If you didn’t know better, you’d think space was just darkness. It isn’t.
The Space Transportation System, better known as the Space Shuttle, was the most complicated machine ever constructed when first built. The first reusable spacecraft, it pushed the boundaries of American science and engineering just to get it put together. To fly required a make up wholly unknown to almost all who inhabit this place.
As a child of both the 80’s and of science and science fiction, there were no more important names to me in my early years than Enterprise, Challenger, Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. As spacecraft, these six sisters were the stuff of legend, carrying explorers to the very edge of human knowledge. Those who rode within them were heroes.
It was impossible to spend a school year inside of a science classroom as an elementary school student at that time and not know who Sally Ride was. As the first American woman in space her place in our history was assured, but to a small boy in the suburbs that big social impact stuff seemed to fly over my head. She was in space and that was good enough for me. Sally Ride, Awesome American.
So I was sad when I heard of her passing this week. You are never quite ready for your heroes to go.
As was my reaction to the big story and hot takes revolving around the recent column in the Niagara Falls Reporter lauding the Buffalo Sabres for acquiring who most would describe as tough players. What caught everyone’s attention were the last two paragraphs of the article, which took a swipe at homosexuality seemingly out of nowhere. You could not bury the lead deeper.
Since that article was published, all hell has broken loose. The article made Deadspin for all the wrong reasons. The chorus was pretty unified in disdain for the point of view of the author. The Reporter has recently published more articles supporting the column. Threats have been made to advertisers. It is a legitimate kerfuffle.
But I am willing to accept the publisher of the paper at his word when he says that “the Reporter’s defense of gay rights or gay criticism stops at limiting free speech.” Regardless of whether we agree or disagree, the conversation is important, and the right to express our views on how our nation progresses is concrete. But with the right of conversation comes the responsibility of discussion and debate - and perhaps reflection. Good citizenship requires the courage to speak but also the courage to self-examine.
Both the paper’s publisher, Frank Parlato, and Palumbo both seem to have a soft spot for the family.
“I draw the line, however, at youth and believe it is the duty of parents to instruct their children about sexual orientation and not the government, school, media or professional sports. I think this country needs to show more respect for the rights of parents.”
Palumbo, from July 24:
“What could be more powerful an influence than little Johnny listening to his beloved hockey heroes supporting the gay agenda? And what chance do parents have to raise their children as they see fit when sports organizations like the NHL join Hillary Clinton’s village and subvert their efforts to teach right from wrong? This conversation should take place between parents and their kids and the NHL should stay out of it.”
Well now they’re talking about me. I’m a parent.
So I wonder to myself about this thing we are discussing, and I think we are talking about manhood. The link made within Palumbo’s column of July 17 is one between homosexuality and weakness. The weakness theme continues throughout his writing and the writing of the Reporter. References are made to anti-bullying legislation, an individual’s strength to stand up for himself, bullies, babies and so forth. It all revolves around strength and weakness, and it is clear that homosexuality is seen as a weakness.
I think a lot about who I’m going to be as a parent. I wonder if I’m going to do a good job or not. I’m filled with constant doubt. However I take faith in certain ideals and the words of people who came before me. I think of my grandfather making my hand into a fist when I was a kid, giving me simple yet brutal advice on how to deal with bullies on my own, advice that I was ultimately hesitant to use. I think of what I’m going to tell my kid when he starts interacting socially with others. How will he explore the world? Will he be strong enough in spirit and in character to have an easier time of it than I did?
A parent who does not reflect isn’t a parent at all, but an administrator. I only have the printed word on which to glean Palumbo and Parlato’s thinking on the matter. They seem very sure of themselves and set in their ways. I must confess to being firmly in the opposite viewpoint from theirs, but I would be failing as a citizen if I didn’t try to understand why homosexuality was such a threat to them when it seems so innocuous to me.
Is it due to faith? Possibly, but as humans we deal in sin. To err is human, right? This particular sin seems to have been singled out as loathsome. I was never quite able to understand through all of my years in Catholic school, seeing the encyclopedic nature of sins in the Holy Bible and the multitude of conflicting orders given by God throughout. I’m still trying to. It’s two-thousand years later and we are all trying to.
The recruitment of the young for enlistment in the Homosexual Brigade is a fear you can sometimes see expressed. Palumbo expresses this as you’ve read and still seems to struggle with the dueling concept of impenetrable strength and constant vulnerability. At the same time he can stand up to all who challenge him, but he lives in constant fear that the children - our children - will be recruited into homosexuality despite his best efforts. Exposure to the idea is contamination, and contamination could lead to infection. Toleration, in essence, cannot be tolerated.
The pressure is constant, the struggle never ending. I understand now why the words are so sharp and the mentality so hardened. The man has been fighting this fight for years everywhere he goes. He is watching a basic barometer of manhood fade into the distance, and he’s left to navigate on his own. I get the impression he’ll go down with the ship in this regard, but I understand the fear.
Even the sport he loves is being attacked by this weakness. Are his heroes to be turned to spreading a message of sin now? Is there nothing left for him to believe in?
I’m pretty big on our liberties as they have been written down and protected in our society. I’d react with the same vitriol if I watched those tenants fade away into the darkness. I’d write. I’d scream. I’d indoctrinate my young in the Old Ways.
What if I was the parent of a homosexual child, and everything I had ever been told was that homosexuality was a crime against the Lord? How would I respond? Could I still love my child? Could I still parent? What if the world was leaving me, as a parent, in the past?
What of role models for our children? Who do they look up to? What example do they set?
It all comes back to heroes, doesn’t it? It's about the power they exert on ourselves and those we love. Statues to heroes are being torn down and others are being contemplated for construction just within the world of sports. Imagine the faith we put into things we are supposed to take seriously.
Ride’s obituaries mention, for the first time, that she was a homosexual. She had been with her partner for 27 years.
Her sister said of Ride:
"Sally was a profoundly private person. It was just part of who she was. We chalk that up to being Norwegian. She had a sense of 'this is family stuff.'"
Family stuff. As opposed to screaming about the dangers and the hands closing in around the neck of morality, Ride displayed all the strength cited by Palumbo as he shakes in fear. Palumbo is gripped by fear. Ride made her life by overcoming it ever time she went into orbit to expand our knowledge as a species.
Palumbo writes, speaking of those for equality:
“They have turned their backs on god and his laws and made gods of themselves who, in their omniscient wisdom, pass judgment on objectors.”
Where I come from, we capitalize God. We also don’t pretend to speak on God’s behalf. I mean to pass no meaningful judgement in this world - although I’ve been known to pass a lot of meaningless judgement - but I was always warned to be on the lookout for false prophets speaking the Lord’s name. They wrap themselves in freedom and liberty as they cower from its expression and fulfillment. They puff their chest about strength as they slap quotation marks around the word homophobia, unwilling to be honest even with their own words. Dialogue cannot take place between dishonest people. When they are ready to truly exhibit this strength they speak of, I’ll be here waiting to talk.
And so when I read everything going around this week, I wonder what is going to influence my kid. His parents will of course, but it’s a big world with plenty of stuff to be afraid of. He’ll have to find inspiration on his own.
If he asks me about who my heroes were, I’ll tell him about this woman who flew the fastest plane ever made into space. And two-cent preachers will have faded into the darkness.