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There’s a Reason Gay Marriage Is Winning, While Abortion Rights Are Losing April 28, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, LGBT, Women.
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Roger’s note: god forbid anyone should promote a rivalry between different groups of the oppressed; that is tantamount to divide and conquer, the oldest political trick in the books, one that predated Machiavelli by centuries.  Nevertheless, as this article points out, there is a complexity about the different dimensions of struggles for justice.  Homophobia, racism and sexism are pernicious; and, as the saying goes, no one is free until we are all free.  Nevertheless, homophobia, racism and sexism seem to have taken root to different degrees in North American society.  An example that has interested me relates to Vietnam War opposition; that is, the difference in attitude towards celebrity opponents Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali.  The latter has risen to iconic hero status, whereas Hanoi Jane remains a pariah to many.  Does this mean that misogyny is deeper than racism in our society?  I don’t think that is exactly true, although to some extent it seems that the liberation of fifty percent of the population   poses more of a threat than any particular race.  This is a raw observation on my part, not to be taken too seriously I hope; and this article goes into a more rigorous analysis in the treatment of gay and women’s rights.

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Are these two “culture wars” issues really that similar?

 

The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together,” writes Pollitt. “But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.” (Image credit: Getty)

Why are reproductive rights losing while gay rights are winning? Indiana’s attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage under the guise of religious freedom provoked an immediate nationwide backlash. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed religious employers to refuse insurance coverage for birth control—not abortion, birth control—to female employees; new laws are forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state. Except when the media highlight a particularly crazy claim by a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, where’s the national outrage? Most Americans are pro-choice, more or less; only a small minority want to see abortion banned. When you consider, moreover, that one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause, and most of those women had parents, partners, friends—someone—who helped them obtain it, the sluggish response to the onslaught of restrictive laws must include many people who have themselves benefited from safe and legal abortion.

The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as “culture war” issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think. Some distinctions:

§ Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.

Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.

§ Same-sex marriage is something men want. Lesbian couples account for the majority of same-sex marriages, but even the vernacular “gay marriage” types it as a male concern. That makes it of interest to everyone, because everything male is of general interest. Though many of the groundbreaking activists and lawyers who have fought for same-sex marriage are lesbians, gay men have a great deal of social and economic power, and they have used it, brilliantly, to mainstream the cause.

Reproductive rights are inescapably about women. Pervasive misogyny means not only that those rights are stigmatized—along with the women who exercise them—but that men don’t see them as all that important, while women have limited social power to promote them. And that power is easily endangered by too close an identification with all but the most anodyne version of feminism. There are no female CEOs pouring millions into reproductive rights or threatening to relocate their businesses when a state guts access to abortion. And with few exceptions, A-list celebs steer clear.

§ Marriage equality has cross-class appeal: Anyone can have an LGBT child, and parents across the political spectrum naturally want their kids to have the same opportunities other children have. Any woman might find herself needing an abortion, too, but she may not realize that. Improvements in birth control mean that prosperous, educated women with private doctors can control their fertility pretty well—certainly better than women who rely on public clinics—and if they need an abortion, they can get one. It’s low-income women who suffer the most from abortion restrictions—and since when have their issues been at the top of the middle and upper classes’ to-do list?

§ Marriage equality costs society nothing and takes no power away from anyone. No one has been able to argue persuasively that your gay marriage hurts my straight marriage. But reproductive rights come with a price tag: Government funding is inevitably involved. (“If you want to have a party, have a party, but don’t ask me to pay for it,” said one New Hampshire lawmaker as he tried to cut funding for contraception.) Also, contraception and abortion give power to women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy, and men.

§In marriage equality, there is no loser. But many, including some who call themselves pro-choice, feel that abortion creates a loser: the embryo or fetus. You have to value women a lot to side with the pregnant woman, with all her inevitable complexities and flaws, over the pure potentiality of the future baby.

§ Marriage equality is a wonderful thing, an important civil right that brings dignity to a previously excluded group. Over time, it may subtly affect the gender conventions of straight marriage, but it won’t fundamentally alter our social and economic arrangements. Reproductive rights, though, are inescapably connected to the larger project of feminism, which has already destabilized every area of life, from the bedroom to the boardroom. What might women demand, what might they accomplish, how might they choose to live, if every woman had children only when and if she wanted them? “Culture war” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Nigerian President Signs Ban on Same-Sex Relationships January 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, LGBT, Nigeria.
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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.

 

By , JAN. 13, 2014, New York Times

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.

 
The signing by President Goodluck Jonathan was not publicized apparently to avoid offense to other countries where such relationships are permitted. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

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?”

Musikilu Mojeed contributed reporting from Abuja, Nigeria.

Catholic Church Revives Abandoned Centuries-Old Tradition To Bash Gays August 7, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in LGBT, Religion.
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by David Badash on August 6, 2012

in International,Marriage,News,Politics,Religion

Post image for Catholic Church Revives Abandoned Centuries-Old Tradition To Bash Gays

 
The Catholic Church has revived a tradition originally begun in the 17th century and abandoned almost 100 years ago, to bash gay people. Following the Vatican’s’s edict to begin a gay marriage holy war, Pope Benedict XVI‘s followers have looked high and low for every opportunity to attack gay people and same-sex marriage. In France, the Catholic Church has actually issued a prayer to be used on August 15, the Prayer for the Assumption, which was begun by King Louis XIII (image, right,) under Cardinal Richelieu in 1638.

The special Prayer (Google translation) directs the faithful to pray for “those who were recently elected to legislate and govern.” France’s new President, Francois Hollande, has promised gay marriage will be the law of the land next year. The Catholic Church also is telling its believers to ask Jesus Christ to “grant us the courage to make hard choices and a better quality of life for all and vitality of our youth through strong families and loyal,” and specifically to ask Christ to ensure children “cease to be objects of desires and conflicts of adults to fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother,” a direct attack on same-sex couples adopting or raising children.

For children and young people that we help all people to discover their own path to progress towards happiness, they cease to be objects of desires and conflicts of adults to fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother.

The Advocate notes:

French bishops typically avoid entering political debates, but Reuters reports that spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said the [Catholic] Church wanted to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”

The prayer effort follows the Catholic Church’s outspokenness against recent plans to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Scotland. Pope Benedict XVI denounced the momentum for marriage equality in the United States during a visit of American bishops to the Vatican in March.

A Reuters report confirms the purpose of the Prayer.

In May, the Pope told Catholics they should become more political and ignore what the Bible teaches about politics. Speaking in Tuscany, the Pope urged the melding of Church and State, and told listeners to be “the engine of society in promoting peace through justice.”

The Catholic Church in France did not explain why only heterosexual couples should be allowed to raise children, nor does the Prayer direct the faithful to pray for the victims of pedophile priests.

Related:

Catholic Church Castrated Homosexual Boys And Those Who Accused Priests Of Abuse

Vatican Declares Gay Marriage Holy War, Forms Worldwide Religions Coalition

Pope Proclaims Reasons For Pedophile Priests Still A ‘Mystery’

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Black Leaders and Gay Advocates March in Step June 14, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, LGBT, Race, Racism.
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Christopher T. Gregory/The New York Times

The Rev. Al Sharpton, center, with Jeffrey Campagna, left, a national gay rights organizer, and Benjamin Todd Jealous, right, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., at a news conference in New York this month to announce a march to protest the stop-and-frisk practice by the New York police.

By KATE TAYLOR
Published: June 9, 2012
  • ·

For years, gay rights organizations and major civil rights organizations viewed each other warily. African-American leaders often saw the gay rights groups as insensitive to racial concerns, and some resented the movement’s use of civil rights language to make the case for same-sex marriage. Advocates for gay rights, in turn, sometimes blamed socially conservative African-Americans for their defeat in crucial electoral battles.

 

 

But since the relationship reached something of a crisis with the passage of Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, in 2008, leaders in both movements have made an effort to bring their groups closer together.

Now, conversations among leaders in the gay, black and Latino communities have borne significant fruit: On May 19, the board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted to endorse same-sex marriage.

And then, last Tuesday, representatives of several national gay rights organizations gathered at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, often described as the birthplace of their movement, to announce that they would march to protest the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practice, under which the police each year have been stopping hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, most of them black or Latino, in an effort to prevent crime.

Some of the gay rights leaders specifically cited support from the N.A.A.C.P. for same-sex marriage as a reason they decided to oppose the stop-and-frisk policy.

“We need to find ways to strengthen our alliances and really strengthen our commitment to one another,” said Jeffrey Campagna, a national gay rights organizer who is coordinating the involvement of gay rights groups in the march on June 17 against the stop-and-frisk practice.

Julian Bond, a former chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, said he saw the association’s support for same-sex marriage as a way to acknowledge the contributions of gay rights advocates — most had not come out publicly at the time — in the civil rights movement.

“I knew these people, whom I just assumed to be gay, and I knew what they were doing on my behalf — and I hoped on their behalf, too,” he said. “I was grateful for it, and when the chance came, I wanted to pay them back.”

The same-sex-marriage and stop-and-frisk issues are only the most visible signs of closer collaboration.

Around the country, gay rights groups have joined minority advocacy organizations in political battles on behalf of voting rights and affirmative action. And in California, Oregon and Colorado, gay rights organizations have formed partnerships with immigrant rights groups to fight aggressive immigration laws.

And even before the national board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted to support same-sex marriage, that organization and other civil rights groups got involved in marriage battles on the state level. In North Carolina, the N.A.A.C.P. paid for radio and print advertisements, direct mail and “robocalls” urging black voters to oppose an amendment banning same-sex marriage; the amendment passed in May. In Maryland, where the State Legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage in February, the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights were prominent supporters.

“You must be for the civil rights of everyone, or you’re not for the civil rights of anyone,” Mr. Sharpton said last week.

One indication of the new rapport: Chad Griffin, who is taking over on Monday as president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading gay rights group, plans to have lunch on one of his first days in Washington with the president of the N.A.A.C.P., Benjamin Todd Jealous.

Mr. Jealous explained the newfound collaboration with a reference to Bayard Rustin, the pacifist and civil rights advocate who was black and gay.

“In the last four years, with the increase in hate crimes across the country, with states attempting to encode discrimination into their state laws and constitutions,” Mr. Jealous said, “it’s become clear that, just as Bayard Rustin admonished us all, that we would either stand together or die apart.”

The distance that has long existed between the gay rights and civil rights movements has complex roots. In addition to the strain of social conservatism that pervades many black Protestant churches, gay rights advocates’ use of the phrase “civil rights” and comparisons of the two movements have sometimes offended African-Americans, according to Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

“When gay and lesbian people say, ‘Hey, we understand, because we’ve been oppressed, too’ and ‘Like black people, we…,’ that’s a nonstarter for many black people,” he said.

Keith Boykin, an author who has written about homosexuality in the black community, said that “when people hear civil rights and gay rights, they think that people are trying to equate the two movements.” As a result, he said, “we sometimes get caught up in these hierarchies of oppression.”

For its part, the gay rights movement has sometimes struggled to be racially inclusive.

“Fifteen years ago, the leadership of the gay community, certainly in terms of organizations, was overwhelmingly white gay men,” said Marjorie J. Hill, the chief executive of GMHC, an H.I.V./AIDS organization.

Dr. Hill, who is black, said the more diverse gay rights organizations became, the more natural it was for gay rights and civil rights groups to form alliances.

The communication between the two communities has picked up since the disclosure in March of a memorandum by the National Organization for Marriage, the leading group opposing same-sex marriage in the country, that described a goal to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” over same-sex marriage.

Leaders in both movements had already perceived a need to create relationships after gay rights advocates and minorities found themselves pitted against each other in fights over same-sex marriage.

“In the aftermath of Proposition 8, it was all about ‘the blacks and the Latinos, they didn’t vote for us,’ ” said Andrea Guerrero, the executive director of Equality Alliance San Diego, a group that works with immigrants and minority communities.

“Similarly, in the immigrant community, there’s been a sense of ‘they only call on us when they need us for their issue — they never come and help us on our issues,’ ” she said.

To address that divide, she and Delores A. Jacobs, the chief executive officer of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, decided to test political messaging about nontraditional families and the need to keep families together that they hope could be used in future campaigns to advocate both immigrants’ rights and same-sex marriage.

After Oregon voters in 2004 approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage, with the major group supporting the amendment using an African-American talk show host as its spokeswoman, a gay rights organization called Basic Rights Oregon decided to review its own lack of diversity and its failure to form close relationships with minority communities, according to its executive director, Jeana Frazzini.

It deepened a relationship with a Latino immigrant rights group, Causa. Since then, Basic Rights Oregon has fought local anti-immigrant ballot measures and pushed at the state level for illegal immigrants to be able to get driver’s licenses and, for those who came to this country as children, to pay in-state tuition at public universities. Causa and Basic Rights Oregon have also joined forces to run an ad on Spanish-language radio to promote legalizing same-sex marriage.

In the ad, a woman describes how she and her husband struggled to accept their gay son, then says that she does not want him to face discrimination when he finds someone to marry.

“As a Latina, I believe in loving my neighbor, in treating others as we would like to be treated, and in never turning our backs on family,” the woman says. “Marriage has brought so much happiness to my life, and I wouldn’t want any member of anyone’s family — gay or straight — to be denied that chance at happiness.”

 

In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students September 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT.
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Tuesday 13 September 2011
by: Erik Eckholm, The New York Times News Service | Report

Anoka, Minnesota – This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Through it all, conservative Christian groups have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.”

Adding an extra incendiary element, the school district has suffered eight student suicides in the last two years, leading state officials to declare a “suicide contagion.” Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity.

In many larger cities, lessons in tolerance of sexual diversity are now routine parts of health education and antibully training. But in the suburbs the battle rages on, perhaps nowhere more bitterly than here in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, just north of Minneapolis. With 38,000 students, it is Minnesota’s largest school system, and most of it lies within the Congressional district of Ms. Bachmann, a Republican contender for president.

Ms. Bachmann has not spoken out on the suicides or the fierce debate over school policy and did not respond to requests to comment for this article. She has in the past expressed skepticism about antibullying programs, and she is an ally of the Minnesota Family Council, a Christian group that has vehemently opposed any positive portrayal of homosexuality in the schools.

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

“I think the adults are much more interested in making us into a political battlefield than the kids are,” said Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of schools. “We have people on the left and the right, and we’re trying to find common ground on these issues.”

“Keeping kids safe is common ground,” he said, pointing to district efforts to combat bullying and to new antisuicide efforts.

Gay children, and some parents and supporters, say these efforts are undercut by what they call the district’s “gag order” on discussion of sexual diversity — a policy, adopted in 2009 amid searing public debate, that “teaching about sexual orientation is not part of the district-adopted curriculum” and that staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.”

The lawsuit was brought in July on behalf of six current and former students by the Southern Poverty Law Center and by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It charges that district staff members, when they witnessed or heard reports of antigay harassment, tended to “ignore, minimize, dismiss, or in some instances, to blame the victim for the other students’ abusive behavior.”

One of the plaintiffs, Kyle Rooker, 14, has not declared his sexual orientation but was perceived by classmates as gay, he said, in part because he likes to wear glittery scarves and belt out Lady Gaga songs. In middle school he was called epithets almost daily, and once he was urinated on from above the stall as he used the toilet.

“I love attention, but that’s the kind of drama I just can’t handle,” Kyle said, adding that when he was threatened in the locker room, school officials had him change in an assistant principal’s office rather than stopping the bullying.

The district’s demand of neutrality on homosexuality, the suit says, is inherently stigmatizing, has inhibited teachers from responding aggressively to bullying and has deterred them from countering destructive stereotypes.

“This policy clearly sends a message to LGBT kids that there is something shameful about who they are and that they are not valid people in history,” said Jefferson Fietek, a drama teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Mr. Fietek, the adviser to a recently formed Gay-Straight Alliance at his school, said he knew of several gay and lesbian students who had attempted or seriously considered suicide.

Colleen Cashen, a psychologist and counselor at the Northdale Middle School, said that by singling out homosexuality, the policy created “an air of shame,” and that contradictory interpretations from the administration had left teachers afraid to test the limits, seeing homosexuality and the history of gay rights as taboo subjects. “I believe that the policy is creating a toxic environment for the students,” she said.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile. He said he welcomed further initiatives that could result from negotiations over the lawsuit or with the federal investigators. “We want all students to feel welcome and safe,” he said.

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

A group of district parents who are closely allied with the family council declined to be interviewed. Their Web site says that depression among gay teenagers is often the fault of gay rights advocates who create hopelessness: “When a child has been deliberately misinformed about the causes of homosexuality and told that homosexual acts are normal and natural, all hope for recovery is taken away.”

This article, “In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students,” originally appeared at The New York Times.

Inside the Right-Wing Christian Law School That Brought Us Michele July 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Religion, Right Wing.
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When Oral Roberts University sought to set up a law school, it
called in Christian Reconstructionist Herb Titus. Michele Bachmann is the law
school’s most famous graduate.

July 19, 2011  |

//

 

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion
Dispatches
. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here
.

At the May “First Friday” lecture hosted by the Institute on the Constitution
at the Heritage Community Church in Severn, Maryland, IOTC founder Michael
Peroutka presented the evening’s guest speaker, attorney Herb Titus, with a
“Patrick Henry Award” for “his tireless and fearless telling of God’s truth to
power.” Titus (best known for his representation of former Judge Roy Moore in
his failed quest to install a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama
Supreme Court building) is one of the few lawyers in America who, Peroutka
noted, truly “believes God is sovereign and therefore God’s law is the only
law.” For Peroutka, the Constitution Party’s 2004 nominee for president, this
was his usual spiel on God and the law.

In the late 1970s, Titus played an instrumental role in launching the law
school at Oral Roberts University (ORU), from which GOP presidential hopeful
Michele Bachmann graduated in 1986. Titus, who rejected his Harvard Law School
education after reading the work of R.J. Rushdoony, the late founder of
Christian Reconstructionism, was moved to exercise what he believes is a
“dominion mandate” to “restore the Bible to legal education.” To teach, in other
words, that Christianity is the basis of our law, that lawyers and judges should
follow God’s law, and that the failure to do so is evidence of a “tyrannical,”
leftist agenda.

Titus’ lecture, as well as the teachings of Reconstructionists, the
Constitution Party, and the IOTC, provide a window into Bachmann’s legal
education, and thus how her political career and rhetoric—so incomprehensible
and absurd to many observers—was unmistakably shaped by it.

Restoring the American Jurisprudence to its “Biblical
Foundations”

After launching ORU’s law school, and later helping with Regent University’s
1986 takeover and launch of a public policy program, Titus ran on Constitution
Party founder Howard Phillips’ presidential ticket in 1996. The stated goal of
the Constitution Party “is to restore American jurisprudence to its biblical
foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional
boundaries.” That includes, for example, “affirm[ing] the rights of states and
localities to proscribe offensive sexual behavior” (i.e., homosexuality) and
“oppos[ing] all efforts to impose a new sexual legal order through the federal
court system” (i.e., civil unions, marriage equality, or adoption by LGBT
people). It is more extreme than the Republican Party platform, to be sure, but
the GOP is hardly devoid of allies of the Constitution Party—including Sharron Angle, who ran for Senate in Nevada last year, and
presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The lecture series at the Institute on the Constitution, which also offers
in-depth classes that are popular with tea party groups, has recently included
presentations on constitutional law by Moore and one of his protégés, current
Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker. In a dissenting opinion in a 2005
child custody case in which the majority affirmed an award of custody to the
child’s grandparents, Parker cited not legal cases or statutes, but rather
Romans 13:1-2, for the proposition that “there is no authority except from God.”
That, he concluded, dictated that the state should stay out of such family law
matters except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Christians are “Second-Class Citizens”

The claim that powerful, anti-Christian forces aim to undermine God’s “truth”
lies at the heart of the IOTC’s and Titus’ conception of the constitutional
roles of government and religion. Titus insists that Christians are
discriminated against by these conventional interpretations of the Establishment
Clause, which are at odds with his own, and which he contends have contributed
to the treatment of Christians as “second-class citizens.”

“I would say to you that someone who holds a Christian view such as Michele
Bachmann does would be much more accommodating of different views than any
liberals,” he told me, because her views would permit the public posting of the
Ten Commandments, for example, but a liberal’s would not.

That’s because, of course, under a “liberal” (i.e., accepted by the Supreme
Court, at least for now) view of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the
government cannot act in a way that does, or appears to, endorse a particular
religion.

Titus contends, however, that religion, as used in the Establishment Clause
(“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) does not
mean, well, a religion. Rather, Titus insists that this clause means
that Congress cannot make you do anything that you are otherwise commanded by
God to do: in other words, Congress cannot flout God.

Religion, Titus told the IOTC audience, “is the duty which we owe our
Creator.” As Julie Ingersoll has described in detail, Rushdoony argued that God granted certain
jurisdictional authority to the government, the church, and the family—therefore
any government action exceeding its God-granted authority is in violation of
God’s commands. Titus says the government has the power to make you, say, pay
taxes, but other “duties we owe to God exclusively” cannot be enforced by the
government.

In Titus’ view, the First Amendment prohibition against Congress establishing
a religion was actually intended to prevent Congress from establishing
institutions that he maintains are tantamount to a religion, like
public education, or National Public Radio. “I don’t believe what they teach in
public schools,” Titus told his IOTC audience. “They don’t even believe in the
first thing—that God is the source of knowledge.”

Indeed, as Titus himself was aware, the activism that launched Bachmann’s
political career was an extended crusade against public schools in Minnesota
(which, oddly enough, included a failed bid for a spot on her local school
board, even though her own children did not attend public schools).

According to a 2006 Minneapolis City Pages profile, in 1993 Bachmann helped found a charter school in
Stillwater “that ran afoul of many parents and the local school board when it
became apparent that the school—which received public money and therefore was
bound to observe the legal separation of church and state—was injecting
Christian elements into the curriculum.” Later, Bachmann “became a prolific
speaker and writer on the evils of public education.”

Health Care, Guns, and Slavery

In a 2009 interview with Glenn Beck, Bachmann said, “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this
issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.” Both that statement and
her characterization of health care reform as federal government
excess that amounts to creating “a nation of slaves” and “tyranny,” draw on her
Reconstructionist understanding of the Constitution.

Indeed, Bachmann possesses an alarming misunderstanding of the history of
slavery that at once celebrates it as a heyday of African-American family life,
and engages in revisionism about the founders’ view of it. She recently signed a
“marriage pledge” in Iowa that included the statement (since removed): “sadly a child born into slavery in
1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent
household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s
first African-American president.” She has also stated, incorrectly, that the founders “worked tirelessly” to end
slavery.

Peroutka and the IOTC, for their part, express affection for the Confederacy.
In bestowing the “Courage of Daniel Award” on Moore on June 3, Peroutka,
who frequently ribs people for being from the “wrong side of the Mason-Dixon
line,” cheerfully noted that it also happened to be the birthday of Confederate
President Jefferson Davis.

Other IOTC speakers have included Franklin Sanders, whom the Southern Poverty
Law Center describes as “a peculiar mix of neo-Confederate fantasist and
seasoned tax protester.” Sanders has served on the Board of Directors of the
League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization the SPLC characterizes as “a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a
second Southern secession and a society dominated by ‘European Americans.’” That
society would be, according to the SPLC, a “godly” nation “run by an
‘Anglo-Celtic’ (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic
state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities.”

In the Reconstructionist view, a gun will protect you from your imagined
enslavement by the federal government. Bachmann is one of several Republicans
endorsed by the Gun Owners of America, another Titus client, which contends
that gun ownership is not just a right, but an “obligation to God, to protect
life.” Last year, Titus cited the “totalitarian threat” posed by “Obamacare” and told
me that people need to be armed, “because ultimately it may come to the point
where it’s a life and death situation.”

When I asked him recently whether he agreed with Bachmann’s opposition to
health care reform, he exclaimed approvingly, “talk about turning yourself over
to tyranny—your health care decisions made by bureaucrats.”

“Real” Americans

Bachmann’s history of questioning Barack Obama’s American-ness, or of espousing “normal people values,” is rooted in the Reconstructionist
conception of “American-ness.” Not just Christian, but their kind of
Christian; one who would obey God, exercise “dominion authority,” and, most
crucially, is one of their “brethren.”

Titus, founder of Bachmann’s law school, happens to be the architect of a
legal theory—as far outside of the legal mainstream as his Establishment Clause
theory—that Obama is not a “natural-born citizen,” a designation that would render him
ineligible to be president due to his “divided loyalties.” Deuteronomy 17, he
insists, demands that that the “king” be selected from one’s own “brethren.” As
an outsider Obama isn’t a “real” American, worthy—according to the Bible or the
Constitution—of being president.

The “Judicial Tyranny” Canard

In 2003, motivated by Moore’s Ten Commandments crusade, then-state senator
Bachmann participated in a “Ten Commandments Rally” on the state capitol steps,
at which speakers called for the impeachment of federal judges who rule public
postings of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, and for a return to “biblical
principles.” Bachmann, according to coverage in the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune
, “told the crowd that the founders of the United
States—including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—‘recognized the Ten
Commandments as the foundation of our laws.’”

Bachmann isn’t alone among Republican politicians embracing Reconstructionist
views. After Moore was stripped of his judgeship for defying a federal court
order to remove his monument, Titus drafted the Constitution Restoration Act,
which would have deprived federal courts of jurisdiction in cases challenging a
government entity’s or official’s “acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source
of law, liberty, or government.” The bill, which did not pass, nonetheless had
nine Senate co-sponsors and 50 House co-sponsors; including House Majority
Leader Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal, now the governor of Louisiana, Nathan Deal,
now the governor of Georgia, and Mike Pence, a conservative hero who’s now
running for governor of Indiana.

While campaigning for president, Bachmann took up the “tyrannical judges”
mantle, this time in connection with the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling that the
state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. She applauded the ouster of
“black-robed masters,” the three Iowa judges who had ruled same-sex marriage
constitutional, and who were targeted by the religious right. In Iowa, judges are
appointed, but subject to what is normally a routine, periodic retention
vote.

The necessity of electing judges, rather than appointing them, was the
subject of Parker’s First Friday lecture in January, because “elected judges are
bulwarks against the agenda of the left.”

“If you take a moment to think,” said Parker, “federal judges appointed for
life have legalized abortion, homosexuality, pornography, same-sex marriages,
and outlawed school prayer and the display of the Ten Commandments.”

“When judges don’t rule in fear of the Lord,” he concluded, “all the
foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Just the sort of thing that Peroutka complains isn’t taught in secular law
schools. But at ORU, it was.

The Birth of the Christian Law School

The launch of the law school at ORU was intended to create public figures
just like Bachmann: lawyers unafraid to inject their particular Christian
beliefs, not only into the public square, but quite deliberately into
legislation, policy, and jurisprudence.

As Titus tells it, God opened a door when the televangelist Oral Roberts
wanted to found a Christian law school at his eponymous university in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. “My first reaction,” said Titus in a recent interview with the
Christian Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation, “was, no way, I’m not going to
be identified with Oral Roberts, with this healer, with this Pentecostal
personae and so forth, and yet God made it so clear to us that we were to go and
help begin a Christian law school.”

Bachmann, who until a few years ago attended a staid and deeply conservative
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church in Stillwater, Minnesota, might have
been, like her law school classmate Dean Burnetti, “shocked” when a fellow
student spoke in tongues in chapel the first day of law school. But Burnetti,
now a personal injury lawyer in Florida, told me, “My personal worship
experience has changed because of those people, and the way I see God’s active
involvement in my life has changed because of that.”

The law school at ORU was a first effort at creating a “Christian” law school
that would teach the “biblical” foundations of the law—essentially substituting
Rushdoony’s totalizing worldview for mainstream legal theory. His views are
evident not only in the ORU education Bachmann received, but in the perspectives
of other Christian law schools forged on the ORU example, such as Liberty
University Law School, where students are taught to follow “God’s law” rather than “man’s law,” and where Rushdoony’s
texts are required reading. The rise of Christian schools—not just law
schools, but elementary and secondary education, and homeschooling as well—has
been, in Titus’ view, a “silent revolution” that has “basically escaped the
scrutiny of most journalists.”

According to Titus, there have been “tremendous strides that have been made
in last 20 or 30 years,” in developing other “Christian” law schools, including
Regent University Law School, which, as noted above, took over ORU law school
after Bachmann graduated. Titus credits Roberts, who “didn’t bow down to the
establishment”; in particular the American Bar Association, which initially
refused to give the school accreditation because it required faculty and
students to be professing Christians (both were required to sign a pledge that
they were followers of Jesus).

Burnetti described Bachmann as “brilliant” and a “very gifted, very talented,
very smart girl.” When I asked whether he could see now how her ORU education
influenced her, he said, “there’s no doubt in my mind that has an influence and
will have an influence on everything that passes through the filter of her
conscience and life. It will be filtered through the principles she has used in
the joining of the Bible and her Christian faith and beliefs and the use of the
Constitution.”

Titus was quick to point out that not all of the students of his preferred
pedagogy are “cookie-cutter” types who fall into an identical ideological line.
On foreign policy matters, for example, he said he’d be more aligned with the
non-interventionism of Ron Paul than with Bachmann.

But it’s clear, nonetheless, that he’s confident that her Christian beliefs
pass muster. He doesn’t consider either Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, both
Mormons, to be Christians; said he didn’t know whether Tim Pawlenty was a
Christian (even though his pastor is the president of the National Association
of Evangelicals); and defended Texas Governor Rick Perry’s hosting of a prayer
rally.

Though he isn’t even running, Titus took a dig at Mike Huckabee, saying that
host of Fox News’ Huckabee show “doesn’t understand the difference
between the state’s business and the church’s business,” because he believes in
“welfare taking care of the poor, which is contrary to Jesus’ teaching.” Again,
that’s a reflection of the Christian Reconstructionist view of
God-granted authority—i.e., it’s not within the government’s “authority” to take
care of the poor.

I asked Titus whether it would be a big moment for him to see Bachmann, a
product of the law school he helped found, ascend to the GOP presidential
nomination. He replied, “It’s the kind of thing that we believe was one of our
major purposes, which was to train people in such a way so as to make an impact
in the leadership of the country.”

Whose Fault Is It? June 25, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, LGBT.
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Latin America Progresses Forward- A Victory for Gay Rights May 26, 2011

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by COHA Research Associate Katie Soltis
http://www.coha.org/latin-america-progresses-forward-a-victory-for-gay-rights/

The Brazilian Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex unions in early May marks the latest victory for gay rights in Latin America. The Court’s ruling grants equal legal rights to same-sex civil unions as those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, including retirement benefits, joint tax declarations, inheritance rights, and child adoption.While the Supreme Court did not go so far as to legalize gay marriage, gay rights groups such as Rio de Janeiro’s Rainbow Group have nevertheless praised the decision as an “historic achievement.”1  The decision passed 10-0 with one abstention, but the justice who abstained had previously spoken in favor of same-sex unions.

An Unlikely Victory

As the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, Brazil was an unlikely venue for such a promising gay rights victory. The Roman Catholic Church has actively fought proposals for same-sex unions in Brazil, arguing that the Brazilian Constitution defines a “family entity” as “a stable union between a man and a woman.”2  The Catholic Church responded to the recent ruling with outrage. As Archbishop Anuar Battisti put it, the Supreme Court’s decision marked a “frontal assault” on the sanctity of the family.3

The Catholic Church is losing its power in Brazil, which helped pave the way for the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of homosexuals. Nevertheless, homophobia retains a tenacious grip on Brazilian society. Despite the fact that the nation boasts the world’s largest gay pride parade, the LGBT movement has been unable to achieve fundamental progress and quell discrimination at a societal level. For instance, Marcelo Cerqueira, the head of the Gay Group of Bahia, claims the country is “number one when it comes to assassination, discrimination and violence against homosexuals.”4  Additionally, in a disconcerting report, the Gay Group of Bahia found that 260 Brazilian gay people were murdered in 2010, exemplifying the level of hostility towards homosexuals.5  Because of this discriminating environment, gay rights activists traditionally have had little success in Brazil. Most notably, Congress disregarded proposals for gay rights legislation for nearly ten years.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling was therefore a major turning point after a history of protracted, unsuccessful struggles. The judicial decision was made in response to two lawsuits, one of which was filed by Rio de Janeiro Governor Sérgio Cabral and the other by the Office of the Attorney General. While Congress repeatedly ignored requests for equal rights for gay Brazilian citizens, the Supreme Court argued that “Those who opt for a homosexual union cannot be treated less than equally as citizens.”6  In this way, by appealing to the judicial system, the LGBT movement was able to achieve success despite deep-seated hostility throughout Brazilian society and in other branches of the government.

Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution

Professor Omar Encarnación of Bard College calls the recent string of gay rights legislation in Latin America a “gay rights revolution.”7  Brazil’s ruling came on the heels of several other noteworthy gay rights victories in Latin America, such as Uruguay’s legalization of same-sex civil unions in 2007. Shortly thereafter, in 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American nation and eighth nation worldwide to legalize gay marriage. Other landmark decisions in the past few years include Uruguay’s decision to allow all men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, to serve in the military and Mexico City’s legalization of same-sex civil unions.

The recent surge in gay rights victories throughout Latin America is altogether stunning, considering the region has generally been regarded as very homophobic. The Catholic Church has traditionally been a formidable enemy to gay rights movements in the region, but the secularization of much of Latin America has led to the impressive expansion of opportunities for gay rights movements.
Yet this success of gay rights movements throughout Latin America cannot be attributed solely to the declining importance of religion in the region. It is equally important, if not more so, to recognize the vital roles played by gay activist groups and the dynamic strategies these groups employ. For instance, gay rights groups in Brazil were able to reverse legislation banning gays from the workplace by forming partnerships with progressive businesses. In recent years, the use of social media has provided much of the gay movement’s momentum by enhancing activist groups’ ability to communicate and spread information. For instance, as Javier Corrales notes, by simply posting a video of a hate crime in San Juan or of a gay wedding in Argentina on YouTube, gay rights groups have been able to reach thousands of people and garner support.8  These innovative strategies have brought success despite a notably hostile environment towards homosexuals.

Conclusion

Through a comparison with the United States, we can see how remarkable the success of gay rights in Latin America has been. Latin America is marked by a much more homophobic environment than the U.S., according to a survey conducted by Mitchell Seligson and Daniel Moreno Morales.9  However, although the U.S. has lower levels of societal discrimination towards gays, it is hard to imagine that the United States would completely legalize same-sex civil unions or gay marriage on a national scale. The fact that this legalization occurred in several Latin American nations, despite the formidable opposition there, makes these recent rulings even more significant.

Furthermore, the recent victories for gay rights exemplify the considerable progress toward the region’s consolidation of democracy. The three Latin American countries that have now legalized same-sex unions—Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay—were each ruled by repressive military regimes just over two decades ago. Even Colombia, which is one of the region’s worst human rights violators, granted same-sex unions equal rights regarding social security benefits and inheritance rights in 2007. The fact that gay liberation movements have been successful in these unlikely places is a testament to how far these countries have progressed in recent years.

References for this article can be found here

The problem with gay men today April 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT.
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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

By Thomas Rogers

The problem with gay men today

Wikipedia/David Shankbone
Larry Kramer

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 what?

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?

What?

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.

A Heaven-Sent Rent Boy May 16, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, LGBT.
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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.