Listening to Eddie

Not Eddie Burke (... or is it?)

Not Eddie Burke (...or is it?)

Yesterday, in between finding myself in front of a TV camera at lunchtime & watching the results in the evening, I listened in on Eddie Burke’s talk radio show on KBYR 700-AM.  I’d heard Mr. Burke would be devoting his show to discussion of the equal rights ordinance that was introduced the night before in the Anchorage Assembly.

It was an interesting, weird, sometimes toxic, & sometimes informative experience.

For anyone who lives, as I do, well outside the sphere of conservative talk radio, the toxic aspects should be obvious.  KBYR is a Fox News affiliate, and includes on its daily schedule such prominent conservative pundits as Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Prager, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Rusty Humphries, and Michael Medved. The other local voice I saw in their line-up besides Eddie Burke is Glen Biegel. Except for Glenn Beck & Sean Hannity, I’m not familiar with these people — & even Beck & Hannity I know more from seeing their… shall we say antics… put on display on “The Daily Show” & “The Colbert Report,” not to mention Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC. (Have you done that waterboarding-for-charity event you volunteered for yet, Hannity?)

In what I heard yesterday, I found Mr. Burke to be rather like Hannity or other Fox News types (like Bill O’Reilly), albeit with some of his own color thrown in. Once, he boasted of having the nickname “the Hammer” — which, sorry, just put me in mind of a certain Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog.   But really, doesn’t the character of Eddie Burke bears some similarity to that of Captain Hammer? — a smug bully who views himself as a defender of right?  (Well, of the right, at least.)  Who but Eddie Burke would make a point several times during his show to brag proudly about the “homophobe t-shirt” he was wearing?

And what are we to make of his contention that, by virtue of the ordinance being introduced, “They drew first blood — the homosexuals drew first blood!” Huh?  What blood?

Just a silly rhetorical flourish, I’m sure.  Not real blood.  Not, say, the blood of Peter Dispirito.  Who, you ask, was he?  Well, yesterday I opened my copy of Identity Reports to page 50 to read the headline of the “Prima Facie” case describing how I was fired from the Book Cache in 1984.   Tonight, I’ll jump another 20 pages, to page 70, to read from the first of that study’s cases based on documentary sources (hence the d in the case number):

Male, age unavailable

At 4:30 AM on August 10, 1974, Delbert Smith of the Anchorage Police Department was awakened by his wife, who told him there was an injured man lying in the street.  Smith looked out and saw a nude man, later identified as Peter Dispirito, a longtime Anchorage resident and hairdresser and owner of Peter’s Salon, lying in a pool of blood.  Smith called the Anchorage Police Department, then went out and covered Dispirito with a blanket.  Dispirito had stab wounds in his chest and one arm.  He told Smith that “Gary did it.”

About 45 minutes later Dispirito died of his wounds at Providence Hospital. In a case marked by procedural problems — two warrantless searches, a problematic interrogation of Gary Lee Starbard — Starbard was able ultimately to plead down to a charge of manslaughter, which could have led to as many as 20 years’ imprisonment. At the sentencing hearing, the defense attorney made numerous references to Dispirito’s homosexuality, finally leading Judge Seaborn Buckalew to rebuke him that “the victim is the dead man” and that the defense attorney’s remarks could be interpreted to mean that Starbard had killed not a man, but a “queer.”  But despite this ever-so-vigorous defense of Dispirito’s humanness, in pronouncing sentence, Judge Buckalew referred to the murder as “an unfortunate accident — incident” — and gave Starbard just one year.

Who drew first blood?  Doesn’t look to me like it was the homosexual.  Looks, rather, as if it was a homosexual whose blood was drawn, rather violently in fact, by — guess what — a heterosexual. (Or at least that’s what all the heterosexuals involved in processing the case presumed Starbard to be.)  We can at least be satisfied that the later judges did better than Judge Buckalew in sentencing the convicted murderers in case d-12, “Murder of Oscar Jackson by William M. Justice aka William M. Rima, December 21, 1984″ (p. 76) and case d-14,”Murder of Raymond Barker by Charles Cole and Matthew Decker, April 3, 1985” (p. 78), both cases in which heterosexual perpetrators felt justified in killing homosexual men because they were homosexual.

Now, those cases involved the spilling of blood. What’s been presented in the Anchorage Assembly, and what’s before them now,  is a call simply for equal protection from discrimination — which, while involving lives, does not in fact involve the “drawing of blood.”

So much for cheap rhetorical flourishes.

Which isn’t to say Mr. Burke ceased from making them, or from trotting out many of the same ludicrous claims that we’ve come to expect from opponents of equal rights.  For instance, the argument that the ordinance would grant homosexuals “special rights” — that is, the “special” rights already adhering to Anchorage residents to not be discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, age, sex, color, national origin, marital status, or physical disability.  By this argument, if you are a woman protected through Anchorage’s human rights code from being paid less than a man for performing the same work, that’s a “special right.” If you’re a black man protected from being fired from a job by a racist white boss, or a white man protected from being fired from a job by a racist black boss — that’s a “special right.”  If you live in a large apartment complex and faithfully attend Anchorage Baptist Temple each Sunday, and are protected from being evicted from your apartment by a Mormon or Catholic or atheist or [gasp!] homosexual landlord (they do exist) who disagrees with your beliefs or is even downright hostile to the church you belong to (imagine such a thing!) — that, too, is a “special right.”

Ooh.  Special rights.  Better get rid of ’em.  It’ll clearly make the world so much better.

What a load of hooey.  Expect to hear a lot more of it from the Mr. Burke, his hero Pastor Prevo, & their followers before all this is done & over.  Expect to hear repetitions of Mr. Burke’s joke that “soon we’ll be giving ‘special rights’ to NAMBLA” [i.e., pedophiles], or his assertion that homosexuality is an “addiction” like alcoholism, & other equally ludicrous assertions.

Okay, enough about the toxic.  I said that listening to the show was a sometimes informative experience — what’s up with that?

It had chiefly to do with the presence of Jeffrey Mittman of the ACLU as a guest on the show. Here’s where we got into the substance of what the ordinance as drafted has endeavored to do: to advance Anchorage’s commitment to equal protection under the law for all its citizens, in this case by adding sexual orientation and veteran’s status to the human rights code, while simultaneously protecting the right of religious organizations to discriminate within the bounds of their legitimate interests as religious organizations.  I found this portion of the discussion fascinating and useful. In one interesting exchange, a caller’s question led to the identification of a fuzzy aspect of the religious exception, which Mr. Mittman believed could encroach on the right to discriminate by religious organizations.  This had to do with who actually determined what was a bona fide religious purpose and what was not: e.g., under the religious exception contained in the ordinance, the Anchorage Baptist Temple would never be forced to hire a gay or lesbian Sunday School teacher, but what about the bus drivers who drive ABT’s buses on Sundays, or the buses of their Christian school?  Mr. Mittman felt that the Assembly may still need to adjust the ordinance’s language to protect ABT’s and other religious organizations’ rights in this area.  (For my part, I recognize the Sunday buses as a part of ABT’s ministry — though I sure never would’ve let my kid climb onto one of them.)

Homeless camp in Valley of the Moon woods

Homeless camp in Valley of the Moon woods. According to Jim Minnery, you're only discriminated against if you're homeless, which in Anchorage would mean living at Brother Francis Shelter or in a camp like this. Oh, yes, & you'd also have to be unable to get a job.

But equally instructive were the occasional exchanges between Mr. Mittman and Mr. Burke’s other guest, Jim Minnery  of the Alaska Family Council. Mr. Minnery set the bar of discrimination pretty high: in his opinion, gays can only claim they’re discriminated against if they’re homeless & completely unable to get any job at all.   A couple of times Mr. Minnery brought up objections to specific provisions of the ordinance relating to the religious exception; but then, when Mr. Mittman attempted to address the objections with possible solutions and asked if they would be satisfactory, Mr. Minnery made it clear that it didn’t really matter: no matter what was done to improve the problems he had identified, he still wouldn’t support the ordinance.  No matter what.

And that, to me, turned out to be the biggest lesson of the show: there’s only one side negotiating here.  The Assembly, charged by voters with the task of representing all citizens of the Municipality of Anchorage, has been working to craft an ordinance that will as far as possible respect and protect everyone’s rights — our right to not be unfairly discriminated against, conservative religious organization’s rights to discriminate within the bounds of their legitimate religious purposes and activities.   But the conservatives as represented by Mr. Minnery and Mr. Burke will have none of that: if they don’t have carte blanche to discriminate as much as they want wherever they want against whomever they want — or at least against homosexuals — then, according to them, their rights have been trampled on.  There is no middle ground.  No matter how the ordinance is changed to meet their more specific objections, in the end they’re in the “debate” only for their prejudice.

So no matter how civil the discussion might appear — and yes, even on Eddie Burke’s show there was some civil discussion — in the end (especially when coming upon a commercial or news break), Mr. Burke would cut Jeff Mittman off and go into a sort of mini-rant that showed that nothing, nothing, nothing that Mr. Mittman or anyone else said, no matter how rational or persuasive, had modified Eddie Burke’s thinking one bit.  It might as well have never been said.  His show is not to negotiate a way for all the members of a pluralistic society to live together even with their disagreements. For him, it’s all just an exercise in getting us to waste our time, and then to go on to enthusiastically trash us with the enthusiastic participation of his fans.

Don’t ever call into or go on a show like Eddie Burke’s expecting to win a debate or to change his or his follower’s minds.  It ain’t gonna happen. Go with the expectation, rather, that there might be a few people listening who might be more openminded than Eddie-bragging-about-wearing-his-homophobe-tshirt-Burke (was it a Captain Hammer t-shirt?), people who are perhaps willing to sit down at the table and negotiate for a way in which all of us, straight and gay alike, conservative and liberal alike, can live together peacefully.  That seems to have been how Jeff Mittman approached his appearances on Mr. Burke’s show, so that he was able to maintain a relaxed calm and good humor all the way through. (I missed all but the end of Jackie Buckley’s call into the show as a representative of Equality Works, but from what I heard, she did a great job of it too.  No surprise there — I’ve seen Jackie do it before.)

I got a lot out of it.  But the toxicity was such that I hope I don’t have to listen again real soon.

(With apologies to Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, & the rest of the writers, cast, characters, & crew of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog.)

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