Monday, July 31, 2006
by Wayne Besen
I remember a few well-meaning friends telling me that I was "overreacting" when I expressed outrage over Mel Gibson's sinister portrayal of Jews in his biblical blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ." Thanks to Gibson's well oiled PR machine, even smart people were able to justify, as mere "coincidence," Gibson's full-cast of beady-eyed Jews with noses longer than Toucan Sam's.
It was Gibson's other enduring passion, bountiful booze, that finally revealed the actor to be the hatemongering anti-Semite that I had suspected. Last week, he was arrested for drunk driving by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies in Malibu. According to the report, in addition to threatening the arresting officer and trying to flee, Gibson said, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked the officer, James Mee, "Are you a Jew?"
In today's tightly scripted world, nothing is more entertaining than watching public relations give way to embarrassing public revelations. Sometimes, the expensive and controlled image campaign is no match for the out of control star who imbibed too much cheap Champagne.
Whether it's Tom Cruise's fanaticism, Michael Jackson's fetishism or Mel Gibson's fascism, it is a rare treat to see genuine personalities escape the guard of watchful publicists.
The ugly emergence of the true self is not relegated to Hollywood stars. For the past several years, ex-gay groups have worked diligently to appear as if they loved homosexuals. But, Alan Chambers, the leader of the ex-gay group Exodus International, told Focus on the Family's online magazine that gay people are inferior.
"I think their long-term goal is to portray themselves as equals, as people who are the same as heterosexuals, that their lifestyle is just as legitimate as heterosexuality," Chambers said last week.
With one burst of unfiltered honesty, Chambers threw away years of work presenting his organization as compassionate and mainstream.
In an equally candid moment, President Bush recently gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an unwanted massage, causing the flabbergasted fraulein to flinch. Earlier that week, his true nature came bumbling forth in a foreign policy conversation with Tony Blair. "You see," he told the British Prime Minister, "the thing is what they [The United Nations] need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over." While these incidents were inconsequential, they were a rare window into Bush-style diplomacy that offered a hint at why the globe is currently on fire.
Fortunately, good can also occur when people escape their handlers to speak from the heart. Former 'N Sync star Lance Bass decided that coming out is easier than hiding out in outer space. He revealed that he is gay on the cover of People Magazine
and has so far been an eloquent spokesperson.
"The thing is, I'm not ashamed and that's the one thing I want to say," Bass says of his decision to come out. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."
In another outburst of honesty, conservative Minnesota mega-church pastor Gregory Boyd has become America's most articulate advocate of separation of church and state. In a shocking series of sermons, he revealed that he thought right wing spin was overshadowing Scripture.
"America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he preached, according to The New York Times.
"America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and State.
"When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses," he continued. "When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross."
In a similar manner, former football star and conservative preacher Reggie White started speaking the truth before his untimely death in 2004. White was upset about the way he was used by the far right to promote religion. In 1998, he even took part in a virulently anti-gay ad campaign that said gays could go straight through Scripture.
"Really, in many respects I was prostituted," White revealed to NFL Films. On Saturday, White will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, one of his great achievements was not on the defensive line, but bucking the religious right's party line.
In the black hole of the human soul, some people, like Boyd and White, finally see the light. On other days, in a drunken haze, a floodlight reveals the darkness of one's true passions. Sometimes, even good PR can't hide who you truly are.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
by Wayne Besen
A few years ago, my boyfriend (now an ex) and I walked into a chain bookstore while on vacation. Only minutes before, we had mended fences over a fight about nothing. While traversing the maze of books, my boyfriend noticed an unusually hot young man staring at me. "Do you know him?" he irascibly inquired, threatening an end to our fragile ceasefire. Before I could answer, the mystery stud bounded in front of us and blurted out, "You're Wayne Besen, aren't you?"
I nodded and the young man lit up and in a very Kathy Bates moment gushed, "I loved your book, Anything But Straight! I'm your number one fan!"While looking directly in my eyes and pretending my partner was invisible, the number one fan became a number one flirt. While I was certainly flattered, this adulation wasn't adding to the duration of my relationship.
I bring this up to make a simple point: The public eye rarely helps private relationships succeed. If someone like me had my relationship threatened on a few occasions by foam-at-the-mouth fans, imagine how it must be to carry on a normal relationship if you are mega-stars like Ellen DeGeneres or George Michael?
The GLBT community is in a Catch-22. For public relations reasons, we need to showcase our most glamorous marriages, yet, by nature, these relationships are the ones most likely to get burned out by the inferno of the spotlight.This was painfully driven home this week when Julie and Hillary Goodridge, the poster couple
in the successful Massachusetts gay marriage suit, called it quits. The Goodridges were among seven gay couples whose lawsuit, Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, fueled a national firestorm on this issue.
The two women were attractive, professional and dream spokespersons for our movement. They lived in a charming Victorian house and were even raising a young daughter. In short, they were perfect on paper. But we all know how easily paper burns when thrown on a fire. We owe these women our gratitude for their courage and resilience in fighting for our freedom to marry. But, their "amicable" split reinforces the necessary danger of placing the spotlight on "perfect couples."
Even more disappointing, crooner George Michael
, who is scheduled to marry his boyfriend Kenny Goss this year, is embroiled in a new sex scandal. The London tabloids are having a field day because Michael was allegedly caught in the fields with his pants down. Despite damning pictures, right now, Goss is still standing by his man.
Courting couples that eventually spiral into double trouble is nothing new. In the early 1990's, millions of gay men latched on to the illusion of perfection offered by the buff bodybuilder boyfriends Bob Paris and Rod Jackson-Paris. Bob was a former Mr. Universe and Rod was a strapping blond model. The musclemen even wrote a book together, "Straight From the Heart: A Love Story," that was described in the El Paso Herald Post as "Heartwarming," and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as, "Compelling...Soul mates tell their story of love and take a stand for gay self-esteem."
When the heartwarming story soon turned to heartbreak
, many people in the GLBT community felt as though they had been let down. But in retrospect, the odds of this couple succeeding were not very high. Every move they made was magnified and they were surely subjected to countless temptations as they traveled across America.
On a much larger stage, America witnessed the implosion (or was it an explosion) of Ellen DeGeneres's doomed relationship with Anne Heche. Heche soon went from lesbian activist to the wedding chapel...with a man. The right wing group Focus on the Family exploited the break-up by hiring Anne's mother, Nancy Heche, to supposedly show that gay people can change. To Anne's credit, she denounced this opportunism by saying that "the ex-gay even...make me sick."
The right wing's desire to take advantage of the Goodridge break-up and Michaels' affinity for doing the nasty in nature is running into a wall called reality. It is hard to make the case against the longevity of gay couples when straight couples are dramatically stealing the spotlight.
For example, New York Giants football star Michael Strahan is in the middle of a bitter divorce
with his sexy wife, Jean. He is accusing her of spending profusely and she returned fire by saying that he had engaged in an "alternative lifestyle." Strahan had to go on a sports radio show to deny he was gay. Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned domestic disasters are mere warm-up acts for the utterly spellbinding Christie Brinkley/Peter Cook train wreck
It seems that placing a spotlight on stable marriages too often makes them unstable. Maybe we are better off without unrealistic model marriages or former models preaching matrimony. If the past has taught us anything, it is that relationships in the public eye too often turn into eyesores.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Focus on the Family just couldn't let sleeping dogs lie, so they countered a new Colorado Springs ad campaign showing people are born gay with a lying dog. Earlier this week, the Gill Foundation launched a $900,000 campaign showcasing "Norman" a cuddly pooch that mooed. The idea was to metaphorically highlight humanity's diversity and suggest that sexual orientation is inborn.
Focus on the family unveiled its own puppy - Sherman - to anchor its 'No Moo Lies' campaign. The goal is to peddle the scientifically bankrupt theory that homosexuality is "preventable and treatable."
Unfortunately, Focus makes several unsubstantiated claims, uses outdated research from undistinguished doctors and relies on the testimony of people who had recently repudiated the group for its dishonesty.
As for the central claim that homosexuality is "preventable and treatable" there is no reputable study that backs these wild assertions. Indeed, modern research has pointed to biology as playing a determining role in the etiology of sexual orientation. Consider these recent scientific developments:
** A June 2006 Canadian study published in the journal, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" showed a correlation between the number of biological older brothers a man has and his sexual orientation. The research found that only the number of biological brothers had an impact on sexuality, regardless of whether the boys were raised together. This is a powerful indication that homosexuality is inborn.
** A May 2006 study by Swedish scientists shows that the portion of the brain that helps regulate sexuality - the hypothalamus - reacted the exact same way in straight women and gay men when exposed to male pheromones, which are chemicals designed to provoke a behavior, such as sexual arousal. The same area of the brain only became stimulated in heterosexual men when introduced to female pheromones.
** In 2003, University of Texas psychoacoustics specialist Dennis McFadden found that when measuring the way the brain reacts to sound, lesbians fell in between heterosexual men and straight women, suggesting they might be exposed to higher than normal levels of male hormone in utero.
While this is just the tip of the iceberg, there are no respected studies that show sexual orientation is a result of bad parenting or sexual abuse, as Focus on the Family suggests. We do know that gay and lesbian people come from all different types of families. Liberals such as Barbara Streisand and Cher have gay children. But so do conservatives such as the Cheney family and Phyllis Schlafly. It is clear that there is no cause and effect relationship between how one is raised and their sexual orientation.
With no credible research, Focus on the Family has been forced to rely on The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This small and disreputable group was founded by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a man who believes that gay men can become straight by drinking Gatorade and calling friends "dude." He even thinks straight men can go gay if they suffer "defeat and failure." More disturbing, he takes "patients" as young as three years old labeling them "pre-homosexual" boys.
Another NARTH luminary is Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, who believes that some homosexuals can go straight by taking Prozac. NARTH contributor Scott Lively wrote a notorious book, "The Pink Swastika," which claimed that, "there was far more brutality, torture and murder committed against innocent people by deviants and homosexuals than there ever was against homosexuals."
When Focus ventures outside the NARTH bubble of baloney they are met with fierce resistance. On their website touting their new campaign they prominently quote Dr. Robert Spitzer. But last month, they were slammed by Spitzer after they quoted him in an effort to defend themselves against charges by another researcher that they had twisted her study on lesbian suicide.
"Unfortunately, Focus on the Family has once again reported findings in my study out of context to support their fight against gay rights," Spitzer said.
On their website, Focus also highlights Anne Heche as evidence that gay people can go straight, when in reality, she had always been bisexual.
"The ex-gay events right now make me sick," Heche recently said. "And for anyone who ever thought that Ellen and I broke it off because of sexuality, you couldn't be more mistaken. And for anyone who thought my mother's prayers had anything to do with me marrying a man, forget it." Heche couldn’t have been clearer, so why is Focus on the Family still exploiting her?
Without genuine research, Focus relies on emotional testimonies which are supposed to be living proof of change, but sometimes turn into a living spoof. Indeed, I photographed John Paulk, the founder of Focus's ex-gay Love Won Out road show, in a gay bar in 2000.
Lacking substance, Focus has often turned to style. Current spokesperson Melissa Fryrear often discusses her "makeover," as if lipstick can transform a lesbian.
"Goodness!" Fryrear exclaims in her online testimony. "Who knew there was so much to learn: plucking eyebrows, hair bleaches, hair waxings, facial mud masks, eye lash curlers, manicures, pedicures, push-up bras, tummy tuckers, rear-end boosters, last year's colors, and next year's fashions?"
If this silly and shallow charade is the best Focus on the Family can do to show that homosexuality is malleable, the Sherman campaign is destined to be a laughing stock that is doomed to end up in the doghouse.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Peter LaBarbera is in a swivet because I have nicknamed him "Porno Pete" for his propensity to penetrate seedy gay settings. Once inside a porno palace or S&M club, LaBarbera photographs licentious behavior in an effort to grossly distort gay life and to scare (not to mention scare up cash) from impressionable right wing audiences. Planet Out mentioned his new moniker and the right's paparazzi of perversion wrote a scathing letter claiming that he had been treated unfairly by the news organization.
All I can say to the whining LaBarbera is: If the leather jockstrap fits, stop your sniveling snits. Let's face it, this guy isn't a policy wonk - he's a right wing "policy wank."
Of course, Peter will disingenuously deny that he gets off on going to homo hangouts. But there is no denying that he has attended more gay events than Mr. Leather, RuPaul and Mary Cheney combined. One of his websites, for example, boasts a shocking array of dirty pictures he cherry picked from various Pride events to show that gay people are sick.
Indeed, he was found picketing the tubs
in Chicago last week during the Gay Games and protesting at Chicago's gay pride not long before that. LaBarbera's former ex-gay spokesperson, Wade Richards, described in my book Anything But Straight, a trip into LaBarbera's licentious lair.
"Peter was very intense," said Richards. "The office freaked me out. I had never seen so much gay pornography in my whole life...It was crazy...[there were] thousands [of gay magazines] - all kinds...[He said they were] for research...I had no clue what fisting was until I met Peter LaBarbera...It was a crazy experience."
In his letter to Planet Out, LaBarbera tried to justify his obsession. "Yes, I once researched gay events, and still do occasionally, by attending them to get firsthand info."
The issue I have with him isn't his "firsthand" account, it is that he keeps going back for second...third and fourth-hand accounts. Has he gleaned any new information from this month's trip to the tubs? Is there some novel sexual technique he recently discovered that will help him showcase the evils of gay sex to unsuspecting church ladies? If not, than why keep going back?
It seems Peter is protesting a bit too much and entering certain arenas that go above and beyond the call of duty. While Rev. Pat Robertson hosts the 700 Club, Porno Pete seems to have attended 700 gay clubs in search of sodomy.
LaBarbera needs to understand that we see through his facade. He doesn't need more gay magazine subscriptions than the Stonewall Library to learn about the titillating fringe of gay life. It is no secret that some gay people like to have lots of sex and sometimes enjoy porn. What LaBarbera doesn't seem to get is that most straight people also love sex and naughty pictures.
Has it been lost on him that one can watch straight porn in most major hotel chains? Maybe if he'd pry himself away from gay sex joints, he'd find the time to read straight porn mags, visit swingers clubs, film spring break orgies, spy on frat house sex parties, snoop around whore houses in Las Vegas and peep at prostitutes that slouch on street corners in every big city in America. But, no - it is only gay sex that seems to capture Porno Pete's wild imagination.
Pete, we love the sinner, but you must admit, your sins are a tad weird. What the GLBT community is fed up with is that you brazenly exploit us for political gain with no conscience. You are a right wing lobbyist who bears false witness and uses distorted depictions of our lives to pass hateful legislation.
If you cared about fairness, you'd attend a PFLAG meeting or take pictures of gay veterans during pride parades. Why not attend the GLAAD Media Awards or an HRC black tie dinner? No, you just want to slither through the tubs at unGodly hours - in the name of God. What you do Peter, is produce pure, unadulterated propaganda and hate. You have made it difficult for kids in school and torn families apart.
Most disturbing, is that you have seen your pet "ex-gays" fail three times in a row - yet you tragically keep beating this dead horse. First, you backed John Paulk, until I photographed him in a gay bar. Then, you touted Wade Richards - an honest man you now unfairly attack as a liar. Then, you jumped on the Michael Johnston bandwagon, before I exposed him as a fraud for having sex with men he met online. I would have thought that you would have learned something by now. But, you have no interest in the facts, even as your tired strategies have repeatedly failed. This is profoundly immoral and unBiblical behavior.
Ironically, LaBarbera is a friendly guy, despite his peculiar peccadilloes. This is not a personal battle between us. I just wish he would deal with his issues, whatever they might be, instead of destructively battling his demons on the public stage. The lives of too many GLBT youth are at risk for LaBarbera to continue to play his Gay Games. Isn't it time he put away his camera and went home to his waiting wife?
And if he can't kick his voyeuristic homosexual habit? Let's just drop all pretenses and name him Grand Marshall of next year's Pride Parade.
Monday, July 10, 2006
by Wayne Besen
In an effort to ban same-sex marriage, white evangelical leaders have entered into a sordid marriage
of convenience with a few likeminded black preachers. This unholy alliance is not a beacon of true diversity, but rather a diversity of ways to attack people who are different or hold divergent beliefs. In a perverse way, these ministers have advanced equality in that they have proven, if nothing else, that hate can be colorblind.
Just last week, for example, a leading anti-gay
black preacher and ally of Jeb Bush, Rev. O'Neal Dozier, spewed bigoted remarks about Muslims on a right wing radio show
. He explained that he was leading the charge to block an Islamic Center from being built in a Fort Lauderdale suburb because "Islam is a dangerous religion."
Instead of apologizing for his remarks, Dozier threw gasoline on the fire in an interview with The Miami Herald
. The preacher explained in no uncertain terms that Islam was a synonym for Osama.
"We don't want our area to be a breeding ground for terrorists," Dozier said.
Dozier sounds an awful lot like former segregationist Rev. Jerry Falwell, who in 2002 told 60 Minutes, "I think Muhammad was a terrorist."
This week, Dozier will be leading a protest at a Pompano Beach Commission meeting to lobby against plans to build the new mosque. He has assembled a number of conservative preachers who seemingly believe that only their brand of Christianity should be allowed a home in South Florida.Of course, these preachers won't flat out say they are against constitutionally protected freedom of religion, expression, association and speech.
So, Dozier's partner in crime, Rev. Alonzo C. Neal of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, explained that Muslims were not the problem - it was their behavior.
"It's not their religion," said Neal, "it's their track record."
Is it just me or is this language eerily similar to the "love the sinner, hate the sin" rhetoric used against gays? Funny, but I don't remember mainstream Muslims causing mayhem in Florida.
However, I do remember busybody fundamentalist Christians harassing women outside the state's abortion clinics. I do seem to recall neo-Puritans terrorizing judges and family members during the disgraceful Terri Schiavo debacle. It seems these preachers should worry about the track records of their evangelical friends before they point the finger at Muslims.
Furthermore, it is amusing to see the contorted attempts at tolerance by these "men of God." Dozier and Neal have unending love for gays that don't act gay and Muslims that don't act Muslim. It is remarkably generous of them to love and accept all who act and believe exactly as they do.
The Dozier incident is reminiscent of 1998 when the extreme right teamed up
with the late football star and preacher Reggie White
to bash gays. In a speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature, White proclaimed that Asians can turn a TV into a watch, blacks excel at celebration and dance, Latinos can fit 20 or 30 people into one house, and whites are great with money.
And more recently, one of the nation's leading African American "ex-gay" preachers, D.L. Foster, disgraced himself by attacking me for my Jewish faith and drove home his point by drawing a Hitler mustache on my picture.
It is worth noting that there is a rift in the GLBT community on how to handle attacks by African American preachers working in cahoots with the religious right. One side of the argument, articulated by writer Chelsea Jennings
in The Washington Blade, says that it is counterproductive to compare ourselves to the civil rights movement. The polar opposite view comes from the group Faith in America
, which claims that today's "religion based-bigotry" against gay people is a direct descendent from the civil rights era and should be confronted head-on.
I happen to agree with Faith in America. It is no coincidence that racists of yesteryear, such as Falwell, are today's leading anti-gay opponents. They are eager to gain black support to justify their latest pet prejudice. And, no one has convinced me that there is a marked difference between racism, religious persecution, sexism and homophobia.
While each has its unique characteristics, they are all equally unjust. The unholy alliance is having a measure of success. When the New York Court of Appeals ruled against same-sex marriage last week, Judge Robert S. Smith
said comparing racism to homophobia was a false analogy.
Thankfully, preachers such as Dozier, Neal and Foster are making it easy to connect the dots and show that haters rarely confine their prejudices to one group. Instead of giving cover, this new marriage of malignance is uncovering the right wing's true narrow minded agenda - in black and white.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Is size all that matters to the Anglican Church? It appears that the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, is willing to steamroll gays to prevent a seismic schism that would decrease membership rolls. In a document titled "theological reflection," Williams asked all 38 regional churches in the worldwide Communion to agree to a "covenant" that could stymie a church's ability to elect openly gay bishops. Those churches that did not adhere would have their status downgraded and become second-class affiliates.
This plan would create an ecclesiastical caste system, with conservatives playing the role of Brahmins, while GLBT affirming churches would become the new untouchables. Yet, it would still allow the demoted denominations to share in Communion.
Not surprisingly, such a convoluted compromise pleased neither faction. Six right wing dioceses declared they would bolt the Episcopal Church, while the Diocese of Newark named an openly gay priest as a candidate for Bishop.
What disturbs me about this debate is that Williams is known for his supposedly liberal views. So, if he sees gay people as equals before God's eyes, how can he so easily relegate them to the back pews with an admonition to behave and be quiet?
The painful nature of this debate brings up existential questions that leaders such as William seem unprepared to face. For example, is the more successful church the one brimming with members based on bigotry or is it the smaller institution walking in righteousness?
While keeping the Communion together is a worthy goal, the price that conservatives are asking is too high for Anglicans of conscience to pay. Those who have embraced full inclusion of gay and lesbian leaders have embarked on a journey and have been enlightened. Once they see homosexuals as spiritual soul mates, it is impossible to go back into the darkness.
What Williams is essentially asking is that liberals subjugate wisdom and undermine understanding for the greater good. But in their hearts, liberals know that something so bad canâ€™t truly be for the greater good. They are being asked to reconcile the irreconcilable and it will never work.
The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot expect progressive Episcopalians to look their gay friends in the eyes and then treat them as inferior. Gay people are either equal and deserve full inclusion, or they are not equals and deserve castigation. The search for middle ground in this equation is futile. If the church thinks Equal-lite is the solution, it is headed for a schism.
In a sense, this skirmish is no longer about gay people in the Anglican Communion. It is about whether the church is still a conduit for spiritual integrity and intellectual honesty. If members can no longer be true to their beliefs, then the institution will have lost much of its power and meaning. Is a church that dictates one's conscience rather than allowing one to live as his conscience dictates worth saving?
Liberal Episcopalians should take comfort in the fact that history does not look kindly on splinter church groups that broke away because of intolerance towards minorities. The Southern Baptist Church will always have the stain and stench of slavery hanging over its biography. I can't think of an instance where a religious group that chose the side of discrimination turned out to be right in history's judgment. In recent years, for example, the Vatican apologized for its treatment of women and Jews. Although there is little hope that the current Pope will change his archaic views, his embarrassing actions will cause a future Pontiff to grovel over today's abusive treatment of gays.
As a practical matter, most church-goers won't even notice the missing malcontents if the Anglican Church splits. The New York Times reported that a Connecticut priest asked his flock how many of them had even heard of the Anglican Communion before the war over homosexuality erupted in 2003, and only a third raised their hands. Given this tenuous connection, it is hard to see how leaving the backward churches behind will cause significant trauma.
I'm not a marriage counselor, but my untrained eye sees a pretty good case for divorce. Many in the Episcopal Church have evolved into a new spiritual species and it will only be stalled by the Neanderthals that remain stuck in another era.
Yes, bigger can be better, but the Anglican Church may soon learn that the size of ideas matter more than the size of membership lists.