washington Post is running feel-good stories these days about drag queens appearing at libraries.

That’s a valid story and many readers would be interested. The problem is that the opponents of this trend are drawn in such stark, dramatic negativity. And, yes, religion is in the mix there.

The Post’s recent story about drag queens doing the story hours for children in a Detroit suburb is drawn in predictable lines. The pro folks are described in colorful adjectives and attractive personalities who come with “lots of hugs.” The librarian comes with “a thoughtful air, nose ring and cat-eye glasses.” What’s not to like?

The dreaded antis are colorless people with signs and no disarming descriptions. Even the hapless city commissioner who was forced out of office for being against the drag queens didn’t get much sympathy.

I happen to like this quote from the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber about every church needing at least one drag queen, but the issues with a public library are different. The story starts here:

HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. — The last time drag queens came to the public library here, two dozen children and their parents crowded into a cozy room to enjoy holiday stories. Jessica J’Adore — decked out in a curly red wig, a shiny green cocktail dress and elaborate makeup — read “The Night Before Christmas,” while another costumed queen offered up a lively Hanukkah rhyming book. One little boy gave a pipe-cleaner bracelet to his favorite performer.

“There were a lot of hugs,” librarian Joyce Krom said. “Kids love holidays, and they’re just very excited. It was a lot of fun.”

It was also the latest flash point in what’s become a noxious national controversy. Variations of Drag Queen Story Hour — which aims to teach children gender diversity and acceptance — have been sprouting nationwide in libraries large and small. But their popularity has provoked an increasingly fierce backlash from conservative religious groups, with Huntington Woods the latest target.

Who could be against “gender diversity and acceptance?”

Four paragraphs down, we’re told there’s an anti-campaign “stoked by outsiders.” Way further down, we hear of the (local) city commissioner who opposed the drag queens. Would the reporter have mentioned outside help had the demonstrators been from Planned Parenthood or organizers from the national Women’s March?

Then we get a dissenting point of view.

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French teacher with vague Christian beliefs is fired for rejecting transgender pronouns

French teacher with vague Christian beliefs is fired for rejecting transgender pronouns

Greetings from the LGBTQ front lines, where this article caused a lot of chatter last week. It has all the earmarks of a good culture wars story: transgenderism, sex, the First Amendment, tax dollars and public schools. What more could you want?

What is my journalism issue with this Richmond Times-Dispatch story? The French teacher at the center of this employment drama insists that he is acting on his Christian beliefs — beliefs so vague that readers aren’t told what they are or how they relate to the student.

Here’s a good First Amendment/religious liberty story brewing here, yet readers are told next to nothing about the crucial facts about the role of religion in this case. For example: Try to find a reference to the teacher’s church tradition and its doctrines.

WEST POINT — A Virginia high school teacher was fired Thursday for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns, a case believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

After a four-hour hearing, the West Point School Board voted 5-0 to terminate Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School who resisted administrators’ orders to use male pronouns to refer to a ninth-grade student who had undergone a gender transition. The board met in closed session for nearly an hour before the vote.

Like a similar transgender rights case in nearby Gloucester County that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Vlaming’s situation could present a novel legal case as public bodies continue to grapple with how to reconcile anti-discrimination policies with the rights of religious employees.

All this is taking place not far from colonial Williamsburg in southeastern Virginia.

Vlaming, 47, who had taught at the school for almost seven years after spending more than a decade in France, told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for a student he saw as female.

The student’s family informed the school system of the transition over the summer. Vlaming said he had the student in class the year before when the student identified as female.

Maybe this is evident to the reporter, but what about the teacher’s Christian faith is forbidding him to change pronouns on this student?

Does he feel he is lying? Does he believe that gender is linked to DNA, at conception? I am curious.

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This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

No doubt about it, there was a big, big religious-liberty story back on June 28 out in the often-overlooked Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

This was a story that had been cooking for some time and, yes, it involved Jack Phillips of Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

To understand the significance of this news story -- the goal of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) --  it helps to look at the following timeline:

* On June, 26, 2017 -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission -- a Colorado lawyer named Autumn Scardina called the bakery and made a rather simple request. Scardina requested a cake with blue icing that was baked with pink batter. The lawyer told a Cake Shop employee that the goal was to celebrate Scardina's birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day he came out as transgender she.

* On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown anti-religious animus during proceedings leading to its actions punishing Phillips for refusing to create one of his one-of-a-kind wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple's marriage. Phillips offered to sell the couple any of the other cakes or goods in his shop, but -- because of his faith -- refused to create a special cake to celebrate that rite.

* On June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that there was evidence that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina because of anti-trans bias, as opposed to this action being another act of conscience by the Christian baker, protected by the First Amendment.

You can assemble those dates in your mind with a bit of editing as you read the Washington Post (or New York Times) coverage of this new chapter in the Masterpiece Cakeshop drama.

So why is the story breaking this week? You can see that in the overture to the Post story:

Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple -- and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

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Death penalty doctrine: Francis builds on insights of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI?

Death penalty doctrine: Francis builds on insights of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI?

Have you ever noticed that the amount of news coverage granted to the writings of Pope Francis tends to rise or fall based on the degree to which his pronouncements mesh with the editorial pages of The New York Times?

Notice, please, that I said the "amount" of coverage, not the "quality." This pope has made important, and complex, statements on hot-button topics that led to the spilling of oceans of ink and pixels in coverage that missed the point of his words. His comments defending traditional Catholic teachings -- think gender, for example -- often draw little or no response.

Then again, who am I to judge?

The news, today, is that Rome has changed the Catholic Catechism on an important issue linked to the defense of life, from conception to natural death. We are, of course, talking about the death penalty (confession: which I have always opposed, with no exceptions).

So far, the coverage has been good -- since this is a change welcomed by the religious left. However, let me note some information that really needs to make it into the coverage, to show readers how this change came to pass. So, here is a question: Who said the following?

"A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary."

That would be the late St. Pope John Paul II, of course, in a 1999 sermon. That wasn't the only time that he signaled that the death penalty didn't align with pro-life doctrines.

Did the words of John Paul II make it into the early coverage that you read?

I am pleased to note that the evolving Times story about this issue now includes the following. Yes, this language pushes a political button, but that button is real:

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What's chewing gum got to do with it? Paper delves into why transgender teen was denied Communion

What's chewing gum got to do with it? Paper delves into why transgender teen was denied Communion

I wrote my first newspaper story about the Roman Catholic Church in 1999 when The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis.

At the time, I didn't know what a diocese was or the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.

In the nearly two decades since, as I've gained experience in religion reporting, I've become much more familiar with the Catholic Church. Last year, for example, I covered the first beatification Mass for a U.S.-born priest and martyr.

But there's still so much I have to learn.

Such as: I had no idea of this little fact that I learned via a Charlotte Observer story this week:

Canon law — the rules of the Catholic Church — says people who are to receive Communion should fast from food and drink (except water) for at least one hour beforehand.

Interesting, huh?

The reason for the Observer mentioning that requirement is equally compelling and intriguing: Religion writer Tim Funk reports on the question of why a transgender teen was denied Communion. Chewing gum is one of the possibilities.

Funk's lede explains the other possibility:

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New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

Here's something that I didn't know before I read the rather ambitious New York Times feature that ran with this headline: "Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why."

Apparently, if you ask young Americans why they are not choosing to have babies -- even the number of babies that they say they would like to have -- you get lots of answers about economics and trends in what could be called "secular" culture.

That's that. Religion plays no role in this question at all.

For example: In a graphic that ran with the piece, here are the most common answers cited, listed from the highest percentages to lowest. That would be, "Want leisure time," "Haven't found partner," "Can't afford child care," "No desire for children," "Can't afford a house," "Not sure I'd be a good parent," “Worried about the economy," "Worried about global instability," "Career is a greater priority," "Work too much," "Worried about population growth," "Too much student debt," etc., etc. Climate change is near the bottom.

You can see similar answers in the chart describing why gender-neutral young adults are choosing to have fewer children than "their ideal number."

Now, what happens if you ask people why they ARE choosing to have children? If the question is turned upside down, do issues of faith and religion show up?

It's impossible to know, since it appears that -- for the Times team and the Morning Consult pollsters -- religious questions have nothing to do with the topic of sex, marriage (or not) and fertility. Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

So what do Times readers find out about the reasons people give to have more children, even more than one or two? While it appears that no questions were asked about this issue, it's clear some assumptions were built into this story. This summary is long, but essential. Read carefully:

“We want to invest more in each child to give them the best opportunities to compete in an increasingly unequal environment,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and has written about fertility. At the same time, he said, “There is no getting around the fact that the relationship between gender equality and fertility is very strong: There are no high-fertility countries that are gender equal.”


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Separating religious belief from cultural tradition. In real world it's no easy journalistic task

Separating religious belief from cultural tradition. In real world it's no easy journalistic task

Is it possible to separate out religious influences from centuries-old societal customs? And if so, just how does a journalist go about doing this?

This is not an easy task. That goes double for journalists -- perhaps most journalists -- with little exposure to the principles of group dynamics or the psychology of institutional religion.

This may sound like hubris on my part, but I believe that the wide experience gained on the religion beat prepares journalists to better understand humanity’s complex social and psychological formulations -- allowing religion writers and editors to (potentially) better parse the differences.

This recent New York Times story on the semi-isolation of menstruating women in remote western Nepal, causing the death of some, provides a platform for exploring the question.

But first, a quick return to Brazil.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I posted here on the custom of some indigenous Brazilian tribes to murder unwanted children. I tried to explain how from their tribal perspective the practice made sense.

I noted that in their rain forest environment, where food is surprisingly difficult to come by, the children -- fatherless or physically impaired -- were in the tribes’ view being sacrificed for a greater good. That's because they could not contribute to the group's food supply, which tribal leaders deemed an unacceptable burden that threatened the entire group's survival.

I also noted how outrageously obscene the practice seems when considered from a Western mindset rooted in the Abrahamic religious traditions. My point was to illustrate how difficult it is for journalists to put aside their deepest values when covering groups with a vastly different belief set.

The late Huston Smith, the renowned scholar of comparative religion, once wrote, I’m paraphrasing now, that every civilization -- and by every civilization he even included small, semi-nomadic jungle tribes -- is influenced by some spiritual vision of how life is best lived.

I take that to mean that in the Brazilian case, the tribes were following some inner sense of their own notion of right and wrong, even if they did not articulate it in spiritual or religious terms.

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When covering the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, theology and church history matter

When covering the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, theology and church history matter

I used to cover the Episcopal Church’s triennial meetings with some trepidation, as they were lengthy affairs with zillions of pieces of legislation floating between House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. One wore out at least one set of shoes racing back and forth to cover them.

I earned a master’s degree from an Episcopal seminary, so going to the General Convention was old home week, as I had lots of friends at these gatherings. There always seemed to be a huge Sexual Revolution issue at stake: Like whether whether women should be bishops or non-celibate gay men ordained as priests. The Episcopalians were usually years ahead of other denominations in the radicality of what they were willing to vote in.

Thus, the Episcopal Church’s current convention in Austin has also attracted some news coverage. The big issue: Whether to declare God a He, She or It. The question has been under discussion for awhile, a press release says, but now the matter is up to vote.

I have no doubt the denomination will vote to create a new prayer book and de-gender God as much as possible. Some clergy have been doing this for years, such as the clergywoman at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle who’d replace the “He” pronouns for the Holy Spirit in the fourth-century Nicene Creed to a “She.” The fact that one just doesn’t change the Christian church’s most recognized creed didn’t occur to her.

For those of you used to praying to “Our Father who art in heaven,” it seems curious the matter is being debated, but apparently Jesus’ references to God, as reported in scripture, no longer settle this issue.

What will be voted on is whether to revamp the denomination’s seminal piece of literature that guides every liturgy. Says the Washington Post: 

The terms for God, in the poetic language of the prayers written for centuries, have almost always been male: Father. King. Lord. And in the Episcopal Church, the language of prayer matters. The Book of Common Prayer, the text used in every Episcopal congregation, is cherished as a core element of Episcopal identity.

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