Tuesday, August 29, 2006
by Wayne Besen
The Big Easy proved to be quite difficult for the so-called "ex-gay" industry earlier this month. At the American Psychological Association's annual convention in New Orleans, anti-gay forces choreographed an expensive protest designed to pressure the APA into endorsing "ex-gay" therapy. However, instead of succor, "conversion therapy" leaders got sucker punched with the APA forcefully reiterating that being gay is not a mental illness and efforts to "treat" homosexuality can be dangerous.
"The APA's concern about the position's espoused by the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish."
This statement was unambiguous and all but said that the "ex-gay" hoax was the biggest lie to hit New Orleans since President Bush swooped in following Hurricane Katrina promising to rebuild the city. In addition to the punishing policy statement, Focus on the Family reported in its online magazine, CitizenLink, that the "ex-gay" contingent was denied a booth inside the convention hall and was refused ad space in The Monitor, an APA publication.
Trying to save face in light of this professional disgrace, "ex-gay" groups are now desperately trying to spin their New Orleans boondoggle as if it were actually a boon for their cause. Their historical revisionism starts with their failed petition
asking the APA to endorse conversion therapy. NARTH gathered a paltry 75 signatures out of an APA membership of 155,000, with an embarrassing number of the signatories actually belonging to NARTH. This floundering flop had the side benefit of placing NARTH's claim of 1,000 members under deep suspicion, considering they were unable to round up even one-tenth of their membership to sign their ballyhooed document.
Nonetheless, in the typical serial-exaggerating and comically hyperbolic style that defines the "ex-gay" myth, Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International
, celebrated this petition disaster and claimed that the vast majority of APA members were supportive of conversion therapy.
"What we found at the protest, is that 80 percent of the attendees - people that were coming off of the buses and walking into the convention center - were supportive of what we said," Chambers told CitizenLink
.I'm not a rocket scientist, but 80 percent of 155,000 does not equal 75. It seems the only busload of people Chambers may have talked to, was one he rolled in on, filled with professional "ex-gay" lobbyists.
The real joke, however, is the cynical spinning of an off-the-cuff remark made by APA President Gerald P. Koocher at a Town Hall meeting only one day after the APA released its scathing statement blasting conversion therapy. After a NARTH member asked a question regarding patient autonomy, Koocher stated, "APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction."
The "ex-gay" industry took this quote grotesquely out of context by hailing it as a groundbreaking policy shift. "This is a historic step for client autonomy and self-determination," quacked NARTH
member Dr. Dean Byrd.Well, actually it is neither historic nor is it new. It simply reaffirmed the APA's long-standing principle that patients have the right to seek virtually any type of therapy they want, so long as the therapist explains the APA's current position and warns the patient of the potentially harmful consequences such therapy may produce.
His words distorted and appropriated for propaganda, Koocher was forced to make a clarifying statement
which may place NARTH members at risk for malpractice. The APA President stressed that it is "absolutely essential" that conversion therapists are in strict accordance with APA guidelines, including "informed consent" and the obligation to "carefully explore how patients arrive at the choices they make."
The evidence suggests that NARTH practitioners may be flagrantly violating these rules by downplaying the harm done by conversion therapy, while misstating the facts on homosexuality.
"I do not believe that any man can ever truly be at peace in living out a homosexual orientation," NARTH's leader, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, has written. Last week, he told the Australian Broadcasting Company that, "There is no such thing as a homosexual."These statements mock the APA's guidelines and fail to adequately explore whether societal pressure is responsible for a patient seeking to "change."
These charlatans also appear to wink at "informed consent" by glibly glossing over the very real consequences of "conversion therapy" and inventing phony repercussions for coming out.If anything, by forcing Koocher to clarify himself, NARTH highlighted how its mind games have run amok of established APA guidelines and why the group should be thoroughly investigated. While "ex-gay" leaders pretend to be drunk on their supposed success in New Orleans, one wonders what they were drinking on Bourbon Street to reach conclusions so dramatically at odds with reality.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Click here to listen to Wayne's column
The world of men can be divided into two groups: Those who feel empty after the completion of a one night stand and those who roll over and go to bed feeling completely satisfied. This emotional divide among males is equally as dramatic as the more publicized difference in sexual orientation between gay and straight men. Yet, this phenomenon is rarely talked about as the conventional wisdom wrongly concludes that "men are pigs."
The gulf between the men who oink and boink and those who bed and wed is worth exploring. It seems to me that these men have little in common, as pigs are from Pluto and mensches are from Mars.
This split in the way men think about sex is best illustrated in listening to the two groups discuss former President Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. The mensches scratch their heads and ask, "How on earth could he do that? How can a man cheat on his wife and squander his presidency for a moment of joy with a chubby intern?"
While the pigs were disappointed with Clinton, on a fundamental level they understood his actions. "He was alone in the Oval Office, he was probably under a lot of stress, Monica walked in, and things just sort of happened," they reason. What flummoxes the pigs, more than Clinton's behavior, is the mensches' genuine bewilderment of how a man might jeopardize power over a fleeting moment of sexual gratification.
This battle of the male brain is now playing itself out in gay society after paparazzi ambushed pop star George Michael coming out of the bushes following a sexcapade with a pot-bellied peasant.
Michael, for his part, implied that his behavior was a result of entrenched gay customs. "Are you gay?" he asked the paparazzi, "No? Then f*** off. This is my culture."
This may have been true in the 1970's, when gay culture had been set up to accommodate married men on the sly. During this period, bathhouses were hugely popular and the gay bars had blackened out windows, creating a virtual cocktail-serving closet. Many of the patrons had to have sex inside the bar because they could not go home where an unsuspecting wife and kids waited.
Of course, there was a portion of men who did have options (such as Michael does today) but just enjoyed unfettered promiscuity for the thrill. However, the ability of people to come out combined with the fear of contracting HIV has sharply curtailed the carnal carnival the gay subculture once represented. Bawdy bathhouses have largely been replaced by couples shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
The whole notion that gay men are more libidinous than straight men is a canard pushed by right wing fanatics in an effort to deny homosexuals basic rights. Indeed, one of the most guarded secrets of gay life is that a good portion of homosexuals are as undersexed as their straight counterparts.
Some of these lonely people keep long hours at the office and don't have time to pursue partners. Others are shy and have great difficulty meeting people. Many men - gay and straight - simply have low sex drives and hardly desire gratuitous encounters.
From my observation, a surprisingly large portion of men find the notion of hooking up with strangers totally unappealing. It is not looks nor variety, but intimacy that is the greatest turn on.
Of course, for hyper-aggressive men who fancy uninhibited sexual exploration, it is easier being gay because you can always find another man looking for the same thing. But, instead of being blamed for a lack of self-control, the gay community should get a medal for restraint.
Heck, if straight men could have sex in public restrooms with women, would we ever again be able to use the facilities for legitimate purposes? If straight men could easily pick up women for sex in parks after midnight, would the grounds be so trodden that ants would become an endangered species? Yeah, gay men have access to sex if they want it bad enough and are willing to take risks, like Michael, but the majority consistently chooses not to recklessly cruise.
George Michael may "want his sex" but his placing the blame on the GLBT culture no longer reflects modern reality. Given a full range of choices, including marriage, GLBT life increasingly looks as diverse as mainstream culture with monogamously oriented men finally having the option to choose monogamy.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
by Wayne Besen
(Weekly Column) - Click here to listen to Wayne's column
I have long endorsed the political strategy of supporting both GLBT friendly Democrats and Republicans. For pragmatic reasons, it made sense not to put all of our eggs in one basket. However, that was before the GOP leadership was hijacked by right wing basket cases. Sadly, I think it is time for the GLBT movement to reassess the political landscape and consider saying goodbye to bipartisanship.
The defenders of the status quo will claim that loyalty is an important commodity in politics and this is why we must continue to back friendly Republicans. How can we abandon those who voted with us, they ask?
This circular reasoning reminds me of the "cut and run" argument for keeping our troops in Iraq. In essence, we should continue to adhere to a failed plan and bleed because we have promised loyalty to a situation that might not be salvageable. And, in my estimation, the Republican Party's hostility towards gay people is not something that can easily be fixed. The entire party will have to collapse and remake itself into an entity that does not exploit fear and prejudice before GLBT people can return.
While most Republicans are not anti-gay, the party is still the undeniable home for most haters and homophobes. Whether it is placing anti-marriage measures on the ballot, the Southern Strategy that fanned the flames of racial dissension or igniting fear of immigrants, the GOP has long pandered to bigots and theocrats and still considers them important constituencies. Fear is the commodity in which the Republican Party profits and until they are soundly crushed, they will win elections on the backs of GLBT families.
For those that say we must be loyal to supportive Republicans, I must question how loyal these officials are to us. These "friendly" candidates get our checks as we put out our necks for their reelection. Our reward for such allegiance is the continued reign of Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate majority Leader Bill Frist. I'm no salesman, but this doesn't sound like a good deal.
Republican members of Congress in Blue states ought to be strongly urged to become Democrats or at least Independents if they want the support of GLBT organizations. Environmental and Pro-Choice groups ought to take the same principled stand, unless they think oil executives setting our energy policy and the ascension of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court have helped their respective causes.
I want to be clear that I still feel that bipartisanship is the best long-term plan. There is no substitute for broad based support that ensures less volatility with each election cycle. However, such a cross-aisle coalition is a fantasy until the GOP becomes a mainstream party that does not prosper by sowing the sulfur seeds of division. When Republicans finally leave the thrall of Neo Puritan preachers, the GLBT community can again responsibly resume bipartisanship.
Moderate Republicans have more to gain than anyone by temporarily abandoning the GOP. The quicker the Pat Robertson/James Dobson crowd is expunged and sent back into the woodwork, the sooner moderates can step-in to reclaim their party.
Indeed, the old saw for bipartisanship was that the crusty old fashioned Congressional members of the GOP just needed to meet gay people and be educated on our issues. Once this occurred, they would abandon their hostility and vote for equality.
Well, guess what? Gay people have been visible now for more than thirty years. These conservatives have had ample opportunity to meet and greet gay lobbyists in their Capitol Hill offices. Yes, they have seen us in our finely tailored suits and geeky bow ties, yet they still cynically tie us to a radical agenda. This can no longer be excused as ignorance, nor explained as anything but malice.
The enlightenment our community had banked on did not occur. The only epiphany GOP leaders had upon hearing our heartfelt personal stories was that they could win elections by demonizing us. They care not how many families are destroyed or how many gay youth commit suicide because of their dehumanizing rhetoric.
Bipartisanship looks good on paper, but the disastrous consequences that have come from this strategy cannot be papered over. If we help give Republicans a slim majority by endorsing and helping to reelect our so-called friends, the reception to our agenda on Capitol Hill will continue to be quite unfriendly.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
by Wayne Besen
After a brutal summer of judicial defeats, the future of gay marriage looks about as healthy as Fidel Castro. The high courts in New York and Washington turned their backs on justice, while the court jesters in Georgia and Nebraska ruled to reinstate constitutional amendments that prohibit gay couples from marrying.
Instead of rallying to revive the patient, however, 250 activists took it upon themselves to pull the plug on equal marriage rights. In a Kevorkian document titled, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage," these activists call on the GLBT community to trade in white wedding gowns for a white flag.
The signatories of the document include notables such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem, crooner Holly Near and gay authors Terrence McNally and Armistead Maupin. There are also advocates such as Mandy Carter of the National Black Justice Coalition and Wendy Curry of BiNet.
The loopy and long-winded manifesto tries to make the impossible case that marriage should lose its special status and become just one option on a buffet table of relationship possibilities. The idea is for our nation's laws to mirror those of Canada. What these activists don't seem to understand is that much of Middle America believes a person is either "married" or "shacking up." The former commands respect and the latter confers ridicule. If you thought convincing Americans that gay people should be allowed to marry was a tough sell, try hawking the idea that marriage no longer has a special place in society.
If a people hold this alternative view, I have no problem if they promote their beliefs and try to convince the American people. It is profoundly unwise, however, for this coalition to pursue this effort under the umbrella of gay rights activism. What this group has done is give fodder to anti-gay zealots eager to show that the GLBT community is working to undermine marriage.
The only mission of gay activists should be to ensure that we have the exact same rights and responsibilities as other Americans. Our advocates should fight for marriage equality, the right to serve in the armed forces and the ability to hold a job without fear of getting fired for being gay. An activist's role is to fight to give gay individuals every choice and option afforded heterosexuals.
Personally, I don't want gay activists telling me that I shouldn't get married any more than I want Rev. Jerry Falwell telling me I can't. But, the moment that our leaders believe they are morally superior and can make these choices for us, they represent just another form of demagoguery.
For example, why is this coalition making universal healthcare a gay issue? While I personally support this worthy goal, many gay people I know find this anathema to their values and politics. If these activists want to fight for universal healthcare, join a group that fights on behalf of this issue. However, please don't impose your values and say that to be gay, one must support such a controversial political goal.
In an article in the Washington Blade, one of the manifesto's authors, Kenyon Farrow, has apparently decided for us that we should be focusing on other issues.
"People of color, women and trans people don't have the luxury of just being gay," Farrow said. "We have to look at the totality of our lives and make decisions about the total impact of our lives. Marriage will not be the thing that saves our lives."
While I deeply respect Farrow's work, I have to fervently disagree. Gay people are still getting bashed because they are seen as less than human and some homosexuals continue to have unsafe sex because they do not value their lives. This is often a direct result of living in a homophobic society that promotes discrimination and sends the unmistakable message that GLBT people are inferior. Nothing would undermine this ugly stigma more than winning equal marriage rights that would elevate our loving relationships to the same plane as heterosexual unions.
To illustrate this point, look at the intensity in which the right wing fights marriage, military service and ordination of gay bishops. Our opponents know that the key to holding us down is to officially deny our families the freedom to marry, forbid us from the ultimate expression of patriotism and isolate us from our houses of worship. It is a shame that the signers of this document are unintentionally aiding attempts to separate us from mainstream institutions that are considered the pillars of our society.
The GLBT movement can either battle for equality or we can fight for the utopian pipe dream of turning Kansas into Canada. However, we don't have the political power or popular support to pursue both goals. In my view, it makes more sense to wed our movement to the tangible idea of achieving basic legal rights, including marriage.