Would you like your fried chicken with a side of homophobia? That’s what’s on offer at the Calgary International Airport, where notoriously anti-gay restaurant Chick-fil-A has just opened its first Canadian branch.
The fervently Christian American company donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay organizations in 2010, with a particular focus on lobbying against equal marriage. In 2012 its CEO Dan T. Cathy owned up to being ‘guilty as charged’. He openly condemned those who “have the audacity to define what marriage is about,” saying they were “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”
Chick-fil-A has been beset with boycotts and protests ever since, but this hasn’t stopped it planning to expand into 108 new locations this year – including Canada.
The fast-food giant is one of the largest privately-held restaurant chains in the US, but its public image took a nose-dive in 2012 with revelations about its anti-gay stance. Since then, some new US branches have been prevented from opening, and one was removed from the University of Atlanta campus after opposition from students.
We can do the same in Canada. The Calgary branch opened quietly with almost no publicity. Reporters who did cover the launch were told not to ask customers about the restaurant’s anti-gay reputation. Chick-fil-A is clearly worried about a backlash. So let’s give it one!
Sign the petition to show Chick-fil-A that homophobia is not welcome in Canada.
Thank you for standing up for equal rights for everyone,
Angus, Hanna, Jon, and the rest of the team at SumOfUs
SumOfUs is a worldwide movement of people like you, working together to hold corporations accountable for their actions and forge a new, sustainable path for our global economy.
Roger’s note: it is astounding, almost surreal, the amount of time energy and money invested by right wing bigots in the name of Christianity on a campaign of pure hatred against people who love.
“Children of a future age
Reading this indignant page
Know that in a former time
Love, sweet love, was thought a crime.”
It is indeed an upside-down world we live in. It would almost be worth it to be a believer and to witness these troglodytes meeting their Maker, who has a big smile on Her face and is sporting a rainbow colored pink triangle.
Jack Burkman, a K-Street insider, is also seeking to ban gays from the NFL.
The NFL Draft will take place this weekend and there has been a lot of speculation about which team, if any, will draft gay defensive end Michael Sam.
If Sam does get drafted, the team that picks him will get to look forward to dealing with Washington, DC lobbyist Jack Burkman who, as part of his campaign to pass legislation that would ban openly gay players from playing in the NFL, is vowing to unleash a “relentness” boycott against the team that drafts him.
Burkman says that he has a “coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation” ready to go as soon as Sam is drafted who will teach the NFL that “when you trample the Christian community and Christian values, there will be a terrible financial price to pay”:
Jack Burkman, head of the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm J.M. Burkman & Assoc. who is seeking to ban gays from the NFL, says he intends to build a national coalition to boycott any football franchise that picks openly gay football player Michael Sam in the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
In a release issued Thursday, Burkman said he would “leverage his political clout” to ensure that the franchise that selects the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end from Missouri would get “roughed up financially.”
“We shall exercise our First Amendment rights and shall not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football,” said Burkman. “In short, we shall be relentless.”
Burkman claims in the release that he is currently mobilizing “powerful grassroots organizations in 27 of the 50 states,” as well as a “coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest if Sam is drafted.”
“The NFL, like most of the rest of American business, is about to learn that when you trample the Christian community and Christian values there will be a terrible financial price to pay,” said Burkman.
Roger’s note: Confession: I love sports. I am an unrepentant sports fan. Blame the golden era of the Brooklyn Dodgers and my father who took me to witness history and Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field in 1947. Blame a Rose Bowl appearance in my freshman year at Berkeley (there has not been once since that day in January 1959). I know this is not politically correct (note that I use the phrase as it was originally intended, to indicate a minor and relatively insignificant aberration of principle [an acknowledgement of human frailty], and not how the phase has been perverted by the radical right to denote someone who is zealous in the pursuit of the principles of social justice). Every once in a while, rarely perhaps, a story comes out of the sports world that conflates the world of sport with socially positive principle. Such is the case of Brittney Griner. I also cannot help pointing out that Texas’s Baylor University, a self-proclaimed “Christian” school with overt and repressive anti-gay regulations for its students, was willing to “overlook” Griner’s lesbianism as long as she kept her mouth shut about it and continued to rake in big money for the school with her extraordinary basketball skills.
As you will see from reading this article, she is now a wealthy professional basketball player in the WNBA and still feels compelled to share her painful history and re-live that pain so that LGBT youth of today may not have to experience the same degradations that she did. I consider her a heroic figure, both on and off the court.
Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY SportsBrittney Griner’s app will provide resources to school officials looking for ways to aid bullying victims.
It was hard watching Brittney Griner struggle to keep the smile on her face.
With each breath, it seemed a tiny portion of the joy she came onstage with slowly dissipated, like smoke fleeing the wick of a candle that has recently been blown out. Barely five minutes into the first session of this year’s SXSW’s sports plenary and one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history is broken.
When I asked her to begin the panel discussion by reading aloud a passage from her autobiography, “In My Skin: My Life on and off the Basketball Court,” I had assumed the 22-year-old was over it.
The bullying from middle school.
The teasing from high school.
The ridicule and isolation that can sometime come when who and what society says you are supposed to be are not reflective of who and what you actually are.
Because the Venn diagram our culture etches into the national narrative makes happiness a subset of wealth, from the outside looking in, and we naturally assume professional athletes have it all. Griner has a Nike deal and 77-foot banner of her likeness draped over a building in downtown Phoenix before she took a single WNBA dribble. And yet here we are, in a crowded banquet room of an Austin, Texas, hotel, and the only sounds that can be heard are the occasional creaks a chair makes when the occupant shifts his or her weight — and the gentle sobs of someone who is supposed to have it all.
They say it’s important for kids to express themselves, but from the moment kids start to make choices — what clothes they want to wear, what toys they want to play with, what activities they want to pursue — society tries to define them and put them into neat little boxes. Girls are supposed to act this way, boys that way. And any kid who doesn’t fit into one of those boxes gets labeled as weird or strange or different.
“I really don’t talk about the past that much because it just wasn’t good,” Griner told me later after she had read the above passage from her book at our panel. “Even when I was writing the book I was reliving that pain all over again.
“There were times when I didn’t want to do the book anymore because of all of the pain. But I felt that if I did it, maybe I could help someone else who was in school right now and having a very hard time.”
Brittney Griner, who scored 3,283 career points, dunked 18 times and set the NCAA record (man or woman) with 748 career blocks at Baylor, shares her coming-of-age story, revealing how she found the strength to overcome bullies and to embrace her authentic self.
Griner: Book signing, interview
• Brittney Griner will hold a book-signing session following an exclusive interview with espnW.com’s Kate Fagan, as part of the weekend’s festivities at NCAA Tourney Town. The event begins Sunday, April 6, at 3:30 p.m. local time at Music City Center in Nashville.
In addition to the book, Griner is launching a smartphone app to help bullied teens and provide resources to school officials who are at a loss as to how to help them.
“The one question I would ask my teachers is, ‘Why?'” Griner said, her voice starting to shake. “‘Why didn’t you do anything to try to stop what was happening to me? Why didn’t you do anything to help me or any of the other kids who were being bullied every day?’
“But then I wonder if they even knew how to help. Or even if they understood how important it is that they do help. They might think it’s just kids being kids, but really — it’s more. They could save somebody’s life.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, with LGBT youth being four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. It’s a statistic that resonates more when familiar faces like Griner’s are attached to it. She spends time in the book discussing what she calls “the dark days” and the time in which she imagined what would happen “if I didn’t exist anymore.”
Only the most callous of hearts could hear such a statement and not be touched. And usually those hearts have Twitter accounts.
Despite rewriting the record books, the names directed at Griner, even still, are as demeaning as the ones that began circulating soon after the “High School Girl Dunks” video clip made her a YouTube curiosity while at Nimitz High School. The ridicule via social media remains as relentless as the insults schoolmates would direct her way in the halls of Teague Middle School. Griner said one of her tormentors walked right up to her in the hallway, rubbed on her chest and then yelled, “See, I told you she was a boy.”
The teachers nearby did nothing.
“I remember thinking once I got to college I would finally be free,” she said. “And then I get there and I had to stay hidden. My teammates didn’t have a problem with me being gay, but the school did. It was crazy.”
Whenever an athlete — be it Griner, the NBA’s Jason Collins or NFL draft prospect Michael Sam — publicly talk about their sexual orientation, inevitably the question “Who cares?” can be heard. And in many ways it is a legitimate response. If someone wants to be judged by their on-the-field performance, then why willingly choose to draw attention to one’s private life?
“In My Skin” is Griner’s way of answering that. In one passage, she writes: “Being true to myself has often been at odds with my desire to please others. I’ve spent years trying so hard to be the version of myself that would make the most people happy. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I compromise, some people will never understand me. And accepting this truth has given me a new level of comfort and freedom.”
And by expressing that comfort and freedom, Griner said she hopes to empower young people who, like her younger self, spent many nights feeling hopeless and alone. This weekend she is the Grand Marshall in the Phoenix Pride parade, and, along with Blake Skjellerup — an openly gay Olympic speed skater — will be doing a meet-and-greet at the celebration’s youth zone.
AP Photo/Stacy BengsBrittney Griner hired longtime NBA assistant Dean Denomopolis to help her with her game this offseason.
“It was important to Phoenix Pride to showcase individuals whom are not only out, but actively using their celebrity to make the world a better place,” said Dani Logan, the celebration’s program manager.
“One of the hardest parts about growing up was not having any role models,” Griner said. “I mean I don’t know if that would have stopped kids from bullying me, but it would have given me some strength. … There were a lot of days when I was tired of being bullied, that I didn’t have strength.”
There used to be a time when the thought of someone who was routinely the biggest kid in class — someone who currently stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 200 pounds — as not having the strength to fight off bullying was ridiculous. But that was before the environment that 6-5, 312-pound Jonathan Martin had to contend with in Miami came to light, and suddenly the size of victims and bullies was diminished.
“From the very first day, we clicked,” said Janell Roy, a high school teammate of Griner who remains close to her today. “We were like sisters, but she wouldn’t tell me everything that was going on. I guess because she knew I would try to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do, you know?
“But I saw some of it. Even in our locker room. They would say she was a guy and talk about her sexuality. Sometimes things would get real tense, and that would be hard for her. She didn’t tell me all that had happened to her in middle school until years later. My sister’s been through a lot.”
Nearly 82 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed and close to 40 percent are physically harassed, according to the 2011 National School Climate Survey. And unfortunately, there’s no shortage of faces who fall into those categories.
Faces such as Jack Andraka, the high school whiz kid who in 2012 invented an early detection test for pancreatic cancer at age 15, talks about relentless bullying and thoughts of suicide. His story is not very different from Griner’s. Their stories are not very different from the ones featured in the 2011 documentary “Bully” or the stories regularly heard by volunteers at organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Alliance and The Trevor Project, which the San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Culliver visited as part of his mea culpa for anti-gay statements made during Super Bowl XLVII media week.
All of it continues to drive Griner.
“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me,” she said.Which is not to suggest her basketball development is taking a back seat to advocacy work.
Far from it.
Though fans made her a WNBA All-Star, a knee injury kept Griner from playing in the game. And besides dunking in her first game and hitting a series-clinching jumper over Candace Parker in the first round of the playoffs, Griner’s inaugural season was plagued by foul trouble and overshadowed by Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, who won rookie of the year honors. There’s work to be done, and she knows it. After signing to play in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association last summer, Griner hired longtime NBA assistant coach Dean Demopoulos to travel with her to help her develop her game.
“I don’t know if I taught her anything new,” he said. “When we met, she could pretty much do everything. She had the footwork, she had the touch. She can shoot. And I mean really shoot. I spent two years with Ray Allen, so I know what a shooter looks like — she has a stroke. What we worked on was repetition. Taking the second-guessing out of her game and letting things come naturally.”
“I can’t live my life and pretend as if everything is OK now that I’m a professional basketball player when I know it’s not OK for kids who were like me.
” – Brittney Griner
The results? MVP honors in the league’s All-Star game and coming a game short of a finals appearance.
“She could probably play the 4, the 3 — she’s that agile,” Demopoulos said. “It’s going to be interesting to see just how much better she’s going to get, because she has a big glass and it’s not near full.
“She got it, by the way — that ‘it’ stuff — she’s got it. That charisma you want your franchise player to have. Only thing is she’s got to change that diet. That girl ate Pizza Hut, KFC and candy for four months.”
But if you let Griner tell it, that was the best thing on the menu.
“Let’s just say the food was really interesting,” she said with a smile.
And it is good to see her smile.
With high cheek bones, flawless cafe-au-lait-colored skin and shoulder-length locks with tips that appear to have been dipped in honey, the great irony about Griner being harassed for her appearance is that she is really beautiful. Sweet, too. The kind of woman who still smiles when referred to being her daddy’s little girl even as her daddy still wrestles with who his little girl is. Early on, Griner writes that her father never wanted her to play beyond the backyard of their home. And when he learned she was gay, he told her, “I ain’t raising no gay girl in my house! You can pack your s— and get the f— out!” And for two months she stayed at an assistant coach’s home before reconciliation.
An estimated 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT, with nearly half being kicked out of their homes for that reason. Again, statistics resonate more when familiar faces are attached to it.
“I think we’re getting better,” Griner said. “I still love my family very much. But it’s hard.
“I guess this is why I thought it was important that I did this book and shared my story. I don’t like thinking about the past and all of that pain. But if talking about it helps just one person — I’ll do it.”
As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)
In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.
Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.
As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.
For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”
But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.
In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.
The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.
ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.
Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.
In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.
In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.
Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.
The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”
MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.
One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.
FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.
To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Nathalie Baptiste is a Haitian-American contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She holds a BA and MA in International Studies and writes about Latin America and the Caribbean. You can follow her on Twitter at @nhbaptiste.
Roger’s note: OK, so John Kerry and Samantha Power have spoken out against this abomination. Now, what are they going to do about it? If it were Cuba or Venezuela or Iran or North Korea, the U.S, would be at the United Nations demanding sanctions. But Nigeria is a “friendlier” nation, not to mention one that has great reserves of oil.
A tough ban on same-sex relationships that threatens violators with 14-year prison terms has been quietly signed into law by the president of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, a step that rights advocates have long feared not only as a repression aimed at gays but as an affront to basic freedoms of speech and assembly.
The ban, known as the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, was passed by Parliament last May but was not signed by the president, Goodluck Jonathan, until Jan. 7, Nigerian news agencies reported Monday from Abuja, the capital.
It is considered the most significant setback to gay rights in Africa, where same-sex relationships are already widely prohibited. The law took effect as gay-rights advocacy is gaining traction elsewhere, led by the United States and other Western nations where the legality and acceptance ofsame-sex marriage and civil unions are expanding.
Under the Nigerian law, it is illegal not only to engage in an intimate relationship with a member of the same sex, but to attend or organize a meeting of gays, or patronize or operate any type of gay organization, including private clubs. Any same-sex marriages or partnerships accepted as legal in other countries would be void in Nigeria.
Language in an earlier draft of the law that would have made it a crime not to report a same-sex relationship — which could have forced parents to report gay children, for example — was deleted in the final version, according to The Associated Press, which said it had seen a copy of the final text.
The signing was not publicized apparently to avoid offense to other countries where such relationships are permitted, but word of it still provoked widespread condemnation. Secretary of State John Kerry, hearing the news while on a trip to Europe and the Middle East, said in a statement on Monday that he was “deeply concerned,” and asserted that the law violated basic human rights protections guaranteed by Nigeria’s own Constitution.
“Beyond even prohibiting same-sex marriage, the law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians,” Mr. Kerry said. The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, also denounced the new law in a Twitter message, asserting she was “Deeply troubled that #Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed anti-#LGBT law. Big setback for human rights for all Nigerians.”
International advocates of gay rights also expressed alarm. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had strongly urged Mr. Jonathan in recent months not to sign it. The International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based nonprofit group, called on Nigeria to repeal what it called “a draconian law.”
Nigerian gay-rights advocates said the law also elevated the risk to people living with H.I.V. and AIDS, because organizations that help them might also be deemed illegal. Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay-rights activist, said in an interview with SaharaReporters.com, a Nigerian news website, that the law’s effects “may well translate into more young people becoming homeless, and social and state violence.”
An even more severe antigay measure has been approved by the legislature in Uganda, but President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed it.
With a population of more than 175 million, Nigeria is double the size of Africa’s next most populous nation, Ethiopia. As one of the world’s leading oil producers, Nigeria also carries enormous economic and political weight in Africa, and its message on gay rights is bound to resonate elsewhere on the continent.
Nigeria’s population, divided roughly in half between Christians and Muslims, is deeply conservative, with widespread hostility to homosexuality in both religious communities.
A poll on homosexuality conducted in 39 countries and published last June by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project found that 98 percent of Nigerians — more than any other population surveyed — answered “no” to the question “Should society accept homosexuality?”
ROGER’S NOTE: YOU MAY CONSIDER THIS MY HOLIDAY GREETINGS TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG.
AS I SAY EVERY YEAR: “MERRY MARXMAS, AND HALVAH HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
12.23.13 – 11:40 PM
Stay Fabulous Alabama: Small Town Accidentally Hires Black Drag Queen Dance Troupe for Christmas Parade. Outrage, Hilarity and Great PR Ensue
by Abby Zimet
Oh we love us some Prancing Elites, though alas the mostly white, conservative residents of Semmes, Ala. (population 2,000-ish) evidently didn’t after the local boys’ dance troupe – all-black, all-gay, all-sexy-Santa-dressed – danced their way through the annual Christmas parade, having been inadvertently invited to do so. Predictably, some spectators were “outraged and appalled.” More interestingly, for enduring the jeers and stares in Semmes, the Elites got a wave of support from social media, gigs for New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras, and a new Kickstarter campaign – “Society hates us, but the world loves us.” The biggest loser here: The Friends of Semmes have been removed as organizers of the Christmas parade.
“The team was created (because) boys aren’t allowed to audition for the dance teams in the school system in Mobile. In their eyes, morally it isn’t right. So, we created our own team. If the girls are doing it, why can’t the boys do it too?”
Between the Stoli boycott and statements from athletes around the world with regard to next year’s Winter Olympics and Russia’s new, draconian anti-gay laws, most of you know what’s been going on. For those who don’t, the short version is this: Earlier this year, Russia passed some horrifically anti-gay laws that make it illegal to “promote” homosexuality. Apparently you can be gay, but you just can’t ever tell anyone about it for fear that you’ll be reported and go to prison. These laws have given cover to neo-Nazi groups and others who take the law into their own hands by beating and murdering any person they think doesn’t measure up to their standard of heterosexuality.
Many have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make strong statements against these laws, and some have even called for them to move the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, to a place that is more accepting of all athletes. The IOC responded by declaring that they’d spoken to Russian authorities and had been assured that Olympic athletes and fans would be exempt from the anti-gay laws while in Sochi. Not so fast, responded Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who made it clear that Olympic athletes and fans would have to respect the host country’s bigoted laws. And today, Russia’s Interior Ministry stated unequivocally that the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympic Games in Sochi.
This game of media ping-pong has left Olympic participants without any actual information regarding the situation in Russia. The truth of the matter is that no matter what kinds of assurances the IOC makes, LGBT people are not welcome or safe in Russia. The IOC can say whatever they want to, but it will not stop some Russian thug in a bar from kidnapping, beating and potentially murdering someone he perceives as gay.
Gay Star News asked the IOC what they thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies. They also asked if the IOC would provide a safe space — or Pride House — for LGBT athletes, spectators, dignitaries and others during the Games, to celebrate gay sport and community, as has been done in previous years. The IOC’s spokesperson replied, “[T]he IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.” Indeed, Rule 50 of the IOC’s charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
So instead of actually standing up for LGBT athletes, the IOC is essentially siding with Russia and issuing a warning to lesbian and gay athletes. The IOC has made it clear that they have a double standard when it comes to accepting all athletes. The Pride House in Vancouver was historic in that it provided a safe space for LGBT athletes from around the world. The IOC clearly didn’t see this as a violation of Rule 50 a few years ago, but it seems as though athletes must now be forced to step back into the closet for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
If the Olympics remain in Sochi, LGBT athletes are automatically at a disadvantage. It’s really hard to perform to one’s full capabilities when one is spending part or most of the day in actual fear for his or her life. Gay New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup told USA Today, “I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am. That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.” I don’t think you’ll find a single athlete out there who’d disagree with the notion that you perform better when you don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, many said as much when basketball player Jason Collins came out last year.
At this point, I can’t imagine that there is anything that the IOC can say to actually ensure the safety of Olympic participants or fans, whether it be from the Russian government itself or from vigilantes who are rarely if ever prosecuted for their crimes against LGBT people. While boycotts and news stories have been effective at getting the word out about the atrocities being carried out against LGBT people in Russia, none of this will actually make anyone safer in Russia. And none of it will stop LGBT athletes from constantly having to look over their shoulders as they compete for Olympic gold.
Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.
In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.
The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.
He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.
We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.
Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.
Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!
Thanks for going All Out,
Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.
PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate
Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensivelydebunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.
I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.
The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”
Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”
Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.
So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.
Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.
But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).
What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.
Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.
While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:
As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”
But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.
Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.
It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.