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Ol’ Maggie Court’s crazy ramblings a reminder that the LGBT collective still has plenty of work to do

Margaret Court says tennis “is full of lesbians.” As if that’s a bad thing.

patti dawn swansson

Moreover, ol’ Maggie informs us that there were a couple of devil lesbians on the professional tennis circuit back in her day and, get this, they would take young players to parties. Imagine that. Young women partying. With lesbians. The horrors.

Ol’ Maggie has been saying a whole lot of oddball things lately and, if we are to believe the preacher lady from the Land of Oz, civilization is caught in the grip of a global plot orchestrated by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender collective. Those pesky gays are stealing the minds of our children, don’t you know?

“That’s what Hitler did, that’s what communism did—got the mind of children,” she advises us. “And it’s a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get the minds of the children.”

Hmmm. Kind of reminds me of what the Roman Catholic Church tried to do to me when I was a sprig.

The nuns, when not whacking us on the knuckles with a yardstick, would regale us with far-out tales of fantasy gardens, poisonous fruit, hell fires, voodoo antics like turning the rib of a man into a woman and, best of all, talking snakes in a magical tree. Their stories were better than anything we watched on The Wonderful World of Disney. But apparently Margaret Court believes all the Bible-based, brainwashing blarney that my receptive mind was force-fed, and it’s quite clear that the great Australian tennis champion is convinced that gay and (especially) transgender people are the spawn of Satan.

“That’s all the devil,” she says of transgender kids.

Ol’ Maggie Court

Poor, ol’ Maggie. There’s just no escaping conniving gay men and (especially) lesbians. We’re always shoving ourselves in her face, so to speak. Why, it’s gotten so bad that she can’t even travel hither and yon on Qantas anymore because the airline’s CEO, Alan Joyce, is a gay man who, not surprisingly, promotes same-sex marriage, which is, in the world according to Maggie, “alternative, unhealthy, unnatural.” The right to wed is “not theirs to take.”

“I believe marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible,” she harrumphs.

Well, it’s about your Bible, Maggie: One person’s truth is another’s fiction.

The prune-faced preacher lady has been battered fore and aft for her Bible-thumping bleatings, which included a disapproving and extremely tacky tsk-tsking of Aussie tennis pro Casey Dellacqua and her partner Amanda Judd following the birth of the lesbian couple’s second child, a joyous event that Court greeted with “sadness” because the newborn has two mamas and zero papas.

I’d rather not join the Maggie-bashing chorus, though, because I think she’s unwittingly done the gay community a small favor.

The hell, you say. How can that be so?

Well, to be clear, I find her drawing a parallel between the LGBT collective and a mass murderer, Adolph Hitler, repugnant. It is not only offensive in the extreme, it shows she clearly has lost both the plot and the argument. She appears to be totally off her nut. But…I also think ol’ Maggie has provided us with a reminder, albeit appalling—at the top of Pride Month, no less—that we still have work to do. The fight for acceptance and equality continues. It has not been won. We must keep society’s feet to the fire.

I suppose we really shouldn’t care what comes out of this nutter’s mouth, but Court is a legendary sportswoman. No one has matched her two dozen tennis Grand Slam singles titles. One of the playing venues at the Australian Open in Melbourne is named in her honor (for now). And she is a pastor (the argument could be made that she’s more of a cult leader given that she created her own church, the Victory Life Centre in Perth). Thus, her voice carries some degree of heft. If not, the pushback from gay, transgender and, indeed, straight people against her homo/transphobic tripe wouldn’t be so robust.

I’ll just say this about that: Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, but so is the freedom to shut the hell up. Ol’ Maggie might want to give that a try.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m stepping out to party with some lesbian tennis players.

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Delbert Wagner and Percy Haynes made black beautiful for me

When I was a sprig, I was taught that black equaled bad.

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

That had nothing to do with skin color, though. It had a lot to do with cowboy clothing. The bad guys on Saturday afternoon Horse Opera, you see, more often than not wore black hats. The good guys wore white lids. Or brown. Or grey. Anything but black.

The Lone Ranger, for example, wore a white hat and sat in the saddle of a stunning, white steed (Hi-yo Silver! Away!). His white hat never knew a speck of dark stain. Even after roiling about in the muck and guck during hand-to-hand combat with the black-hatted bad guys, the Lone Ranger’s Stetson was whiter than a saint’s soul. And, of course, Kimosabe would eventually gun down the outlaws with silver bullets, not those copper things the bad guys used.

Religion also played a part in my black-is-bad upbringing.

Subjected to the questionable but unchallengable natterings of the 1950s and early-60s Roman Catholic Church, fear-mongering nuns cautioned that for each sin I committed there would arise on my good, white soul a spot. A black spot. The more grievous the trespass, the larger the black spot. The way I had it figured, stealing a cookie before dinner earned me a black spot no bigger than one of the tiny freckles on my cheeks, whereas swiping a pack of baseball cards or a candy bar from the corner store got me a black spot the size of a hockey puck. Bad, bad, bad, bad Patti. I was convinced that my soul looked like an ink blotter. I suppose it still does.

But black blotches on one’s soul, like black hats on cowboys, was pure symbolism. At no time during my formatives did I equate good and evil or personal worth to the hue of one’s skin.

Oh, sure, the Catholic con was very much about white-skin-is-good-skin. I mean, the Virgin Mary, the saints, the angels…all lily white. Even depictions of Jesus were white (still are), a confusing and misguiding bit of business. I’m quite certain that the historical Jesus’s skin tone would more have resembled that of President Obama than that of Pope Francis. At the very least, Jesus would have had a tan to die for, given that he spent the final few years of his brief adult life baking beneath the hot Middle East sun while roaming the countryside or wandering the desert. Ditto his dozen disciples, also usually depicted as white dudes.

Misrepresentation of reality aside, the nuns and parish priests couldn’t pull their white wool over my eyes. I knew better because of the few people of color who came into my life at an early age.

Delbert Wagner represented Ground Zero for me in race relations and revelations.

I recall my parents inviting Del to break bread with us. A wonderful man and quick to smile, he was a very talented jazz musician and dancer and the first black person I had ever seen up close and personal. I was five, perhaps six years old and Del was sitting across the dinner table from me. I couldn’t stop staring at him.

“Is something wrong?” my mother asked.

“He’s a black man,” I replied. “He’s not the same color as us.”

The grownups laughed at the impish simplicity of my discovery. But once I had established and confirmed that Del and I didn’t share the same pigmentation, it became a footnote of no significance. I gave it not another thought, instead going about the task of gobbling up my mashed potatoes, green peas and roast beef.

Percy Haynes

Percy Haynes

Similarly, my parents would, on Saturday nights over the years, deliver us to Haynes Chicken Shack on Lulu Street in Winnipeg. The proprietors were the husband-and-wife partnership of Percy and Zena Haynes, Del’s step-father and mother. My, oh my. Mmmm, mmmm. What a treat. The food was unmatched. Ditto the atmosphere. There’d be more black folks in that small room than I ever saw in my entire neighborhood. And white folks, too. Yet there were no black and white folks. There were just people, dining and having a good time listening to Percy play the piano and, on occasion, Zena croon. Once our order was taken, Percy would join us at our table.

This, keep in mind, was during the 1950s and early ’60s, a period when racial unrest was amped up and Rosa Parks was pushing civil rights toward the front of the bus in the southern U.S. That seemed so distant, though. In another galaxy.

In my corner of the world, white cops weren’t using fire hoses and German shepherds to terrify peaceful, marching black civilians, and I somehow managed to blot out the paradoxical reality that my father would invite Del Wagner to our dinner table one day then refer to one of my favorite entertainers, Sammy Davis Jr., as a “dirty, little, nigger jew” the next (yes, my dad was that disgusting).

My older brother, Richard, took drumming lessons from Del. A buck 50 an hour. A black man and a white kid. No big deal.

To me, there was racial harmony and I harbored a healthy fondness for the few black people I had met.

I now realize, of course, that that belief was a Pollyanna-like blend of naivete and youthful innocence, yet it’s an idealism that never did abandon me to wander off into the forest.

I tend to think this explains my great difficulty with divisiveness. I don’t get the concept of exclusion just because. I don’t get the concept of one person disliking another just because. I don’t get the concept of one person wishing, or inflicting, harm on another just because. I don’t get the concept of one person slandering another just because. Not if the just because is skin color, faith, gender or sexual orientation.

Delbert Wagner and Percy Haynes were my first black influences and role models. They were like the mighty oak, whose many branches are accepting of all the birds of the sky. Just because.

I thank them for it.


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What would Jesus say to Cardinal Pietro Parolin about gay marriage and the ‘defeat of humanity’?

I long ago walked away from the Roman Catholic Church and its dire bleatings of dalliances with the devil and “eternal fire.”

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

Scaremongering, you see, would not be my preferred method of schooling young children, whose impressionable minds surely can do without nightmare-inducing catechesis that would have our little ones believe a firey furnace awaits them should they not obey, to the letter, the commandments etched on the stone tablets Moses carted down from Mount Sinai.

Had the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me at St. Clement’s and St. Alphonsus devoted more time to the Beatitudes and less on burning in hell, I might still be a practising catholic.

I doubt it, though.

Whenever I experience a flicker of faith in the Roman Catholic Church, whereby there is a faint temptation to rejoin the flock, it is more often than not soon doused by another scandal involving a priest who must be relocated due to a fondness for little boys, or a “virgin” nun giving birth, or a person of considerable loft in the order who delivers condemning, inflamatory sound bites.

Such was the case on Tuesday when Cardinal Pietro Parolin denounced last week’s favorable Irish vote on same-sex marriage as a “defeat for humanity.”

I was deeply saddened by the result,” he said of the Ireland referendum in which 62 per cent cast a yes vote on gay marriage. “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”

This, understand, is not a lone, rogue voice crying out in the wilderness. Cardinal Parolin is Secretary of State for the Vatican. He sits at the right hand of Pope Francis. His voice carries the weight of authority.

Thus, his take on the Irish result is shockingly venomous, in that he decries the expression of love through wedlock by two human beings. It is a “defeat for humanity.” Yet, at the same time, it is not at all surprising, given that Cardinal Parolin is tethered to a dog-eared dogma that, in some areas, has yet to find its way into the 20th century, let alone the 21st century.

The initial impulse is to lash out at him, to lather he and his church with the very disdain and discrimination he heaps upon those of us in the LGBT collective who would seal our partnerships with wedding vows.

There is, however, a reason why I wear a cross of Christ around my neck. It is not a decoration. An accessory. It is there to, hopefully, help me view matters of importance through a lens of understanding and compassion. It is there as a reminder to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” in this situation.

I do not believe Jesus would condemn Cardinal Parolin. I believe he would give the good cardinal counsel, advise him that the love between two men or two women is no less real, rich or rewarding than the love between a man and a woman. That’s the Jesus I know, the Jesus with whom I have a relationship.

Therefore, I do not condemn Cardinal Parolin, either.

More to the point, my hope is that the Pope’s right hand and his church eventually join those of us already living in the 21st century. I might even stop at St. Andrew’s Cathedral today and say a prayer for him (them). Maybe light a candle. It would be the spiritual thing to do. Also humane.


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I can’t believe that my guardian angel would be a stool pigeon for God

My guardian angel, Whisper

My guardian angel, Whisper

Is there a scorecard and a scorekeeper in life?

I would really like to know if there’s someone in the great Out There keeping a tally of how many toys I collect. How many lies I tell. How many good deeds I perform. How many friends and/or enemies I have. How many asses I kiss.

This is important because, as much as I accept the reality that each of us is on borrowed time from the moment we squeeze out of mother’s womb, those of us with age in our eyes and grey strands of hair on our temples tend to contemplate the heft of such matters more so than our freshly scrubbed youth.

To the youthful, final means an exam. Or a championship game. Or the last day of school. To those of my vintage, on the other hand, final means ashes in an urn. Or six feet of dirt piled on a wooden box.

Personally, I’d prefer not to ponder finality. It can be such a bummer. Alas, it remains the sole inescapable truism in this life, and my own mortality visits each time a journalism contemporary moves to the other side. Since burnout chased me from the newspaper business in 1999, at least 30 people with whom I worked (or adversaries) have died. That’s two per year. That’s one for each year I spent in the media. The majority were of my vintage. Or older.

So, the reminders of mortality are ever present.

They don’t bog me down, understand. They do, however, make me aware. Which is why I’m curious about a scorecard and a scorekeeper in life.

Having been raised Roman Catholic, I harbor a familiarity with the concept of judgement day and one of three potential destinations: Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. Naturally, my preference would be to fly with the angels rather than dance with the devil, and I’m also thinking Purgatory probably wouldn’t be such an undesirable landing spot. Purgatory, as far as my understanding stretches, is kind of like being on the waiting list for season tickets to the symphony or membership to an exclusive country club.

I believe Purgatory would work for me.

I know I have sinned. I don’t think I’m a bad person, but a sinner is a sinner is a sinner. I’m a sinner. My soul probably has more dark spots than an ink blotter. But who else knows of my sins? Who else knows how many there have been? How grave they have been?

Again, who’s the scorekeeper?

Is it my guardian angel? Is she my scorekeeper? I always believed my guardian angel was on my side. She’s been there to protect me. To guide me. To guard my soul. But what if she’s been there all along just to rat me out to God when judgement day is upon me?

Naw. That can’t be. My guardian angel is no stool pigeon.

That leaves me to assume that God is the great scorekeeper. But is God a he or a she? This is important, because it is my earthly experience that a he wields a much heavier and hurtful stick than a she. A he God surely would be a rigid, glowering God, whereas a she God might be inclined to let some of my tresspasses slide.

Then, again, I was taught that God is forgiving. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells me that “There are no limits to the mercy of God.” That being the case, doesn’t God’s forgiveness make this notion of a judgement day moot?

I mean, if God is forgiving, if we simply ask God’s forgiveness and our souls are therefore cleansed, then what is the point of a judgement day? You can’t tell me that God is forgiving and, at the same time, tell me that I’m going to roast in hell if I’m every bit the bitch some people consider me to be.

If God weighs my sins, then forgives me, it follows that there cannot be punishment, and I surely would consider afterlife in an inferno to be a rather cruel and unusual form of punishment.

Whatever, I have found that the passage of time, the passing of friends and my failing kidneys lend themselves to thoughts of mortality and morality.

Perhaps, in the final reckoning, it all boils down to ourselves. Perhaps it’s like a round of golf with friends—you keep your own score. That being the case, if we forgive ourselves, then God has no choice but to do the same.


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If you don’t like angels, then you don’t like rainbows

patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

It was well beyond midnight and it was very, very dark.

I was slumped behind the steering wheel of my Chevy Silverado pickup, wondering who I was. Wondering where I was. My head was spinning and screaming. My ears were ringing. I reached up and touched my forehead and felt a lump and a matted, sticky substance. Blood. Lots of it. It was on my jacket, on my jeans, on my hands, on my face. On the seat. Everywhere.

“What’s going on here?” I said to myself.

I looked into the black night in all directions and recognized nothing but a depth of darkness that you see only in the country at night. I remember thinking, “If this is death, it isn’t a very pleasant place.”

I reached for the door handle with my left hand, but couldn’t crank it. My wrist was broken. I managed to open the door with my right hand and stepped out into the still of a summer night. I fell. I got to my feet and lurched toward the front of my pickup. The entire right side was crumpled and embedded in a bridge abutment. The passenger half of the wind shield was gone. I had driven into a short bridge over a narrow creek (at 90 km/h), less than five kilometres from my 15-acre hobby farm.

I had no notion of how long I had been unconscious, but that wasn’t the issue. I needed help. Quickly.

“A farm house,” I told myself. “I need to find a farm house. Somebody will help me there.”

My blurry eyes searched for porch lights. Or barn lights. I listened for the barking of a dog (everyone in the country has a dog). Anything that would point me in the direction of a pair of helping hands. I began staggering along the gravel edge of the highway, looking straight ahead and constantly peering over my left shoulder in the faint hope that someone would come along in a vehicle and rescue me. I saw nothing but black and the foggy moors of finality. I collapsed, but remained awake, convinced this is how I was to leave this life. Just a tiny lump of road kill on the side of a country road somewhere south of Winnipeg.

Everything was so quiet. Even the crickets had stopped chirping. It was actually quite peaceful and I no longer felt pain.

Suddenly, there were lights. And voices. I heard two doors open and shut. A man reached down and picked me up. I never saw his face. All I could see of him was a silhouette against a backdrop of bright lights.

“Where did you come from?” I stammered. “I looked down the road five seconds ago and there were no headlights in either direction.”

“It does not matter,” a second man said in a French-Canadian accent and soft, soothing voice. “We are here to take care of you.”

Those were the only words we exchanged before I passed out from a nasty whack on the head that left me with a severe concussion and fluid on the brain. I also had suffered a broken wrist, a sprained wrist, a broken nose and considerable bruising.

I should have died that dark, lonely night. But apparently I wasn’t supposed to die. I realize I was in a state of semi-consciousness when those two men came along, but I can say with certainty that they appeared out of nowhere. I hadn’t seen any headlights, in either direction, scant seconds before I crumbled to the ground. Then—poof!—there they were, four helping hands.

That’s when I became convinced that angels are among us.

I don’t mind confessing to a belief in angels. Angels are cool. I mean, who doesn’t like angels? Show me someone who doesn’t like angels and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like rainbows.

One does not necessarily have to be a religious person to believe in angels. I am evidence of that, because I am not a church-goer. At one time, mind you, I attended mass every Sunday and the first Friday of each month. I was raised Roman Catholic and was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph during my formatives. Alas, I ceased to follow the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church in my teen years because…well, without being mean or getting into details that perhaps would lead to an uncomfortable exchange of dialogue, much of what I was taught was bunk.

Their concept of angels, however, I embraced and still do to this day.

I have had many angels in this lifetime. They have gotten me through some difficult challenges. They were my guides and strength during the most significant period in my life. I love angels. I collect angels. I have about 70 of them, so you cannot go anywhere in my home without seeing an angel. They grant me peace. Hope. Strength. Assurance. Love. Joy. Happiness.

And one of them picked me up off the edge of a country road when I thought the light was about to be snuffed out.