Tuesday, July 29, 2008
by Wayne Besen
(Weekly Column)(Jim Adkisson, Conservative Frankenstein, Left)
This week, I attended the Commercial Closet's Images In Advertising Awards in Manhattan, which honored corporations that produced gay affirming ads. The pro-gay plugs showed genuine progress and highlighted that many leading companies "get it." The work of Commercial Closet
is vital because images matter and repeated exposure to messages shape our views and create positive change in society. The cleverness and creativity in these ads imparts to millions of people that homosexuality is nothing to be feared and that GLBT people are part of the human family.
The awards ceremony was a welcome respite from reality, where there is no shortage of reminders that the world is still a very dangerous place. In Knoxville, Tennessee
, a homophobic loser burst into a Unitarian Church where a children's play was being performed and unleashed a fusillade of gunfire, killing two people and injuring six. According to police, Jim D. Adkisson, "had targeted the church because of its liberal leanings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country."
The New York Times reports that the killer was raised in strict a Christian home and was openly anti-gay. He may have targeted this particular church because his former wife - who he had threatened to shoot and then commit suicide - had occasionally attended. He may also have been agitated by the church's affirming stand on GLBT equality.
The far right's dirty little secret is that they depend on the threat of violence to retard the advancement of the GLBT movement. Without the fear of physical attack, the number of people who are out of the closet would quickly multiply. Gay couples would hold hands in every city in the nation. On each block, from San Francisco to San Antonio, gay and lesbian people would be visibly present.
Each day, all but the bravest GLBT people make subtle or even significant adjustments to remain safe. Some dress a little blander in order to blend in. A number of gay men talk a bit deeper so they won't arouse suspicion. Some lesbians apply make up so they won't get beaten up. And, most loving couples act like buddies so they won't get bashed.
We tell ourselves comforting lies, such as "we don't like public displays of affection," to justify pushing a partner's hand away at a romantic moment. But, the reality is, even the most confident and brave among us have something to fear.
Of course, the overwhelming majority of people are not violent and a significant minority of Americans fervently supports GLBT people. What the right wing realizes, however, is it only takes a small number of twisted fanatics to keep GLBT people in check. We rarely know who these lunatics are, as they often keep their hate closeted. But, each gay person knows these hidden ticking time bombs exist and could go off at any moment -- shattering our lives.
When Focus on the Family's James Dobson says that giving gay people the freedom to marry will "destroy the earth" he is encouraging hate crimes. When Oklahoma state legislator Sally Kern
says that homosexuality is the "death knell of this country," she is promoting gay bashing. When Elaine Donnelly told a congressional committee that lifting Don't Ask/Don't Tell would let lesbians take pictures of people in the shower she was setting the stage for violence. When Ann Coulter authors, "How to Talk To a Liberal (If You Must)," people like Jim Adkisson may be influenced.
What I find hypocritical is that the Religious Right will take any image it deems gay and claim it "promotes homosexuality." This even extends to fictional characters such as Tinky Winky and Sponge Bob Square Pants. Yet, these same oversensitive preachers refuse to acknowledge that their mean-spirited sermons might lead to violence.
The extreme right fuels anti-gay ugliness, but it is pervasive all around us. As we applauded the winners of the Commercial Closet awards, two ads that subtract from the dignity of gay people were on the minds of those in attendance. The first was a Nike ad
where a basketball star leapt over a defender who had the dunker's scrotum in his face. The headline was "That Ain't Right."
In a second ad for Snickers
, a swishy speed walker is attacked by a machine gun wielding Mr. T in a truck who demands the walker "run like a real man." He fires on the guy until he "corrects" his running style. Thanks to The Human Rights Campaign and the willingness of these companies, both ads were pulled.
We live in a society filled with violently homophobic messages and images, yet the perpetrators -- both religious and secular -- feign innocence and say they can't imagine how anti-gay hate crimes occur.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
by Wayne Besen
Sporting a fog machine for its smoke and mirrors routine and an extravagant stage that would make The Rolling Stones blush, the "ex-gay" group Exodus International held its glitzy annual conference in Asheville, North Carolina. I was in town all week to partner with regional and state organizations to oppose the meeting and its dizzying array of distortions.
A dark cloud hovered over the Exodus event, with violent hate crimes unsettling the local GLBT community. At the very moment ex-gay televangelists were railing against homosexuals in the foothills, news broke of an 18-year old boy in Anderson, South Carolina whose father, "yelled, cursed, swung a baseball bat, prayed and tried to cast the demon of homosexuality out of him."
In nearby Greenville, South Carolina, Stephen Moller, an anti-gay thug who murdered 20-year-old Sean William Kennedy outside a gay bar, just learned that he would spend approximately 10 months in jail for his ferocious crime. In this gross miscarriage of justice, the message was sent that murdering gay people was tacitly acceptable, if not encouraged. While in town, I spoke to Sean's grieving mother, Elke Kennedy, who rightfully called the sentence, "a joke and a slap on the wrist." Meanwhile, on the opening day of the Exodus conference, an anti-bullying bill was stalled in the North Carolina legislature.
Into this backdrop of brutality stepped the ex-gay activists Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas, who were determined to show the progressive residents of Asheville that Exodus did not stigmatize gay and lesbian people. Unfortunately, they kept tripping over reality and revealing the true nature of their duplicitous, deceptive and depraved ministry.
For a week, western North Carolinians were dazzled with disingenuousness. The audacity of the lies was breathtaking and the sheer nerve was mind numbing. By the end of the conference, everyone who had paid attention learned that Exodus leaders are shameless charlatans who lack even a modicum of morality.
For example, Thomas tried to distance Exodus from the controversial practice of "reparative therapy," telling the Asheville Citizen-Times, "We get lumped into the groups that do reparative therapy, when it's just not true."
To put it kindly, Thomas sees the truth as a political pinwheel that he can spin in his efforts to win. I personally visited the Exodus conference (before I was evicted) and found that they were selling several books that taught "reparative therapy" including one from Dr. Joseph Nicolosi who invented the term.
In yet another instance of insincerity, on a local radio talk show Thomas feigned compassion for people living with HIV and AIDS. What "good guy" Thomas failed to tell listeners was that Exodus addresses AIDS on its website by saying that, "In today's society, homosexuality is reaping a bitter harvest...Homosexual involvement reaps deep devastation in the lives of many who practice it." That Thomas runs away from such judgmental words when speaking to more liberal audiences shows what a phony he truly is.
(Hear Wayne Besen on "Take a Stand" the day before Thomas)
The double-talk and dissembling continued when Alan Chambers told the Citizen-Times that Exodus was, "not about fire and brimstone." This, of course, was the same person who wrote in a 2005 newsletter, "One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can." On Sept. 21, 2007, Chambers told a crowd of social conservatives in Florida, "We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by."
With such bombastic broadsides, does one really have to wonder how the violent Andersonville father got the idea that homosexuality was demonic? Or, how the gay bashing hooligan, Stephen Moller, believed he could devalue the life of a gay man?
To underscore this connection, consider Exodus' keynote speaker on Friday, author Andy Comiskey, who wrote a book that Exodus was selling, which calls homosexuality "spiritual disfigurement" and says that "Satan delights in homosexual perversion." Inside of a packed chapel, 700 vulnerable and confused gay people had their souls strip-mined, as Comiskey declared war:
"Wickedness is a reality," said Comiskey on-stage. "And those with same-sex attraction that succumb to the spirit of the age, can become agents of that wickedness...When you claim healing for the homosexual, you have declared war. And people, it is only going to get worse; it is only going to get worse in the changing cultural climate in which we live. Ours is not a benign healing path, it is a call to battle."And, Exodus claims it does not preach fire and brimstone?
Exodus may smile sweetly and tell the mainstream media they love homosexuals. But, judging by the recent hate crimes in the Carolinas combined with the reactionary rhetoric of Exodus, it seems that they are literally "loving" us to death.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
by Wayne Besen
The last few weeks have shown that so-called pro-family organizations are some of the most useless, money-sucking scams in the world. With real families suffering from economic hardship in America, a declining birthrate in Europe and Google doubling the price of daycare for employees, the only thing right wing family groups want to discuss is their bizarre and all-encompassing fagela fetish.
Recently, The Brooklyn Paper, had a huge headline, "SPLITSVILLE: Brooklyn divorces up 30%." The article cited a number of reasons including, "when the economy tanks, so do many marriages."
One would think this would alarm so-called pro-family organizations and they would be out in force repairing marriages -- or at least looking for economic solutions to take the stress off couples. Unfortunately, as I walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood, I saw not one representative from the American Family Association.
Well, I take that back. I did encounter one of the group's representatives on CNN Headline News as we debated a Heinz mayonnaise ad in the United Kingdom that featured two men kissing. I'm sure the children of these broken marriages in Brooklyn will feel much better knowing Heinz pulled the ad and they can have gay-free mayonnaise at both mommy and daddy's separate houses.
A new study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University showed that in 2006, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of births to women under 30 -- 50.4 percent -- were out of wedlock. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert points out that, "By comparison, when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, just 6 percent of all births were to unmarried women under 30.
One imagines that this report might have startled "pro-family" organizations and they would have put their millions of dollars towards stopping this trend. No such luck. Instead, they are investing huge piles of money and manpower to pass anti-gay marriage amendments in Florida, Arizona and California. The upshot for "pro-family" groups is that if heterosexuals keep screwing up marriage, by the time gay people finally win the right nationally, we won't want to use it.
"Evangelicals of the older generation have become obsessed in almost a technical psychological sense in opposing gay rights," David Weddle, a professor of religion at Colorado College told the Colorado Springs Gazette
. "The irony is that homosexuality is not a biblical theme."
Right wing organizations and their flocks want to be taken seriously, but their priorities and actions are reprehensible. For example, a middle school teacher was fired in Mount Vernon, Ohio last month after preaching in the classroom, refusing to remove his Bible and burning crosses
onto the arms of pupils. You read that correctly -- he seared crosses on the body parts of impressionable students, as if it were a gang ritual.
Surely, reasonable people can agree that such behavior is inappropriate in the classroom. But, oh no, some of the yahoos in Mount Vernon believe their religion places them above the Constitution - so they are holding demonstrations in the town square. I wonder if these zealots would have the same reaction if a teacher were burning a Stars of David or Muslim crescents on the forearms of students?
A recent New York Times magazine article, "Childless Europe," explored why certain countries in Europe are losing population. The hopelessly out of touch Pope Benedict chimed in with his typically sunny advice. "Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future," the Pontiff said. "Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present."
Instead of selfishness, as the Pope implied, it was the traditional values of the Pope that contributed to the problem. In societies that either offered a safety net or where men shared the burdens of child rearing, women were having more babies. However, when educated women were stuck at home and forced to do all the work - such as in Italy - they chose to have less children. Will the Pope now call on men to help out more at home or for countries to ensure daycare for families?
Finally, the Wall Street Wonder, Google, plans to raise the amount
it charged for in-house day care by 75 percent. Under the revised plan, parents with two children in Google day care could see their yearly bill increase to more than $57,000 from around $33,000. This crushing blow to the family drove a few employees to tears.
Was the American Family Association in Silicon Valley raising hell and standing up for families? No, they ignored grimacing parents, so they could punish Ronald and Grimace by launching a boycott against McDonald's for supposedly having a gay agenda. Maybe the delusional scolds at the AFA thought they saw rainbow color fries, in much the same way they once accused the cartoon character Mighty Mouse of snorting cocaine.
Right wing organizations can be considered many things - but certainly not advocates for the family. They inhale money, exhale anti-gay pollution and have done absolutely nothing for the traditional families they claim to represent. It seems the more such groups proliferate, the more the family deteriorates.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
by Wayne Besen
For a brief moment, it looked as if the GLBT community might escape gratuitous gay baiting in the 2008 presidential campaign. Unlike the past few election cycles where the strategy was to secure the base at all costs, McCain and Obama were vigorously vying for moderate and Independent swing voters.
The pro-gay Obama was competing in all 50 states - thus tailoring his general election message to the skeptical rather than the converted. McCain, for his part, appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show and pointedly refused to exploit marriage as a wedge issue in California.
The dream scenario playing out was almost too good to be true. If Obama won with a firmly Democratic Congress in place, it would likely lead to the advancement of GLBT issues on Capitol Hill. If McCain emerged as the victor without pandering to the Religious Right, he would be free to pursue a moderate agenda and not be beholden to extremists. It is doubtful that this would lead to any advancement on GLBT equality, but it would set the GOP on a more moderate course and curtail their anti-gay obsession.
The beauty of this situation was that for the first time in memory, GLBT people were not forced to put all of their eggs in one basket and play feast or famine politics. I'm certainly not saying the records of the two men are equivalent. Obama is an all you can eat buffet, compared to McCain, a stingy one-course dish with a soggy side of greens. Still, this would have been a superior situation to a Republican nominee getting elected on the backs of gay and lesbian people.
Unfortunately, McCain made a strategic decision last week that he could not win without securing the party's right wing base. My guess is that the campaign's internal polling suggested that Obama - aided by his bloated bank account - was winning too many Independents, so McCain had no choice but to make peace with social conservatives.
Leaders from the Religious Right were reinforcing this reality by making it clear that if McCain did not grovel, they wouldnâ€™t help get out the vote.
"We told him that if he didn't come out and share his pro-family stances on these issues, then he can kiss Ohio goodbye," said influential anti-gay Ohio activist Phil Burress, according to the Los Angeles Times.
With his divisive new strategy in place, McCain met with prominent social conservatives in Ohio and all but licked their boots. At the meeting, he announced his support for an initiative in California to ban same-sex marriage. In his speech he said that Californians ought to "recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions." (Despite McCainâ€™s anti-gay campaigning, the Arizona amendment failed)
McCain's efforts seemed to work and suggest there is time to rally the right to his side.
"It was obvious there were a lot of changed hearts in the room," said Burress. "We realized that he's with us on the majority of the issues we care about."
McCain also said that he hoped to meet with James Dobson, the virulently anti-gay leader of Focus on the Family. Dobson has said he would not vote for McCain and claimed that neither candidate gives "a hoot about the family."
To convert a skeptical Dobson, McCain would have to make extraordinary promises and essentially sell his soul. Such a move would signal that McCain has dropped all pretenses of appealing to mainstream Americans and that his campaign has decided to follow the Karl Rove playbook of using red meat to create red states. This incipient strategy is depressing and ends hope of a classy campaign that could have united Americans.
Obama, for his part, is going after religious voters who are dissatisfied with McCain. He met last month with Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and endorsed a sweeping faith based initiative
In my view, the faith-based initiative is a nightmare in practice, if not principle. These programs are useless, a waste of taxpayer money and are nothing more than pork barrel prayer and thinly disguised preacher payoffs. The Obama campaign should lose voters over this stunt, but it won't, as McCain's flirtation with the fringe no longer leaves him as a viable option.
This past week will be remembered for McCain abandoning his efforts to win GLBT votes, but it will also mark the moment the GLBT community lost much of its leverage over the Obama campaign. The only way Obama could now lose significant GLBT support is by selecting an anti-gay Vice Presidential candidate, such as Sam Nunn.
A presidential race with the religious right on the sidelines was fun while it lasted, but too good to be true. Now, comes the ugly phase of the campaign, where the GOP lies about our lives and our families become fodder to rile up conservatives in an effort to save John McCain's sluggish campaign.