Tuesday, March 31, 2009
by Wayne Besen
This week, I joined San Francisco organizer Michael Petrelis
and Box Turtle Bulletin editor Jim Burroway
in launching an international boycott against Jamaica (www.boycottJamaica.org
). While the island appears laid back, gays are under attack
Forget business as usual. Instead, we should stop doing business with a country that is proud of its persecution against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Our goal is to turn Jamaica into a pariah state, as long as GLBT people live in a state of terror. This means no more subsidizing the anti-gay slaughter by drinking Myers Rum and Red Stripe Beer. It requires skipping that Carnival Cruise to Jamaica -- so your money won't support murder.
If Jamaica were anymore homophobic, it would change the name of its signature music
, reggae, to "ray-straight." The national song would be, "Wasting the Gays Again in Murderitaville."
Why boycott? Because Jamaica is on a downward spiral and suffers from collective cultural dementia on this issue. There is clearly a pathological panic and homo-hysteria that has infected this nation at its core. Consider that the Jamaica Cancer Society has raised concerns that the fear of being labeled gay
is causing some Jamaican men to avoid prostate examinations, causing one of the highest prostate cancer rates in the world.
The second reason to boycott is because traditional activism has failed. I first read about Jamaica's horrific violence against gay people in a 2004 New York Times editorial, "Hated to Death in Jamaica."
In 2006, Time Magazine had an article about the island headlined, "The Most Homophobic Place On Earth."
One would think that such chilling headlines would have spurred worldwide action against Jamaica. Instead, the climate has only deteriorated, with a 2008 New York Times article
titled, "Attacks Show Easygoing Jamaica Is Dire Place for Gays."
A scathing State Department report on Jamaica's treatment of homosexuals reads like a horror novel:
"The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of homosexuals."
Questioned by the BBC, Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding said
that he would not allow gay people to serve in his Cabinet. In March 2009 he added, "We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organizations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or groups of countries, to liberalize the laws as it relates to buggery."
A third reason for a boycott is because we can have an impact in Jamaica. The tropical island earned $2.1 billion from tourism in 2006, with 1,025,000 arrivals from the United States. Clearly, Jamaica is uniquely vulnerable to economic pressure and thus every effort should be made to push for change.
A fourth reason to boycott is that a message needs to be sent throughout the world: "Gay people will no longer sit by passively while our people are brutalized and killed."
If we do not stop the hate in the one place we can - Jamaica - it will continue to be open season against gays across the world. There must be consequences for state sanctioned gay bashing. Such countries will not change on their own -- so economic carrots and sticks must be applied.
The current, failed strategy is "treadmill diplomacy", where we send off a few letters to embassies and hope things will magically improve. It may feel like we are advancing, but we are really, at best, running in place. This explains why the news headlines about Jamaica's treatment of gay people in 2004, look remarkably like the terrifying ones in 2009. The choice is ours, we can be meek in the face of madness - or we can take action.
Finally, Jamaica is an island of self-righteous hypocrites. The Bible is used to rationalize brutality, and vigilante violence is justified with talk of virtues and values. But, the island is quite comfortable with ganja and gratuitous sex for heterosexuals. Jamaica's new motto should be, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (Unless you're gay).
If you are a bar owner, please take Jamaican products out of your establishment. Consider a "rum dump"
, where Myers' rum is poured down the sewer. If you care about gay people, tell everyone you know about the dismal human rights record of Jamaica. And, if a friend has booked a trip -- express your disapproval and send him or her accurate information.
It is truly a crime if you spend another dime in this homophobic hellhole
. If you have gay family members, neighbors, coworkers or friends, book a holiday where it is okay to be gay.
As for Jamaica, don't play, don't pay, don't stay.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
by Wayne Besen
George W. Bush longed to escape his daddy's shadow, while Barack Obama has turned to shadowy preachers in his long search for a father figure. His filial approach to faith began with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and has now taken a sharp turn right.
The New York Times reports that the president has surrounded himself with a cadre of clerical crackpots known as the "Circle of Five".
These holy men are: Rev. Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition; anti-gay Bishop T.D. Jakes; the "ex-gay" loving Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell; and Jim "waffling" Wallis, a protean progressive. The only Obama shaman who isn't shameless is the civil rights era preacher Rev. Otis Moss Jr.
Rev. Jakes refers to homosexuality as "brokenness" and has claimed that he wouldn't hire a sexually active gay person. But it seems T.D. can't even keep his own son off the D.L. (down low). His "sexually broken" heir was arrested earlier this year
for cruising a Dallas Park in search of gay men.
Wallis, the chief executive of Sojourners, a Christian magazine, holds "traditional" views on homosexuality and abortion, according to the Times article. Although Wallis has taken some affirmative steps on GLBT equality, he prides himself on not being a part of "the religious left."
Rev. Caldwell has endorsed Metanoia, an ex-gay ministry designed to "help homosexuals understand with God's help that 'change [is] possible." When the GLBT community worked to elect Obama, this is not what we thought he meant when he promised "change."
"Whoa, OK, so let's assume [the Obama Administration decides to release] a mealy mouthed message like 'the President does not believe in ex-gay therapy' or some such nonsense," wrote blogger Pam Spaulding
. "If he doesn't, then what is he doing talking to Caldwell when there are plenty of other prominent pastors he could choose to break bread with who don't subscribe to that view?"
We must also remember that during his campaign, Obama tapped "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to croon at a concert tour in South Carolina. And, this insult was compounded by the injury of selecting Rev. Rick Warren to give the Inauguration invocation.
I can live with Obama's poor Sunday choices if on Monday he hears our voices and passes landmark gay civil rights legislation. Still, it is disconcerting that such a cool and rational leader keeps returning to the theological armpit to fill his pulpit. Will spending time in the biblical backwater influence Obama's views and lead him to sell us down the river?
By embracing these conservative clerics, Obama is also setting a wretched example overseas. Last month, the State Department released a report
to Congress that documents "an unfortunate crisis in human rights abuse directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide." Much of this violence was the result of brutal religious oppression. Yet, Obama pals around with reprehensible reverends, thus undermining his own administration's call for moderate religious leadership abroad.
The Pope, who takes his road show to Africa this week, could have used Obama's absent leadership. In Nigeria, for example, lawmakers are debating a draconian law that would imprison gay people for living together. It encourages violent witch-hunts by requiring Nigerians to turn in their gay neighbors. Those who don't rat out gays could be jailed for up to five years.
The BBC reports
that during a debate on this unconscionable legislation, Rev. Patrick Alumake told the National Assembly that the top leaders of the Catholic Church in Nigeria supported the measure.
"There are wild, weird ways of life that are affecting our own culture very negatively, we have people who either by way of the media or traveling around the world have allowed new ideas which are harmful to our nation and our belief," said Alumake.
Catholicism is also the largest religion in Uganda. There, the penalty for homosexuality is life in prison. Last week, American anti-gay leaders held a conference in Kampala
, the Ugandan capital, where a local group leader pledged to "wipe out" homosexuality.
If he chose, the Pope could have a significant impact this week by urging African Catholics to stop persecuting homosexuals. But, we know this won't happen. After all, we are talking about a Vatican that dispatched its minions to Albany, New York last week to fight against a bill
to temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children. If the Pope won't protect innocent youths, he certainly won't lift a gold ringed finger to save the lives of people he considers "objectively disordered."
While there will be no moral leadership from this Pontiff, we expect Obama to understand that his clerical choices do matter. It is time Obama stops searching for Daddy and becomes the man of the (White) house, by picking preachers who are not at irreconcilable odds with his human rights policies.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
by Wayne Besen
In pandering to the fanatical and the fearful -- both religion and Republicanism may have compromised their future.
First, the Republican Party seems in an awfully big rush to implode with Rush Limbaugh as its mercurial mouthpiece. The GOP's other savior, Michael Steele, is just a big mouth who seems more suited to Limbaughâ€™s talk show gig than chairman of the Party. The GOP's first African American leader, Steele, promised a "hip hop makeover" that would attract even "one armed midgets." It is Steele, however, who is the incredibly shrinking chairman, with his promised "Big Tent" turning into a circus act.
This carnival of "conservatives" has led the once-mighty Republican Party to O.J. Simpson-like popularity levels. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this past week put Republican approval at just 26 percent, compared to Barack Obama's 68 percent.
The state of the modern GOP was best captured on CNN's D.L. Hughley Show, when the host interviewed Frank Schaeffer. A former member of the Religious Right and author of Crazy For God, Schaeffer said the GOP had created a "hard-assed neo fascist kind of direction in America."
He went on to say, "The Republican base is now made up of religious and neoconservative ideologues and the uneducated white underclass with a token person of color up in front of the TV to obscure the all-white, all reactionary, all backward, and there is no global warming, rube reality."
The Republicans Schaefer is referring to have lately come out of the woodwork in Utah, where State Sen. Chris Buttars called GLBT advocates, "the meanest buggers". A right wing organization, America Forever, placed full-page ads in the Salt Lake dailies comparing gay men and lesbians to "druggies" and "hookers." Of course, Utah Republicans might know about these things. A new study
reveals that the conservative state leads the nation with 5.47 Internet pornography subscribers per thousand.
Similar to the Republican Party, religious organizations have catered to the crazies for far too long. The "ex-gay" organization, Exodus International, is a perfect example. It travels the world to proclaim its "love" for homosexuals. Yet, a Board member, Don Schmierer, spoke at a Ugandan conference that pledged to "wipe out" gay practices. Schmierer joined Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively to urge Uganda to continue its persecution of gay people, including life prison sentences for the "crime" of homosexuality.
Last week, the Vatican defended the excommunication of a 9-year old Brazilian girl's mother and doctors, who helped abort the pregnant child's twins. The procedure was recommended because delivering these babies might have killed the 80-pound girl. The local Archbishop, Jose Cardosa Sobrinho, justified this despicable decision by saying, "God's law is above any human law."
Such transparently vindictive versions of "love" is why Christianity has lost followers in Europe and is now draining them in the United States. A new survey
by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. documents that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990. Fifteen percent of Americans now say they have no religion at all.
It may be that socially conservative churches and their anti-gay pastors are directly responsible for much of the erosion of Christianity. Sure, their mega-churches may be growing. But, for every new person they attract, they likely turn off ten others to all religion with their vituperative sermons.
Focus on the Family's "ex-gay" road show, Love Won Out, is a perfect example of how the radicals are ruining the image of Christianity. The conference may lure a few self-loathing dupes who briefly claim they have "prayed away the gay." But, for every temporary convert (It rarely, if ever, lasts a lifetime) they turn off thousands of gay people to all religious belief. How does Focus on the Family justify this as a "win"?
Even as the Religious Right rapidly contracts, conservatives are foolishly demanding that Republicans veer further right. Come to think of it, Rush Limbaugh may be the perfect leader for a party intent on alienating the majority while talking endlessly and aimlessly to itself.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
by Wayne Besen
Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced a bill this week
to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell
, a law that prohibits gay and lesbian military personnel from serving openly.
While this is welcome news, there is no guarantee of a "welcome mat" for gay and lesbian soldiers if the ban is lifted. In the years since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was adopted in 1993, there has been a rigorous effort to force religion into the barracks. Fundamentalist Christian groups have infiltrated some of our leading military bases and have made life uncomfortable for anyone who does not conform.
This first came to light in 2005 after the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs had become a bastion of Anti-Semitism and Christian proselytizing. The problem escalated as some cadets were reportedly harassed and called "filthy Jews." A chaplain who complained about the Biblical abuse was unceremoniously demoted and shipped off to Japan. To stop the attempted conversions, the military brass had to meet with the Anti-Defamation League.
Sadly, the proselytizing continues with powerful military leaders behaving more like missionaries, than soldiers entrusted with fulfilling military missions.
"Why is it acceptable that soldiers are unable to serve this nation without attending state-led religious practices they find offensive and false?" Specialist Dustin Chalker, an army medic based at Fort Detrick, in Maryland, asked in The New York Times.The Times article
said that many service members are made uncomfortable by the outsized influence of private groups, such as Officers Christian Fellowship and the Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry.
"You can't and shouldn't eliminate the spiritual component in the military," argued Bruce Fister, Executive Director of Officers' Christian Fellowship, in the Times.
Excuse me, why is there a "spiritual component" in a pluralistic military whose goal is to safeguard a people governed by the United States Constitution? The very document that they are entrusted with protecting forbids a state religion.
The fact is, a service member can pray anytime he or she desires. Within a ten mile radius of almost any base is a plethora of evangelical or fundamentalist churches to choose from. Thus, no one will be denied their freedom of religion if the presence of these predatory organizations is expunged from military bases. It is time to drain the swamp.
Of course, we all know the purpose of these groups is to turn religion from a private, individual matter into a coercive team sport. "Team Jesus" is a better instrument to pressure cadets into converting -- especially if it offers ambitious soldiers a competitive advantage to rise through the ranks. (At the Air Force Academy in 2005, the football coach actually did post a locker room banner that read, "Team Jesus.")
It is also problematic that a group with the name "Crusade" is allowed anywhere near our military. In case these religious renegades haven't noticed, we are fighting two wars in the Muslim world. The very word "crusade" is a potent rallying cry for Al Qaeda to recruit terrorists to murder U.S. forces. A group with a name like Campus Crusade sends the wrong message and may endanger our troops.
Finally, religion does not always equate with moral superiority. I wouldn't doubt if the porn lobby is secretly cheering for mass conversions on military bases. A new nationwide study
of credit card receipts from a major online adult entertainment provider shows that states that consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption.
"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," said Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business School.
As we contemplate the battle over
allowing openly gay people in the military, we should also consider what type of military they would serve in. As a nation, we must ensure that the military's number one priority is preparing for war, not worship. If we don't grapple with this issue, Don't Ask, Don't Tell may become, Do Tell, Live In Hell for gay and lesbian service members brave enough to come out.