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Equal Benefits for Equal Work: In Support of Domestic Partner Benefits at Western Kentucky University

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Last semester, I was walking up Normal Drive from Mass Media and Technology Hall. A pickup truck full of young men—presumably students—drove by and yelled “faggot” as they passed. I felt humiliated, I felt scared, I felt hurt. But most of all, I felt angry. Homophobia, I’d always been told, had no place on the Hill. This incident proved otherwise.

Last week, the Benefits Committee again showed an ugly homophobia is alive on campus. While they didn’t call us fags to our faces, they did tell gay and lesbian employees and students that we are not seen as equal to our heterosexual colleagues. In a vote of eight to six, the Benefits Committee refused to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples.

“But Skylar,” you might say, “if it applies to both gay and straight people, it isn’t homophobic!” This is nothing more than a convenient argument used over and over against offering domestic partner benefits. Lesbian and gay employees can’t be married in Kentucky, so they are unfairly left out of any opportunity to ever have benefits. Besides, even if you don’t think the decision was homophobic, the decision is clearly unfair, as not all employees are granted equal benefits for equal work.

That phrase, “equal benefits for equal work,” is one I used when I first took up this cause last year. In the spring of 2009, as student body vice president, I authored a piece of legislation encouraging WKU to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples. I did this out of a desire to achieve a more fair and just university, and the Student Senate agreed—the resolution passed with overwhelming support. Not long after, University Senate passed a similar resolution with similar zeal.

Yet here we are, a year later, and nothing has changed. Not all employees have the same benefits as their colleagues. Unmarried employees who happen to be in long-term relationships but, because either they choose not to or cannot, be married are ineligible to receive the same benefits. This is blatant discrimination and is totally unfair.

And it’s not only unfair to the employees who can’t cover their families. It’s unfair to the university as a whole, including the student body. Not only does it send a message to the world that Hilltoppers are content to discriminate against other Hilltoppers, including students, but it severely hinders our ability to recruit the best and brightest in the respective disciplines. Why would an enlightened genius want to come work at a university that can’t even grasp the kindergarten concept of playing fairly?

Study after study has shown that offering domestic partner benefits is beneficial to recruiting the best employees possible while costing very little to implement. Private sector employers, including a whopping 83% of Fortune 100 companies, offer domestic partner benefits, many of which have offered them since the 1990s or early 2000s. Closer to home, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have found ways to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees, despite Kentucky’s repugnant constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (or any recognition of gay couples at all). In the interest of keeping up with the Jones’, we ought to adopt domestic partner benefits, if only to thumb our noses at the other schools.

But if fairness and superiority aren’t reason enough, let’s pull in another controversial issue: health care. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, I hope you’ll agree every American deserves access to health insurance. While many Americans are covered by their spouse’s employer, unmarried partners of Western employees aren’t eligible. According to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, “[p]eople with same-sex or different-sex unmarried partners are two to three times more likely to be uninsured than married people, even after controlling for factors influencing coverage.”

The number of uninsured Americans is outrageous, and employers offering domestic partner benefits is one way to drastically drop the number of uninsured. (This should also make you Tea Partiers out there happy, as the federal government is not involved in the least. See, equality can be a conservative issue, too!)

Furthermore, the cost of actually extending benefits at Western would be small, especially when compared to the cost of, say, Chauncey the Bunny or the big red “key” perched on Centennial Mall. According to the Williams Institute, employers offering domestic partner benefits can expect to see a 1.4% to 2.1% increase in employees signing up, which is nary an increase in the number we’re insuring or the cost of insuring them. Those who say cost is a factor are blatantly lying at worst and patently wrong at best.

Whether they’re lying to hide their homophobia or just ignorant to the facts, I can’t be sure. But it is my hope that the eight people on the Benefits Committee will start thinking progressively, or at least contemporarily. This is an issue of fairness, plain and simple. Other universities in Kentucky are already ahead of us on this, and it is time for Western to catch up with the rest of the crowd.

Better that crowd than the crowd that called me a faggot. Western shouldn’t want to be associated with homophobia. When those guys yelled that slur at me, I felt a lot of things, but the Benefits Committee has made me feel something entirely different: ashamed. I’m ashamed that a committee I’ve supported doesn’t support me. I’m ashamed that ignorance and fear have been allowed to prevail. I’m ashamed that inequality and discrimination are rife on this campus.

But most of all, and I never thought this would happen, I am ashamed to be a Hilltopper.

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Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2009

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It’s Christmas Eve, which means one thing for my loyal readers: it’s time for Skylar’s annual Christmas presents! Last year, instead of giving presents, I created a naughty and nice list. People responded so well to it that I’ve decided to once again list my naughty and nice in 2009. So despite the fact that it’s not even noon, I’ve got a cocktail in hand and carols playing in the background. And while Santa has made his list and is currently checking it twice, I’m going to let you know just what you naughty and nice buggers have meant to me this year.

Naughty

5.  Kevin Smiley
Running on a platform of breathing new life into SGA and eliminating the good-ole-boy system, you–in not so many words–blasted Kayla Shelton and myself for corruption and lack of vision.  Upon taking office you appoint your brother as your chief-of-staff, showing the buddy system is stronger than ever, and you proceed to make appointments based on personal friendships and political alliances rather than qualifications.  You were good to me when I resigned, for which I give you credit, and you’ve done some good work, but your lack of judgment in your appointments has earned your position on this list.

4.  Jack Tweed and Jackiey Budden
Your wife and daughter, respectively, passed away and not long after the two of you descended into petty behavior and viscous attacks on one another. Jade loved you both—why, I’ll never know—and instead of honoring her memory you took to the press to publicly eviscerate one another. While we all agree that death was Jade’s finest hour, for the two of you, it was your lowest point.

3.  Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo
Proving that you are still the king of screwing up, you cursed Governor Beshear for not supporting you and, seemingly at every turn, opposed the governor on coal and any other issue you could.  It’s funny, because all you’ve done is ruin your own career.  You began 2009 as the apparent Democratic nominee the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Bunning, but you end 2009 a disgraced man who will not only lose your bid for Senate but has been replaced as Lt. Governor on the next go-round.  Way to go, Dr. Dan.

2.  Senator Joe Lieberman
Dude, seriously?  Where do I even begin?  You started the year on my shit list and you end it as the political equivalent of Satan in my book.  You’ve done everything you can to oppose President Obama and his agenda–from endorsing McCain in last year’s election to single-handedly holding true health care reform hostage–and you’ve done it all with that arrogant smirk of an entitled buffoon.  It is my sincerest hope that, in 2012, the people of Connecticut will have had enough of your smug ego and do what they should have done in 2006–rid themselves and the rest of us of your presence in the Senate.  For good.

1.  Every single Member of Parliament.
One of the good things of being a transatlantic sort is that you are fluent in two cultures: American and British.  The expenses scandal that rocked Westminster and the whole of the UK back in May took everybody by surprise, and I found myself confused.  This was behavior I had come to expect from politicians on the western side of the Atlantic.  But not in Britain.  If anything, this served as a wakeup call to me (and to scores of others) that Westminster was not as incorruptible as perhaps we’d have naively liked to believe.  No party was left unscathed, and even those who didn’t use taxpayer money to clean their moats or claim a second, third, fourth and fifth home undoubtedly knew something was rotton and said nothing.  Disgusting.

Nice

5.  Dan Choi

You sacrificed your career in order to stand up for equality.  In doing that you became a gay rights icon and a leader of our movement.  Having two siblings in the US army, I know the sacrifices you have made and still make, and I appreciate everything you’ve done so much.  You are a true American hero, and you represent what I love about this country.  Thank you for everything you’re doing on behalf of my equality–and the equality of all LGBT Americans.

4.  Meghan McCain
Sure, we don’t agree on everything, but in 2009 you have shown not only a new side to the Republican party but why we Millennials are so amazing and epic.  Meghan, you are an inspiration to millions of twentysomethings around the country who aspire to be as poised, dignified, and informed as you are.  You have stood up for equality, which as a gay man I am eternally grateful for, and you have been a voice of moderation and reason in a party that to many of us seems to be a party of extremism.  You subscribe to the conservatism of Goldwater and  live-and-let-live philosophy of small government and low taxes which anybody can respect.  I look forward to seeing what you do in 2010 and the ensuing decade, and I have a feeling I may one day be voting for you to be my president.  (A boy can hope, anyway.)

3.  Matthew Sephton
Who would have known the boy I started chatting with on Facebook all that time back would go on to be the Tory PPC to challenge Hazel Blears!  I am so intensely proud of you.  You have shown poise and dignity with everything going on in your campaign, and as the head of LGBTory you have managed to raise the stature and presence of the organisation and really set it on course for success.  You are one of the most intelligent and friendly people I know, and the people of Salford and Eccles would be truly blessed to be represented in parliament by someone like you.  Wishing you the best for 2010!

2.   Rachel Maddow
You have been the ONLY voice in the MSM here in the states to consistently bring up progressive points and counter reactionary arguments.  Your coverage of “The Family,” including their role in the Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill, was invaluable and you have helped to raise the status and stature of progressive journalism.  As an out lesbian you have also helped to raise the banner of equality in the way other LGBT people in the public eye (i.e. Ellen and Adam Lambert) have shied away from.  Your keen insight and analysis and synthesis of the day’s events have allowed a progressive voice to be heard, for which I am enternally grateful.

1.  All of my Tweeps, especially Joe (@joemcd), Will (@willswearsprada), Billy (@wchardin), Colin (@icolin), Ashley (@veganindigo), Jason (@jaekay), Pete (@PeteyBennett) Lawrence (@LawrenceMills) and Patrik-Ian Polk (@patrikianpolk)
2009 was the year I began Tweeting, and thank God I did.  You all have made 2009 bearable for me.  Knowing I could come online and rant and rave to you all was such a comfort during the hard times, and you never failed to entertain me.  I’ve connected with so many amazing Tweeps, and I love you all to death.  Joe, you were probably my first Tweep, and I can’t tell you how much your Twitter-friendship has meant to me.  You are the scarecrow to my Dorothy in the Twitterverse, and I really hope we do get to meet in person soon.  Will, you manage to crack me up whenever I’m down, and I won’t soon forget how you cheered me up when I was especially down.  I hope we get to meet soon, too, cos I think we’d have a proper laugh in between sarcastic banter and putdowns.  Billy, you and I bonded over being from Kentucky, being Hilltoppers and being Anglophiles and in you I found a kindred spirit.  I will be meeting you soon and I cannot wait!  Colin, you let me confide a secret in you and I thank you for that.  You, too, make me smile more than you probably know.  Can’t wait to meet you next week, too!  Ashley, it was so great to meet another intellectual and activist.  You have brightened my life more than you can possibly know.  Jae, buddy, I love tweeting with you and I wish we talked more than we do.  You are absolutely brilliant and our banter makes my day.  Pete, I remember watching you on Big Brother 7 and thinking how much I would love to be your friend.  Following you on Twitter is one of the best decisions I made, cos you always crack me up and bring a smile to my face.  You following me back and a tweeting with you from time to time has been a highlight of 2009 for me.  You’re amazing, perfect Pete!  Lawrence, we’ve only just started getting to know one another, but chatting with you brings me so much pleasure.  You’re such a ray of sunshine.  And Patrik-Ian, you have been such an inspiration to me and your support has meant the world to me.   Thank you for everything you’ve done and all the encouragement you’ve given me.  I love you all!

So there you have it: my naughty and nice list for 2009.  There are tons of people who deserve to be on both lists, so coming up with five for each was difficult.

I hope you all have a blessed, joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  Thank you for your continued support and love.  Each of you have meant the world to me.

Merry Christmas.

x. Skylar

Dating Dilemmas or, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Skylar Baker-Jordan

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If you read my feature in the current issue of Rise Over Run, you’ll know that dating isn’t my forte.  In fact, for me, dating is an utter disaster.  I used to think, like Ethan Green, it was my own damn fault.  But the older I get, the more I realize the problem isn’t with me, but with the guys I have to choose from.

After Leo and I broke up–for good–last December, I took a solid eight months off dating.  My 2009 new year’s resolution was to remain celibate for a year, but eventually I once again felt up to the challenge of dating.  Two months later, I’m beginning to regret this.

It started, oddly enough, with Twitter.  Over the summer, I became twitterpated with a bloke I was tweeting back and forth with.  I have never met him in person, but he still managed to enchant me.  I realized that if a guy could win me over in 140 characters or less, there was probably a guy outside of cyberspace that could truly sweep me off my feet.

I went on my first date since the breakup in August, and it went well.  We met online, which if you read Where the Wild Queens Are you’ll know is the only way for gay guys to meet one another in Bowling Green.  He was a skateboarder, and he was sexy: thick, chestnut hair; lean, toned body; piercing turquoise eyes.  He was sweet, too.  He complimented my smile, my curves, and my confidence.  I was smitten, and perhaps because of nearly a year’s worth of pent-up sexual energy, I went to bed with him.  Afterward, as I was reeling from the release, he jumped up and began hurriedly searching for his shorts.  I sat up, a little confused, wondering where the fire is.

Turns out, it was being kept lit by a little Mrs. at home.  Skater Boy had a skater girl waiting for him at his–actually, her–apartment.  He told me she was asleep on her couch, where she had dozed off before he left.  She would be awake soon, he said, and she would want her car back.   That’s right–Skater Boy left his sleeping girlfriend on her sofa, took her car, and cheated on her.  With me.

I’d love to say that was the worst of it, but we’ve only just gotten started.  The next date I had was with this young professional who had recently moved to town.  We met for a drink and then went back to his place, which he insisted would be innocent because he wanted a relationship, not a one-night stand.  We’d been talking on Manhunt for days (which, in hindsight, should have been my first clue), and he seemed nice enough.  Tall, thin, and geeky in a preppy, business major fraternity boy sort of way, he had a sexy uncertainty about everything he did.  Adopted by Baptist parents from a Korean orphanage, he is a devout Christian.  That didn’t stop Bible Boy from letting me in on his nipple fetish before trying to get in my pants.

He didn’t, though, and after an evening of cuddling and innocent kisses, I went home.  He promised to call me the next day after church, and I thought I’d found a guy with potential.  I actually missed his call, so he left a voicemail.  I was excited to hear from him, but as I listened to his stuttering, nervous voice, I knew this was a message I’d rather have deleted.   He rambled on and on about how church had made him realize that this wasn’t what Jesus wanted for his life and how this was not right.  “It’s not you, it’s God” is was the gist of the message, which I had to play to my roommates to make sure I’d heard correctly.  They confirmed it: I had been dumped for Jesus.  How the hell was I expected to compete with heaven?

Despite these early setbacks, I decided to continue trying to find Prince Charming.   I’ve been out on several first dates since then, and they’ve all been disasters.  The problem is, the guys I end up dating all have debilitating neuroses, most of them are closet cases, and the ones who have potential already have boyfriends.  Therefore, I’m stuck dating boys like Hipster Boy.  I met him online, too, and because he was “bored,” we decided to “hang out.”

He pulled up outside of my house on a yellow motorcycle, his face obscured behind the oversized helmet.  I’d never before thought of motorcycles as sexy–they’ve always reminded me of my father, who is an avid biker–but with Hipster Boy driving, I really wanted to take a ride with him.  Little did I know that by the end of the night I’d get my chance.

Thanks to Hipster Boy, I soon found out that “bored” is gay talk for “horny” and “hang out” is meant in a very literal sense.    But I’m a good sport, so I went along with him.  He was cute, a little scrawny but with a nice arms–I imagine from biking–and a devilish smile.   I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy myself.  He enjoyed himself, too, judging from the third and fourth round and the promise to call me soon.  A couple weeks passed and I hadn’t heard from him.  He finally sent me a text last weekend, while I was in DC for the National Equality March.  “Sup?” is all it read.

Now here’s a bit of irony for you.  I met a very nice boy in DC.  He is adorable, and his personality is golden.  A sarcastic, cynical asshole, we can trade witty insults and pithy comments without wincing.  He talked about liking skinny boys (which I definitely am not), plus he has a boyfriend, so I never really gave the possibility of dating him a second thought.  I figured I’d flirt with him while we were there and that would be the end of it.

Which it would have been, except my lesbian buddy and fruit fly both picked up on the fact that I was shamelessly flirting.  As you can imagine, they haven’t let me live it down since we returned home.  Always subtle, they still  manage to make it clear that they know I fancied this lad without actually saying it.

So for the last week I’ve been pretty dour thanks to the repeated references to Beltway Boy and knowing that, though I’ve finally met a decent guy, he already found his happily ever after.  By tonight, home alone for the first time in weeks, I was feeling downright lonely.  Needing a confidence boost, I decided to text Hipster Boy.  This, it turns out, was a mistake.  His response?

“What’s up dude.  Sorry Im just getting back 2 u.  I’m dating a girl now.  So I wont be able 2 c u.” [sic]

Okay, so Hipster Boy now has a hipstress.  Damn.  Feeling even crappier than I had half an hour before, I turned to my old friends Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia to make me laugh.  As I sipped on a Diet Pepsi, petting my roommate’s arthritic cat and living vicariously through a group of middle-aged women from circa 1986, I realized how utterly pitiful my life is.

So of course, God said “ha” and decided to make the scene all the more pathetic.  My phone vibrated, and I immediately hoped that Hipster Boy felt a change of heart and decided to come play with me instead of hanging out with his girlfriend.  Or even better, Beltway Boy had decided he wanted to hang out.  Nope, and nope.  Instead, Bible Boy texted me, from church, asking what I’m doing.  Going back and forth for a while, I finally tell him I want to see him again, not just receive suggestive text messages that he can get off to guilt free.  His response?

“Seeing u wouldn’t be the problem–ur right, guilt would be.  I have grown up believing that I shouldn’t but I haven’t always done so.  :(“ [sic]

He says God’s plan is bigger than anything we mere mortals can possibly understand.  I say goodnight.

As if things weren’t depressing enough, I decided to go a step further: I texted Liam asking him to “ring me.”  (For those of you who don’t remember, Liam is the really awesome guy I met in London in 2007.  If it weren’t for the damned Atlantic Ocean–and Liam’s aversion to honesty–we’d probably still be together.)  By this point it’s about 3:30 am in England, and it was obvious Liam had been out on another bender the moment I answer his call.   I told him everything, and he proceeded to give me a much-needed pep talk, albeit through a groggy haze of delirium and alcohol.

The abridged version goes something like this: “You’re fierce, you’re fit, you’ve got an amazing accent and sexy broken smile and you’re the best writer I know.  You are, by far, the most charming American that has ever lived.  So stop your whinging.  Or get yourself to Britain where the men appreciate you.  Either way shut the bloody hell up and stop dating wankers.  Have a good night.  Goodbye.”  Even though he was clearly annoyed with the fact that I woke him from his liquor-induced coma, I sensed the sincerity behind his words.  It was just what I needed.

Still, I wasn’t in a state to sit home by myself, so I took myself for a walk.  On that walk, I thought of the boys who’ve meant the most to me.  The ones who made me into the man–and the basket case–you know and love.   I thought of the abuse I suffered with Benji, the loss I suffered when Brandon passed away, the puppy love I shared with high school sweetheart Ryan and the sheer sexual chemistry I had with Brighton.  And then I thought of Leo.  And Liam.  And the men I’m guilty of doing wrong, like Quint and Daniel, whom I still imagine wonder where the hell I disappeared to when things seemed to be going so well.  I began to wonder whether all the hurt and hurting was worth it.

But then I thought of Beltway Boy and his boyfriend.  And oddly enough, I smiled.  Sure, Beltway Boy isn’t my boyfriend, and probably never will be.  But he is somebody’s boyfriend, proving that good guys are out there and that, sometimes, regular guys like me are lucky enough to find one.  If Beltway Boy’s boyfriend can find a guy as good as Beltway Boy, surely I can find one, too.

Then I thought of the guy from Twitter, and I smiled even brighter.  Though he’s thousands of miles away, he is single, proving that there are great single guys left to choose from.

It’s just a matter of finding the one for you.

Written by skylarjordan

October 17, 2009 at 9:00 am