Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Villains," Words, and Violence

This post is the second part of my short series on New Year's thoughts, contemplations, and reflections.

As I wrote about yesterday, I read many blogs and newsources that could accurately be described as anti-gay, extremely conservative, anti-feminist, and/or opposed to equal rights for LGBT folks and women. While doing so often angers me, this trend of reading what the "opposition" was saying began for me many years ago in college when I'd read the "conservative" version of the student newspaper. While it can be reassuring to only read articles with which one already agrees, doing so offers little insight into the minds of those with whom one disagrees. Unfortunately, in order to get to the opposition's valid point one often has to filter out numerous arguments that are highly offensive, inaccurate, and/or illogical. It can be pretty depressing, really.

Oftentimes, arguments against LGBT rights are predicated upon discomfort with same-sex sexual behavior, AIDS panic, and stereotypes about gay men and (sometimes) lesbians. Usually, arguments against feminism reveal little more than male rage and a misunderstanding of what feminism is. For instance, anti-feminists will take the most extreme radical feminist statement and mistakenly believe that all feminists think that "all men are rapists." The running theme among both types of arguments is that LGBT rights advocates and feminists are Very Bad Villains. Reading such arguments requires continually reminding myself that these arguments come from a place of fear, misunderstanding, and/or ignorance and not from a place of objective observation. But honestly, as a lesbian feminist, it can be hard not to take these things personally sometimes.

For, many of those who vilify LGBT rights advocates and feminists, I believe, truly do see us as less human, or at least very different, than they themselves are.

Two days before Christmas, I saw on the news that a woman in California was gang-raped by a group of men reportedly because she is a lesbian. It is not conceivable to me how others can justify degrading another person's humanity in this way. I believe that acts like rape and murder require perpetrators to de-humanize and objectify their victims. It is easier, after all, to hurt someone who you perceive as much different than oneself or, perhaps, as an object for your use. The four men in this news story, I believe, were for some reason able to see this lesbian woman as a sub-human type of person. And, I can't help but to wonder where this de-humanizing came from.

Many, if not most, "marriage defenders" and others opposed to equal rights for gay people would undoubtedly oppose such brutal behavior. Although they rarely publicly condemn such hate crimes against our community, I have enough faith in humanity to recognize that people would not wish bodily harm even on those whom they disagree with and/or believe to be immoral. Further, I don't believe that the recent denial of marriage equality in California has led to this hate crime as some are trying to suggest. Yet, it remains my fear and belief that campaigns of vilification can and do lead to violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community because these campaigns reinforce the message that LGBT folks are not human in the same way that "normal" people are.

Recently, "marriage defenders" and their like-minded organizations have orchestrated campaigns touting the message that LGBT rights advocates who engage in peaceful, lawful, and non-violent protesting and boycotts are actually intolerant, hateful, McCarthyist, terrorist, mobs. While some members of our community may be these things, it is a mistake to imply that we are all like this. These characteristics are not the LGBT community that many of us know. I believe that it's a dangerous mistake to use such hyperbole when describing every action that those in our community take. National Organization for Marriage and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty made vague exaggerations indicting all of us, plain and simple, and for that I believe these organizations to be reckless with their words. I think there are rational people out there who would prefer to see society ridded of the dangerous elements that "marriage defenders" describe.

It's sort of ironic. Even though many "marriage defenders" themselves bristle at the faintest hint of being called a "bigot," some of their latest tactics rely on the erroneous assumption that LGBT people and their allies are Very Bad Extremist Enemies Who Hate the Family. It is frightening to me how those claiming to be on the moral Christian high ground can so utterly fail to demonstrate compassion, kindness, and understanding towards those with whom they disagree. I have yet to see them to try to understand or care about why some of us are angry about Prop 8. I only see them characterizing our anger as wrong and exaggerating it. On both sides, I mostly see people talking to like-minded folks and, when they bother to debate the issue with others I mostly see people talking past one another.

Here's my deal. I can accept that not all of those opposed to same-sex marriage are bigots. My challenge to "marriage defenders" is to render critiques of our arguments and to stop characterizing us as sub-human threats to the foundations of society.

Since we've been deadlocked for years in a "war" over the word marriage, I think we can all agree that words are important and we should be careful with them.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mirrors and "Villains"

Hello readers. Today's post marks the beginning of a short series of posts in which I reflect upon the purpose of my blog. You're invited to read my rambling thoughts and contribute ideas, thoughts, and reactions. (Part II is here).

In addition to celebration, the New Year for me has come to signify "looking into the mirror," reflection, and contemplation. With respect to this blog, I've been thinking about what it means to me and what I want to use it for. In becoming angry at unfairness to and lies about women, people of color, LGBT folks, and others, I have come to see that my angry words on this blog have sometimes contributed negativity to a world already brimming with negativity and aggression. That was never my goal, but like all people do sometimes, I've acted out strong emotions that I've had. Unfortunately, doing so has sometimes prevented me from connecting with those who have angered me. We cannot control the fact that other people lie about us, vilify us, and worse, but we can control how we react to their behavior and words. Not reacting with anger does not mean letting our opposition off the hook for what we believe to be their own misbehavior, it means changing our message and tactics. And that's what this post is about.

When I posted my article "Above the Hate: Below the Propaganda" criticizing the National Organization for Marriage's misinformation campaign against equality advocates, someone left an interesting comment in response over at Pam's House Blend. Specifically, this commenter said "You really don't need to explain this again. We all know the story, and we all know the lies propagated by the professional hate organizations."

While it's true that we "know the story," I think it is crucial to remember that many Americans do not know the story. Yes, most of us know that those opposed to equal rights for LGBT people either purposefully or ignorantly spread misinformation about us and vilify us. However, what is evident to us, is not self-evident to other people. Throughout the blogosphere, leftwing and rightwing alike, there is an insular sentiment in which "wrongs" of the other side are often pointed out without further elaboration as to why particular messages are wrong, erroneous, and/or misleading. Preaching to the choir does serve a general venting purpose. Yet, doing so fails to convince anyone who doesn't already agree with you.

It is impossible to help those who disagree with you see your point of view if you take the position that your conclusions are self-evident. Every day, I make a point to read socially conservative, even extreme rightwing, blogs in an attempt to better understand where people with views different from my own are coming from. To be honest, much of what I read over yonder frustrates me, mostly because I see so many people making really bold assertions about their opposition without first trying to understand why those on the other side feel so strongly about their own positions. The amount of misunderstanding out there, on all sides of an issue, is incredible.

Last week, while making my usual "rightwing rounds," I followed a link to what I believe to be a very unfortunate article vilifying the human beings in the community that I am a part of. Criticizing the "Prop 8 Musical" featuring Jack Black, this particular blogger wrote:

"If this is what passes for comedy now days, I'll have no part of it. It didn't make me laugh; it made me roll my eyes and throw my hands up in exasperation and disbelief. I find it telling that the director went straight for mocking religious beliefs, completely ignoring the fact that there are stacks and stacks of secular research studies which prove that the gay lifestyle is violent, destructive, diseased, and unwholesome (check out the resources section here). In truth, the reality of the gay lifestyle is a far cry from the bouncing, singing, "gaiety" depicted on the "beach" in this insipid musical. The reality that is so conspicuously absent from this supposed "humor" is that of AIDS, violence and domestic abuse, broken homes, confused children, and a genderless, dead-end society, left stripped and scorned in the frigid cold, hugging its identity-complexed, family-murdered, dysfunctional self. [emphasis added]"

Below this message, the blogger posted pictures of civil Yes on 8 protestors and contrasted these photos with a montage of cherry-picked No on 8 protestors who happened to be making angry faces. Below these photos, the blogger suggested that gay people are hateful bullies and sore losers in contrast to "marriage defenders" who are, of course, loving and peaceful.

The propagandistic message was clear: Gay people are very different from and much meaner than other people!

Perhaps what this blogger doesn't know is that any one of us could have just as easily found pictures of happy, smiling gay protestors, pasted them on a montage next to Fred Phelps' God Hates Fags clan, and made the same conclusion about "marriage defenders."

Yet, reading that blogpost as a civil, law-abiding American who happens to be gay, I was angry but mostly saddened. Those words speak neither to me nor about me. It is for an audience of like-minded believers who likely have little or no interaction with gay people and already believe that gays are very bad, dangerous people. The portrait of the "gay lifestyle" that this person paints is not at all the gay community that I know. And I am fairly confident that my experience in the gay community is a bit more substantial than this blogger's. Yet this person seems to believe, relying on some sort of evidence, very strongly that "homosexuality is, at its very core, evil."

I wonder if there will ever be anything we can do as a vilified minority group to convince such persons that we have good intentions and that we are not the monsters they think we are. Given that those opposed to equal rights for LGBT people often base their opposition in religious teachings that tell them that homosexuality is very wrong, I wonder how it is that they really truly are able to love the sinner but hate the sin. For those of us who make no distinction between our humanity and our sexual orientation, it can be difficult to perceive that message as anything other than those people hating us. For me, I do believe that many Christians really do hate us, and do not love us. It is difficult to believe otherwise when our political losses are celebrated, when heterosexual Christians create single-issue anti-gay blogs and organizations opposing us, and when virtually every political action we take is amplified and twisted around into us having Really Sinister McCarthyist Mob Motives.

I'm aware that this is all very easy for me to point out to most of you, who would most likely "get" what I'm talking about and call it a day. "We all know" that the above-cited person's view of gay people is so distorted that he/she makes many claims that just aren't factual or legitimate in the reality-based world. The cited "resources section," for instance, is full of the usual discredited suspects: Focus on the Family, Mass Resistance, and American Family Association to name a few. Why these "resources" are generally discredited is because, contrary to the scientific method, they often start with a conclusion and work backwards from there, compiling sketchy "research" that comports with their already-formed opinions and disregarding everything that would result in dissonance.

I could then take things a step further and vilify this blogger as some sort of ignorant uber-bigot. But in the end, where would that get us? Shaming people we believe to be anti-gay doesn't work since these people do not believe they have to be ashamed of their beliefs. In fact, they are often very self-righteous in their beliefs, truly believing that they are acting in a moral, loving manner. Further, painting our opposition as caricatured villains is not only fruitless, it is unrealistic. It is inaccurate. The world and all of us in it are much more complicated than we give each other credit for. I'm not trying to be preachy here; trust me I know I am not perfect. I maintain awareness of my weak spots and am without a doubt my own worst (yet most accurate) critic. Daily, it is a struggle to quiet the anger that I feel when reading lies about people that I know as fun, compassionate, loving, and kind. It can be unbelievably draining. To lighten things up in my head, I continually remind myself that the path is what's important in life, not "being right." It is in ordinary acts and interactions with others, not in churches and temples, where we show who we really are.

And we rarely show who we really are in interactions with those with whom we already agree.

The challenge, for those in heated political debates, is to not paint our "opponents" as villains, but to treat them as people like ourselves who we merely disagree with. It is too easy, and intellectually immature, to fall back on vilifying our opponents and exaggerating their "misbehavior." It scores you no points and only builds greater walls of separation. The challenge is to give others the benefit of the doubt that they, too, have what they believe to be really good reasons for holding their firm opinions about things. Believing that people are basically good enables us to believe that people aren't out to hurt us.

Doing these things isn't easy. I have seen very few people on the internet, myself included, capable of always engaging in respectful conversation with the other side. Sometimes, in all honesty, it is healthier to bow out rather than to subject yourself to continuous abuse. That's just the nature of the internet, a medium in which non-verbal communication cues are lacking. Yet, I still believe that we can and should use the internet to connect with those with whom we disagree in ways that are healthy, fruitful, and meaningful.

Some spiritualities hold that all human beings are one and that there is an interconnectedness between all living things that cannot be broken. This belief is admittedly different than the dualistic good/evil paradigm that dominates. Yet, I think it is worth considering for a moment. When I first began exploring this concept, much to my annoyance I quickly realized that "we are all one" necessarily means that we are a part of those with whom we vehemently disagree. Those people are us.

What if they are? Would we treat each other better, with more compassion and kindness, if we believed that others were just different versions of ourselves as opposed to beings who were fundamentally different or "evil"?

In the new year I will continue to strive to see those I disagree as variations of myself. It is my hope that they, in turn, will come to view me not as someone who lives an "unwholesome" "family-murdering" lifestyle, but as a fellow human being.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: Sex Variant Woman- The Life of Jeanette Howard Foster

Before advocating for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons was possible, LGBT people had to first become visible. Although sexual variance has existed throughout history, LGBT people have had varying degrees of visibility. Only relatively recently in our nation's history have "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," and "transgender" become visible and recognized identities.

In her 2008 biography Sex Variant Woman: The Life of Jeannette Howard Foster, Joanne Passet gives us a rich account of lesbian history as she documents the life of the courageous woman who, in 1956, first published a "bible" of instances of "sex variant" lesbian love in literature. In doing so, Passet reminds us that the LGBT community not only has a pre-Stonewall history, but also that Jeanette Howard Foster played a valuable role in increasing the visibility of lesbians. (All quotes are from Sex Variant Woman, unless otherwise noted).

1. Early Life

During her childhood, in the early 1900s, Foster displayed "tomboyish tendencies" and a "penchant for developing crushes on other girls" (17). These tendencies worried her mother as people were starting to become aware of "sexual inversion" thanks, in part, to the case studies of psychologist Havelock Ellis. Even though it wasn't until the 1920s that, due to Freudian influences, same-sex love was "portrayed as illness," Foster's mother nevertheless expressed concern about her daughter's gender non-conformity (19). As an aside, the photos of young Jeanette, and her sexual "variance," during this time are quite funny. One of them is of the young girl, after having been forced to wear a dress, sitting next to her family and "scowling" while assuming an "unladylike pose" (18). Another photo shows young Jeanette who is dreamily staring at another girl while the other girl is looking at the camera.

As Jeanette grew older, Passet documents various crushes that Jeanette developed on her female teachers and classmates. Generally, Jeanette seemed not to distress too much about her sexual "variance." She developed a sense that it was something that she should hide from those who disapproved, but her sexual orientation was something that she seemed to see as a natural part of herself. In fact, she wrote many poems and stories that painted same-sex love in a positive light, something that was ahead of its time as most portrayals of same-sex love were negative (these stories, however, remained unpublished until the 1960s) (126).

What seemed to trouble Foster most of all was that her love often went unrequited, usually because the objects of her affection were too fearful about or troubled by their own sexual "variance" to reciprocate. During after Foster's college years, these women had good reason to be fearful. The 1917-1921 Red Scare was an early era of homosexual panic in which sexual "variants" were often fired from their jobs, accused of subversion, and otherwise painted in a negative light. In 1919, for instance, after Jeanette graduated from college, the president of her college went through a bout of "anticommunist and homosexual panic" in which he accused faculty of an "outbreak of bolshevism" and fired much of the faculty for "homosexual tendencies" (58). Yet, throughout this era of stigmatization and repression, Jeanette's "freethinking outlook and indomitable spirit kept her from internalizing negative messages about her sexuality" (59).

Over the years and in spite of extreme societal condemnation of homosexuality, as Passet documents in detail, Foster "obsessively search for printed examples of gays and lesbians everywhere she went" (142). She eventually received a doctoral degree in library science and, as a consequence, had access to collections and sources that would contribute to her opus. In the 1940s, Jeanette became the librarian at Alfred Kinsey's Institute for Research in Sex, and gained access "to one of the finest collections of material in the nation related to sexuality" (149). (In addition, as Passet recounts, even though documentaries often present Kinsey as having worked with a mostly male team, Jeanette was one of many crucial women who made substantial contributions to Kinsey's work). A voracious lifelong reader, she combed through texts (in multiple languages) with the ultimate goal to author a "comprehensive bibliography" on instances of sexual variance among women in literature over a span of 2600 years (148, 194).

2. Identity, Visibility, and Advocacy

Sometimes, I think that those opposed to LGBT rights are very uninformed as to why the LGBT community relies on "identity politics" to advocate for equal rights. Because they lack historical insight, the fundamental anti-gay arguments against "identity politics" assumes that LGBT people banded together in some sort of vacuum in order to try to impose some new world order on everyone else. In the reality-based world, the context of LGBT advocacy is very different. As Passet reminds us, in the 1950s "homosexuals were routinely institutionalized, fired from their jobs, and imprisoned, simply for being gay" (xxiv). The legal system criminalized gay sex and "homosexuality" was branded by the medical and psychiatric professions as "pathological" (175). Gay bars were routinely raided with patrons being beaten and/or arrested. "McCarthy and his minions branded homosexuals a national danger" (Ibid.). Even though though LGBT people are still branded by some as "sick" and "dangerous," circumstances were very different back then for gay people than they are now.

Yet, in light of the cries of some that LGBT people are playing unfair "identity politics" by advocating for our rights, we have to remember that it was the dominant class, heterosexuals, that defined deviance and imposed penalties upon it. LGBT folks joined together and became politically active on the basis of the shared trait of "sexual deviance" as a reaction to the incredible oppression that they shared. For instance, with the birth of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in 1955, lesbians were beginning to offer a "counternarrative to the religious leaders, medical authorities, and political figures who condemned homosexuality and persecuted gay men and women. Like [DOB] founding members Del Martin and Pyllis Lyon, Jeanette recognized how important it was for isolated lesbians and gay men to find validation of their lives in print" (198-199).

Passet recounts how Jeanette's book "had a significant impact on others," particularly the women who came of age during the more radical 1960s. Her work, including her short stories and poems, "experienced a renaissance, in large part due to the emergence of feminist and lesbian presses" (252). And, while she lived to see the relevance of her work, she also (correctly) predicted a backlash to LGBT rights saying "The 'GOOD' are sure to become conscious of trends, and get on their snow-white steeds for a 'decency' campaign pretty soon- damn their pious hides!" (Ibid.). Unfortunately, while living in an Arkansas nursing home, she also lived to see the recriminalization of sex between two consenting people of the same sex in 1977 (256). This unfortunate law was passed during Anita Bryant's obsessed anti-gay crusades.

In sum, Sex Variant Woman was one of the best books I read all year. Passet thoroughly chronicles the life of a remarkable, brilliant, courageous woman who lived through several eras of repression and expression. It reminds me that justice often comes in ebbs and flows and that even though strong forces are oppose us, we have been here before and have faced much greater odds. Passet's biography, I believe, is one of the most important books for those of us looking for images of ourselves in history.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What If It Had Been a Girl?

Once upon a time there was a virgin woman named Mary, living in Galilee, who was married to a man named Joseph. This woman was visited by an angel who told her that she would conceive and give birth to a daughter who would be God's own daughter.

When Mary became pregnant Joseph became concerned, knowing that Mary was not yet married. Because God wanted to assure Joseph that he should marry Mary anyway, She sent an angel to Joseph in a dream. After Joseph and Mary were married, Mary brought forth her firstborn daughter, and wrapped her in swaddling clothes, and laid her in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

After the birth of the baby girl, an angel appeared to shepards and announced that the Savior had been born. The shepards visited the baby and began to spread the word. During this time, three wise women from the east saw a star and knew that the Savior had been born. They traveled to Bethlehem, bearing gifts, and began worshiping the girl.

Obviously, the above story is an adaptation of the Christmas story and prophecy as written in Luke and Matthew of the New Testament. I fully realize that adapting the story in this way may offend some people's beliefs. Offense is certainly not my intention here. Rather, because I believe that the supernatural events "recorded" in the Bible are mythical, I am more interested in exploring how societies founded in Judeo-Christian principles would have been different had the supreme being and savior been conceptualized as female.

As Merlin Stone has asked in her book When God Was a Woman:

"What... might we expect in a society that for centuries has taught young children, both female and male, that a MALE deity created the universe and all that is in it, produced MAN in his own divine image- and then, as an afterthought, created woman, to obediently help man in his endeavors?"

Generally, I believe that Jesus the historical figure probably existed but that he lacked supernatural powers and divinity. Assuming that he did exist, I think that the supernatural myths ascribed to him have been largely drawn from pre-Christian "pagan" myths. Winter solstice is an astronomical event that occurs "around Christmastime" and marks the shortest day of the year. Cultures throughout history have celebrated winter solstice as it marked the beginning of longer days and, important to agriculture, the "birth" of more sunlight. As one example, thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, the Egyptians worshiped the sun god/sky god they named Horus, a god of divine origin who was "born" during winter solstice. (Interestingly, this myth also involved a crucifixion and subsequent resurrection 3 days later.)

I know that many Christians believe that the Bible accounts for literal historical and religious truth. Yet, I find it impossible to believe that. Believing what I believe, I often wonder how society would be different if God, Jesus, and other important Biblical figures had been conceptualized as female, rather than male. To be very general, my guess is that male leadership in all things that matter- family, society, and religion- would not be taken for granted in the way that it used to be and still is in some ways. I believe that religious teachings are still being used by "traditionalists" to maintain a very specific gender heirarchy that, in both subtle and obvious ways, teaches us that men are inherently better than women at many things and in many ways.

On a more basic level, I continually find it fascinating that "God's" maleness goes so utterly unquestioned among so many today. I understand that part of being devout means not questioning religious teachings, but still, even when I was very young I remember feeling somehow "wronged" by what I was being taught in Christian churches. Since women were so rarely mentioned in the Bible as major historical figures (other than Mary), I remember feeling very alienated and excluded from this religion.

From women and men, Christians and non-Christians alike, I wonder what your reactions are to the above adapted story.

Happy Holidays. Here's to the gestation of springtime.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

US Refuses to Officially Condemn Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation

"More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution."

Because of these unfortunate laws, 66 nations recently signed a non-binding United Nations declaration calling for a worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. George W. Bush's United States was not one of them.

Sex between consenting adults of the same sex was decriminalized in the US in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas). Nevertheless, some "US officials" were fearful of sliding down a slippery slope:

"According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military."

I know that international law carries with it inherent uncertainties and conflicts, but I would love to hear the specific legal arguments used to come to the conclusion that this nonbinding UN declaration regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality "might be problematic" to our legal system. I read through the declaration and the paragraph that had the closest implications for our civil legal system stated (available here, scroll to the end):

"We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses."

Clearly, the United States is not "disturbed" by many of these things and has no regard for the fact that discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice undermine the integrity and dignity of LGBT people. Many of us already know that. Yet, our government should have just made that lack of concern explicit rather than making an inaccurate statement about the effect that a nonbinding UN declaration would have on our sovereignty. By itself, I just don't think the declaration would have interfered with the state and federal government's ability to discriminate against LGBT people in the civil arena.

Anyway, at least our nation is opposed to the criminalization of homosexuality. It's better than nothing I guess:

"Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation."

In other words, the US opposes criminalizing homosexuality, but it won't officially oppose the decriminalization of homosexuality because it might lead to equal rights and we simply can't have that. The Bush Administration showed its priorities here. It weighed the chance LGBT Americans had of getting equal rights against the chance that chance that some nations which are currently murdering gay people might stop doing so as a result of the declaration. It made a choice. Given that human rights are the basic rights that all human beings are entitled to and that, as a nation, we should officially condemn violations of human rights, it's not the choice I would have made. Even if it meant angering my voting base.

Others opposing the declaration include the Vatican and 50 other nations, including the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The opposing nations issued a statement suggesting "that protecting sexual orientation could lead to 'the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts' such as pedophilia and incest."

Golly. That sounds familiar. For religions that are so different, it's remarkable how similar extremist Muslims and Christians can be when it comes to homosexuality.

We don't always keep the best company as a nation when it comes to symbolic and formal equality for LGBT people.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm Not a Bigot, But...

I am continually amazed by people who vehemently deny that they are bigots while simultaneously engaging in behavior and speech that suggests nothing but bigotry. Sometimes, I think there's a real disconnect, or lack of self-awareness, going on that prevents some people from viewing their own behavior, thoughts, and speech as bigoted.

The Associated Press recently reported that the parents of a child complained when a supermarket refused to produce a cake with a child's full name on it. Why? The child's name is Adolf Hitler Campbell. The parents have named their other children JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. In previous years, the couple had asked "for a swastika to be included in the decoration."

The father, at least, does not view himself as racist. Explaining that children of mixed-race heritage came to his child's birthday party, he asks "If we're so racist, then why would I have them come into my home?" he asked. The AP article also reports that the man claimed to have named his child "Adolf Hitler" because his child wouldn't have to share the name with anyone else.** He also acted "surprised" that such a big deal has been made over his children's names.

I'm not going to call these people bigots and racists and haters. Okay. So.... I just wrote and then erased "we don't have enough information" to be able to ascertain as much.

In light of little "Adolf Hitler," "Hinler," and "Aryan Nation," my naive benefit of the doubt made me laugh out loud. So, I'm just going to qualify my statement by saying that if one were truly going for a "unique" baby name, the options were virtually limitless. These parents could have just as easily named their child Piano Concerto, Cell Phone, or Red Dye #3. But they didn't. **They chose the name of one of history's most notorious proponents of racial purity.** And when they did so, little Adolf was added to a brood of White-Power-theme-named siblings.

Bigoted? Avant-garde? Clueless?

I don't know. People are weird.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On the Rick Warren Inauguration Hububub

Perhaps you've heard that Obama has invited evangelical mega-church preacher Rick Warren to give the opening prayer at his inaugural ceremony. This selection has caused quite a stir in some circles, due to Warren's beliefs about homosexuality, non-Christians, and abortion.

Prior to the 2008 election, I took issue with Warren's assumed status as our nation's collective "Values Inquisitor in Chief" after he hosted his Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. As a non-Christian, I think it is utterly frightening how this man is continually placed into positions that suggest he is our great arbiter of what it means to be moral and spiritual. This man doesn't speak to me or for me, and when he bothers to speak about people like me it's mostly in the negative. That he will soon lead Obama's inauguration prayer will, I fear, lend even greater legitimacy to some of his extreme positions and to his divisive beliefs.

Why it troubles many that Obama has chosen this particular man to lead our nation in prayer is that it's pretty clear that many of us don't have a place in Rick Warren's ideal world. He believes non-Christians to be "spiritually empty," a notion that is extremely offensive. Of homosexuality, Rick Warren has said that it is "not to be tolerated." Most recently, he publicly supported Proposition 8 and compared same-sex marriage to incest, child-rape, and polygamy. I know that Rick Warren's thing is to be a "model of civility" but in light of these intolerant statement, he would do better to remember that civility involves more than refraining from swearing. Even though our numbers are relatively small, it is not "agreeable" to verbally bash gay people and non-believers.

Obama has justified his selection citing the importance of working with those with whom we disagree. I definitely agree with Obama that we should work with our ideological opponents, rather than against them. Yet, the time to have civil dialogue is during a legitimate debate rather than during a historic ceremony that will lend credibility to extreme views. To elevate Rick Warren in this way is a slap in the face from a president who perhaps takes support from the LGBT community too much for granted.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the E-Harmony Debacle

I know this was newsworthy weeks ago, but online dating site eHarmony is going to begin rendering its services to gay men and lesbians after settling a discrimination lawsuit.

Previously the site only offered its services to people seeking opposite-sex partners claiming that the founder had not done enough research on same-sex matchmaking and that same-sex marriage is not legal in most states. On not wanting to get into the same-sex marriage business, Neil Warren claimed "We don't really want to participate in something that's illegal." As an aside, I think that illegality argument is sort of lame, personally. Illegality, to many, connotes criminal conduct and technically it means a violation of laws. Yet, same-sex couples who hold private marriage ceremonies do not actually violate the law. The law just doesn't recognize their relationships. So, it seems a bit disingenuous to claim that one doesn't want to provide dating services to gay men and lesbians because one doesn't want to be in cahoots with the "illegal" nature of same-sex marriage. Anyway, Warren, is also a psychologist who has published 3 books through Focus on the Family. Although, for good reason, as of late Warren has been trying to distance himself from his association with Dobson's group.

I have known about eHarmony's policy for many years and have always been annoyed by it. I throw up in my mouth a little bit whenever an eHarmony commercial comes on in all of its cheesy man-and-woman-relationships-are-so-speshul glory. I think it's wrong of companies to discriminate, but given the fact that other dating sites exist that do serve gay men and lesbians, this would not be the battle I would have chosen to fought. I would have just chosen to use a different service rather than sit at home crying about how one heterosexual-marriage-focused site refused to match me with a woman. Now, I still would choose to spend my money elsewhere knowing that eHarmony's recent policy change had arisen out of a settled discrimination lawsuit.

What do you think?

Prager: Minorities Should Express "Group Shame"

In his latest article at, Dennis Prager misses the point. Waxing about the plight of the downtrodden straight, white, Christian male in America, Prager defensively argues that while "white Christians are allowed to celebrate very little" in our society, minorities are allowed to celebrate group pride. This, he argues, results in majority groups feeling shamed. He then goes on to declare that minorities are sometimes "evildoers" too and therefore minority groups should express shame as well as pride.

How odd.

A little later on down in his article, it becomes apparent what it's all really about. Basically, Prager could have simplified his article if he would have just written "minorities are childlike sociopaths" over and over again. Prager touts three arguments as to why minorities should express group shame. And by this I mean he invents straw men and, with putrid stale arguments, blows them down.

1. Our proponent of "group shame" first condescendingly argues that "Only children think only well of themselves. A group that only expresses pride is essentially a group of children."

What a huge misunderstanding. It is unfortunate that with this statement, Prager shows exactly how little he knows about minority communities. Minority groups engage in public displays of pride precisely because majority groups spend so much time thinking and speaking about how not proud minority groups should be about themselves. If pride events make some members of the majority who happen to be bigots feel "ashamed," well, that feeling is probably well-deserved.

Yet, the feeling of shame that some bigots might feel is a side consequence, and not the goal, of minority pride. Prager, you see, makes the ego-centric mistake of thinking that minority pride events are somehow about the majority. What he should know is that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride, for instance, isn't about him as a heterosexual. It's about us. Because every other day of the year is heterosexual pride day, we take a weekend out of the year to take pride in being non-heterosexual. In case Prager is unaware, heterosexuality in our society is seen as superior to homosexuality and remarkable bias against same-sex relationships still exists.

For Prager to sit up on his pedestal of privilege informing minorities that they do not have enough shame in their lives is profoundly out-of-touch. I don't know a single lesbian, gay man, bisexual, or transgender person who has not struggled with shame in some way. The concept of LGBT Pride is a reaction to being told for many years by others that there is or was something inherently wrong with us or about us. From the medical community, we were told that we were "abnormal," by the psychological community that we were "pathological," by the legal system that we were "criminal," and by the religious community that we were "sinful." When it comes to shame, minorities receive it by the boatload thanks to "family values" groups, asinine commentators, racists, and bigots. Group Pride is about standing together and living fulfilling lives anyway. Yet, in Prager's warped world, minorities are little more than children who "only think well of themselves." How clueless.

2. Secondly, Prager claims that minority group pride is wrong because "If one expresses group pride, one is morally obligated to express group shame. Obviously, this does not apply to any person who does not identify with, let alone take pride in being a member of, a group."

This logic is so warped it is not even followable. Or, I should say, his argument here does not follow. At all. Evident again is his ego-centric mistake of thinking that minority pride events are about the majority. Maybe some white, male heteros are so entitled as to think everything anyone ever does is all about them, but the sooner they realize it's not, the better off they'll be. As a white person, I am not "shamed" by Black Pride events. While I may be reminded of our nation's unfortunate history of institutionalized racism and slavery and of my own white privilege, I do not feel shame about being white when other people express pride at being black. If one is not racist, one has no reason to feel "group shame."

3. Prager's final argument is that because "America's white Christians" are the only group expected to express shame, "more is morally expected of them than anyone else."

As a funny aside, notice here that Prager never argues that this majority groups actually expresses shame, only that this group is expected to express shame. I think that's a pretty important point here, as this majority group often believes that its actions are righteous and, therefore, not actually shameful.

But anyway, he contrasts the "white Christian" majority with Muslims, blacks, and gays. These groups, he argues, do not express shame over "immoral" actions committed by individuals members of these groups. Now, I certainly agree with him that individual minorities are not perfect and are capable of doing bad things. Yet Prager makes the mistake of believing that the actions of some members of minority groups should be denounced by that entire minority group. As a case in point, he gratuitously mentions that he's Jewish, brings up a "shameful" action another Jew committed, and then said he was ashamed for his peeps. Again, how strange.

Maybe Prager's privy to some definitive Minority Group Spokesperson who would announce these Group Shamings but I think he's missing something here. What might be invisible to him is that part of belonging to the majority means having the privilege of being seen as an individual. Whereas, part of belonging to a minority group means that the sins of one are largely seen as the sins of all. Sorry, but that's just an unfair burden to place on minorities. If a woman who happens to be a lesbian commits a crime, I feel no responsibility for that or no need to feel shame for that. Why? Because it wasn't me who did anything wrong!

To further "prove" his point, he accuses Muslims of not expressing shame "over the atrocities committed in Islams [sic] name" and then, comparing blacks and gays to Muslim terrorists, points to the "absence of expressions of shame" among the black and gay communities in light of "wrongs" committed by individual members of these groups. Simply put, Prager's false equivalencies are an exercise in extreme vilification. He is conflating the feeling of "shame" with that of "denouncemnent." When people commit wrongs, those wrongs should be denounced- condemned. People who have not actually committed the wrongs, have no moral obligation to feel "ashamed" of those wrongs since to feel shame is a reaction to consciousness of guilt.

In actuality, many Muslims did denounce terrorist attacks of 9/11, if those are the atrocities Prager is referring to. Rather than expressions of shame, denouncement is the more appropriate sentiment here since not all Muslims are guilty of "atrocities." And further, his example regarding the LGBT community's "absence of shame" in the face of Prop 8 protests and boycotts is not quite as black an white as terrorism is. These actions are simply not comparable to terrorist attacks. Sorry, but they're not. Anyone who would be so over-the-top to suggest as much automatically loses. So, you lose, Dennis Prager.

Specifically, as evidence of moral failings of LGBT people, Prager cites "the absence of any expression of shame in the gay community over the current blacklisting -- and attempts to economically destroy -- anyone who donated to" California's Proposition 8. It's statements like that the remind me how politically-motivated some writers must be to create such glaring double-standards. When Christians and "family values" organizations boycott and threaten to create and publish "lists" of marriage equality advocates, they're just engaging in legitimate forms of political behavior. Majority groups are just special that way. When the LGBT community does the same thing, these people vilify us as McCarthyist mobs and demand public demonstrations of our "group shame." And, when we don't view situations in the same hyperbolic, over-the-top manner that they do, they accuse us of deep moral failings and lacking in shame.

For this absurd anti-minority piece, I'm tempted to tell Mr. Prager that he should be ashamed of himself. But as an upstanding white, male, hetero member of the Moral Majority who is morally better than the rest of us, I'm sure he already knows that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

National Organization for Marriage: Teh New McCarthyism

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is at it again with an absurd false equivalency. This time, the organization, which opposes same-sex marriage, is equating post-Prop 8 boycotts of businesses with "McCarthyism." In expected over-the-top manner, the organization has recently ejaculated:

"McCarthyism is threatening our free speech and freedom of association—our most basic constitutional rights. Donors who exercised these rights in supporting proposition 8 are seeing their employers or companies being targeted for harassment and intimidation."

The alleged purpose of NOM's new campaign, called "bust the blacklist," is to urge people to support "businesses targeted for harassment."

First off, like other recent versions of this Gays Are the Real Haterz!!11! campaigns, this message is also mostly nothing but a vague, spaghetti-at-the-wall accusation against marriage equality advocates. It is absurd. Unfortunately, just because some people will actually believe NOM's drivel, someone actually has to take the time rebut NOM's claims.

1. McCarthyism Was Much More Pervasive and Sinister Than the Private Protesting and Boycotting of 2 Businesses

On its " honor roll," as of today anyway, NOM includes two (2) businesses that have supposedly been targeted for "harassment." The first business mentioned is A-1 Storage and is owned by someone who made "substantial personal donations to support Proposition 8." NOM claims that, "for this reason, his business has been targeted for punishment." Yet, NOM does not detail what this alleged "punishment" includes. My inquiring mind certainly wished to know more details. In fact, about 30 seconds after reading NOM's allegations, I learned a bit more about this case.

My "investigative reporting" revealed that the owner of the A-1 business, along with his family, allegedly donated $693,000 in support of Prop 8 making him the proposition's 2nd largest contributor. For these reasons, Californians Against Hate urged a boycott of his business.

Of the second business, NOM claims:

"Leatherby's Ice Cream, a popular local family-run ice cream store in Sacramento, faced an angry crowd of protestors outside their doorstep Sunday afternoon, November 23rd. The protestors spoke out against Leatherby's because members of the Leatherby family contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign. Despite the turmoil outside, Leatherby's was still packed with people who supported the business. Though the protest Sunday was peaceful, David Leatherby, Jr. did receive angry emails, one of which read, 'We're going to put you out of business, you hate mongers, you people are evil.'"

Again, even though this statement is written from a biased perspective, nothing in it describes pervasive "harassment" or "intimidation." I don't know whether the businessowners are "hate mongers" or "evil" so I can't say whether those statements are accurate. But, I do know that boycotts and protests are not illegal or inherently wrong. Given the context of the protest outside of the ice cream store, I think it's clear that the cited "angry email" was referring to the legitimate activity of boycotting the business as opposed to illegal, immoral, or otherwise questionable activities.

NOM made a very serious charge when it claimed that businessowners who supported Prop 8 were being "harassed" and "intimidated." While "angry emails," depending on what they actually said, may not have been appropriate, being the recipient of "angry emails" does not make one a victim of "McCarthyism." Furthermore, NOM cited a mere two businesses that were the targets of boycotts and protests. That, ladies and gentleman, they have called McCarthyism.

2. McCarthyism Was Implemented Through the Power of the State

You know, in their post-Prop 8 euphoria, it's like these people have lost all capacity for critical thinking.

While it's true that some marriage equality advocates are urging people to boycott businesses whose owners donated to Prop 8, boycotts have nothing to do with McCarthyism. Real-life actual McCarthyism had incredible power due to the legitimacy and authority of the state that was behind it. What made McCarthyism especially sinister was that government officials abused the power of the government, ruining people's lives, for an extreme rightwing political agenda. Unlike the recent Prop 8 boycotts, governmental institutions and officials were instrumental during McCarthyism in conducting communist/homosexual witch-hunts, firing thousands of people, and imprisoning hundreds. Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia informs that during McCarthyism:

"There were many anti-Communist committees, panels and 'loyalty review boards' in federal, state and local governments, as well as many private agencies that carried out investigations for small and large companies concerned about possible Communists in their work force."

During McCarthyism, the FBI also engaged in burglaries, opened mail, and conducted illegal wire-tapping. I can't believe we actually have to point this out, but the Prop 8 boycotts have nowhere near such power or authority behind them. There are no "loyalty review boards" in the government making people sign pro-gay oaths. There are no state-sanctioned investigations or private investigators carrying out with-hunts on behalf of the gays. It is absurd to even compare the two.

Some equality advocates have urged boycotts of businesses, in fact, precisely because the state denies us equal rights thanks to the influence of rightwing elements and propaganda. Thus, it bears mentioning that, during McCarthyism, "far right radicals were the bedrock of support for" the persecution of suspected Communists and "homosexuals."

Even today, more than 50 years later, remnants of McCarthyist thought are apparent. During the 2008 election, for instance, the rightwing media exploded when Obama made his infamous "spread the wealth" comment to Joe the Plumber. To diligent red-scare watchmen, like the folks over at Conservapedia, such statements are just further evidence that Obama is a "Marxist Leftist." What these people rarely explain is why it's inherently bad or wrong to be a "Marxist" or a "Lefitst." To them, the label speaks for itself and everyone just knows it's a Really Bad Thing to be. Anyone who questions this assumption they view as being deeply entrenched in the cesspools of Leftist thought.

What is so ironic about NOM's latest charge is that the "marriage defense" movement in general, like McCarthyism, is an extreme and unnecessary reaction to progressive politics and social justice movements. Like anti-feminist sentiment, opposition to full equality for LGBT people is a "defense" against so-called radical, leftist, elitist elements that are supposedly ruining America. For fun, google "homosexual radicals" some time and see what you come up with. Perhaps not understanding the history of McCarthyism and the role it continues to play in the political sphere, NOM has created an absurd anti-gay campaign. It is paradoxical for "marriage defenders" to simultaneously paint the LGBT community as leftist radicals and McCarthyists.

What I'm left wondering is why organizations like NOM can't ever just look at an LGBT boycott and just call it a boycott? Why the trumped-up charges? Why the huge paranoid accusations and vilification of people who just want equal rights?

Everyone knows that boycotts are non-violent, legitimate means of protest that virtually all political movements, including "family values" organizations, have engaged in throughout our nation's history. When groups of people feel failed by the state, by the legal system, or by the political process, boycotts are a way to make their voices heard.

Contrary to what NOM may think, businesses certainly don't have a right to our dollars. And it most certainly is not an infringement of a businessowner's "free speech" or "free association" if we refuse to patronize his or her business. No court in this nation would call a private boycott of a business an "infringement" of the businessowner's free speech or freedom of association. If we know that the owner of a business is a virulent bigot, we have no obligation to pay his or her salary.

Like the notorious argumentum ad nazium, this latest Gays are McCarthyists comparison is so absurd as to be virtually meaningless. I sometimes wonder when those leading the "marriage defense" movement will stop being so over-the-top with their accusations. Are asinine exaggerations really the only way they can get people to care about their pet issue of opposing same-sex marriage? These folks would do better to remember the parable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The villagers will come running to one's shrill, ridiculous cries only so many times. At some point, perhaps when our nation faces a true threat, one's cries will be met with apathy.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Women are More Perfecter Than Men (Except When They Want Equal Rights)

I first saw this article mentioned on feministing. Propounding a blame-the-victim theory that is new to me, columnist Garth George argues that abortion and feminism are "at the heart of all abuse."

In his above-cited article, George gnashes his teeth about society supposedly reaping what it's sown for blurring the lines between men and women, for "the breakdown of the traditional family," and for abortion. All those arguments are pretty standard rightwing fare. I mean, what extreme social conservative doesn't believe these things. When I read such hyperbole, I mostly see nothing but men desperately trying to maintain male privilege.

It is such "traditionalists" who oppose women's equality because they believe that men and women are very different and, thus, cut out for very different roles in society. Observe, in blaming spousal and child abuse on the fact that women have made great gains when it comes to equality, George claims:

"The second major cause of violence against women and children is the belief held by too many women that they should not just be equal to men but, in all but physical appurtenances, are the same.

This is an illusion: men and women are different physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It astounds me that in this age in which knowledge of the makeup of the human being is greater than at any time in history, we will not concede that men and women are genetically programmed for differing roles."

This claim, that men and women are very different, is interesting in light of what George says next. See, in the above statement, George expresses a commonly-held view that men and women are very different and, thus, require different roles in society. Because men and women are different, he implies, women should not strive to be the equal of men. I have criticized this theory before. Many people have, actually. The reality is that we don't know how it is that men and women differ and, because "gender roles" have varied incredibly throughout time and culture, most evidence points to the fact that "gender roles" are nothing but constructs created by societies. As Colette Dowling has written in The Frailty Myth:

"Without difference you cannot have heirarchy, or one up, one down. You cannot have better and worse, strong and weak, superior and inferior. Heirarchy is how social inequality is maintained, and 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are about heirarchy. Supposedly 'natural' differences between men and women are used to validate the differences in the amount of social power they hold" (48).

In light of this, I think virtually every feminist will find George's following statement to be, quite frankly, really damn funny. On the one hand, women should not strive to be man's equal. But(!!!), George also goes on to place Woman on a pedestal:

"You can call me a sexist until you run out of breath, I believe that God left creating woman until last because he wanted to make sure he got it right. The result was the creation of the most perfect and wonderful creature in the world."

Aw shucks. Bright, shiny flattery sure is nice. What was I even talking about before?

Ah yes. Men such as George can claim until they run out of breath that men and women are very different. Yet, no amount of flattery will conceal the reality of what many women and some men know: Difference, in our society, means heirarchy. It means men are viewed as better than, more than, "more equal" than women. George would do better to know that transparent flattery does not make discrimination okay. I don't want to be placed on a pedestal only to be told later on that I am too dainty to do anything worth doing. Besides, his whole line of thinking here begs a very important question. If women are the "most perfect and wonderful creatures" in the world, shouldn't they be the ones running the show?

Likewise, pretending that his god made women "perfect and wonderful" (and dainty, passive, weak, and in-need-of-protection) creatures, does not obfuscate the reality that his god really made woman out of man's rib because he ordained that she was less-than man. According to the Judeo-Christian Adam and Even myth, god made males in his image. Women were then made from man because men needed a "helper." It's pseudo-sentimental for George to pretend that the myth is about god making Eve just because "he" wanted to get things right.

The Adam and Eve myth and the Bible have been used for thousands of years to justify the public and private subordination of women. Indeed, it was the Apostle Paul who declared "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is in the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man is not made from woman, but woman from man."

So while I'm flattered that George apparently believes women to be perfect and better than men, I can only find it amusing that he thinks his god believes likewise.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

FBI on White Powder-Gate: Link to Proposition 8 "a stretch"

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ran a misleading ad in The New York Times implying that marriage equality activist "thugs" sent white powder to the LDS Church seeking to terrorize it. This powder was later found to be non-toxic. Although it lacked proof as to who sent the powder, the LDS Church was quick to blame the hoax on opponents of Prop 8 anyway.

Even though there has been no proof that the powder, "marriage defenders" throughout the blogosphere have been stating as fact what no one knew for certain. This White Powder Incident merely confirmed what most of these people already believe about what Radical Homosexualists are like.

For instance, one blog quickly claimed: "On top of all the counter-productive things they've already done, now opponents of California's Proposition 8 - the anti-gay marriage initiative - have sent an envelope containing white powder - most likely harmless - to the very large Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Blvd. in Westwood, CA." On her blog, professional "marriage defender" Jennifer Roback Morse promoted a OneNewsNow article claiming that "militant homosexuals... mailed white powder to Mormon churches." On his blog, "marriage defender" the Playful Walrus assumes that the powder was sent by hateful "marriage neuterists" and touted this incident as yet another example of "homofascism." A paranoid LifeSiteNews article accuses "militant" "angry gay rights activists" of sending the powder and also accuses the "mainstream media" of ignoring as much. More on that in a minute.

Now, I'm sure that this will result in some major cognitive dissonance for these folks and their like-minded "marriage defender" ilk who seem convinced that all Homosexualists are militant, angry, pinko terrorists, but in the reality-based world the FBI made the following statement with respect to the many assumptions that it was Prop 8 opponents who mailed the powder:

"That would be a stretch," FBI agent Juan T. Becerra said Wednesday. "We have not received any reliable evidence that is related to the Proposition 8 issue."

Why then, are so many "marriage defenders" jumping the gun on this issue and blaming marriage equality advocates for this incident even though the FBI lacks evidence? Could it be that they are desperate to paint marriage equality advocates in a bad light? Could it be that in their kangaroo courts of morality, The Angry Militant Homosexualist is guilty until proven innocent? Ironic that they consider us to be "fascist" eh?

But seriously, I think most reasonable people would agree that it is wrong, potentially defamatory, sloppy, and amatuerish to accuse individuals of committing crimes when one lacks proof or reliable evidence that they committed these crimes. That's why real journalists, as opposed to propagandists, at least precede accusations with "allegedly" and rarely outright accuse individuals or groups of people of committing crimes unless they are proven guilty in a court of law.

Think we can expect any corrections, clarifications, and/or retractions?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Becket Fund Ad: Below the Propaganda

Recently, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ran a misleading ad in The New York Times regarding vague "mob"-like behavior in the wake of Proposition 8's passage in California.

The Human Rights Campaign has countered the ad and members of its Religion Council had some valid criticisms of it. Yet, I do wonder how widely HRC's counter-message will be heard. As far as I've seen, HRC's message has only been disseminated via Email Alert and posts on its own website. That sort of preach-to-the-choir communications strategy is unlikely to reach those who, you know, might have actually believed the Becket Fund ad. I certainly hope they would consider running a counter ad in mainstream publications, as Wayne Besen's Truth Wins Out recently did. HRC and GLAAD have more resources at its disposal to run such ads than most of us mere individuals, and accordingly it should be countering such ads on the same playing field where defamatory ads are running.

There are 3 major problems with the Becket ad that need to be pointed out to a larger audience than the LGBT community:

1. The ad never specifies who is being violent

If you haven't read the ad yet go read it now. Notice anything odd about it? Immediately, I was struck by the fact that the ad is a vague, passive-voice written accusation against someone yet no one at all. The purpose of the ad is to say "no" to "mob" behavior, but it never specifies who is actually engaging in all of this alleged "mob"-like "violence and intimidation."

Like the National Organization for Marriage's version, the Becket Fund ad's general accusations are not actually targeted at any one specific group or individual. The closest the ad comes to being specific is when it accuses "some public voices" of excusing the "threats and disruptions" (that were also never specified). Yet, given the context of the ad's relation to Prop 8, the implication is very clear: it is the marriage equality movement that is the "mob"-like entity engaging in religious-based "violence and intimidation."

Readers are quite capable of filling in the blanks themselves. Even though the Becket Fund can back up with its hands in the air and claim that the vague ad is not defamatory, the ad does indict the entire marriage equality movement. The Becket Fund ad is basically just throwing a bunch of scary accusations at the wall perhaps hoping that some of will stick to the marriage equality movement.

2. The ad blurs the lines between legitimate protest and violence

Along with vagueness, the ad grossly exaggerates the "violence and intimidation being directed at the LDS or 'Mormon' church." Just as the ad never names anyone engaging in "violence or intimidation" the ad never actually cites specific instances of violence, mob or otherwise, directed at the LDS church by marriage equality advocates. The ad essentially just says over and over again how "wrong" violence and intimidation are. How big of them. The thing is, not many reasonable people would disagree with such general moral pronouncements. What most people take for granted as moral in a civil society, this group feels the need to publicly pat itself on the back for. What next, a daring Becket Fund ad against genocide? How "brave."

Furthermore, no distinction is made between the peaceful, lawful protests that most marriage equality advocates have engaged in versus the very few instances of actual "violence and intimidation." Thus, what we're left wondering is what the Becket Fund's definitions of "violence and intimidation" are. What constitutes a "threat" in their eyes. How many gay people does it take to make up a "mob"?

Here's a primer. I think most would agree that the following Prop 8 protest that drew thousands of people in Chicago, for instance, was peaceful:


I think most would agree that the riots that are occurring in Greece right now, are violent, threatening, and intimidating. Perhaps "marriage defenders" are just delicate little butterflies, but I think they're wearing their Hyperbole Goggles again if they think the nationwide Join the Impact protests have been anywhere near violent rioting. What's next, comparisons to terrorists? Oh, right then.

3. White Powder-Gate

Most egregiously, the ad obfuscates the notorious White Powder Incident by claiming that "thugs" sent "white powder" to "terrorize" the Mormon church. Although the ad never outright accuses LGBT rights' advocates of sending the powder, again, given the context there really is no other implication that could be drawn. Silence goes a long way and in this silence people fill in the gaps with their own preconceptions of what the anti-Prop 8 "mob" is like.

Yet, in the reality-based community it is still unknown who sent the white powder. Despite this lack of evidence, "marriage defenders" all over the internet have been blaming this incident on The Angry Gays never stopping to think that they are stating as fact what no one knows for certain. And, even if it was someone in favor of marriage equality who sent the white powder, I don't know of many reasonable marriage equality advocates who would agree that doing so is appropriate action to take. So again, neat-o to the Becket Fund for "courageously" pointing out how wrong such behavior is.

In conclusion, the ad ends, "even the crudest anti-religious propaganda isn't illegal, and may not constitutionally be outlawed. But it's nevertheless wrong. It has no place in civilized society." With that statement, I think many of us would agree. Indeed, I'm pretty sure HRC and most LGBT rights advocates would agree. But you know what else has no place in "civilized society"? The use of sweeping generalizations, lies, and false innuendo to attempt to silence one's political opponents.

The beauty of our nation is that we have free speech and perhaps the Becket Fund has forgotten that. As no one holds a monopoly on truth and political debate necessarily includes inherent tensions, competing viewpoints are not "outlawed." We certainly are not expected to censor ourselves just because our opposition characterizes our criticisms as religious bigotry, hatred, or intolerance. See, the Beckett Fund does not hold a monopoly on defining which actions and messages constitute "crude anti-religious propaganda" and we will not be silenced just because this group paints us all with the same sloppy, overbroad "mob" brush.

Speaking of which, topping the ad in big bold letters is the headline "No Mob Veto."

The over-the-top use of the word "mob" not only is unfortunate, it is simply inaccurate. The dictionary definitions of the word mob include:

1: a large or disorderly crowd ; especially : one bent on riotous or destructive action

2: the lower classes of a community : masses , rabble

3 chiefly Australian : a flock, drove, or herd of animals

4: a criminal set : gang ; especially often capitalized : mafia

5 chiefly British : a group of people : crowd

By referencing a "mob," the Becket Fund ad by definition references a large or disorderly crowd possibly bent on riotous action. Yet, while the crowds were large, most groups of Prop 8 protesters were neither disorderly nor riotous. The word choice also connotes a criminal element (ie- the "gay mafia"), lower classes of people, and sub-human herd of animals. Given how over-the-top many "marriage defenders" are being about the peaceful Prop 8 protests, their cry of victimization at the hands of an oppressed minority group rings hollow.

A pretty apt cartoon illustrating the Christian Persecution Complex reminds me that it takes much more than protests and a few random acts of violence for those who hold virtually all power in our society to truly be bullied. Perhaps because LGBT rights have come so far in the past few decades, some defenders of "traditional values" truly do feel threatened in some way by a gay "homofascist" mob. It is all so ironic in light of the fact that it is they who, throughout history, have relied on nothing but their brute, shear numbers to bypass the protection of judicial review and deny us equal rights.


Yet, it is also dangerous for the powerful and the many to suggest that a historically oppressed small minority group is a "powerful, well-funded political force" and a less-than-human mob that holds the power to destroy society. It is dangerous to suggest that small groups of people are responsible for virtually every social ill facing our nation. Other-ing groups of human beings makes it easier to commit violence on people who have been dehumanized.

As a gay person, I take these claims personally. As such, I've been likened to terrorists, the Nazis, Al Qaeda, and "enemies" of America. If you're gay or an advocate of LGBT rights, public officials and organizations have claimed these things of you as well. You. You who are probably as kind, non-violent, law-abiding, and tax-paying as I am.

We all need to realize that when organizations like the Becket Fund take out ads like the one they posted in The New York Times, they aren't vilifying some abstract group of people, they are vilifying us. Allies, they are vilifying you and people you know.

I urge you, in whatever capacity you are able, to counter these dangerous messages. Don't be silenced by misleading, innuendo-filled ads. We know the truth about ourselves. The problem is that so many Americans do not.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pat Boone, You Just Lost

Since LGBT rights' advocates began protesting after California's Prop 8 passes, we quickly learned that new definitions of "fascism," "intolerance," and "hatred" have been created. Basically, these words now mean "any behavior or messaging in furtherance of equality for LGBT people no matter how peaceful, lawful, or respectful."

This Gays Are Hateful Intolerant Terrorists For Protesting Against Prop 8 meme continues in Pat Boone's ridiculously over-the-top article in WorldNetDaily. In it, he compares LGBT rights advocates to the terrorists who murdered 200 people in Mumbai last week, saying:

"Thank God, it couldn't happen here. Could it?

Look around. Watch your evening news. Read your newspaper.

Are you unaware of the raging demonstrations in our streets, in front of our churches and synagogues, even spilling into these places of worship, and many of these riots turning defamatory and violent? Have you not seen the angry distorted faces of the rioters, seen their derogatory and threatening placards and signs, heard their vows to overturn the democratically expressed views of voters, no matter what it costs, no matter what was expressed at the polls? Twice?

I refer to California's Proposition 8....

What troubles me so deeply, and should trouble all thinking Americans, is that there is a real, unbroken line between the jihadist savagery in Mumbai and the hedonistic, irresponsible, blindly selfish goals and tactics of our homegrown sexual jihadists."

You know, when I read this article I was reminded that sometimes anti-gay extremists only hurt their cause when they open their mouths. Pat Boone is one such person, and for that he deserves a coveted Freddy Award in honor of embarrassment-to-anti-gays-everywhere Fred Phelps.

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The premise of Pat Boone's article, that Prop 8 protests are slippery slope towards violent terrorism, violates a corollary of Godwin's Law that these folks have necessitated:

In short, as oppressed minority groups lawfully fight for their rights, the probability that their actions are compared to a Recent Really Bad and Scary Event approaches one. When such an inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparison is made, the conversation is over and the person making the comparison has automatically lost. Game over. Pwned.

You see, like most thinking Americans, I'm not troubled one iota by the peaceful, lawful demonstrations that LGBT rights advocates have engaged in. Because like others in the reality-based world, I know that these demonstrations have not been marked by violence and we are nowhere near heading towards bombing innocent people. I think Pat Boone and some of his "marriage defense" buddies have their Magical Hyperbole Goggles on if they are interpreting the nationwide Prop 8 protests as "raging," "defamatory and violent" "riots." I mean seriously, get a grip.

To compare peaceful demonstrators to violent terrorists is low, even by WorldNetDaily standards. It is so low that it's almost laughable. I certainly hope that the more respectable leaders of the "marriage defense" movement are scrambling to distance themselves from and denounce this defamatory article.

Or, perhaps "marriage defenders" won't bother. Maybe they believe any means justifies their ultimate goal of keeping gay men and lesbians out of marriage even if the means involve exaggeration, false equivalencies, and defamations. If that's the case then it's just further proof that their "righteous" side can win is by lying about and de-humanizing us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: When God Was a Woman, Part II

This post is a continuation of my review of Merlin Stone's book When God Was a Woman. Yesterday, I talked about Stone's exploration of what a Goddess-worshiping society looked like.

2. The Story of Adam and Eve

To me, the most interesting part of Stone's book is her chapter in which she "unravels the myth of Adam and Eve." In Genesis, this myth holds that God created a male human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden. Realizing that this man needed a "help-mate," he created a woman out of the man's rib. After woman was created, a serpent tempts the woman to eat from "the tree of knowledge," something that God had forbidden the man and woman to do. Eve, the woman, convinced the man to eat from the tree as well. As punishment for her disobedience, God said to Eve, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."

Stone argues that this creation myth "with a point of view" was created not only to justify the domination of men over women but also to "suppress the female religion" (198). Although the common assumption is that the serpent in the Garden of Eden represents a phallic male symbol, Stone argues that archaeological evidence suggests that serpents during biblical times represented the female deity. For instance, "in several Sumerian tablets the Goddess was simply called the Great Mother Serpent of Heaven" (199). Other goddesses associated with the serpent included the Goddess Nina, Ishtar of Babylon, Tiamat, the Serpent Goddess of Crete, and the Goddess in Egypt (whose heirogylphic symbol was the cobra) (199-202).

Not only was the female deity, "as she was known in Babylon, Egypt, Crete, and Greece... identified as or with the serpent" but she was also "associated with wisdom and prophecy" (204) and "sexual pleasures and reproduction as well" (217). Stone suggests that in the Adam and Eve Myth, the advisory serpent represented the Goddess and that the tree of knowledge represented the "secret of sex- how to create life" (Ibid.). Given these symbols, the myth warns that worshiping the Goddess, via eating from the tree, had "caused the downfall of all humanity" (Ibid.). In this way, the supremacy of the male God and of male human beings was "decreed by the male deity at the very dawn of existence" (Ibid.). This myth endures as, today, one of the first lessons many children learn in church is that all women are daughters of Eve and, because of her disobedience, women must endure the pain of childbirth and obey their husbands.

For all human beings, Judeo-Christian religions espouse "discomfort or guilt about being human" because we are conceived by "the act of sexual intercourse" (218). To that, I would also add that part of this guilt or discomfort comes from the fact that we are born from female bodies, bodies that some religions view as filthy, less-than, or otherwise inferior to male bodies. Using these ideas to inform the phrase " "born-again Christian" can give us a quite interesting critique. Some feminists, for instance, consider the "born-again" concept to be a male appropriation of the woman's biological ability to give birth.

One of the characteristics that most sets women and men apart is the ability that women have to give birth. All people are alive today because they first lived inside of a woman's body. I realize that the specifics vary by denomination, but many Christian religions teach that humans are inherently sinful and that the only way to salvation is to be "born-again" through a male being through baptism or acceptance of a male deity. In this way, male-centric religion has taken what makes women biologically special and has made it its own. The implication is that something is inherently wrong with humans as they are born from women and, therefore, seeing the "Kingdom of God" requires spiritual re-birth into the family of God. Thus, not only is the male God/Trinity the Father, but He has also appropriated the role of Mother. Or, as Stone says, "Woman bears the pain but man takes the credit" (226).

The myth of Adam and Eve contains a similar appropriation. Even though all humans are birthed from a woman's body, the myth tells us not only that woman came from a "rather insignificant part of man, his rib" but also that "the male does not come from the female, but the female from the male" (219). And just because that does not cement woman's lower status enough, the male God also commands that the woman was the gift, the subservient "help-mate," to man (220). And just because being a "help-mate" is not subservient enough, because it was Eve who convinced Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge, the "demand for silence on the part of women, especially in the churches, is later reflected in the passages of Paul in the New Testament" (221). For instance, in I Timothy 2:11-14, Paul writes:

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."

Sentiments like this, justifying the exclusion of women from the clergy or from speaking in church, are expressed throughout the Bible and adherents offer them as "divine proof that man must hold the ultimate authority" (225).

As I re-read this review prior to posting it, I couldn't help but to be reminded of how advantageous Judeo-Christian religions are to male humans. I have no doubt that many people, religious or not, don't think all this is that big a deal. Disregarding how alienating such myths are to women, imagine what an ego-lifting boost it must be to boys and men to have one's dominant place in society firmly cemented as "Ultimate Truth" set out by a "god" who looks just like themselves (if they're white of course). What a sense of entitlement that must bring to a little boy who learns about how a male god first created a male human being and then, to ensure that this male being didn't get too lonely, created a female out of his rib to help him out with things. How convenient, to male clergy members to have so many passages to point to in the Bible that could be used to justify excluding female human beings from the clergy. I think about and wonder how these ideas have perpetuated and reinforced existing power structures in society.

I fully realize that many people truly believe that the Bible isn't "sexist" and that it just expresses things the way they really are. It's in the Bible, so it's true, they think. If someone's reading this who believes as much, I suppose it's best to end with a quote from early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft:

"...though the cry of irreligion, or even atheism, be raised against me, I will simply declare, that were an angel from heaven to tell me that Moses' beautiful, poetical cosmogony, and the account of the fall of man, were literally true, I could not believe what my reason told me was derogatory to the character of the Supreme Being" (229).

I have said it before and I will say it again. Any deity who would condemn half of humanity to a lower place in this world in relation to the other half is not worthy of devotion. To suggest as much, certainly is derogatory to the character of any "God." Unfortunately, it has been the case throughout the history of religion that those who hold power in society too often imbue their gods with their own human prejudices and, then, these faults are taken for granted as spiritual truth.