I live in the Lone Star state.
As in any state of the Union, good and bad things happen in Texas.
As in any city or town in our country, things happen in our state's beautiful capital, Austin, that can make one feel ashamed and that can make one feel proud.
Within the span of a few days this past week, I experienced both emotions -- shame and pride -- and I hope that most Austinites and Texans shared them with me.
Last week, a homeowner in our city hung an empty folding chair from a tree branch in front of his house. The owner later attached an American flag to the chair. Many took this and another similar incident as "racially offensive displays meant to symbolize the 'lynching' of President Barack Obama."
According to NBC News, the homeowner "reportedly told a Democratic political blogger who said she had concerns, 'You can take it and go straight to hell and take Obama with you.'"
The chair has now come down.
In a lighter vein, if such a vein can be found, Austin American-Statesman reporter Ken Herman had the following interesting exchange with the chair owner when Herman asked the man why he had taken down the chair:
Johnson: "Because of mistaken conception."
Me: "So you decided to make the change because some people are upset?"
Johnson: "No. I decided to make the change because some people are stupid."
Sensing common ground, I said, "I'm aware of that. A lot of people are stupid."
Johnson: "Yes they are."
I thought we had bonded. I was wrong.
Me: "So you're not going to put it back up?"
Johnson: "Not unless I want to."
Me: "Can I get a picture of you with the chair?"
Herman concludes his report with, "Isn't free speech, be it on a bumper or hanging from a tree, a wonderful thing? And isn't Johnson fortunate that Eastwood didn't show up on stage with an empty sofa?"
An outside observer would say that this incident is in keeping with Austin's slogan "Keep Austin Weird."
However, this unusual slogan has much more to do with the traditionally friendly, eclectic, accepting, diverse and culturally and socially progressive nature of the people of Austin.
And this brings me to one of the many things that makes me feel proud of Austin.
The YouTube video (above) is produced by the Lesbian & Gay Peace Officers Association (LGPOA) of Austin and features gay and lesbian officers and civilian members of the Austin Police Department.
It is part of the "It Gets Better Project" and "The Trevor Project" to reach out to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth who may be struggling due to bullying, harassment, and non-acceptance, and who may be thinking of committing suicide, with the intention of letting those youth know that even though it is difficult today, tomorrow will bring hope, love, and life and that the organizations are there to help them "make it there."
The video is very touching. What made me feel especially proud is that the City of Austin Chief of Police, Art Acevedo -- in charge of protecting nearly one million Austinites -- appears in the video, endorses the video, shows empathy for all minorities and, most important, as an immigrant himself, voices his full support for diversity and tolerance within his department and everywhere.
I urge you to watch this video.
I cannot find better words to express my pride that this could be happening in Austin, in Texas, than the words of one of the many people -- more than 300 -- who have already commented on this video:
Thank you Austin Police Department & LGPOA-Austin for your courage in facing adversity with your shiniest shoe forward with a bright loving smile upon your faces to welcome and protect us ALL. You shine a light in the darkness, you lead by example, and you inspire hope to spread like wildfire through us all. :) Thank you sincerely, Namaste.
By all means, let's keep Austin weird, but with the right kind of weirdness.