Friday, May 29, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) The River Midnight

I don't usually review fiction in Fannie's Room. For one, I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction in my leisure time. Two, I don't feel as though I'm any sort of "expert" in literary criticism. I know when a story touches me and I know what I like, and that's good enough for me when it comes to whether I'd recommend a book to a friend. That being said, I thought I'd give Lilian Nattel's book The River Midnight a little shout-out here. (Some of you may know that Lilian Nattel, who sometimes comments here and has two blogs of her own, is an author of two books of fiction). I recently finished her book The River Midnight and was moved.

Honestly, I was first motivated to read this book when Ms. Nattel commented that her book included lesbian and gay characters. I have found that it's quite rare for books outside of the LGBT fiction genre to include LGB characters and to do so in such a way that it's "no big deal." That is, it's unusual for books to present LGBT characters as though their sexual orientations or gender identities are not their defining feature or most important aspect of their personalities. Personally, I appreciate when authors do this; it's nice to see yourself reflected in fiction and history and I think Nattel's introduction of a lesbian character in The River Midnight occurred in a very natural and realistic way.

Without giving away spoilers, The River Midnight is about a little Jewish village in Poland in the late 19th century. I'm not Jewish and initially wondered if I would find much to relate to in the story. Yet, Nattel is a wonderful storyteller and has structured the book in a fascinating way, re-telling the story's central events from the point of view of different villagers in different chapters. Within the stories of these villagers, universal themes such as the fear of death, religiously-contrived separations between men and women, and the bonds friendship are explored. I highly recommend it.

2) Sotomayor

It looks like Sonia Sotomayor will be our next Supreme Court Justice. Although the usual rightwing suspects are making their predictably ridiculous arguments against Sotomayor, I don't foresee her not actually being confirmed. As Jill Filipovic writes in the Guardian, she's "a highly intelligent, fair-minded and experienced judge" who is a left-leaning moderate. In addition, her race, gender, and life experiences do matter and are needed on our current homogenous court:

"The reality, of course, is that every supreme court justice comes in with a set of life experiences that are shaped not only by race and gender, but by experiences both professional and personal – it's just that few people consider that whiteness and maleness are not neutral identities and may shape one's perspectives and legal opinions just as much as femaleness or non-whiteness."

In the midst of all of the Anxious White Guy smears, out-of-context quotes, and irrelevancies, I'm still waiting for Sotomayor's critics to come up with real reasons to oppose her nomination.

3) Proposition 8 heads to Federal Court

Apparently, much to the chagrin of leading LGBT rights organizations [PDF], attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Olson is a successful conservative constitutional lawyer who represented George W. Bush in the infamous Bush v. Gore case that halted the recount of Florida ballots and effectively resolved the 2000 election in favor of Bush. Boies represented Al Gore in that case.

Although Olson is conservative, as a libertarian concerned with individual liberty and protection from state intrusion, it is not inconsistent for him to support LGBT rights. Many libertarians take a rather nuanced view of marriage believing that the government should have no role in regulating private relationships between people, but if the government does provide benefits for marriage, then distribution of those benefits should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. I actually tend to agree with that position quite a bit.

In any event, I suppose that in Olson, the LGBT community is lucky to have someone who has previously been so successful at convincing Supreme Court Justices to nullify votes. (Ha ha).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Proposition 8 and Judicial Legitimacy

A couple of days ago, in reference to the California Supreme Court's recent Proposition 8 decision, I alluded to how that particular case is not all that interesting or relevant with respect to the substantive merits of marriage equality.

That is not to say that the case is not interesting. It certainly is. It is just interesting in a different, civics geek, sort of way. Let me explain. In 2008 (in In Re Marriage Cases), the California Supreme Court confronted the question of whether California's law limiting marriage to one man and one woman was constitutional. The Court concluded that the law unconstitutionally violated the privacy and due process rights of same-sex couples. In November 2008, the voters of California, in reaction to this decision, then voted to amend California's Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman. That is, Proposition 8 effectively changed the California Constitution to take away a previously-recognized constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

Thus, one of the key issues in Strauss v. Horton [PDF] (the "Proposition 8 case"), was whether this change to the California Constitution was a permissible change. Although it was not exactly framed in this way, a particularly interesting issue here was the power struggle between The People and The Courts. Specifically, given that the Court recognized a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, the Court examined the scope of The People's power to take that right away. Even though these events have occurred at the state level, as opposed to the federal level, at play here is a very old debate regarding separation of powers, majority rule, and the protection of minority rights.

Judicial review, the power of high courts to declare state acts to be unconstitutional, is often criticized as a usurpation of power that belongs to The People or to the legislature. Yet, critics of judicial review are often heard wailing only when so-called activist judges make disagreeable decisions. However, if you examine these claims for consistency, you will find that these critics are more often critiquing judicial review when judges make decisions that the critic disagrees with; rarely is the critic genuinely questioning the power of judicial review to exist at all.

Nonetheless, judicial review exists because we let it exist. Having neither "the purse" of the Legislative branch, nor "the sword" of the Executive, judicial opinions are enforced and complied with through the goodwill of The People and the two other branches of government. The judicial system works precisely because we the people continue to grant it legitimacy. There is much academic writing regarding judicial legitimacy but, in short:

"An institution is legitimate when it is perceived as having the right or the authority to make decisions and when its decisions are viewed as worthy of respect or obedience. Judicial legitimacy derives from the belief that judges are impartial and that their decisions are grounded in law, not ideology and politics."

With respect to the recent Proposition 8 case, I would fathom that most of those who voted for Prop 8 did not perceive the California Supreme Court as possessing the right or authority to invalidate Prop 8 and effectively "take away" the vote of those who had voted for Proposition 8. In reaction to the Prop 8 case, "marriage defenders" throughout the blogosphere have expressed relief that the California Court reaffirmed the right of The People to amend their Constitution. Furthermore, an unfortunate and ignorant knee-jerk sentiment exists among "marriage defenders" that any pro-LGBT court decision is grounded in ideology and politics, as opposed to law and constitutional principles. Had the Court in Strauss held Proposition 8 to be procedurally invalid, "marriage defenders" would have undoubtedly railed against both Judicial Tyranny Run Amok as well as Leftist Legislating From the Bench. The Court, in short, would have undermined its own legitimacy in these two ways from the perspective of at least half of California voters.

Finding that delicate balance between taking a courageous moral stand versus pleasing The Majority of the People is difficult, but necessary, to preserve the judiciary's legitimacy, legacy, and power. I suspect that many judges struggle with knowing what is right from a legal or analytical standpoint versus fearing to make an unpopular decision that could undermine the court's legitimacy. In her commentary regarding In re Marriage Cases, the case that declared California's one-man one-woman marriage law to be unconstitutional, attorney Manuela Albuquerque noted that on the merits of the issue the justices were "having analytical difficulty finding a conceptual rationale to uphold the opposite-sex restriction." Yet, concerned with predictable Activist Judge backlash, these same justices were "troubled at the prospect of striking it down."

Regardless of whether the justices in Strauss made the right or wrong decision here (and that point is arguable), I think that there was no way they could have not rendered the opinion they did. This case, I believe, was really about preserving the legitimacy of the judiciary and I genuinely wonder if the justices, with their ears to the ground hearing those Let the People Vote grumblings, had their minds made up prior to hearing a legal argument either way. Is preserving the judiciary of greater value than preserving constitutional rights? I am not sure. But if the courts are not to protect minority rights from a misled, bigoted, and/or ignorant majority, who or what entity will? At the same time, I do not believe that a court can consistently hand down unpopular decisions no matter how correct, moral, or just they are without sacrificing its legitimacy in some way.

What I do know is that the we need to remember that the question the court decided here was not whether The People should have taken away the right of same-sex couples to marry, but whether they legally could do so. As the Court noted:

"Our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution."

What I am sure of is that educated jurists regularly demolish "marriage defenders'" arguments in the courts and that the only thing "marriage defenders" have left going for them is their ever-diminishing numbers. This victory of theirs was really about a bunch of people taking away other people's rights Just Because They Could. Let them revel in the fact that their wins are so often the result of their leaders possessing the ability to spend millions of dollars convincing a bare majority of voters that marriage equality will cause Great Harm to society. Currently, 18,000 same-sex marriages remain legal in California. Professional "marriage defenders" who make their livings by telling everyone that same-sex marriage will lead to VeRy ScArY ThIngS will soon have the chance to back up their bold predictions with actual statistics. If they cannot put up, The People will tell them to shut up in the next ballot initiative. (Although, we will definitely be watching to see if California "marriage defenders" will resort to creating hate-group-produced dishonest "fact" sheets like the one produced in Massachusetts).

We will now sit back and see if these Great Harms come to fruition. Or not. I wonder if that half-win of ours worries professional "marriage defenders." Unlike such folks, I do not have a crystal ball that foretells the future. But, with the recent expansion of civil unions and marriage equality in other states combined with the fact that legal same-sex marriage has been No Big Deal in other states and countries, I have a hunch that the "marriage defenders'" most recent victory here may be one of their last ones. Knowing all this, let them savor it. Their days of taking away or restricting LGBT people's rights Just Because They Can are numbered.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Desperately Seeking Campaign Follow-Through

So, 100+ days into his presidency President Obama's follow-through on some of his campaign rhetoric has been less than stellar. I have applauded some of his early moves such as issuing an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay, ending the Global Gag Rule, signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, and expressing his commitment to LGBT civil rights on the White House website. Those are important, changey actions that I doubt would have come to fruition under Team McCain/Palin.

That being said, however, those were the easy decisions for a Democratic President to make. The true test of President Obama's mettle will be to see how he handles those more difficult, more politically-charged decisions. Near and dear to my heart, of course, is Obama's scaling back of the pro-LGBT goals he touted during his campaign and the early days of his presidency. His administration thus far has not taken concrete action on LGBT equality efforts. In addition, perhaps because their own rights as heterosexuals are not directly at stake, there is a general liberal sentiment that Obama should focus on More Important Things Right Now while issues like Don't Ask Don't Tell, immigration equality, hate crimes legislation, and marriage equality sit on the backburner until the Time Is Right (tm).

Obama's support for LGBT equality is pretty broad. In recent months, however, he's scaled back his support somewhat and has taken little or no action on earlier campaign promises. For instance, his White House webpage on Civil Rights used to express his support for hate crimes laws, a transgender-inclusive employment non-discrimination act, full civil unions and federal benefits for same-sex couples, expansion of adoptions rights, HIV/AIDS funding, opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and opposition to Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). Now, however, he has completely removed mention of repealing DOMA from the site. That is a startling omission since same-sex couples will not be able to receive any of the "federal benefits" that legally married couples receive with DOMA in place.

The page also now states that Obama supports removing DADT "in a sensible way." It's not clear what "in a sensible way" means, however Obama and his officials have said multiple times that ending the policy would have to wait. I can appreciate consensus building. Respect for opposing views comes in contrast to the previous administration's strong-minded habits. However, when qualified gay men and lesbians continue to be discharged during wartime, my patience on this issue is running thin. With 81% of the US population believing openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military, I suspect that many people feel this way.

By now, it is mostly only self-embarassing homophobes who oppose allowing gay men and lesbians to openly serve their country. By catering to that unfortunate anti-gay crowd, Obama and Congress are allowing arguments like "lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower" to be presented as though they're a legitimate Other Side to this debate. For a man who based his campaign on beautiful political rhetoric, it's incredibly disappointing for the level of discourse to be lowered like that. It is arguable as to whether Obama can or should unilaterally end DADT, but what a strong leader who promised big things to the LGBT community should be doing is at least calling for Congress to unequivocally repeal the law.

Furthermore, while it is refreshing and appreciated that the President supports so many pro-LGBT policies, it will all be meaningless and utterly disappointing if none of them actually come to fruition. Obama has, relatively speaking, talked a big game. But, as The Gaytheist Agenda reminds us, his support has thus far been of little tangible consequence. More than 100 days into his Administration, no change has taken place on any of the pro-LGBT policies that Obama supports. Let's hope that the man who chastised his opponent for being a Bush clone turns out not to be one himself when it comes to doing something tangible and real as far as LGBT equality goes.

Then, there's Obama's replication of Bush era counterterrorism policies. Writing for The New Republic, Jack Goldsmith explains:

"Former Vice President Cheney says that President Obama's reversal of Bush-era terrorism policies endangers American security. The Obama administration, he charges, has 'moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.' Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence. But there is a different problem with Cheney's criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric."

Some of the specifics mentioned in Goldsmith's piece include Obama's continuation of detaining terrorism suspects without trial indefinitely, his narrow view of the right of habeas corpus, and his ramped up use of "targeted killing" in Afghanistan and Pakistan that also cause "collateral damage" the murder of innocent civilians.

I consider this replication of Bush policy to be early mistakes that may haunt Obama when he's up for re-election. He based his campaign on messages of "Hope" and "Change," but thus far he's not proving to effectuate all that much change. I write that knowing full well that the Obama-disappointment of liberals, LGBT people, and progressives makes many conservatives cream their panties. Am I disappointed? Sure. Obama knew that in the midst of economic downturn, multiple wars, and a divisive previous 8 years that he had to give the people hope if he was going to win. His energy was a marked contrast to his opponent's and he played Youthful Washington Outsider very well.

However, did I really think the Obama years were going to be a utopian era of peace, equal rights, prosperity, and unicorns? Of course not. I consider my political leanings to be "Other" partly because both major parties in the US are so predictably disappointing. Because of this, I still yearn for a political leader with the moral courage to not let ridiculous arguments continue to be legitimate reasons to deny people equal rights, civil rights, and human rights. I suspect I'm not alone. I wanted that person to be President Obama. I suppose time will tell.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) The Film Industry's Romance with the Bromance, Take Two

This cartoon pretty much sums it up.

2) Remember How Gay People Totally Aren't At All Oppressed?

Via The Gatheist Agenda, a woman was beaten in an anti-gay hate crime a man was arrested and charged with a hate crime (under state law) for allegedly beating a woman in Provincetown:

"'Patten was screaming biased, anti-gay language,' Lopes said. 'We took him into custody as quickly as possible, so he would not incite the large crowd that was gathering.'

He fought the police officers, kicking one and spitting on the other, Lopes added.

Patten faces charges including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a window), assault and battery under the state hate crime statute, wanton destruction of property of more than $250, disorderly conduct, assault and battery on a police officer, and resisting arrest. He was so combative during the booking process, officers could not get a booking photograph, Lopes said....

The bars had just closed on a busy holiday weekend, and a crowd gathered as the Post Office Café incident unfolded.

'They were very upset,' Lopes said of the crowd. 'There were all these women crying. They were just very agitated and visibly upset, not just by what they saw but by what they heard.

'That's the thing with a hate crime, it's not just the victim who is hurt, the whole community is affected,' she continued. 'You could really see that this morning.'"

Provincetown "is perhaps the best-known gay summer resort on the East Coast."

3) Proposition 8 Update

The California Supreme Court is set to render a decision regarding the state's defense of Proposition 8 today, which removed the right that same-sex couples previously had to marry. Personally, I'm sort of over the whole Prop 8 debacle and here's why you should be too. For one, we've had a string of recent victories in other states, proving that our loss in California hasn't been as ominous as perhaps we thought back in November. Since Proposition 8 passed, Vermont, Maine, and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage with two of these states doing so through the legislative process.

Secondly, this case isn't even on the merits of same-sex marriage so I don't think it's appropriate to get hung up on the outcome. The issues to be decided are whether the Proposition procedure was valid, whether it violated the Separation of Powers doctrine, and its effect on same-sex marriages that occurred prior to the adoption of Proposition 8. This case isn't about whether same-sex marriage is "good" or "bad," it's about the validity of the process used to amend California's state constitution.

[UPDATE: The Court has upheld Proposition 8, but is also letting the 18,000 marriages performed prior to Proposition 8 stand.]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking News: White Conservative Anti-Gay Dude Worried About Gay Movement's Misappropriation of Civil Rights!

You know, there's nothing more resonating than a white, conservative, anti-gay dude bemoaning the LGBT movement's "trivialization of civil rights." Using bizarre, simplistic, and profoundly illogical argumentation, anti-equality "Digital Network Army" blogger James Tanner calls comparisons between the LGBT movement and movements that other historically-oppressed groups have faced "pathetic" and a "smear" on what these other groups have experienced.

His reasons?

1) Gay people haven't been denied every single right that every other historically-oppressed group has been denied.

He writes:

"Gays were never denied the right to work or vote.*
Gays were never marched across the country and imprisoned in reservations.*
Gay churches were never bombed.*
No gay man or woman suffered slavery for being gay.*
Gays are not relegated to separate schools, rest rooms or drinking fountains.*
Gays were never migrant farm workers."

[*Update: See comments regarding these claims]

2) Some gay people are wealthy, therefore no gay person has been denied equal rights.

He writes:

"Some of the leaders of the so-called Gay Rights movement are extremely influential and wealthy individuals who have never been denied anything in their lives."

3) In 1970, a gay person wrote something really radical, therefore all gay people are really radical and not really an oppressed minority seeking equality.

He writes:

"In another statement of the GLF purpose Martha Shelley in 1970 wrote:

'We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure.'

Does this sound like a statement by an oppressed minority seeking equality and civil rights? At the core this movement is destructive of society as a whole."

Tanner's elements of Real Oppression For Civil Rights Purposes are, of course, absurd. It is quickly apparent that under his definition, LGBT people could never constitute an oppressed minority group for civil rights purposes. Furthermore, if we held other minority groups to the same standards of oppression he holds LGBT people to, no minority group would meet such standards!

First, he expects LGBT people to have had to endure every facet of oppression faced by every other oppressed group. Yet, he doesn't require this of other minority groups. So while no, Captain Obvious, gay people have never "suffered slavery" for being gay in the US, neither have women "suffered slavery" in the US for being women. Also, a note of correction. Tanner claimed that "gay churches were never bombed." Actually, gay and gay-affirming churches have been bombed and set on fire throughout the nation. And, just one year ago, a liberal-hating homobigot opened fire in a gay-affirming Unitarian Church and killed two people. I know this information hurts Tanner's case about gays not having faced Real Oppression, but denying these facts doesn't make hatred of LGBT people go away.

What I wonder is why Tanner expects gay people to have faced the oppression that other groups have faced in order for it to be authentic? Does the oppression that LGBT people face that is uniquely based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity not count? Is it not hurtful enough? Or, more importantly, is it really that Tanner and others who believe similarly have no capacity to comprehend how hatred, violence, and injustice against LGBT people is authentic oppression that genuinely hurts us? And, not only that, but there are many ways in which LGBT people are, or have been oppressed, in which other minority groups have not been similarly oppressed. Black kids, for instance, aren't regularly kicked out of their homes when their parents "find out" they're Black.

The LGBT movement uses the language of civil rights because equal protection doctrine holds that the state cannot deny similarly-situated people rights without a darn good reason. For instance, the argument goes, same-sex couples who want to get married are "similarly-situated" to heterosexuals who do. LGBT people compare themselves to earlier groups seeking civil rights, not to steal their thunder, but because it is often the only way to get validation for the oppression we face. For some people, conceptualizing LGBT rights as civil rights doesn't "click" as wrong until people understand that sexual prejudice and homobigotry are sort of like racism and sexism. It is an analogy. Like any analogy it is imperfect, but its imperfections do not destroy its aptness. A fine line exists between noting similarities between different types of oppression and cheapening what other groups have experienced.

To be quite honest, I am far more interested in what LGBT people of color, heterosexual people of color, and all LGBT people have to say about these comparisons than what conservative, white, anti-equality heterosexuals have to say about them. I only say so because the predominately-white conservative movement (a) has a history of pitting minorities against each other for the benefit of white conservatives and (b) white conservatives tend not to care about, discuss, or examine the unique issues facing minority communities outside of the context of how the LGBT movement is supposedly "trivializing civil rights." Under Derrick Bell's theory of interest convergence, "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Informed by this theory, you can pretty much guarantee that "concerned" white conservatives would quite quickly boot blacks to back of the bus on any other given social issue if it would further white hegemony in some way.

So, there's that. And then there's item of note #2. Some LGBT people are wealthy and "influential." What's with the statements of the obvious? Of course some LGBT people are wealthy and "influential." What minority group doesn't have some people who are wealthy and "influential"? In another statement of the obvious, I'd like to remind Tanner that even wealthy and "influential" gay people can't get a marriage license with their partners in most states. Even wealthy and "influential" gay people can't serve openly in the military. So yeah, some gays are wealthy and are possibly imbued with Teh Incredible Power of the Gay, but so what? It doesn't mean LGBT people as a class are not discriminated against. It doesn't mean that the apparatus of the state is not used to deny LGBT people equal rights.

Regarding element #3, I'm a little surprised Tanner couldn't dig up a radical statement uttered more recently than 1970. I'll be right back right after I go dust off my microfiche and check this statement out. I'm sort of reminded of "Men's Rights Activists" who will find, like, the most dated and obscure anti-male sentiment ever uttered by a radical feminist and present it as though it's representative of all people who call themselves feminists. But seriously, the LGBT movement is not a monolithic entity and, therefore, the statements that some people within the movement make are never representative of the movement as a whole or of all people who consider themselves LGBT. That's just elementary.

To end here, as a member of the heterosexual majority, it is not for James Tanner to say what does and does not count as oppression for LGBT people (or women or people of color for that matter). It is never up to oppressors to define the oppression that other groups experience. As Renee at Womanist Musings has said, such people "don’t have the lived experience to make that call and it is also a conflict of interest." As a white guy, perhaps Tanner is used to his experience counting as neutral and objective, especially compared to those subjective wishy-washy experience of we Others. Yet, as someone opposed to LGBT rights, it is a blatant conflict of interest for him to declare that gays "trivialize" other civil rights movements just because he doesn't personally get how LGBT people are oppressed. Oppression is maintained precisely because oppressors so often insist that what is occurring isn't really oppression and that it is Greatly Different than previous experiences of oppression.

On another note, I am absolutely pleased that Tanner is so concerned about the civil rights of racial minorities and women. I'm sure he's joining NOW and the NAACP as we speak!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fred Phelps Is Protected Under the Current Federal Hate Crimes Law

And gay people aren't.

In August of 2008, a fire broke out at Fred Phelps' home. Although no one has been implicated in the incident, after it happened Fred Phelps claimed that it was a hate crime and requested the Attorney General to treat is as much, saying "[t]here is evidence that hatred of our religion was the motivation, in part at least." (FYI- Fire investigators concluded that "it didn't appear that accelerants were used to ignite the fire").

I am not going to link to Fred Phelps' website. This man's religious beliefs are pretty well-known and can be found via a quick internet search. His Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) claims to be the mouth of God and since 1991 has been conducting protests throughout the nation opposing "the fag lifestyle." These physically non-violent protests usually declare that "God" hates such-and-such person, state, or entity because of his/her/its acceptance of "fags." Notoriously, his group pickets the funerals of deceased soldiers and other "fag enablers." His "church" is recognized and monitored as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Now, I in no way condone violence against anyone, even Fred Phelps. That being said, the wind has a funny way of catching people's putrid breaths and blowing it back into their faces. It's all about the cycle of violence, really. The WBC's protests may be physically non-violent, but I believe this man's religion is spiritually violent and abusive. If someone did, in fact, set fire to Phelps' home, do I think that's okay? No. But, assuming it was arson, I am not surprised that it happened. One cannot be as provocative as this man is and expect to water no seeds of violence in other people.

I personally have mixed feelings as to the efficacy of hate crimes legislation. The general idea behind hate crimes laws is that bias-motivated attacks are thought to inflict greater societal and individual harm and to incite community unrest. Some believe that bias-motivated assaults are of a different nature than other assaults because the victim of a bias crime has been attacked, in large part, because of his or her belonging in a certain group. In addition, studies have found that hate crimes are more likely to involve torture, to be random, and to be perpetuated by multiple attackers. On those bases, I agree that hate-based assaults are of a different nature and more disruptive of society than other assaults.

At the same time, I am not sure as to what extent hate crimes legislation deters hate crimes. However, what I find unfair about current hate crimes legislation is that, even though sexual orientation-based hate crimes constitute the 3rd most common hate crime in the US, it is currently not a protected class. And, it is not a protected class only because we have let The Matthew Shepard Act Will Give "special protection status to pedophiles" become a legitimate Other Side to this debate. In addition to sexual orientation, I would be very happy to see gender/gender identity added as a protected class since many women are assaulted and raped precisely because they are women. I can think of no objection to also include disability.

So, in light of this information, let's sit back and enjoy the irony that under current hate crimes legislation, Phelps' WBC can provocatively state "God Hates Fags" and then, if the WBC ends up being a victim of physical violence because of this "religious belief," the criminal could have committed a religious-based federal hate crime under the current law. However, if someone assaults a "fag," the criminal in that case would not have committed a federal hate crime because sexual orientation is not a protected class.

I know that some people of faith are worried that expanding the federal hate crimes law will "muzzle" people's ability to state Biblical "truths" about homosexuality. I am not at all worried about threats to free speech given that (a) we have a First Amendment in the US and (b) the hate crimes legislation punishes conduct not speech. One has not committed a hate crime unless one has first slapped someone around. So, I think some religious people are essentially enjoying their right to commit spiritual violence against LGBT people plus the special right to invoke the hate crimes law against this same population when the cycle of violence they began comes full circle.

Special rights for Fred Phelps? What's up with that, America?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rightwing Roundup: Correcting the Anti-Gay Industry

1) Correcting the Anti-Gay Industry

Last week, I wrote about the anti-gay industry's lies about pending Hate Crimes legislation that would include sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability to the current Hate Crimes law. Specifically, Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Exodus International, WorldNetDaily, Digital Network Army (via email blast), Illinois Family Institute, Traditional Values Coalition, and Liberty Counsel have claimed that "paraphilias" like bestiality and necrophilia (sex with dead people) are "sexual orientations" that will be protected under the Hate Crimes law. Numerous bloggers and media sources, including political fact checker PolitFact, have pointed out this lie.

Well, via The Box Turtle Bulletin, the Illinois Family Institute has issued a correction admitting that they "mistakenly stated that the American Psychiatric Association’s actual definition of 'sexual orientation' includes paraphilias. The APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) classifies 'sexual orientation' as heterosexual, homosexual, and bi-sexual. The 547 mental disorders called 'paraphilias' specifically involve non-human objects, physical pain, or unwilling partners as in pedophilia. IFI apologizes for the error."

The IFI claims that it made a mistake, and given that many of the people who run such organizations are not mental health professionals, I don't find that hard to believe. I can fathom how maybe their mistake is the result of ignorance, as opposed to hatred. I applaud the IFI for owning up to its error. But still, and this comment is mostly aimed at the larger organizations who have not admitted their error, check your facts people. The IFI made an error and admitted it, but what accounts for the fact that so many other organizations have parroted this inaccuracy? Are we to believe that all of these various family values organizations genuinely don't know the difference between "sexual orientation" and "paraphilia"? Do these organizations not have editors or competent professionals on their staff to check facts? Isn't it responsible to check out statements you hear before promoting and echoing them, or does accuracy not matter when ScArY StOrIeS are to be written? If I remember correctly, a pretty common shared American Value is honesty. The public deserves truth and the members of these organizations should demand as much.

Also, via Truth Wins Out, Exodus International has silently corrected the definition of "sexual orientation" on its website albeit without publicly acknowledging its error. I suppose that's better than nothing. However, the folks over at Truth Wins Out make a good point about Exodus International, an organization that promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ":

"How is it that an organization of Exodus’ longevity, which claims to teach churches the 'Truth' about sexuality, could not tell the difference between orientation — an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction toward others — and what the APA calls 'recurrent, intense sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning'?

Why has Exodus refused to tell its churches and supporters that the organization has been lying about such basic information?"

Will Exodus release a correct statement and admission of error? And, when will these other organizations issue corrections and admissions of error?

2) And, Another Correction

In similar news, the family values group Cornerstone Policy Research recently claimed to have surveyed "every New Hampshire household" and found that "64% supported marriage to only one-man one-woman." Focus on the Family then parroted this claim that "marriage defenders" then echoed and echoed. (That reminds me, although "marriage defense" blogger Chairm has managed to author scores of comments and blogposts in the past 7 months since he promoted the dishonest hate-group-authored Mass Resistance piece on the "harm" of same-sex marriage, I hope he will find time to justify this previous parroting of inaccuracy as promised, even though he considers my request to be "trivial").

Well, via Good-As-You, Gary Schneeberger from Focus on the Family admitted that they made an error and that it was "not accurate to say that all households in New Hampshire responded to the survey questions." Well, of course. To anyone with a halfway objective mind, it would be preposterous to believe that researchers could survey every single household in a state. Sadly, some of these organizations don't give their own members, or the discerning public, very much credit. What's even more sad is that some people have accepted this ridiculous claim without question.

Not only that, but it's been pointed out that the survey question was highly misleading. Specifically, one journalist observed that it asked:

"This survey concerns a new law the state Legislature just passed that will affect marriage in New Hampshire. Do you agree that marriage between only one man and one woman should be legal in New Hampshire?"

Well of course people are going to say yes to that. One can, after all, believe that marriage between "only one man and one woman should be legal" while also believing that same-sex marriage should also be legal. The placement of the word "only" in the question is confusing, misleading, and erroneous. If the researchers wanted to know whether people believed that only a marriage between a man and a woman should be legal, they should have just asked "Do you agree that only marriage between one man and one woman should be legal." However, their current question is an entirely different one. Word placement is everything.

You know, when those working in the anti-gay industry prove time and time again to be incompetent and/or error-prone, you start to question their real motives as well as the accuracy of the rest of their claims regarding the Great Harms That Will Befall Society If Gay People Get Married! The American people aren't (all) suckers, and that's why the dominoes are falling.

Well done Box Turtle Bulletin, Truth Wins Out, and Good-As-You! Well done. Correcting lies and errors that the anti-gay industry puts out could be full-time jobs for many people.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1) On the Elusiveness of Gender

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the absurdities of how different states would treat the marriage between herself and her spouse. Specifically, Boylan is a transgender woman who was a man when she initially married her wife, but she transitioned to a woman after the marriage. The two remain married. In her insightful piece, Boylan discusses the elusive nature of gender and its legal definition:

"But what [Boylan's wife] would tell you, were you to ask, is that the things that she loved in me have mostly remained the same, and that our marriage, in the end, is about a lot more than what genders we are, or were....I’ve been legally female since 2002, although the definition of what makes someone 'legally' male or female is part of what makes this issue so unwieldy. How do we define legal gender? By chromosomes? By genitalia? By spirit? By whether one asks directions when lost?...

Gender involves a lot of gray area. And efforts to legislate a binary truth upon the wide spectrum of gender have proven only how elusive sexual identity can be.... Legal scholars can (and have) devoted themselves to the ultimately frustrating task of defining 'male' and 'female' as entities fixed and unmoving. A better use of their time, however, might be to focus on accepting the elusiveness of gender — and to celebrate it. Whether a marriage like mine is a same-sex marriage or some other kind is hardly the point. What matters is that my spouse and I love each other, and that our legal union has been a good thing — for us, for our children and for our community."

I have asked before what it is that makes us male and female (or both or neither) and I have yet to determine what the elusive something is. I doubt anyone is able to adequately do so, although I'd be interested in hearing more theories. Reality is not always as simple as we think it is.

2) Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives

Research organization Catalyst recently issued a report regarding the role of men in gender diversity initiatives entitled "Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know," (PDF). The researchers surveyed a group 178 businessmen to test several hypotheses regarding men's reactions to and awareness of gender bias. Interestingly, they found that defiance of masculine norms, having women as mentors, and having a strong sense of fair play are linked to a higher awareness of gender bias in men. Secondly, the researchers found that apathy, fear of losing privilege, and real and perceived ignorance regarding gender bias undermined men's support for gender initiatives in the workplace.

The sample size is relatively small, and it would be interesting to further explore how these variables related to each other, but I think it's an interesting study nonetheless. It has been my experience that gay men, and other men who don't meet traditional masculine norms, in my life tend to be much more supportive of feminism and gender equality than other men.

Importantly, the report also discussed how gender equality is not a zero-sum game where if women win it means men lose. Feminists argue this all the time, but the report mentions that when the walls of Traditional Masculinity and Traditional Femininity are broken down along with notions of "gender-appropriate" behavior, women and men are freer to have more rewarding relationships with each other that go beyond fulfilling some sort of made-up "complementary" yin-yang role.

3) Sotomayor, Again

Last week, I wrote about Jeff Rosen's (not much of a) "case" against nominating federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. His case was poor because it essentially consisted of anonymous cherry-picked quotes of former law clerks to other judges.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Eric Posner presents a more objective analysis of judicial evaluation. Analyzing data along three dimensions of productivity, opinion quality, and independence, Posner concludes that Sotomayor "is about average, or maybe a bit below average, for a federal appellate judge" and that Diane Wood (another potential nominee) is a "stronger" candidate whose performance has been "impressive." Interestingly, Sotomayor ranked higher than recent Supreme Court addition Samuel Alito on 3 of 5 measures. I don't recall many people questioning his capabilities during the nomination process, lending credence to my argument that white guys are often considered competent until proven otherwise.

Anyway, Posner states that he feels confident about his conclusions but admits that his measures are controversial. I say it's still better than Rosen's US Weekly-esque compilation of anonymous workplace gossip.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Anger and Free Speech

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting the "I Support the Iowa Supreme Court's Unanimous Marriage Decision" Facebook group and, using what is perhaps a real name and profile, I came across this:


Assuming this kid's profile is legitimate, I find it sad that someone somewhere taught him that gay people are "sick mother fuckers" and that we "deserve to die." While most people who leave such hateful comments only do so anonymously, this kid's beliefs are perhaps so self-evident to him as universal truths that he has no qualms with being associated with such beliefs. It's not surprising that he thinks gay people are "sick." People dedicate their lives and internet presences to telling us this every day. We are sick, wrong, unnatural, immoral, perverted, and worse. Is it really that far of a leap for young kids to go from these beliefs to the idea that these Very Bad Humans or People Who Engage in Very Bad Behavior deserve to die? I don't think so. I think too many people who claim to have a monopoly on righteousness are rhetorically reckless when it comes to their obsessive demonization of the Other.

I recently read about the case of Luis Ramirez and was reminded of this teenage boy's hateful rhetoric. A group of drunk, white, male, teenage "football stars" beat Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant, to death while shouting racial slurs. A couple of weeks ago, their all-white jury acquitted these boys of all serious charges. The facts indicate that the boys provoked the man into a fight by shouting ethnic slurs at him and the confrontation quickly escalated into physical violence.

I don't want to think that anger, violence, and hatred is a problem of testosterone-fueled boys and men, but hearing accounts such as these and witnessing young males declare that some people need to die honestly does make me wonder what the fuck is wrong with dudes? But then, of course, I remember that every human being has the capacity for violence. And personally, other than the people who have informed me that the Bible commands the death of homosexuals, some of the most vicious people I've encountered on the internet have been radical feminist women espousing their anti-transgender ideologies. Many people believe that anger, violence, and hatred are problems only of, what they call, "the other side." In reality, anger and hatred are human problems and we all have the capacity for acting these emotions out. Unfortunately, we exist within a framework that finds aggression acceptable in males and unacceptable in females. The sports industry, video games, movies, music videos, and every other piece of information that tells boys how to be Real Men water these seeds of violence every day.

Anger is a legitimate and oftentimes perfectly justified response to violent words. Yet, we all have to take responsibility for recognizing our anger and not acting it out, in return. In this country, we can pretty much say whatever we want. But that always begs the question, just because we can, does it mean we always should? When so much of what people say contributes to the cycle of violence, when so much of what is said is unskillful, is speech really "free"?

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Do "Marriage Defenders" Want From LGBT People?

Ah, that eternal question. What is it that anti-gays want from we LGBT-Americans? Perusing anti-gay blogs, I do sincerely try to get to the bottom of this. "Marriage defenders" are not a monolithic group, but I do tend to notice certain themes within their argumentation. The other day, I came across an interesting contradiction that I'd like to share.

Some of these folks, I have found, really truly want gay men and lesbians to leave their abhorrent lifestyles and go on to lead normal lives within that oh-so-natural state of complementarity that is man-woman love. For instance, responding to a gay man on her blog, anti-equality Digital Network Army blogger Pearl recently wrote:

"I am sorry for the pain you have experienced in your life. I, too, believe that God loves you. He loves us all, but He does not love all of our choices. You may have been born with a tendency toward same-sex attraction, but you are not beholden to your emotional appetites. None of us is."

This opinion that "same-sex attraction" is an appetite to be overcome is one that many anti-gays and "marriage defenders" share. It is, in fact, the yin to another of their fave arguments. Namely, the one that says that gay men and lesbians are already free to get married, as long as they marry someone of the "opposite" sex, of course! As but one of many examples of this argument, another "DNA" blogger recently wrote:

"The biggest argument coming from this ever-growing group is that homosexuals do not receive the same rights as heterosexuals. But in reality, they do. A man who professes to be gay has the same right as a straight man: to marry a woman."

If you're at all involved in this debate, I'm sure you hear that argument all the time. The argument that homosexuality is an appetite that people can and should overcome and the argument that gays already can get married (to people of the other sex) fit together like a lock and key. Gay people, who perhaps are or aren't born with same-sex attraction, choose to enter into homosexual relationships. If they would just choose to enter into heterosexual relationships, then they too could get married. Yet, what I found the other day was something quite interesting. I observed how "marriage defenders" react when confronted with a gay man who actually has done what they so often point out that he is capable of doing. At Pearl's blog, a gay man who took advantage of his already-equal marriage rights by marrying a woman appeared and relayed his current unfortunate situation. Sadly, this gay man, "jScott," who married a woman is now very unhappy and is only able to admit as much pseudonymously to strangers on the internet. To Pearl, he responds:

"'You are not beholden to your emotional appetites', people say this to me all the time. That's why I ended up marrying a woman to convince myself that I will learn to love her. It's very painful to look at my wife every day knowing that I am deceiving her. I love her but I am not attracted to her."

Let's sit back and watch, folks, how reality unfolds in the reality-based world.

First, you will notice the anti-gay folks backtracking a bit. One person, who writes almost exclusively on anti-gay issues, responded:

"Scott, your situation is really hard. It makes me sad that you were somehow coerced into marrying. I'm not going to give you marriage advice. But I will say that marriage is not about sexual attraction-- at least in the governments eyes" (emphasis added).

"Somehow coerced." That passive-voice is just precious, isn't it? I appreciate this "marriage defender's" somewhat sympathetic response, but these folks really need to acknowledge that a gay man's unhappy marriage to a woman is only a logical, natural extension of the anti-gay framework that treats homosexuality as an "appetite" that can and should be suppressed, denies the reality of non-heterosexual orientations, denies same-sex marriage rights, and continually reminds gay people that they Already Have Equal Rights to marry people of the "opposite" sex.

I think, in fact, there's a concept for what's happened here. Oh yes, it's called Cause and Effect.

In all seriousness, I like to think that this backtrackage was due to the fact that, in the face of real human pain, even the most virulent anti-gays would reconsider some of their prior convictions. Yet, I am starting to believe that many of these people don't even see the inherent contradictions in their arguments. On the one hand, they believe that homosexuality is an appetite ("same-sex attraction" they call it) that people can overcome and then go on to lead "normal" lives. That is certainly the expectation that many of these people have of us. Yet, on the other hand, when gay people try to lead so-called normal lives by marrying people of the opposite sex and end up unhappy, these folks back away with their hands up and shake their heads at the situations we've "somehow" found ourselves, wondering how and why we could make such a poor, selfish choice.

Let's watch a bit more of the action.

See, I also observed an over-eager tendency for these folks to distance themselves from being any sort of cause of human pain in these scenarios. It sort of reminds me of when Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage complained about the, "not thanks to [her]" rise to prominence of the same-sex marriage debate as though she has played no part in this rise to prominence even though the organization she's a part of launches million-dollar marriage ad campaigns, debates marriage equality on national platforms, and so forth. It takes two to tango, Maggie. But I digress.

The commenter who goes by the generic "op-ed" chimed in within the comment thread to make sure everyone knew that when the gay man married a woman:

"That, like all [his] actions, was [his] choice. Nobody here would advocate such a choice and I doubt [he] would, either."

No less than 8 times in his comment, "op-ed" informed the gay man of the poor choice he made and of the shoddy situation in which the gay guy somehow found himself. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Directly, it certainly is true that the gay man made the choice to marry a woman. It's not a choice that most gay men and lesbians make, but it's certainly a choice that society, families, and anti-gays do encourage us to make every. single. day. For a "marriage defender" to suggest that "nobody" at that particular "marriage defense" blog would "advocate such a choice" shows a real ignorance of his side's own argumentation.

Inherent in the argument that homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle" is the argument that it is something that gay men and lesbians can discard and, instead, opt for a better choice: The Heterosexual Lifestyle. Observe, some of Pearl's thoughts:

"Saying that lesbianism is normal because they can procreate is misleading. True, they have the right equipment to procreate...if employed properly...with a man. But in their chosen lifestyle, with their chosen partner, they cannot naturally procreate" [emphasis added, ellipses in original].

She continued, in a comment to this post, to insist that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people can happily form heterosexual relationships:

"And there are countless recorded instances of gay individuals who have walked away from the lifestyle to happily live out the remainder of their mortal lives in a heterosexual relationship. This ongoing occurrence evidences the fact that homosexual behavior can be turned on and off....Homosexuals can choose to pursue same-sex relationships, but they also have to accept the consequences of such a choice (i.e. no access to same-sex "marriage"). You see? They can still get married, like the rest of us, to someone of the opposite sex..." (emphasis added).

Now, it's been my experience that this "op-ed" persona has never been a fellow to concede any point, no matter how small. But why would Pearl continually speak of homosexuality as a "choice," regularly point to examples of people walking away from the "lifestyle," and remind everyone that gay people "still can get married... to someone of the opposite sex" if she were not advocating such a choice? Was she just saying all that for shits and giggles?

It's crystal clear that in Pearl's worldview (and it's a worldview that many "marriage defenders" hold) homosexuality is a mere choice, and a bad choice at that. The ideology of "choice" is sort of what the entire marriage debate (not to mention the ex-gay industry) hinges on. After all, it would be far too cruel of anti-gays to demand certain pathological-by-choice segments of the population to opt out of "normalcy" completely. It would just be flat out rude for "marriage defenders" to continually remind everyone that gays already can get heterosexually married while knowing full well that gays shouldn't actually get heterosexually married.

So, I like to think that many "marriage defenders" just aren't thinking out their arguments to their logical conclusions. I think many people, for whatever reason, profoundly misunderstand what it means to be gay. Yes, Captain Obvious, gay men and lesbians can form heterosexual marriages. But by decoupling marriage from attraction and compatibility, I will always be reminded that it is they, rather than us, who so misunderstand the marital relationship.

This confusion, both as to what marriage is and what being gay means, perhaps explains why "marriage defenders" are so flummoxed when confronted with a gay man who "somehow found" himself married to a woman. For one, if gay men "choose" to be gay but they marry women and are unhappy anyway, it suggests that maybe homosexuality isn't such a choice after all. Two, it suggests that maybe marriage is about something other than the happenstance of people's sex parts fitting together like a lock and key and something other than what can be produced by such a combination. Maybe they know this intuitively and that's why, when confronted with this gay man's very real pain and suffering, these folks slowly back away, chastise a gay man for making even more poor choices, and then scurry from the room as though they themselves have played no part in insisting that gay people just marry people of the opposite sex (because a-der gay people already can get married!).

So, let's live in the anti-gay World of Choice for a brief moment and ponder the central questions that this post asks:

If "marriage defenders" do not want us to marry our same-sex partners and if they truly, as "op-ed" claims, do not "advocate" for us to marry opposite-sex partners, what exactly do they want us to do? In what ways are we to live that is acceptable to them? What is our place within "their" society, "their" legal frameworks, and within "their" institutions? Recognizing that we have families to protect and provide for, recognizing that many of us are law-abiding tax-paying citizens, in what legal framework are we to protect our families and utilize the benefits and privileges that society has created for familial protection?

Since we all know that gay people can already marry people of the other sex, but we also know that it would be a poor choice to do so, what, then? What? I know this would all be easier if LGBT folks chose not to exist at all, but given that we do exist, what is it that "marriage defenders" want from us?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Odds 'N Ends

1. WoMeN BeHaViNg BaDlY!

In news of the obvious, The New York Times has recently reported that women, in fact, can be workplace bullies just like men. In less ExCiTiNg news, the study also found that men are, actually, more likely to be be bullies.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that bullying isn't about X type of people being inherently bad types of people. Rather, bullying is about power. People who are bullies also usually have some sort of power or advantage over the person being bullied. If bullies didn't have this power, the bullying would not be possible. Let's keep this in mind for the ShOcKiNg conclusions of the New York Times piece:

"And at least the male bullies take an egalitarian approach, mowing down men and women pretty much in equal measure. The women appear to prefer their own kind, choosing other women as targets more than 70 percent of the time."

I can't tell if the author is being sarcastic when applauding male bullies for being so "egalitarian," but I think this author is missing the obvious here: power dynamics in the workplace. The article goes on to note that:

"After five decades of striving for equality, women make up more than 50 percent of management, professional and related occupations, says Catalyst, the nonprofit research group. And yet, its 2008 census found, only 15.7 percent of Fortune 500 officers and 15.2 percent of directors were women."

Unfortunately, the author concludes that this female-on-female bullying is something that somehow "shakes the women’s movement to its core." (Isn't it funny how feminism "dies" practically every single day?!) In reality, it's apparent that women are more apt to bully other women in the workplace because there are more women than men working in positions subordinate to them. Men tend to be equal-opportunity bullies because men tend to be at the top more often than women and thus more likely to have both men and women underneath them.

2. Marriage Matters

Writing for, Ann Woolner expresses her thoughts on marriage:

"Now that I’m married, I see more clearly why so many people want into this thing so badly. Before last year, I thought my guy and I were just about as coupled as two people could get. We’d seen each other through hardships, taken part in each other’s family events and shared deep joys and pure fun.

Now I know that marriage is different from non-marriage. People who used to be puzzled by us understand our relationship and honor it. The state does, the law does, physicians do. I was surprised how joyfully friends and mere acquaintances reacted to the news of our marriage."

Woolner does a good job at getting to the core reason that so many same-sex couples seek the right to civilly marry their partners. While some of those who oppose marriage equality cruelly command same-sex couples to "Stop obsessing so much about what other people think of your relationships," Woolner compassionately observes that seeking acceptance and recognition is a fundamental human desire.

Love, after all, is a good thing. And, when any human being is able to find another person to deeply love, in the midst of so much hatred and suffering, it is something that we want our families, our society, and our legal system to recognize. The legal recognition of civil marriage is not about the ability to procreate, it is about recognizing the commitment that two people make to share resources and take responsibility for each other and for their children. It is about recognizing that that, when it comes to those aims, anatomy is irrelevant.

Woolner continues, of same-sex couples:

"I figure people dedicated to marriage with a certainty I only recently felt surely would elevate the institution, not diminish it. I say, come on in."

If anyone can make marriage sexy, relevant, and cool again, it's gay people, not the National Organization for [Opposite] Marriage and it's plethora of ridiculous anti-equality Ad Fails.

3. Raising the Discourse

For an interesting, adult, and civil discussion regarding same-sex marriage and religious liberty check out Dale Carpenter and Douglas Laycock's conversation over at legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy. Those who make their professional livings by "defending marriage" often argue that same-sex marriage will cause Great Harm to marriage, religious freedom, society, and/or children. In an interesting snippet, Carpenter observes:

"Like much of the rest of the debate over the effects of gay marriage, the question whether SSM threatens religious liberty – either by itself or in combination with various state antidiscrimination laws – is no longer a wholly theoretical one. We have now had full gay marriage in Massachusetts for five years. We have had gay marriage or the legal equivalent of it in Vermont since 2000, in California since 2005, in Connecticut since 2005, in New Jersey since 2006, in New Hampshire since early 2008, and in Oregon since early 2008. (Other states have formally recognized same-sex relationships, while granting a much more limited set of rights: Washington (2007), Maine (2004), Hawaii (1997), Maryland (2008), and D.C. (1992).) I leave out Iowa (2009) and Colorado (2009), where recognition is still fresh.

Just counting the pre-2009 SSM and civil-union states, covering about one-fifth of the U.S. population, that’s a combined 27 years’ worth of experience fully recognizing gay these seven states, tens of thousands of gay couples have been married, civilly unionized, or domestically partnered over the past decade....

The opportunity has certainly been there for massive legal conflict. Yet the legal conflicts between gay couples and religious objectors – all under pre-existing anti-discrimination laws – have been very few. I can find no reported decisions, for example, where a small landlord refused to rent to an unmarried gay couple, much less a married one.

And the number of these conflicts in which the state’s formal legal recognition of the gay couple determined the outcome is . . . zero. The number of cases in which the existence of a gay marriage or civil union defeated an otherwise meritorious religious-freedom claim is . . . zero. The number of cases in which the absence of a gay marriage (or civil union) relieved the religious objector of a non-discrimination obligation is . . . zero."

I can understand people having a general fear of the unknown. But I also think that people who hold genuine fears regarding how same-sex marriage might interfere with religious liberty should take note that these fears have been unfounded in states recognizing same-sex unions.

Anyway, however one feels about marriage, the two professors demonstrate what real conversations about LGBT rights should look like, as opposed to the manufactured "debates" about how homosexuality is just like having sex with amputated limbs.

I think it's valid to question whether we should continue taking groups and bloggers seriously who so frequently lower the level of discourse.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thoughts About Matthew Shepard

I have been struggling to write about US Representative Virigina Foxx's statements regarding Matthew Shepard for more than a week now. I have fluctuated between feeling outraged, saddened, and curious as to whether it's something people even want to hear about.

Sometimes, I wonder if spiritual violence is something that oppressed people become inured to. I wonder, too, how hearing about these events, not just here but everywhere, affects us, affects you all. To genuinely feel compassion is difficult, because it means opening yourself up to experiencing the pain that other people feel. That's why real compassion is so rare. When I heard that Representative Foxx referred to the hate-based torture and murder of a young gay man and the subsequent push for hate crimes legislation as a "hoax," I gradually became aware of a numb feeling inside of myself.

Those opposed to LGBT rights, when making similar Foxxian claims about the Matthew Shepard "hoax," invariably cite this ABC 20/20 infamous report which BoAsTs about finding "New Details" about the murder. The central claim of this piece is that Shepards' killers murdered him because of drugs, not because they hated gay people. That is the Big Hoax, they claim. What anti-gays do not know or do not cite is that this flawed 20/20 report has been debunked and critiqued over and over again as a shoddy piece of inaccurate, sensationalist TV journalism.

There is little, anymore, that shocks me when it comes to what people will say about LGBT persons and our allies. There's little, really, that surprises me about what people will do to or say about other human beings based on nothing more than their belonging to a particular group of people. And really, I think that's profoundly sad. We are at a place where Virigina Foxx's ignorant statements are the logical consequence of an ideology that maligns LGBT people on a daily basis. Organizations, blogs, and social networking groups exist dedicated to defining LGBT people as Others who are undeserving of respect, dignity, or equal rights. Some Others, we have learned, don't matter when SeNsAtIoNaLiSm is to be done. The murder of a human being can be cheapened because his killers have changed their minds about their motives and have an exciting new story to tell (for now anyway)!

Now, Virginia Foxx claims that she's been receiving death threats. If her claims are true, I find them unfortunate but not surprising. The wind has a way of catching our own breath and blowing it back into our faces. Violence begets violence. Anger and hatred are human problems and we each have a responsibility to end our own participation in the cycle of violence. Unfortunately, too many people- members of the media, politicians, bloggers- have placed themselves completely outside of the cycle and have no awareness as to how they themselves are implicated in it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Joe the Plumber" and the Arrogance of this "Average American"

I'm not really sure why Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher is still making the national news, but it greatly annoys me that some people consider him to be "a metaphor for the average American." Calling this straight white conservative dude "a metaphor for the average American" not only perpetuates the fiction that such a thing as "average American" exists, it of course places white guys at the center as the default American person, once again.

Anyway, apparently the guy has written a book and is traveling around the country promoting it. I guess it pays to be a national metaphor! In a recent interview, he explained that he's not, like, a bigot or anything (he even has "homosexual" friends!), he just doesn't think "queer" is a slur. It's okay though, his probably-fictitious homo friends "know where [he] stand[s], and they know that [he] wouldn't have them anywhere near [his] children." Huh. That's really representative of the Average American view on "queers"? Funnily enough, mom-Americans would beg to differ with Mr. Average American on this issue as recently polled moms reported that they would trust their kids with Ellen and Portia moreso than any other celebrity (Even Octo-mom Angelina Jolie).

So, here's the thing about Mr. "Average American." Not only is he not all that representative of Americana, you know those queer kinds of people he claims to be friends with? Well, if he's calling them "homosexuals," "queers," and informing them that he won't let them near his children, I think it's fairly obvious that these "friends" of his are mostly figments of his imagination that exist somewhere in Candyland with unicorns, Big Foot, and faeries.

But what annoys me moreso than the whole If I Claim To Have Gay Friends, People Can't Call Me a Homobigot game is this- calling Joe the Plumber some sort of metaphor for Average American does a real disservice to the concept of Average American. In reality, he represents only that arrogant swath of Americans who mistakenly believe that they hold a monopoly on the genuine, whether it be Real American, Real Family, or Real Religious Person and that there is only one right way to live, believe, and be in this world.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Professional Anti-Gays Insult Our Collective Intelligence

It's been circling around the internets for more than week now that professional anti-gay organizations have been lying about the pending federal Hate Crimes bill ("The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention" Act). As but one egregious example, in a sensational headline, the American Family Association recently declared the Senate to be "poised to give special protection status to pedophiles." The AFA insisted that:

"The Senate refused to define what is meant by sexual orientation in S. 909, the 'Hate Crimes' bill. This means that the 30 different sexual orientations will be federally protected classes."

I honestly don't know whether the AFA and other professional anti-gays are being disingenuous, blatantly dishonest, or just sincerely ignorant here, but their reasoning is as follows: The Hate Crimes statute does not define "sexual orientation." The American Psychiatric Association lists 30 "sexual orientations." Therefore, the Hate Crimes statute will protect all 30 of these "sexual orientations."

While it is true that the Hate Crimes act does not define "sexual orientation," it's clear that anti-gays have no understanding as to what constitutes a "sexual orientation." For instance, let's take a look at some of these other "orientations" that the American Family Association equates with homosexuality: coprophilia (sexual arousal from feces), necrophilia (sex with a corpse), and apotemnophilia (sexual arousal from the stumps of an amputee). Interesting, isn't it? See, those of us living in the reality-based world will notice that the cited American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV list is actually a list of "paraphilias" and not "sexual orientations." The DSM-IV really defines only 4 "sexual orientations" and they're all based on whether a person is attracted to men, women, both, or neither. Further, unlike "sexual orientation," paraphilias:

"all have in common distressing and repetitive sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors. These fantasies, urges, or behaviors must occur for a significant period of time and must interfere with either satisfactory sexual relations or everyday functioning if the diagnosis is to be made. There is also a sense of distress within these individuals."

Those who are involved in the mental health field, as opposed to those involved in the art of dishonest propaganda, know that homosexuality (or any sexual orientation) is not a paraphilia. To put it simply, paraphilias are mental disorders and sexual orientations are not. It is, in fact, demonstrative of a great deal of ignorance (or willful dishonesty) to equate paraphilias with sexual orientations. It is profoundly insulting to the the collective intelligence of Americans to suggest that having sex with corpses is an "orientation" anything like heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality. Who do these anti-gays think they're fooling?

I know that many anti-gay bloggers echo such statements, but I often wonder if they truly believe, in their heart of hearts, what they're saying. Fucking amputated stumps is a "sexual orientation"? That is the direction we want a serious conversation about individual rights and crime prevention to take? You know, a man such as Focus on the Family's James Dobson, who holds a PhD in psychology, should know better than this and he should give his followers a little more credit. I have to wonder if professional anti-gays are incompetent, or if they're just okay with being bald-faced liars.

Because this latest lie is one of the lowest of the low, I also wonder if it is "something else in disguise." That "something else," of course, being hatred. Despite their self-righteous rhetoric of Christ and love, what justifies the professional anti-gay movement's continual dishonesty and/or continual ignorant public statements? Do they not have editors? Do they not have professionals, such as lawyers or psychologists, who are competent? Is it because these people really, truly, genuinely believe that gay people are exactly like people who have any sort of sexual deviancy no matter how malignant that any means justifies the end? I'm seriously trying to understand how so-called religious people can lie so publicly and so shamelessly.

For, perhaps because the anti-gay circuit is a ginormous echo chamber, the Traditional Values Coalition, Liberty Counsel, the Concerned Women for American, and the Digital Network Army have all repeated this lie in the form of statements, email blasts, and news articles to their members.

I think it's time for these folks to justify their actions and start answering questions.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"She Has An Inflated Opinion of Herself" Does Not Constitute a Good "Case"

Jeffrey Rosen, writing in The New Republic, recently attempted to make a case against possible Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. I say "attempted" here only because it wasn't actually much of a case.

He first acknowledges that Sotomayor, who was raised by a single mother in the Bronx, attended Princeton and then Yale Law School and that her "former clerks sing her praises as a demanding but thoughtful boss whose personal experiences have given her a commitment to legal fairness." Then, he interviews and includes quotations from anonymous former clerks of other judges and former prosecutors who claim that she's "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," "she has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments," and one of them backhandedly compliments that "she commands attention, she's clearly in charge, she speaks her mind, she's funny, she's voluble, and she has ownership over the role in a very positive way. She's a fine Second Circuit judge--maybe not the smartest ever, but how often are Supreme Court nominees the smartest ever?" The bulk of Rosen's case, actually, consists of similar quotations of people accusing Sotomayor of not being all that smart and/or of being sort of... bitchy (let's just come out and say what these folks mean, eh?).

Now, when I first started reading this "case" against Sotomayor I was all ready for a serious analysis of her capabilities. You know, perhaps something useful that would contribute to the public discourse about a very important decision our President was about to make. Yet, after reading Rosen's snarky piece, I quickly ascertained that it more aptly belongs in an US Weekly magazine. Note to Rosen, we're talking about the next Supreme Court Justice, not the next American Idol.

You will notice, after all, that Rosen doesn't actually discuss Sotomayor's opinions, legal reasoning, or any other specific examples of her competence. In fact, he fully admits: "I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths." But hey, why stop a little anonymous workplace gossip from pretty much smearing the reputation of a sitting federal judge? For the record though, a substantial majority of the American Bar Association's members, which uses actual standards to evaluate judicial candidates, ranked Sotomayor as "Well Qualified" back when Clinton nominated her for her current post in 1997.

The thing about this "case" against Sotomayor, who is also of Puerto Rican descent, is that I highly doubt we'd be having this conversation were she a white guy. For one, white guys are usually deemed competent until proven otherwise. Women and people of color are not. As a woman, I know for a fact that, at first, people have taken me less seriously than some of my male colleagues. To some people, when a woman enters a room with a man in a professional setting, she is some sort of assistant to the man and never the Real Professional. But I also know that, because I'm white, people don't regularly question my IQ or wonder whether the only reason I made it through law school was because I was some sort of "affirmative action case." To be a woman of color is to have two marks of perceived incompetence. And, I really think that's what's going on with Rosen's piece here. If Sotomayor were a white guy with the same credentials, the conversation wouldn't be about whether she was competent or not, it would be about her position on abortion, gun rights, gay rights, and a myriad of other issues. It would be about whether her opinions were sound and how she tended to interpret the Constitution, not what anonymous former clerks of other judges thought about her.

That's why I basically see this piece as the expression of underlying anxieties about women and people of color holding important, powerful positions. Liberals and progressives are not immune from perceiving women and minorities as incompetent because no matter how politically-sensitive a person is, we are all products of a sexist and racist society. For instance, I also find it interesting that (a) people expressed that Sotomayor was a little power-trippy with her position and (b) that Rosen found such a critique relevant enough to publish in his piece. "Judicial temperament" is a factor to be considered, sure, but I genuinely wonder if it's possible for a woman of color to hold a position of power without others perceiving her as egocentric, bitchy, or power-trippy? It is still so rare for women of color to be in positions in which other people rise when they walk into the room that I think it would be quite easy to mistake Just Doing One's Job for something much more malignant.

For instance, note one of the snarkier criticisms: "She has an inflated opinion of herself." How so? What does that even mean? What evidence does the anonymous person who said such a thing have for such a statement regarding the innermost cockles of another person's mind? Most of the criticisms ran along those lines and they just seemed so petty, irrelevant and dare I say it, so angry that a woman of color had the audacity to perhaps be proud of her accomplishments and to demand respect.

In conclusion, what irked me most about Rosen's article has to do with its sense of entitlement. Despite her humble beginnings, Sotomayor has worked her way up to a very high position in society. Despite her achievements, someone has deemed it valid to nationally question her competence in the form of snarky, unprofessional, anonymous hearsay. Given that whiteness and maleness are "entitled" to positions of power, I seriously question whether a candidate within that privileged demographic would be "discredited" in such a manner.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Today's Deep Thoughts

I was going to write about Matthew Shepard and Virginia Foxx today, but I think a little nourishment is in order instead.

It's a few weeks old, but this makes me happy. The April issue of French Elle featured 8 female celebrities with no makeup and no photographic retouching of any kind. All of the featured women are naturally beautiful and thin, yes, but I don't really see how adding makeup or "fixing" their photos would be an improvement. I could delve into how the beauty industry sets up false expectations for female beauty and such but really, I think I'm just into the natural look.

In other news, apparently women only wash their bras six times a year.


Aren't you glad you read my blog today?

Deep thoughts.