Thursday, April 24, 2008

Day of Silence: Anti-Gay Groups Miss the Point

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence that many youth are observing. For those who are unfamiliar with this day, the Day of Silence is "a student-led day of action when concerned students, from middle school to college, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment -- in effect, the silencing -- experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies." Tomorrow, in symbolic solidarity with bullied LGBT and gender-nonconforming youth, I won't be blogging. Instead, this post will remain on the front page of Fannie's Room where millions dozens of people will read it.

See, anti-gay forces don't much like the Day of Silence- a peaceful, non-violent day of solidarity. Despite the fact that most of these anti-gay forces tout themselves as having superior moral values as most people, they lie about the purpose of this day and misrepresent what it's all about.

Matt Barber, for instance, of Concerned Women for America recently wrote a scathing critique on the Day of Silence (DOS). Unfortunately, his article has irrelevantly and entirely missed the point.

1. What is "Homosexual Conduct"?

First off, Barber's entire critique of homosexuality and the Day of Silence is based on the alleged harms that coincide with [male] "homosexual conduct," citing this study examining the life span of gay men with HIV/AIDS. As is typical with these anti-gay groups, Barber makes no distinction between being gay and engaging in unsafe sex.

Barber, for instance, claims that the Day of Silence is really about promoting "dangerous 'in vogue' behaviors" that are akin to smoking." Really, Matt? Really? In what logical universe does "bringing attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment in schools" equivalent to promoting "'in vogue' 'behaviors"?

And, eh, what are these "dangerous 'in vogue' behaviors"?

Barber goes on to misleadingly states that "the [International Journal of Epidemiology] study found that homosexual conduct shortens the lifespan of 'gays' by an astounding '8 to 20 years' - more than twice that of smoking." First off, that is a pretty big misrepresentation of the study's findings. The study actually found that having HIV/AIDS is what shortens one's life. That comes as no surprise, but perhaps Barber needs reminding that HIV/AIDS shortens one's life no matter if a person is gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, or atheist and no matter how a person became infected.

Let's explore Barber's claim a little further. See, while he "warns" us numerous times about the dangers of "homosexual conduct," he never specifies what he means by "homosexual conduct." Does he mean anal sex or does he mean watching musicals? Is he talking about man-on-man action, woman-on-woman action, or both? Okay, let's be real. You, me, and my little dog know that he's really only talking about gay men here, but what sort of gay male "conduct" is he referring to that reduces the life span of gay men?

Oh, right. Again, I think we all know that when Matt uses the term "homosexual conduct" he's talking about anal sex. It's not clear why he doesn't just come out and say "anal sex" when we all know that's what he's talking about. Perhaps it is essential to Matt's argument that he frame "anal sex"- an activity that not all gay men engage in and one that some straight people engage in- as "homosexual conduct" in order to turn "homosexuals" into deviant "others." When gay men have anal sex, it is "homosexual conduct." When straight people have anal sex, what is it? Is it just anal sex? Or is it "homosexual conduct"?

My point is that labeling a behavior that those of any sexual orientation can engage in as "homosexual conduct" is simply inaccurate. And that is why Matt Barber is wrong. "Homosexual conduct" doesn't lead to HIV/AIDS, unsafe anal and vaginal sex do (among other routes of transmission.) So to go from the study's conclusion that having HIV/AIDS takes years off one's life, to the conclusion that "being gay" takes years off of one's life is a bold and bigoted leap.

See, I can concede that gay men have higher rates of HIV/AIDS than other groups. That's just an epidemiological fact. Yet for once, I would like these traditionalist groups to concede that a man can be gay without engaging in risky sexual behavior. And by risky sexual behavior I mean unprotected sex. For once, I would like "concerned" groups to acknowledge that it's not "being gay" or "gay sex" that leads to HIV/AIDS, it's unsafe sex that leads to HIV/AIDS.

2. Where is the Concern?

Homo conduct (whatever that is) aside, I see right through Matt's Butt Sex Weapon of Mass Distraction.

Simply put, the Day of Silence is a day dedicated to acknowledging the bullying, abuse, and harassment that gay kids face. Rather than addressing that purpose, traditional values groups oppose the Day of Silence because it supposedly advances the gay "agenda." By completely side-stepping the bullying issue, these traditional values groups serve only to distract from the fact that gay or gender-nonconforming children are sometimes bullied. Perhaps because gay people are some sort of sick "other," these moralists hypocritically show no concern or compassion for bullied children.

Perhaps there is a more benign explanation for anti-gay groups' behavior. Maybe, just maybe, these groups do not believe that gay kids are bullied or ridiculed? I mean, it's already pretty clear that these groups fail to see their role in creating bullies and perpetuating hateful environments. But maybe, because they don't have gay kids or don't think that they have gay kids, they believe that bullying on the basis of being gay isn't real. Maybe that is why Matt Barber believes that the Day of Silence is really something sinister and it is somehow all about gay male sex and its risks?

In addition to that lack of concern, is another disturbing lack of concern. In this article from a group of women (or a man?) that claim to be "concerned" for our nation the author expresses no concern for the men who purportedly have these shortened life spans. Reprehensibly, these folks show no compassion for those living with HIV/AIDS. Oh, there is plenty of judgment. There is condemnation. There are smart-ass ideas like: We need warnings on condom wrappers that say "Male-male anal sodomy has been proven to shorten your lifespan by up to 20 years." (Although, as a picky note of accuracy, male-female "anal sodomy" is just as risky in HIV transmission as "male-male anal sodomy" is. Let's hope Mr. Barber doesn't appoint himself to the post of Surgeon General anytime soon.)

Okay, where was I? Oh right. From where I sit, I see no concern from purportedly concerned groups about the fact that men who have sex with men have higher rates of HIV and STDs than other groups of people. All I see is this implied message: Don't have sex with men if you're a man. I can guess that that public health message doesn't so much resonate with gay and bisexual men.

In Matt Barber's world, men wouldn't have sex with men. But in our shared world, men do have sex with men and they will have sex with men no matter what Matt Barber says.
Now, Matt Barber, how do we deal with that reality? How do we promote the health and well-being of gay and bisexual men and are you at all "concerned" about that?

The headline of Barber's article: "Day of Silence" Scam Places Children At Risk. is interesting. In the real world, effective HIV/AIDS prevention messages tell people how to have safe sex if they're going to have sex at all. Juvenile and simplistic message like "don't have 'gay sex'" don't work. No effective HIV prevention/intervention method funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes that message because it is precisely clumsy messages like "don't be gay" that pose serious public health risks. Are you, Matt Barber, at all "concerned" about that?

3. What About the Women?

The apparent obsession with gay male sexuality and its risks completely takes lesbians out of the equation. Barber's entire case against the Day of Silence is built on the alleged harms of being a gay man. Knowing that, I wonder if Barber would be opposed to a Day of Silence dedicated only to lesbians. He doesn't appear take issue with this group, or even acknowledge this group's existence. (I am extremely interested in Barber's case against lesbians, in fact. Please let me know if anyone comes across it.)

This handy omission lets "traditional values" groups sidestep the inconvenient truth that being a lesbian is not associated with HIV/AIDS and STDs.

But worse than this omission is that Barber, in his article, falsely alludes that being a lesbian is, actually, associated with "disease." Before listing a myriad of statistics relating to gay men only, Barber writes:

"In fact, multiple studies have established that homosexual conduct, especially among males, is considerably more hazardous to one's health than a lifetime of chain smoking."

Fact? Lesbians are considered the lowest risk group for STDs and HIV/AIDS. Transmission of these diseases between women is possible, of course, but the risk of a woman being infected by a female sex partner is much lower than her risk of being infected by a male partner. Yet, Matt Barber states that while male "homosexual conduct" is particularly hazardous, he insinuates that "homosexual conduct" of either the male or female variety is "considerably hazardous" to one's health.

That, my friends, is misleading propaganda.

4. So, Who's Using Propaganda?

Matt Barber says that the homasexuls are using propaganda,

"[Day of Silence] is pure, unadulterated propaganda and, based on the medical science, amounts to nothing short of educational malpractice. With liberal school officials in tow, these militant homosexual activists are brazenly circumventing and abusing parental authority to further this dangerous political agenda. DOS is also a slap in the face to the many students with traditional moral values."

So that's all settled then.

But seriously, note that two things are going on here. Although the Day of Silence is about remaining silent, Barber says that this silence amounts to "pure, unadulterated propaganda." The irony continues when he goes on to claim that this silence is "a slap in the face" to those poor children with "traditional moral values."

I can't think of many things that are less "propagandistic" and less offensive to another's "values" than silence. I can just imagine a "poor traditional values" child lambasting a Day of Silence observer: "Can you stop being silent so loudly, it's offending my delicate traditional sensibilities." What a joke.

See, the so-called "traditional values movement" decries us for being too militant, too powerful, and too propaganda-y but when we choose peaceful, non-violent, and sometimes silent methods of political action, we are still demonized. Yes, because they just will not stand for us acting in a civil manner!

By labeling all of our actions, nonviolent protests, vigils, and messages as "propaganda," "traditional values" groups seek to silence us. In the adult world, these "traditional values" organizations and "leaders" are nothing but bullies. To counter the Day of Silence, for instance, they have organized an ironically-named "Day of Truth." As I searched the "Day of Truth's" website for information on its purpose, I came across this lie in the "common questions" section:

"What is the Day of Silence?

The Day of Silence is a national program of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which asks students to remain silent for an entire day to express their support for the promotion of the homosexual agenda in the public schools."

Wrong. As the Day of Silence website states, the purpose of the day is to bring attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. It is immensely troubling and ironic that a special day dedicated to "truth" is predicated on either a blatant, baldfaced lie or a severe misunderstanding of the purpose of the Day of Silence. As Daniel Gonzalez of the Box Turtle Bulletin puts it:

"Funny, it sounds like those who created the Day of Truth are the ones struggling to communicate honestly about homosexuality."

Funny, in a scary, ironic, and hypocritically unfunny way, that is.

I don't think that all people who oppose gay rights are automatically bigots. But when people intentionally lie about us, our "agenda," our sex lives, and our rate of disease, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion. If they are, indeed, more innocent than it appears, if they are so uninformed about gay people and health information that they unknowingly spread lies and misleading statistics about us, than I can only wonder if they should educate themselves more fully before they form groups dedicated to opposing groups of human beings in a concerted effort to deny rights. Whether due to bigotry or ignorance, their actions and lack of compassion are truly reprehensible.

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