Tuesday, October 25, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The bone chilling air is what I remember most about the day I slouched on my snow speckled front lawn in Bangor to pawn my new furniture. Only months earlier I had moved from Florida to work at a television station and my body was still adjusting to the frigid weather. I was shivering that afternoon, but I had no choice because this was about survival. The rent was due, I was hungry and parting ways with the dinner table would at least earn me enough to buy dinner.
At the age of 24, I traversed the East Coast so I could launch my career as a television news reporter. This was a great opportunity, but it was also risky because I had to spend my life savings to make the long trip, buy winter clothes and put down money for an apartment.
After three days on the road, I arrived in Bangor and excitedly looked around. I strolled down Main Street, took the requisite picture beside the Paul Bunyan statue and shopped at the Bangor Mall. Having signed a contract, I expected to be in town for a while, so I rented an apartment on Ohio Street and furnished it.
The first week on the job, my boss stridently warned me against interviewing "liberal" professors from the University of Maine. This dictum was enough for me to be very careful about coming out of the closet as a gay man. This was a bizarre experience, as I had been open about my sexual orientation since I was in high school and even started a gay group in college. However, I desperately needed this job and was willing to sacrifice.
Things were going well at the station and I was covering diverse stories from politics in Augusta to the blueberry industry down East. My boss told me that I was doing a fine job and producing good work.
One evening, I was at a local gay nightclub enjoying a cocktail and chatting with a few patrons. I was excited to be out, and while the bar was claustrophobically small, at least it was a place where I was free to be who I am.
Suddenly, a pack of my inebriated co-workers streamed down the bar's staircase to listen to the guest DJ, a heterosexual man who also worked at the station. When the gang entered, I was spotted and confronted about my sexuality. One of the producers that night warned that there might be problems if my boss knew I was gay.
In a small town, gossip spreads quickly. By the time I arrived at work the following week, the secret was out. Not a word was said, but it was clear by the way people gawked, like I was an alien who had just landed from Mars. For the next several weeks, my boss would avert his gaze when he spoke to me. He became critical of the same quality work he had praised before I had been outed.
Eventually, I was called into my boss's office and summarily fired. I asked why and his response is seared in to my memory like a cattle brand: "You're not right for Maine," he icily replied.
A couple of months later, the wife of a fellow reporter told her closeted co-worker that I was fired for being gay. I sought legal counsel to remedy this egregious example of discrimination. To my surprise, I was told that there was nothing I could do because in Maine, it is perfectly legal to end someone's career simply because he or she is gay.
A new study by the University of Southern Maine's Center for the Prevention of Hate and Violence features the stories of 48 victims of discrimination. Unfortunately, the people in the report have not come out and put a public face on this issue.
Although I believe these folks should come forward for the greater good, I certainly can relate to their reticence. I rarely talk about this experience because even a decade later it is humiliating and still evokes painful memories. It damaged my career and if not for my supportive family, I may have been destitute.
I am now compelled to speak out after The Christian Civic League of Maine's Michael Heath brazenly said, "there is simply no evidence provided in the report that any of the claims are true."
Imagine the audacity of Heath, who has helped create an environment of fear, turning around and mocking those who are afraid to come forward with their stories. I don't suppose the Civic League will hire these people if they are fired for coming out?
Discrimination in Maine is very real and destroys lives. Some elitists might declare, "just go find a new job." But working class Mainers understand that when you are living paycheck to paycheck, it is not so easy to pick up the pieces and move on.
Fortunately, I got lucky and found a job working on a political campaign with people who cared more about the content of my character and the quality of my work than my sexual orientation. During this campaign I had the opportunity to visit every county in the state and meet the majority of fair-minded citizens.
I am hopeful that on November 8, Mainers will do the right thing and make the state a discrimination-free zone by upholding a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, credit, housing, public accommodations or education.
While I eventually got used to the cold weather, it was the anti-gay climate that made me leave. As long as state law allows a boss to tell a person that he or she is "not right for Maine," talented people and business leaders will conclude that Maine is not right for them. It is time Mainers put this ugly chapter behind them and send a strong message that they stand for fairness and equality.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
by Wayne Besen
A New York socialite who claims a priest turned him into a sodomite is suing the Catholic Church for $5 million. J. David Enright IV, 51, says Rev. Joseph Romano molested him as a 7-year-old boy at summer camp, and as a result he was unable to live as a suburban heterosexual.
"Romano bent my life," Enright told the New York Post
. "I believe my life would be very different now. I'd probably be married, living in Greenwich, with four children in boarding school. I had a completely straight life in business, socially on Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Then there was this other world, which was slinking around Greenwich Village gay bars, finding mates."
This story of self-loathing is horribly wrong on so many levels. But let's first cut Enright some slack, for he is clearly a traumatized victim of child abuse and internalized homophobia. He is spewing nonsense as he tries to make sense of a childhood stripped away by a priest who couldn't keep his clothes on.
However, his frivolous lawsuit must be addressed because it contains damaging assertions that erroneously tie homosexuality to child abuse. At the very heart of his claim is the notion that homosexuals are simply misbehaving heterosexuals who perform deviant acts because they were screwed up as a result of poor parenting or child abuse.
"Ex-gay" leader Richard Cohen best personifies this theory. He claims to have had a flashback of childhood abuse after banging a pillow repeatedly with a tennis racquet to release pent up anger.
"All of a sudden, I saw male genitals coming toward my mouth. I screamed. I felt shocked. I felt horrified." The accused perpetrator was a family friend, Uncle Dave, who allegedly molested him between the ages of 5 and 6. "I cried and the tears flowed for the next few years, as I worked through memories of sexual abuse…I learned that to be close to a man I must give him my body."
The truth is, there is no link between sexual abuse and sexual orientation. The vast majority of child abuse victims grow up to be heterosexual. The myth that abuse leads to homosexuality is kept alive because anti-gay political groups fear losing support if Americans believe that gayness is natural and inborn.
For example, a November 2004 Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates poll shows that 79 percent of people who think homosexuality is inborn support civil unions or marriage equality. Among those who believe sexual orientation is a choice, only 22 percent support civil unions or marriage rights.
If the right wing is to trick Americans into believing homosexuality isn't natural, they must invent an unnatural process by which people become gay. If they can assert a brokenness caused by abuse, this gives them a pretext to justify discrimination. It allows them to essentially say, "homosexuals don't need rights, they need rehabilitation."
What is hurtful about Enright's ludicrous lawsuit is that it revives disgusting stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles at the very time the Vatican is trying to pin their abuse scandal on faithful gay priests. Unfortunately, gay priests make an easy target because out of an estimated 10,000 minors molested, 80 per cent of the victims were boys.
But are these perverted priests gay? A glance at the available social science says that their orientation probably is not homosexual. A 2000 study by Dr. Michael R. Stevenson concluded, "A gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity on children." A 1994 study by Dr. Carole Jenny found that less than one-percent of the children in her study were abused by a gay man or lesbian. In 1978, Drs. Nicholas Groth and Jean Birnbaum found that none of the 175 molesters in their study had an exclusively homosexual adult orientation.
So, why were boy victims overwhelmingly chosen instead of girls? It is likely that priests picked boys instead of girls because they had greater access to young men. The Groth and Birnbaum study shows that molesters are not particularly picky about the sex of their victims:
"Those offenders who are sexually attracted exclusively to children show a slight preference for boys over girls, yet these same individuals are uninterested in adult homosexual relationships. In fact, they frequently express a strong sexual aversion to adult males."
Molestation is clearly not a gay issue, but a problem that has cost the Roman Catholic Church nearly $1 billion for settlements and jury verdicts. Additionally, from 1965 to 2000, the number of priests in the U.S. dropped 30 percent, the number of nuns, 54 percent.
The celibacy and anti-gay rules are chasing out dedicated servants, while attracting unhealthy people with dark secrets who sometimes view priesthood as a 12-Step program to overcome their issues. The Catholic Church did not make J. David Enright IV gay. It did, however, turn him into an unhealthy victim who is sadly unable to accept his God-given sexual orientation. If the man were any more messed up, he'd be a perfect candidate for the priesthood.
Monday, October 10, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is driving the right wing crazy. Well, they were always nuts, but now President George W. Bush is the surprising target of their vituperation, even as he desperately seeks their cooperation. The last time conservatives were this angry, it was over another presidential worshipping White House groupie. But at least Bill Clinton didn't nominate Monica Lewinsky to the Supreme Court.
Originally, Bush thought by choosing a crony with no paper trail he would inoculate himself against Democrats. What he did not expect was that conservative discontent would spread faster than avian bird flu. It appears that the only vaccine to stop this right wing pandemic of pandemonium is the withdrawal of the Miers nomination.
If you think I am overstating the revolt on the right, consider that for the past week conservatives of every stripe have uncharacteristically carpet-bombed the White House. Anne Coulter and Andrew Sullivan savaged the President on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Pat Buchanan said on The McLaughlin Group that the Miers nomination has led to "Bush fatigue" among conservatives.
Indeed, when Bush was asked if he had ever discussed abortion with Miers, a longtime friend, he answered "not to my recollection". True conservatives must be tired of shilling for a guy who sounds positively Clintonian. What next, Bush will say "it depends on what the meaning of abortion is."
Meanwhile, failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork told Tucker Carlson on MSNBC that the nomination was a "disaster at every level." The American Family Association's Donald Wildmon said, "Republicans have a serious problem on their hands."
The most caustic review came from conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer who wrote: "If Harriet Miers were not a crony of the president of the United States, her nomination to the Supreme Court would be a joke, as it would have occurred to no one else to nominate her."
The only thing stopping this nomination from going down in flames are the twin conservative pillars of Focus on the Family's James Dobson and the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land.
Land's cynical arguments for supporting the nomination are bizarre. He asserts the trustworthiness of both Miers and Bush because they were raised in Land's home state of Texas. Land also reasons that as a pick of patronage, Miers will be in Bush's back pocket and the president would consider it a "a deep personal betrayal" if Miers ruled contrary to his wishes.
But on NBC's Meet The Press, Land was caught off guard when Tim Russert informed him that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked her to name her favorite Supreme Court Justice and Miers replied that it was Warren E. Burger, who voted for Roe v. Wade.
Dobson is supporting Miers because the White House supposedly gave him inside information that she is secretly a right wing zealot: "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."
Dobson is still talking in code, as his usual conservative allies are screaming Code Red. While he's out selling the Miers nomination, his buddies are surely calling him a sellout. If enormous peer pressure causes either Dobson or Land to crack and switch sides, I believe the Miers nomination is history. Once Bush loses this evangelical cover, his administration will run for cover.
Bush's hopes ride on his crony hitting a home run at the confirmation hearings, which is odd, because Miers has no experience with Constitutional law. Miers will burn the midnight oil with a crash course, presumably reading The Supreme Court for Dummies, so she won't crash and burn.
The White House will set up a pre-Halloween "Murder Board" to fire likely questions at Miers. Bush had always expected the senate slashers to be Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. I just don't see how this nomination can survive when the panel's Freddy Krueger is Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Michael Myers is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
It could get particularly ugly if senators from both the right and left play Judicial Jeopardy, trying to humiliate the neophyte by asking arcane and mundane legal questions about obscure court cases. Her only defense, if this likely scenario occurs, will be sympathy and low expectations.
With gas prices rising, Iraq burning, scandals brewing and New Orleans sinking, I don't think the president, with his sagging poll numbers, can continue to alienate his right flank by standing by his nominee. Unfortunately for Bush, the hearings don't start until early November, giving his base almost a solid month to portray Miers as an ill-suited David Souter clone. If Bush doesn't back down, Thanksgiving may start early this November, as Senators carve up this turkey of a nominee that Bush had no business serving up on a silver platter.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
by Wayne Besen
President Bush once called his mystery Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers "a pit bull in size six shoes." This courtroom Cujo is going to bite someone in the rear, and the roiling debate is whether she takes a chunk out of the right or left cheek.
No one really knows, and if the John Roberts confirmation hearings are any indication, a tight leash and a muzzle will keep us from finding out the answer before she is confirmed.
"We just don't know anything about her," said Nancy Keenan, president of Naral, Pro-Choice America.
The conservative Wall Street Journal
editorial page called her nomination, "a Texas mystery" and a "Faith-Based nomination".
Miers' record is a Rorschach test. If one views the nomination with the attitude that the glass is half full, it can appear Miers is a friend. If one looks through a more negative prism, Miers can seem quite hostile.
Harriet Miers certainly does not fit the profile of a right wing fundamentalist. She is a career woman who has never been married or had children. Bush appointed her to head the Texas State Lottery, surely angering fundamentalists who believe gambling is sinful. She once gave a campaign contribution to Al Gore and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is going out of his way to commend her nomination.
In 1989, during her successful campaign for a seat on the Dallas City Council, Miers favored equal rights for gay people and said that the city had a duty to fund AIDS education and medical care.
"She was not hostile nor did she come across as some kind of right-wing ideologue," said Louise Young, a Dallas software engineer and former co-chair of the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas.
While on the Council, Miers appointed prominent gay attorney Don McCleary to a city board that oversees federal grants.
"I can't say policy wise that she will be good on our issues," Lerro told The New York Blade
. "But on a personal level, she was very open to having gay people serve on boards and commissions."
As we know, the only thing that matters to Neo-Puritans is opposition to abortion and homosexuals. Bush's choice of a relatively unknown crony who may not be in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas has made some apoplectic.
"Conservatives feel betrayed," screamed legendary right wing direct mail guru Richard Viguerie.
"The ramifications will be felt not just against him [Bush] but against the Republican Party," warned Gary Bauer, president of American Values. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard's
William Kristol said the nomination made him "disappointed", "depressed" and "demoralized". We can only hope his health insurance covers Prozac.
To mollify disgruntled right-wingers, Vice President Dick Cheney scrambled to the airwaves to make a fairly convincing conservative case for Miers on the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk radio shows.
In her run for the Dallas City Council in 1989, she filled out a questionnaire saying that she was in favor of sodomy laws that could imprison gay people. Perhaps her views have changed, as have the Supreme Court's, with its landmark ruling in 2003 that sodomy laws are unconstitutional. But if she still rejects a fundamental right to privacy, her nomination is worthy of a filibuster.
On abortion, Miers fought tooth and nail against an American Bar Association resolution that spoke in favor of Roe v. Wade. However, it is possible, though unlikely, that she opposed the plank, because of her belief that the ABA should not take stands on controversial issues. Conservatives also tout a $150 donation she gave at a supper for Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., sponsored by an anti-abortion group.
Her conservative credentials have led some leading Neo-Puritans to back her nomination, with Focus on the Family's usually mercurial leader James Dobson supporting her by cryptically saying, "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."
Of course, Miers' relationship with the President is troubling. Her recent commitment to conservative Christianity
also raises serious alarm bells. But even the significance of her membership in the Valley View Christian Church is frustratingly ambiguous. Her church professes the uncompromising evangelical view of the Bible as "the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God." But it also asserts, "not to be dogmatic about matters on which believers hold divergent views."
In making up my mind, I want to know three things:
1) Have Miers' views evolved on right to privacy issues, such as abortion and sodomy?
2) Exactly what does James Dobson know that he is not at liberty to talk about?
3) Has her new commitment
to evangelical Christianity swung her to the right on social issues?
Everyone has an opinion on the pit bull, but someone has to be right, while those who guessed wrong could end up in the judicial doghouse for decades to come.