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Monday, April 19, 2010


As some of you kinow, my son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff, of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is an important national voice in the struggle for LGBT equality, having, amopng other things, served as the Co-Chair of the LGBT Advisory Committee to the Obama Campaign. A while back, Tobias appeared with legendary civil rights activist Eva Paterson at an event held at UCLA. Here is the link to the video, which I warmly recommend. Note that Tobias starts speaking about ten monutes in, after two people make introductions.


Jim said...

Professor Wolff, Just watched Tobias’ talk at UCLA – rather impressive delivery without the need for reference to notes or tele-prompters. I found his concept of general sexual shame among the American population to be quite interesting. Reminded me a bit of Volume 1 of Foucault’s "History of Sexuality". If I correctly get Tobias’ point, he is arguing that people first need to confront their own shame regarding sexuality in general before they can readily accept same gender marriages as a normal part of societal life. If so, it appears the task is a psychological one as opposed to merely informational or educational.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think that is right. I hope he will read this comment and respond.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I am in a way coming out of the closet as an agnostic who serves as a Deacon at my local church. My wife got me into this by demanding that I drive her to church since she has issues with her joints that prevent her from driving. With a Harvard Divinity School Graduate as our new minister, for the first time in my life I have enjoyed forcibly being dragged to church by first, my parents, and presently by wife, who outranks me on the IQ scale by 50 points or so. She's aware of my agnosticism and although I don't mention it, attending church again caused me to be asked to serve on the church board of consistory and I somewhat reluctantly agreed. I sometimes do things I don't like, such as lie as I repeat a few of the ritual sayings of the church and especially when I "take communion" and smile and just stay in the agnostic closet while I do what I can to try to help steer our church in the direction of positive change, which isn't hard because we picked our church because it was an "open an affirming" congregation.

I too enjoyed your sons comments and thought that he is truly someone who radiates an aura of professionalism and belief in the cause he has taken up, and surely deserves the titles he has earned.

I am sure he will earn many more. My compliments to you for whatever part you played in helping him to become a true professional and a fine spokesman for what are long overdue changes in America. Although you will likely never see the people of this country take up Marxist economic theory, I'm sure your son will not only reach the mountaintop for the gay community that Dr. King spoke of, but will be a leader in making great change happen in the years to come.

A dream deferred is indeed is a dream denied but the nation seems to be well on its way to reaching the mountaintop for GLTB individuals, despite our national puritanical attitudes that your son referred to in his speech. As to the religious aspect, let me share something that our church, President Obama's former church and the one church that was one of the foremost religious institutions that led the fight against slavery more than 150 years ago. The United Church of Christ intends to run as ads on television that speak to social issues including a forward thinking stance on issues important to the LGBT community. (the networks denied our former ad, one of which portrayed a bouncer was shown a the church door denying *some* people the right to attend).

Although gay rights were defeated primarily by the work of one church which worked to defeat progress on this issue in California, there are also other churches out there that are taking up the opposing mantle and carrying it forward in the religious community, or at least our religious community, and I'm proud to be a part of the church for the first time in my life. (although most of the local congregations in our area are not "open and affirming", we chose the one we now attend which had made that decision before we became members). Without further ado I will now post the link to the ads that our church intends to run on the networks that touch on the issue of GLBT rights, however subtle the messages may be.

I hope that I will not offend any atheists or other agnostics in the group, but even as an agnostic, I see that churches can have redeeming social qualities and in the spirit of Eric Hoffer's belief that even True Believers can act for positive change, I post the link to the video.

Anonymous said...

(cont'd from previous comment - my apologies for the lengthy post but I often write this way and the words just flow. I hope I have not offended).
Thanks again for posting your son's speech - I read your whole blog over a period of two to three days in the last week beginning by reading from 1997 onward after Jerome Doolittle posted something you wrote up on his website which I read and then posted one of the first parts of your biography - I have done that with no other blog ever and I must say I was hooked by your superb writing style - the stories on the blog were like a book I couldn't not put down once I read one part of the biography of your life. Incidentally, I too am schooled in the law, but history is a passion for me and although much of your discussions about philosophy were beyond my level of education as I was a business undergraduate major and am woefully lacking in my education in the humanities, I thoroughly enjoyed the site, especially the biographies. I will now put your blog on my reading list and will check back on it every few days. Thanks for the wonderful site.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Dear Buck, Thank you so much for taking the time to write, and for telling us all about your experiences. I too am convinced that in mhy lifetime, we shall see the LGBT community welcomed into the larger American community with open arms. I should say that I unabashedly take full credit for both of my wonderful sons and their remarkable achievements. I often refer to them as my "trophy sons." What else is a father for?

Anonymous said...

Although I don't have any children myself, I understand fatherly pride quite well. In many ways such displays of affection help to boost the child's self esteem and ego, although perhaps in your family as was true in mine, there can be humorous occasions of such displays of affection that maybe your sons will remember in much the same way that my sister did.

My older sister, who went on to get her Ph.D. as you did, often reminded my father about the day that the Orkin man came to spray and my father had her play the piano piece for him that she had reached perfection on while practicing for her recital in her thirteenth year of life - which she would often reminisce about

Perhaps your sons have similar stories although my Dad always got a laugh himself when, years later and quite often in front of his granchildren, he was reminded about the "day the Orkin man came to spray at our house - and to listen to my sister play the piano" at family gatherings. So I understand the phenomenon can also sometimes be a source of laughter in later years. I think my father's best times were when he and colleagues at work could swap stories of our accomplishments with each taking turns at taking pride in each of their children. As I remember you remarking how even your students would likewise remind you of how proud you were of your two children when you were teaching, perhaps they remember it now as a reminder that beyond just the knowledge you imparted to them, you also displayed your capacity for caring about others and particularly your family.

Sadly my father has passed way and can't be with us at family gatherings but we still remember those moments when he reminded us how much he loved us, even if, in my sister's case, she had to display her talents for the benefit of the Orkin man.

But your son is an impressive public speaker and deserves the accolades today although I hope that maybe he has his own "Orkin man" story that he might share with us. On the other hand, perhaps you would never get as carried away with fatherly pride as my father did on that particular fateful and never forgotten day.

May all Orkin men and others as well, including students, be aware of some of the duties that they might run into in pursuing their work. I do believe that Orkin had our contract for years after that time and it was surely well deserved.

Although I have no children to brag about, I can remember my father's own capacity for love well enough to know how important it is to have family that cares about you enough to always keep you in their thoughts. Your sons, like my sisters and I, are lucky people as not everyone is as lucky as we are to have one or more kind and caring parents who put us even before themselves. I was reminded of this one day not so long ago when my wife did a small favor for someone and got back a lovely letter telling her that the beneficiary of her kindness grew up in an orphanage and the small act of kindness my wife took the time for was, as the lady described it, "the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me".

May we all remember to practice "random acts of kindness". One never knows how much they might help another or change a life as you have done so often with your education projects abroad.