Chairperson, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission
Stephen A. Glassman was the first openly gay political appointee in Baltimore, Maryland, where he served for five years as civic design commissioner. He has served on a wide variety of national, state and local boards, including the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Community Center of Baltimore, the Names Project, and the Yale University LGBT Study Center. He is past president of the Common Roads (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Youth) support group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the former co-chair and founder of the Pennsylvania Rights Coalition, the largest group in the state working to achieve equal rights legislation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In May 2002, Stephen Glassman was appointed to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Mr. Glassman is the first openly gay individual to receive a statewide gubernatorial appointment subject to Senate confirmation to a Pennsylvania board or commission. In June 2003, Mr. Glassman was appointed chairperson of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the first openly gay individual in the country to chair a state gubernatorial commission (he served until 2011). In December 2006, Mr. Glassman was appointed vice chairman of the Governor’s Cabinet on the Rights of People With Disabilities.
Mr. Glassman has appeared as a media spokesperson on television, radio and in the press on behalf of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender civil rights causes, architecture and design, and AIDS issues. He has lectured extensively at conferences, museums and universities across the country and has served as a director on numerous boards of arts and civil rights organizations.
Mr. Glassman touches on many of the eight action areas in the 1999 United National Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, especially the sixth: Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity. As Mr. Glassman says: “If you understand that you can bring things into your life that will alter your perception of the world, your place in it and the difference you can make in this world, that’s the kind of purposeful life that builds this society and can ultimately achieve a culture of peace based upon equality, diversity, identity and the inclusion of everyone in the society.
I’d like to illuminate some of the long-standing issues we’ve struggled with in this country and talk about how we can achieve a culture of peace through an understanding and appreciation of equality, diversity, identity and inclusion.
I think it says something about the SGI that they have included someone of my background in this lecture series. It points to the kind of future we can hope to enjoy, with organizations like this that appreciate aspects of what I’d like to discuss tonight.
Beyond Social Tolerance
One of the most important things I want to talk about is the need to advance beyond the concept of social tolerance, something that has been discussed for years in America but has had the effect of undervaluing our appreciation of one another.
Mere tolerance is not where we need to be in 2008. We need to go far beyond just tolerating or putting up with others. Rather, we need to celebrate, acknowledge and respect one another for our contributions and the diversity and value we bring from our life experiences. We each have a unique perspective on the world that stems from the way in which we have lived and learned from one another. Without an understanding of the value of these varied life experiences, as opposed to merely tolerating these differences, we lose the ability to achieve the kind of change needed to make this world a place that delivers equality and social justice to everyone.
Without this appreciation, we lose the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the contributions each of us can make. Often we are prevented from making our contributions because, as is particularly true for minorities and women, we have, early in life, been disadvantaged in the way we engage with society.
Equal Opportunity and Early Development
If equal opportunity is not presented to a person at an early age—whether through education, religion or community involvement—then that person is two steps behind from the outset. People base their understanding of their identity on the interactions they have had with others, whether they enter society professionally, through the educational system or through community work. If others devalue a person’s very presence and existence, that devaluation is internalized, whether it’s internalized racism, homophobia or sexism.
This learned disadvantage is an obstacle to fully appreciating one’s own value, worth and empowerment and to making the greatest contribution one can. This disadvantage follows us throughout our entire lives. It takes a degree of personal strength and courage to get beyond the mythologizing and stereotyping about the group to which one belongs or the way in which one interacts with others who are different. It takes a real degree of internal commitment to advance beyond given limitations.
We underestimate one another when we are categorized and classified at the earliest stages of our educational process. Putting people into tracks or groups determines in advance what our expectations are. People’s ability to achieve is limited when told that they are only expected to attain a certain level of academic success. It is limited when told they are not worthy or capable or that what is expected of them is different than what is expected of someone from a more advantaged environment.
The damage is internalized early and easily and affects the rest of one’s life: the career choices made, the way one engages with others, and the self-esteem that allows a person to fully appreciate his or her own ability to advance and change the world.
It’s important to understand that each person has, not just an individual right, but also a responsibility to offer his or her contribution to the world. Change happens through interaction. Change is more effective when we appreciate our ability to work together. It happens incrementally and in varying ways depending upon culture, background, ideology and how those interactions create an opportunity for the world to view itself in different ways.
Eradicating Discrimination and Bias
The work that I do on a daily basis as a member of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission addresses this need to eradicate discrimination and bias and allow people to fully actualize and appreciate one another’s contributions through education, public accommodation service, housing and the overall environment of the democratic process in our daily lives. We are the largest human relations and human rights agency in the United States and are called on to provide a model for other human rights agencies throughout the country.
As we do this work on a statewide basis, we keep in mind that we are representing the needs of people coming from varying backgrounds and geographic areas: rural, urban and areas that are culturally monolithic or extraordinarily diverse.
According to the last United States census (2000), Pennsylvania is the most rural state in the nation. There are many things about Pennsylvania that surprise people. It tends to vote “blue”*1 presidentially, but internally, Pennsylvania reflects the needs of other states around the nation.
Take New York State as another example. In addition to its big cities, New York State has a very large rural population. What we learn from working with people who come from very different environments, especially people who come from limited monolithic perspectives, is that when exposed to individuals who are different from them, they have an opportunity to change significantly.
Evaluating Change through a Critical-Edge Issue
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues are a telling way of evaluating change. These issues seem to be the critical edge on which many social justice experiments are discussed in national conversations. The issue of same-sex marriage points to this understanding of difference in a way that no other issue seems to.
The fact that people in this country are so exorcised about the idea of same-sex couples in love being able to make a commitment and having the same protections and responsibilities to one another as heterosexual couples is quite surprising when the history of the institution of marriage is analyzed.
The Evolution of Marriage
Marriage has changed enormously over the last 200 years. There have been twelve major legal changes to marriage in the United States in the past 200 years, particularly with regard to the rights of women and the acknowledgement of them as full human beings as opposed to chattel or property.
That has been a large shift, but more recently, the case Loving v. Virginia2 abolished the right of states to ban people of different races marrying one another. The struggle that emerged from that issue taking place from the 1940s through the 1960s, carried on the tradition of discrimination and bias that this country was built upon.
The founding documents of the United States, those we hold most sacred—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—fully indoctrinate in our understanding of ourselves and our history the kind of discrimination that we are working to oppose and eradicate today. The rights of an entire gender were excluded from full recognition under our Constitution; African-Americans were not even considered full people; people who didn’t own property weren’t allowed to vote.
Observing the radical change in our appreciation of who we are as a nation over a bit more than 200 years, I believe it is not too much to expect that in a very few years we will ultimately see full equality in this country for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people.
In fact, we are so close that the difference in the ballot initiative in California under Proposition 83 compared to the vote that was taken only eight years earlier in 2000, showed a change from 61 percent of the population opposing same-sex marriage or marriage equality in 2000 to 52 percent this time.4 I believe that’s significant progress. I am not discouraged. I believe that this fight is not only winnable but that within a very few years we will achieve the ultimate goal for equality in this country: marriage equality.
Marriage brings with it more than 1,142 federal rights and in most states about six hundred individual rights that have more to do with financial protection than anything else. It’s really about money. That’s what marriage originally was as an institution: a protection of financial interests, primarily for men over women. We have moved toward a much more equal distribution of wealth in this country. When marriage is taken out of the context of religious rights, it is understood that this civil contract is merely another way of protecting people’s financial interests and their responsibilities to one another.
As we look at equality and inclusion in this country, inclusion means not only the rights of people who are obvious but also those who are not so obvious. Today’s society is much more subtle and nuanced than it has ever been. People come in many shapes, sizes, gender identities, races, cultures and so on. When we evaluate those differences and attempt to explain how we evaluate one another, we realize we have more commonalities than we do differences. That’s not a new concept.
A Majority/Minority Nation
What is a bit new is that our differences are not just to be respected. We now understand that individual differences make us more valuable to one another. It’s not only a question of finding common ground. Learning from one another rather than simply doing things as we’ve been taught enriches us. Globally we are falling significantly behind, because we have been unable or unwilling to recognize that before 2035, we’re going to be a majority-minority5 nation and will look much more like the rest of the world than we have for the last two centuries.
That’s an important paradigm shift in this country. Clearly those who are in power are not yet ready to make the adjustment. They’ve been pushed and dragged and will probably be kicking and screaming until they finally accept it, but this demographic change is overtaking us more rapidly than projected studies indicated just ten years ago.
At that time, it was projected that by 20506 we would be a majority-minority nation. Studies that came out last year predict that by 2042, we will be a majority-minority nation. I predict that after the 2010 census, we’ll find this date moving even closer. This means we have a limited amount of time to prepare and plan for this change, which will affect, not only the way we interact with one another but the way in which resources are allocated, whether from the federal government, the professions, Wall Street or educational institutions. Those resources will need to match the society being served.
In government, our responsibility is not to maintain the status quo. It is to discover the needs of the population being served. Responding to the needs of society is an honorable position and must be approached in a specific way.
One of the most important things I learned in leadership training at the Harvard School of Government was that there are two distinct ways to lead: one is to lead by following; the other is to lead by leading. There’s a significant difference between the two. Most elected and appointed officials lead by following. That is, they take polls or look at what will get them reelected or reappointed and follow those trends, leading by giving people what the polls tell them people want.
I believe that the way to lead effectively is to listen to your constituency and discover what their needs are, understanding that those needs are not usually met in today’s society. Understanding that those needs reflect a change in society, we need to redistribute money, services, energy and time to where the need is greatest.
For example, the way we distribute funding in education is really backwards. We have more money than we need for distribution to those who are academically superior. People at the top of the academic ladder don’t have difficulty getting money to go to school. This is true whether you’re talking about Harvard or one of the state universities.
In order to advance society and make it more competitive with the rest of the world, funds must be made available to those who have been disadvantaged from birth. People of ability who have not had an equal educational opportunity are the ones who truly need focused funding and scholarships so that they can catch up to those who have been advantaged from birth.
So if we reevaluate how we distribute money in this society through all social programs—such as health, education, business development—to those who are in greater need, we will become more competitive with countries around the world that are already doing so. With proper training and development, those in need can advance at the same rate as those who are advantaged.
Why the United States Is Falling Behind
If you look at the way funding is distributed in India, Bangladesh or even in China, we see that the methodology is changing. People in the lower classes or those who have been discriminated against are precisely the ones who are getting jobs in industries that have fled the United States. This elevates a country’s entire economic society. We are not following a model that is advantageous to the United States.
Richard Florida’s most recent book, The Flight of The Creative Class7, is a wonderful explanation of how we are falling behind other advancing countries and how we can achieve greater success and parity. Florida says we can do this by passing laws that protect the rights of people so they can be fully engaged and find equal opportunity and also by reallocating resources so that we’re supporting people from the bottom up rather than from the top down. This approach has worked in the cities in this country that have had the foresight to do so.
Legal Equity and Growth
Let’s compare economic growth across the country. The twenty states that have passed equal rights legislation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people and the thirteen states that have also included protection for transgender people8 are at a higher level economically and are advancing more rapidly in both business and population growth compared to states not supporting legal equity.
For example, Pennsylvania is now the third slowest-growing state in the United States. We are, unfortunately, one of the thirty states that do not have the kind of protections won here in New York. It took, I might add, thirty-three long years of fighting, but ultimately those protections were won in New York. Transgender protections still need to be added here in New York State. I assure you that, when accomplished, it will send a signal, an important message to other people that this is a welcoming environment; this is a place in which you can be celebrated for who you are. People will move here in greater numbers. They will come here for education in greater numbers. They will come here to raise their families if they feel that their children and spouses will be protected. That advances the whole society.
Pennsylvania—the sixth largest state in the country— is not only the third slowest-growing state but, from 2000 to 2004, it grew by only 65,000 people. Of those 65,000 people, 60 percent were Hispanic. So the change coming here in this country is coming from those who don’t look like the people in the majority population today. They infuse our state with a rich culture, vibrancy, sense of commitment and purpose not necessarily evident in the existing community—one that has a sense of entitlement and won’t necessarily be giving back to society.
The challenge isn’t there for those who have already achieved success. It is there for those who have not yet achieved the success that America promises. Now, whether America delivers on that promise or not is entirely up to us. We must make this decision individually and collectively. We can’t look at others saying: “It’s your decision. I don’t have any power. I can’t make change happen.” Everybody can make that change happen.
In my own life, the wonderful and rarified opportunity I’ve been afforded as a Cabinet member has allowed me to make a contribution that otherwise I could not have. Before there was an openly gay Cabinet member sitting at the table, these voices simply were not included in the conversation.
Unfortunately, in every Cabinet meeting, I’m still the voice speaking up about lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender issues. But more and more, as I speak up about issues of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, ability and age, people from other groups remember to include LGBT people in the conversation. One of the lessons to be learned is that you can’t expect others to be there for you if you’re not there for them.
In my six-and-a-half years in this position that I have loved, I’ve learned so much from the people that I’ve met by going to every single luncheon or dinner for the eighteen state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; going to every single luncheon, dinner and event in the state Hispanic American Society; meeting with university presidents in the fourteen state universities and thirty-two major colleges in the state to talk about how to expand minority enrollment; meeting with the chiefs of the 1,217 police forces in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discuss why, based on a study that we initiated, there is not any minority representation in three-quarters of the forces. The police officers are all white and all male. There are no women, no Hispanics, no Asians, no African-Americans, zero representation in 60 percent of the police forces.
The response I often get from these police chiefs is, “We don’t have any of those people in our jurisdiction.”
My response is, “Of course you don’t.” If everybody looks the same as everybody’s always looked in a jurisdiction, there will never be any change. Change must be modeled. That is part of the leadership role. We can’t expect that a non-white is going to feel welcome or safe living in an all-white, rural Pennsylvania environment. People are going to be afraid to drive through that environment, let alone live there.
So, we have to make change happen as individuals, we have to be committed to social change, and we have to take risks. One important thing I hope I have done successfully is to be willing to take risks throughout my career. Risk is critically important. We shouldn’t be afraid of risk: if we fail, it’s an opportunity to learn what didn’t work so we can make it work better the next time. Engaging in risk—and obviously I’m talking about calculated, safe, thoughtful, risk-taking behavior—opens us up to enormous possibilities both personally and for those around you.
When we challenge the status quo, everyone must take a step back to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t in order to make a society where things work better. We learn from one another by bringing to the table people who are very different in their life experiences and backgrounds. We won’t learn nearly as much by talking to the same people in the same way that we always have. By listening to the voices of those with a different perspective and life experience, we can broaden our own understanding of what works in the world, how things can happen very differently and effectively in ways we’ve not yet explored.
The greatest gift that this opportunity has given me is learning from many wonderful people from different places and backgrounds, knowing that their life experience is valid, credible and important, offering something that is, as I said at the beginning of this talk, far beyond the level of toleration.
Tolerance gets us in trouble every time because it makes us believe we’ve done enough. Tolerance makes us believe that our work is finished and that we can stop, thinking that somebody else will carry on the fight. And that’s absolutely unacceptable. None of us should be so smug and self-serving that we step back and say we’ve done enough. None of us have done enough. If we’re not engaged in the struggle for changing hearts and minds every day of our lives, then we still haven’t done enough.
Making a Commitment
We recognize that few people are going to be able to do this every day of their lives. If you can make a commitment toward change, the world is inevitably will change at a faster pace and in a way that’s more inclusive of all of us and our needs than if you constantly say to yourself, ”It’s too much effort, it’s too much trouble, I don’t have the time, my life is busy, things are complex, the economy is in crisis.”
You can always come up with a reason for not engaging in behavior that initiates social change. There are a million perfectly valid and reasonable excuses out there. Why not challenge yourself, saying, ”My life will be so much more valuable, so much more interesting, with a greater sense of engagement in the world. I’ll be able to make a lasting contribution, even if I touch the life of just one other person.” I think you will find a path for yourself that will lead you to the culture of peace we’re all talking about.
A culture of peace is not possible if we aren’t committed to each step along the way. We can’t just talk about an idea in “big picture” terms, expecting it to happen just because we’ve set it as a goal. We have to work in incremental ways to reach the goal, in partnership with others. One person working alone cannot achieve the goal.
As important as it is to remember the value and importance of every individual in this struggle, it’s equally important to remember that social change will be accomplished faster, with greater success and permanence if we do it together: supporting one another, listening to one another, learning from another and not always certain that our way is the right way. I understand that I make mistakes all the time, every day. But I hope I learn enough from each mistake that I don’t make the same ones over and over. All of us have so much to learn from one another.
Identity and Inclusion
The issues of identity and inclusion are particularly critical. Our identities will be limited to our own life experiences if there is no understanding of how we are infused with others’ life experiences and of their appreciation for what we have given them. Identity continues to change throughout one’s life. For lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people, the very act of coming out changes identity—an obvious and extreme example. Identity is an ongoing, changing characteristic that evolves as we allow others’ experiences into our own lives.
I started life as a little Jewish boy in Baltimore. I didn’t know many people outside of other Jews. Growing up, I had a very limited and restricted life. In college, as I met people from all faiths and backgrounds, I realized how enormous and exciting the world was.
As I got into the work of social change and social justice, I met people from different backgrounds who didn’t look anything like me and hadn’t had the economic advantages. They challenged me to discover the world in new ways and to learn from their experiences. My world is infinitely more exciting now because of all the wonderful people I’ve met than it was growing up in a protected and exclusive environment. And I mean exclusive in all the meanings of exclusive. Exclusive meaning that only those identified by one’s parents as worthy or valued—and I had wonderful parents—were allowed into one’s life.
If we retain our youthful spirit, idealism and sense of commitment to greater goals and aspirations as we grow to adulthood, we have the opportunity to make our own choices. If we just make choices that mirror the ones we’ve made our entire lives, the world is not going to offer us a great deal of change. If we don’t decide to take risks, meet other people, travel, and engage in professions we never considered before, our world will be restricted and limited.
I honestly didn’t believe, during my twenty-five years as an architect, that I’d end up as the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in the country. That was not on my radar screen, but my life is so much more gratifying, exciting and learned now than it was with all the academic study that I had. I’ve learned infinitely more from the last six and a half years than in my entire life. People have given me the ability to see the world through their eyes, through a different lens, both historical and cultural, and have expanded my world. The life experiences of people who have lived very different lives from mine help me understand more about how the challenges we have in this society were created.
When the governor’s term is up in two years, I’ll be looking for other opportunities, but I don’t think they will be in architecture. I hope to work in some capacity to help people who have not yet achieved the American Dream. How can I work to make the world a better place for those who have less than others? That sense of commitment is a change that would not have happened had I not been given the opportunity and honor to serve over these last six and a half years. I’m grateful to be in this position with the opportunity to work with people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and around the country.
Dialogue as Means of Change
Let me give you some examples of the kind of dialogue we’ve conducted in Pennsylvania that could be replicated here in New York and elsewhere in the country.
When I first came on board, it was very shortly after September 11, 2001. The country was in shock. We were debilitated psychologically from an attack that nobody had anticipated. Our economy was in a very difficult place—maybe not quite as difficult as we’re in right now—but by contrast to what we had enjoyed earlier, we were in a state of shock. It seemed to me that we needed to step back and, instead of responding to extreme voices here in the United States, identify voices that were really listening to one another, bring not only moderation to the dialogue but a sense of thoughtful, engaged, intelligent conversation.
I contacted Judea Pearl, a distinguished scholar and the father of Daniel Pearl, the journalist, and Akbar Ahmed, the world’s leading authority on Islam and former ambassador to Great Britain from Pakistan who now teaches and has his own chair at American University in Washington, D.C. I brought them together in Pittsburgh, a very blue-collar city, to have a dialogue on television for several hours and then conduct a question-and-answer session with the audience.
It was an unbelievable experience where two people with nothing in common became friends, engaging in a dialogue that affected the thousand people in the audience. We took the dialogue to Philadelphia, and it was even more powerful. Then we filmed it as a two-hour special that was shown on National Public Television several times and seen around the world.9
I got a call from the Archbishop of Canterbury in London who invited us to conduct the dialogue in the House of Lords in London. We created an eight-day experience with twenty-four different meetings with ambassadors and community groups from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the United States and Britain. You can imagine the impact the dialogue had just among the people who were able to hear it, whether on television or in person. It’s an example of how just one person with a creative and thoughtful idea can have a huge effect on many people. I’ve also been able to do things in a more modest way in Pennsylvania that are affecting communities that have not been well addressed.
For example, I started the first Disability Stakeholders Task Force to bring together hundreds of people representing various mental and physical disability rights organizations from across the country. The purpose was to learn from one another and educate those not living with or caring for people with mental or physical disabilities. It has been an eye-opening experience.
As a result of this gathering, the governor of Pennsylvania established the first Cabinet on the Rights of People with Disabilities, of which I am vice chair. We are now engaging people all across the nation in a greater appreciation for and understanding of people who have different kinds of abilities.
Protecting Others Means Protecting Ourselves
We must remember that when we ignore or render invisible a population, whether it’s LGBT people, African-Americans or people with different abilities, we have an increasingly harsh economic effect on that community. People with disabilities have a 70 percent unemployment rate in this country. Most people don’t know that. And most people are afraid of those with disabilities. They feel uncomfortable and don’t want to be near them.
All of us will be part of that community at some point in our lives. It may be from an accident or it may be because we age long enough to become a person with a disability. Ultimately we’re all going to get there. We had better learn how to respond to these needs while we’re able-bodied and young so that we can have a society that values and appreciates us when we become a person with a disability. That’s a great example of how all of us need to get engaged to protect our own futures and the welfare of society.
If we don’t engage, if we choose to step back and just live, we can get through life. It may be a life with a lot of money or material things, but it will also be a life that’s more isolated and less full. When we look back at the end of our years, we will ask the all-important questions: “What did I do to change the world? What did I leave behind? Why did I spend seventy, eighty or a hundred years on this earth? Was there any reason for me to be here?”
These deep, philosophical questions are the ones that can actually make a great difference in the way we live each day. They are more than just big-picture concepts to study in school or to read about in the newspaper. They are down-to-earth concepts that affect each person differently but can alter our ability to live this life in a full and a self-actualized way.
If you understand that you can bring things into your life that will alter your perception of the world, your place in it and the difference you can make in this world, that’s the kind of purposeful life that builds this society and can ultimately achieve a culture of peace based upon equality, diversity, identity and the inclusion of everyone in the society.
Questions and Answers
Audience Member 1: Is it possible that tolerance is a crucial way station between bias and acceptance, or is it possible to go from bias directly to acceptance without stopping at tolerance?
Glassman: That’s a very interesting question, and my response is that tolerance is a way station if you move through it with alacrity and deliberate speed. If it gets you to your goal, then it is a perfectly acceptable place. It’s like getting off at a subway stop, getting back on and continuing toward your destination until you get to the end. It’s fine if it’s a building block that creates greater understanding and acceptance and an ability to listen and learn, but most people get stuck at tolerance.
The real problem with tolerance is that when it becomes a larger goal in society—the end product—then it is being used disadvantageously and actually hurts us. If you lull people into believing that they have achieved their goal by getting to an intermediary place that is not nearly far enough in the struggle, most people will only aim for tolerance. You need to keep the goals really high.
As an example, one organization—and it’s a wonderful organization—the Southern Poverty Law Center—well, tolerance is their goal. They now recognize that they’ve trapped themselves. They’re a very thoughtful group and I work with them very closely, but they realize that by their own phraseology they have trapped themselves and are not able to progress as much as they’d like.
People think that the goal they established thirty years ago is the end point. Goal setting is critically important. Stepping back and constantly reevaluating your goals is the path by which you’re going to achieve them. That is why tolerance needs to be understood in a very careful and thoughtful way. You recognize that you’re allowing people to grow at the rate that they need to grow but that it’s part of the growth process, not the place you ultimately want to be.
Audience Member 2: Can you talk about how your study of architecture and your practice as an architect inform what you are currently doing? Is there a correlation?
Glassman: I could rationalize this for you and say that architects are generalists. They have to study many things and engage with people in many different ways. As an architect, I was not only a designer. I was a sociologist and a psychologist. As an architect, I did lots of couple counseling, straight and gay.
But architecture did not have a great deal to do with how I arrived here. It was more that I had a very rich and full volunteer life for thirty years—from the time I was in high school. I recognized at some point in my career that the thrill, excitement and personal value I was getting from my volunteer work in the civil rights movement was greater than the joy I got from architecture, a field that I love.
I did well, but it affected only a very rarefied audience, a small number of people with lots of money. It wasn’t really changing the world in any way. And I wasn’t here to just build monuments to myself.
It seemed to me that the important thing is to get beyond academic training and professional experience. I wanted to use my life experience with a sense of purposefulness, commitment and dedication to a cause. I wanted to allow everyone to get to a place of equality and justice so that they could have the same opportunities of education and life that I had.
That seemed to me the life lesson learned. It wasn’t about me; it was about others who ought to have the same opportunities but who clearly were not being given them freely. We were going to have to fight to get them those same opportunities.
Audience Member 3: Although you speak of it as one community, there is discrimination within the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community. How can we relate to the racism and the discrimination that exists within the LGBT community?
Glassman: Thank you for making that point. It’s not only an excellent point, but I assume—and I should not assume—that it’s clear that, unfortunately, a society dominated by a culture of racism and sexism is also one that is being more revealed to be dominated by homophobia as well. You’re absolutely correct that racism exists in all areas of society. And homophobia exists within the LGBT community
For example, there’s an enormous need for education about gender identity or expression within the LGB community. The greatest discrimination against transgender people, believe it or not, is among other gay and lesbian people as opposed to heterosexual people. Heterosexual people often don’t even realize that someone is a different gender than the one they were born into.
Racism is so structural in this society. Society is limited in its ability to get us beyond the place where we have been. Our concept of racism in this society is unilateral, based as it is upon what we’ve been taught or what we’ve seen on television documentaries. If you don’t engage with people who are African-American or people of different colors and backgrounds and listen to them talk about the authenticity of their life experiences, then your understanding of racism comes from what you read in the New York Times or whatever your source of information is.
I think we have done a poor job in the LGBT community of addressing the issue of racism because we’ve been focused on our own oppression. It’s been almost a competition of oppressions: who is more oppressed than the other and who deserves more attention. That has been a real problem in the LGBT community.
Audience Member 4: It has to do with the leadership also, because the leadership is mostly white. If there was more balance….
Glassman: I agree with you. But I also think you have to look beyond leadership. You have to look at what your commitment as an organization is, not just who’s at the top of the organization. People who are African-American can be less committed to dealing with issues of racism than people who are white. People who are straight can be more committed to dealing with LGBT issues than an LGBT person might be. It really has to do with the individual.
We need to get beyond categorizing people based upon what they look like. People must prove their worth, value and commitment by the work that they do. We shouldn’t just give an automatic pass. “Oh, you’re a person of color? Yeah, you get a pass on being fully engaged in the work dealing with oppression and racism.“ No, we all have to make that commitment, but you’re right that the leadership has not caught up with the grass roots.
In the same way that boards of directors are almost always behind the progressive thinking of the staff of an organization, legislators— whom I deal all the time—are way behind the constituency. We do polling all the time that shows that elected officials are terribly afraid of dealing with what they consider to be controversial issues when the polls are actually supportive of doing the work that terrifies them. The reason is that they’re worried about winning their reelections—not in the general elections—they’re worried about winning primaries. That’s what this is about. They’re worried about right-wingers running against them in rural-area primaries even when polls say that 88 percent of Pennsylvanians support non-discrimination employment legislation for LGBT people.
Audience Member 5: My question is about a burgeoning minority population and culture as comprised by the LGBT community, blacks and Hispanics and the importance of established American populations moving past tolerance and into acceptance of these groups. I was wondering in your time moving among the minority groups, if you noticed whether this notion of moving past intolerance to acceptance was something that these groups should be reminded about as well. When you mentioned the census and the idea that the minority population is going to be growing, I wonder if these three groups are going to either unite or fray?
Glassman: Well, first of all, I think you should be giving the talk. You basically answered your own question. I think you fully appreciate the challenges. The difficulty often is that within groups there is tremendous diversity. So, there will be competition for resources as I mentioned earlier within each individual group. There are those who are better or less well educated with regard to the issues I’ve been talking about—not academic issues. People will either hold back or help advance a movement of unity, coalition building and collaborative work. That’s a struggle that’s going to be going on for a very long time.
It’s been going on for many decades in this country, even within the civil rights movement. You know from your own study of history that Martin Luther King had a very low rating in the African-American church community through all of his struggles. He was not able to preach at many churches in the south because they didn’t like his style or his belief system. There was a great deal of jealousy about the kind of attention that he was getting nationally. Who was this young upstart?
There’s a wonderful book called Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch10. It’s a brilliant and fascinating biography of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. It talks about exactly the issues you’re addressing, the fractionalization in the African-American community and the need for people to get beyond themselves and their own particular issues. That still goes on today.
Look at the political arm of the African-American movement today and think about the campaign we just went through. Think about the comments that Jesse Jackson—who has made enormous contributions to this country and is a brilliant orator himself—made about Barack Obama during the campaign.11 That answers your question.
We’re a long way away from the clear unity of purpose and coalition of efforts that we need to be. But I believe it hurts us to have expectations that are higher than what we can achieve. We need aspirations and goals. We need to be able to guide ourselves along a path to our destination. But we will suffer if we set goals so high in the intermediate path that we can never achieve them, getting so discouraged that we stop our movement along the path.
Let’s set incremental and achievable goals, as a group or as individuals. Some success will spur you on and inspire you to achieve more and more until you get to your ultimate goal. If your goal is to have all parts of each group working together in unity in this struggle for fairness and equal opportunity and you set that as your only goal, most people will drop out along the way. It’s too difficult, too challenging and too painful.
You need to allow yourself a series of small steps so that, rung by rung, you can get to the top of the ladder. If you’re on the ground looking up at the top of the ladder and there are no rungs to get to the top, you may walk away. Very few people are going to leap up to the top.
Audience Member 6: It was the African-American and Latino men in bars who were constantly attacked and it was because of the struggles they underwent that Stonewall12 even happened.
Glassman: And don’t forget the transgender people and the drag queens.
Audience Member 6: The transgender and transvestite communities were not asked to be part of the organizing committee when the twenty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall was celebrated. It’s kind of funny how the status hasn’t moved very far. I’m old enough to remember ACT UP13. The gay and lesbian community used ACT UP opportunistically as a way to gain visibility.
ACT UP lent a sense of militancy to the Gay Pride parade14. Giuliani (Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) was furious and did everything in his power to try to blanket down the strength of the community. He stopped the parade at intersections for ten minutes at a time. People said that as the community got closer to mainstream, there would be costs. I go to the parade now and it’s not the same. The militancy is not there.
I think that mainstreaming is dangerous. I’m wondering if the mainstreaming aspect is partly responsible for something like Proposition 8.15 It doesn’t make sense to me, that in 2008, our communities would allow a separation like that.
Glassman: Let me take the last part about Proposition 8 first. There was a lot of editorializing immediately after Proposition 8 passed blaming the African-American community and the Hispanic community. As it turns out, it’s not true; the issue was age difference. Seventy-six percent of people ages eighteen to thirty-five voted against Proposition 8. The issue is more about age, openness and receptivity. Young people seem to have many LGBT people in their lives—family members, kids in school, or co-workers.
Their life experience has been very different from that of their elders. Cutting across all demographic lines, the Proposition 8 issue was about age, which touches on the rest of your question: movements age; every civil rights movement ages. As a movement, we’re in a different place now than we were back in 1969 and all through the ’70s.
The bottom line is that there is room for every phase you mentioned in the contemporary movement. In fact, we need all of those aspects. The militancy of one segment allows other people to get inside and meet with legislators. ACT UP enabled the human rights campaign to meet with congresspeople, because the congresspeople said, ”Well, we certainly don’t want to meet with those folks. You who are dressed in shirts and ties, yeah, you look more reasonable. We’ll let you in.”
And that’s exactly what happened. It happens in every movement. It happened in the African-American civil rights movement. Each of the civil rights movements builds on the lessons of the African-American civil rights movement—a great training ground. The bottom line is that if you try to make the movement into something it’s not, then, not only is it inauthentic, it’s going to be ineffective and won’t last.
We’ve watched cyclical patterns of a militantly engaged activist generation followed by a quiet, almost apathetic, generation and then back to militancy. What we’ve seen in this last election cycle should give us great hope. This country is much more engaged in the political process, the electoral process and the activist process.
Three hundred simultaneous demonstrations were held nationwide in opposition to Proposition 8. Five thousand people in Philadelphia showed up spontaneously at City Hall. We didn’t see that response to the other twenty-eight ballot initiatives that passed in the last election. This time there were only four ballot initiatives. Why, all of a sudden, were protests going on?
I think that the Obama campaign and presidency—the first African-American president in the White House, a brilliant orator who raised enormous amounts of money and engaged the country in the political process in a way that nobody else in recent memory has been able to do—has energized all the minority movements. Civil rights movements have been reactivated, reengaged in ways that allow the more active or militant groups as you might refer to them, inside the Beltway or the halls of Congress.
It’s infused a new energy throughout society. I predict that in the next several years we’ll see more ongoing action by groups who are struggling for equality and acceptance. It’s not going to be a quiescent time. It will be a more participatory time; people of all ages will be engaged. I myself showed up at the Proposition 8 demonstration in Philadelphia at City Hall. If I had consulted with anyone, I probably would have received instructions not to show up, but that would not have stopped me.
The time in which we live is a celebratory time, a time infused with excitement and energy that we haven’t seen in a long time. We have great opportunities ahead of us in the next four years. The fact that you showed up for this kind of talk tonight means that you were all engaged before you walked into this room. That’s a healthy sign, for our democracy.
Audience Member 7: What if you are a person who has trained and developed herself to be the risk-taker? What if you are a person who is comfortable with being uncomfortable, who would say something no one else would dare say? What do you say to the sea of onlookers who say, “Don’t do that—stop, we can’t take it, no more of that?” What kind of conversation or dialogue would you suggest to engage with that type of individual?
Glassman: What you have is a great deal of personal power. It’s clear just by the way you articulated your position. You’re a natural leader, as far as I’m concerned. People simply need to be aware that you’re willing to engage in dialogue. What often happens with very strong and empowered people who have a lot to share is that the oppression they’ve suffered has given them a need to stand up in a very bold way. What often happens is that others are afraid of or intimidated by you.
Evaluate how are you presenting yourself: How are those with whom I want to engage seeing me? How can I present my message in a way that allows people to enter into a dialogue? How can I avoid having them feel, ‘She is so powerful and so strong that I could never match that presence; I can’t even engage (with her)?’ You may need to step back and see how you can convey the message in a way that allows others to get the beauty of you and the richness of your experience in a one-on-one dialogue.
Audience Member 8: I’m curious about what the job of Commissioner of Human Relations entails?
Glassman: As a Cabinet official in the governor’s administration, I have the responsibility of running a state agency. It is the largest human relations agency in the United States. We provide employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, lending and educational services to minorities and women. Our mission— a very large task that may never be fully realized—is to eradicate discrimination and bias in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
To achieve that goal we work in a variety of areas. In our agency, we accept investigation cases—at any given time we have approximately 12,000 cases being investigated by our staff members. We also offer legal services. We have a separate law firm in the agency of sixteen full-time civil rights attorneys who do precedent-setting law in a variety of areas. For example, we were the first agency in the United States to deal with disability discrimination at ATM machines and on buses and transportation.
All the law that exists in the United States having to do with disability rights emanated from Pennsylvania. Our agency made Pennsylvania the first state to desegregate schools in the United States. We are one of the oldest agencies as well as the largest. Back in the early 1950s, we established precedent-setting law particularly with regard to race relations, which transmuted over the years into dealing with women’s issues, disabilities, age and other protected-class statuses.
We work with all the school districts and 1,217 police forces in Pennsylvania to ensure equality in advancement, testing and hiring procedures. Also under our purview is the way in which their duties are prosecuted with the general public. As a law enforcement agency we have a responsibility to work with all of those community service agencies. For example, I meet frequently with police chiefs, school superintendants and university professors to try to achieve educational equity for minorities and women in the state.
Audience Member 9: What made you pursue a career in this field?
Glassman: I didn’t actually pursue this career. Things sometimes happen in surprising ways. I went to graduate school for architecture and practiced architecture professionally for about twenty-five years. At the same time I have always been engaged in civil rights work, protesting the war in Vietnam when I was in high school and working for causes that benefitted gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people. As a young man, anyone of minority status was on my radar screen.
Those interests gradually overtook my interest in architecture. I used architecture, essentially, to fund my ability to do volunteer work. Ultimately I became the head of a political organization in the state that was working to achieve equal rights in legislation for LGBT people. After a nearly seven-year struggle, we got a hate-crimes bill passed in Pennsylvania and I was working with the legislature on practically a full-time basis, probably not doing as much architecture as I probably should have.
At the time it was passed, it was the most inclusive hate crimes law in the United States and received a lot of national attention. The governor’s race was just ending at that time. So, a new governor was coming in, I was nominated, went for public hearings before the Senate and was approved. Sometimes, by happenstance, you get the most interesting opportunities in life.
Audience Member 10: You are obviously well educated. But we’ve seen tuition costs rise at least 50 percent in many places. In Maryland, where I’m from, my university tuition went up at least 50 percent over the last five years, if not more. Especially with regard to minorities, how can we address giving them the opportunity to receive a higher education?
Glassman: To begin with, we’re in an extraordinarily challenging time because of the economic crisis. Credit markets are nearly frozen, which is affecting everyone regardless of which school they’re attending. Until we overcome the challenge to education funding, it’s difficult to take a long-range view.
I think there will be a paradigm shift in the distribution of money and how the government interacts with funding. At our agency, one thing we’ve advocated for with the Department of Education in Pennsylvania is for the government to get into the middle of the business of funding education instead of doing it through the banks, essentially a middleman. Government should provide the funding at much lower costs and interest rates.
There is a model for that in Pennsylvania, now a national model, called the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, a funding agency for education with $60 billion in assets. Unfortunately, because of the drop in the stock market and the crunch in the credit markets, there’s been a severance of monies emanating from PHEAA, but that should improve as the economy improves. Our basic philosophy has been that if government is going to adequately serve the people, one of the things it must do is fund education and advancement for our young people so that the society as a whole benefits.
This is one area where government can actually be more efficient and effective than private enterprise, because government is not in the business of making money. It’s not a profit-making organization in the way that banks are. And the government can sustain those loans for a longer period of time, granting consideration when students are taking fellowships, are unemployed or unable to pay back their loans.
It is still necessary to develop a comprehensive solution that doesn’t respond only to students of academic privilege, but also to students coming from less advantaged backgrounds, minority students in particular. Scholarships in this country exist primarily for those who achieve at the highest levels academically. The money that’s really needed is for students who have never had an equal educational opportunity. These students need scholarship funding early in their education so they can receive the opportunities that allow them to advance, achieve academically and excel.
The funding stream must be evaluated differently than it has been in the past. For those who achieve academically, there are plenty of scholarships. But for those who have been deprived the opportunity to even get in the game, money is very limited. This past year, we rewrote a bill that was offered in our legislature by a very thoughtful legislator who, nonetheless, did not understand these critical inequities.
This African-American legislator from Philadelphia offered a bill to advance scholarship money based upon benchmarks having to do with scholastic success, high levels of attendance, lack of disciplinary problems, and so on. We explained to him that the money really needs to go to schools and individuals who are caught up in a system that is discriminatory in its very nature. If you look at and disaggregate the data, you learn which students are being disciplined unfairly and out of proportion to their population, which students are in classes twice the size of others, which are not getting the teachers with the best credentials and training, which students are not getting extra courses for advanced placement, art, music or even athletics. It’s always the minority students, the poor students, and the ones in the lowest-performing schools. That’s where the money needs to be directed, where resources need to be reallocated to give everyone a level playing field so they can achieve and advance.
Audience Member 11: In a society like India where I come from, homosexual relationships are still illegal. When discrimination is so strong, how do you start talking about rights for the LGBT community?
Glassman: There is an international organization run by a friend of mine, Paula Ettelbrick. It’s called the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which works with the United Nations in countries around the world to promote dialogue in a safe way so that people aren’t arrested or disallowed from their participation.
One challenging concept is that of cultural competency. It has to do with being able to effectively deal with and understand differences in religious beliefs, languages, traditions and heritages between other countries and cultures and one’s own. Sensitivity awareness training is offered to people who are going to work with local community activists in other countries. They learn from one another and create a support system in countries where laws are even more restrictive than they are here.
Although I must say that in the United States we do not have the most inclusive or supportive laws for LGBT people. We have a patchwork of laws that are very strong in some places and absent in others. Some people are protected; some are not. However, in countries where there is a longstanding prohibition on homosexuality they are actually talking about behavior since there doesn’t necessarily exist a concept of what culture might be for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people.
In that case, we have to work from the foundation of their cultural traditions and find ways to identify principles of common ground between their society and the marginalized group. We need to identify ways to work on mutual projects or initiatives where trust and relationships can be built. More than anything, success in any minority community with regard to equal rights is based upon people knowing who people are as individuals and not stereotypes, not mythologizing them unfairly with misrepresentations or misinformation that have been handed down from generation to generation without any supporting facts.
As people get to know one another and establish personal relationships, barriers break down, assumptions are changed, people often open up and become more receptive to others they didn’t understand simply because they didn’t know them.
Audience Member 12: Have you felt that your mission and motivation has been energized or has shifted with current times? With the election of President Obama, Proposition 8 and the hate crimes that have been occurring, with opportunities for change and the obstacles that are occurring now, is your mission going to change?
Glassman: It gives me great hope that we have people as articulate as you in high school. Thank you for your question. My response is perhaps more subtle in nuance than you might expect. While obviously it’s a tremendous gift to this country and to the world to have the first African-American president, Barack Obama is also a politician. The same issues that challenge the current president will challenge him. These issues are not going to disappear. In fact, we’re going into an extraordinarily challenging time: getting ourselves out of two wars where we should never have been in the first place, getting ourselves out of an economic crisis that is deeper than any we’ve known in our lifetimes—no one sitting in this room, no matter how old, has ever experienced an economy with the depth of challenge we are currently experiencing.
We should be very careful not to set this president up for failure by having expectations that are too high, not thinking that within six months or a year he’s going to solve everything. He will be working with a Congress that is perhaps more supportive of progressive initiatives than the current Congress, but it’s still a Congress representing people and states from all over the country. There is an entrenched bureaucracy with government agencies doing their work in the way they have always done it.
Change takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. I have learned that one of the greatest challenges and gifts is the development of patience. It doesn’t mean that you give up your integrity or your commitment to addressing issues that need to be changed, but you learn to prioritize. You learn to balance out what you’re doing before doing the next thing, how to multi-task, and realizing that some initiatives will move forward rapidly. Others will take more time because you must build relationships with multiple people in order to get something passed.
That’s exactly what President Obama is going to have to do. He’s not going to be able to change “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as rapidly as he and our community would like to. He’s going to have to build relationships and alliances with the military brass at the head of every military agency before he can get that change to happen in a productive way.
When Harry Truman changed the way African-Americans were dealt with in the military16, creating equity for people of color in 1948, he did it after years of study. He began by integrating various aspects of the military in small ways before he made the big change. It took two long years, with a lot of resistance from within the military, until there was real equity. The military is the best place to do this because people are trained into a culture that obeys and follows orders.
It’s actually easier to get people to do things in the military than it is in mainstream society. That’s why it’s important to wait until there is a consensus of support before moving ahead. If people feel that policy has been forced on them, they will secretly undermine it, doing things to hurt it more than help it. Consensus must be built through educating, training and creating sensitivity to these issues.
Statistics that have just been published for a poll done earlier this year by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the national LGBT organization dealing with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, show that, for the first time, a slight majority of soldiers, men and women now serving in the military, is in favor of abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We have a better opportunity now than we’ve ever had before to overturn that policy.
With regard to the general basis of your question, we have to be careful to strike a balance between what we demand and expect of a new president and what is realistic for this most progressive and articulate individual. Barack Obama is probably one of the greatest orators we’ve ever had in the history of this country. But even somebody who has a very compelling way of delivering the message has to have the support of people who are actually voting on these issues in order to get an agenda passed.
So in our community, the first thing we’ve laid out that we believe we can get passed in the first year or so is hate crimes legislation, a very important piece of legislation from a symbolic standpoint. It’s also important in reality: what you won’t read in the press is that federal hate crimes legislation only deals with federal crimes—only 10 percent of all of hate crimes.
Ninety percent of crimes that happen are either state or local crimes. So federal hate crimes legislation, while certainly laudable and useful, is actually not going to address that many crimes. What it’s going to do is set up an elevated standard of expectation in this country about what we have a right to demand with regard to equality and social justice.
That’s a very good thing and will make it easier about a year later, probably, to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act17 passed in Congress. We hope to deal with housing and public accommodations law and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the next several years. Finally, we need to undo the Defense of Marriage Act18, the most insidious piece of federal legislation passed in my lifetime.
But all these things are very difficult to do because they hit at the edge of the envelope with regard to social issues in this country, striking at the resistance of those who are desperately fighting to hold onto power and the status quo. The last act of the far right is to not allow LGBT people to enjoy the same kind of freedom and equality as others because it is often conflated with religion. So, from my perspective, this is an ideological stance, not a rational one.
It’s about emotion, feeling and attachment to an old way of looking at things. It’s not one that you can intellectually posit makes a great deal of sense. When you’re fighting that kind of battle you must win over many different constituencies through logic, rational behavior and intellectual conversation so that people understand, point by point, the reality as opposed to the disinformation put out there by those opposed to advancing change.
Audience Member 13: Who influenced you in your youthful days to become the courageous person you are today?
Glassman: Thank you for that. I would say the most important influence in my life was my mother. I think parents and family can make a great deal of difference. It doesn’t mean that you can’t advance and create an opportunity by yourself, but the challenge is greater if you don’t have role models from a very young age who embrace you, celebrate you and acknowledge every contribution you make. It’s lucky to have parents who provide an emotional support system and offer you educational and social opportunities.
I had two parents who were very liberal politically. I participated in civil rights marches at the age of eight, carrying little picket signs against segregated restaurants and amusement parks. I also was fortunate enough to have had an extraordinary number of marvelous teachers from grade school through prep school, college and graduate school.
There were an inordinate number of extraordinarily sensitive, smart, engaging, critical-thinking people who challenged authority and the status quo, people who really engaged me in conversations that forced me to think outside of the box, not just repeat by rote what I was being taught. Critical thinking is the key to bringing vision and social change to society.
Programmatic responses, even done effectively, do not allow society to follow its natural urge to change and advance in ways that bring equality, justice and fairness to everyone. Society will function at its highest level when everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in a democratic way.
Although we like to talk about social justice and equality, we have many classes of people in our society. We like to look at our founding documents and quote them, but discrimination and bias were built into them—the disenfranchisement of an entire gender and for all those who didn’t own land; anyone who was a person of color was only two-thirds of a person. These attitudes were built into the founding documents that we revere.
There are people who have to struggle to compete in a way that is unfair and which challenges them to do more in order to get to the same place as those who are automatically granted rights. The entitlements granted have nothing to do with achievement or accomplishment. They have only to do with skin color, gender and wealth.
Audience Member 14: Most of us at this table, I believe, are leaders or have been leaders in our local communities. In Brooklyn, where I’m from, there are many parents and kids who, because of Barack Obama’s election, are suddenly interested in politics, but the parents don’t know how to begin nurturing the kids in that direction.
In the inner city, we know that if you want to be an NBA player, stay on the court; if you want to be a rapper, stay in the club. But when it comes to politics most parents don’t have the mechanisms in place or even knowledge of the little things to get involved with. Since you grew up in this culture, I was wondering if you have any insight or anything we can share with the people in our community?
Glassman: Sure. There are some critical things young people need to do if they want to get more engaged in politics. The first is to read many newspapers everyday, whether online or otherwise, to be informed, to keep up with what’s going on all over the world. Now you can do it on the Internet. If you don’t own a computer, you can use the ones at the library or in school labs.
In my position as a Cabinet member, I’m fortunate to get a news digest from the governor daily. It excerpts articles from papers all across the country. We sign up for subject areas so that we can see what’s going on anywhere in the United States; we can sign up for foreign newspapers as well. I would certainly read the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times to get various perspectives. There are many African-American newspapers that give a very different perspective on the world culturally. If you don’t speak Spanish, there are Hispanic newspapers in English. I would start looking at some of those other voices so that you’re not just reading a white cultural voice.
Although people are incredibly intimidated about this, young people can set up a meeting with any legislator. Legislators love young people but never get to see them. Just call up your state legislator, your state representative or Congressperson; they’ll be thrilled to have you bring eight-year-old, ten-year-old, twelve-year-old kids into their office to learn about politics because most schools today don’t teach civics or government.
The quickest way to get people engaged in politics is to actually meet and talk to people who are in elected or appointed office. Most offices would love to have young volunteers coming in after school for two or three hours a day. There are filing tasks and other mundane things to do, but in that environment they will meet people, hear about legislation and see people come in with advocacy efforts on particular issues. It’s possible to learn more by being in the environment of a politician’s office than anything studied in school.
The two items I just mentioned are free and simple to do. You will be welcomed because the younger you are, the less dangerous you seem. Those are two ways to get a young person started that nobody seems to do, but everybody can do without any cost.
Audience Member 15: I’ve been thinking for a long time about what musicians and artists can do to contribute to a culture of peace. But I’ve been doing so much research on what’s going on in the world: the economic crisis, climate change and international conflicts. I’m finding it rather difficult to find a place to start. It’s easy to say, “Okay, I’m going to throw a benefit concert and call it ’Save Sudan,’ ” but I don’t really feel like that’s enough. Can you offer some specific advice for musicians and artists, so that they can be respected and can work with the movers and shakers in professional fields such as government and economics?
Glassman: First of all, there is an organization, the Daniel Pearl Foundation, founded by Daniel Pearl’s father, Judea. Daniel Pearl was a skilled musician. The foundation hosts concerts all around the world to bring a political message of understanding and moderate voices. Through music they help people learn about one another’s cultures.
There are organizations you can Google. Quite a number of groups deal with political strife through the vehicle of music. There are also museums focused on this with exhibits that you can actually see that are deal with political issues.
But I think it also makes sense to look at politicians who are musicians. Bill Clinton isn’t the only one who played an instrument really well. One thing you might do is a survey of all the people in the New York State legislature. Ask them a series of questions about their musical education, if they play an instrument, if they go to concerts. You could develop an interesting survey from the perspective of being an artist and a musician that would tap into their own particular skills and interests. And then you could engage them once you have found that common ground.
It’s always about finding commonality. Once you’ve found it, you can get a meeting with them and talk about how you can use music to effectuate a policy initiative you might be interested in, either in their district or statewide. Music is a very easy vehicle because most people can find some music that resonates with them. That way you can bring people together and, in a subtle way, transmit a message that uses the vehicle of music as the common binder.
A politician playing an instrument might give a talk that’s not an ordinary political speech, but is more about how to bridge the gaps between us, how to build a culture of peace, a culture of understanding, a culture of dialogue—all the issues that you’re all involved with here in the SGI.
Audience Member 16: You mentioned that your biggest influence was your mother and discussed the importance of having a good parent. I was born and raised in India. There is a generation of women who are struggling to balance work and children; there’s very little time that they can devote to their children. How can we become better parents? We should be able to give them an environment that makes them a good person. In my country, working women are being blamed for the collapse of the family structure, based on women having stepped out of the house, gotten an education and jobs. How do we deal with this?
Glassman: Women in the United States are blamed for that, too. It is, unfortunately, a common way of avoiding responsibility and scapegoating others. But you’re asking an incredibly difficult question that I don’t have an immediate answer for, but I will take a little stab at it. One of the things that I think we do well at agencies like mine is to open up dialogue and introduce people to one another so that they encounter different mindsets, perspectives and philosophies.
People in decision-making positions— often a very limited number of elected officials—are the ones who need to be educated about a new way of understanding roles and responsibilities in the world. If they are introduced to people they can respect, to new ideas, there is at least an opportunity to begin a conversation about existing laws that limit the ability of women to advance.
We need more legislation that offers economic opportunities, childcare and support services for working women. Those things don’t exist in most places and laws often block women from advancing. Nearly all elected officials have schooling they must complete. For example, judges have to attend, literally, judge school for several weeks before they’re allowed to sit on the bench. Elected officials go through several days, sometimes a week, of training.
If you can get involved with in-service training opportunities with officials, whether elected or appointed, you have a real chance of sharing other ways of viewing the world, the people in it and their roles in society. You have to start somewhere and training is often the very best way to do it. The problems that you’re talking about are age-old, very complex and layered.
One short answer isn’t really going to get at the foundation of how to resolve a problem like this because you’re talking about many aspects of society that must come together for a long period of time before the shift is apparent. But, it is quite surprising that a country like Iran, for example, in thirty years under the Shah—no matter how bad you may have thought that regime was—went from a country that was completely non-Western to a country that had the highest percentage of college-educated women of any country, including the United States.
That has drifted backwards since a religion-based government has taken over Iran, but it is possible in a short period of time for social change to offer completely different perceptions of what is acceptable and is embraced in a society. It depends on the vehicle used to do it. So it doesn’t necessarily have to take hundreds of years; it’s that it usually does because of resistance to change by those who are in positions of authority and power. I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer to such a layered, complex problem.
Audience Member 17: What aspect of your job do you find most difficult? What kind of advice do you offer future leaders about public service?
Glassman: The most difficult aspect of my job is not the job itself; it’s some of the people with whom I have to work. I work with many different constituencies but one of the most important is the entire state legislature and our delegation of nineteen Congresspeople. Not all of them share my perspectives or point of view on the issues we’re addressing tonight. A surprisingly large number do, but there are many who come from a politically restrictive and conservative place.
I do a lot of media: talk shows on television and radio, call-in shows where I answer questions or interviews in newspapers. The challenge is to never lose my control. I must never react emotionally. I have to retain my passion for the issue without getting out of control or reducing myself to the level of vitriol I sometimes receive in these phone calls. I’m very good at that. But it takes its toll on me internally. It’s not an easy thing to do, sitting for three hours and receiving sixty-seven phone calls in a row, all of which are hate phone calls. I’ve had to do that.
The biggest challenge is retaining your commitment to the issues and to a process of dialogue that is restrained, thoughtful and sensitive to other people’s needs. It’s important to remember that everybody has the potential to grow and change and to be better educated. It’s important to realize that you have something to offer to people and to do it in a way that is controlled, not allowing yourself to rise to the bait.
Regarding the second part of your question about getting into public service: Don’t lose your commitment to your ideals. It is easy to see people in public office becoming co-opted and controlled by the temptations of power, economic incentives or other things that seem alluring at the moment, but are deceptive and will undercut any progress toward change that you have made. Hold onto your ideals, understanding that your commitment is to social justice, to improving the lives of those who are disadvantaged and need your help.
Commitment to your ideals is a sacred promise you make to yourself. It’s not between you and anybody else. It’s holding onto the ideals of your youth, the essence of what makes you a leader and someone who will leave a legacy in this world. Let your ideals drive your life rather than money, power or material things. That would be the best advice I could give you.
2 The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia decided the case Loving v. Virginia on June 12, 1967.
3 On November 4, 2008, in a statewide election, California voters approved Proposition 8, adding a new section to the state Constitution that states: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
4 According to a study commissioned by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund in San Francisco, released under the auspices of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, the total percent of voters supporting Proposition 8 in 2000 was 61%, compared to 52% in 2008. (source: www.thetaskforce.org)
5 A population where the racial composition is less than 50% white.
6 According to the US Census Bureau [source: www.census.gov].
7 Richard Florida, The Flight of the Creative Class, (New York: Harper Business, 2004).
8 According to the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org).
9 In 2003, Professor Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and co-editor of I am Jewish (2004), and Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and author of Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007) and Islam Under Siege (2003), lead a public dialogue in Pittsburgh, Penn., on the divisions between Muslims and the western world and between Muslims and Jews. The event was covered widely in the United States, Arab and Pakistani press. Due to its success, this personal yet public dialogue continued in cities across the United States and abroad. The conversations, which were never the same, covered issues from theology, history and ideology to politics and current news, and encourage audience participation. Two principles guide the conversation; first, no Issue is taboo and, second, respect at all times. Professors Ahmed and Pearl believe that these open and honest dialogues are essential for the future of humanity. In 2006, Professors Ahmed and Pearl were among the recipients of the first annual Purpose Prize “in recognition of [their] simple, yet innovative approach to solving one of society’s most pressing problems.”
10 Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, (Simon & Schuster, 1989)
11 On July 9, 2008, the Reverend Jesse Jackson finished an interview on Fox News and made an unguarded statement, unaware that the microphone was still on, that presidential candidate Barack Obama was “talking down to black people.” He apologized and continued his support of Obama’s campaign (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQl_6buUggM).
12 On June 29, 1969, a group of patrons outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City rioted against police harassment. The next evening, 1000 persons rioted in protest. Demonstrations continued over the next few days. As a result, gay advocacy groups such as the Gay Liberation Front were started.
13 Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP): An organization formed in 1987 to take action to ends the AIDS crisis.
14 The first Gay Pride parade took place on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. Parades also took place in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
15 Proposition 8 is a California ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The ballot title was “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” On August 4, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Proposition 8, ruling that it violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. On February 7, 2012, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed Judge Walker’s decision, declaring the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The panel continued a stay on the ruling, barring marriages from taking place pending further appeals.
16 July 26, 1948: Executive Order 9981 signed into law by President Truman: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” (from: www.trumanlibrary.org)
17 The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in almost every Congress since 1994. If passed, it will prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
18 The Defense of Marriage Act states: No state, territory or possession of the United States or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe or a right or claim arising from such relationship.