Taking note of change

Photo: Nina J.G. via Flickr, Creative Commons, some restrictions.

Photo: Nina J.G. via Flickr, Creative Commons, some restrictions.

This has been yet another tough news week, one that began with bullets and death. The depressing part is how we don’t seem any further along on why violence of that level keeps happening, or what to do about it – if anything. Social ills can be depressing at times.

But a few disparate items caught my eye and set me to musing about, well…differences and changes.

Like this item, which I saw last Sunday.

Brig.-Gen. John Fletcher has been an Anglican priest for 20-plus years and is the current head chaplain in Canada’s military. And? So? He happens to be gay. As recounted in the Toronto Star:

Fletcher acknowledges that some may find it odd, or even scandalous, that he is a career military man, a priest and homosexual.

“I equally understand that some people will be excited and encouraged by the openness of my own church, to allow me to exercise this ministry and certainly encouraged that I’m free to work within a Canadian military that simply doesn’t discriminate on (the basis of) these things,” he said.

Brig.-Gen. John Fletcher (shown here before his recent promotion from colonel), chaplain general of the Candain FOrces. Photo: Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

Brig.-Gen. John Fletcher (shown here before his recent promotion from colonel), chaplain general of the Candain FOrces. Photo: Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces

The striking thing here, for me at least, is how completely settled this type of equal rights now seems to be in Canadian society as compared to how divisive various ‘gay issues’ can still be in U.S.

Only a day or two later, listening to news accounts of the Naval Yard shooting, I couldn’t help but notice the head of the police department in D.C. is a woman, Chief Cathy Lanier.

That detail seemed like “progress points” for the U.S.

It’s my impression (which would need actual study to prove or disprove) that the U.S. is somewhat ahead of Canada when it comes to permitting and promoting women in the ranks of police and fire departments.

And hats off to the military – in both Canada and the U.S. – for leading the way, in many respects, on equal opportunity across race and gender.

Sure, racism and sexism are far from things of the past within military culture. But the military was one of the first places in American society where minorities could live and and work fully integrated lives, with merit-based advancement. It’s worth noting Canada’s military officially opened all positions to qualified woman way back in 1989, though full implementation took longer.

I happen to be slightly older than our current president. When Barack Obama and I were both youngsters growing up in Hawaii, women could not be regular police officers, only officers that handled truants or other family-focused issues. And black or bi-racial Americans could not easily imagine being elected to high office, with the possible exception of racially diverse places like the 50th state.

Like his policies or not, today Barack Obama is President of the United States. And women head a small but growing number of law enforcement departments in the U.S. This Aug 2013 USA Today article focuses on the unusual number of female leaders in Washington DC law enforcement agencies:

“Unprecedented,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based law enforcement think tank. “This didn’t just happen. These are all career people and the products of a real push that began 25 years ago. It’s a turning point in the profession.’

Back to politics. The premier of the province I now live in, Kathleen Wynne, is an openly gay woman, which is pretty much a non-issue.

There’s an openly-gay woman in the U.S. Senate, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin. Actually, a total of 6 politicians who identify as gay or bi-sexual currently sit in the U.S. house or senate. As recounted in this New York Times article on gay lawmakers in congress, Mark Takano faced a good deal of open hostility when he ran for office in the 1990s.

“Flash forward 18 years,” Mr. Takano said recently, “and the very macho building tradesmen are behind me. I’m getting pictures with them in their hard hats.”

I’m sort of jumping around between employment and social issues, but these are big, big changes.

Photo credit: Toony, via Google images, Creative Commons, some restrictions

Human evolution. Photo credit: Toony, via Google images, Creative Commons, some restrictions

Homosexuality used to be described as the love that dare not speak its name. I can remember working at Hawaii Public Radio in the 1980s and hearing snippets of interviews in which Terry Gross discussed gay issues and gay sex quite openly. (This was over internal satellite channels, HPR was a classical music/news station at that time and did not carry Fresh Air yet.) I remember thinking: “Wow, can she really talk about that – on air?! Isn’t she going to get into tremendous trouble?!”

There have been efforts to end discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation for a long, long time. Suddenly though, those changes seems to be rolling in at breathtaking speed. Indeed, it must be a difficult, confusing time for those who sincerely feel traditional sexual and gender roles reflect a more appropriate social order.

Quite recently no less than Pope Francis made headlines everywhere for saying something that sounded radical, even though Jesus said it first: inclusive love is the highest Christian value. Full English translation of that important interview can be read here.

So many changes, so much going on. Some of it good, some of it bad.

What big shifts in your lifetime give you cause for optimism about the human condition?

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1 Comment on “Taking note of change”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    I’m still trying to come up with something but it certainly will not include cell phones nor iPads.

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