Monday, March 27, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Fundamentalist Christianity has always been a "legalistic" religion, but the term has taken on a whole new meaning as the far right has unleashed its legion of lawyers to bully, harass and intimidate opponents. As the Neo-puritans increasingly lose in the court of public opinion, they are heading directly to the courts.
Blogger Justin Watt, for example, had recently placed a parody on his website Justinsomnia
, making fun of an offensive billboard placed by the "ex-gay" group Exodus International. The Exodus billboard read: "Gay? Unhappy? http://www.exodus.to
." Watt re-created the billboard on his site so it read, "Straight? Unhappy? http://www.gay.com
This was clearly a legal parody of Exodus' ludicrous message and therefore was protected speech. Nevertheless, he and the website Ex-GayWatch
, which reprinted the comical fare, were served with "cease and desist" letters from Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel.
The threats of frivolous lawsuits were conveniently dropped after Watt pushed back and enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal groups. However, this case underscores the right wing's new strategy of using their vast financial resources to bully opponents who may not have the financial means to fend off a legal challenge.
For example, Viroqua High School in Wisconsin cancelled Diversity Day after the Liberty Counsel sent a nasty legal letter. They offered the bizarre argument that the school was violating the Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment by not inviting fundamentalist Christians and "ex-gays" to denounce homosexuality. Thanks to the Liberty Counsel, the students did not get to hear speakers representing African Americans, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans and gay people.
With a taste of success, we are surely going to see more tort terror from the Liberty Counsel and other groups. GLBT and civil rights organizations must ban together and give school administrators the tools to fight off such challenges. If they do not, the right wing may systematically purge Diversity Days across the nation. Here are a few tips on how schools can fight back.Intent:
Diversity Days are clearly intended to foster understanding, open minds and further mutual respect in schools. They are about inclusion, while the aims of Liberty Counsel are about exclusion, and therefore disqualify them from taking part in such events.
They might argue that this is illegal because it does not allow for Christians to take part. This is demonstratively false, as fundamentalists can participate as long as they talk about ways to increase inclusion of Christians on campus. However, they have no special right to deviate from the lesson plan of teaching tolerance, to demean others.Sectism:
There are literally thousands of religions in the United States of America, including many different factions of Christianity. Clearly, a school isn't obligated to invite every last religious group in existence.
A school district can get around Liberty Counsel's complaints by inviting a speaker from a moderate Christian Denomination. Whether Liberty Counsel likes it or not, they represent just one of many versions of Christianity and are no more authentic, than say, the United Church of Christ or the Unitarians.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no law that mandates that a school must choose a speaker representing Jerry Falwell's theological viewpoint. To suggest otherwise, is theocratic arrogance at its worst and what I refer to as "Sectism," because Liberty is asserting that its religious sect is superior to that of other branches of the faith. Nowhere in the Constitution does such imagined religious hegemony exist.Ex-Gays:
Inviting "ex-gays" to speak on campus is the intellectual equivalent of introducing unicorns into a zoology curriculum, just because a few superstitious people believe they exist. The "ex-gay" myth has been thoroughly debunked in every sphere from science to psychology. And the very people who claimed they have changed, usually have reverted back to their former gay selves.
School districts can circumvent the right wing's insistence on inclusion of ex-gays with limited effort. All they have to do is cite the American Psychiatric Association, which says that, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior." What kind of administrator would want to invite in a group that could potentially cause so much damage to students? Having ex-gays is the equivalent of brining in Phillip Morris to discuss the "other side" of the smoking debate.
In the short-term, we can expect as much gavel pounding as Bible thumping, with the right wing taking cases to increasingly friendly courts. The Wisconsin war over Diversity Day and the imbroglio over the ex-gay parody are warning shots that the right has launched a new legal strategy. Let's not wait until Diversity Day is called Divinity Day before we respond to this ferocious assault on our mainstream values.
Monday, March 20, 2006
by Wayne Besen
In high school, Jason Page played baseball, basketball and tennis while dating the captain of the cheerleading squad. He dreamt of becoming a sports broadcaster and following graduation, he began his career announcing minor league baseball games in far-flung places such as North Dakota and rural Maryland.
"In this business, you have to pay your dues, and I was willing to go anywhere to pursue my passion," said Page.
There was only one sacrifice Page wasn't willing to make: Staying in the closet.
At the age of 22, he came out publicly in the macho sports world, where homosexuality is still taboo. Indeed, not a single male athlete participating in a team sport has acknowledged he is gay while still actively playing. Page says the mentality in the broadcast booth is similar to that on the playing field.
"It is like a locker room without the uniforms," Page explained. "I am working every day with young people who come from all different parts of America. Maybe they never met someone who is openly gay. Just by existing I'm educating people and hopefully changing minds."
Like the movie Brokeback Mountain, which challenged the absurd notion that cowboys can't be gay, homosexual athletes and broadcasters also run up against irrational people unwilling to let go of cultural myths.
One just has to look at the bizarre opposition faced by organizers of the Gay Games, an Olympic-style competition for gay and lesbian athletes that will be held in Chicago, beginning July 15.
On March 6, a suburban Chicago park commission voted 2-2 to ban the Gay Games from hosting a rowing competition at Crystal Lake. The event needed three votes in favor to be approved and one of the commissioners was on vacation.
Peter LaBarbera of the Illinois Family Institute, a man best known for playing dress-up at gay leather parties under the auspices of "research," helped fan the flames of intolerance. He pressured the commissioners, calling the sporting event the "homosexuality games" and warned that it would lead to nudity and promiscuous behavior. Although, I still can't figure out how one would be lewd or lascivious with both hands firmly attached to rowing paddles? Perhaps, LaBarbera's time "undercover" in S&M porn palaces has fueled an imagination that could conjure up such physical contortions.
"I do not believe the Crystal Lake Park District should be a vehicle for the promotion of an agenda," said Commissioner David Phelps, apparently swayed by LaBarbera. He was seconded by resident Larry Reyer who told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I do not want these queers coming to my hometown."
Fortunately, the third commissioner came back and overturned the ridiculous and insulting vote. How spectacular a bigot does one have to be, after all, to virulently oppose a gay athletic event? What next, the Illinois Family Institute will propose separate swimming pools?
While the right is getting more fringe and shrill, corporate America is on-board and paying the bills. The Gay Games has 179 sponsors, compared to a mere 50 during the last Gay Games in Sydney, Australia. This includes corporate heavyweights such as Kraft, Walgreen's and Harris Bank.
"Times have changed in corporate America since 1994, the last time the Gay Games were in The United States," said Gay Games Vice Co-Chair Kevin Boyer.
What threatens the right wing most, however, is the 12,000 athletes that are expected at the opening ceremonies in Soldier Field. Their entire anti-gay industrial complex is fueled by stereotypes and lies about gay men and lesbians. Indeed, a central tenant to their "cure" for homosexuality is, you guessed it, playing sports. A sea of serious, committed and talented gay athletes not only challenges erroneous assumptions, but it also makes the theories of the far right look every bit as ridiculous as they truly are.
Still, Jason Page looks at his own story and says we have a long way to go before we overcome prejudice in the sports world.
"I'll never forget it," he wistfully recalls. "I walked into the locker room of a minor league team I worked for and one of the athletes screamed, 'fag in the locker room.' I still deal with people who tell stupid jokes or say inappropriate things, and I often challenge them on it."
Today, Page, 28, hosts "The Desk" an interview sports show on Sirius Sports 123, a station on the satellite radio network. He struggles with the unglamorous overnight shift and he often thinks about what his life would have been like if he had remained closeted.
"Look, there is no substitute for being open and honest. Yet, there is also no substitute for doing something you love. I hope I can remain out of the closet and also be successful in this business. Some days I still have my doubts. I just do my best and try to remain positive. But I'd be lying if I said it were easy."
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Gay men are limp-wristed and may have a Queen Gene, according to a controversial segment on CBS's 60 Minutes, "The Science of Sexual Orientation." The show suggests that gay men are prissy and prance and wear lavender pants while they lisp and dance. Which can certainly be true, in some cases, but is this just crass stereotyping masquerading as science?
The segment featured two sets of twins. The fist pair - Adam and Jared - was nine years old. Jared was tough as nails and had a collection of G.I. Joes, while Adam painted his nails and dreamt of pantyhose.
Steve and Greg, the second pair of twins, were adults. Steve, who is straight, grew up playing sports, while gay Greg "liked helping out in the kitchen."
The idea of studying identical twins is to show that upbringing has nothing to do with the outcome of sexual orientation. Indeed, one has to be a dolt with an agenda to still believe the outdated myth that homosexuality is caused by bad parenting.
"Psychologists used to believe homosexuality was caused by nurture - namely overbearing mothers and distant fathers - but that theory has been disproved," reporter Leslie Stahl authoritatively said.
"Today, scientists are looking at genes, environment, brain structure and hormones. There is one area of consensus: that homosexuality involves more than just sexual behavior; it's physiological."
Identical twins with differing sexual orientations suggest that there are other factors at work than just genes.
"There's also the environment that happens to us while we're in the womb," said Northwestern University researcher Michael Bailey in the segment. "And scientists are realizing that environment is much more important than we ever thought it was."
Michigan State University's Marc Breedlove drove home this point by showing Stahl how he can take a rat that scurries and make him sashay with a shot of hormones or castration.
"I wouldn't call these gay rats," explained Breedlove, who has the perfect name for a vermin sex researcher. "But I would say that these are genetic male rats who are showing much more feminine behavior."
The show also pointed out that for every older brother a man has, his chances of being gay increase by one-third. Additionally, Bailey addressed the lie that gay men are more promiscuous by nature. He said both gay and straight men are "shallow" and tend to focus on looks, but gay men simply have more opportunity.
"They're [gay men] just more successful at it, because the people they're trying to have sex with are also interested in it," Bailey said.
I applaud this dose of truth, because anyone who has spent five minutes around straight men, know that they are just as frisky as their gay counterparts. The only people who deny this are uptight fundamentalists. And they are really no different, except they have hang-ups and feel guilty after the sex.
Whether Bailey has hit the scientific jackpot or is a crackpot is open for debate. Many people bristle, for example, when he claims that gay people walk and talk differently. True, one's gaydar does not have to be finely tuned to figure out Richard Simmons or Clay Aiken is gay. Oh, wait, is Clay gay?
Before Bailey makes such broad assumptions, however, he should put on football pads and collide with former NFL player Esera Tuaolo. This might rattle him out of his one-dimensional mind-set and lead him to expand his research to include gay and lesbian people who are not borderline transgender.
There are also critics who rightfully question Bailey's potentially dark motives. He once told The New York Times that if it became possible for parents to determine sexual orientation in the womb than, "selecting for heterosexuality seems to be morally acceptable....Selection for heterosexuality may tangibly benefit parents, children and their families and seems to have only a slight potential for any significant harm."
"His research is highly questionable," said Lisa Mottet, a transgender rights attorney with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Bailey's work is simply not credible." NGLTF has criticized his research on transgender people and bisexuals calling it shoddy and filled with unscientific assumptions.
Still, the 60 Minutes segment, as a whole, was very helpful to the gay rights movement. It brusquely dismissed the inane pseudo-science of our opponents. But in the process of neutralizing the right, it neutered gay men. While we are cheering the segment, Bailey should know that most of us aren't using pompoms.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Time For 'Ex-Gay' Hordes To March On Washington I know this is hard to believe, but the "ex-gay" group Exodus International is the next Starbucks. The organization, according to its executive director Alan Chambers, is expanding so fast that it will soon have storefronts on every corner where forlorn homosexuals can pray away the gay.
In 2003, Chambers claimed that there are "thousands of former homosexuals." By 2004, he announced that he knew "tens of thousands of people whom have successfully changed." Last week, Chambers stunned the world when he boasted to The San Francisco Chronicle that there are "hundreds of thousands" of ex-gays. This must have been shocking news to the masses of gay people in San Francisco's crowded Castro neighborhood, that didn't know they were on the verge of extinction.
Folks, we need to put this mushrooming phenomenon at the top of the gay agenda. Even the success of Brokeback Mountain can't halt the expansion of these free the fairies franchises. If we don't stop Chambers by 2008 - a presidential election year - there will be millions of former homosexuals and most will vote Republican. And by the end of the decade, the number of ex-gays will look like a Bill Gates ATM receipt. Exodus might even have to get a sign, like McDonalds, so we can watch the numbers turn to keep track of the billions of transformed lives.
Sure, it seems like more people are coming out, but in Exodus "surreal-ity" the masses are going back in. I know it appears that gay Pride events are growing larger each year, but is it just the liberal media puffing up the crowd size to hide the fact that Chambers is decimating the annual parades? Thanks to Exodus, will Gay Pride soon be reduced to three stubborn drag queens lip-synching on a flat bed pick up truck?
Of course, there are still skeptics who believe that Chambers likes to pull numbers out of his posterior. He bases his inflated figures on the alleged 400,000 phone calls the organization receives each year. Why do I get the feeling that Exodus counts as ex-gays wrong numbers, telemarketers and calls from the pizza delivery guy? I called Chambers twice last year for columns and wonder if I was counted as two ex-gays?
What I find bewildering, is that if there are so many ex-gays, why can't Chambers provide any to speak to the media that are not ministry leaders or paid lobbyists? Why do Exodus and Focus on the Family use the same tired ex-gays in their advertisements? Why do they continue to highlight the testimony of Phil Hobizal, a Portland ministry leader who stepped down in 2003 after having an "emotional entanglement," whatever that means? Why must the American Family Association peddle a video by ex-gay Michael Johnston who suffered a "moral fall?" Perhaps, there simply are not replacements for these failed leaders?
One just has to look at Dr. Robert Spitzer's 2001 study of ex-gays to underscore the difficulty of finding these mythical people. The psychiatrist had so much trouble coming up with a mere 200 study subjects that he unethically resorted to using paid ex-gay shills and referrals from anti-gay groups such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).
There is even a cloud of suspicion surrounding the subjects who said anti-gay groups did not refer them to Spitzer. Daniel S. Gonzales, a former patient of NARTH's Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, alleges that his right wing therapist "asked me to lie to Spitzer when I called in for my study interview by denying Nicolosi had referred me."
In light of this revelation, Dr. Spitzer has an obligation to contact all of his supposedly "independent" subjects and find out if they were coerced into participating in his study under false pretenses.
Fortunately, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a paper this week, "Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism," that examines how these groups prey on youth, often manipulating parents to force their children into psychologically damaging therapy against their will. These groups harm children as young as five years old and lure them and their parents with comics, youth groups and a slick CD Rom called "The Map." More studies, such as this one and my book Anything But Straight, are needed to counter the ex-gay myth that is the centerpiece of the right wing's campaign to deny gay people equal rights.
In 1987, most Americans believed there were few homosexuals. To challenge this misperception, the GLBT community held the first of three massive rallies in the nation's capital. If Exodus wants to silence the skeptics they should put up or shut up. It is time for them to hold an ex-gay March on Washington where we can actually see, once and for all, the invisible hordes that only seem to exist in Alan Chambers over-active imagination.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Alan Van Capelle, executive director of The Empire State Pride Agenda, rocked the quiescent relationship between gays and the Democratic Party last week by calling Sen. Hillary Clinton "a complete disappointment." He went so far as to recommend that the gay community discontinue giving money to her campaign.
"Supporting an LGBT fundraiser for Hillary Clinton will actually hurt our community," wrote Van Capelle in a leaked memorandum to his Board of Directors. "We have become a community that throws money at politicians and we demand nothing in return."
His comments have started a healthy, if not painful, debate about the place of gay people in the Democratic Party. Van Capelle expressed a growing feeling among many Democrats that the GLBT community isn't getting a good return on its investment. These disgruntled Democrats believe that gay people raise millions of dollars for the party and provide armies of volunteers, but gain little.
Democratic leaders respond that they are going as far as they can, while remaining electable, and that the only alternative for gay people is to vote Republican.
The Democratic malcontents would counter that there is little difference between the two parties. For the most part, leading Democrats and Republicans are opposed to allowing gay people to marry. So, why not redirect our political donations to other charities or go on a great vacation? If the Democrats don't appreciate us, to hell with them - we can spend our dough in Canada, Spain or Denmark where gay people are afforded full equality.
This is an option, of course, but what happens if the Democrats say to hell with us? Without the support of Democrats in Congress, a Constitutional Amendment banning gay people from marrying would pass. So, while we have the power to "show them" they also have the power to "show us." In such a scenario of mutually assured destruction, both Democrats and gay people lose to the benefit of the Republican Party.
The reason political parties exist is to win elections and the Democrats have concluded that to neutralize backlash and achieve victory, they will support Civil Unions while opposing same-sex marriage. Pragmatists in the GLBT community say this is a wise approach that will lead to equality over time. Meanwhile, many leading gay activists believe this is selling out and an affront to our dignity - which it most certainly is. However, this may be a sacrifice worth making if it keeps Republicans out of office.
A serious question to ask is: Has the pragmatic approach worked or actually hurt gay people and the Democratic Party?
Not too long ago, Civil Unions were considered political poison, but they are now the preferred position of Democrats with presidential aspirations. A case can be made that the sooner the Democrats embrace same-sex marriage, the quicker the issue will become non-controversial and politically risky. By taking the middle of the road approach, the Democrats have prolonged the shelf life of the issue and made themselves vulnerable to attacks on gay rights.
If John Kerry had embraced allowing gay people to marry in 2004, wouldn't the issue be a bit tired and old hat by now, thus reducing its power to damage Democrats? After all, the Democrats are still getting accused of supporting same-sex marriage and anyone who cares about this issue enough to change his or her vote is probably a Republican, anyway.
Or, maybe not.
As a columnist, I usually have a ready answer for everything. However, this is a vexing issue with no clear solutions. Our community wants to push back against the Democratic Party, without tripping over the edge. But our own exaggerated fear of an imaginary backlash may sometimes keep us too timid and "in our place." If the civil rights movement taught us one thing, it is that progress is not serendipitous, but a result of constant agitation and the pushing of boundaries.
I think a temporary answer might be for disgruntled Democrats to use the primaries as a time to flex their muscles. They can give their money, time and votes only to presidential candidates who support full equal rights.
In 2004, Rev. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun supported marriage, yet most gay Democrats ignored their campaigns. Perhaps, in 2008 getting behind such candidates can send a message that we are not to be neglected or taken for granted. This plan can highlight our strength while still allowing us not to commit electoral suicide by sitting out the general election.
Van Capelle's comments jumpstarted a crucial conversation among gay Democrats. We must intelligently strike a balance where we get our fair slice of the pie, without being so pie in the sky that we alienate the party and help elect Republicans.