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2013
 

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.

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We Haven’t Turned the Corner on Marriage Equality Yet


With the 2012 popular vote supporting marriage equality regardless of gender winning in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, the struggle for marriage equality has turned a corner. It’s not the corner, but an important corner nevertheless.

We can quibble all we want about whether human rights should ever be put up for a popular vote, but the fact that for the first time on a state-wide level activists have been able to beat back the huge funding mechanisms and built-in grassroots networks of right-wing churches and bigots is a symptom of an on-going cultural shift. And that’s worth celebrating.

Along with the reelection of President Obama and other progressive wins, much of the regressive right-wing has acknowledged that they’re on the run. They’ve concluded that the Evangelical vote has lost the clout it held for the last decades.

“I think this was an evangelical disaster,” lamented Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and former head of the Southern Baptist Convention. It indicates, he concluded, “a seismic moral shift in the culture.”

“Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association bought full-page ads in newspapers; that made no difference,” Professor Saun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary reported. "Ralph Reed spent tens of millions of dollars getting out the vote in battleground states; that didn't make the difference. And you add all of that up, and it was not enough because of the changing demographics of our country.”

And by “changing demographics” we don’t just mean what FOX talker Bill O’Reilly opined – that “the white establishment is now a minority.” We don’t just mean that younger generations don’t care who loves whom. We mean that there is also a continuing moral shift toward the justice of equality.

The coming generations will find the whole marriage equality issue a yawn, even young Evangelicals, because of the steady work that older generations have done to get us here. The country is not where it was in the 1950’s or even the 1980’s.

What we’ve learned is that marriage equality can win at the polls. We also know that marriage equality is gaining popularity in opinion polls.

A November 9th Pew Research Center poll, it’s third on the matter this year, shows that marriage quality has hit the highest favor (49 percent) and lowest opposition (40 percent) ever. The trend to support it is moving ahead regionally, though the South still polls 56 percent against, lagging about ten years behind the rest of the country,

To continue to move forward we must see marriage equality as a part of a long-term national strategy based upon what we know is the history of these wins. This means it’s not the next step everywhere.

Marriage equality can prevail in states where the ground has been prepared by previous wins. It can win in states that already have protections in place for sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and in public accommodations.

Twenty-nine states don’t guarantee protection from being fired openly from ones job because of ones sexual orientation, and thirty-four states don’t guarantee that protection based on gender identity. To jump immediately to a vote for marriage equality in these states would not be effective while it saps a lot of activist energy.

Not only is a job protection guarantee a prior and important step toward the goal of marriage equality, but it’s a more crucial need for members of the LGBT community who don’t have it. If one is threatened with losing one’s job, healthcare, and other legal protections, the issue of marriage almost seems to be a luxury.

Those privileged in occupations where job security isn’t a threat cannot forget that most LGBT people are still insecure enough in their workplace that they cannot put a picture of their partner on their desk or use accurate pronouns when discussing what they did during the past weekend. And this doesn’t even include those who work for employers who will dredge up other reasons for their bigoted firing of LGBT employees in states and municipalities where there is legal protection.

Our energy and resources, then, need to be funneled first to adding sexual orientation and gender identity protection to every state’s and the federal government’s human rights laws. Though this past election brought an expansion of rights in some localities – Paul Ryan’s hometown added domestic partnership benefits – it also saw the elimination of rights in towns such as Salina and Hutchinson, Kansas.

On the national scene, campaigns to abolish the Defense of Marriage Act cannot eclipse efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced but failed to pass in every congressional session since 1994 except one.

Then again, the corner marriage equality has turned this year is also important as the issue moves closer to a hearing in the Supreme Court. Currently four cases are awaiting review from its justices.

Since we know the Supreme Court is not an objective legal body, the four popular wins in November will add to the pressure on the Court to affirm marriage equality. The four right-wing ideologues on the bench and the conservative Justice Kennedy need social pressure to discover useful legal arguments to support their decisions.

In fact, the longer it takes for marriage equality cases to get to these justices, the more lower court opinions affirm marriage equality, and the more state and local decisions pile up to affirm LGBT people, the more likely this conservatively dominated Court will be persuaded to come up with a pro-LGBT outcome. It’s important to take the time.

So, the work continues. No doubt, the work of activists in support of LGBT non-discrimination and marriage equality will bring the country to a tipping point. But we’re not there yet.

With the 2012 popular vote supporting marriage equality regardless of gender winning in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, the struggle for marriage equality has turned a corner. It’s not the corner, but an important corner nevertheless.

We can quibble all we want about whether human rights should ever be put up for a popular vote, but the fact that for the first time on a state-wide level activists have been able to beat back the huge funding mechanisms and built-in grassroots networks of right-wing churches and bigots is a symptom of an on-going cultural shift. And that’s worth celebrating.

Along with the reelection of President Obama and other progressive wins, much of the regressive right-wing has acknowledged that they’re on the run. They’ve concluded that the Evangelical vote has lost the clout it held for the last decades.

“I think this was an evangelical disaster,” lamented Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and former head of the Southern Baptist Convention. It indicates, he concluded, “a seismic moral shift in the culture.”

“Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association bought full-page ads in newspapers; that made no difference,” Professor Saun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary reported. "Ralph Reed spent tens of millions of dollars getting out the vote in battleground states; that didn't make the difference. And you add all of that up, and it was not enough because of the changing demographics of our country.”

And by “changing demographics” we don’t just mean what FOX talker Bill O’Reilly opined – that “the white establishment is now a minority.” We don’t just mean that younger generations don’t care who loves whom. We mean that there is also a continuing moral shift toward the justice of equality.

The coming generations will find the whole marriage equality issue a yawn, even young Evangelicals, because of the steady work that older generations have done to get us here. The country is not where it was in the 1950’s or even the 1980’s.

What we’ve learned is that marriage equality can win at the polls. We also know that marriage equality is gaining popularity in opinion polls.

A November 9th Pew Research Center poll, it’s third on the matter this year, shows that marriage quality has hit the highest favor (49 percent) and lowest opposition (40 percent) ever. The trend to support it is moving ahead regionally, though the South still polls 56 percent against, lagging about ten years behind the rest of the country,

To continue to move forward we must see marriage equality as a part of a long-term national strategy based upon what we know is the history of these wins. This means it’s not the next step everywhere.

Marriage equality can prevail in states where the ground has been prepared by previous wins. It can win in states that already have protections in place for sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and in public accommodations.

Twenty-nine states don’t guarantee protection from being fired openly from ones job because of ones sexual orientation, and thirty-four states don’t guarantee that protection based on gender identity. To jump immediately to a vote for marriage equality in these states would not be effective while it saps a lot of activist energy.

Not only is a job protection guarantee a prior and important step toward the goal of marriage equality, but it’s a more crucial need for members of the LGBT community who don’t have it. If one is threatened with losing one’s job, healthcare, and other legal protections, the issue of marriage almost seems to be a luxury.

Those privileged in occupations where job security isn’t a threat cannot forget that most LGBT people are still insecure enough in their workplace that they cannot put a picture of their partner on their desk or use accurate pronouns when discussing what they did during the past weekend. And this doesn’t even include those who work for employers who will dredge up other reasons for their bigoted firing of LGBT employees in states and municipalities where there is legal protection.

Our energy and resources, then, need to be funneled first to adding sexual orientation and gender identity protection to every state’s and the federal government’s human rights laws. Though this past election brought an expansion of rights in some localities – Paul Ryan’s hometown added domestic partnership benefits – it also saw the elimination of rights in towns such as Salina and Hutchinson, Kansas.

On the national scene, campaigns to abolish the Defense of Marriage Act cannot eclipse efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced but failed to pass in every congressional session since 1994 except one.

Then again, the corner marriage equality has turned this year is also important as the issue moves closer to a hearing in the Supreme Court. Currently four cases are awaiting review from its justices.

Since we know the Supreme Court is not an objective legal body, the four popular wins in November will add to the pressure on the Court to affirm marriage equality. The four right-wing ideologues on the bench and the conservative Justice Kennedy need social pressure to discover useful legal arguments to support their decisions.

In fact, the longer it takes for marriage equality cases to get to these justices, the more lower court opinions affirm marriage equality, and the more state and local decisions pile up to affirm LGBT people, the more likely this conservatively dominated Court will be persuaded to come up with a pro-LGBT outcome. It’s important to take the time.

So, the work continues. No doubt, the work of activists in support of LGBT non-discrimination and marriage equality will bring the country to a tipping point. But we’re not there yet.

Could Fundamentalists Exist Without Being Motivated by Hate?


That’s the gist of an all too common question. And when looking at the daily news, there’s clear reason for asking it.

Recently we saw again what can happen when anti-Muslim Christians - this time using a film – chose to rile up anti-Christian Muslims. It’s as if both sides in such feuds thrive on the hatred of the other.

And the psychological reality is, they do.

Extreme right-wing religions play on the fears and insecurities of people growing up in a world that installs these in its children through what the late child psychologist Alice Miller calls “poisonous pedagogy.” In fact, their theologies enshrine and sanctify such childrearing practices.

“There are countless theological explanations for the motives behind God’s inscrutable counsels,” Miller writes in The Truth Will Set You Free (2001), “but in all too many of them I see a terrorized child trying hard to interpret the mysterious actions of the [punishing] parent as good and loving, even though the child cannot fathom them – indeed has no chance of fathoming them.”

Right-wing religion attempts to convince its followers that they can’t trust their own thinking, their own intuitions, and their own voices. They’re too vile, self-deceiving, lowly, fallen, finite, or just too “human.”

It strives to install the self-evaluation behind all addictions – a low self-concept. And that self-loathing is no mere misunderstanding correctable through counseling; it's an accurate measure of who one really is.

This means people must learn to become “obedient” to something other than their own inner voice. That something might be called scripture, god, the faith, the Truth, revelation, the Church, or tradition, but the obedience demanded is really to institutions and authoritative leaders who’ll define what scripture, god, etc. are and what they teach for people who’ve been told that they aren’t capable of defining those things for themselves.

A low self-concept, one in this case enforced by right-wing religious teachings, develops personalities who need to rely on something better than themselves to feel good about themselves. And the religious leaders just happen to have that Something ready and waiting.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that right-wing religion idealizes “childlike faith,” or “childlike obedience” and talks about its followers as “children” of the Divine. We shouldn’t be surprised that it pushes teenage or adult-style questioning to the outside as heterodoxy, infidelity, and heresy.

And the “children” they are to be are like those they raise with “poisonous pedagogy.” They are like little ones who believe that their parents are perfect and can only love perfect parents. There’s no grown-up love that admits the flaws in others and loves them anyway.

When these religions are used in the cause of a country’s nationalism, their nationalism hates when someone criticizes their own country. It labels that unpatriotic because even their love of country resembles “love” that is immature.

And we know that just as children often think of things in binaries such as black and white, so does addictive thinking. There can be no nuance or shades of gray in right-wing religion.

There must be either friends or enemies of the faith. There’s nothing in between.

Those who are the agents of darkness are necessary as “others.” “They” make us feel righteous. “They” exist to prove we are not wrong. “They” provide the face of the enemy. “They” are easier to fight than our own demons within.

So, our righteousness ramps up and is justified in “hating the sin” that those sinners represent. “They” provide the face of fear. “They” remind us of why we need to cling to our religion and guns.

“They” keep the battle going, a battle that requires time and money. “They” keep the finances coming in to religious leaders who keep reminding us of the threat “they” pose.

And the existence of “they” brings, beyond the cash it raises, a most important psychological need for the nobody preachers like the funeral picketer from Topeka, or the Koran burner from Gainesville. It brings them the attention they failed to get from daddy and mommy.

It validates that they’re actually okay in the midst of their unbelief in the power of their god. It brings them the national spotlight that says they haven’t given their lives to something about which few people care.

To keep the sickness going, the enemy must get ever stronger, more evil, and more threatening. It must be further constructed as someone, some group, or some thing that is so awful that the only appropriate response is hate. And no matter how much they might say they hate the sin but love the sinner, the “sinner” will experience the hate as personal.

To be the object of such hate is to feel that it’s not just about what one does but also about the “sinner” one is. Ask those who suffered the inquisitions, the witch burnings, the pogroms, the Crusades, or the Holocaust.

Ask LGBT people. They’ve never bought into the “love the sinner, hate the sin” distinction – a phrase never found in the Christian Bible - unless they’ve already been taught a low self-concept by the people who justify their beliefs with the distinction. They’ve felt how much it’s the self-serving lip-service of those who want them straight.

Whatever happened to the old bumper stickers that said “Hate is not a family value?” Did the right-wing bully the rest of us into removing what was a clear statement of the issue?

Did they intimidate us by saying “You’re not accusing us of hate, are you?” And did we back down because we didn’t want to call their bigotry, prejudice, and crusades hate?

Are we afraid to talk about “hate speech?” Are we afraid to call the demonizing of the other “hate?” Are we afraid to do what might be seen as an intervention in religious addiction?

Much sickness lies behind right-wing hatred of those they see as their enemies. So we mustn’t be surprised that for right-wing religion anyone who even defends the “other” will become “other.”

Will You Boycott the Russian Olympics?


Boycotting sponsors is as Capitalist an act as any. It’s about consumers voting with their feet and pocketbooks.

It’s not about free speech even if the plan is to boycott sponsors of some offensive radio talker. It’s about not paying to have them spew their vitriol because corporations are buying their ability to do it in the media.

Crying interference with freedom of speech is a laugh. Sponsored speech isn’t free; it’s bought and paid for, it’s about providing their speech with a microphone.

But boycotts have to be carefully thought out if they’re going to do any good, even symbolically. They have to target what really matters to their target: its income stream.

It’s hardly possible today to boycott a nation by refusing to buy an internationally distributed product identified with it. International corporations have little loyalty to any country they’re in beyond making money off of them.

Coors and Miller are owned by a South African company, Budweiser by a Belgian/Brazilian company, and Stoli Vodka by a Latvian company that’s currently fighting with the Russian government.

So when columnist Dan Savage called for a boycott of Stoli in response to anti-LGBT legislation passed in Russia in June, it seemed like a good idea, but turned out to be controversial. Something clearly had to be done, because the new Russian law against “gay propaganda” was only the latest in Russian anti-LGBT brutality that marked violence toward and prohibition of Gay Pride demonstrations as well as a proliferation of right-wing torturing of LGBT people.

This coming February we are supposed to appreciate the Winter Olympics in Sochi as if Russia deserved to get worldwide accolades for hosting an event that claims to celebrate worldwide togetherness, inclusion, and acceptance. Yet on June 30th Russian President, Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay law, reflecting not only his usual arrogance toward world opinion, but his need to pander for votes to those outside the major cities and for money from his wealthy elite backers to bolster his chances in the next election.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights had already ruled that Russia violated the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms when Russia prevented gay pride parades in Moscow in 2007, 2008, and 2009. But the anti-gay crackdown continued, and in May 2013 authorities in Moscow refused to allow a pride parade because, according to an official, it’s imperative to, "work clearly and consistently on maintaining morality, oriented toward the teaching of patriotism in the growing generation, and not toward incomprehensible aspirations."

And if Republicans in the US could get the religious right-wing to vote against their own economic interests by playing the fear-the-gay card to protect children, why not Putin? After all, he needed the Russian Orthodox Church on his side as well as the rural vote to solidify his political future.

The anti-gay “propaganda” legislation, after all, had begun out in the provinces in 2006 with similar local laws. In that year the Ryazan region banned "propaganda of homosexuality among minors," making “promoting homosexuality among juveniles” punishable by fines of up to 20000 rubles ($608).

As if that weren’t enough, in July Putin eagerly signed a law banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex married couples and single people who live in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. At the end of the month the Chairman of the St. Petersburg legislature's committee for legislation and the author of that city's anti-propaganda bill said the laws will be applied to foreign athletes and visitors during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

But who is responsible, and who should be boycotted if something effective is to be accomplished? Well, according to the Director of Global Initiatives of Human Rights Watch in an interview with Michelangelo Signorile: "The International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, the so-called top corporate sponsors -- Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble -- these companies all, as [HRW] did, tracked the progress of this law."

“If any of the Olympic stakeholders, the sponsors who are literally paying for the Games, or the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee or the other Olympic committees, if they weighed in on this, I don't think this law would have been signed by Putin or passed by the Duma. If they had leaned on [Russia] before the law was signed, it would not have been signed. That is absolutely true."

Individual athletes are courageously standing up daily to protest, but LGBT institutions and their supporters who distribute, sell and use sponsors’ products can do it most effectively. How about refusing to buy from Coca Cola until this is settled? What about all the gay bars refusing?

What about emailing McDonald’s, Procter and Gamble, and NBC Universal. That would be protesting that really matters – targeting the real sponsors of the events.

And the International Olympic Committee and US Olympic Committee could end this at any time.

In July, the IOC responded: “The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle.”

If it were committed to international human rights, the IOC could ban Russia from its own Olympics. And the US Olympic Committee could put heavy pressure on Russia as they have in other cases.

But on top of boycotting those sponsors who are paying for this showcase in Russia, any of us can write both Committees telling them not only that we will not attend, but will refuse to watch unless an open and proud LGBT athlete is in the event. It’s the least we can do if we think it matters. It’s the least we can do to support our sisters and brothers who are suffering in Russia today.

Pride


There’s still a need for opportunities to show that LGBT people are not only here but are glad they are. I’m not sure the best way to do it is through today’s versions of Pride Festivals, but nevertheless, I’m convinced that any opportunity for LGBT people to show to others that they like who they are is a gift to society as a whole.

Most people have gotten use to the idea that LGBT people exist. They might even have come to tolerate the fact that some could be attending their church and providing them with their music.

They might have come to know that they could be working with some. And they might even suspect that they have an uncle or aunt that’s one of those people.

People are accustomed to laughing at them on network sitcoms. As they have with many minority groups, they’re tickled with the idea of LGBT people serving up their food and entertainment.

They might deplore the attacks on LGBT people and the suicides of lesbian and gay teenagers who were bullied by their peers. And they are likely to think that the Phelps family’s Westboro Baptist hate group that works out of a Topeka, Kansas compound has gone too far, especially now that they picket the funerals of straight people too.

Through the activism of past generations of LGBT people and their straight allies, many people have come to tolerate LGBT people. And that is progress.

But when we probe further, we see that many people don’t mind LGBT people around as long as straight people don’t have to be reminded of it – as long as (and here is the language that’s used of any minority group who doesn’t act enough like the majority) they don’t “flaunt it” or “shove it in your face.”

Now, what this refers to is any time an LGBT person does what the majority always does – kisses their partner goodbye at the airport, holds hands with their beloved as they walk down the street, puts their partner’s picture on their office desk, talks about the events that their partner attended without changing the pronouns, inserts their engagement or marriage announcement in the local paper’s section for that, brings their partner to family and other gatherings, etc.

And when an LGBT person does this, people will often accuse them of pushing their sexual lives on the rest of the world. The prejudice teaches that if two gay men or lesbians are walking down the street together they must have just had sex, must be thinking about sex, must be going to have sex, or must be flaunting their sexual practices in some way.

One of the arguments used to support marriage equality by some is that it will get same-sex sexuality under control, out of the streets and behind closed doors. It will, at least, put their sex lives under the same constraints as those that are supposed to inhibit straight people.

Out and open Pride challenges the limits that all this implies. It expects more than tolerance and begrudging acceptance.

It says that anyone can be proud to be LGBT and that everyone should celebrate and cherish the diversity that LGBT people can represent. It marginalizes bigots even further by refusing to be defined by them.

The most bigoted, after all, want to stereotype LGBT people as they do any minority. Sick, lonely, psychologically flawed, unhappy, envying straight people? Yes. But proud and looking like an appealing way to live? Absolutely, positively not.

To the extent that the extreme bigots are insecure in their own sexual orientations, they will fear that if LGBT people appear too happy, secure, and free, if being “gay” looks appealing, their children and everyone they care about will choose to be gay. That insecurity makes them desperate to fight the mainstreaming of LGBT humanity in the schools with claims that such fairness and equality actually “promotes the gay lifestyle.”

And that insecurity gets covered over under religious and pseudo-scientific arguments.

Out and proud LGBT people open up all people to be able to come out of their closets as full human beings. And that scares the status quo.

They challenge the accepting churches that still don’t want to take a public stand for equal rights. They say that when they worry that if they do, they’ll become or be known as “gay” churches, they are actually still saying that whatever they mean by “gay” would be a bad thing.

They will allow those religious and other institutions to grow in their spirituality by facing whatever it is that they fear, whether that be the opinions of others or the full valuing of LGBT people. And if that fear is that straight people will become a minority in their congregation, are they afraid that they will be treated the way minorities are treated in this country and in the history of religious institutions?

LGBT pride will free heterosexual people to act “gay” if they want. They can challenge the stifling limits in which the straight role confines them.

They need no longer to be afraid that when they wear the wrong color, drive the wrong vehicle, cherish close same-sex friendships, choose the wrong careers, shop in the wrong places, present themselves in the wrong manner, walk, talk or gesture in the wrong way, and on and on, they should be afraid that they will be thought of as gay. And they themselves might actually stop worrying about whether their freedom from these limits means they are “gay.”

Pride will allow everyone to learn from what LGBT people have to teach society by their differences and even open up the appreciation of diversity so white people can better value the differences in the cultures of peoples of color.

It might actually help us move beyond a limited comfort level that says “they’re okay; they’re just like us.” It can help us face our fear of those not like us in some way while seeing them as also sharing our common humanity.

Mother’s Day, and A Lot Else, Ain’t What it Use to Be


Nations have a habit of sanctifying people and events that might otherwise disturb the system by cleaning them up so that their memories actually celebrate and promote the status quo, especially its business. When President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed May 9, 1914, the first Mother's Day, asking Americans on that day to give a public "thank you" to their and all mothers, the holiday was sanitized so it wouldn’t challenge our socio-economic system but actually further its consumerism.

Activist, writer, and poet Julia Ward Howe first proposed the idea of an official celebration of Mothers Day in the United States in 1872. She was best known for her famous Civil War song, "Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

In response to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, Howe proposed that June 2nd be celebrated annually as Mothers Day so that on that day mothers could rally to end all war. In Boston in 1870, in a “Mothers Day Proclamation,” -- which would never make it onto a Mother’s Day card -- she set the stage for the holiday by appealing to women to leave their housework for a day in order to stand up against the forces that send men off to kill each other.

“Arise, then, Christian women of this day!” her proclamation read. “Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs….’

“As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace… each bearing after his time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God….”

Howe initiated a Mothers' Peace Day observance on the second Sunday in June in Boston and held that meeting for a number of years. She worked tirelessly championing the cause of an official celebration of Mothers Day.

The holiday caught on years later when a West Virginia women’s group led by community activist Anna Reeves Jarvis began promoting it as a way to reunite families after the Civil War. After Jarvis’ death, her daughter devoted much of her life to a campaign for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in honor of peace.

Jarvis’s idea spread, replaced by the Mothers' Day holiday celebrated each May. That culminated in President Wilson’s less radical proclamation that put mothers back in their homemaking place.

Jarvis remained strongly opposed to every aspect of the holiday’s commercialization, was actually arrested for protesting the sale of flowers, and petitioned to stop the creation of a Mother’s Day postage stamp. But the holiday flourished, along with flower sales.

The business journal, the Florists Review, actually admitted: "This was a holiday that could be exploited." And when Jarvis was removed by the police after protesting the sale of white carnations at a 1930s meeting of the American War Mothers, the Florists’ Review crowed: “Miss Jarvis was completely squelched.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has similarly tamed memories of King’s message so as not to threaten the socio-economic system. Today it focuses on individuals accepting and tolerating one other.

“I have a Dream” is used to take the pressure off of institutional and economic exploitation. Seldom, if ever will the words King spoke before the Memphis garbage workers strike be heard, or his famous condemnations of the Viet Nam War and America’s whole war-profiting machine.

How often have we heard the untamed King on the day he is honored? Certainly not when corporate sponsorships are involved.

Missing, for example would be: “We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small hearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity…. The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cut-throat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more I-centered than thou-centered.”

No group knew the devastation Ronald Reagan was bringing down upon gay people better than ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Today they’re even being fondly remembered while back then it was the extremely radical actions they did that drew attention to the deaths around them, offended the mainstream establishment, and scared the medical and political community into doing something

People are dieing and nothing is being done, they screamed. Drug companies are only interested in profiting from the plague and politicians want gay people to go away, they shouted. “Silence” they knew “equals death.”

Even the mainstream LGBT community looked down on their tactics. But it became clear that their radical actions could only be tamed if people started listening.

The establishment got scared then. Today they act as if they were always on board, but that’s the tamed version.

And as society continues to tame groups that threaten the system, including some LGBT movements, the historical reality is that the most radical groups and people are responsible for forcing causes upon us. Their radicalism has often been the reason why the system has listened to more moderate voices in an attempt to tame those who could otherwise force more basic changes that could really transform our system into one that’s at its heart is people-oriented, not profit-oriented.

Make Up Research and Pray Hard


The right-wing, especially the religious right-wing, knows that it’s on the run. It’s scared because it lacks faith in its higher power.

Thus, the overwhelming accumulation of examples of down-right lying among them. Then, sadly, add denial that they could be lying from those whom the lies hurt continues.

Their fear makes right-wingers doubt and desperate to do anything to promote their righteous cause and gods no matter how deceitful it might be. Saving souls or their pocketbooks from hell is all the excuse they need to deceive.

Enter their academics who are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that questionable studies are commonplace. And right-wing journals salivate over publishing anything that comes from anyone who supports the ideology they push.

In March, The American Independent obtained documents exposing “The New Family Structures Study” published in June 2012 by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas – Austin. It’s just one recent example of the right-wing use of flawed research.

The study was funded with a $695,000 grant from the Witherspoon Institute — founded by Princeton professor Robert P. George, founding chairman of the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage - and another $90,000 grant from the extreme right-wing Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee.

The Witherspoon Institute recruited Regnerus to conduct the widely cited research critical of gay relationships and their impact on the children of gay parents, and then choreographed its release in time to influence “major decisions of the Supreme Court.” Anti-gay activists have cited it in court cases since.

Scholars have attacked the study for lack of academic integrity, flawed methodology, and its controlling funding sources. In fact, Regnerus’ professional organization, the American Sociological Association, recently filed an amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry (which seeks to overturn California’s Proposition 8), contradicting his study for providing “no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.”

This tactic is nothing new. Right-wing foundations create studies that get passed around by people who want to defend whatever the studies are built to conclude.

And the religious are especially gullible because it’s what they want to hear. It gives them some “science” to quote in their arguments so they don’t have to fall back on arguing merely on the basis of their religious prejudice.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, filed a “friend of the court” brief in the Proposition 8 case, arguing that, “A mother and father each bring something unique and irreplaceable to child-rearing that the other cannot.” Their brief cited Regnerus’ study to falsely parrot “that children raised by married biological parents fared better in a range of significant outcomes than children raised in same-sex households.”

How long did it take the right-wing to begin to get over the faked “statistics” of rabid anti-gay psychologist Paul Cameron even after the American Psychological Association expelled him in 1983 for not cooperating with an ethics investigation and the American Sociological Association and Canadian Psychological Association accused him of misrepresenting social science research? His quackery, after all, was useful to the religiously prejudiced so they could claim science, not their prejudices, proclaimed gay people were disgusting.

In the field of history, there are beloved pseudo-historians like David Barton, evangelical Christian minister and co-chair of the Texas Republican Party. He founded a Texas-based organization, WallBuilders, to promote through historical writing the view that the separation of church and state is a “myth.”

Barton’s 2012 book The Jefferson Lies was voted "the least credible history book in print" by the users of the History News Network website. A group of ten conservative Christian professors reviewed the work and concluded that Barton has misstated facts about Jefferson.

In August 2012, its Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson withdrew it from publication, explaining that they had "lost confidence in the book's details" and "learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported." The New York Times wrote: "many professional historians dismiss Mr. Barton, whose academic degree is in Christian Education from Oral Roberts University, as a biased amateur who cherry-picks quotes from history and the Bible."

Yet because he says what they want to hear, the right-wing continues to quote his historical quackery to argue that America was meant to be their brand of Christian nation. That’s why Barton regularly appears on right-wing television and radio with the likes of Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck (who praised Barton as "the Library of Congress in shoes").

Two movements have put pressure upon the academic community to go soft on right-wing research claims that amount to little more than propaganda. Yet, the more that the academic community fights for integrity, the more the right-wing claims it’s just liberal bias.

The first is the public de-funding of education along with the greater corporatizing of educational value. The more the government portion of the cost of students’ educations declines, coupled with the increased valuing of an institution by the amount of private dollars it brings in, the more academics must rely on mostly conservative sources for research funding.

Grant-getting in many major universities is now rewarded as much as production of sound academic scholarship. And further grants are more likely for those scholars who please grant-givers.

The second is the continual right-wing attack on colleges and universities as bastions of liberalism. The reality is closer to the fact that they are warehouses for liberals in the humanities and social sciences who are most rewarded for producing research for each other in the jargon of their discipline. Only conservative professional fields are rewarded for consulting.

So, in order to show right-wing politicians that they aren’t liberal, the pressure is on to move to the right. This seldom means faking the data, but it certainly skews what’s studied.

And if someone is too scared that their gods can’t prove them right, the resulting scholarship is just what the right-wing ordered.

Can “Lincoln” Still Happen Here and Now?


One lesson most moviegoers picked up from Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was that the workings of Congress have always involved downright ugly wheeling and dealing. Votes were bought, sold, and traded to pass both good and bad legislation.

The laudatory goal of that January 1865 backroom and back-alley horse trading was to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude. Lincoln and Secretary of State, William Seward, were uncomfortable with offering direct monetary bribes to buy the necessary votes, but instead authorized agents to under-handedly contact Democratic congressmen with offers of federal jobs in exchange for their support.

Americans can cling to the idea that their country is somehow virtuous, even uniquely so. But contrary to what we might want to believe about America as an exceptionally pristine nation moving in some providential way toward the expansion of liberty, the fact is that the good that’s been accomplished has often been achieved by moving politicians through appeal to their pocketbooks, their desire to amass fortunes, offers of opportunities for their personal futures, and other base, egotistic needs.

There’s no evidence that such political motivations have disappeared. But what has changed is that what Lincoln had to offer as incentives is no longer effective.

Honest Abe offered patronage appointments that guaranteed that lame duck politicians could live out their days in secure federal jobs. Back then that was an effective payment for their vote.

Today a similar offer of a government job has little appeal. It can’t compete financially with vastly more lucrative corporate, lobbying, or consulting jobs waiting to reward politicians who vote pro-corporate and, thereby, earn those positions before they exit government.

Today’s reality is that even being voted out of office is hardly a penalty in the on-going culture of “the best Congress money can buy.” To lose an election means that one is going to enter a much better paid career through the revolving door into lobbying and consulting.

Yet one will only earn that reward if one has consistently voted for what benefits these future corporate employers. So, though we might ask why many politicians aren’t thinking logically, or in the light of what works economically, or for the betterment of the whole country, these have become less relevant questions.

Sadly, it’s true in either party. It explains why Democratic leadership is repeatedly unwilling to actively confront Republicans, why they keep acting as if Republican leadership includes honest brokers, why the Democratic millionaires in the Senate appear to think that Republicans will miraculously repent and act in ways they haven’t in over a decade.

Most in Congress, no matter what political party they claim, will financially benefit personally from Republican victories. Thus, Democrats are willing to move further to the right-wing while the right-wing jumps up and down in the same place.

There are exceptions among the Democrats, probably none any longer among the Republicans in Congress. But for some reason Senate Democrats continue to elect Harry Reid as their leader even though he can’t seem to lead his majority to a progressive win.

Reid’s recent whining about Republican misuse of the filibuster follows his capitulation to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell after expressing his frustration with Republican filibuster misuse in 2012. Reid caved, and one wonders what Harry got out of the deal for himself.

Either Harry and the Democrats who continue to let him lead don’t know how things work and don’t pay attention to recent history, or they have a stake in keeping things the way they are.

Fool you once, Harry, shame on the Republicans. Fool you how many times now, Harry and your senators, shame on you.

So, what motivates lawmakers today? Choose one or more:

(1) Ideology. So entranced by their ideological stands, and so caught in ideological bubbles, or so caught in an Obama derangement syndrome, no set of facts will change them. They’re like advanced addicts for whom only personally hitting bottom could dislodge them. Otherwise, they’ll never identify with anything that’ll disrupt their entrenched worldview.

(2) Power and Prestige. Once people have accumulated massive fortunes and found that money doesn’t bring fulfillment, they turn to seek personal fulfillment in the accumulation of power and adulation especially from those in the upper class whom they accept as worthy competitors. They’re more likely to be affected by the threat of losing their elected positions, unless, like Jim DeMint, they become convinced that they’ll accumulate more power in the world of lobbying. And another source of prestige is the attention they can get as FOX News personalities.

(3) Money. There are lawmakers committed to corporate goals because they see this as the way to further their careers and accumulate millions after leaving politics. A legislative position is the place to increase their financial value to corporate America by making insider government connections and proving they are worth the money they hope to gain later.

(4) Security. Politics is a tool to secure these lawmakers’ personal business interests by ensuring laws increasing their tax and other advantages. They see themselves as barriers preventing government from adding restrictions and financial costs to their wealth.

(5) Benevolence and pity. No matter how much of it is money-raising and at times kow-towing to people with money, politics is a chance to improve the lives of others even at personal cost. That price could be financial loss, but doing the right thing could even mean the end of political office.

Staying in power can have multiple, often lower, motives. No matter how we want to believe that politicians will be moved by benevolence, logic, facts, the “good of the country” or “what’s best for citizens,” the reality is usually quite different.

So, when we approach politicians, let’s abandon any illusions. Let’s do it realistically.

Let’s recognize that we’re confronting self-centered reasons for hanging onto power. And then proceed in the light of Frederick Douglass’ realism: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”

Love and Sex on Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day encourages a whole season of love, whatever that means in American culture. At least it means that the new year begins with stores overflowing with candy, flowers, cards, stuffed animals, jewelry, and other paraphernalia needed to show how buying proves we’re in love.

Valentine’s Day is a patterned American written and oral exam testing whether you really do love someone, and whether you’re really loved by someone. If they truly love you, they’ll show it through the day’s products.

It’s not all bad. If it is a reminder to take the time in a busy life to express love, how can that in itself hurt?

Yes, someone shouldn’t need a special day to do this, but the commercialism that defines the Day also restricts how regularly we get the space to celebrate love.

The problem is that instead of celebrating love between two people just as they are as human beings, the Day is more a celebration of culturally defined patterns that are not only meant to sell products and services but that also tell us how and what love should be.

As a part of that, a lot of other words that could relate to love have been usurped by our society to actually mean sex, because sex sells even better than patterned love. We would expect that, since we’re a society that’s very sick about both.

There are, for example, those religious people who claim that the Model of perfect love in the universe includes allowing the children this Divine Model is supposed to love to suffer eternal child abuse, lovingly teaching that his children actually deserve the most despicable and endless suffering this Model can come up with unless they follow some formula the religion sets out to save them from it. All along the claim continues that that is real love.

Then we use words that do not mean sex, but could designate more, to mean sex: Are you two intimate? Have you slept together? Are you two close? Have you made love? Are you two lovers? What do you think of polyamory? All societies fall when they practice immorality? Did you hear that she lost her virtue?

Though none of the above words means sex, we spontaneously take them to refer to it. And that too reflects the cultural confusion over sex as well as love, intimacy, closeness, immorality, and virtue.

Then in our confused discussions of “love” we talk about different kinds of it. One’s love for one’s children “is not the same” as one’s love for one’s lover or one’s love for one’s pet or country as if we are clear about what the nature of love is and as if we are not talking about whether or not we are having sex with someone or something.

It was among a bunch of progressive theologians that I suggested that the government should have no business telling an adult who or what they can or cannot love.

“Oh,” the response came back, “then it would be okay for someone to fall in love with their horse.”

I frankly don’t care whether someone loves their pets, but that response was the problem. They had assumed that “falling in love” meant falling into a sexual act.

And imagine if we actually spoke of someone “sleeping with their horse” as cowpokes did in the old West. Why would someone jump to the conclusion that that meant sexual activity was involved?

Yet, that’s where we go because we haven’t reconciled ourselves either to love or sex culturally. Sometimes it’s done for the best of reasons.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, David and Jonathan have a close, intimate, same-sex relationship. It even involves a same-sex covenant between them. And when Jonathan dies, David publicly mourns, saying: “Oh, Jonathan, my love for you was more than for women.”

Now, there’s nothing in all that that indicates their close same-sex friendship involved sexual activity between them. The fact is, we just don’t know. And in a less homophobic culture than ours, such same-sex friendships were almost expected.

But to argue either that they must have been sexual or that they couldn’t have been sexual, represents a confusion about intimacy and sex that was depicted in another form in the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally.” Harry’s thoroughly culturally patterned claim was that a man and woman can’t have a close friendship without sexual activity being involved. The film concluded that Harry was right.

But is he right? Or is this just the confusion of being brought up in a culture that says sex is the means to express close, intimate love.

If that is so, then Will could not have loved Grace. We will not be able to understand the intimate bonds that can exist between a gay man and a heterosexual woman (which we might even demean with the words “fag hag” and all that connotes), or between a lesbian and a gay man.

If love is really understood as an unconditional relationship, then sex cannot be made necessary for it. That would add a condition, just as any statement such as “If you love me, then…” indicates that there are really conditions and expectations attached to what we are calling love.

If love is a commitment to the best of another, and a decision to stand by and with that other in life, then that love is as true for a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, or any other mutually agreed upon human relationship. But, even more, unconditional love cannot have as a condition the requirement that the other will love one back.

And how that love is expressed will differ in any loving relationship for that very reason. Sex, then, can becomes one of the ways to express love that does so if mutually agreed upon.

But there are hundreds of other ways to express love, closeness, and intimacy. And all of them are choices human beings can make.

The Non-End of Homophobia


2012 ended with the Associated Press publishing a new stylebook for journalists that bans the use of the words “homophobia” and “Islamophobia.” The AP argues that “phobia” describes an illness or mental disability and, thus, isn’t accurate in “political or social” reporting.

As Michelangelo Signorile argued, the problem with their decision “is not necessarily the logic of the argument as much as it is how long it took the AP to get to it.” He himself restricts use of the term to discussions of psychological motives and so prefers “anti-gay” where others use “homophobia.”

The word, however, has been used for 40 years. This change comes at a time when anti-gay forces, feeling they’re on the run culturally, are hunting for any support for their retrograde prejudices.

So by banning “homophobia,” Signorile argues, “the AP is in fact playing into a political agenda, erasing a word that came into usage decades ago and has a meaning that is broadly understood. By banning the word, the AP does exactly what it seemed to be trying to avoid: backing an agenda and taking a side.”

Signorile’s distinctions are relevant as writers debate this change. Timing is important, and one wonders what the underlying motives are for the Associated Press to end use of “homophobia” now.

It’s not that homophobia has left the news. Another end-of-the year story lays bare not only what homophobia is, but also why LGBT people are lightening rods for mental and emotional issues that homophobia describes.

News sources out of Mesa, Arizona, reported that two high school boys who were caught fighting were given the choice of suspension or sitting in the school courtyard holding hands while other students shouted and spewed homophobic slurs. One student described students “laughing at them and calling them names, asking ‘Are you gay?’”

The principal who oversaw the punishment had been brought in as a savior to reinvigorate the school’s reputation. But now the school district wasn’t amused, saying it “does not condone the choice of in-school discipline given these students, regardless of their acceptance or willingness to participate.”

Everyone who knows anything about the subject would argue that this punishment reeked of homophobia. It sent a message of non-acceptance to LGBT people, but it did more.

We have no idea what the sexual orientation of these two high school boys was. The odds are they were not gay.

But they, the students who taunted, and others who witnessed both the use of holding hands as a punishment by authorities and the resulting student taunts, and the adults who thought up and condoned the “punishment,” were all victims and enforcers of our culture’s predominant homophobia. For homophobia stifles the humanity of everyone.

I agree emphatically with Michelangelo Signorile: homophobia denotes something deeper, something behind the anti-gay rhetoric and abuse LGBT people experience. I also agree that it’s better to call the rhetoric and abuse exactly what it is – anti-gay actions that should never be condoned but clearly punished.

The profounder reality is that much of our culture remains invested in this deeper homophobia that’s behind anti-gay words and actions. And often, therefore, it acts its homophobia out on LGBT people.

The basic, underlying cultural meaning of homophobia denotes something that is not necessarily about sexual orientation. And if LGBT people can realize this, they can free themselves from believing the culture’s problem is their problem or their existence, or has anything to do with them.

At its root in America, homophobia is actually the fear of getting close to one’s own gender. It is this fear that stands behind all of the other uses of the word such as fear of gay people, fear of homosexuality, fear of being gay, fear of same-sex feelings, anti-LGBT actions and slurs, etc.

Homophobia is systemic. Americans are supposed to be so conditioned that they internalize this fear and self-monitor it.

Homophobia fuels American consumerism. If one believes that half of the world cannot meet one’s closeness needs and that only one person from the other half – defined culturally as Mr. or Ms. Right – can do so, it’s easier to convince people that when this one savior fails to be fulfilling there are products to be bought to make it more likely that natural human closeness needs can be met.

Since no single relationship can fulfill all one’s needs for human closeness, especially the patterned straight or straight-acting forms of relationships defined by a consumer-oriented culture, there will always be a market for cosmetics, gym memberships, fad diets, nicer cars, anti-aging treatments, and you name it, to promise fulfillment. The American way of advertising and marketing counts on it.

But what happens when someone openly challenges the root idea of homophobia and acts as if you can get close to your own gender without being afraid? Well, that’s the rub.

It’s the fact that anyone demonstrates for all to see that no one has to be afraid, but can actually like, same-sex closeness that causes trouble. So, we don’t mind gay men, bisexual people and lesbians who are “that way.” We can tolerate that in a homophobic culture.

But do they have to “shove it in our face?” Do they have to “flaunt it?” “Why do we have to see it?” And: “Why do they have to have Gay Pride?” “Why I even think they’re in my church, but they’re not bragging about it.”

LGBT people who display the same openness about their relationships that any heterosexual couple can without much notice, openly threaten the system’s homophobia. They are openly saying that the system is wrong.

And the system hates that. So expect the same reaction to two guys holding hands no matter what their sexual orientation.

The larger question is: shouldn’t we all be able to hold each other’s hands? Or does that make it just too hard to shoot or hit the person whose hand we’re holding?

And we wouldn’t want that. We’re a warrior culture after all.

© 2013 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor 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

 



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