Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

Asking for gifts we really need from those we really love
Beating Herself Up
Disobedience and the Marriage Movement
Displaying Justice Roy’s Graven Image
Doesn’t Kerry Make a Good Loser?
Don’t Think of an Elephant
Duct Tape and Cover
Eight Lessons from Missouri
The Faithless Business of Funding “Faith Based Initiatives”
The Hazards of Leading Us
How to Wreck a Relationship. Part One of an Occasional Series. The Desperation to Be a Couple
How to Wreck a Relationship: An Occasional Series
How to Wreck a Relationship: Part Three of An Ocassional Series: "The Dangers of Masculinity in a Relationship"
If We Could Just Get Over the Liberal Guilt
It’s About Love, and That’s It! Period!
It's Past Time for this Ex-Gay Business to Get with It
It’s What Bush and John Paul Agree on That’s Abusive
It’s What Straight Men Do to Each Other
It Was the Summer of...
Just as Good Isn't Good Enough
Liberal Religion Peers Out of the Closet
The Love of Friendship
A Meditation on Addictive Religion
'The Passion' of the Culture Wars
Sodomy Ban Should Have Ended Sooner
Still About "Manhood"
The Value of LGBT Consumers
What about Motherhood?

Whatever Happened to Capitalism?
What Have We Been Doing to Our Children?
What's Tradition For?
When Religion is an Addiction

When Religion is an Addiction

I remember hearing popular psychological speaker and writer John Bradshaw say that the “high” one gets from being righteous was similar to the high of cocaine. As both a former monk and addict, he knew the feelings personally.

As the religious right pushes its anti-gay, anti-women’s reproductive rights, anti-science, pro-profit agenda nationally and in state capitals across the nation and wins, that high is a sweet fix for the addicted. It gives them a comforting feeling of relief that they’re really right, okay, worthwhile, and acceptable.

Like all fixes, though, it doesn’t last. So, the addict is driven to seek another and another ­ another issue, another evil, another paranoiac threat to defeat. It can’t ever end. Like the need for heavier doses, the causes have to become bigger and more evil in the addict’s mind to provide the fix.

This mind-altering fix of righteousness covers their paranoid shame-based feelings about the internal and external dangerous stalking them. The victim-role language of their dealers, right-wing religious leaders, feeds it. Like alcoholism and drug addiction, the fix numbs the religious addict against any feelings about how their addiction affects others.

Religion doesn’t have to be this way; it can be healing. But what we see in the dominant religious/political right-wing fundamentalism that’s driving the debate on most conservative issues (political, social, economic, international) is anything but healthy. It’s what addiction specialists call a process addiction, like sex or romance addiction, or workaholism. In an addictive society, such addictions are encouraged.

Like substance addictions, it takes over, dominates life, pushes other issues to the background, tells them how and what to feel to prevent them from facing their real feelings about themselves and life, creates a mythology about the world, protects its “stash,” and supports their denial that they have a problem. Addiction specialist Anne Wilson Schaef would say, like all addictions, religious addiction is progressive and fatal.

If you’re outside the addiction, you’ve probably wondered about what’s going on, what’s the dynamic that’s driving the right-wing religious agenda that looks so hateful and destructive. Why is it so hard to crack? Why won’t evidence or logic work?

If you’re an enabler or the addict yourself, the above must sound over the top. You’d prefer to deny or soften the reality of the addiction.

Yet, if we’re going to think clearly about the right-wing juggernaut’s use of religion, and not function as its enablers, we must realize that we’re dealing with an addict. Right-wing political-religious fundamentalism can destroy us too if we’re like the dependent spouse who protects, defends, and covers-up for the family drunk.

So, what can we do to protect ourselves, maintain our sanity, promote a healthy alternative, and confront religious addiction? What’s the closest thing to an intervention when we’re dealing with the advanced, destructive form of religious addiction that’s become culturally dominant?

It takes massive inner strength and a good self-concept. There’s no place for codependency and the need to be liked or affirmed by the person with the addiction. ALANON knows that. It requires clarity of purpose, freedom from the need to fix the addict, and doing what maintains one’s own health and safety.

Addicts reinforce each other. Fundamentalist religious organizations and media are their supportive co-users. So the person who deals with someone’s addiction cannot do it alone. They must have support from others outside the addiction.

You can’t argue with an addict. Arguing religion to one so addicted plays into the addictive game. Arguing about the Bible or tradition is like arguing with the alcoholic about whether whiskey or tequila is better for them. It’s useless and affirms the addiction.

You can’t buy into the addict’s view of reality. Addicts cover their addiction with a mythology about the world and with language that mystifies. This means we must never use their language. Never say, even to reject it or with “so-called” before it: “partial-birth abortion,” “gay rights,” “intelligent design,” “gay marriage,” etc. Speak clearly in terms of what you believe it really is. Say “a seldom used late-term procedure,” “equal rights for all,” “creationist ideology,” “marriage equality.”

Don’t let the addict get you off topic. Addicts love to confuse the issues, get you talking about things that don’t challenge their problem. When you do, you further the addiction.

Never argue about whether sexual orientation is a choice. It doesn’t matter.

Never argue about sex. Our country is too sick to deal with its sexual problems.

It’s okay to affirm that you don’t care or these aren’t the issues. You don’t need to justify your beliefs to a drunk or druggie.

Get your message on target and repeat it. Get support for your message from others so that they’re on the same page. Make it short, simple, to the point, and consistent.

Don’t nag addicts. Don’t speak belligerently or as if you have to defend yourself. Just say: The government and other people have no right to tell someone whom to love.

Don’t accept that the addiction needs equal time. Stop debating as if there are two sides. Get over any guilt about a free country requiring you to make space for addictive arguments. You don’t have to act as if here are “two sides” to the debate. Addicts and their dealers already have the power of the addiction and addictive communities behind their messages.

Model what it is to be a healthy human being without the addiction. Addicts must see people living outside the addiction, happy, confident, proud, and free from the effects of the disease. In spite of the fact that we’re a nation that supports both substance and process addictions so people don’t threaten the institutions and values that pursue profits over humanity, live as if that has no ultimate control over you.

Don’t believe that you, your friends, children, relationships, hopes, and dreams, are any less valuable or legitimate because they aren’t sanctioned by a government, politicians, or religious leaders that are in a coping, rather than healing, mode of life.

Dealing with addictions takes an emotional toll on everyone. Yet, recognizing religious addiction as an addiction demystifies its dynamics and maintains our sanity.

A Meditation on Addictive Religion

(If you missed last month’s column “When Religion is an Addiction,” click here.)

Take right-wing religion’s teaching that people are basically so evil and lost that they deserve eternal, abusive punishment. Add its effectiveness at convincing people of their innate evil because they’re prepared for it through childrearing methods that punish inherently bad children. Enforce such messages with political leaders whose solution to problems is more punishment. The result: adults’ desperate need for a fix to provide relief from self-denigrating, self-abusive feelings.

That’s what made the high of being righteous so addictive. Now, with the political success of the right-wing, addictive religion found a new fix, the high of winning politically.

Prior to the rise of their political aspirations, huddling together in congregations seemed enough for the addicted. In their meetings and services they could be with those who felt the same misery and heard that there was nothing they could do to be “saved.”

These were not recovery groups, providing support to overcome the addiction. They were more like opium dens.

Their preachers dealt the high. They did nothing to make people feel as if they were, or could in themselves become, worthwhile. In fact, they convinced them they were so evil that they shouldn’t trust their own intuitions, thoughts, and positive feelings about themselves. Trusting yourself was put down as “New Age.

Their preachers and theologians told them they could only be acceptable because another Being really, really, really would accept them in spite of who their evil. If people accepted that notion, it was then okay to feel joy.

They could also feel as if the “lost,” people out there, were the ones with problems, not them. They’d lap up “prophecy,” which would assure them that they’d come out winners in the end and that those who didn’t participate in their addiction would be proven wrong by being “Left Behind.”

As they became more addicted, the fix became more desperate. Services were the gathering together of addicts for another drink, another line. But addictions are progressive, so where would they get even heavier doses?

The movement of the religious right-wing into politics, which most previously rejected as too involved with “the world,” was a new drug, a stronger drink. Righteous political wins for their religious position became the new blessed relief from facing the painful notion that they are, as their hymns reminded them, “wretches,” “worms,” “without [even] one plea,” and “deeply stained within.”

Logically, one would think that believing they’re so evil would cause them to be less judgmental, more sympathetic with others. After all, one can actually find that notion in their Bible. So, in the midst of their righteous wins, they do sometimes talk sympathetically, saying to LGBT people: “We’re all sinners.”

But addictions are not logical, and looking for the logic in them, ALANON members know, is a waste of time. What drives this need for winning is the high. They can’t face what they believe about their rotten selves too long or they just couldn’t handle it ­ it’s bad enough to probably require anti-depressants and hospitalization.

When they win government and electoral approval for their doctrines, those aren’t acts of faith at all. Their trust is not in their Higher Power. It’s in government and the electorate. It’s in the feeling that they have approval of a majority of voters. None of that has to do with “What Would Jesus Do.”

The fix of these wins has become an obsession. It’s meant to convince them they’re right and okay. As a “high” it can never last. They’ll fall back into their feelings of fear and loathing. So they desperately need more approval, more wins. They’ve gotten themselves dependent upon these wins.

The need for a cause to win is the seeking of approval by projecting their evil onto others. Addictions remove the sense of responsibility. It’s never the addict’s fault. Addicts must be convinced they’re right. Feminists, “activist judges,” LGBT people, liberals, atheists, wiccans, whomever, must be understood as the real causes of the addict’s problems.

Sadly, many addicts never come to until they’ve hit bottom and destroyed their lives and the lives of their families and acquaintances. Some go into recovery. There is, after all, a Fundamentalists Anonymous.

So, dealing with the addiction requires saving oneself first, not the addict. It often involves the sadness of watching the addict crash and burn.

Now, it’s going to take awhile for addictive religion to hit bottom. It’s on a new drug and it has mainstream approval.

But does it have our support? Are we the enablers? Are we making excuses for the addict? Are we still trying to find the logic in what they do? Are we wasting time trying to understand their “real” motives and intentions? Are we covering up for the addict?

Are we emotionally unable or unwilling to speak truth to the addict, saying the addiction is wrong, sick, and destructive? Are we unable to separate from the addiction? Are we unwilling to join the equivalent of support groups like ALANON or form Mothers Against Abusive Religion?

Do we have a positive enough self-image to refuse to be abused by others who won’t face the addiction -- such as politicians who treat us like crazy but rich relatives whom they come to for support but hide in the closet when peeople want to know who those relatives are? Are we willing to face the fact that we’ll still be affected by the addiction and, therefore, have to live our lives in the light of that fact, that we have to protect ourselves and our safety? Are we able to say that they, not we, are the problem?

Once we’ve named an addiction, it’s our choice how we live with an addict. It’s our choice about whether we seek an addict’s love and support. And it’s our choice, knowing that addictions are hard to overcome, whether we’re in it for the long haul because, in the end, we want to stop addictions from hurting everyone.

How to Wreck a Relationship: Part Three of An Ocassional Series: "The Dangers of Masculinity in a Relationship"

It’s not that men are somehow inherently incapable of loving, emotional, committed relationships. Men are human beings born complete with a full range of human emotions, needs, nurturing abilities, and characteristics. (I know this seems to be a radical statement for many people in our culture.)

It just takes a lot of emotional and societal conditioning to turn little boys into those “real men” who can’t talk about their feelings, fear the loss of those they commit to, over-react in anger, and suffer alone in desperate silences. Cultural patterns of male conditioning teach men at all costs to assume ultimate responsibility for others, armor themselves against other men, and expect others to depend on their stoic, unwavering strength.

Early in life and often, boys are taught that there are crybabies, sissies, sallies, wusses, pussies, and fags who’ll be hurt by other men because they act more like girls than the true men Thoreau described as living “lives of quiet desperation.” It’s just the beat-or-be-beaten boy code that says unless you quickly join the masculine world that puts down non-masculine males and females, you’ll fall victim to other men.

The goal of the training of boys in the US is not to create men who are capable of loving, close, emotionally intimate relationships at all. Its purpose is to turn them into competent warriors. They’re needed as leaders and fodder for a military-industrial-prison-media-complex that demands arms races, wars, insecurity, and bloated Pentagon spending to propel corporate profits and stock values higher and higher. “The strong silent type” idealized by many is the result. He’s the one who looks steeled enough to protect us all. Even his physical presence should look strong, armored, and successful at mastering or beating the system. He’s the one we’re supposed to value as a nation’s president, a corporate leader, a woman’s husband, and a strict, never wrong, morally unflinching father for otherwise helpless children.

If women in our culture aren’t breaking out of their conditioning, which prepares them to function as warrior support personnel, they’ll need men to be this way. If they aren’t learning to take care of their own space, value their own ideas, and secure their own lives, they’ll freak out when a man they’ve bet their lives on to “love and protect” them begins to reject the internalized masculine patterns he’s bet his life on over the years.

Patterned masculinity devalues emotions, even removes men from consciously feeling the emotional spectrum. While men walk around feeling deeply hurt, often afraid, and unsure of the answers to life, they can’t know it or show it.

It’s hard for such a masculinized partner who can’t feel when he’s hurting to understand that something hurts someone else. It’s hard for him to know when something he himself is doing hurts someone else, too. “Really? That hurts you?” is a fully conditioned masculine response.

He’s also supposed to have all the answers, fix all the problems, and be an unwavering pillar of strength against a threatening world. So his very masculine image is on the line when he’s expected to show vulnerability, share his true feelings, describe the demeaning or devaluing day he experienced at work, or even admit that something he’s supposed to do is slowly killing him inside.

Relating to such masculinity is difficult, frustrating, and unhealthy for both the man living it and the partner who seeks an intimate relationship with him. Real intimacy, the kind that shares heart to heart, is an impossible dream. Fully conditioned men only function emotionally from the neck up and the waist down.

Sex becomes the only place to feel anything other than the expected manly anger. Sex again becomes a desperate need for conditioned males. But it doesn’t work. It can’t. Sex is not a replacement for intimacy.

In same-sex male relationships the problem is doubled. Vulnerability is just as difficult. What will he think of me? Doesn’t he want me to be strong too?

Since patterned masculinity, and that includes gay men, is afraid of emotional intimacy, both partners in gay male relationships enforce the fear. Neither man wants to hear about those feelings from his partner because that would trigger his own masculinity issues. And he himself doesn’t want to face, express, or even admit his deepest emotions. It’s better to keep them buried.

It’s not that many gay men don’t express emotions more freely than their straight-acting brothers. Because they’re stereotyped as doing so, the straight world questions the possible masculinity of homosexuality.

At its extreme, there are drama queens who always seem to be indulging their emotions, wearing them on their sleeves if not on their whole outfits. But dramatizing emotions is not being in touch with them either. It’s merely drama. It’s acting, not being.

The drama itself is a coping mechanism, a way not to get to the hurts and feelings. The drama may get attention. It may feel better than therapy, support group confessions, or vulnerable sharing with affirming close friends.

But it’s not healing. It’s just a way of expression that the stereotype of gay men permits. It’s another pattern that most straight-acting men just haven’t embraced. But it’s still a pattern to avoid feeling male hurts.

Add to this the childhood beat or be beaten attitude of patterned masculinity, and the fear of one male partner becoming emotionally vulnerable with another male – or any other type of vulnerability for that matter. What results is an unspeakable fear of abandonment, rejection, ridicule, or humiliation.

Masculinity as defined by our culture, then, is a major hindrance for the kind of close, intimate relationships human beings long for. Rejecting masculinity, however, is a scary notion. Few men do it.

It takes internal work, which is hardly masculine at all. If I do it, the fear says, I’ll never find anyone in the entire galaxy who’ll love me. I’ll be alone forever and ever. So, the desperation for partnership keeps masculinity grinding on.

Keeping it going maintains frustration in relationships. They’re never what they could be and what we so deeply desire: intimate, whole, unconditionally loving, and healing.

What we need, then, is men of courage who are brave enough to face these issues, who decide to reject masculinity, and to explore and feel all the fear, hurt, and confusion that this raises. Those heroes will lead us all out of a wilderness in which we’ve become comfortable, even though we’ve become comfortable far from the promise land we dream of.

Eight Lessons from Missouri

On August 3, the voters of Missouri approved by over 70% a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. More Democrats than Republicans voted.

There’s no way to soften this. This is no time to go into denial. The message was painfully clear: US voters will, without a doubt, enshrine discrimination against gay people in their foundational documents. They’ll do it by an overwhelming margin and feel proud and downright god-like for doing so.

Some may think this is a Missouri or middle-of-America thing. It’s not. People who believe that aren’t paying attention to the American majority.

Put to a vote in any state, same-sex marriage will probably be rejected, even overwhelmingly. Nationally, it would be the same. The Missouri win has emboldened anti-gay forces around the country.

There were some LGBT politicos who thought it would be close. They were hopeful, but out-of-touch. Now, they find it hard to face the fact that people would do this to anyone in this century.

Our nation isn’t ready for this issue. Both major Presidential candidates reject gay marriage, supporting similar amendments, Bush at the federal level and Kerry at the state. No senator in the debate over the Federal Marriage Amendment spoke publicly of their support for same-sex marriage. Those against the amendment argued instead of not enshrining the ban in the Constitution.

Courts and politicians might save some states and the nation from such referenda. After the recent California Supreme Court decision nullifying the over 4,000 same-sex marriages in San Francisco, even there we’re not sure.

There are, however, a number of certainties.

The right-wing will be back no matter how often it loses a battle.

At this time in history, likely voters aren’t on our side. This is the wrong issue and the wrong time to expect better. Neither the voters nor LGBT people are ready to tackle this.

A major flaw of popular democracy is that “tyranny of the majority.” If the majority supports any issue, no matter how awful, it can pass. Adolph Hitler, remember, was popularly elected Chancellor of Germany.

So, what can we learn from Missouri?

First, LGBT organizations fought hard, probably the best fight they knew on this last-minute issue. It’s not that enough effort wasn’t put into it. We could argue for more, but at this time, effort’s not going to do the trick.

Yard signs, phone calls, media ads, outside money, intelligent slogans, and the historically poor turn-out of progressives and gays at elections are no match for the grassroots, get-out-the-vote, scare tactics of fundamentalist churches and others who believe their talk of the fall of civilization, the silly idea that there are millennia of tradition of blissful, one man-one woman marriages, and their Bible-thumping.

Second, money from national organizations didn’t put LGBT issues over the top. The reports that more than $300,000 of outside money was spent against the amendment and less than $10,000 by its supporters, are being spun as the victory of Missouri’s own little, home-grown David against the Goliath of outside, drooling-with-money, gay advocacy organizations.

Giving to local and state-based organizations for the on-going, grassroots advocacy by those who know local causes is more effective when fighting in our own backyards, but less up-scale. National organizations have more glitz and larger budgets to appeal to big givers.

Third this is a steep, uphill fight that’s more intense and long-term than flash-in-the-pan electoral politics that focus on one issue or ballot measure. The right-wing understands that. It began its push toward dominance in 1964 with the mailing list of losing presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

Fourth, to prepare us for this issue we need more than the tactics of responding defensively to the initiatives of the right-wing and more than expecting people to be convinced by rational argument, pleas for common sense equality, or guilt over the US being out of touch with the rest of the world.

It’s a long-term, much slower, less glitzy strategy of broader education that has really just begun. It’s supporting programs that educate about homophobia, LGBT people, and discrimination everywhere, not just in progressive areas. People out there are waiting to learn from someone who cares to come to them.

It’s, fifth, a return to our gay agenda so the right must respond. That means a refocus on, and additional support for, the tough, on-going work of state and local lobbying organizations. It means backing issues that are more important than, and will prepare for, same-sex marriage acceptance. First, every government body should add sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of non-discrimination categories.

In the long run and after one loss after another, our persistence and the right-wing’s need to repeatedly respond to the fact that we keep coming back, will change voters and move us closer to the end of this anti-gay-marriage momentum. Focusing further on gay marriage won’t.

It’s, sixth, demanding more of candidates we support, not begging for the crumbs of minimal recognition. Candidates must embrace our issues and not expect to receive support if they don’t vote for them. This means rejecting endorsement of a candidate who is our least awful alternative. We can vote for the lesser of two evils, but that doesn’t mean they should get our public endorsement.

It’s, seventh, recognizing the connection of LGBT issues to the issues of others who remain unconvinced that we care about anything beyond our group or that we see the connections of LGBT issues to their experiences. We must champion the fight against sexism, white racism, and economic disparity.

It’s, eighth, agreeing to never again critique our leaders without first offering them a hand and speaking with them about our concerns. It’s starting with a belief in them, assuming the best, to counteract our personal insecurities. It’s being thankful that something’s being tried, especially if we haven’t been a part of the attempt.

Long-term change will make the world safe for all LGBT people, and eventually gay marriage.

Will we get there soon? I don’t know. But as the old Rabbi put it: “If you have a dream that can be fulfilled in one lifetime, it’s too small.”

It Was the Summer of...

The summer of... is about to become history. It's seen a whirlwind of pronouncements effecting LGBT people.

When on June 26th the Supreme Court struck down laws banning private gay sex, the justices removed a major legal obstacle cited by anti-gay extremists to deny LGBT people equal rights. The celebration was overdue but short-lived.

The angry losers in the high court judgment ratcheted up the rhetoric, defining the next battles in their culture wars.

On May 15, Republican Representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado sponsored a Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage for all federal, state and local government entities as Only of the union of a man and a woman. Right-wing politicians climbed all over themselves this summer to sign on. 

On June 17, the Southern Baptist Convention had announced that its new initiative would be to convince gay people to reject their Sinful, destructive lifestyle and become heterosexuals just like them. Saying their public face message should be Love the sinner but hate the sin. The largest protestant denomination, founded in 1845 to maintain slavery, continued to preach morality to the rest of us.

It took the SBC 150 years from their founding, safely after it could have made a difference during the civil rights era in the south, to finally come to the conclusion that slavery is wrong. At their 1995 Atlanta meeting, they appeared to apologize, pledging to devote the first ten years of the new millennium to eradicating racism and ethnic conflict. Only 7 more years left and then they're done, I suppose.

Yet, on July 2, conservative retailer Walmart joined more than 300 of the top 500 US companies by adding sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination policy for its 1.1 million employees. 

But the ?residentreed with the SBC anti-gay stance during a post-Supreme Court-decision press conference on July 30. Saying marriage was only for heterosexuals, he assured us that White House lawyers were already working on laws guaranteeing marriage? heterosexuality. He then followed with the apparently humble ?e?e all sinners.eryone knew he too was preaching that gay people are sinners because of their love of the same sex. 

The next day, Barney Frank accused Bush of using the gay marriage issue to divert attention from Bush? failures regarding Iraq, North Korea, Liberia, the deficit, unemployment, and congressional deadlock on prescription drugs. ?ith President Bush? popularity dropping and the serious problems confronting America worsening, the Administration seeks to divert attention by demagoguing on the issue of same-sex unions,e Massachusetts Congressman said.

Simultaneously on July 31, the Republican Policy Committee released a policy paper prepared by Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona entitled "The Threat to Marriage from the Courts." It presents the official Republican strategy for preventing marriage equality, warning that nothing "will stop determined activists and their judicial allies [but] a constitutional amendment."  

Meanwhile, July polls reflected the barrage of negative attention the issue was getting following the Supreme Court decision. A CNN/USA Today poll reported that 48 percent of the respondents agreed that homosexual acts should be legal and 46 percent did not. The news headline was that public approval of homosexual activity was down from a May poll (60% approved, 35% disapproved.)

Two separate July Gallup polls detected the shift against gay rights in those who tended to be conservatives, moderates, and people who attend church. Such blips in polling aren? unusual when an issue attracts attention, and probably less significant in the long run. The long-range picture is reflected in the fact that the polls also showed that people under age 50 are significantly more accepting of gays than their elders.

Up north, on June 18 Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretian, after provincial courts rejected discrimination against same-sex unions, announced his party would draft a law legalizing same-sex marriage. Canadian right-wingers vowed to fight.

On the religious front, on July 4 a leading Thai Buddhist monk, Phra Payom Kalayano, called for more rigorous testing of monastic candidates to screen out homosexual men. Thai leaders, official spokesmen said, are looking into Buddhists laws to eliminate monks with ?exual deviation,claring they ?ause trouble in the temples.

On July 31, the Vatican? Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took time off from dealing with the Church? own on-going, multi-million-dollar-settlements, sexual abuse mess to release a twelve-page edict condemning ?omosexual unionsd anyone who supports them. ?egal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.?o vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral," the document pontificated. 

A week later, the President of Dignity/USA, a national organization of people who are gay and still Catholic, labeled the Vatican? actions ?piritual terrorism, action by ?he elite old-boys-club. Not to be outdone, on August 7, right-wing televangelist Jerry Falwell announced that he was drawing a ?ine in the signd would put aside everything to devote time to passage of the constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Still, on August 4, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, following a vote of approval at its General Convention in Minneapolis, voted to consecrate its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. It did so in spite of a last minute smear campaign by conservatives that fizzled upon investigation of the phony allegations, and amidst threats of fracturing the 77-million member worldwide Anglican Communion. Given the anger and obsession of right-wing anti-gay people with this issue, division will no doubt occur.

Not to be outdone by other news, the anti-gay American Family Association in August acknowledged that Michael Johnston, the chair of National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day and founder of Kerusso Ministries, had undergone ?oral fall. the tradition of a slew of ex-gay leaders Johnston, who had appeared in a national advertising campaign with his mother saying he? ?alked away form homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ, accused of having unprotected sex with men while failing to disclose his HIV-positive status.

So, it? already been quite a summer. And there? more to come.  

The movement for full acceptance and affirmation of LGBT people will continue to be successful if it sets the agenda. It can't merely find itself responding to the right wing. There must be a gay agenda.  

And it will be successful if those of us who think all is well, the fight is over, and we just need to get along, pay attention to what's been happening. Denial didn't get LGBT people this far. The events of the summer of ... tell us we've come a long way. But, they also tell us we can't settle down now. Though we're getting closer, there's still a long way to go. 

Whatever Happened to Capitalism?

“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

That assessment is from the late Alex Carey, Professor of Psychology and Industrial Relations at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He chronicled the practices of US businesses and their adoption in the United Kingdom and Australia in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty, a 1997 book with a forward by none other than Noam Chomsky.

Where, however, should that quotation appear recently, but in a new book entitled Exporting America: Why Corporate Creed Is Shipping American Jobs Overseas. Published in August by no leftist thinker, it’s the most recent work of life-long Republican and CNN business commentator and host Lou Dobbs. That’s the same Lou Dobbs who advises investment in some of the same companies he’s now criticizing.

Not surprisingly, Dobbs’ book hasn’t received much press in a media dominated by the corporations Dobbs critiques. Corporate America, as he points out, controls virtually every avenue of access to information for the US citizen by virtue of its media ownership and the dollars it spends in Washington.

In an interview that same month with Bill Moyers, Dobbs admitted that he might be embracing a contradiction in such a scathing analysis of the corporate America he invests in, though he distinguished good companies to invest in from companies who were good corporate citizens. But his diagnosis was, and is, clear -- because the ordinary citizen has so little political influence, corporate America runs our government and our culture.

Dobbs’ own words open with: “The power of big business over our national life has never been greater. Never have there been fewer business leaders willing to commit to the national interest over selfish interest, to the good of the country over that of the companies they head.”

Those who are paying the price for what Dobbs calls corporate America’s “absolute indifference to the national interest” are the middle class. They are the only ones forced to compete unfairly in the global marketplace – multinational corporations can merely move their workforce overseas.

“Do we want to destroy the middle class?” Dobbs told Moyers. “Because if we do let’s continue outsourcing jobs.” Dobbs’ own list of US companies confirmed to be outsourcing runs almost 30 pages.

Other conservatives blame high taxation, government regulations, health care costs, and legal representation cost for these problems. Dobbs admits that these add about 22 percent to the cost of goods. But then he says: “So what.” That’s all a part of the cost of a better life and a better society.

“Are we to absolutely turn back the clock on every achievement that we’ve made to improve the lives of our citizens in order for a U.S. multinational to get cheaper labor in Romania or the Philippines or India or China?” he told Moyers. “I don’t think so.”

Dobbs focuses on corporate outsourcing, though the daily headlines tell us there’s more to the widespread failure of corporations to act as patriotic citizens. In the midst of a multi-year corporate crime wave with one corporate executive after another facing investigation, security and justice charges, and even jail time for the few who’ve failed to successfully manipulate our business-biased legal system, what we’re seeing is the underbelly of uncontrolled capitalism.

Ethicists know that no one has been able to argue successfully that the free market, freewheeling corporate activities, or even capitalism per se, are moral. There must always be some other value to control profit-oriented institutions.

In fact, if the major purpose a business has to justify its existence is to make money (“increase capital,” “pay a decent rate of return to investors,” “make a profit”), that’s a pretty weak moral argument for its existence. After all a conservative’s own hero, Jesus of Nazareth, pointed out: “You can’t serve God and money.” But who takes that literally, right?

Dobbs and other critics from right to left label these moves by large business against democracy greed. I’m inclined instead to see greed as a symptom of fear.

Multimillionaires who don’t feel secure with the millions they already pocket want more, as if more millions will protect them. But protect them from what? Protect them from their fears that our economic system is really quite fragile, and may quickly implode upon itself.

These men at the top feel something none of us wants to face. They’re afraid that a bust is always on the horizon, always imminent, always threatening. And they fear that what capitalism has become in the form the US trumpets and spreads to others may fall like a house of cards.

Of course, real men -- and these “captains of industry” are supposed to be role models of real manhood for us – can’t talk about their fears, particularly fears that reflect upon their careers and moneymaking competence. They’d not only scare the rest of us (if we could face the fact that we’re scared), but they’d prove that they’re incompetent at manhood.

So that’s not the kind of language that will frame the problem that keeps us stuck in all that Dobbs and other critics decry. The language of criminality and sin is as deep as we can get – they must be criminals motivated by greed.

Preaching to people to “stop being greedy” has never worked. The long-term solution is to uncover and face fears, not deny them. To respond to what we’re really afraid of but don’t otherwise want to face. To see how fear has dominated our society. To see that those fears have targeted others based on skin color, religion, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. To see that our fears are not only personal, but have been institutionalized in our system. To seek out other ways to live economically, value the work we do, and relate to fellow human beings.

Fear work is the toughest work we can engage in. It’s scary. It’s more easily diverted into other issues. It’s counter a culture that is fear-based. It’s digging down to the roots of things. It’s life-renewing, and it will save us.

Doesn’t Kerry Make a Good Loser?

John Kerry was a nice, polite, above-the-dirty-fray-of-the-people (like good upper-class Eastern elites) loser. He conceded that George Bush had won even before all our votes were counted and certified. Now that’s civility and good breeding!

The Democrats can’t blame Nader, poor fundraising, or a lack of grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts this time. But how many of them will blame gay people because they want equal marriage rights?

In 2000 Democrats didn’t take responsibility for Gore’s loss. Democratic operatives talked among themselves about moving further to the right, as if doing that weren’t already part of their problem. They alienated, even shamed, their progressive base.

The 2004 primaries began with the excitement of representatives of “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But Democratic operatives did what they apparently do best. They lost their nerve and commitment to progressive values. They shifted emphases, positions, and strategies to do almost anything it took to win.

They moved away from those inspired by the fiery truth-telling of Howard Dean. They settled for holding on to the anti-Bush vote. They defined an uninspiring alternative. Again they lost. And again they talk about moving more to “the center” to win.

The Republicans continued on, becoming more devious in the steady promotion of their agenda. They moved further to the right, and followed the advice of “the President’s Brain,” Karl Rove: Mobilize your base. Don’t worry about swing voters.

The political climate has changed and it’s clear Democratic operatives were left behind. Even their hero, Bill Clinton couldn’t win today. He’s no paragon of clear, un-wavering values.

Kerry’s concession speech was also very civil and out of touch. He conceded, he said, to unite the country -- as if Bush’s supporters were going to waste a microsecond considering more moderate, even liberal, ideas. How naïve can Kerry be? He’d learned nothing from this campaign. He never got it.

What’s the Matter with Kansas author Thomas Frank predicts that in typical form Democratic leadership will move further to the right and be surprised in two or four more years when, “poorer and angrier,” the voters will “deal the ‘party of the people’ yet another stunning blow.”

Frank might be right. Conservative Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid, as Democratic Senate Whip, is poised to replace Tom Dashchle as minority leader. This proposed new head of Democratic Senate leadership opposes abortion. He backed the current Iraq invasion as well as the Persian Gulf War. He supported President Bush's tax cuts and clashed with environmental groups over Western mining issues.

The Republicans understand, and the exit polls shout loudly and clearly, that the issue that motivated voters more than ever was “moral values.” More than the Iraq invasion, the economy, or their own economic self-interest, people want candidates who look as if they stand for something deeper than just getting elected.

The Republicans have convinced the majority that they’re the party of consistent values. They’ve also convinced them that Democrats are relativistic, change-your-values-if-it-takes-that-to-win, opportunists who don’t stand up for their historical constituencies, but still expect their votes.

If the Democrats don’t decide to speak clearly and consistently about progressive values, if they continue to shift their message to the right to attract so-called swing voters, if they’re not principled enough to lose for something they value, then the Republicans are right. The Democrats will spend more money, poll more people, nominate wishy-washy, milk-toast candidates, and never control the debate.

In its search for candidates with values, the country will continue to prefer the values of the right-wing because that’s all they’ll see.

If the Democrats really believe in progressive values and refuse to compromise them, they have a chance to inspire others to believe. They can be a convincing party of values.

Progressives’ values really do speak to people. In the most important book of the political season, Berkeley linguist George Lakoff lists them: caring and responsibility carried out with strength; protection, fulfillment in life and fairness; freedom, opportunity and shared prosperity; community, service and cooperation; trust, honesty and open communication. (Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004)

Conservatives learned with Barry Goldwater’s seemingly disastrous trouncing in the 1964 presidential election, that you must have an agenda of values, you must speak of your values, you must lose for your values, and you must continue to push your values without compromise and with message discipline. Then you’ll change the political climate in the long run. They’ve also learned that holding to their values is more important than polite campaigning and civility.

So when George Bush “reaches out” as uniter, it’s to bring Kerry supporters in to promote Bush’s unchanging agenda. His victory speech spoke of uniting the country. That’s right, uniting it around the “capital” he had “earned” and was anxious to spend.

It won’t take liberals and progressives as long to take back the debate if we take advantage of what Republicans have learned over the last forty years. But it will require us to have, trust in, and lose for our values.

It will test the Democratic Party to see if its leaders really can stand uncompromisingly for its principles. Personally for us, it will test whether we have a strong self-image and integrity of belief, not mere strategies as if winning is our ultimate concern.

Gay people are a parable for the Democrats. They’ve died because they value the right to love those they love. They’ve been thrown out of their families, jobs, communities, and religious institutions. They’ve faced ridicule, the shunting aside of their issues, and demands for understanding from so-called political friends.

The least the Democratic Party can do is lose an election or two because they’ve stood for values such as equality, compassion, and justice for all. How Democrats treat gay issues is a clear barometer of whether they really believe in something other than just maintaining an institution called the Democratic Party at all costs.

Liberal Religion Peers Out of the Closet

The signs are there.

The Unitarian Universalist Church experimented successfully with advertising. This “Uncommon Denomination,” whose liberal faith has saved many a desperate ex-fundamentalist soul, is asserting its presence.

The United Church of Christ has gotten more publicity than ever with its commercials proclaiming that it turns no one away. When NBC and CBS refused to air the UCC’s boldest commercial, they proved that the ads are what our sick nation needs.

It took decades for liberal religion to think of itself highly enough to open its closet door and begin to challenge the monopoly on Christianity trumpeted by right-wing churches. Maybe the triumph of right-wingers in these last presidential and congressional races finally made it sink in. Liberal religion realized that it had better speak up or forever be shut out of national debate.

Liberal religion has always been there. Even before the beginnings of “Fundamentalism” in the early twentieth century, religious liberalism promoted progressive social change – fighting for abolition, women’s suffrage, and worker’s welfare. Until the fundamentalist backlash it was even on the ascendancy.

The Christian right dominated radio and television from their infancy with radio evangelists, and TV preachers. Somehow religious liberalism was left behind politically as formerly other-worldly conservatives decided to form a Christian Coalition that could turn the US into a theocracy with religious conservatives in charge.

There was hesitancy on the liberal side of the Christian Church. Maybe it was liberal guilt. Maybe it was the belief that modern life would automatically leave traditional beliefs behind so little needed to be done. Maybe it was the impression that spreading the word was somehow low-class. Whatever it was, the rise of the religious right politically enforced the broad-based impression that fundamentalism is Christianity.

The popularity of fundamentalist beliefs in the US tells us much about the society we live in. The idea that most people would believe that they were born totally depraved, in original sin, or flawed beyond the capacity to change things by themselves, is a glaring example.

What’s amazing is that such a doctrine would even appeal to people. It must strike a familiar cord, or they’d reject it as perverse, insulting, and grotesque. It must fit with the way the majority of children are brought up in our culture that so many would come to believe that in themselves they’re hopelessly doomed and fully deserving of unending and unspeakably horrible punishment.

Then such religion takes over our lives by providing the salvation from our evil selves. Someone else, it says, must prove we’re good, since we can’t. And, that someone else has no idea what it’s like to be as rotten as we are. Fortunately, that someone is inclined to like us in spite of our worthlessness.

That’s the core of right-wing Christian theology. It’s built not on the idea that its god loves us because we are valuable but that we would have no value if its god did not love us. We’d deserve unbearable suffering.

What kind of country must ours be when the majority of us feel so negative about ourselves that such claims are popularly welcomed? How hurt we must be deep within our psyches that even the so-called “saved” among us still devalue themselves as essentially worthy only of the endless torture they call hell.

The doctrine of hell strikes an emotional cord. It’s a familiar idea because we’ve experienced our hells on earth.

The doctrine of a god as a punishing father who also believes we all deserve unending physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, sounds like the nightmare of an abused child who’s been told they deserve the violent punishment an abusive parent dishes out.

Such religious and spiritual abuse appeals because it’s familiar. Most parenting in our culture fits the definition of “poisonous pedagogy” about which Alice Miller writes in books such as For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1990).

It’s not that every child was physically abused. Yet most grown adults would rather not face the fact that their parents, who were taught to do so by their parents, used parenting methods that internalized in our citizens their limited value, their worthlessness outside of adult acceptance, the fact that they should “Honor their father and mother” no matter what, or that they’re unworthy of respect or being taken seriously.

Note how the right wing fears changing these patterns. That’s why it criticizes “over-indulgence” of children, so-called “New Age” affirmations of humanity’s innate goodness, or anyone who suggests children have something to teach an adult world that’s run by leaders who sound like punishing parents. Even the most liberal among us get caught sounding like our punishing parents, particularly when children won’t be seen and not heard.

Miller is blunt: “For some years now, there has been proof that the devastating effects of the traumatization of children take their inevitable toll on society – a fact that we are still forbidden to recognize.”

Too much would have to be admitted should we consider this too seriously. Too much personal pain would need to be felt. It’s easier to just believe we all deserve hell.

But liberal religion says none of this has to be, there is another way. It sees the problem as systemic, rooted in the teachings of the cultural institutions that we worship. It doesn’t see it rooted in the Divine or the Universe.

Liberal religion sees that things can change and that we’re capable of changing things. We don’t have to wait for some inhuman cataclysm. We don’t have to believe that war, poverty, and crime are inevitable and will always be with us.

It’s a radically different way of looking at things. It’s just that liberal religion hasn’t acted as if it really believed. It’s been hesitant to stand firmly, publicly, and boldly on the alterative vision it offers. It’s been too hesitant to speak up and proudly claim that right-wing theology is plain wrong. Maybe liberal religion too hasn’t felt worthy enough to do so -- until now.

If We Could Just Get Over the Liberal Guilt

I watched the TV panel uneasily, cringing. The right-wing minister of a suburban mega-church had already received a lot of media attention for pushing an amendment to a state constitution to ban gay marriage. Now he was debating an intelligent, kind liberal minister. The liberal was losing. He was no TV match for the right-winger.

That’s not because the liberal didn’t have his facts straight, or his arguments weren’t more cogent. He was, it seemed, arguing on solid grounds to keep US society open for the multiplicity of voices on moral values. He was even prepared for arguments using the Bible. And he was an experienced writer – writing a column for a mainstream daily on the diversity of religious understandings of human issues.

The problem was, he was arguing as a nice liberal. Unlike the right wing preacher, he didn’t interrupt, put down his opponent’s arguments as mere “parroting” of some hackneyed position, or respond by saying that that’s just how you people argue. He was polite, reasoned, and inoffensive to everyone. And, as a progressive friend of mine commented, he was eaten alive by the right-winger.

Though the right-wing minister continued to put down both liberal panelists with arrogance and provocative remarks, no one was ready to point that out, confront him, or, frankly, offend him. No one would say, “Wow, to make those statements, sounds arrogant and condescending,” even though he was arrogant and condescending. The liberals were awfully, awfully nice.

Certainly, I’d rather have nice. I’d pick nice people as friends any day. But media expectations have changed. The right wing itself has seen to that. Nice has to be redefined. It’s not the same as being fair, after all.

Right wing people speak as the convinced. They argue as if they have no doubt at all. They don’t hem and haw. They don’t deal in subtleties.

They get their key talking points from the gangs at Virginia Beach and Lynchburg. They’re trained in soundbites – much of right wing religious talk really is jargon and soundbites. Notice how they always come back to the same, often coded, wording that the spin-doctors of their think tanks have carefully worked out for them.

Liberals, on the other hand, try to speak in nuance. They weigh the alternatives, knowing correctly that there often are more than two sides to any issue.

Yet in this day of seven-second soundbites, which do you think people remember most? The very valid points made by a liberal who weighs the subtleties: “Well, there’s this to consider and then this, if not this? Or the simplistic right-wing soundbite: “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” What’s your favorite liberal soundbite that you hear repeated throughout the country by most liberals?

Liberals often seem to be ineffective because they’re plagued by a liberal guilt. They don’t want to repeat offenses from the past. They know offences existed and don’t want to deny them. They know there’s been discrimination and know that often their own group has historically been the culprits in white racism, sexism, heterosexism, even classism – though classism is tough for many otherwise liberal folk.

Liberals don’t want to repeat the sins of their ancestors, nor do they want to be dogmatic and absolutist the way right-wingers are. They recognize that we’re all human beings struggling together. Yet, there’s something else. It’s as if they need to atone for the oppressions of the past by avoiding anything that would be offensive to someone in the present, even if the offended is continuing the oppression.

Guilt-feeling liberals believe that the right wing should be given equal time for their arguments – they’ll even provide it, as if the right wing doesn’t already dominate most of the time in most of the media. They believe that the views of the right wing should actually be respected. They want to appear understanding about the personal circumstances that produce such bigotry in people.

They’re afraid that they might come across as too dogmatic, or that they believe too much in absolute values, or that they’ll appear just as arrogant as the right-wing. And they don’t want to offend the people who are still offending them.

Guilt-feeling liberals cringe when another does state the truth. Presidential hopeful John Kerry was probably accurate when he was caught off the record March 11, saying the Republican attack machine is: “The most crooked, you know, lying group I’ve ever seen.” Republican responses were predictably critical because, you know, they’ve never ever say such things themselves.

Yet liberals themselves cringe when anyone says: “The Emperor has no clothes.” They’re some of the quickest critics of more radical left-wing activists.

So when ACT-UP staged its outrageous protests because people were dying and the Reagan government wasn’t paying any attention, many nice liberals stepped back in criticism of such tactics. These critics would have done the same, I suppose, during the Stonewall rebellion. Who needs right-wing critics when we do it ourselves?

Let’s face it. Radical activists get attention. Just as Topeka Rev. Fred Phelps’ “God Hates Fags” tactics make Jerry Falwell more appealing to conservatives, so left-wing activists often prepare the way for more moderate liberals to be heard because “we’d better do something before they burn down our cities.”

The result of liberal guilt and its accompanying hesitancy is that liberals appear to believe in nothing sincerely. They act as if values such as equal opportunity and treatment for all human beings, ending the abuse of everyone, and trying to do no harm are negotiable. They act as if all values and ideas should be respected no matter how destructive and hurtful they are.

Liberals can be effective again. It will be when we’re guilt-free enough to act as if we really believe in our values and to our death won’t compromise them, when we talk and live as if equality, fairness and full acceptance of all human beings are values we will not negotiate -- even if our forcefully saying so offends those who disagree.

Don’t Think of an Elephant

Stop whatever you’re doing. Drop whatever you’re reading – even if it’s one of my books. The most important political book of the year is out and it’s a $10 paperback of only 124 pages. (So, you know Bill Clinton didn’t write it.)

I thought Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (Metropolitan Books) was the most insightful book of 2004. It’s still number two, but the new book by well-known Berkeley Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, George Lakoff, has trumped it.

Entitled Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (Chelsea Green), this popularly written manual with a forward by Howard Dean, is, as the cover says, “The Essential Guide for Progressives.”

Do I sound excited? You bet. Not just because I agree with Lakoff’s approach and have been arguing for it wherever I go. Lakoff has well-established credentials academically with his first four books on language and politics from the University of Chicago.

Don’t Think of an Elephant is a practical collection of recent essays that, if liberals and progressives follow its advice, will not only re-empower them but enable them to take over public discourse the way right-wing conservatives have done over the last 30 years.

Lakoff has advised Democrats and progressives. At times they’ve taken his advice. If John Kerry had done so more fully, his frame of reference would have dominated the last days of the 2004 presidential campaign.

For example, when the Bushites revived the term “liberal” and accused Kerry of being more liberal than the right-wing’s stereotype, Ted Kennedy, this was no time to discuss liberalism, no matter how accurately, or to merely say labels aren’t useful.

It was time to frame the debate in terms of liberal values, not conservative ones. What if Kerry had responded: “It’s embarrassing to many people that the President of the United States of America can’t defend his record and stoops to name-calling.” For the rest of the season the Bushites would have had to respond to this re-framing of their action as childish name-calling. Kerry would have re-framed the use of the term and done so in terms of understandable values – it is name-calling and it is childish.

That’s not Lakoff’s example, but it reflects his argument, an argument that liberals and progressives fail to get. How you frame the debate is more important than the facts, the statistics, or the information. Conservatives know this – he shows how they’ve worked at it for the last 30 years.

For example, in response to John Kerry’s discussion of the need for a “global test” in order to determine if we’re going to war, the Bushites didn’t say: “We don’t need anyone else’s permission.” They used a value-laden image: “We don’t need a permission slip from anyone.” What image does this raise? The need of young children to get a permission slip from a school authority to go to the bathroom. They placed the issue in their own frame.

Lakoff finds the key to understanding what’s going on in the two different models of the family applied to the nation and the world. Right-wingers speak from a “strict father model” of doing things where a strong, strict father is needed to protect the family in a dangerous world, teach his children right from wrong through punishment, and instill discipline in his charges who will be rewarded in prosperity. Lakoff shows how this is applied to every issue – foreign policy, war, the economy.

One of the mistakes liberals make is failure to recognize that this frames the basic agenda of conservatives. All issues for them come back to it.

Liberals and progressives, he argues, frame the world in terms of a “nurturant parent” model which is not masculinity-centered and emphasizes opportunity, fairness, open, two-way conversation, community building, and trust.

These two models are in conflict. If liberals get caught up in individual issues without thinking, speaking, and acting in terms of the models they value, they lose the broader cultural momentum.

In a chapter entitled “What’s in a Word? Plenty, if It’s Marriage,” Lakoff applies this thinking to the debate over same-sex marriage. From the perspective of framing, he points out why right-wingers say “gay marriage” over “same-sex marriage.” He points out how side-stepping the issue by John Kerry and Howard Dean make little sense.

Most crucial is that what is at stake in this battle of the cultural wars is which of these sets of values will dominate our society, and the right-wing knows that. Liberals may be baffled when the right speaks of defending marriage. No individual’s marriage will be affected when gay men and lesbians are included.

What conservatives see threatened is their strict, punishing father model. That’s what they’re talking about, not just marriage, its material benefits, or the use of the word. And they’re right. Even same-sex civil unions create families that cannot be traditional, strict father families. That’s the issue, and it can only be addressed by asserting liberal values that arise out of its own frame.

We need, Lakoff says, to redefine what it means to speak of the sanctity of marriage. “Talk sanctity first,” he recommends. As an ideal, marriage is “the sanctity of love and commitment.” Then we need to reframe the debate in terms of government interference in human freedom, and keep repeating that argument.

“I believe in equal rights, period. I don’t think the state should be in the business of telling people who they can or can’t marry. Marriage is about love and commitment, and denying lovers the right to marry is a violation of human dignity.”(p. 50)

There’s practical advice throughout. The chapter on “How to Take Back the Public Discourse” gives eleven things progressives can do. The final chapter on “How to Respond to Conservatives” lists 28 guidelines.

I’d even settle for our political heroes just getting one of them down: “Don’t move to the right…. It alienates the progressive base and it helps conservatives by activating their model in swing voters.”

How to Wreck a Relationship. Part One of an Occasional Series. The Desperation to Be a Couple

Have you noticed that in our society, relationships fall apart right and left? It doesn’t matter whether they’re gay or straight.

The marriage that LGBT people seek legal sanction for is an institution with a 50% failure rate. That poor record in itself would earn failing marks for any institution.

But that doesn’t mean that all of the still married 50% are extremely happy. Take a look around you at straight relationships. How many of those that have made it so far are truly fulfilling for the human beings rattling around in them?

One of the seldom-examined reasons why relationships fail is that our culture doesn’t prepare us to develop the kind of deep, intimate, unconditionally loving partnerships we really want. Our culture keeps relationships dysfunctional because dysfunctional relationships sell its products. Contentment and unconditional love don’t. They’re counter consumption.

So, we’ve been bombarded with dysfunctional messages from every angle about how to get, have, keep, and define relationships. Many psychologists do point out that these messages are unhealthy.

But the messages linger because they teach values that sell us a lot of stuff. They convince us that what we really need are purchasable preparations for our relationships, purchasable coping mechanisms to use while in relationships, and purchasable soothing distractions to use when ending them.

Our culture talks endlessly about something it calls love, but it just isn’t love- or human-oriented. It’s oriented to coping. Its values sell us what we need just to get by, to put up with, and to settle for something far less than a relationship that will feed our souls.

Here every so often, then, we’ll examine each of the cultural messages that ultimately hurt our relationships, cause us to get into bad ones, keep us in relationships that aren’t working, and teach us to seek in committed partnerships what partnerships really can’t give us after all.

The primary and most devastating of these messages is also the one most mainstreamed. It’s everywhere. And it’s the most difficult to let go. Our fears of loneliness and our abandonment issues won’t let us give it up.

We are told, and we deeply believe, that we must be in a committed relationship with another person in order to have a fulfilling life.

On the one hand, we’d probably all say that a single person’s life can be fulfilling. One is a whole number, and all that.

On the other hand, we’re so conditioned to put all our eggs in the coupling basket, that much, maybe most, of what we do in life has as its goal to find someone. We’re always looking for that chance to attract our next hope.

“Where can I meet someone?” “How can I meet someone?” “Who’ll be coming to the get-together that’s worth pursuing?” “It’s always the same old people at that place.” “Is there anyone out there for me?”

It’s a desperate search. For some people that’s more obvious – we talk about them being so desperate. But for most of us, the destructive message still says that our greatest joy, our greatest fulfillment, our greatest chance for happiness and contentment is found in finding Mr. or Ms. Right.

That one person and the experience of coupling with that one person, we believe, hope, and pray, will once and for all save us from our loneliness. We won’t have to fear being alone this weekend, or in our old age -- when we’re sure that we’ll be so pitifully decrepit that we won’t be able to attract anyone from any species in the whole universe.

That one person, we believe, will provide the only true and deep meaning anyone can ever have. After all, what else is life, especially the good times, for, then to share it with one other person?

Of course, a relationship with that one person will also prove that we’re really worthwhile after all. We must be, because, look, we can get and keep someone. We’re not like those other losers who can’t find a partner.

These feelings put far too much pressure on any relationship. They set us up for failure. They guarantee our disappointment and mis-directed frustration and anger. They result in a growing sense that we’re settling for much less than we want from our partners. They prepare us for the grass-is-always-greener feelings that move us from one temporarily fulfilling relationship and its slow collapse to another, and then another.

If we’ve been absorbing the anti-gay cultural messages, we’re also supposed to blame these problems on our sexual orientation. But this isn’t a gay thing.

Our critically ill culture just doesn’t want to change, to learn how to sell products without it, or to fully admit that buying things not only won’t fulfill us, but will drive us deeper into hopelessness, if not debt. So, it tries, instead, to convince us that these partnering problems are just a part of the unfulfilling nature of homosexuality. And, surprisingly, many LGBT people believe that.

So, when we’re ready to change things, we go into therapy, seek supportive groups of people, or decide on our own to reject this message, not because we’re changing something gay about us. We do it because we want to savor something different than society’s junk food recipe for human relationships. We do it because we know better than to settle for the straight-acting relationships that frustrate straight people. We do it, in other words, for the same reason that some heterosexual people reject societally-conditioned straight relationships for healthy heterosexual ones.

To be best prepared for a committed partnership, marriage, or whatever we want to call coupling, we need to be deeply happy with singleness. This can’t just be talk. It must be a contentment with not having a partner and a desire to do things for other reasons than to find someone.

We must get to the place where we just aren’t invested in the question. Life must become a chance to live our own passions because we enjoy them, to be interested in people because all people are fascinating beings, to be a friend to others, to develop a circle of close friends based on being supportive, caring, persistent, and loving friends of each other not on any partnering potential, and to find a community we can nurture.

Then, as we live our lives with the interesting people around us, we might meet someone who we can join together with us in one of those committed partnerships. We’d be ready for it.

But, we might not ever become a couple. And we’re healthy if all else in our life tells us that that’s more than okay.

How to Wreck a Relationship: An Occasional Series

Part 2, The Fear of Getting Close to One’s Own Sex

Of all the ways that our culture sets up our relationships to be less than they could be -- particularly close, partnered relationships -- the fact that it installs homophobia in every one of us is one of the most critical. Because the core definition of homophobia is seldom examined personally, we don’t recognize its effects. We rarely notice how it hurts both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

Be aware, then, that what we’re really supposed to learn from birth from the people and institutions around us, what we’re expected to internalize beyond question, is the core of homophobia. And the core meaning of homophobia is the fear of getting close to one’s own sex. This fear is a deep, internal, culturally conditioned approach to life, oneself, and others that pervades our society.

More often, though, we use the word homophobia to refer to what are actually its symptoms and effects -- discrimination, oppression, hatred, fear, and prejudice toward people who don’t appear to be straight or who identify as something other than heterosexual. At times we use it for the fear that I myself might be gay, or even the fear that homosexuals or homosexuality will destroy me, or the whole world as we believe it is.

But the basic fear our culture really wants us to internalize -- the fear that lies behind and within all these others -- is the fear of intimacy between women and between men.

Many of our culture’s institutions and approaches to life are built upon this fear, from advertising to investing to producing and consuming. Anything that can obscure the natural closeness people have with each other because we’re fellow humans, will allow advertisers to sell us things to make us feel we can purchase the closeness we naturally expected in early childhood -- before we were scared out of it.

In heterosexual relationships, this fear makes the pressure to couple with the other sex an even more desperate matter. All of the closeness needs that would otherwise be met by the entire human race cannot, or should not, be met by one-half of it, according to this message. So, for people who identify as heterosexual, closeness must be fulfilled only by the half that doesn’t include them.

But it’s not even that easy for the heterosexual. An accompanying message says that all closeness needs can only be met in a limited, culturally approved way -- by only one other person of that other half of all humanity. All closeness needs, then, must be met by him or her, and no one else. You cannot be close to the rest of the human race.

Further still, the culture defines closeness based on its limited definition of masculinity. It’s therefore something ultimately fulfilled only in one activity -- the sexual act. Fear of closeness, then, is fear of being sexual with the wrong people. Fear of closeness with one’s own sex is fear that I’d have to be sexual with another person who has a similar set of genitals as I have.

Since no single person can meet all of a human being’s needs for closeness, this stifling collection of messages piles up in any intimate partnering relationship we are trying to have.

It guarantees that there will be an underlying resentment that that other person hasn’t fulfilled my needs, a gnawing sense of being unfulfilled, a settling for less than I was supposed to hope for in a relationship, and, finally, the need to move on to look for that someone else whom our culture says will finally be the one who can fulfill this impossible task. This is a setup for disillusionment and failure.

Our dominant conservative culture never responds to these relationship failures by analyzing any of its core messages that keep it sick. It responds by looking for scapegoats to blame for its miserable inability to create fulfilling relationships. That way it isn’t forced to examine its homophobia. What gay people are here for culturally is to take the fall for straight culture’s miserable relationships. Ah yes, it’s their fault. It’s not something down deep that we’ve got to change.

Since lesbians and gay men have been raised in this same culture, they too have been taught to be homophobic. They’ve internalized a set of homophobic messages that hurt same-sex relationships. They seldom seriously examine these messages as well, even though writers have pointed out examples of internalized homophobia in the gay community for decades.

Imagine the problem for gay people. Fear of getting close to one’s own sex is a setup for difficulty when one finds oneself attracted to one’s own sex for companionship, love, partnering, sex, and commitment. It gnaws at relationships, lurking deeply behind an inability to trust one’s partner in matters as diverse as sharing finances, space, sex, romance, and friendships.

Coupled with the idea that only one person in an intimate partnership can fulfill a person’s needs, we respond by assuming that few if any can be met by the other sex. In fact, in reaction to the oppression of heterosexism, we might over-react with an inability to relate closely to the other sex.

Though many gay men have relationships with women, and lesbians with men, many others write the other sex off as if they are from other planets, or as if they just must have a problem with the other sex. After all, we’ve been brought up to believe we’re not just different but “opposite” sexes who come from as far away as Mars and Venus.

When we add our culture’s teachings around sexism, there are often difficulties with gay men and lesbians working together that can break out in open opposition. This helps ensure difficulties with working together to change a culture that hurts us all.

Fear of same-sex closeness makes us suspicious that the partner with whom we’ve become somewhat vulnerable will take advantage of that vulnerability, think less of us, cheat on us sexually, hurt us emotionally, or leave us. It may make us cling desperately to a partner to try to counteract this. These fears really, however, reflect the fear of abandonment, ridicule, humiliation, or even violence that helped install homophobia in us in the first place.

Homophobia, then, is more than a condition that’s acted out in the oppression of LGBT people. It’s a condition that needs examining and healing by everyone no matter what their sexual orientation in order to create relationships that can be open, vulnerable, and close. It’s another case of fighting back by choosing to act on the fact that what we’ve learned can be unlearned if we want to do the sometimes difficult work that will improve and strengthen our relationships.

What about Motherhood?

For many grown kids, standing in front of the Mother’s Day cards at the store is an exercise of mixed feelings – hope, sadness, love, guilt, fear, denial, and confusion. Finding the one card that says exactly how you feel without giving in to Hallmark-induced fantasies about the perfect mother is a challenge as difficult as any we may face.

A friend of mine who’s an English professor claims that there are no good poems about mothers in all of English literature. They all end up like those sentimental greeting card rhymes.

Our mothers have generally done the best they could with what they were given about motherhood from a culture that’s filled with messages that extol motherhood while taking away as much from mothers as possible. And all the conservatives’ high-minded blather about valuing motherhood is suspiciously empty to mothers who suspect that something else is really going on around them.

We certainly talk a good line about the value of motherhood, but our real values are betrayed by the fact that we never use mothering as a model for dealing with real problems. In a culture that still doesn’t really value women as men’s equals, we rather brag about putting women and mothers on pedestals. Balancing up there precariously, they’re supposed to appreciate the fact that they’re shelved up on those narrow pillars. Why, then, would they ever want powerful equality, pay, or monetary benefits?

Instead of “mothering” problems, we use political, economic and social models that replicate punishing fathers and masculine ideals fundamental to a war-based economy. We don’t “mother” our issues. We have wars on everything – drugs, violence, terrorism, illiteracy, poverty, AIDS, delinquency, crime. And like well-conditioned males, we keep on warring whether we win any of the “wars” or not.

Like our other poorly paid professionals who also deal with children and the needy, mothers are expected to settle for “fulfillment.” In fact, women are taught that it’s motherhood that will ultimately fulfill them as women. And that should be enough.

Instead of mainstream culture embracing the fact that healthy psychological fulfilment is not found in others but in oneself, women are told that their fulfillment needs will be met in bearing and raising children. Society pictures the ideal woman as the mother who has sacrificed her own life goals, dreams, personal career, emotional and romantic life, and aspirations for a husband’s fulfillment and for children.

To the extent that this doesn’t work, instead of therapy or group support, the common response is for mothers to apply more pressure on children to fulfill women’s needs. Without another life beyond their children, without the financial and retirement security of a pension, without investments except those of a husband who could leave them for someone else, all their hope relies on the loyalty and emotional dependence of their kids.

Then women are told that the ideal mother stays at home with the children, and preferably home schools them. There’s little praise for the stay-at-home father and significantly less blame for failing fathers, but much concern about mothers ‘balancing” work and children so as to be Super Moms. And the implication is always that the mother’s (not the father’s) career should suffer.

The more pressure we put on mothers instead of fathers, the more mothers end up being the communicators of unhealthy fulfillment messages from family and society. And, as the closer parent, the more they’ll get most of the derision for what are really society’s, and then children’s, issues.

Instead of realizing that our system’s ongoing sexism is pressuring women into this role, we blame women who do attempt to find healthy alternatives that could actually help them be whole and complete women and, most likely, healthier mothers.

So, children often grow up with a mix of resentment and attachment toward their mothers and other women – particularly if they’re authority figures. Children want to believe the best about mom. They want their relationship with their mothers to be better. But they know how easily the one who installed the emotional buttons in them can push them. They too are really feeling the fact that mom was taught that you and I had to fulfill her.

Blaming mothers, rather than the system, for this element of sexism, is reflected in jokes about mothers, mother-in-laws, and women. It’s codified in the stereotypes about Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, or you-fill-in-the-blank mothers. But it’s based in the unexamined realization by children that, instead of being here to live their own lives, a child’s life goals must include fulfilling their mothers’ otherwise unfulfilled lives.

On top of the usual motherhood confusion, there are the lingering messages of white racism that picture “traditional family values” as very white. Mothers of people of color are assumed to be victims of incomplete families, over-functioning, or limited by their need to be stopgaps in supposedly dysfunctional non-white cultures. Even though statistics show that African American parents spend more time than white parents doing homework with their children, that reality never seems to make it into the white-affirming stereotypes of the African American family.

So mothers are blamed for the problems with our children. Fathers are faulted for not being leaders of their families – affirming that masculinity-style leadership preference. Fathers are faulted for not being good disciplinarians, that is good punishers, maybe even because they didn’t hit their children enough.

But Mothers are blamed more broadly for not passing on traditional values, not staying home or not staying home “enough,” not making their home a comfortable place, putting their child into day care, being “selfish” about their own lives, acting in their own interests, being too strong or domineering, being too close to their sons, being jealous of their daughters, and on and on and on. All of these arise out of stereotypes about women and the way we condition women out of their full humanity.

And if a child turns out to be LGBT, who is at fault? Conservative theories that are still pushed by so-called ex-gay ministries and the “therapies” of anti-gay counselors who are out of touch with all mainstream psychology, blame bad parenting in a way that often sounds like the blaming of mothers.

So, given the pressures placed on women, the hypocritical lip service for motherhood, the inhuman expectations placed on mothers, and the blaming of mothers who step out of the role for their own health, it’s no wonder Mother’s Day is often a mix of feelings that really point to the deep changes our society needs in its value structure and it’s on-going conditioning of women.

It’s What Bush and John Paul Agree on That’s Abusive

On June 4, “President” Bush met with Pope John Paul II. There was much on which they couldn’t agree – the war on Iraq for one thing. But they agreed without any hesitation that same-sex marriage, and a woman’s right to abortion, lumped together with prostitution and pornography, must be opposed.

The Pope announced that these evils, including gay marriage, don’t represent love, caring, commitment, or attempts at human closeness. They express nothing more than “self-centered demands.”

You have to admit, the leader of Roman Catholicism has always been clear about this. At best LGBT humans should be pitied, but frankly to him gay folks are only one-dimensional – they’re greedy, uncontrolled, self-centered miscreants who don’t care if they destroy humanity to fulfill their sick desires.

In a later audience with US bishops, he declared that “erroneous yet pervasive thinking” that supports same-sex marriage must be fought courageously by “evangelizing culture and promoting Christian values in society and public life.”

Speaking of others, but never his own supporters, John Paul said: “Ambiguous moral positions, the distortion of reason by particular interest groups . . . are just some examples of a perspective of life which fails to seek truth itself and then abandons the search for the ultimate goal and meaning of human existence.”

Publicly “The Leader of the Free World” couldn’t disagree. On this issue they could sit together, smiling and supportive. Though some want to believe that Bush doesn’t really, really agree, at least for political reasons Bush couldn’t be happier. At best LGBT people make great pawns for him and his political friends. At worst they’re everything the Pope says, deserving this-worldly and afterlife “punishment.”

Yet, there’s so much that’s unspoken that makes these two men two-faced enemies. They just don’t want their deep antagonism brought to the other’s, or anyone’s, attention when they’re supposed to look as if they play nicely together. Even their gay followers don’t want to face this squarely.

Right-wing Protestants like George Bush don’t believe the Pope is any more than a political ally in their culture wars. They write off the Roman Catholic Church as a cult of people mostly going to hell who sinfully obey a decrepit old man who erroneously thinks he’s a descendent of the Apostle Peter. In their Sunday Schools, they use the Catholic Church as a prime example of people who are eternally lost because they’re trying “to be saved by works.”

The political influence of the Roman Church is useful to them when they need it. Being seen with the head of all those Catholic voters is a great photo opportunity. And the National Catholic Reporter reports Bush actually asked the Pope for political help.

Turning back the advances of the Second Vatican Council in many ways, this Pope is nervous about his Protestant bedfellows. They don’t do mass correctly. They ignore the Virgin Mary. Some of them believe in women pastors. Politically the Pope may often have to bite his tongue when referring to political allies who refuse to recognize the true Church, but they are, in his mind, ultimately outside the fold.

Both men pose a similar dilemma for LGBT people who want to stay with either the Roman Church or the Republican Party. Their leaders, John Paul and George Bush, don’t want gay people fully accepted as other human beings. They see them as problems for their institutions and wish they'd just go back into their closets. They certainly don’t want them to be happily married. And they both believe gay people should just stop having sex with each other. For both, “it’s an abomination.”

Outsiders ask why LGBT people would identify with a Church or Party whose dominant rhetoric tells them they’re less than fully human, lost eternally, and worthless, and that the best they can be is pawns in hierarchical and election-year politics? That’s complicated to answer.

Some people stay in organizations that berate and abuse them for the same reason abused spouses stay with their abusers. They say things like: “They really do love me. They’re not all bad. I should just be better. They really are doing better. I shouldn’t provoke them. I have to give them time. They don’t really understand. You have to understand how difficult their life is or how difficult this is for them. Where else would I go to fulfill my needs? This is the best I can do.”

Some people deny that this really is abuse; it’s normal and acceptable. No matter how bad it gets, it should be ignored or understood. And when it gets worse – or merely shows publicly what’s always been there – they act surprised.

What was the surprise when Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? Was it only the Log Cabin folks who didn’t see that coming?

Is it a surprise that gay delegates are not certified for the Republican National Convention? When last month the Party Chair refused to certify DC Council member David Catania as a delegate to the Convention because he publicly criticized Bush’s stand on the gay marriage amendment, he complained that she has a “different standard” for him then others. Duh. What did he expect? Some are now turning to the Democrats, who have a mixed record, at best.

Some stay because other needs, ideals, or affirmations are more important to them than affirming the value of their love or their ability to love someone. Keeping a tight hold on their money, protecting them from those “others” who threaten them, affirming them as good because they’re not as poor, unfortunate, misguided, or lazy as others, may be reasons to stay with the Republicans even if they preach against the ability of LGBT Republicans to love. Getting family approval, participating in familiar ritual, fear about Protestantism, and even fear of damnation could keep one a Roman Catholic even though they’re officially doomed.

I don’t really know. Each person has to decide why they stay with their abusers. Clearly, LGBT people have a history – centuries – of doing so and, if they choose, may have a long future of it as well. But it’s still abuse.

It’s What Straight Men Do to Each Other

When the Clinton administration oversaw the official codification of the US military policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” it was really making explicit what’s been in sync with the real intentions of military policy toward gay men and lesbians. Everyone knew that there had always been gay men doing their duty competently, and even heroically, but the Pentagon and its supporters didn’t want to show publicly that there were any soldiers who didn’t fit their picture of masculinized, fully-male-gender-conditioned men.

In a militaristic, war based society such as ours, the military is the measure of what it is to be a real man. So what the Marines want is just “a few good men.”

That masculine role begins with boyhood’s message of “beat or be beaten,” and continues with the training that a true win in life can only come at another man’s expense. There’s no hope for the boy or man who would ever show his vulnerability to another man.

Competition for competence, strength, prowess, and the other marks of grown manhood gets desperate, if not ruthless. Men bond together in teams to beat, defeat, or kill another group of men. There’s no “win-win” solution in manhood. Beating a “girl” doesn’t count as manly.

Men want admiration from others. And there’s no better way to “get” another man than to shame his manhood. What starts with “cry baby” and “girly boy” continues as “fag” and “queer.”

The only counterpunch in conditioned masculinity for having one’s manhood shamed is to shame back, to restore one’s manly honor by escalating the payback. An eye for an eye is just not enough in the struggle for manhood’s respect. And apologies and asking for forgiveness are signs of weakness (read that effeminacy).

The long history of conditioned masculinity in patriarchal societies is filled with military examples where it wasn’t enough to wipe out a people or defeat another army. The real men had to humiliate the other men in order to maintain a manly status. They had to pay back a threat of shame these enemies represented.

So, they paraded them naked, urinated or defecated on them, raped them, and mutilated them – often targeting body parts which most represented their virility. Since real men can protect “their women,” those masculine winners shamed the losers by raping their wives, mothers, and daughters. It was all about power, and manhood, and who’s the true king of the mountain, not sex

So it continues today with the good ole USA as the photos and videos come out of Iraq. Manhood and its military solution still include the shaming of the enemy’s manhood to shore up one’s own.

The official response is that these acts represent the actions of a few bad apples, while the evidence widens – pictures of men naked, in poses considered unmanly (read gay), on leashes, masturbating, even exposed in front of a woman. One after another, the actions and souvenir pictures to remember the acts are meant to humiliate the prisoners’ manhood.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that the abuse is widespread and has continued for months, maybe a year. Defenders of the prisoner abuse say too much is made of this when “our soldiers” are being killed and tortured (read, their, and our country’s, manhood have been shamed worse).

So, in order to pay back the shaming, Iraqi dissidents, caught also in the manhood code, must restore their honor. What could be worse than such humiliations? Maybe public executions. Or who knows? The escalation continues as “We can’t let them get away with that” seeks to restore manhood’s honor on both sides. And it can’t end until all are dead, unable to revenge manhood’s honor.

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” Gandhi said, “and the whole world’s blind and toothless.” But were it only “an eye for an eye” equality. This isn’t about equal pay back. This is about restoring manly honor.

The manly military can no longer ignore what’s been going on. It’s public now, and the public is asking where this has come from. So the military moves into damage control, denying that this represents a “written policy.” At first, don’t ask or don’t tell about the abuse worked. But no longer.

This is manhood trying to cure a problem that’s deeper than any written policy. But conditioned manhood itself is guilty. It’s about how we raise young human babies to turn them into cultural warriors, how we force them to value this manhood code. This is about the nature of our inhuman core values, which once again have come home to roost.

This is about an institution that represents everything we mean by a manhood that is desperately straight-acting, straight-looking, straight-feeling, straight-thinking. It’s not about who male humans are, or how they would be if they weren’t trained from pre-school to beat or be beaten.

And it’s so much about conditioned manhood that even women who want the military’s manly affirmation can be turned into conditioned men. Ultimately, women learn that if they want to get ahead in any of our institutions, they’ll have to out-masculine the males.

Gay men, if they want to remain in such a sick institution, can’t challenge the image of manhood. They must be straight-acting. And gay men and lesbians, along with bisexual and transgender people have the right to every sick institution heterosexual people have.

But gay men and lesbians in the military won’t help change this institution, if they too don’t challenge its view of what it takes to be a man. Heterosexuals themselves are too afraid to do it. Right now they feel it’s too daunting a task.

Anyone who even criticizes the manly Pentagon will be dismissed, marginalized, and treated to the same treatment LGBT people get regularly in the USA for asking, telling, and openly breaking out of the straight-acting mold. But what is learned can be unlearned. Fear can be faced. And it must be done if there’s to be hope for any of us.

Disobedience and the Marriage Movement

It’s been the case throughout US history. The real story in progressive change hasn’t been on the level of our cautious politicians and presidents. Real progressive change has always begun with the people.

US historian Howard Zinn in his A People’s History of the United States documented this real power of the people. Sure, when change happens, our political leaders have taken credit, and the official histories our establishment schools taught us have told us these leaders are responsible. But a careful reading of what’s been left out of these official, textbook histories tells us that, with few, if any, exceptions, our leaders have more often responded: “There go the people. I’d better run out in front of them and look as if I’m leading.”

Just about the time that the religious and political right-wing thought they had set the terms and images around the gay marriage debate, thought they had won, believed they could be on a fast track to a federal and a slew of state constitutional amendments, and even had the cowardly approval from the apparent Democratic presidential candidate, people who oppose the right did what they could to say “No.” “The President” publicly supported the amendment, using this growing grass-roots “No” as his excuse, apparently to the surprise of no one but the gay Log Cabin Republicans.

Starting with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom on February 12, who ordered the city clerk to issue marriage licenses, the disorderly conduct began. It wasn’t as if there was violence, certainly nothing like the violence perpetuated on LGBT people every week in this country. But it was against what the dominant order considered orderly. So it was, by the dominant standards, dis-orderly.

Governor Arnold apparently panicked, calling for the gay marriages to be quashed before the protesting turned into “violent rioting.” Openly gay Democratic Representative Barney Frank scolded the disobedient ones for messing up his enlightened, insider approach to the issue. Other “supporters,” counseling patience – just how many more centuries should LGBT people wait? -- said it was a more effective strategy to use a political process over which marriage amendments loomed.

But the defiant movement provided a popular excitement to this issue in the same way that Howard Dean’s attempt at the Democratic presidential nomination excited people who otherwise found the mainstream of the Democratic Party staid and dull. There was some belief that LGBT people might actually be heard, might actually be a part of what it is to be an American. They were demonstrating that Americans get tired of discrimination and inequality and eventually do something about it.

Jason West, the mayor of New Platz, New York, then began performing gay marriage ceremonies and faces criminal prosecution for doing so.

Sandoval, New Mexico got into the act. Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, started. Mayor Richard Daily of Chicago voiced his support of Cook County doing so. Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle announced his city would extend marriage benefits to gay employees married elsewhere. Then Asbury Park, New Jersey began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

As people came from around the country to participate in the civil disobedience, even some couples who had remained otherwise relatively closeted and would never have marched for a gay cause, joined the excitement.

Other cities, such as San Jose, CA began to consider participation. Even the Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper of the world’s largest Southern Baptist University, recognized the issue of legal equality involved and endorsed gay marriage. An “outraged” Baylor President immediately clamped down with the official, establishment line on students who had learned their lessons about legal equality.

In spite of their stiff-upper-lip scowls and scorn, the anti-gay marriage people have been thrown off. In the light of last summer’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex sex, they’ve found themselves fighting for a legal position which allows uncommitted, even promiscuous, sex but not sex between two committed partners. They’ve found themselves caught in statements that make no historical sense when traditional marriages among the heroes of their Biblical documents were most often polygamy. They’ve found themselves arguing that marriage is a “sacred” institution while saying that the secular State should therefore be involved in its “sanctity.”

Of course, they’re fighting the disobedience by appealing to those who they’ll label “activist judges” if they don’t side with the right wing agenda. The judicial responses have been legally cautious and measured. The more rabid followers have responded with the threats of violence Governor Arnold tried to blame on people who just wanted legal marriage. San Francisco’s mayor is now under 24-hour police protection.

In many states, anti-gay marriage amendments were proposed. In a few thus far -- Maine, Indiana and Wyoming -- community activists were able to see their defeat. And a March Washington Post-ABC News poll shows 51% of the respondents supported same-sex civil unions with all the legal rights of marriage, up 6 points since the disobedience began.

Typically, the powers that be will come back and clamp down. They’ll threaten, punish and scare. They’ll attempt to make it seem as if the cause is hopeless. But civil disobedience changes the atmosphere. Civil disobedience re-sets the agenda. The forces of establishment prejudice, fear, and discrimination are now reacting to the new agenda.

Gandhi and King knew this was so. And in their exciting tradition, disobeying laws that our conscience finds repulsive and unfair, the rising up of people to protest and fight for their rights, is what is going to change things in the long run. Will it continue, or will we rely again on the insiders who caution us to hide our feelings again?

I wouldn’t have chosen marriage as the most crucial issue we face. I’d rather have fought for the addition of sexual orientation to every state’s equal protections laws – protecting our jobs, public accommodations, housing, and legal status.

But 4,037 LGBT couples from 46 states were married in the civil disobedience in San Francisco alone. So if this is the issue that grabs the attention of our movement, including those closeted couples who have been living comfortably as committed partners for years, and gets them to stand up and say they are here, I’m for it.

'The Passion' of the Culture Wars

The Passion of the Christ is fanning the flames of the Culture Wars in the United States The divide over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ is as passionate and cavernous as any of the other divisions of the so-called "Culture Wars" in America. To the battles over full acceptance of LGBT people, women's reproductive choice, displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings, faith-based funding, and all the others, add the battle over this new contribution to pop culture.

This isn't surprising. Back in 1901, humanitarian, Christian theologian, missionary, and medical doctor Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus demonstrated that the Jesus one finds when one reads the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament tells us more about the seeker than history.

Since then, a gung-ho salesman wrote The Greatest Salesman that Ever Lived, the era of hallucinogenic drugs produced The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, and now the decades of slasher movies, video game violence, and blood-spewn, angry masculinity-seeking-its-revenge pictures, give us a picture of a Jesus graphically, often in slow motion, tortured, ripped-apart, and slowly killed, that could be "Lethal Weapon VI: An Angry Masculine God Tortures His Son."

At first glance, what Gibson has done is to select the last twelve hours of Jesus' life as portrayed in three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four canonical New Testament accounts. But he has to turn verses that don't emphasize such torture into a full-length Roman chain saw massacre. His Jesus, it seems, must suit his purpose: an apparently right-wing, pre-Vatican II Catholicism with an emphasis on "the Body and Blood," a history of anti-Semitism, and a siege mentality that today believes even the current, conservative Pope threatens its comfortable Truth.

So, even with minimal flashbacks, Gibson's conservative approach leaves out Jesus' messages that value the poor, the outcastes, and the other people who seemed queer to society, or his preaching that criticized riches like those that are being made from this movie. Gibson isn't interested in Jesus as teacher, prophet or man, only Jesus as the sacrificial symbol.

If Gibson had filled the movie in with history, he would have known that the Empire placed Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in charge, in that position because he was known as a ruthless tyrant who would crucify hundreds of Jews. He wouldn't have turned Pilate into an innocent pawn with a kindly wife. He wouldn't have let the also ruthless King Herod off the hook. He wouldn't have made the Jewish leaders dark and stereotyped as they were in medieval "passion plays" while seeing to it that Jesus, the Jewish man, clearly looked like a white, European.

Instead, to make this into his own full-length movie confession, Gibson does what Protestant fundamentalists hate Catholics for -- he relies for most of the film on the visions of an 18th-19th century nun whom some Catholic theologians believe had more visions than any other Catholic saint. Anne Catherine Emmerich's The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus, not the Gospels, could be considered the real screenplay for Gibson's film. Her book describes in the gruesome images this film portrays, the "details" of the horrific sufferings of Jesus she believes she saw 1800 years after the historical events.

Many reviewers have called this unrelenting, graphic portrayal of the turning of a man into little more than pulp, blood pouring from him until it seems to surround the viewer, pornographic, fetishistic, and sadistic. Some have pointed out that absolutely no horror film with such scenes would be rated anything less than NC-17.

Critic Robert Butler called it hypocrisy that such a film would be rated "R." Ratings boards maintain that their ratings are only about what should be concerned to parents, not content, but they caved in based on this film's content. Columnist William Safire observed that the film's religious content provides a loophole for displaying such graphic violence, one that lowers the bar against future film violence.

But to be a blockbuster also requires superb marketing. Gibson hired a marketing company specializing in religious organizations that used a grassroots, religious sell. It sent trailers for the movie to thousands of pastors, church leaders, and church groups. Pre-screenings for local pastors the Saturday before its release, allowed them to talk about it in their churches before it opened.

Add to this, effective manipulation of the media with an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer and the countless local media outlets feeling they're obligated to report everything about the film.

The Cultural War was reflected in the media's responses. On the one side are the reporters who don't ask questions about historical accuracy of religious depictions. They reflect the country's general intolerance of nonbelievers. On the other side were the critics that the right-wing writes off as representing "the liberal media." 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney asked: "How many millions of dollars does it look as if you're going to make off the crucifixion of Christ?"

The result was that the film opened everywhere, not just in "select theaters." There was no doubt that Gibson would not only make back the millions he invested, but greatly increase the riches of all involved.

The appeal of the film also involves some messages everyone in our culture has received regarding these events. No matter how one relates to any religion, the interpretation we received from the culture around us was: "He went through this for you." Few come to the film without having been told how to interpret the message of the blood and gore at some level. Media response to The Passion of the Christ also continues to heat up the Culture War, including Andy Rooney's question to Mel Gibson: 'How many millions of dollars does it look as if you're going to make off the crucifixion of the Christ?'

So, the filmmaker has used effective secular techniques to draw people into the film and then in that vulnerable moment enforce the sacrificial understanding of the historical Jesus. Drowned out is the fact that this is the most conservative and least justice-oriented interpretation of the many in the 2000-year history of theologians seeking the meaning of it all.

If Schweitzer were updating his work today, he might point out that the phenomenon of the Jesus of The Passion represents two levels of interpretation. The first is that of Mel Gibson who's side in the "Culture Wars" has been consistently to the right of even mainstream Roman Catholicism. The second level is that of the viewers, most of whom will represent the right-wing and find in the film what they've been taught.

There will be other viewers who've heard the religious right's interpretation. For them the film may be a cause of conversion or revulsion. And there will be others who will be hurt and angry, seeing The Passion of the Christ as a story being used as another salvo in the war to return our culture to one that is non-inclusive, insensitive to others, even theocratic, one that restores the privileges of the religion of extreme right-wing politics.

It's Past Time for this Ex-Gay Business to Get with It

There are probably people who think that Kansas City is privileged to have the "Love Wins Out" show come to town in late June. Christian right-wing entrepreneur, politician, and CEO of "Focus on the Family" James Dobson's ex-gay "ministry" group is arriving to comfort those who have been taught to fear a "gay agenda" and to believe that self-accepting LGBT people are responsible for Christianity's problems.

What they are promoting in sincerity and in a successful money-raising fashion is a return to something like the Dark Ages of psychology and religion, when gay people were considered "the problem," sinners to be forgiven, anti-God, and "unnatural." They continue to promote one of the interpretations of passages in the Christian Bible, the one that supports cultural prejudices against LGBT people.

And in these modern times, this movement uses "scientific" language to legitimate their position. Their "experts" promote out-dated theories treating homosexuality as a psychological problem associated with such things as identification with the "wrong " parent or the "wrong" gender role.

When will they get with it? How long will they hang on to their prejudices? How long must we listen to their ignorance? How long will they accuse mainstream psychological professional groups of being the ones who are wrongly motivated?

What these groups refuse to do in their attempts to convert, cure, or change sexual orientations that they don't like, is to give up their lucrative strategies and recognize what all mainstream psychological organizations have been saying for over 25 years. It's not that these "ex-gay" leaders don't know that they are acting like enemies of science. They just refuse to change the prejudices upon which they've built their self-image.

It wasn't just yesterday, but back in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association's Board of Trustees confirmed that: "homosexuality does not meet the criteria to be considered a mental illness." Since then, all major professional mental health organizations have gone on record to affirm that homosexuality is NOT a mental illness.

Is that not clear enough? Listen to the unambiguous language of an American Psychiatric Association statement about attempts to "convert, repair, or cure" homosexuality: "The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation."

In fact, the APA says the "therapy" these groups tout as loving is hardly positive for the patient: "The potential risks of Areparative therapy are great: including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

There is no debate here. The other professional psychological organizations all agree - the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Back in 1975 the American Psychological Association agreed with the American Psychiatric Association and made it clear that: "Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities."

Like the American Psychiatric Association, they call for professionals to be involved in proactive change: "Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations." We must assume then that any so-called "therapists" who continue to promote prejudice and "cures," are frankly acting unprofessionally.

In summary, "the American Psychological Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual ordination, and mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based in ignorance or unfounded beliefs about sexual orientation."

All this couldn't be clearer. Then, why do we have these "ex-gay" people coming to Kansas City?

We must assume, as the professionals themselves say, that they are here to promote their ignorance and bigotry. They somehow need to obsess with this issue in the same way that prejudice based on race or right-handedness refused to change no matter what the evidence. If Kansas Citians support their approach, then "Everything's not up-to-date in Kansas City."

Asking for gifts we really need from those we really love

When we find ourselves caught up in the gift-giving season, no matter how religiously or unreligiously we frame “the holidays” – Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Days Off – we are the children of our past. Whether these holidays are happy remembrances or depressive or painful ones that we’d prefer to forget, we’re affected by our childhood experiences.

When we were very, very young, the adults around us defined the season and we were the recipients of gifts more than givers. We were too young to be expected to give much.

It was fun to get things from people who loved us. We could ask for things, assuming that it was okay to request exactly what we wanted from the people around us. We didn’t always get our heart’s desires, but it just seemed to be okay to ask for what we really cared about.

We soon began to learn a couple of lessons along the way to growing up. First, it grew clearer that often we wouldn’t get what we asked for. We weren’t in control of what others would, or could, give us. There might have been good reasons for this. We could have been asking for something that was too expensive for the giver’s budget or that the giver felt would be harmful.

The second message affected us more subtly. We learned not to ask for the things we really wanted at all. At times, those around would turn good or bad reasons for saying no into criticism of us for asking so openly. It was as if we didn’t have the right to ask for what we really wanted anymore. It would be selfish to ask so directly. So, we learned to try to figure out what we could ask for, what was permissible, what wouldn’t get us into trouble or criticism, and what would keep the adults happy with us.

The messages were clear. You won’t get what you ask for. If you ask for what you really want, you’ll be ridiculed or rejected by those around you who also had learned that they couldn’t come right out and ask for anything they really wanted. You’ll be considered selfish, too assertive, too egoistic. After all, who do you think you are?

As adults, we took these messages into our relationships, including our most intimate ones. Sometimes in our friendships, but more often in our most significant relationships, we continued to act on a lesson that hinders real intimacy and closeness. When we partnered up with another, we came to believe that if we asked for what we really wanted from our partner, we’d anger, alienate, or even lose them.

So, we learned to pre-negotiate in our minds. We tried to figure out what we could request that would work, would keep this relationship running smoothly, or wouldn’t threaten a break-up. We lost opportunities to tell the person we loved exactly what we wanted in life, how we dreamed our lives would be, what our real passions were, and how we’d like our partners to fit into the dreams and plans that deeply moved us.

In the process our loved ones couldn’t know what we were really about. They were denied the opportunity to be intimate with our dreams, passions, goals, desires, hopes, and needs. In order to protect or preserve our closest relationships, we didn’t communicate what was really close to us.

Instead of stating fully, clearly, unashamedly how we wanted our lives and our relationships, and how we wanted our loved ones to fit into them, we pre-negotiated in our minds. Instead of allowing them to negotiate with what we really wanted, we moved from the hard work of such intimacy to settling for the best we could get.

A healthy relationship is one where partners can state exactly what they want and how they want things to be. Then the negotiation begins. The process of negotiation, figuring out together how things can be, and compromising openly, is a work of closeness, a desire in love to work things out. Then, the compromise each partner must make is freely chosen and in the open. Any further resentment for having to compromise is the issue of the resenter, not the one who stated their needs clearly.

Not communicating to our partners what we really want hurts personal closeness, breeds resentment, and doesn’t allow our partner to really know us. A relationship based on such pre-negotiation is not an intimate one.

When we do decide to ask for what we really want, great fears and important questions arise. If I tell my partner my real wants, needs, and ideas, will that end the relationship? If it does, was the relationship one that was good for either one of us? Is the relationship more important to me than living my passions? Is the fact that I can’t speak openly without pre-negotiation a sign that this is an unsatisfactory relationship? Is the response that there is no room for negotiation a sign that I can no longer grow in this relationship? Do I want to be in a relationship where I cannot speak openly about what I want?

These are important, difficult, and real questions. Not facing them keeps us from our own growth, from facing our own fears, and from providing a basis for the growth of our relationships.

Asking for what we want is neither selfish nor fatal. It’s letting people know who we are. It’s also the beginning of real negotiation and compromise from a position of understanding and openness.

Author Sam Keene says there are two questions each one of us asks in life: Where am I going? and Who will go with me? The problem, he adds, is that we tend to ask the second question before we answer the first.

An intimate relationship is built on knowing where we want to go, making that clear, and finding along that path someone who will walk there with us. It’s based on being able to communicate what we want, and what we need from those who will walk with us. And it’s based on real, open compromise, if both parties are emotionally able to do that.

Beating Herself Up

In an October 2003 NPR interview, British author Allison Pearson, describing the experience of the working mother in her new novel, I Don’t Know How She Does It (Knopf, 2003), repeated: “If a woman isn’t being judged by another woman, she’ll beat herself up just to save time.” The women I’ve asked since I heard her say this, agree. They know exactly what she meant.

The origin of such feelings isn’t hard to trace. It has nothing to do with women in any inherent sense and everything to do with the place of women in the masculine-valuing conditioning of our culture. In spite of the gains women have made, Pearson is pointing out that in 2003 this hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to believe. Women’s responses to her book also say she’s hit the nail on the head.

Those self-defeating messages go back to pre-school days when boys were put down by being accused of doing anything like a girl. Girls were supposed to go along with that, just smile, be quiet, and act as if such putdowns didn’t matter.

But, just as we know that name-calling does hurt, no matter how we’re told to ignore taunts instead of changing the things they represent, such putdowns teach relentlessly who’s on top in our society. We just can’t ignore them and hope they won’t matter by repeating rhymes that say: “But names can never hurt me.”

Well-trained women in our system aren’t supposed to do things in their own interest, value their own opinions of themselves, cooperate with other women to change their demure status, or find value without well-conditioned males and male approval. When they step out of the role, they’re put down further by labels that imply, or just plain say, they must be man-haters and lesbians.

There’s a sense in which, in the midst of the gains for LGBT people, homophobia in and toward women has increased. It used to be okay, or at least tolerated, when women did things together. They could dance together, show affection publicly, and spend time together in ways such as vacations that would have raised red flags for men who did the same. There was less public homophobia for women.

Our culture’s sexism, which took boys and men more seriously, tolerated the tomboy in a way it didn’t accept the girly boy. Girls and women who deviated weren’t given enough credit in doing so to threaten the system and its gender roles. They were more cute than threatening, like children are cute, like “old maids” were considered just harmless oddities.

But times have changed. Women are changing. Women’s closeness is no more seen as cute little quilting, charity fund raising, children-centered, or tea parties. Women have been getting close to threaten the sexism, take back the night, demand control of their own bodies and reproductive choices, demand equal pay for equal work, end the “boys will be boys” harassment, and tell men that they expect them to drop the hyper-macho mask and act like full human beings.

Men aren’t always responding with cheers to these changes. They’ve often taken the “but we’re victims too” role when they label a movie such as Thelma and Louise “male bashing,” acting insulted in the midst of the constant barrage of exploitation and demeaning of women in cinema. They’ve often tried to minimize women’s efforts to redefine their own positions or to value women’s self-evaluations without men’s opinions or presence. They’ve acted like abandoned children when women have gone off by themselves to change their own lives. They’ve refused to understand the depth and reality of women’s anger (at times acted out on men) toward a system that still finds men in the highest positions of authority.

In our culture, where lesbians still receive the double negatives that threaten women and homosexuals, the greatest putdown of women has increasingly come to be labeling them “dykes” and “lesbos.” Now that women are getting close in order to change the system of valuation, women’s getting close to their own sex is more of a threat, and more feared. Homophobia toward and in women is on the rise, because homophobia keeps everyone in their masculine and feminine roles.

As “the fear of getting close to one’s own gender,” homophobia’s function is to keep people apart. If women can fight each other to see who best embodies the victim role that’s necessary to get the ideal man as society defines him, they’ll always separate from each other for a man. They’ll never ultimately value themselves and each other. They’ll continue to devalue women’s approval of each other. They’ll continue to internalize the “beating themselves up” when there’s no other woman around to judge them.

The effect of this aspect of the culture’s sexism and homophobia on lesbian relationships is serious and seldom seriously examined. There’s just something wrong with lesbians, lesbians tell each other, when it’s not about sexual orientation and all about the cultural training of women to be dependent upon men.

Unless healing, awareness, counseling and support break the patterns, think of the results of the internalization of sexism and homophobia for lesbian relationships:

  • the inability to believe in one’s own value, wholeness, and completeness when they’re not in a relationship
  • the resulting desperate need to couple up as quickly as possible with almost anyone
  • the inability to accept the positive valuations of women friends, and even one’s life partner
  • the insecurity of fearing that making oneself vulnerable to another woman will result in pain, loss, and disappointment;
  • the willingness to settle for abuse and demeaning in a partner
  • the depth of untapped, unhealed anger toward the hurts of growing up a girl in our culture that women can take out abusively on another woman
  • the belief that these problems will be solved by getting into another relationship with that other woman who will finally love me

None of this has to be. None of this has to do with being a lesbian. None of this is asked for, deserved, or built into lesbians or any women. All of this has to do with the constant conditioning of women from the moment they were wrapped in a pink blanket, not a blue one.

All of this is learned, and all of it can be unlearned, if women continue to take the lead in their own healing. Men can be allies and good listeners. But women have proven time and again that they’re powerful enough to overcome any obstacles and change what’s hurting anyone. Lesbians and all women, after all, are really beautiful, whole people.

Displaying Justice Roy’s Graven Image

It’s now up to the US Supreme Court to decide whether a 5,280-pound graven image of the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments will return to the rotunda of the State Supreme Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama. Right-wing Christian, Chief Justice Roy Moore, formerly of Etowah County, Alabama declared its display his personal line in the sand and refused to bow to a federal court’s decision.

Good ole boy Roy orchestrated the whole controversy. His election to Supreme Court justice was a result of him riding on the issue. Without it, he was an undistinguished, little known circuit court judge in Gadsden, Alabama who had left the state only for military education and service.

But when he posted a hand-carved wooden plaque of the Protestant Ten in his local courtroom, he became a right-wing hero, famous enough among conservatives to win the chief Alabama Supreme Court seat in November 2000. Less than a year later, in early August 2001, he smuggled the monument into Alabama's state judicial building under the cover of darkness. Moore supervised the workmen who did the work, which took six hours.

So far federal courts have declared this display an establishment of religion. Moore’s eight fellow justices unanimously separated themselves from him and ordered its removal. Republican Governor Bob Riley supported the eight justices, saying, "By not complying, the state stood to incur some of the most expensive fines ever imposed on Alabama." A state judicial board suspended Moore on August 22.

Moore and his supporters declare that the display isn’t an establishment of religion but a monument to the nation’s foundation on God. In that case it’s a “graven image” that should be forbidden by the second commandment: “Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image….”

Yet, even that’s not always true. The second commandment is not the same in the Protestant version Moore wants to post as in those of Judaism and Roman Catholicism. There are different versions of the list based upon Exodus 20:1-17. So, deciding which version to post is choosing among religious options, establishing a single version.

In the Jewish version the first commandment is what Christians regard as merely a prologue: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” That places the Ten in a specific and central context important to Jewish identity -- the Exodus from Egypt.

The Protestant second commandment is merely the second part of the Jewish second commandment, which begins with the Protestant first. The prohibition against “graven images” isn’t included in the standard Roman Catholic summaries at all. In their version the tenth Protestant commandment is split in two.

The question for Moore is, which version of the commandments should be displayed by government? Answering that question is to choose one sectarian version over another. It’s to take sides in centuries-old battles between Protestants and Catholics as well as in the history of anti-Semitism.

And even then, the Protestant Ten Commandments are never displayed as they really are in the Bible. They’re edited. The tenth, usually posted as “Thou shalt not covet,” is never presented fully: “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The complete version makes it clear what historians know. The Ten Commandments are based upon the idea that the man is the owner of his property, and that a man’s property should never be violated. The tenth commandment defines his property as his slaves, his animals, his land, and also his wife.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the seventh in the Protestant version, eighth in the Catholic, is also about property, not monogamy or faithfulness. One should never, it taught, have sex with someone else’s property. It’s okay to have sex with your own but not another man’s daughters, wives, or slaves.

And in a society where its heroes were polygamists – think of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Kings David and Solomon, and on and on – these commandments, not surprisingly, say nothing about being monogamous. Seen in their full versions and in their historical context, they are about women treated as property and protecting the property of men.

But no one wants to talk about that, particularly out loud. Posting the Protestant or other Ten Commandments is a historic reminder of masculine dominance in world and US history. It reminds us of the days when only white males could vote, when women and slaves of both genders were the property of male bosses.

And then there’s the Protestant third commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” which in its unedited version continues “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” What more unspiritual, vain place to put God’s name than on money!

If there’s anything our religious traditions have taught, it’s the incompatibility of serving God and “mammon.” So, it’s likely that since in 1864 “In God We Trust” was first inscribed on our money, our nation has been disobeying this commandment. Apparently in our thinking our cash must be sacred objects. Otherwise we’d have doubts about desecrating God’s name by putting “God” on our Almighty dollars.

On February 19, 2003 Justice Moore met with a Soulforce delegation on the anniversary of a case denying custody of children to their lesbian mother. Moore had argued that “the lifestyle should never be tolerated.” Moore then told the delegates that he was bound to enforce the current discriminatory laws, but that if the laws were changed, he’d enforce the change.

But none of this really matters to true believers who want to push their version of right-wing, Americanized, Protestant Christianity on the nation. They have shown little or no sensitivity to the other views in a diverse America. Other people, as far as they are concerned, just shouldn’t be so sensitive, shouldn’t interfere with the truth and rights of the majority as they define them.

Roy Moore’s refusal to obey higher judicial decisions opposed to posting the Protestant Ten Commandments indicates that he’d probably be just as defiant and insensitive about LGBT issues. Justice Moore’s speech and actions, after all, tell us he’s one of the convinced.

The Faithless Business of Funding “Faith Based Initiatives”

It’s pretty clear that an ultraconservative corporate executive agenda is beneath the Bush II administration’s moves even more than it was in the Clinton administration. The Bush gang and his Congress are pursuing it with a vengeance.

Ending government social programs that could instead become moneymakers in the hands of corporate executive friends is one of the administration’s apparent central intentions in remaking government.

It’s on track. Public health care, transportation, education, and social security programs have great potential for the kind of corporate executive profits pocketed by the top officials of Enron, Global Crossing, Tyson, WorldCom and the other corporations with “misreporting” problems.

The strategy for moving public non-profit programs into private apparently profit-making hands (meaning profits for executives) is to destroy those public programs. You can do this either through a constant, conservative-think-tank-created barrage of criticism, a combination of enforcing new requirements for a program while decreasing or denying adequate funding to the program itself, or both.

Merely adding further requirements to the public sphere (while, not coincidently, removing regulations from the corporate sector), such as mandatory achievement testing, without providing the additional funding needed to prepare for and administer the exams, is one example. Until they started doing so themselves, conservatives criticized so-called liberals for this, calling it “unfunded mandates.”

Privatization is usually justified by the assumed common wisdom that the private sector can do anything more efficiently than government. The actual evidence that this is so, however, is seldom examined. The assumption that government should be run like a business seems to ignore that the popular, long-running Dilbert comic strip is based on the tons of ideas from people in business, not government. And its creator, Scott Adams, said he still has four more years of ideas from business that have been submitted to him.

One example of this assumed “success” in the area of education is Edison Schools, Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools. Edison became a hit on NASDAQ with its shares trading at one time for as high as $38. But by 2002, Edison became another example, according to SEC investigators, of a company that misreported revenues and lacks an adequate system of accounting controls. By late 2002, its shares were selling for under a dollar. In Philadelphia it sold off textbooks and other supplies to pay its bills.

This privatizing business model is behind the administration’s funding of “faith-based initiatives.” Again it’s justified by the claim that religious organizations can do anything more efficiently than governments. And again, they cite no studies to prove this.

We know religious institutions pay their employees poorly in comparison to governments. They even rely on free volunteer labor. We know religious institutions can discriminate in employment of, and services to, LGBT people. We know top religious executives aren’t volunteers but often well-paid bureaucrats with housing allowances and other perks such as not having to pay payroll taxes.

We know religious organizations are full of similar scandals and cover-ups as those that afflict big business. We know they have a privileged status that doesn’t have to pay the property, real estate, sales, and other taxes other businesses do. We know they aren’t required to publicly report what’s really going on with their accounting.

But we don’t hear of data that says these institutions are more efficient than governments. And without full reporting, how can we know?

We’re just supposed to believe what religious leaders and their political supporters preach. That’s where the faith is in government funding of “faith-based initiatives.” They’re no longer expressions of faith by the churches and their supporters.

First, it used to be accepted that faith is to be active in good works. (C.S. Lewis once complained that Christians talk about doing good works but seldom about doing good work.) That has meant that faithful people give or tithe so that there is some sort of sacrifice of their wealth. It was the proof that God was more important to them than their money.

“Faith-based initiatives” however, allow religious people to spend tax money, *other peoples’ money, yours and mine.* That means they can save more of their own money to build bigger estates and to feather their own nests. Their good works, then, become really our good works. How’s that for faithlessness?

Second, faith-based people used to believe that there was some good, righteous, powerful, higher power who would see to it that the truth would win out. This God wasn’t dependent upon kings or emperors for success.

“Faith-based initiatives” make government the guarantor of the success of their religion. They no longer trust in God or the Spirit to make things work – government will. How’s that for faithlessness?

Third, faithful people used to believe that it was their job to send out missionaries and even to be missionaries themselves. If they were full-time religious professionals, they’d even have to raise their own funds from other faithful to do so.

Not any more. Taxpayer funded “faith-based initiatives” bring in the non-believers who have needs that draw people to the initiative. The hardest part of evangelism is now the work of government funding. Religious people don’t have to work as hard to “bring them in” to hear their message of salvation, or pay as much for it. How’s that for faithlessness?

Isn’t it obvious? What government funded “faith-based initiatives” make clear is that those who push them have very little faith in their God, in themselves, or in the power of their own good works. They also demonstrate that they just don’t want to make the financial sacrifice that good works were supposed to take. In other words, they’ve given up the real proofs that they have faith at all.

It’s About Love, and That’s It! Period!

We get distracted. The political and religious right tries its best to sidetrack us so that we’re living in terms of their agenda, not ours. And they’ve got national think tanks to tell them how to take charge of the discussions.

Yet, there is really only one issue. Put simply in sound bite fashion: it’s the right to love whomever anyone wants to love. Period.

Why is that so hard for people to get? Why is it so hard for us to stay on task and keep something as important as love in the forefront? Why is it so easy to get caught up in discussions that sap our energy instead of just saying that this is about the freedom to love?

It’s not about whether it’s a choice. In fact, why do we care whether we can help being LGBT or not? The issue is irrelevant to love. Come to think of it, love is best when it is a free choice.

It’s not about idealizing and achieving straight-acting relationships. Straight-acting relationships are failing all around us and disappointing heterosexual couples right and left.

It’s not about whether religion and tradition affirm or reject anything at all. Down through history, we find religions and traditional ideas affirming or rejecting everything that’s ever happened or been believed. And we know that often religions that have preached love have also ? sometimes actually while claiming to be loving ? supported deaths and war.

It’s not about waiting to respond to the next right-wing initiative. It’s about having a real gay agenda that’s a long list of everything we want, and about pushing the agenda.

It’s not about changing the prejudices of the extreme right. It’s about being out and about in the potentially supportive middle.

It’s not about whether or not other people like us or think we’re too pushy. It’s about securing our equal rights and full equality.

It’s not about being understood. We are complete human beings who deserve to be treated as fully human human beings whether people understand us or not.

It’s not about the need to give those who don’t “understand” us more time. How many generations more are we willing to give up? How many more millennia are we willing to lose to people with prejudices?

It’s not about making sure that anti-gay positions are represented, as if we owe them some sort of equal opportunity. They already have the leadership of a political party, a grass roots network of thousands of churches, newspapers, magazines, radio programs, radio stations, and cable networks to get their ideas across. We’ve got to get over our liberal guilt about this as if we owe our abusers more “equal time.”

It’s not about smiling understandably while we listen to “friendly” politicians apologize to us because they can’t support our issues when their reelection is on the line.

It’s not about being able to be quietly invisible as we work in our workplaces, learn in our educational institutions, or walk down our streets. It’s about never having to hide our love by putting photos of them in our desk drawers, changing or avoiding pronouns in conversations, or remaining at a safe distance from the ones we love when we’re out together.

It’s not about whether or not some historical, political, or entertainment figure is LGBT. It’s about our own value, and our own lives here and now.

It’s not about whether our LGBT communities have dysfunctional, or down right crazy people in them. Of course, we’ve got messed up individuals just like every group. We have no need to apologize for them either.

It’s not about our being attracted to the same sex. It’s about our parents’, children’s, politicians’, religious leaders’, and institutions’ homophobia, anti-LGBT prejudices, and poorly defined self-concepts.

It’s actually not really about sex. It’s about love. One of the many ways to express love is through sex, but people are not gay-bashed only while they are having sex. They are gay-bashed for showing any signs of love to the same gender.

It’s not about whether or not we really like sex or we act sexually. It’s not about whether we have lots of sex or none. It’s not about the kinds of things we do in bed. The envy, fascination, obsession, falsifications, condemnation, and emotions expressed around LGBT sex in our society reflect our culture’s sickness about sex and pleasure. Our critics may not get this, but it’s to our peril if defending ourselves centers around an issue so confused by our culture.

It’s not about whether or not the oppression of LGBT people is better or worse than racism or other oppressions. It just doesn’t matter whose oppression is worse. How tacky is that argument? All oppression is connected, and it’s all reprehensible.

And, it’s not about whether people think that talking about love is some pie-in-the-sky, far-fetched, wouldn’t-it-be-nice, woo-woo, idea that our dominant war-based society considers unrealistic. If people think so, that’s an expression of their own cynicism, fatalism, hopelessness, feelings of emptiness, past disappointments, failures to experience love, and inadequate upbringings.

What we’re asking for is nothing more ? and nothing less ? than changing a fear-based society to a love-based one. Few believe this can be done. Fear is so integral to our way of doing things that we can hardly conceive of a world without it.

What we are asking for is something everyone needs, and deeply wants. Even if we don’t get there soon, though, the core issue that’s simple enough to be expressed over and over in sound bites, and radical enough to cause trouble, is the right for everyone to love whomever they choose.

What Have We Been Doing to Our Children?

"Poisonous pedagogy." That's what world-renowned Swiss psychotherapist Alice Miller calls our current dominant methods of child-rearing. It's a hard label to swallow. We'd rather deny it. But she's dead serious.

Miller's writings are extensive and important, including her most well-known book, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self (1979), or For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence (1990), and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child (1998). In every one she challenges much of what we consider 'normal' parenting.

Miller calls for a total revision of the methods we use and the way we view children. She describes how parents, who haven't dealt with the effects of the poisonous pedagogy of their own parents, project their ideas, feelings, and dreams on their children. Children learn that in order to survive they must honor and obey their parents while repressing memories, feelings, and attempts to be themselves. Children must learn to conform, suppress their curiosity and emotions, and become intolerant, even afraid, of deviations from what they've learned.

This parenting, we sincerely believe, is 'for their own good.' In order not to face the pains, humiliations, disappointments, tragedies, and abuses of our own upbringing, we won't look deeply at the issue. In fact, we refuse to take our own childhood feelings and experiences seriously.

As a result we've become unaware of what really happened. We're convinced that anything we went through was good for us, character-building, or necessary training to get along in the real world. 'My childhood wasn't that bad.' 'I turned out okay,' we respond, even if our childhood was frankly abusive.

In addition, our culture still tends to teach children to blame themselves as if adults are innocent and children born guilty. As the magnitude of child abuse in our culture continues to come to the surface, we just don't want to face it.

We learn to defend our parents and blame ourselves for any negative things they have done and our inability's to rise above them. We want to protect parents. We want to let them off the hook. We want to say they were well-meaning, even if they were screwed-up. We want to tell adult children that they should forgive their parents. And the worst commandment, the one used to support the illusion that parenting is just fine and children need to get over it, Miller adds, is 'Honor your father and your mother.' So, as adults we deal with depression, surprising amounts of anger, self-defeating internal messages, low self-esteem, and patterns of actions through which we constantly attempt to prove we're really not stupid, insignificant, abandoned, or worthless. We're still not supposed to add to 'Well my parents did the best they could (given their own upbringing),' the realization that they were incapable of giving us what we needed as children. Parents so needed their children to fulfill their own unmet childhood needs that they couldn't love them unconditionally, couldn't let them grow in their own ways, couldn't always fully be there, couldn't take children?s feelings seriously, or couldn't affirm, respect, and believe their children.

When children learn to suppress their feelings, they learn not to feel what's really going on around them. They often become violent.

It's not about violence on TV. Children who have really been loved and protected, Miller asserts, are uninterested in violent movies and video games. The child who was hurt and humiliated, maybe not by parents but at school, will seek an object to hate and on which to take revenge. The abuser was always abused. Violent people were brought up violently. And often they were also taught to deny their histories. These memories are unbearably painful and one way not to feel the pain of childhood is to hurt or kill innocent people.

This is not to blame parents. They don't get much help either. The mainstream thinks this is the way it should be as long as parents don't go to extremes. It doesn't take alternative ideas seriously. It just doesn't want to face the hurts most of us felt as children. Parents are left to pass along the methods of their parents, though they often improve them somewhat. And fixing this through permissiveness will not be the answer either.

Parents are given little support. They're taught to rely on an inadequate consumer-driven nuclear family model that's guaranteed to exhaust them. They're told to discipline children by hitting, yelling at, and humiliating them. But Miller is blunt. Experiments, she says, have proven conclusively that no one learns anything from punishment. They only learn how to avoid more punishment through lies, pretense, and diversion. They also learn how to punish a child later.

Little children are naturally tolerant. They think it's wrong to be hurt. It makes sense to them that people who are hurting or left out should be helped. They have a sense of fairness. They don't object to showing affection to others of either sex. They expect human beings to cry out when they're in need. They look intently at others until they're told not to stare. They expect the best of other humans until they're taught not to trust. They laugh more, cry more, observe more, and dream more. They do things that are inefficient, unproductive, outside of the box. The world is theirs for exploring and loving.

Children are not naturally homophobic. They don't naturally think that sexuality is dirty. They aren't naturally racist. They have to be taught this.

Childishness, of course, ends. We call it growing up. And it seems to be ending sooner than ever as we push younger and younger children to be like us adults -- the adults who seek more and more fulfillment, use addictive coping mechanisms, are unhappy with their looks, and buy books to improve their self-esteem, and the many things they don't like about themselves. When children enforce on each other the prejudices and inadequacies they were taught by grown-ups, we call it peer pressure.

Not surprisingly, this poisonous pedagogy installs and enforces homophobia and prejudice against LGBT people. As generation after generation moves away from its methods, we'll slowly also move away from the search for others to blame for society's problems.

Still, there will be some who won't face the deep personal hurts of their parenting. They couldn't bear to tell the truth about their parents. They may be psychologists, right-wing evangelists, antigay leaders, or others who prefer to blame LGBT people. They say, 'I was hit, hurt, etc. and I turned out okay.' Antigay efforts are less painful to them than feeling the pains of their childhood.

There is probably no antigay person who has fully faced their own upbringing. One way to avoid doing so is to focus hate, prejudice, arrogance, and disgust on LGBT people.

So, I bet, that's their problem. It's not us. It's their inability to face their childhoods.

Sodomy Ban Should Have Ended Sooner

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision Thursday striking down Texas’s law banning same-sex sodomy was over-due.

Though the justices declared the law unconstitutional on the grounds of the right to protect all consenting adults from law enforcement intrusion in their bedrooms, the objections to the court taking this action seem archaic and uninformed.

The past half-century of study has shown that arguments used to maintain discrimination against gay people are little more than leftovers from days of ignorance and prejudice. Yet they are often couched in religious, traditional or scientific terms.

The Court couldn’t accept arguments from psychology. All mainstream professional psychological organizations removed homosexuality from their list of disorders over a quarter of a century ago. Those who continue to promote “conversion” or “reparative therapy” face accusations of unprofessional conduct, lack of evidence of their effectiveness, and refusal to understand the psychology of sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association admitted: “Homosexuality was once thought to be a mental illness because mental health professionals and society had biased information.”

Biblical arguments against homosexuality are losing their appeal to religious people. Biblical scholars have shown that anti-gay interpretations of Biblical passages are based more on current prejudices than on historical readings of the texts. Those who continue to use the Bible refuse to admit that their understanding of the Bible is only one possibility.

Arguments that “Judeo-Christian” religious history is thoroughly against homosexuality conveniently ignore the diversity of Jewish and Christian teachings and practice since the first century. One can find anything one wants in the history of Christianity: crusades, inquisitions, the burning of witches, arguments for slavery, or rejection of women’s leadership. The US’s largest Protestant denomination was founded in 1845 on a “states’ rights” platform to maintain slavery.

"Tradition" itself no longer holds the value it did as people note that what we call traditional is only a discriminating picking from human history what one wants and ignoring what one doesn’t. If anything is traditional it’s prejudice, bigotry, and cockroaches. Justice Kennedy was informed by solid scholarship: “there is no longlasting history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter.”

That’s why Justice Scalia’s complaints against the majority opinion seem so pitiful. They arise right out of backward rhetoric that continues to promote prejudices. The Court has “signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda…taken sides in the culture war’ he opined. And in the tried and true fashion of someone who wants to maintain discrimination, he even had to say “I have nothing against homosexuals….But….”

The Love of Friendship

There are shelves of books about Ms. or Mr. Right: how to get yourself ready for her or him, how to find her or him, how to keep her or him, and how to have a fulfilling relationship with her or him. There are even books about how to find the girlfriend or boyfriend within.

Some are actually very good. And they sell well, even if everything's been said at least a half-dozen times already.

Their popularity tells us how desperate we are for the right relationship with that one person who will be our intimate companion. But if we took the better advice most of these books give, we'd lose that desperation and begin to value ourselves as single individuals who are members of a broader community. We wouldn't think that the answer to our loneliness and feelings of incompleteness was found in one husband or wife.

What's missing in the literature about relationships is how to be a friend, a real trusted, close, long-term friend. Friends just seem to be people we "have" in some casual or accidental way. We don't think about friendship in the way we analyze our relationship to a girlfriend or boyfriend.

There are times when we're really glad we have friends and we may reflect about that. There are times when we're thankful that a friend stood by when even our coupling with a beloved fell apart. We seldom think about the love that is expressed in friendship except when other options seem to have failed us.

Culturally we don't give much thought to deepening friendships or just being a better friend, unless it's about "winning friends" for some often unfriendly goal. Remember Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book title that certainly makes friendship sound like a self-centered, profit-oriented occupation? After fifty years, it's still a top seller. But who trusts the depth of commitment of any salesperson who wants you to feel like their friend?

Real, deep friendship isn't a model of relating that's sellable. It makes little money for anyone in comparison to the profits of selling that one beloved who could be our partner, husband, or wife.

After a study of the literature on business, Sam Keen writes in Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man (1992) that this lack of emphasis upon friendship relates to the nature of masculine models of doing business today. There is not, he notes, a single chapter on friendship in all the books on business. It's not a part of good business anymore. And the higher one rises in a corporation, the less one is friends with the majority of its employees. As Keen puts it: "Nobody hugs the boss."

Though the grown-up preoccupation is to make Valentine's Day a time to celebrate the one beloved we're lucky to have in our lives, or to bemoan the lack thereof, it wasn't always that way. As children, before all the conditioning about needing a man or woman to fulfil us took hold, Valentine's Day was a chance to think of friends.

In the days of passing out those tiny little valentines in early elementary school, we weren't thinking of giving them only to that special one. In fact, we may have been told that the rule was everyone in class gets a valentine. There was an expectation that being someone's valentine had to do with good friendship. And it was easier to say, "I love you" to a friend or hold hands or put your arm around someone without worrying about how that would be taken or what that might mean beyond a friendship that embodied what then seemed to be a natural human closeness.

There's actually a large body of literature in the traditions of both the East and the West that celebrates good friends. It was easier to express the love that was friendship in societies and times when homophobia was less rampant. Without that fear of getting close to one's own sex, no one had too worry whether a relationship was too close, too intimate, and too cherished.

And when same-sex sexual activity was less an issue, it was easier to be closer to friends of the same sex, and even to express that friendship in romantic terms. David and Jonathan in the Hebrew Bible could swear allegiance to each other, make a "covenant" to each other, and "love" each other, as David described it, "more than the love of women." Jesus of Nazareth could have one disciple "whom he loved," and could allow that disciple to lay his head on his chest. Again in the Hebrew Bible,

Naomi and Ruth could commit themselves to each other forever without question.

All of these people had same-sex relationships. And friendship is one kind of relationship.

But to us, the cultural emphasis on sexual and romantic coupling and its anti-gay prejudice has even made the phrase "same-sex relationships" sound like it only refers to relationships that are sexual. The fact is, we do not know whether many of these close relationships were sexual or not. But the interest in proving it one way or the other is a result of our culture's homophobia. Otherwise, it wouldn't be an issue at all.

Down through history there are numerous examples of close friendships. But the negative attitudes and oppression of LGBT people makes such closeness difficult today because it labels it "gay." Internalized homophobia causes us to wonder "what this means." And as long as it's considered bad to be gay, the fear that such close friendships might mean "I'm gay" keeps them from developing.

In addition, when a culture defines closeness in sexual terms, as a friendship gets closer, the issue of sexual activity complicates closeness. For some people, closeness is only expressed in sexuality. For> others, closeness is only experienced in sexuality. And the movie When

Harry Met Sally concluded that men and women cannot "merely" be friends. Sex must be involved when people are that close.

Closeness and love are parts of deep friendships. They are expressed in the many ways closeness can be expressed. And close friends listen carefully, affirm one's value, stand by in thick or thin, and support personal growth. They are not only gifts of the universe but relationships that need attention, development, and celebration.

What's Tradition For?

I think it was a French skeptic who observed: "History is just one damn thing after another." And Henry Ford agreed: "History is bunk."

Not true. We need to know our history to see how much is possible and to be aware of all that has been accomplished by our predecessors. History tells us how we got to this place, for better or for worse, and whether we're stuck here or not (usually not).

But in what sense does history somehow provide us with our norms, tell us how things should be, or model what must be done? And are we victims of our past?

Those are questions we need to ask when we hear someone use that loaded word: "tradition." That's because the basic issue is: just because something is traditional, does that make it good, moral, humane, just, caring, or even valuable enough to preserve?

Now, a lot of things are traditional because they've made it down through history, sometimes against apparently overwhelming odds. Slavery is traditional. Women idealized as male property is traditional. Living with cockroaches is traditional. So are an assortment of diseases such as small pox, typhoid, and pneumonia. To fight them is to go against the weight of tradition.

Yet often the word has been evoked to claim that certain things shouldn't change, as if we are expected to assume that because something is traditional it's better than things that aren't. "Love one another" is a traditional recommendation, but its value doesn't rest in the fact that it is an old idea, and certainly not in whether or not it's traditionally been widely practiced.

That something is "traditional" has been used to argue against Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered (LGBT) people just as it has against any group that a dominant culture has marginalized. If one thing is surely traditional, it's discrimination.

"Traditional family values," seems to refer to the values of white, patriarchal, discipline-oriented, middle-class families of the 1950's. Those values are supposed to be better than treating women and children as full human beings who are as good as grown-up males, or recognizing the value of letting people love whomever they choose.

"Traditional understandings of the Bible" are assumed to be better than those of modern scholarship, especially if they are taken to condemn anything that threatens "traditional family values." Words like "revisionism" and "modernism" are used as putdowns. And this is so even if these "traditional" interpretations actually were developed as late as the twentieth century.

Religious traditions are defined by authorities who see themselves as somehow more qualified than the rest of us. They include only some of the ideas, events, and morals from religious history while ignoring many others. Then these traditions are used to tell people who they are and confine them inside internalized, restrictive psychological, emotional, and social boundaries that promote guilt, condemnation, and self-hate in those, often l/g/b/t people, who don't fit in.

It's an emotional attachment to a tradition that imprisons. For we were not taught that a tradition is valuable and true merely through logical discussions of it with us. Traditions were given to us as members of a community, which may have included our immediate families -- a community that defined us, accepted us, affirmed us, and validated us. And we learned that that community would do so until we stepped outside of its "traditional" beliefs to live on our terms for ourselves.

As l/g/b/t people come out to themselves and the world about them, their attachment to these communities and their way of seeing things is emotionally difficult to sever. They find themselves putting much of their emotional energy in relating to, arguing against, or obsessing over these traditions even if the traditions actually invalidate l/g/b/t people. Those outside a tradition can be baffled by why the stuck ones just can't get over it.

So, who chooses which of the array of events of the past are to be considered traditions, that is, which events are more than just past happenings? Someone had to decide which of history's events and ideas provide norms for the present and which do not.

All traditions have been defined by someone or some group picking and choosing from the past. Otherwise everything that's every happened or been said would be included in every tradition.

And all traditions at one time were new. They began as something other than traditional.

So who says that you and I cannot define today for ourselves what is a part of our tradition and what is not? And what loss, abandonment, fear, guilt, and emptiness would we feel if what we chose was different from that of our parents, our religious communities, or other cultural institutions?

Though we may believe the voices that say we can't, shouldn't, or aren't able to do so, the fact is, we are fully capable of choosing for ourselves. It's a decision we can make. It's our choice to make and define our own traditions. It's also our choice whether or not to be a part of the traditions defined by others.

A refreshing new book coauthored by L. William Countryman and M.R. Ritley entitled Gifted by Otherness (2001) is must reading for any l/g/b/t person who still wants to remain a part of "the Christian tradition." It's a model of no longer living as l/g/b/t victims of Christianity.

We are not victims of anyone else's definitions or traditions. We do not need to live under the belief that we are only worthy human beings when others will love us. We can be as innovative as we want. We can choose what to value. We can choose what ideas and beliefs will define us. We can choose to be victims of "tradition" no longer.

Duct Tape and Cover

We should definitely be on Orange Alert. None of the advances LGBT people have made is safe. Though we've made some headway, in the last few months we've also seen an upsurge in efforts to thwart progress and undo legal victories.

In addition to dozens of attempts to undo protections in cities, counties, and schools, for example, in early February Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would delete legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Never giving up, they're back to undo one of our most liberal state's 1993 laws. A Colorado legislative committee killed a bill that would have granted legal recognition to same-sex couples. A Missouri measure would make it difficult for school systems to adopt policies protecting LGBT youth. And full Southern Baptist pressure is on Nashville to keep the city from protecting LGBT people.

In December, the US Supreme Court took up a challenge to Texas' sodomy law. Among other states, Texas currently makes it a crime to engage in "deviate sexual intercourse"- oral and anal sex - with a person of the same sex.

Whether the Court's interest in the law is a good thing or not, we'll have to see. A slim majority will decide the case. But it will be outside societal pressure that will force their decision more than real questions of fairness, justice, equality, humanity, and compassion.

Remembering the very manner in which they chose a "president" should scare us when sodomy is in the hands of these justices. This Court is a highly political entity searching for judicial reasons to shore up its prejudices.

So we need to be on high alert, alert for more attempts to undo what has been gained. And we can't assume allies will protect us. We've got to encourage them. Obsessed anti-gay bigots come back again and again. This is no time to settle down.

But the "president" and company -- the "United We Standers" -- know how to distract us while un-doing our rights and moving ahead on anything they've planned to do. With war, fear, and imminent terrorist attacks as weapons of mass distraction, their imperial-international and redistribution-of-wealth-national agenda can move forward under the radar.

And nothing they've done to distract the public has slowed their efforts to undo women's choice, to ensure advantages for rich white males, to shift the tax burden away from their upper-class friends, to subsidize churches (mostly right-wing ones), to eliminate any control on big business, and to re-define the US as a military-economic "American Empire."

The march to war proceeds with every distraction in the book. Collen Powell is probably the administration's most trusted spokesperson. So he gets the out-on-a-limb assignment of convincing US citizenry that war for the American way in inevitable. But he'd better come up with more impressive information than he was fed for his February 5 speech to the UN Security Council.

Powell actually quoted a British intelligence report that, instead of being based on whatever "British intelligence" is supposed to do, plagiarized three previously printed papers, one a decade old research paper by a student at the Monterey (California) Institute of International Studies. Not only did Powell attempt to pawn this off as the fresh work of intelligence sources, but the British report didn't even bother to correct the typographical and grammatical errors in the original.

France, Germany, and Belgium, NATO allies least dependent on US economic and political coercion for their survival, balked at the administration's distractive strategies. They want real evidence, while our administration tries to bully, shame, and marginalize dissenting nations as weak, effeminate, stupid, even quite queer. US administrations have never had much use for Europe anyway, unless, like the current British government, they saddle up to ride along with us.

They've pictured Europeans as less manly than rugged, frontier, shoot-first, cowboy, hyper-masculine Americans. After all, Europeans can't really be manly. We always have to save them militarily. And look how they seem to accept so many queer things. Look how the European Union is moving to fully accept LGBT people, even in the military. That's not real American manhood.

How much less does our administration value the February third vote of the African Union, representing 53 nations, that declared its opposition to the US unilateral pro-war position? This seems to have been mostly ignored by our corporate, war-dominated, white-faced media.

And how long has it taken our media to recognize what US historians like Howard Zinn are calling the largest anti-war movement in US history? They've tried to downplay it. They continue to underestimate its numbers even though it's one of the few that has gathered such steam before a war has begun. And how often have we seen "the left" on debate shows like CNN's Crossfire represented by a "from the left" host who's anti-war?

There's much that this war is supposed to distract us from. We're not supposed to care about the largest budget deficit in history - even without adding in the up-coming additional appropriations to pay for the war itself. We're not supposed to care about the curtailing of our freedoms in the "USA Patriot Act" and it's proposed additions. We're not supposed to complain when our states struggle to cut social services and throw more of the already poor into shelters and food lines.

And we're not supposed to care that building that unchallenged American empire, a goal of the new US foreign policy in this administration, is how we're being known throughout the real world. We're not supposed to believe that defeating Iraq and replacing it with a "friendly" regime has anything to do with taking control of the world's second-largest, most-valued oil fields. Or that a US general running Iraq will mean a US vote on oil-prices in OPEC. Even the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein, which welcomed US military pressure, is now beginning to realize that they won't be in charge when it's over, unless they kowtow to US demands.

And it's certainly a way to include LGBT people in the distractions while the same people at the center of doing so are planning new measures to make sure we are excluded from the reality of US life.

I was watching a CNN reporter compare the current advice to stock up on duct tape, plastic sheeting, dried food, and water so we're prepared for inevitable terrorist gas, chemical, or nuclear attacks. Replaying the old "duck and cover" films, she noted that our government knew then that ducking under a blanket or school desk after "you see a bright light" would do nothing to save us. But, she said, that was okay because: "It made people feel better. We felt like there was something we could do." And she said it with a very straight face.

We're being distracted by something that will accomplish nothing for us. We're being told there is something that we can do that will save us, while what will really save us is very different and has nothing to do with Iraq. We are really being threatened with losing our rights, as humans and as LGBT people. And we're forgetting what American investigative journalist I. F. Stone declared the first rule of journalism: "All governments lie."

Just as Good Isn't Good Enough

The American Academy of Pediatrics' endorsement and support this past month of the rights of gay men and lesbians to be parents is a prestigious validation of what we've known all along. We can be just as good at parenting as straight people.

And, we can also be just as bad.

The AAP statement is another one of those endorsements that identifies us with the same healthy, and the same sick, institutions as the rest of society. No doubt, we have the right to all of those institutions.

Not only does the AAP join the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in support of lesbian and gay parenting, but it also takes a step further. The Academy calls its member doctors to become advocates for full recognition of such parenting in order to promote the health and wellbeing not of LGBT parents, but of American children.

Of course, lesbians and gay men have been parents for generations. In "don't ask, don't tell" fashion, however, their parental rights have been denied in U.S. courts with the belief that "scientific evidence" did not support their abilities. A recent Alabama example is only the latest.

Right-wing responses still cling to those old prejudices, criticizing AAP recommendations with the same complaints they make of any professional organization that doesn't agree with their prejudices - that the decision was political, or under activist pressure, or based on flawed data.

Predictably, for example, Louis Sheldon, the chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, responded to the AAP by describing what is actually a generally conservative group of physicians to the Associated Press as: "A group of pro-homosexual people...who want to further tear down the one-man, one-woman relationship in America." It's the same old rhetoric from groups whose own methods are politically heavy-handed, who are adept at using every form of activist pressure, and who cite "data" from organizations falsely self-labeled "research councils" as well as "researchers" known for skewing the results.

Of course, the support of the right of LGBT people to parent does not guarantee that LGBT people will be good parents any more than the right of heterosexuals to parent has guaranteed that what they do is good for their children. After all, the concept of the dysfunctional family was based on straight family models. And the generations that baby boomers complain about for the loss of morals and whatever else they think is good, were the result of the straight parenting of baby boomers or their own straight parents.

The failure of the current model of a family is something that's hardly ever noticed, much less discussed, in our society. We are too stuck in this family model's patterns, too committed to its structure, too invested financially in its dysfunction. On top of this, many are too busy blaming the gains of LGBT people for the problems that a straight society and its problematic model of a family have created.

Most non-heterosexual people are too caught up in the important fight for equal rights, too quick to accept the idea that straight institutions are better, or too much in need of the approval of straight society to raise and examine the issue. Our internalized heterosexism is more likely to be enamored with straight institutions like the current nuclear family than to see the blatant and deep-rooted faults that are now pointed out by family-system therapists. Even some heterosexual parents have become concerned with rejecting such straight models for the future of their children.

Creating our families on straight models will not help children nor save LGBT people. We've got to explore what we, people who have stood outside straight culture and looked in, can do to improve, heal, and break the dysfunctional patterns of the current family model.

We have no need to go into parenting as if we are the flawed ones who need to catch up to the healthy straight families. We are the ones capable of changing things for the better, because we are not straight. And we can join that small cohort of heterosexual parents who are fighting to change how our society brings up boys to be men and girls to be ladies.

We've already begun to break the limitations of the nuclear family when we've brought our friends into a child's life as non-related "aunts and uncles." We've created groups to support our parenting - straight people should have done this long ago to relieve parental stress.

Some of us will choose to nurture life directly with children whom we conceive, birth, or adopt. We need to recognize, then, that these lives are not here to be our property or one of our possessions, but lives that need to grow in their own space and time for themselves. We have chosen to help them flourish. The have not chosen us.

Some of us could choose to nurture the children who are in this world rather than think our fulfillment might lie in having children of our own. This world needs nurturing adults who supplement parents and give children the attention they need, attention that goes beyond the limitations of two adults.

All of us can refuse to limit boys by the stifling gender roles that put men out of touch with, even embarrassed by, their feelings, prepare them to be competitive warriors who can only win by defeating other men in business, sports, war, and every-day interactions. We can encourage their nurturing, peace-making, and playful qualities.

We can refuse to limit girls by the stifling gender roles that encourage them to accept chivalry rather than equal pay, teach them to sacrifice their dreams for the dreams of others, and settle for the evaluations of male-dominance. We can encourage them to define their lives for themselves and their own interests, and to develop and display their strength, insights, and wholeness.

We can emphasize alternatives to punishment, shame, and the appearance that adults know it all. We can decide to learn what children can teach us.

Of course, this all sounds pretty queer to many in our society. But that's exactly the point. If, in spite of the dominant propaganda, we can see what LGBT people have to give to children, we'll stop aping the old tired models of parenting and find out that the alternatives are even better for children. And though some of this is already recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, one day they'll more fully catch up to us.

The Value of LGBT Consumers

Touting the LGBT community, particularly its white males, as a group that spends a larger disposal income has been a strategy for marketing and advertising for decades. Mainstream businesses and advertisers, though often slow to get the profit-making implications of the message, have responded by targeting the dollars of gay and lesbian consumers.

Opinions about the actual nature of the market range from denial that LGBT people are actually economically better off, to surveys that are often skewed to questioning only those from upper income brackets. The research seems to support all the claims.

Reliable surveys have also shown a sizeable gap between the earnings and disposable income spending of gay male couples and lesbian couples. The difference reflects the over-all gap in income between men and women in our society doubled by the fact that two male incomes are being compared with two female incomes. There's no surprise here, since in the U.S. women still make no more than 75 cents for every dollar made by men in the same position.

For those who celebrate such things, it's clear that our worth is in our pocket books. Being courted by marketers has little if anything to with the value of LGBT individuals and their relationships. It has everything to do with the bottom line. It's how much money we earn and how willing we are to consume.

This is no more blatantly clear than in documents recently uncovered by the American Legacy Foundation, a public health foundation created as a result of the 1998 tobacco companies' legal settlement with a number of states. In the documents, food and tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds speaks of targeting San Francisco's LGBT consumers in the 1990s with "Project SCUM," short for "Subculture Urban Marketing." In the master plan, America's largest tobacco manufacturer strategizes its marketing to the LGBT community whose rates of smoking are far above the national average. LGBT people are "scum" valuable only as a market.

Right wing religious and political extremists agree with the more optimistic economic assertions of the marketers. They leap upon claims of our greater income and spending potential as evidence to argue that LGBT people are not real victims of discrimination. No changes are needed, because we are, in fact, well-off beneficiaries of society just the way it is. We're actually a privileged group living off the fat of the land. So, why would LGBT people need any legal protections?

Other groups who have experienced discrimination, have often characterized us the same way. So, when we compare anti-gay oppression with white racism, people of color picture gay people as rich, white whiners who wouldn't know real oppression if it hit them in their overly fat pocketbooks.

The latest salvo in the campaign to court us economically has been fired with Richard Florida's new book: The Rise of the Creative Class: And How it's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2002). Florida is on the current high-end business luncheon circuit advising cities that their future is tied to their ability to attract people who "create meaningful new forms."

This "creative class" includes not only scientists,

engineers, architects, and university professors, but artists, poets, novelists, entertainers, actors, designers, and other cultural figures. And cities that attract them no longer follow the usual strategies to recruit more companies in the hope of becoming the next Silicone Valley, or building professional sports stadiums, or developing retail complexes. They have begun to recognize demographic changes that make young people, singles, new immigrants, and gay people critical to the social fabric. They are known to be open to diversity and are actively and publicly working to cultivate it.

Now, to most of us it takes little imagination to conclude that such cities must come to value, not merely tolerate, LGBT people along with non-straight-acting heterosexuals who feel safer in places that welcome queer people. Florida points that out in his writing. His "Creativity Index" measures diversity by "the Gay Index, a reasonable proxy for an area's openness to different kinds of people and ideas." In fact, an article based on his book is subtitled "Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race."

This is not only good news for LGBT people. It's good news for everyone who finds little attraction in white bread suburbs, slick malls, big box retail stores, cookie-cutter houses, and fake replicas of buildings with character.

If our cities would take Florida's advice, inner cities would continue to revive historic buildings, established neighborhoods, and older downtown retail and living complexes. What this creative class is attracted to, he argues, is an authentic sense of inner cities, and what developers in the past have considered grit.

Of course, in reality many LGBT people are attracted to the suburban gentry lifestyle. They find comfort in tidy, straight coupling places that claim to be "good locations for raising a family." They are targetable consumers of affluence. And they want to blend into "the good life" represented by suburbia. They might even become the "Jones" everyone should keep up with.

Unless they're willing to move into established inner city neighborhoods that include large and stately homes, Florida's recommendations won't mean much to them personally. They may even join those who complain about the city, though they may be attracted to the clubs and colorful culture only inner cities provide.

So, people who might otherwise see no value in us should just grit their teeth and tolerate LGBT people because they have financial worth. And that's an appealing argument in our profit-oriented culture with its addictive need to maintain a fast-paced economy.

No matter how Florida's reminders to business leaders that LGBT people do have a value work, we are reminded that such appeals are not about the value of whom we love. They are not about our value as human beings. They are not really about our cultural contributions. And they are not about what we can offer a very sick society as alternatives to its failed values and institutions.

They are also arguments that work as long as no one recognizes that the majority of LGBT people are working class people who struggle along with other working class people.

Now this argument is really only dangerous to us when we also believe that this really is what we are worth. It's when we value ourselves and each other on the basis of what we drive, how large are houses are, and whether we fit into a lifestyle defined by how much we spend. And when we do that we are just as sick and lost as the greater society struggling around us. Then we'll do everything we can to get the approval of a system that couldn't care less about who we are as human beings.

Duct Tape and Cover

We should definitely be on Orange Alert. None of the advances LGBT people have made is safe. Though we've made some headway, in the last few months we've also seen an upsurge in efforts to thwart progress and undo legal victories.

In addition to dozens of attempts to undo protections in cities, counties, and schools, for example, in early February Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would delete legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Never giving up, they're back to undo one of our most liberal state's 1993 laws. A Colorado legislative committee killed a bill that would have granted legal recognition to same-sex couples. A Missouri measure would make it difficult for school systems to adopt policies protecting LGBT youth. And full Southern Baptist pressure is on Nashville to keep the city from protecting LGBT people.

In December, the US Supreme Court took up a challenge to Texas' sodomy law. Among other states, Texas currently makes it a crime to engage in "deviate sexual intercourse"- oral and anal sex - with a person of the same sex.

Whether the Court's interest in the law is a good thing or not, we'll have to see. A slim majority will decide the case. But it will be outside societal pressure that will force their decision more than real questions of fairness, justice, equality, humanity, and compassion.

Remembering the very manner in which they chose a "president" should scare us when sodomy is in the hands of these justices. This Court is a highly political entity searching for judicial reasons to shore up its prejudices.

So we need to be on high alert, alert for more attempts to undo what has been gained. And we can't assume allies will protect us. We've got to encourage them. Obsessed anti-gay bigots come back again and again. This is no time to settle down.

But the "president" and company -- the "United We Standers" -- know how to distract us while un-doing our rights and moving ahead on anything they've planned to do. With war, fear, and imminent terrorist attacks as weapons of mass distraction, their imperial-international and redistribution-of-wealth-national agenda can move forward under the radar.

And nothing they've done to distract the public has slowed their efforts to undo women's choice, to ensure advantages for rich white males, to shift the tax burden away from their upper-class friends, to subsidize churches (mostly right-wing ones), to eliminate any control on big business, and to re-define the US as a military-economic "American Empire."

The march to war proceeds with every distraction in the book. Collen Powell is probably the administration's most trusted spokesperson. So he gets the out-on-a-limb assignment of convincing US citizenry that war for the American way in inevitable. But he'd better come up with more impressive information than he was fed for his February 5 speech to the UN Security Council.

Powell actually quoted a British intelligence report that, instead of being based on whatever "British intelligence" is supposed to do, plagiarized three previously printed papers, one a decade old research paper by a student at the Monterey (California) Institute of International Studies. Not only did Powell attempt to pawn this off as the fresh work of intelligence sources, but the British report didn't even bother to correct the typographical and grammatical errors in the original.

France, Germany, and Belgium, NATO allies least dependent on US economic and political coercion for their survival, balked at the administration's distractive strategies. They want real evidence, while our administration tries to bully, shame, and marginalize dissenting nations as weak, effeminate, stupid, even quite queer. US administrations have never had much use for Europe anyway, unless, like the current British government, they saddle up to ride along with us.

They've pictured Europeans as less manly than rugged, frontier, shoot-first, cowboy, hyper-masculine Americans. After all, Europeans can't really be manly. We always have to save them militarily. And look how they seem to accept so many queer things. Look how the European Union is moving to fully accept LGBT people, even in the military. That's not real American manhood.

How much less does our administration value the February third vote of the African Union, representing 53 nations, that declared its opposition to the US unilateral pro-war position? This seems to have been mostly ignored by our corporate, war-dominated, white-faced media.

And how long has it taken our media to recognize what US historians like Howard Zinn are calling the largest anti-war movement in US history? They've tried to downplay it. They continue to underestimate its numbers even though it's one of the few that has gathered such steam before a war has begun. And how often have we seen "the left" on debate shows like CNN's Crossfire represented by a "from the left" host who's anti-war?

There's much that this war is supposed to distract us from. We're not supposed to care about the largest budget deficit in history - even without adding in the up-coming additional appropriations to pay for the war itself. We're not supposed to care about the curtailing of our freedoms in the "USA Patriot Act" and it's proposed additions. We're not supposed to complain when our states struggle to cut social services and throw more of the already poor into shelters and food lines.

And we're not supposed to care that building that unchallenged American empire, a goal of the new US foreign policy in this administration, is how we're being known throughout the real world. We're not supposed to believe that defeating Iraq and replacing it with a "friendly" regime has anything to do with taking control of the world's second-largest, most-valued oil fields. Or that a US general running Iraq will mean a US vote on oil-prices in OPEC. Even the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein, which welcomed US military pressure, is now beginning to realize that they won't be in charge when it's over, unless they kowtow to US demands.

And it's certainly a way to include LGBT people in the distractions while the same people at the center of doing so are planning new measures to make sure we are excluded from the reality of US life.

I was watching a CNN reporter compare the current advice to stock up on duct tape, plastic sheeting, dried food, and water so we're prepared for inevitable terrorist gas, chemical, or nuclear attacks. Replaying the old "duck and cover" films, she noted that our government knew then that ducking under a blanket or school desk after "you see a bright light" would do nothing to save us. But, she said, that was okay because: "It made people feel better. We felt like there was something we could do." And she said it with a very straight face.

We're being distracted by something that will accomplish nothing for us. We're being told there is something that we can do that will save us, while what will really save us is very different and has nothing to do with Iraq. We are really being threatened with losing our rights, as humans and as LGBT people. And we're forgetting what American investigative journalist I. F. Stone declared the first rule of journalism: "All governments lie."

Still About "Manhood"

In a recent television debate with the director of marketing and development of a large regional council of the Boys Scouts, I realized how unprepared this representative was for debates involving gender and sexuality. Yes, he attempted to steer the issues into reading the "Boys Scout's Motto" and all that. But he had not thought through what it is the Boys Scouts are really doing when expelling gay men.

You see, just like our military, the Boy Scouts don't mind gay people in their ranks as long as they act "straight." It's just another "don't ask, don't tell" policy. And it has nothing to do with sex or sexuality.

If a Scoutmaster mentions to his troop that he and his wife saw the movie "Pearl Harbor," there are no consequences. Should he say he and his male companion did, he will be out of scouting ASAP.

That's because this, as other attempts to oppress gay people, has nothing to do with sexual orientation, sex, or who is in love with whom. It has everything to do with maintaining the rigidly installed gender roles our society still needs to operate its institutions, particularly its military and its businesses.

The Boys Scouts, like the military, must look "manly." That means its image must conform to "straight" manhood. And conditioned manhood today still has as its goal the creation of warriors, of men who will be willing to be killed by and to kill other men for the system. Even in a "peacetime economy," we are still looking for ways to keep our defense industry and our arms sale industries going. "Jobs are on the line," we say. We have not figured out how to become a peace-time nation which no longer needs males trained into a warrior stance.

And the greatest way to enforce warrior manhood on men is to threaten them with what happens to gay men if they should step out of the role.

This means we need to install homophobia in every man. And I mean "homophobia" in its root sense -- the fear of getting close to one's own gender.

If men start getting too close to each other, it would be harder for them to beat, defeat or destroy another man, all of which is supposed to be done at that other man's expense.

I was standing outside the campus building where I teach when two male students celebrating "Gay Pride Week" walked by holding hands. One of my students asked, "Professor Minor, what do you think of that?"

I answered. "I think we should all hold hands. If we held hands, we couldn't shoot each other or hit each other. We could help each other get along and cross the street the way we did as small children."

Yet if two self-identified straight men walk down any street in the US and decide to hold hands, they will receive the same treatment gay men do daily - ridicule, humiliation, threats, and rejection.

The fact is then, the oppression of gay men must end so that all men will be free to relate as human beings again, and not as potential warriors.

The Hazards of Leading Us

It's predictable. If you ever try to do anything that might be seen as leadership in LGBT communities, you are going to be ridiculed, accused of all sorts of evil motives, and just plain attacked. And it's most likely to happen in the most public of forums.

Have you tried to lead a pride festival? Well, you haven't done it right. Tried to edit a newsletter or magazine? You're over-using your power. Stood up to find yourself the public spokesperson for a cause? You aren't qualified to speak for us. Started a movement? You don't even have yourself together.

Your motives are suspect. Your income is ill-gotten. Your personal life disqualifies you. Your ego is too big. (Imagine, thinking you can improve things!) You must have something to hide. You've stolen some of your ideas. You've left someone out. You're making "straight" people like us less or criticize us more. You're taking too long or moving too quickly. You've failed.

We do this. We do it often, and many of us seem to find our stride in doing this. We take on an air of righteous indignation when we do. This cause becomes our life instead of creating positive alternatives.

It's classic victim role activity. Any group that has been victimized by the larger society is also taught to live as victims. Since taking on the dominant group might bring more oppression or at least make the dominant group like us less - and the victim role teaches us to live so that they will like us and validate us -- it's easier to pick on each other and eat our own.

Instead of assuming the best of our leaders, we are taught to jump on every flaw, point out when they haven't done it eloquently enough, and end up destroying what could have been good for all of us. I've seen it happen over and over -- to churches, bookstores, magazines, projects, and movements that were standing up for us against cultural forces.

It seems to happen when an organization, group, or movement is at its prime, or just about to make a breakthrough. Criticisms of leadership then emerge to defuse energies, destroy loyalties, and even cause the collapse of important alternative institutions.

It's the reason I recommend to anyone that tries to lead that they do so for what they personally will get out of it. Forget the idea that this is selfish. Leadership begins when you see a need to end something that is hurting you. And ending what's hurting you as a human being will benefit everyone.

If I lead to help those other people, I'll feel quite charitable for a while but I'll soon learn that victimized people seldom have much personal space to say thank you. They're still fighting their own oppression.

They have so much healing of their personal hurts to do, that they have a hard time accepting what is done at face value. They've been so hurt by the motives and actions of others that they begin with the expectation that this will be more of the same. And, even more than most Americans, they have a difficult time beginning with the assumption that people who lead and seem to do so successfully have good intentions, are trying their best, *and* will make mistakes.

The first thing someone in the victim role does when there appears to be some problem with the activities of a leader, is what psychologists call "triangulation." Instead of going directly to the leader and asking them what they meant to do, assuming they meant well, the victim role finds others to discuss the issue and agree with them that the leader has done something evil.

Having a pack of others gives one courage, validates one's stance, and creates a whole group of people who have in common that they have not gone directly to talk with the leader. Assuming the leader's motives were bad from the start becomes the group's view of reality, and attacking the leader becomes a reason for group loyalty.

It's all very tacky. It's all very common. And it's living as victims of the leadership. We have to change them before we can be right.

What would all this be like if we didn't begin with our conditioned victim role?

First, we would be facing, not denying, our own internal issues so we were not acting out of our past hurts. When we can take a relaxed, learning stance toward things, instead of reacting, even over-reacting, to others, when we can assume the best of our leaders until we have spoken with them, we are not living as victims who are reacting to what the leaders do.

Second, we can assume the best of our leaders until we have personally heard their side of the story. When we don't assume the best, we are reacting to our own past experiences, not present realities. We react negatively to protect ourselves because we don't want to be hurt, ridiculed, abandoned, or have our hopes destroyed again. Assuming they will again now, we don't go to the leaders asking, "Help me understand this." We've already made our judgments.

Third, we will allow our leaders to make mistakes. If we expect our leaders to wait till they will do something perfectly, we'll get nothing done. As Melody Beattie, the author of numerous books on codependency, puts it: "Perfectionism leads to procrastination, leads to paralysis." In most cases, something done ineloquently is actually better than nothing.

Fourth, we would always follow with the next thought: What can I do to make this better? Should I offer to help? Should I offer other support to the over-worked? Should I begin my own movement to provide an alternative but not one motivated by just being against the other?

We can step out of the victim role to use our energies to end the oppression of LGBT people or we can fight among ourselves while the same old society grinds on. It's our choice. Besides, choosing to change our attitudes toward our leaders could actually support them to lead us more effectively.

© 2004 Robert N. Minor

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