Conservative Christian goes undercover as a gay man October 17, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Religion.
Tags: bigotry, Christianity, conservative christian, evangelical, gay, gay community, gay liberation, gay rights, human rights, laura kane, lgbt, religious bigotry, roger hollander, sodom and gomorrah, tim kurek
add a comment
Roger’s note: Shades of John Howard Griffin’s classic ”Black Like Me,” which had a tremendous impact in the era of the Civil Rights movement.
Courtesy of Tim Kurek Tim Kurek, who posed as a gay man for a year to understand the adversity homosexuals face in the Bible Belt.
Courtesy of Allen Media Strategies Timothy Kurek, centre, poses with friends on his first Pride Day in Nashville, during his year of pretending to be gay.
The Cross in the Closet
The Cross in the Closet, Tim Kurek’s book about his year-long experiment.
When Timothy Kurek told his mother he was gay, she wrote in her diary that she would have rather heard she had terminal cancer.
Most of his Christian friends stopped speaking to him. “Jesus doesn’t love you anymore,” one said. As he sat outside a café in a gay neighbourhood, a stranger yelled “Faggot!” and threw a full two-litre bottle of cola at his head.
All terrible, painful experiences for a gay man — but Kurek isn’t gay. He’s a straight, conservative Christian from Nashville.
The aspiring writer went “undercover” as a homosexual for a year to understand the adversity gay people face in the Bible Belt. His book about the experience, called The Cross in the Closet, was released last week.
Kurek said the idea came to him after a friend came out as a lesbian. She told him, sobbing, that her family had disowned her.
“While she was crying in my arms, instead of loving her and trying to comfort her, my thoughts were … ‘Maybe I should give it a go and try to save her, get her to repent,’” he said.
Kurek was raised Independent Baptist and told that being gay was a sin. He remembers learning the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and being taught that God destroyed the cities to punish homosexuality.
But after his experiment, he realized the voice in his head wasn’t God, but religious propaganda.
“I realized I had to kill that voice inside of me, because it was only hurting me and hurting others,” he said.
The only way he could do that, he thought, was to experience what his friend had just gone through. So in January 2009, when he was in his early 20s, he “came out” to his family, got a job at a café gay men frequented and started going to gay bars.
His family was outwardly supportive, although he later found his mother’s diary entry that revealed she was struggling. “I was actually pretty fortunate, compared to a lot of other LGBT folks,” he said.
The first time he went to a gay club, he panicked when a shirtless man began grinding against him on the dance floor.
“I didn’t know whether I needed to punch him in the face or go have a cigarette,” Kurek said.
So Kurek asked a friend, who he described as a “big, burly, black teddy bear,” to pose as his boyfriend, so he wouldn’t be hit on.
He didn’t have relationships with men, but did experience what it was like to wear the label of gay in the South, he explained.
He devotes an entire chapter to the first time he was called “faggot.” To his surprise, it made him weep.
“I had to be held back from attacking the person that did it. I never felt so violated and minimized in my entire life, because of that one word,” he said.
LGBT advocates are divided on Kurek’s experiment. Helen Kennedy, director of Egale Canada, said he can never truly know what it’s like to be gay.
“He can’t see what it’s like to be a gay father, or to be an out man in a straight workplace,” she said. “He’s coming from a place of privilege.”
Irene Miller, president of PFLAG Toronto, agreed, but said she was hopeful the book would change some homophobes’ minds. “Within that evangelical culture, if they listen to his message, then it may do some good.”
When the year had ended, Kurek found his views had completely transformed.
“I went from being a very narrow-minded, hyperconservative Christian to an ally of the gay community,” he said.
His project not only changed him, but also his family and friends. When he revealed a year later that he was in fact straight, his mother said she understood that sometimes you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand them.
She is now an avid supporter of gay rights. His new LGBT friends were also supportive, Kurek said.
And rather than destroy his faith, the experiment actually saved it. “To the conservative Christians who read my book, I say, ‘Hey, there’s a much better way,’” he said. “It’s God’s job to judge, it’s the spirit’s job to convict, and it’s my job to love.’”
Why I outed a Christian star August 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in LGBT, Religion.
Tags: azariah southworth, christian tv, Christianity, evangelical, gay, Jonathan Merritt, lgbt, outing, religion, roger hollander
add a comment
Sunday, Aug 12, 2012, www.salon.com
I’ve been called a bully for exposing gay evangelical Jonathan Merritt. Even I secretly wonder: Was I right?
Ever since I outed an up-and-coming evangelical leader named Jonathan Merritt on my blog on July 23, one sentence has been running through my mind: I might have destroyed his life.
It’s not all the angry emails that made me doubt myself – although some have been wildly disapproving. One, from a longtime supporter, said, “Your actions are arrogant, insensitive, and nothing more. There is nothing brave, honorable or noble about what you’ve done. I am parting ways from you ashamed of you and what you have become.” Others called me a self-promoter and a bully. But their criticism is not what bothers me. As RuPaul once said, “What people say about me behind my back is none of my business.”
No, what bothers me, what overwhelms me with guilt, is the concern for what I’ve done to a person I care about. But then I think of how hypocrisy must be exposed. And I think of this: The truth sets you free.
In 2009, I emailed Jonathan Merritt to simply say I found his Op-Ed in USA Today to be interesting. He is a Christian whose writing on religious and environmental issues has been featured in two books and a variety of publications, from the Atlantic tothe Washington Post. Along with frequent appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Fox & Friends” and “CNN News,” Merritt has become a star among young people of faith. Oh, and his dad is the former president of the world’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jonathan and I exchanged a few emails, and a year later, in April 2010, we exchanged phone numbers. One night, we started text messaging one another. At this point, I perceived Jonathan to be a heterosexual male. Male he was, but not heterosexual. Jonathan’s text messages became flirtatious, and I became confused.
“Are you flirting with me?” I finally asked him. He admitted he was. And from there, the text messages became very explicit. It was only a matter of days before we met in person. Jonathan was going to be in Chicago at a conference, and he insisted that I be there. Not for the conference but for him.
I knew what it was to be a Christian in the closet. From 2006-2008, I was the host of a syndicated Christian TV show averaging 200,000 viewers a week. That ended after I watched a documentary titled “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a 2007 documentary that explains how the Bible has been wrongly interpreted to condemn LGBT people and same-sex relationships. That movie was the first gay-affirming message I actually listened to and understood, and it helped me unlearn decades of bad theology and scriptural misinterpretations.
I came out in 2008, and at the time I met with Jonathan, I was beginning a national speaking tour with a famous Christian singer, Ray Boltz. Ray had come out six months after me, and we decided to travel together sharing our stories. After our first show in Alabama, I drove to Chicago to meet Jonathan in the lobby of the downtown W Hotel. He had bright blue eyes and boy-next-door good looks. I was smitten. He seemed a little paranoid, though, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why. The hotel was filled with evangelicals in town for the Q Conference, which is like the young evangelical leaders’ version of a TED conference.
Jonathan and I left the hotel and took a taxi to a bar. After a few drinks we took another taxi to another bar. The alcohol was kicking in, and Jonathan’s inhibitions were coming down. In the second taxi, he began to unzip my hoodie after he realized I didn’t have a shirt on underneath. I was shocked by how forward he was — especially with the taxi driver in the car. After the second bar, Jonathan wanted to go to a grocery store for a bottle of wine. He’d had a lot to drink, but he didn’t forget to tell the cashier “no receipt.” As the title of his first book declared, he was “Green Like God.”
We made our way to my car, parked in an open and now empty parking lot. In the back seat of my stylish Oldsmobile Intrigue, Jonathan started chugging the bottle of Riesling and passed it off to me. I’m not one to chug wine, so I sipped. We were alone in the parking lot, surrounded by the skyscrapers.
I kept declining his advances. “I don’t want you to do something that will cause you to live a dishonest life,” I said. After all, my speaking tour was titled “Living True.” But Jonathan insisted it was fine. And I wanted him just as bad.
By the end of the night my lips were raw and chapped from his unshaven face. I felt a little dirty and used, but more than anything I felt bad for him. I knew the guilt that would ensue for him. I’ve been there. It’s so freeing when you connect with another gay person before you’re “out” but when it’s over, you reenter that world of secrets and lies. You’re surrounded once more by the immense social pressure to look and act a certain way within your faith community. Being gay makes you feel so alone. It makes you feel like you don’t belong, like you’ll never escape the torment and spiritual violence imposed on you by bad and broken theology.
I dropped Jonathan off a block away from his hotel at 4 in the morning. He gave me a kiss goodbye and got out of the car. As I drove the three hours back home, watching the sun rise in the east, I ran the night around in my mind. Will I get to see him again? Would he ever come out for me? What if I met his family – what would they make of me? I wasn’t head over heels for him, but I was crushed out, and I couldn’t help imagining a future together, even if part of me knew it was impossible. The sexting and Skype sessions continued for a few more months. Turns out, he did want to see me again. We made plans for another meeting in October 2010 in Atlanta.
But that meeting never took place. My speaking engagement was canceled, and we stopped communicating other than sending the casual “Happy Holiday” text message.
Outing Jonathan was not an easy decision. I mulled it over for more than a year and discussed it with friends. Those conversations always ended in, “Yeah, it’s probably not a good idea.” So, what changed my mind?
I was tired of the lies. I was tired of hearing Jonathan say that being gay is not “God’s best.” Meanwhile he enjoys the company of men. Jonathan’s approach to LGBT people and issues may be less extreme than that of the late Jerry Falwell, but in the end the results and message are the same: Your sexual orientation is a sin and you need to change with God’s help. It’s all lies — and the conversation not only needs to change but the leaders as well.
I’m tired of my humanity as a gay man being invalidated by hypocritical leaders like Jonathan, who then expect my support in return.
But I do feel conflict. I do feel a sense of guilt. And that’s because I do have one regret, which is not discussing it with Jonathan first. That was wrong of me. If I had to do this all over again, I would have contacted him first and then decided how to handle the situation from there based on his reaction. (Merritt has admitted in an interview that “we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship.”)
Outing a person is complex. There is no blanket formula for how and when and why to do it. I don’t think it’s right in every situation. If someone is in the closet and they’re not making an effort to demonize LGBT people, then I say, leave them alone. But if someone is using a public platform to discuss these issues, and doing that while hiding behind a false identity that ultimately destroys the foundation of the arguments they’re making, then, yes, a full disclosure of that person’s false identity is in order. Go to that person and let them know your intentions. If they refuse to come forward with the truth, then publicly call out their hypocrisy.
I am not asking people to “declare a side in this culture war” as the New York Times suggested in its interview with me. I am asking for our leaders to be honest and transparent. I know we are human. I know we all make mistakes, and there will always be hypocrites. But what is done in the dark can be brought into the light. So lead with integrity. Those are the kinds of leaders we need.
I may continue to be haunted by what I’ve done, but in my heart, I know the truth. Do I think I destroyed Jonathan’s life? I do not. I gave him the opportunity to live life at his best.
Azariah Southworth is a college sophomore at Indiana-Purdue Univ. of Fort Wayne majoring in Media & Public Communication. Once the host of a widely watched Christian TV show, he now dreams of being a cast member on “1 Girl and 5 Gays.”
The problem with gay men today April 23, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT.
Tags: act up, AIDS, ed koch, gay, gay community, gay marriage, gay rights, glbt, larry kramer, normal heart, roger hollander, safe-sex, same-sex marriage, thomas rogers
1 comment so far
Saturday, Apr 23, 2011 18:01 ET
Outspoken activist Larry Kramer wants to know why this generation is so apathetic while he’s still so angry
To say Larry Kramer is polarizing is like saying Rush Limbaugh is a little bit conservative. The Pulitzer-nominated playwright, screenwriter, author and activist has been one of the most controversial figures in American gay life over the past 30 years. He first incensed gay men in 1978 with “Faggots,” his eerily prescient novel that critiqued the gay community’s culture of promiscuity. And as a co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the founder of ACT UP, the influential AIDS activist group, he became one of the most strident and passionate voices in the early years of the AIDS crisis. While making countless enemies, most notably New York Mayor Ed Koch, he was one of the people most responsible for drawing attention to the disease.
Over the last decade and a half, as AIDS has transitioned from a death sentence to largely treatable and gay culture has transitioned from the margins to somewhere closer to the mainstream, Kramer has remained (almost) as angry as ever. In 2005, he published “The Tragedy of Today’s Gays,” a transcript of a speech in which he attacked the younger generation of gay men for their apathy over gay causes and accused them of condemning their “predecessors to nonexistence.”
Next week, Kramer’s politics will get another turn in the spotlight when his 1985 play, “The Normal Heart,” opens on Broadway for the very first time. The largely autobiographical story centers on a group of gay men in the early days of the AIDS epidemic and stars Joe Mantello as Ned Weeks, a Kramer-esque activist desperately trying to draw attention to the plague, alongside a cast that includes Ellen Barkin, Lee Pace and “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons. The play remains a highly effective, moving work that brutally conveys the desperation and terror that accompanied the emergence of AIDS. But nowadays, it also doubles as a history lesson for people who grew up long after the first wave — a role that Kramer sees as vital.
Salon spoke to Larry Kramer in his New York apartment about the importance of “The Normal Heart,” iPhone’s Grindr app and the problem with young gay men.
I saw a preview of the play last night with a friend. I think many of the ideas in the play will seem exotic and a little dated to a lot of young gay men.
Like the idea of promiscuity as a political statement and that it would be treasonous or controversial for gay men to tell other gay men not to have sex, or to have sex with a condom. What do you think young people should take away from the play?
It’s our history. We’re gay. This was part of our history. This was the most horrible thing the gay population ever lived through. And yet it also represented — later on, with ACT UP, and the getting of AIDS drugs — the most spectacular achievement the gay population ever had. We gays did that.
I don’t know why so many gay men don’t want to know their history. I don’t know why they turned their back on the older generation as if they don’t want to have anything to do with them. I would like us to get beyond that.
But do you really think that lack of interest in history is particular to this generation?
You tell me.
Well, I’m 27, and I know that my formative images of gay life had nothing to do with AIDS. Ellen came out of the closet when I was in junior high and “Will & Grace” made gayness seem like a consumer identity more than anything else. Gayness wasn’t really linked with sickness is my mind, and so those early AIDS battles, I think, seem very alien to a lot of young people’s experiences.
I don’t know. I could understand what you’re saying. Sometimes when I go to schools, kids say that they’re taught to be non-confrontational or non-participatory now, almost like it’s not cool to have opinions and express them, which is sad. I hope we’re coming out of all that.
You seem to have some anger at the young gay population.
No more than the old gay population. I’m an across-the-board person. We have responsibilities toward each other, as family, as brothers and sisters. We’re all in this together. ACT UP was the most moving experience I ever had in my life. We were sick and dying and that gave everything a special glow of importance, but it showed us what we were capable of if we did do it.
You’ve had a famously acrimonious relationship with former New York Mayor Ed Koch, whose inaction about AIDS you blame for the death of many of its victims. Does he still live in this building?
Fortunately, in the other elevator bank so we don’t have to see each other. We pass occasionally, both of us making a big point of ignoring one another. As you may know, I once ran into him where we get our mail. He bent to pet my dog and I yanked her away and said something like: “No, Molly, that’s the man who murdered all of Daddy’s friends.” When I first saw him in the lobby, I screamed at him: “We don’t want you here!” as loud as I could across the length of the lobby and I was told by my landlord that we would be evicted if I did it again. So I didn’t. I like my apartment too much.
Coming out of the play last night, my friend and I both felt a perverse nostalgia for those early AIDS years we never lived through. They were obviously utterly terrifying and filled with sadness, but there’s also something appealing about having this galvanizing issue to unite gay men. We don’t have that as much now.
There are these issues now. It’s just that you don’t think of them as galvanizing, mainly because they’re not so life and death. I cite marriage, although I’m sort of fed up with how long it’s taken and I think we’ve gone about it the wrong way. I’m 76, and my partner is 64. I’ll obviously die before he does, and the way the laws are written it’s very hard to leave him anything of substance compared to what I have to leave. It all goes to taxes because we’re not legally federally married and that’s not fair, that’s just not fair. You don’t care about it at your age, but I care about it at mine, and there are a lot of older gays who should care about it as well. That should be a galvanizing issue. Anything that keeps us from being unequal should be galvanizing. I want what they have. I do. And everybody should. But again, people don’t think that way.
What has frustrated you about the move toward gay marriage in the country?
Just that it’s taken forever. I don’t think we should have taken the state by state approach because it just makes it go on, and then you have to re-sue and defend. Things need to go to the Supreme Court as fast as possible. There were ways it could have gone to the Supreme Court a lot earlier. If we lose at the Supreme Court, which everyone was afraid of, you just come back again. These [state] marriage we have don’t amount to anything. They’re feel-good marriages. They make relationships stronger and all that, but they don’t amount to a hill of beans in terms of anything legal or financial. You still need to pay federal taxes and you don’t get any of these benefits the government pays you if you’re heterosexually married.
The play suggests that one of the reasons there was so much meaningless sex in the gay community in the 1980s was because there was no gay marriage. Now that state marriages exist, do you think there’s been a cultural shift away from that meaningless sexual culture?
I think there’s still an awful lot of meaningless sex going on and the infection figures are still much too high and going up, so obviously there’s still too much careless sex going on. I don’t want to come out of this sounding like this prude. I never said don’t have sex, but what’s so hard about using rubbers? It doesn’t seem to require much intelligence to figure that one out. I don’t have much sympathy for people who seroconvert now, who know about AIDS. I don’t care if you were on drugs or whether you were out of it in the heat of passion or whatever. Your cock is a lethal instrument. It can murder people.
Are you familiar with Grindr, the iPhone gay sex app?
It’s an iPhone application that shows you how far away other gay men are, so you can have sex with them.
No. I’d be happy to use it now if I thought it would do anything. I get horny just like anybody else, and David [Webster, Kramer's partner] and I have been together a long time, so our relationship is now something else. I joined Daddyhunt or Manhunt and all those things, and posted my pictures, and filled out my questionnaire. And I got absolutely no response from anyone and it led me to wonder: What do older men do? It’s very sad that suddenly there’s no way to partake in all of this.
The interesting thing about Grindr is that it creates this map of your surroundings that’s really catered to gay men. You can log into it in your apartment and suddenly there are 100 people around you looking to hook up.
It sounds wonderful. I’m not against sex, I’m against being irresponsible. We have bodies and we should enjoy them, but we shouldn’t treat each other as things. That’s what it came to be in the [1970s] height of Fire Island [the gay party mecca], and I guess you could say the same about this Grindr thing.
It seems like the intense over-the-top party culture that Fire Island embodies — the kitschy nightclubs and circuit parties — are in the process of disappearing. I honestly don’t think they appeal to young gay people in the way they used to.
They were very drug-induced escapes. You really had to power your body for an enormous number of hours with an enormous amount of help. Someone said something interesting recently to me about why people did so many drugs in the 1970s: “It’s because it made it less painful, less difficult, less arduous, the life we led outside of the gay world.” Fire Island itself was and still is enormously competitive. You’re bartering with your body. Maybe people are more content with the sex online. I don’t know. I don’t see the gay world anymore. I don’t see it visually on the streets like we used to see it. I don’t know where it is. Do you?
Well, I think it’s less visible, and a lot of that has to do with the Internet. Gay ghettos are emptying out. There are fewer gay bars than there were before. And I think young gay people are more comfortable inhabiting the straight world and straight environments. I also think people have more straight friends.
Well, I’m glad I’m not your age anymore. Being gay was so much fun. And there were so many of us to have fun with — just being part of a very, very visible world where you saw people all the time and you socialized. I don’t see it now. I know they’re here. I know they’re in this building, but I don’t even know them as gay, even though I know they’re gay.
I am a gay person before I’m anything else. I’m a gay person before I’m a white person, before I’m a Jew, before I’m a writer, before I’m American, anything. That is my most identifying characteristic and I don’t find many people who would say that. The polls say the same thing: People do not identify themselves as gay. And that’s too bad. In fact, it’s tragic. It will prevent us from ever having what we deserve, I believe.
- Thomas Rogers is Salon’s Deputy Arts Editor.
Judge declares U.S. military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy openly banning gay service members unconstitutional September 10, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, LGBT.
Tags: don't ask, gay, gay rights, gay service, military, phil willon, roger hollander
1 comment so far
A federal judge in Riverside declared the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional Thursday, saying the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates the 1st Amendment rights of lesbians and gay men.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the policy banning gays did not preserve military readiness, contrary to what many supporters have argued, saying evidence shows that the policy in fact had a “direct and deleterious effect’’ on the military.
Phillips said she would issue an injunction barring the government from enforcing the policy. However, the U.S. Department of Justice, which defended “don’t ask, don’t tell” during a two-week trial in Riverside, will have an opportunity to appeal that decision.
The ruling comes just over a month after a federal judge in San Francisco tossed out California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, providing back-to-back victories for gay rights advocates seeking policy changes in the courts that have eluded them in Congress and at the ballot box. The case was filed by the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest political organization for gays in the GOP, in 2004.
[Updated at 6:30 p.m.: "As an American, a veteran and an Army reserve officer, I am proud the court ruled that the arcane ‘don't ask, don't tell’ statute violates the Constitution,” said R.Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans & Liberty Education Fund. “Today, the ruling is not just a win for Log Cabin Republican service members, but all American service members."]
The ruling is expected to intensify political pressure in Washington to act on legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which remains stalled in the Senate despite support from President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership.
President Obama has called the ban a threat to national security, and the U.S. House in May passed legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” if an ongoing Pentagon study determines the military can adapt to the change without harming defense readiness.
Despite Obama’s criticism of the policy, the Justice Department vigorously defended “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ and even tried to undercut the case with a technical legal challenge over whether the named plaintiffs were dues-paying members of the organization that filed the lawsuit: the Log Cabin Republicans.
– Phil Willon in Riverside County
A Heaven-Sent Rent Boy May 16, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, LGBT.
Tags: anti-gay, Civil Rights, elena kagan, frank rich, gay, gay adoption, gay marriage, gay rights, george rekers, homophobia, homosexuality, hypocrisy, laura bush, lesbian, lgbt, rentboy, roger hollander, same sex, same-sex marriage
add a comment
Op-Ed Columnist, www.nytimes.com
By FRANK RICH
Published: May 14, 2010
OF all wars, only culture wars offer the hope of sheer, unadulterated hilarity. Sex and hypocrisy were staples of farce long before America became a nation, and they never go out of style. Just listen to the roaring audience at the new hit Broadway revival of the perennial “La Cage aux Folles,” where a family-values politician gets his comeuppance in drag. Or check out the real-life closet case of George Rekers, who has been fodder for late-night television comics all month.
Rekers is in a class by himself even in the era of Larry Craig and Ted Haggard. A Baptist minister and clinical psychologist with a bent for “curing” homosexuality, the married, 61-year-old Rekers was caught by Miami New Times last month in the company of a 20-year-old male escort at Miami International Airport. The couple was returning from a 10-day trip to London and Madrid. New Times, which published its exposé in early May, got an explanation from Rekers: “I had surgery, and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.”
Alas, a photo showed Rekers, rather than his companion, handling the baggage cart. The paper also reported that Rekers had recruited the young man from Rentboy.com, a Web site whose graphic sexual content requires visitors to vouch for their age. Rentboy.com — really, who could make this stuff up?
Much like the former Senator Craig, Rekers claims it was all an innocent mix-up. His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”
This is a family newspaper, so you must supply your own jokes here.
But once we stop laughing, we must remember that culture wars are called wars for a reason. For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties — both at the micro level, on the lives of ordinary people, and at the national level, where, as we’re seeing right now, a Supreme Court nominee’s entire record can be reduced to a poisonous and distorted debate over her stand on the single culture-war issue of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Rekers is no bit player in these wars. Though he’s not a household name, he should be. He’s the Zelig of homophobia, having played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades. His public career dates back to his authorship of a theoretically scholarly 1982 tome titled “Growing Up Straight: What Families Should Know About Homosexuality.” (I say theoretically because many of the footnotes cite his own previous writings.) And what did Rekers think that families should know? By Chapter 2, he is citing the cautionary tale of how one teacher’s “secret homosexual lifestyle most likely led to his murder.”
Rekers soon went on to become a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major, if not the major, activist organization of the religious right as well as a power broker in the Republican Party. When the Miami scandal broke, the council’s current president, Tony Perkins, quickly tried to distance himself, claiming that he had to review “historical records” to verify who Rekers was and that his organization had “no contact” with him or “knowledge of his activities” for over a decade.
That historical record is hardly as obscure as Perkins maintained. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC found that only weeks before Rekers’s excellent European adventure, his name appeared on the masthead of an official-looking letter sent to some 14,000 school superintendents nationwide informing them that homosexuality is a choice that can be stamped out by therapy. The letter was from the “American College of Pediatricians” — a misnomer for what is actually a political organization peddling homophobic junk-science. Rekers was also on the board of another notorious peddler of gay “cures” — the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, or Narth — until he resigned last week. Such groups have done nothing to stop homosexuality but plenty to help promote punitive “treatment” and suicidal depression among untold numbers of gay youths.
No less destructive has been Rekers’s role in maintaining the draconian Florida law prohibiting adoptions by gay couples and individuals, a relic of the Anita Bryant era. When the law was challenged in court two years ago, the state Attorney General Bill McCollum personally intervened to enlist Rekers as an expert witness to uphold it. Rekers charged $120,000 for his services — a taxpayers’ expenditure now becoming an issue in the Florida gubernatorial race, where McCollum is a Republican candidate to succeed Charlie Crist. A Miami judge ruled Florida’s law unconstitutional, and even now McCollum is appealing that decision.
Rekers was also an expert witness in a similar court case in Arkansas in 2004. That anti-gay-adoption law was also ruled unconstitutional. (His bill there was $200,000, but he settled for $60,000.) In 1998 Rekers was hired as an expert witness by the Boy Scouts to uphold its gay ban in a case before the District of Columbia Human Rights Commission. And then there’s Rekers’s cameo in the current Proposition 8 trial in California: one of his homophobic screeds can be found in the bibliography for the “expert report” by David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, the star witness for the anti-same-sex-marriage forces.
Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.
The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs. American attitudes about homosexuality continue to change very fast. In the past month, as square a cultural venue as Archie comic books has announced the addition of a gay character, the country singer Chely Wright has come out as a lesbian, and Laura Bush has told Larry King that she endorses the “same” rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage “will come.” All of this news has been greeted by most Americans with shrugs, as it should be.
But the rear-guard remnants of the Rekers crowd are not going down without a fight, and their focus on Elena Kagan has been most revealing. There are many grounds to debate Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, wherever you are on the political spectrum. There are many questions about her views and record that remain unanswered. But from the get-go the preponderance of the debate on the right has been about her handling of military recruitment as dean at Harvard Law School. Here her history is unambiguous.
Despite her critics’ cries, Kagan never banned military recruitment of law students and never denigrated the military in word or deed. She followed Harvard’s existing (and unexceptional) antidiscrimination policy while a court battle played out over a Congressional act denying federal funds to universities barring military recruiters. She was so cautious — too cautious, I’d argue — that she did not join the majority of her own faculty in urging Harvard to sue the government over the funding law, limiting her action instead to the signing of an amicus brief.
She did declare that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “a moral injustice of the first order.” Given that a Washington Post-ABC News poll in February showed that 75 percent of Americans want that policy rescinded — as do the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense — this is hardly a view out of the American mainstream. Yet if you went to the Web site of the organization Rekers co-founded, the Family Research Council, and clicked on “Tony Perkins’ Washington Update” last week, you’d have found a head shot of Kagan with the legend “Deep Ties With the Gay Agenda.” What those “deep ties” are is never stated. Indeed, Kagan said only last year that “there is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”
The Family Research Council’s line has been embraced by the non-fringe right, including some Republicans in the Senate. In mid-April, a full month before Kagan’s nomination was even announced, The Wall Street Journal preemptively hyped this plan of attack with a conspicuously placed news article headlined “Kagan Foes Cite Gay-Rights Stand.” The only foes cited were religious right organizations.
The real game became clear when that same week a former Bush aide and Republican Senate staffer published unsubstantiated rumors about Kagan’s private life in a blog at CBSNews.com. (It was taken down after White House denials.) Those rumors have chased all unmarried Supreme Court justices or would-be justices loathed by the right, whether Republicans like David Souter and Harriet Miers or the previous Obama choice, Sonia Sotomayor.
By late last week, double-entendre wisecracks about Kagan’s softball prowess were all the rage on Fox News and MSNBC. These dying gasps of our culture wars, like Rekers’s farcical pratfall, might be funnier if millions of gay Americans and their families were not still denied their full civil rights.
The Business of Love March 10, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, LGBT.
Tags: Economic Crisis, gay, gay marriage, lgbt, roger hollander, same sex
1 comment so far
03.10.10 – 10:30 AM
Washington’s new same-sex marriages will bring in over 700 jobs and $52 million to a city struggling with hard times, a new study finds. Thanks to ever-enterprising capitalism, the new law has already spawned gay-friendly discounts, websites, cake toppers and ring designs.
“We’re in the business of love,” said Jonathan Mervis of Mervis Diamond Importers.
Why Gay Students Don’t Feel Safe February 25, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
Tags: anti-gay, anti-gay jokes, bisexual, deb price, education, gay, gender identity, homophobia, human rights, lesbian, lgbt, lgbt african-americans, lgbt american indians, roger hollander, sexual orientation, teen, transgender, youth of color
add a comment
Imagine being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teen who loves singing in the school chorus.
Now imagine that experience being spoiled by a thoughtless, homophobic adult — the music teacher who ought to be striving for harmony.
“My choir teacher constantly makes gay jokes,” a 12th-grade Latino student reported in a new national study. “And he doesn’t realize that he makes it so uncomfortable for us because it’s choir. There’s a large LGBT community in choir, and he sits there and cracks gay jokes all the time.”
In its groundbreaking report, “Shared Differences,” the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network captures what school feels like for America’s LGBT youth of color.
The survey results paint a grim picture of kids so hardened to anti-gay remarks, shoving or worse that they don’t even bother reporting the abusive incidents to a school official or parent.
These students rarely read about LGBT people in textbooks, nor do they learn about gay history or people in class.
What they too often learn firsthand is that school is a place where they can expect to be hurt — emotionally or physically. The predictable but sad result is that many of these kids skip classes and see their grades drop.
GLSEN has found that the best antidote is to make sure schools have gay-straight student clubs, LGBT-supportive officials and textbooks, and anti-harassment policies that clearly include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The report, available at glsen.org, draws on data collected during the 2006-2007 school year on 2,130 GLBT students, ages 13 to 21, who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific islander or multiracial. In addition, researchers listened to small groups of students.
- Biased barbs: More than 80 percent of LGBT youth of color often heard the phrase “that’s so gay” or similar uses of “gay” at school to put people down. Two-thirds heard “faggot,” “dyke” or other anti-gay name-calling.
In a particularly alarming finding, more than half of these students said they had heard teachers, principals or other adults at their school make homophobic remarks.
- Ignored cries for help: Only about one-fifth of students reported that school officials “most of the time” or “always” stepped in when anti-gay remarks were made in their presence.
Report co-author Joseph Kosciw says some educators are sending the message that anti-gay remarks “aren’t just tolerated in school but acceptable.”
Only about one in 10 LGBT students of color said other students stepped in when they heard anti-gay comments.
- Frightened: More than half of these students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; one-third said they felt unsafe because of how they express their gender.
Close to half of LGBT students said they had been physically harassed or assaulted in the past year in school because of their sexual orientation.
But this experience varied widely by race and ethnicity: 33 percent of LGBT African-Americans said they’d been subject to physical violence in school. Among LGBT American Indian students, the percentage was 54 percent.
- Who am I?: Only 14 percent of LGBT students of color said their schoolbooks include information about gay issues, and only 11 percent said their schoolwork has included positive portrayals of gay people.
Our educators are failing America’s LGBT kids of color. And that’s certainly nothing to sing about.
Bigotry toward LGBT individuals February 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Human Rights.
Tags: academy awards, anti-gay, bigotry, disability, gay, glaad, humanitarian, humanitarian award, jerry lewis, lesbian, lgbt, muscular dystrophy, oscar, roger hollander, telethon
add a comment
In October 2008, while speaking with a journalist from Channel Ten News in Australia, Lewis was asked “What do you think of cricket?” His response was, “Oh cricket is a fag’s game! What are you, nuts?” Lewis then proceeded to flounce about, using camp, effeminate gestures, pretending to hold a bat with a limp wrist, squealing in a high pitched voice “Ah! The ball is coming towards me!”
This wasn’t the first time Lewis got into trouble making gay slurs. In 2007, Lewis was goofing around and dodging his cameraman during the 18th hour of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, when he went into a ramble about imaginary family members.
“Oh, your family has come to see you,” he said, speaking to the camera and gesturing toward thin air.
“You remember Bart, your older son,” he said, and motioning toward another unseen character, “Jesse, the illiterate fag.
“No,” Lewis said, stopping himself before continuing.
The comment soon drew considerable condemnation a variety of groups including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“Jerry Lewis’ on-air use of this kind of anti-gay slur is simply unacceptable,” GLAAD President Neil Giuliano said in a statement, adding that the comic’s remark “feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance” that could incite anti-gay violence.
GLAAD urged Lewis to apologize for the comment and asked the entertainer to meet with members of the group “to help him understand why these words are so hurtful.”
Under pressure from telethon organizers, Lewis later issued a statement saying he was sorry “to anyone who was offended.”
I guess we needn’t concern ourselves with anyone who wasn’t.
Lewis’ defamatory public statements make it clear that he lacks the kind of character and integrity the Academy is committed to honoring. Recognizing Lewis with this honor is an affront to true humanitarians, to the Academy and to the people Lewis has harmed.. Members of the disability community, and numerous allied individuals and organizations oppose awarding Lewis this honor.
Please join us.
Faith Leaders from LGBT Groups Issue Joint Statement Denouncing Vatican, Supporting UN Resolution December 20, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
Tags: bisexual, catholic church, decriminalization, discrimination, European Union, gay, homosexuality, human rights, lesbian, religion, roger hollander, transgender, United Nations, Vatican
1 comment so far
WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, along with faith program directors from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and National Black Justice Coalition today issued a joint protest over the Vatican’s recent decision to oppose an initiative to decriminalize homosexuality. Advocates are pushing the U.S. State Department to support the initiative and urging media to cover this life and death concern.
The following joint statement was issued on United Nations Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“For far too long people around the world have been ostracized, imprisoned, tortured and denied basic rights to housing, health care and employment simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). In more than 70 countries people can be imprisoned for homosexuality and in several countries same gender love is a crime punishable by death.
“This is why the French government, backed by 27 European Union nations, put forward a proposal, on Human Rights Day to recognize that LGBT rights are human rights and to decriminalize homosexuality. Such a statement simply affirms the most basic of rights for LGBT people: that they be allowed to live in dignity and safety. As faith leaders who work every day with LGBT people who feel the stigma of discrimination, this UN initiative speaks to our core belief that we show our love for God when we care for our neighbors, particularly those who are shunned and marginalized.
“As faith leaders we were shocked by Vatican opposition to this proposed initiative. By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable. Most Catholics, and indeed most Catholic teachings, tell us that all people are entitled to live with basic human dignity without the threat of violence. The Catholics we know believe that Scripture asks us to be our brother and our sister’s keeper. Many are speaking out against this immoral stance in the name of religion.
“Compounding the Vatican’s opposition is the inaction to date of the government of the United States. As faith leaders and citizens of the United States, we call on the U.S. government to join the 50 countries throughout the world that have officially supported this U.N. proposal. We urge U.S. leaders to stand against discrimination. It is time to let the teachings of the world’s great religions guide us toward justice rather that encouraging prejudice, fear and violence. It is time for the U.S. to stand as a moral leader for LGBT people and to help create a more just world for all of us.”
Harry Knox, Director
Religion and Faith Program
Human Rights Campaign Foundation
The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Director
Institute for Welcoming Resources and Faith Work
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director
National Black Justice Coalition
Ann Craig, Director
Religion, Faith & Values Program
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.