Tuesday, February 21, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Last May, The Spokesman-Review outed Jim West, Spokane's Republican mayor, and it seemed like an open and shut case. In a series of breathless articles, the newspaper accused him of luring young gay men online with promises of jobs and gifts and also insinuated that West was a pedophile.
Last week, however, the U.S. Department of Justice ended its nine-month investigation of West without bringing criminal charges. It found that the powerful politician had not traded jobs for sex and there was no link to pedophilia, even after they confiscated three personal computers and 60 computer disks.
Upon further examination, it appears that Jim West may have gotten a raw deal fueled by soft homophobia, prurient reporting and maybe political revenge. The newspaper did more than simply "out" West - it obliterated him and then stomped on his remains.
I still have nothing but contempt for West and view him as a vile and repugnant human being. While in Olympia, as Senate majority leader, he was infamous for his foul temper and his virulent hatred of anything remotely gay. West is a portrait of a self-loathing closet case that protected his career by gay bashing.
In 1986, West sponsored a bill that would have banned gay men and lesbians from working in day-care centers, schools and some state agencies. This legislation called for screening prospective employees for their sexuality and firing employees who were out of the closet. The bill, in effect, would have forced thousands of state workers to live the same empty double-life as West.
West also proposed a much-ridiculed bill to criminalize teen sex - even though he apparently has no problem hitting on boys in their late teens. The bill failed and he was nearly laughed out of office.
With such a heinous record, it was a huge shock to the citizens of Washington when The Spokesman-Review launched a series of articles with the devastating banner headline: "West Tied To Sex Abuse In 70's, Using Office to Lure Young Men."
The article goes on to make West appear to be Satan. Here is how it begins:
"For a quarter century, the man who is now Spokane's mayor has used positions of public trust -- as a sheriff's deputy, Boy Scout leader and powerful politician -- to develop relationships with boys and young men."
The Spokesman Review also hired a private investigator to pose as an 18-year-old boy to catch West trolling for sex on Gay.com.
Now, let's strip away the rightful glee at West's glorious and well-deserved downfall and dispassionately review the evidence.
First, The Spokesman-Review was correct to "out" West, given his prominent role in opposing gay rights. His public votes were cast to deflect his private lies, and thus his hypocrisy was rightfully brought to light.
Second, the charges of child sexual abuse seem to be reckless, based on no more than innuendo and witnesses with dubious credibility. Indeed the two men who came forth to accuse West of child molestation both, as the newspaper pointed out, struggled with drug addiction and incarceration. This is not to say that the witnesses were necessarily lying. But they never pressed charges and the evidence was so flimsy, that the accusations should not have been printed in the newspaper.
Third, having read the transcript of the online chat, the feds were right to close this case. The mayor never promised a job in exchange for sex. Indeed, the online investigator is the one who brought up the topic of working for West exclaiming, "I want an internship!" If anything, this was entrapment and releasing the tawdry transcript gratuitously humiliated West by making his private conversations public. How many critics of West would like their most intimate on-line chats printed in their hometown daily newspaper?
Beyond West's sickening hypocrisy, he is guilty of no more than using city computers to cruise for young men - luring them by name-dropping and offering gifts of sports memorabilia. This is no different than what goes on with millions of straight men that search online and at bars for younger women and drive corvettes to impress them. The assumption that this unquestionably legal behavior tied him in any way to the unspeakable crime of pedophilia strikes me as somewhat anti-gay, in that the newspaper was too quick to link homosexuality with potential child abuse.
The former mayor's behavior was dishonest and unseemly, but not illegal. It pains me to defend Jim West, but The Spokesman-Review unfairly dragged this man's reputation through the dirt, which is unfair, even for a pig like Jim West who has spent his entire career wallowing in the mud.
Monday, February 13, 2006
by Wayne Besen
One of the great fallacies in modern lore is that liberalism stands for nothing and liberals have no core beliefs. The right wing, from the Pope to the President, has impugned the left by unfairly portraying it as a valueless movement mired in moral relativism.
This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, the left is the backbone of freedom, the defender of personal liberty, the guarantor of free speech and religious worship and the nurturer of democratic movements across the globe. Far from believing in nothing, wherever liberal democratic values prevail, civilizations flourish and emancipated people thrive.
The cornerstone of liberalism is the idea that each person is endowed with the precious gift of liberty and can freely choose his or her own path - for better or worse. We believe this is crucial to greater enlightenment, personal growth, and ultimate fulfillment. It also offers the best opportunity for people to realize their dreams and achieve their spiritual promise.
Liberalism encourages exploration and education. It reveres science and celebrates the inquisitive mind. Indeed, liberal values are often superior to those held on the right, because they are tenaciously subjected to rigorous examination. Beliefs that are questioned and still prevail are the ones that stand the test of time. Far from moral relativism, liberalism searches for the ultimate value in which to build a moral foundation: Truth.
Right wing movements across the globe often seem uninterested in such truth if it contradicts their obdurate belief systems. Reality averse, they are woefully unable to adjust to new understandings, burgeoning ideas and cultural awakenings.
Liberals believe in the power of reason, while conservatives are often just plain reactionary. This is why the GOP is the party of the "southern strategy" and anti-gay subterfuge. Republican power is directly related to fertilizing fear and fomenting fanaticism.
Modern conservatives are often discomfited by the complexities of life and demand answers to the world's many unanswerable questions. They arrogantly and disingenuously claim to have absolute truth, while liberalism boldly proclaims that it does not have such ubiquitous powers of understanding. Liberalism is for those who are unafraid to fully embrace the magnificent journey of life and tackle the great mysteries of our time.
Modern conservatives will claim that liberals are sacrilegious for holding such beliefs. To the contrary, liberals are often extraordinarily religious or spiritual people. However, they diverge with conservatives in that they believe the strongest faith is one that is subject to healthy skepticism and painstaking examination. In encouraging people to explore all faiths - free of guilt, shame, coercion or fear - liberalism also offers people the greatest number of spiritual options.
Conservatives often attack gay rights because they know it is the mark of a free society that abhors authoritarian control. If a country treats gay people with dignity and respect and offers them equality, it signals that the country bases its decisions on sound education, rationalism and science. This inevitably leads towards success in all spheres of life.
Countries that ostracize and penalize homosexuals tend to be superstitious, rigid and anti-intellectual. This almost uniformly leads to poverty, war, oppression and ultimately tyranny.
A cynic might argue that the United States is not as gay friendly as other countries, yet, it is the richest country in the world. True, but nearly all of America's cities and states that are centers of profit and creativity offer increased levels of acceptance for homosexuals. States most hostile to gay people are relatively backwards, with lower levels of education and income.
In essence, gay rights is the canary in the coal mine for freedom and prosperity. Unfortunately, the bird is hacking, signaling a period of increased oppression and a dangerous erosion of freedom. It is up to us to rescue this nation from the hazardous, retrograde path it is now on.
It is time we proudly stand up for what we believe in. If we don't defend our values, our opponents will define them. Progressive does not mean passive. Our compassion does not mean that we lack passion. Our respect for other beliefs does not signify that we don't hold strong beliefs of our own that we are willing to fight for.
Indeed, our power comes from our ability to adjust to reality. We are secure in our values, yet humble enough to adapt if our viewpoints are proven obsolete. Wherever liberal democracy takes root, a strong and proud record of economic, moral, social and political achievement follows.
In this midterm election year, I hope that you will be inspired to defend your values and work to create a better society where all people can live in dignified harmony and achieve the pinnacle of their social, spiritual and human potential. In other words, create a more liberal world.
Monday, February 06, 2006
by Wayne Besen
It has been said that the pen is mightier then the sword, and it appears radical Islamists are putting this theory to the test. In protest of European newspapers that published cartoons portraying Mohammed as a terrorist, zealous mobs desecrated flags, attacked Christians, threw stones and firebombed embassies. Witnesses of the attack on the Danish embassy in Beirut said they saw people jumping out of windows to escape the flames.
If the aim was to disprove the point of the cartoons - that extremists have hijacked Islam - the protesters did a heck of a job getting their message across. After watching the riots on television, the first thing that popped into my mind was - wow, Islam is a really peaceful religion.
Before we explore this further, let's emphasize that millions of Muslims are peaceful and abhor violence. As a society, we must judge people as individuals, avoid stereotyping and avoid the pernicious sting of discrimination. Muslims who stand for individual liberty, moderation and equal rights are allies. Any attempt to lump all Muslims in the same category is despicable, unconscionable and anathema to the very free, pluralistic society we are trying to promote.
However, it is also time to admit that we have a serious problem that isn't going away. A significant number of Muslims subscribe to a brand of the religion that is nihilistic, destructive, barbaric, backwards, anti-democratic and brutal. There is no point in negotiating or reasoning with these fanatics. They will either self-moderate out of self-interest, or come into direct confrontation with the West.
The reaction to the comics that ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and other newspapers is not normal or civilized. It can only come from an extremist culture that glorifies hatred and violence.
The Islamic Army in Iraq, a Sunni Arab insurgent group, issued an Internet statement calling for attacks on Danish companies and nationals. The group urged followers to "catch some Danish people and cut them into pieces."
"We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible," Reuters reported a preacher saying at Al Omari mosque in Gaza. The New York Times reports other demonstrators calling for amputating the hands of the cartoonists who drew the pictures.
What is most striking about the repugnant rhetoric is how it is considered normal discourse in much of the Arab world. As new technology brings the planet closer together, we are increasingly clashing with a culture that is stuck in the 6th Century. It is totally incompatible with modern society and rules that govern basic human rights.
Here are three reasons why greater confrontation is on the horizon:1)
Force may be the only way to resolve the conflict between a culture that believes in freedom of the press and one that believes you dismember those who speak their minds.2)
A culture that is rapidly moving towards allowing gay couples to marry is not going to peacefully coexist with one that beheads gay people simply for existing.3)
Women who are emancipated and educated are not going to live side-by-side with submissive women who are treated like pets.
You know, it is simply unacceptable that women are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia and forced to wear oppressive garments that comedian Bill Maher says look like beekeeper suits. If this offends the Muslim extremists, too damn bad. Speaking of which, I'm getting a little offended by how easily they are offended.
In the United States, there are times when our fundamentalists have felt insulted. But they didn't rampage through towns and burn down movie theaters that showed "The Last Temptation of Christ." They didn't fan out in the Wyoming countryside looking to behead gay cowboys after Brokeback Mountain was nominated for eight Oscars. (Maybe, I shouldn't be giving them ideas)
It is also curious that the Islamists are claiming that religion is beyond reproach for editorial cartoonists, considering the Arab press is unquestionably the world's single most prolific offender of denigrating religion. But, I guess habitually mocking Judaism with crude and crass stereotypes doesn't count. The hypocritical double standard by the Islamists is so convoluted and incoherent, it is almost incomprehensible.
Commentator Neal Boortz sums up my feelings on the laughable "outrage" of Muslim radicals:
** Muslims fly commercial airliners into buildings in New York City. No Muslim outrage.
** Muslims slaughter hundreds of children and teachers in Beslan, Russia. Muslims shoot children in the back. No Muslim outrage.
** Newspapers in Denmark and Norway publish cartoons depicting Mohammed. Muslims are outraged.
Fair-minded people, especially moderate Muslims who are also victims of this extremism, must stand up to the insanity. For this violent behavior isn't Islam - it is fascism disguised as religion and has no place in the modern world.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Coretta Scott King was a wonderful soul of love and empathy who will be mourned by millions of people. She was the King who was a queen, because she understood her husband's "dream" was much greater than achieving liberty for one narrow slice of the population.
"For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people," Coretta Scott King said at the 25th anniversary luncheon for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions."
King has left a legacy that lives on today through a nascent movement of prominent African Americans who are coming together to support the gay community. Earlier this month, black civil rights leaders held a national summit in an Atlanta Baptist church to discuss how to overcome anti-gay prejudice often fomented by homophobic pastors.
At the conference, Rev. Al Sharpton wisely pointed out that the overwhelmingly white and historically anti-black religious right was using anti-gay prejudice to divide the African American vote.
"In 2004, the religious right was concerned about re-electing George W. Bush," said Sharpton at First Iconium Baptist Church. "They couldn't come to black churches to talk about the war, about health care, about poverty. So they did what they always do and reached for the bigotry against gay and lesbian people."
Indeed, immediately following the 2004 presidential election, social conservatives made a strong push to lure African-Americans by exploiting the same-sex marriage issue. According to the Los Angles Times, Rev. Lou Sheldon hosted a right wing meeting of 70 black religious leaders in Los Angeles.
Unbelievably, Sheldon played an anti-gay video featuring disgraced Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Remember, Lott had to step down as Senate Majority Leader after he publicly pined over Strom Thurmond not winning the presidency as a Dixiecrat. Fortunately, African-American columnist Leonard Pitts put Sheldon's power grab in perspective.
"Whether the issue was slavery, segregation, lynching, voting rights or housing discrimination, social conservatives have always taken a position that history later judged to be ignorant and flat-out wrong …which leaves me at a loss to understand why any African American possessed of a functioning brain would give this atavistic bunch the time of day," wrote Pitts.
The disastrous response from President Bush following Hurricane Katrina put a temporary end to this unholy alliance. Rapper Kanye West summed up the sentiment felt by many people when he said on live television, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Still, many African American church leaders are outspoken against gay and lesbian rights.
** Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, made news by urging conservatives to buy Microsoft stock, and then dump it to punish the company for supporting a successful measure in Washington State that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
** African American preacher Talbert W. Swann II published an intolerant book "Closing the Closet: Testimonies from Deliverance from Homosexuality," that features stories from 23 "ex-gays."
** Washington, DC minister Rev. Willie F. Wilson, immorally double-crossed black gay activist Keith Boykin, by banning him from the Millions More Movement rally, right as he was about to take the stage and deliver an inclusive address. Wilson is a creepy minister who has written about an "epidemic" of lesbianism among young black girls.
The good news is that this opposition has led to heterosexual African Americans, such as Sharpton and West, openly speaking out against homophobia. It has helped motivate people, such as basketball star Cheryl Swoops, to come out of the closet.
"I mean, you have Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell, but you don't have your well-known gay African-American who's come out, not to my knowledge," Swoopes said, citing this as a major reason for revealing her sexual orientation.
Outspoken hatemongering has also led to the emergence of the National Black Justice Coalition, a group created to fend off attacks and introduce black gay people to the African American community. The group features powerful and persuasive leaders, such as Donna Payne and Keith Boykin, who are educating people and standing up to the extreme right.
No one group owns the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently articulated. Coretta Scott King was a kindred spirit of her late-husband who left a legacy of unity that will help stop those of all races who thrive on sowing the seeds of division and disunity.
"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people," King said in 1998. "But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."